Green forests. Peaked mountains. Aromatic whiskeys. Powder snow. Delicious vegetables. Hot spring onsen. It’s impossible to list all the reasons why I always love visiting Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. But for starters, here are ten good reasons to jump on a plane and start exploring.
1. Lake Toya
One of Hokkaido’s most serene spots is Lake Toya, with expanses of still water framed by mountains and forests. A favorite spot? Sipping soupy Japanese-style “pho”, and sweet chai in cozy Café Jalibu, on the lake’s fringes.
2. Sapporo City
One of Japan’s most pleasant cities, Sapporo should not be skipped. Home to great seafood, a laid back pace and perhaps best of all (for me, at least) an easy grid system, so it’s hard to get lost, with Odori Park at its heart.
3. Mount Yotei
Dubbed a mini Mount Fuji due to its perfect triangular shape, Mount Yotei is another must-see – be it shrouded in winter snow or fiery autumnal forests. A quick tip: visit Fukidashi Park at the base of Mount Yotei (and bring an empty plastic bottle so you can sip fresh spring water from streams).
It’s all about the snow in Niseko, home to a raft of high-end luxury ski resorts plus perhaps the highest quality powder snow in Japan. “We have the perfect geographical mix here – coastal mountains and low altitude making the snow very wet,” explains Tomoki Takaku, founder of the Powder Company Guides. It’s also a summer gem – fewer crowds, refreshingly green, lots of activities and delicious vegetables.
5. Moerenuma Park
One of my all-time favorite parks, Moerenuma is a magical green space designed by the iconic Isamu Noguchi in Sapporo. The artist used the land itself to create bold, beautiful and natural artworks – from gently curved “mountains” and circular forests to geometric stone sculptures.
This port city – a smudge northwest of Sapporo – is a great pit stop: wander along the canal, perusing shops selling glassworks and music boxes (two famous Otaru products). Another highlight? The delicious herring and soba noodle dish at Yabuhan restaurant.
7. Restaurant Moliere
Tucked away in a discreetly elegant Sapporo property, Moliere is a major culinary landmark in Hokkaido. Here, French cuisine with a distinct Hokkaido twist is served with friendly flair by talented chefs.
8. Nikka Whisky
How has Japan become one of the world’s top whisky producers? A visit to Nikka Whisky’s historic Yoichi Distillery will reveal all. Explore its atmospheric old architecture and traditional techniques – before enjoy a tasting session.
9. Jozankei Onsen
I love nothing more than a good hot spring onsen soak – and Hokkaido excels at these. Jozankei Onsen, less than an hour by car southwest of Sapporo, is home to dozens of hot springs baths set in a dramatically beautiful ravine.
10. Sapporo Snow Festival
Every February, Sapporo transforms into an epic winter wonderland, with epic ice sculptures built across the city. And I’m not just talking snowmen: previous creations range from a sprawling replica of Angkor Wat to a giant Darth Vader.