Otaru (小樽) was the financial centre of Hokkaidō – a bustling center of trade with Russia and China – in the early 20th century. The city's elite invested some of those riches in the construction of grand, Western-style buildings of stone and brick – the style of the time – many of which line the town's central canal. This exotic (for Japan) atmosphere makes Otaru very popular with domestic visitors.
While the town is definitely touristy, with spots for selfie-taking and bus tours, it's rich history, many preserved buildings, and overall uniqueness evoke a Hokkaidō of yesteryear that's well worth seeing, if only as a day trip out of Sapporo. Weekenders will find there's plenty to do, from museums to souvenir stores to restaurants and bars.