Hokkaido's capital, Sapporo, was nothing more than a frontier town 130 years ago, but is now a modern yet charming city with a population of almost two million.
The atmosphere is relaxed in contrast to Tokyo or Osaka, with green parks and tree-lined boulevards lending a laidback feel to a city well known for its annual snow festival and summer beer gardens.
To the east is the mountain of Maruyama Koen, set in a national park. A great view of the city can be enjoyed from its peak - a mere 40-minute climb.
South of the city centre lies a raucous pile of bars and restaurants in Susukino, Sapporo's entertainment centre and the country's biggest hub of nightlife north of Tokyo.