Planning a visit to Japan this winter might be a daunting task, especially if you are going there for the very first time in your life. There may be hundreds of reasons why one should go to Japan to celebrate his/her winter holiday season. This post here reveals only the top 10 reasons, but according to my travel experience there are still lots of things to do and see out there, seriously!

Kinkakuji Temple in winter. Photo Credit: ja:Kyoto-u at Wikimedia Commons.

February is the month of celebrating country’s most exciting winter festivals held throughout Japan. When it comes to experience a winter festival in Japan, Hokkaido is hard to beat! The region is widely known as one of the best popular winter holiday destinations in the world. Surprisingly, you are actually going to start off your trip from Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido.

With spending few nights in the city, you get to some other areas in the region and then move to Honshu, either by train or air; it depends on your budget, though. That’s the initial plan of the trip. I can’t wait to suggest you the best travel guides to make your entire journey enjoyable, so today I want to share my itinerary for 14 days in Japan. I hope you will find it helpful.

Please note this itinerary would work perfectly if you take a trip to Japan in early February.

Day 1 – New Chitose Airport to Sapporo

An aircraft of Japan Airlines At New Chitose Airport, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: On-chan at Wikimedia Commons.

Welcome to Hokkaido, Japan.

It’s pretty impressive that you might have already seen lots of snow out there while looking out of the plane window as you were landing at New Chitose Airport. Is this the first time you have seen snow?! Probably it’s.

Getting to Sapporo from the airport is very easy especially by JR rapid trains. The one way ride takes about 35 minutes and costs 1070 yen. You don’t need to buy a ticket if you have either Japan Rail Pass or Hokkaido Rail Pass. Alternatively, you can take airport buses that operate every 15 minutes between Sapporo and the airport.

Once there, make sure you make a hotel reservation beforehand. There are many areas in the city where you can stay overnight. I suggest you to stay at Hotel MYSTAYS Sapporo Aspen. It’s a very nice hotel and close to JR Sapporo Station.

Try to book a flight to Sapporo that is supposed to land at New Chitose Airport in the morning. I am telling you this because you can actually walk around the city, especially in Odori Park to see winter illuminations in the evening.

Day 2 – Sapporo in a day

A view of Odori Park from the Sapporo TV Tower. Photo Credit: Nkns at Wikimedia Commons.

With so much to see and experience in this beautiful city, many people only plan for couple of days to stay here. From sightseeing to restaurants, winter festival to skiing, Sapporo offers you lots of things to experience. Please note the city also obsessed with good seafood and wine!

In fact, there is no problem if you base yourself in Sapporo, and then start exploring its iconic landmarks, events, and take multiple day trips on the outskirts of the city.

Are you ready to discover the city? With lots of snow on the street, winter in Sapporo is absolutely amazing.

Susukino at night. Photo Credit: Chatama at Wikimedia Commons.

At first, take a good look at this winter festival calendar of this year. It shows that the Sapporo Snow Festival will be held from February 4 through February 11, 2019. Your Sapporo Travel Plan covers three great winter festivals of Hokkaido, Sapporo Snow Festival, Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, and Asahikawa Winter Festival.

If you are looking for a suggested itinerary for Sapporo, I have written one for you. This itinerary tells you about how to spend a lovely day in the city. If this is not what you are looking for, then contact me. I will suggest you based on your interests and preferences.

Just one thing to mention here is that try to explore the Sapporo Snow Festival’s venues at night! Don’t miss a walk into Susukino neighborhood as well.

Day 3 – Sapporo -> Asahikawa -> Sapporo

Here is the giant statue of the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Photo Credit: 京浜にけ at Wikimedia Commons.

There are some wonderful day trips from Sapporo that appeal to all types of travelers. If you don’t believe me then search on Google and you will find your answer. Visiting Asahikawa from Sapporo City is one of the best day trip ideas for sure.

Today you will be visiting two interesting places in Asahikawa city, Asahiyama Zoo, and sites of Asahikawa Winter Festival.

Hop on a JR limited express train to Asahikawa Station. It’s a 80-minute train ride. From the train station you head over to Asahiyama Zoo by bus (40 minutes, two buses per hour). To get the most out of today, you can spend half a day here and then rest of the time you will be at the sites of Asahikawa winter festival.

Visiting the zoo is must whenever you come to Asahikawa. The penguin walk at the zoo is Kawaii! Animals like Polar bears, Japanese cranes, wolves, eagles, including other endangered animals can be found there.

