Japan's fifth-largest city, and the prefectural capital of Hokkaidō, Sapporo (札幌) is a dynamic urban centre that offers everything you'd want from a Japanese city: a thriving food scene, stylish cafes, neon-lit nightlife, shopping galore – and then some. While many travellers see the city as a transit hub from which to access Hokkaidō's mountains and hot springs, there are enough worthwhile attractions to keep you here for days. Summer is the season for beer and food festivals. In February, despite the bitter cold, Sapporo's population literally doubles during the famous Snow Festival.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Sapporo.
This ski-jump slope was built on the side of Ōkura-yama for the Sapporo 1972 Winter Games. At 133.6m it's just slightly shorter than Sapporo TV Tower, with a 33-degree incline. What would it feel like to whiz down that? You can hazard a guess after taking the rickety old lift up to the top and staring down the slope. Keep that image in mind when you try the highly amusing computerised simulator in the museum below.
This legendary Sapporo attraction is in the original Sapporo Beer brewery, a pretty, ivy-covered brick building. There's no need to sign up for the tour; there are plenty of English explanations throughout about Japan's oldest beer (the brewery was founded in 1876). At the end there's a tasting salon (beers ¥200 to ¥300) where you can compare Sapporo's signature Black Label with Sapporo Classic (found only in Hokkaidō) and Kaitakushi Pilsner, a re-creation of the original recipe (found only here).
This haven in the heart of the city is fully 13 blocks (1.5km) long, with the TV Tower at its eastern end. Among the green lawns and flower gardens are benches, fountains and sculptures; don't miss Noguchi Isamu's elegant Black Slide Mantra. This is also where many of the city's major events and festivals take place.
This expansive collection of historical buildings (and some recreations), in Nopporo Shinrin-kōen east of central Sapporo, shows the diversity of experience in 19th-century Hokkaidō. There are ornate Victorian town halls; equally grand villas built by herring barons in the traditional Japanese style; and thatched-roof pioneer cabins. Most of the buildings you can enter.
Completed in 2005, this former waste-treatment plant to the northeast of the central city is now an impressive reclaimed green belt. It was originally designed by the acclaimed Japanese-American artist Noguchi Isamu before his death in 1988. In addition to works by Noguchi in stone (on which children are free to climb), there are sculptures of land and water.
This museum does an admirable job of explaining Hokkaidō's multilayered history, from the age of the woolly mammoths to the age of the steam locomotives, with English throughout. The museum is east of central Sapporo, in Nopporo Shinrin-kōen.
Beating Tokyo Tower by two years, Sapporo TV Tower (147m) arrived in 1956, bringing with it the modern television age. It was designed by 'Dr Tower' Naitō Tachū, who also designed Nagoya TV Tower (1954), Osaka's Tsūtenkaku (1956) and Tokyo Tower (1958). The observation deck at 90m is rather cramped, but you do get a view straight down Ōdōri-kōen.
In an office building across the street from Hokkaidō University Botanical Garden, this cultural centre is run by the Hokkaidō Ainu Association and has a small display of artefacts and historical information.
Construction of this modernist tower, designed by architect Iguchi Ken, started in 1968 to mark Sapporo's centennial (it was completed in 1970). The footprint is a hexagon, to evoke a six-sided snowflake; a cross-section reveals the kanji for 'north' (北; kita). It's in Nopporo Shinrin-kōen, a short walk behind the Hokkaidō Museum.