Japan's fifth-largest city, and the prefectural capital of Hokkaidō, Sapporo is a surprisingly dynamic and cosmopolitan urban centre that pulses with energy. Designed by European and American architects in the late 19th century, Sapporo is shaped by its wide grid of tree-lined streets and ample public-park space, which contribute to the city's surprising level of liveability. Even if you get cold easily, you can always get your energy back over a hot meal, a great proposition given Sapporo's wholly deserved gastronomic reputation.
As the island's main access point and transport hub, Sapporo serves as an excellent base for striking out into the wilds. But don't check out too quickly: Sapporo is a major tourist destination in itself, especially for those partial to the delicious liquid gold that is Sapporo beer. If you're planning long periods of time hiking in isolation, you might want to first indulge in a bit of the raucous nightlife of the Susukino district. And, of course, if the calendar month happens to read February, don't miss out on the Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri), a winter carnival highlighted by frozen sculptures of everything from brown bears and tanuki (racoon dogs) to Godzilla and Doraemon.