Asahikawa Winter Festival, the second biggest winter festival in Hokkaido houses lots of snow sculptures, and the best highlight of the festival is the giant snow sculpture. It’s so big that you will surly overwhelmed by. Just pay a visit to Asahibashi Site to see this iconic sculpture. There are also snow slides to have fun in the snow.

Apart from doing these, you can walk around the Asahikawa Station as there are many restaurants. Find the famous Asahikawa ramen there and satisfy your stomach before you take a train back to Sapporo.

Before heading towards your hotel room, you can visit JR Tower Observation Deck T38, located inside JR tower. Enjoy the panoramic night views of Sapporo City from an observatory located 160 meters above ground.

Let’s call it a day!

Day 4 – Skiing/Ice-fishing in Sapporo and Visiting Otaru in the Evening

Sapporo Teine in the winter. Photo Credit: SAPPORO TEINE -Kamori Kanko.co,.ltd.

Let’s go skiing and ice-fishing! Which one do you think would be the best fit for your interest? These two are considered the most popular winter activities in Hokkaido. It’s up to you. You can spend the morning skiing and snowboarding on the mountain. On the other hand, some of you would like to experience ice fishing adventure on beautiful Barato River.

I recommend two ski resorts for ski fanatics that are located nearby Sapporo City. One is Sapporo Teine and the other one is called Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort. Both ski resorts provide ski rental shops, restaurants, various ski zones, ski lessons, coin lockers, changing rooms, and lift tickets.

Ice-fishing on the Barato River has been a popular winter activities for many visitors to Sapporo. There is a half day Barato River ice-fishing tour organized by Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel Inc. You can visit its official website to see the tour price and schedule.

Otaru Canal during the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Photo Credit: t-konno at Flickr.

Take your lunch at a restaurant in downtown Sapporo. Your next destination for the day is Otaru. From Sapporo, Otaru is a 30-45 minute train ride (local and rapid trains).

With the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, Otaru is one of Hokkaido’s most vibrant cities in winter. The festival is very attractive with lots of snow candles, small snow statues and lanterns.

Every year, the festival is celebrated for 10 days. It looks magical in the evening and night as hundreds of lights making the area quite peaceful to take a stroll. So, take a leisurely walk along the Otaru Canal and feel the festive atmosphere right away! The canal itself looks picturesque with the floating lights.

Get back to Sapporo! Once dinner time rolls around, enjoy it at Nemuro Hanamaru, one of the best sushi restaurants in the city.

Day 5 – Sapporo to Noboribetsu Onsen

Jogokudani in Noboribetsu. Photo Credit: Benny Ang at Flickr.

It’s time to warm your body and soul! That’s why you need to head to Noboribetsu Onsen.

Your Hokkaido expedition is not complete until you pay a visit to Noboribetsu Hot Spring Resort. With eleven various kinds of thermal waters and one public bath house, this is considered one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts, and it’s arguably the best hot spring resort in Hokkaido.

Most of the hotels and ryokans here provide their guests both indoor and outdoor hot spring baths. I recommend two hotels to stay overnight – Dai-ichi Takimotokan and Noboribetsu Grand Hotel. The outdoor bath of the Noboribetsu Grand Hotel is amazing. On the other hand, Dai-ichi Takimotokan is popular for its indoor hot spring baths.

Jigokudani or The Hell Valley is a few minute’s walk from these hotels. Go explore this wonderful natural landmark. Visitors are suggested to walk around the hot spring town as well. Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE is also a nice place to explore in Noboribetsu. The dolphin show and penguin walk are absolutely hilarious and your little ones are going to love these at the marine park. I can guarantee it!

Day 6 – Noboribetsu to Hakodate

Night view from Mount Hakodate. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This morning you take a train to Hakodate, a beautiful port city with some amazing tourist attractions. To many travelers, Hakodate seems quite peaceful. Indeed it is! It’s not as bustling as Sapporo, though. In the spring, many people come here to see stunning sakura (cherry blossom) display at Fort Goryokaku.

Ok, I hope you have packed your luggage and taken all your belongings! So, let’s begin the day with a walk to Noboribetsu Station, and wait for a limited express train (Super Hokotu). Hop onto one and leave for Hakodate. The one way ride takes about 155-160 minutes. The early you can arrive in Hakodate, the better it would be.

Get off at JR Hakodate Station, and then make your way to this hotel. You will stay a night there before heading towards Tokyo by Shinkansen tomorrow.

