The Perfect Week Itinerary: Hokkaido

One of my absolutely favorite countries in the world, I have a super huge crush on Japan for its culture, fashion, and cuisine. When I had the chance of visiting Japan for the first time, there were so much I wanted to see and do, one of them is visiting Hokkaido.

Any outdoor enthusiasts’ heaven, the island is known for its abundance of winter and summer activities and its many hot springs scattered throughout the island. As much as I want to cover the entire Hokkaido region in a week, there just way too much to see to fit everything in. In this itinerary, I am focusing on exploring Hokkaido’s most popular sights in one week.

Overview

Stays: Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Noboribetsu, Hakodate
Day trips: Otaru, Furano
Ideal Season: July to September Trip Intensity: ★★★☆☆
# of Train rides: 7 Total time on trains: ~Approx. 9.5hrs
Advanced ticket purchases: 3-day Hokkaido Pass (¥16500pp)
Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass (¥1700pp)
Trip Cost: ~Approx. $1050/per person Personal Cost: ~Approx. $1500/per person
*incl. hotels, trains, tickets *incl. food, spendings


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What is a Perfect Week Itinerary? PWI for short, these are 7-full-day itineraries designed to allow you to explore all the trendy sights within a limited schedule without tiring you out (too much). All of my PWIs are extensively researched and personally tried and tested, however, they are written based on my personal opinions and preferences and therefore should be used as a reference only. As much as I try to keep all my itineraries up to date in terms of travel times and train schedules to the best of my ability, more research and double checking is encouraged on your end before you finalize your own itinerary.

Rail Pass Information

The are 2 ways to purchase the 3-day Hokkaido Pass, either purchase ahead of time in your home country or purchase upon arriving in Japan. If there’s a sales office in your country, definitely try to purchase your pass ahead of time there. For a listing of sales offices globally, check out this page on the JR website.

If you are traveling from somewhere within Japan but outside of Hokkaido, this pass can also be purchased within Japan. Get the details on how to purchase here. And as with all travel passes, you must present your passport at the time of purchase to verify you are an international visitor.

With the 3-day pass, you will have the ability to use the pass for any 3 consecutive days during your trip. For our itinerary, the 3 days we will be using the pass will be day 4, 5, and 6.

To book train tickets with your pass, they can be reserved in advance at any JR ticket counters or JR service centers. You’ll want to print a copy of the JR Hokkaido route map ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the different lines.

The Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass will be used for day 3 of the itinerary. This pass offers unlimited rides on the JR between Otaru and Sapporo and all subway lines within Sapporo for 1 day. Simply head to the Sapporo Station West Ticket Gate JR Information Desk (8:30-19:00) to purchase.

A note on times and prices

Any hours of operation listed on this itinerary apply for the Summer season only. Always double check the respective official websites for updated operating hours and admission prices before you visit.

Day 0

Arrive into Sapporo the first night, if you are landing into the New Chitose airport, be sure to visit the Doraemon Waku Waku Sky Park (10:00-18:00, ¥800pp) inside the airport. It is an adult-friendly, mini-theme park with a kids zone, arcade, cafe, workshop, and gift shop. Very cute and fun place to check out even if you have never heard of Doraemon before.

Stay: Sapporo

Day 1

Morning Start with the Sapporo Clock Tower (8:45-17:10, ¥200pp) in the morning, it’s a historical clock tower constructed in 1878 during the initial developments of Sapporo. After the Tower, take a stroll through Odori Park (it’s about 1.5km in length and stretches 12 blocks), there are also a few spots in between great for pictures in front of the Sapporo TV Tower.

Once you reach Nishijuicchome Station, hop on the Tozai Line west-bound train for 2 stops and get off at Maruyamakoen Station, walk further west for 10 minutes through Maruyama Park until you reach Hokkaido Shrine (6:00-17:00), explore the Shrine a bit before lunch.

Afternoon Head toward Sapporo station for lunch. You will find lots of shopping and restaurants in the area. Spend the rest of the afternoon here, start your shopping therapy within the JR station, it is full of underground stores offering all the things you can think of.

There’s the APIA, Paseo EAST and WEST, Daimaru Sapporo (for designer brands), Stellar Place, and ESTA. For floor maps, check out this page. My only advice for you is to make sure you have got enough cash (and hands!) for all the shopping!

