A lot of Japan enthusiasts from all over the world would like to visit Hokkaido this winter. This is arguably the best winter holiday destination in the land of the rising sun, and one of the top in the world. Are there any other competitors throughout Japan who could beat it?

With its stunning winter activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, snow rafting, snowboarding, ice fishing, dog sledding, drift ice sightseeing cruising, horse riding, and including participation in the snow festivals, the area is stunningly mind-boggling. Please note winter scenery here takes your breath away.

Hokkaido Shrine in the winter. Photo Credit: Cid Cho at Flickr.

Hokkaido is a land best known for its picture-perfect mountains, winter festivals, drift ice, lavender flowers, sea foods, and wild animals. In winter, you will miss the majestic views of lavender farms, but the rest of things are awaiting you.

Whether you embark on a trip to Hokkaido in early winter (Late November to Early January), or during its peak winter season (Mid January to early March), you will be familiar with the winter traditions that belong to locals. This suggested Hokkaido itinerary is for the ones who dream of visiting the area in February. But this one that you are reading right now, is especially crafted for travelers who are supposed to spend their Christmas and New Year’s Holidays in Hokkaido.

Travelers coming to Hokkaido in mid January, or after the end of the snow festivals may also follow this suggested itinerary. This is also a perfect itinerary for travelers coming from Honshu, who intends to leave Hokkaido by trains.

A 9-Day Suggested Itinerary for Hokkaido (Early Winter)

Before we get to the main point, which I mean the suggested itinerary, there is something to share with you. Bear in mind as I always say, the island is big and offers a list of incredible places to go. It will be unrealistic to think of visiting all the places within 8 days. That’s the truth. However, you have the right to modify this itinerary to make the best of your winter vacation.

There are many ways you can start your trip. You may begin your trip from Sapporo, or Hakodate. According to my experience, the best way to start off your trip is from the capital city – Sapporo. But this time I would suggest you to begin your expedition from Niseko, a perfect place to see snow in December. So, let’s get started now!

Please note if you wish to explore Hokkaido’s winter attractions from Tokyo, take the Shinkansen (bullet train) via Aomori to Hakodate. And if that is so, start your dream trip from Hakodate!

Day 1 – Chitose->Niseko

View of Mt Yotei from Grand Hirafu ski resort’s slopes. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If you arrive in New Chitose Airport in the morning, there is a chance of taking a half day trip around the area of Grand Hirafu resort, Niseko. You can take Chuo Bus to reach Niseko. Click here to see the departure time of the buses.

Check in at The Vale Niseko, a top recommended hotel, which is located at the base of Niseko Annupuri Mountain, and takes a 10-minute drive from JR Kutchan Station. There you can find a nice ski rental shop.

It’s always lovely to walk around Grand Hirafu resort and the restaurants you find there are very good. Night skiing/snowboarding can be enjoyed on the slopes of Grand Hirafu.

Go for it, if you love skiing and snowboarding! If you are not in the mood for skiing, and searching for alternatives, I would suggest you to enjoy a gondola ride there, and spend time on exploring nature.

In addition, a visit Niseko Milk Kobe is also recommended because there you can find a list of delicious fresh dairy products such as cake, soft-served ice cream, yogurt, cheese, pastries and so on.

Day 2 – Niseko->Sapporo

Ski slopes of Niseko Village. Photo Credit: Jun Kaneko at Flickr.

Today you will take a half day trip to Niseko Village, one of the notable ski resorts in Niseko. Get on the shuttle bus to reach Niseko Village. Visit this page to see the timetable of the shuttle service.

Apart from skiing in this resort town, visitors are offered to experience various outdoor activities including horse riding, snowmobiling, snow rafting, reindeer sledding and so on.

Before you get on the bus to Sapporo, you may want to try some fresh seafood at Ezo Seafoods. The restaurant is well known for eating fresh seafood in Niseko. Get back to your room, pack your things, and then check out!

Sapporo White Illumination. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Leave for Sapporo! Say goodbye to Niseko.

In the evening, you may consider taking a walk in Odori Park, where the Sapporo White Illumination takes place. Without doubt, this could be your best place to enjoy Christmas Eve.

Stay overnight at JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo.

Day 3 – Sapporo and Otaru

Sapporo Beer Museum. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For day three, interesting places to visit are some of Sapporo’s iconic attractions, and Otaru city.

Learn some ideas how to spend a day in Sapporo. As you are supposed to head over to Otaru today, you’d better cancel visiting Mt. Moiwa tonight. Accessing to Otaru from downtown Sapporo is not a daunting task, it’s super easy.

Otaru is a 30 minute train ride from JR Sapporo Station. Multiple trains run hourly between Otaru Station and Sapporo Station. Taking this into account, you should catch the train to Otaru before 16:00. If you expect to see some other sightseeing attractions of Otaru such as Otaru Museum, and Otaru Aquarium, then you better get there early.

Otaru Canal at night in December. Photo Credit: Mukashi at Flickr.

You can spend a lifetime of holidays in Hokkaido, and it will not be a great adventure if you don’t pay a visit to a port city, Otaru, especially in the winter.

