Japan’s northern frontier and second largest island hosts just five percent of the country’s population, despite featuring 30,000 square miles of volcanic peaks, glassy lakes and icy coastline. It’s a world away from main island Honshu’s cram.
With its close proximity to Russia, there’s something distinctly Siberian about Hokkaido’s vast national park wilderness, creeping ice floes and earthquake-troubled rifts. Abashiri even features a Meiji era penal colony. However, in lakeside onsen hot springs, luxury traditional ryokans serving up multi-course seafood feasts and Tsurui’s iconic red-crowned cranes it’s a place that’s distinctly Japanese. Indeed, Hokkaido is where the country’s overworked urbanites come to relax. To some that means strolls along Biei’s Patchwork Road of multi-coloured fields and relaxing in Sapporo’s parks while to others it’s husky sledding out of Asahikawa, hiking Lake Toya’s volcano and skiing down world-class slopes, stopping off at hot springs along the way.
But, in a country that annexed itself from the rest of the world for 200 years, Hokkaido also bears some uniquely international influences. Hakodate features everything from Russian Orthodox churches and British cottage consulates to pentagonal Western style citadels and redbrick Chinese memorial halls. You can even take a cable car up a city centre mountain for spectacular views of it all. And, not to miss out, the island’s capital, Sapporo, has taken on a distinctly European outlook in its generous parks and café culture. Don’t miss Odori Park – a giant green cleave, dividing the city in two – and the Sapporo brewery, the oldest in Japan. However, be sure that you spend plenty of time out of the cities, perhaps witnessing the colossal ice floes off the northern coast.
Top itineraries in Hokkaido
After experiencing city favourites, watch as summer’s warmth uncovers lavender fields and volcanoes resplendent in green coats as you stay in hot spring getaways
Top places to stay in Hokkaido
With a spa and one of Niseko’s best restaurants, this boutique hotel is the perfect base for exploring the winter powder runs and summer hiking trails of Hokkaido’s most popular mountain resort.
Conveniently located in the heart of Hokkaido’s capital, this modern hotel is close to many of Sapporo’s attractions.
Commanding stunning views with a lakeside salute to a volcanic landscape, this contemporary gem makes the most of its picturesque location.
Where to go in Hokkaido
Toya Onsen is one of Hokkaido's best hot spring resorts, with many of the baths affording stunning views of the eponymous lake.
A little town in a big setting, Biei serves as a base for exploring its stunning surroundings. Nearby Daisetsuzan National Park boasts forests, lakes and the highest peak in Hokkaido, Mount Asahi.
The small village of Tsurui is situated near Kushiro Marsh, a place of beauty all year round. In spring, cherry trees start to blossom and the massive marsh shrugs off a snowy covering, exchanging brilliant white for fresh light green.
When to go to Hokkaido
As Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido is known for its icy winters and relatively cool summers. Indeed, in August and July, while the rest of the country suffers in the sticky humidity Hokkaido is perfectly temperate making it Japan's favourite getaway. However, come winter, expect pretty blankets of snow and ice-locked coastlines with skiing, snowboarding and dogsledding opportunities.
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