Tip: At the information desk inside APIA, international tourists who present their passport or Hokkaido Rail Pass will receive 1000 yen welcome coupons redeemable within the station.

Evening Have dinner in the area. Then, after dinner, head up Mt. Moiwa (10:30-22:00, ¥1700pp) via the ropeway for a magical view of Sapporo at night. For couples, be sure to bring a padlock up there and ring the “Bell of Happiness” for good blessings.

Stay: Sapporo

Day 2

Morning to Afternoon Take the train from Sapporo Station to Shinrin Koen Station for a tour of the Sapporo Historical Village (9:00-17:00, ¥800pp). The entire village is an exhibit portraying what it was like in Hokkaido back in the mid 19th to early 20th century. It consists of the old town, fishing village, farm village and mountain village.

Mid-Afternoon to Evening Take the bus to Sapporo Beer Museum (10:00-18:30, free) reachable via the Hakodate Line from Shinrinkoen Station to Naebo Station (3 stops), the whole trip is around 50 minutes so budget enough time to walk to and from the stations.

Take a quick look around the museum to learn the history of beer and brewing in Japan. Then, enjoy a mouth-watering BBQ dinner inside the Biergarten (reservation recommended).

Stay: Sapporo

Day 3

Sapporo to Otaru: Catch an early train to Otaru if you can (chedule here), a small town about 45 minutes away from Sapporo. Make sure you bring your Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass along if you have purchased it.

Morning to Early Afternoon Spend the morning exploring Sakaimachi Street. You’ll get a chance to stop by the Orgel (Music Box) Museum (9:00-18:00, free) for their amazing showcase of different music boxes throughout the decades and perhaps buy one for yourself. There are also many glass workshops in the area that teaches you how to make something out of glass for about ¥2000 to ¥3000 apiece.

Afterward, walk a little bit out west of Otaru to the Herring Mansions, a traditional Japanese mansion constructed in the 19th century by wealthy fishermen as a place of their residence, as well as a place to process their fish.

If you are in Otaru in February… Every year, the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival takes place for 10 nights straight from 17:00 to 21:00 every night. The town will be lit up with thousands of lanterns and snow statues, definitely a sight worthy to see in person!

Otaru to Sapporo: Train back to Sapporo, take note the last train back departs at 19:56.

Late-Afternoon to Evening Depending on when you are back in Sapporo, if you have some time and are looking for a more authentic Japanese shopping experience, walk a bit further west of Sapporo Station until you reach Tanuki Koji, a 10-block long outdoor shopping street with rows and rows of shops, restaurants, karaoke bars, and arcades.

Worried about time? Everything here opens late into the night so you will have plenty of time checking out all the things.

Stay: Sapporo

Day 4

Sapporo to Furano: Take the Furano Lavender Express No.1 or No.3 bus departing from Sapporo Station to Furano (check the bus schedule here), the whole ride is close to 2 hours so pack some light snacks or activities for the road. Aim to arrive in Furano around 11:00 latest.

Morning Explore the Furano train station and surroundings before you hop on the Furano-Biei Norokko Train No.2 towards Farm Tomita.

Afternoon At Farm Tomita, you will enjoy the fields and fields of lavender flowers and see how they make their lavender-scented perfumes. Their gift shop also carries a wide range of lavender items that’ll make great souvenirs.

Once you are done at the farm, take the Furano-Biei Norokko Train No.4 to Biei where you can then take one of the Twinkle Bus tours to explore Biei in more detail (I recommend the Twinkle Bus Biei Takushin-kan Course, a 1 hour and 40 minutes bus tour where you’ll see several famous landscapes of Biei, ¥1500pp).

If you have more time to explore Furano… I would recommend paying the Blue Pond a visit for it’s fascinating deep blue color pond. A bit off the beaten path as you’d have to walk for about 10 minutes through the forest, but makes for stunning photos.

Furano to Sapporo: Return to Sapporo via the Furano Lavender Express No.4 bus which departs at 17:36, it will take you back to Sapporo for 19:37. Note the No.4 bus is the last bus back to Sapporo for the day, there’s also an earlier bus if you finish earlier – the No.2 bus which departs at 16:35.

Stay: Sapporo

Day 5

Sapporo to Noboribetsu: Train from Sapporo Station to Noboribetsu (get schedule).

Noon As the most famous hot spring resort town in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu is well known for its volcanic formations and many natural mineral hot springs. I highly recommend staying at Daiichi Takimotokan as they offer ryokan-style accommodations plus 7 types of different baths to enjoy.