It has a picture-perfect canal (Otaru Canal), lit up with lights breathtakingly every evening during the winter months. One little secrete to share that roaming around city in the evening is fabulous than doing it before the sunset.

Have your lunch there and get back to Sapporo by train. Goodnight!

Day 4 – Sapporo->Asahikawa->Sapporo

Penguin parade at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hokkaido is home to different species of wild animals including birds (migratory and non-migratory). Brown bears, Hokkaido ezo deer, red foxes, red-crowned cranes, white tailed eagle, and Steller’s sea eagle, are said to be found throughout the region, especially in eastern part of the island though. Not many visitors to Hokkaido have time to go to the east to see its unspoiled nature and wildlife.

Considering all this fact, you ought to visit Hokkaido’s number one zoo, called Asahiyama Zoo, in Asahikawa. You are offered to see a list of endangered animals such as polar bears, red pandas, Japanese cranes, and other species.

There, an exciting penguin parade can be observed from Late December to mid March every year, usually happens twice a day. I hope you don’t miss this hilarious experience.

Lilac train at Asahikawa Station. Photo Credit: IRishikawa521 at Wikimedia Commons.

With reserved seating option, there are limited express trains that connects Sapporo with Asahikawa every 30 mintues. If you have a Japan Rail Pass or Hokkaido Rail Pass, you don’t need to buy any tickets. Just hop on the train, enjoy the ride until it stops at JR Asahikawa Station. From there, you will take the bus to reach Asahiyama Zoo.

If you are traveling with kids, then DAY 4 will be definitely a top-notch holiday experience for the whole family.

Return to downtown Sapporo with a lot happy memories.

Day 5 – Sapporo->Jozankei

Jozankei onsen area during winter. Photo Credit: Eijun Ohta at Flickr.

Your today’s expedition is a full day trip to Jozankei, a hot spring resort town with many public foot-baths and onsen, is located on the outskirts of Sapporo city. If snowy winter weather is a rare thing in your home town, a day trip to Jozankei would be the experience of a lifetime. Here, winter scenic magnificence greets you in every direction.

Excellent onsen bath and beautiful surroundings would inspire you to travel here year round. So, don’t you think it’s worth a visit during winter? The best way to get to this hot spring resort from Sapporo is by bus.

Day 6 – Sapporo->Noboribetsu

Jigokudani is only a five minute walk from the hotel I have recommended you to stay overnight. Photo Credit: Andrew Flenniken at Flickr.

Every hot spring resort town in Hokkaido has its own unique features to offer. More than just an attraction, Noboribetsu is a hot spring resort town that boats of its Jigokudani (Hell valley – a place to see real volcanic activity).

You can reach Noboribetsu by limited express trains that stop at Noboribetsu Station. Is there any other alternative? Yes there is! You have to make a ryokan reservation at Dai-ichi Takimotokan.

It does not only provide traditional Japanese style guest rooms with perfect hot spring bath facility but also provides a shuttle bus service for its visitors from JR Sapporo Station. Departure time is at 14:00. This hassle free bus ride is about two hours. Enjoy the ride, explore the hell valley, and relax your body and mind taking an onsen bath.

Day 7 – Noboribetsu->Hakodate

Night view of the Hakodate city from the observation deck of Mt. Hakodate. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

After you check out, you should get to the station and wait for the train to Hakodate. It’s always a good decision when you decide yourself staying in a hotel located adjacent to Hakodate Station. So would you mind checking in at Comfort Hotel Hakodate?

Before you make your way to the Hakodate ropeway, I would tell you to visit the Red Brick Warehouse and I think you will not regret walking down the street of Motocmachi neighborhood.

The neighborhood looks stunning during the time of Hakodate Illumination. The area is packed with historical buildings and a stroll along the streets will take you back to the past.

Take the ropeway to climb Mount Hakodate, and enjoy Hakodate City night view from the observation deck. Spend all the evening there and then get back to your hotel. Call it a day!

Day 8 – Hakodate

Fort Goryokaku in winter. Photo Credit: sxhuang at Flickr.

On your last day, spend your morning exploring the Hakodate Morning Market. And then move to Fort Goryokaku (A Star Shaped Western Style Citadel), one of must see attractions in Hakdoate, which was build in 1855 during the Edo period. Please note the area is said to be one of the best places to see cherry blossom in Hokkaido.

You must visit Goryokaku Tower’s observation deck for experiencing a picturesque bird’s eye view of the giant fortress. For a little bit of history, pay a visit to Hokkaido Hakodate Museum of Art.

In the evening, head over to Motomachi again and enjoy a leisurely evening stroll. That will be an experience of a lifetime.

Day 9 – Hakodate to Chitose

If you are leaving Hokkaido for Honshu, hop on the train as per schedule. And if your flight time is in the afternoon, take the early train to reach Chitose Airport from Hakodate. Have a great journey!

Have you liked this suggested itinerary? Are you still confused about your Hokkaido trip, contact us to get some useful travel guides. If you are looking for a best pocket wifi to stay connected to the internet when traveling around Hokkaido, use this one. You can read my review on this pocket wifi before you look for an alternative.

Thanks for reading.