Wherever you decide to stay, see if you can check in early to drop off your luggage. Once you have settled down, find a nice restaurant nearby for lunch.

Afternoon One word: relax. Enjoy the different bath facilities in the area, most baths are accessible inside the hotels, minus Sagiriyu, which is the only public bath in the town and much smaller in comparison. If you are staying at Daiichi, then definitely maximize your bath time there.

For dinner, please be aware most restaurants in the area are closed in the afternoons, which means you might have to resort to dinner at your hotel. The convenience stores have instant ramen noodles and hot water as a last resort, but just in case, make sure you have some snacks on hand in case hunger kicks in.

Evening The Demon Fireworks is a unique performance that happens every night at dawn, be prepared for big crowds and lots of drumming.

Stay: Noboribetsu

Day 6

Morning Hike to the bottom of Jigokudani (“Hell Valley”) to see the hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity that makes up Noboribetsu’s hot springs. A further 20-30 mins walk will get you to the Oyunuma Pond where you can dip your feet into the river flowing from the pond for an au natural foot bath.

Afternoon It’s time to bid Noboribetsu goodbye!

Noboribetsu to Lake Toya: Pack up and take the train from Noboribetsu Station to Toya Station (train schedule here). The entire ride is about 45 minutes. Aim to catch the train at 13:27 which will get you to Toya by 14:08.

Lake Toya is a beautiful and scenic lake with view of Mt. Usu as the backdrop. Rent a bike, take a stroll, or hop on a boat. Stay for a couple of hours and catch the train to Hakodate later that afternoon.

Lake Toya to Hakodate: Hop back on the train from Toya Station to Hakodate (train schedule here), suggest catching the one at 18:31 to get to Hakodate by 20:20. Please be mindful of the last train which leaves Toya at 21:46.

Evening Arrive into Hakodate just in time for dinner. Known for its fresh seafood, make sure something from the sea is part of your menu tonight!

Stay: Hakodate

Day 7

Visit Mt. Hakodate for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city in the morning. Feel free to explore at your own pace before leaving Hokkaido.

A few sights of interest:
1. Motomachi A historical neighbourhood with many churches, cute cafes, and small shops. You might also want to check out the neighbouring Daimon Yokocho (which is composed of 2 small alleys) for its large selection of small restaurants and great food.

2. Kyu Soma-tei Located in the Motomachi neighbourhood, the Soma-tei is a house constructed by a wealthy merchant in the past whose family had lived there for several generations. Do the tour to see what it’s like inside a traditional (and very much luxurious!) Japanese home.

3. Goryokaku Tower Get to know a bit of Hakodate’s history. There’s also an observation floor at the top where you can see the entire city from above, as well as its star-shaped garden down below.


If you have two more day to relax…

Tomamu is a resort town famous for its ski trails in the winer and the Unkai Terrace, it also houses one of the largest indoor wave pools in Japan called Mina-Mina Beach. Unkai Terrace is best visited early mornings (~before 4:30am), but also weather permitting.

To stay in Tomamu, your best option would be at the Hoshino Resort Tomamu, advanced reservation is recommended for a cheaper stay.

I have tried out this itinerary with only one extra night in Tomamu but felt it was a bit rushed. Thus I recommend 2 nights to have a more relaxed schedule, it will also give you plenty of time to enjoy the free Mina-Mina Beach pass that comes with your Hoshino stay (if you chose to stay there).

Getting to and from Tomamu does require a bit of extra planning as there are no direct trains between Furano to Tomamu and Tomamu to Noboribetsu (Tomamu being right in the middle between those 2 towns).

Furano to Tomamu: While in Furano, you can get your tickets to Tomamu by booking bus tickets from Furano to Shintoku Station. Bus tickets can be purchased at the Furano Tourist Information Centre located at the base of the Kitanomine gondola. From Shintoku Station, you will then take the train to Tomamu (check schedule). The whole ride is about 1 hour.

Tomamu to Noboribetsu: From Tomamu, take the Sapporo – Obihiro – Kushiro line to Minami-Chitose Station (schedule #1), then transfer to the Sapporo – Higashi – Muroran – Hakodate line from Minami-Chitose Station to Noboribetsu Station (schedule #2). Budget about 3 hours for this trip.

Happy travels!