The main reason you come to Hakodate is for its fabulous night views that can be experienced from the observation deck of Mount Hakodate. Before you go to Hakodate Ropeway, you can visit some places around, such as Fort Goryokaku, Motomachi, The Bay Area, and Red Brick Warehouse.

Walking around Motomachi is always a good idea. Do it before you get to Mount Hakodate in the evening. It only takes about 3 minutes to get to the summit from the base station of Hakodate Ropeway. As the main trail to the summit is easy to hike, some people also hike up the mountain in the summer. And I don’t recommend it for you in the winter, though. Just take the cable car!

Enjoy the night view of Hakodate city from there. Please note this is one of Japan’s three best night views! Is not it incredible?!

Day 7 – Hakodate to Tokyo by Shinkansen

Hayabusa train at Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station. Photo Credit: Pundit at Wikimedia Commons.

Do you want to fly to Tokyo from Hakodate or get there by a bullet train? If your budget allows then you can think of reaching Tokyo earlier by air. However, a ride on a bullet train is a good experience indeed. Since you have a Japan Rail Pass, you should take a Shinkansen (Hayabusa train). It will take 5 hours, though.

Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station -> Tokyo Station -> Shinjuku Station.

In Tokyo, you will stay at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku in Shinjuku area. After check in, you can take a nap!

In the evening, you can pick up a number of places to visit, but I would suggest you visit some places around Harajuku and Shibuya. These areas are very easy to get to from Shinjuku Station by train on the JR Yamanote Line.

Walk through the Takeshita Dori (shopping street in Harajuku) including a visit to Tokyo’s largest Daiso (100 yen shop) and experience the famous Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko Statue in Shibuya neighborhood. Don’t you forget that these areas in downtown Tokyo are packed with lots of shops and restaurants!

Day 8 – Tokyo in a Day

Tokyo Skytree at Sumida. Photo Credit: YU-LI LIN at Flickr.

If this is your very first time visit to Tokyo city, there is nothing good than visiting its top attractions. There is a list of exciting things to do and see in Tokyo in February. Excited to know?!

Today, the interesting places to visit in the city are Shinjuku Gyoen, Koishikawa Korakuen, Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple), Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo National Museum, and Roppongi Hills.

Start your day with a visit to Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the largest and famous parks in Tokyo with gardens, walking trails, and lots benches for people to seat around. From Shinjuku Station it takes just over 10 minutes walk to reach Shinjuku Gate.

It’s up to you whether or not you are going to visit Koishikawa Korakuen, but you must visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Then make your way to Tokyo Skytree and enjoy a great lunch at Sky Restaurant 634 (Musashi). After lunch you visit the Tokyo National Museum. Spend all your evening at Roppongi Hills as the area has plenty of dining options and shops.

Taxi/train to your accommodation, and then sleep tight!

Day 9 – Tokyo to Takayama

At Tokyo Station. Photo Credit: IQRemix at Flickr.

You will take a day trip from Takayama City to Shirakawago. That’s the main reason why you need to head over to Takayama from the capital city.

“Tokyo (Tokaido Shinkansen) -> Nagoya (Hida limited express train) -> Takayama” – this is the route you will be going through to reach Takayama with a transfer at Nagoya Station. Hop onto a Hikari Train as it’s covered by Japan Rail Pass. The entire journey from Tokyo Station to Takayama Station via Nagoya Station may take just over 4.5 hours. Check in at Best Western Hotel Takayama.

You can spend the evening in Takayama by taking a walk into the Old town of Takayama. Indeed, the streets of the Old Town are worth exploring!

Day 10 – Takayama to Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go’s Ogimachi village in winter. Photo Credit: tsuda at Flickr.

Shirakawa-go is often known for its winter scenery. The thatched roof houses of the Ogimachi village in Shirakawa-go (UNESCO World Heritage Site) look fabulous during winter.

In the winter months, Nohi Bus offers bus tours like this.

Winter illumination at the village is a top notch for anyone looking to admire Shirakawa-go’s winter scenery. The bus tour actually also includes a dinner! Make reservation in advance by visiting Nohi Bus’s official website. And they don’t accept reservation by telephone.

Before the bus tour, you will have a plenty of time to explore Takayama City including a hiking adventure, and two morning markets. Visitors can easily explore the city on foot and there is a wonderful easy hiking trail to enjoy Takayama’s winter natural beauty. The trail is called Higashiyama Walking Course. This is in fact, a great way to spend your morning in Takayama.

Day 11 – Takayama to Osaka

Osaka Castle. Photo Credit: Jakub Hałun at Flickr.

Takayama Station -> Nagoya Station -> Shin-Osaka Station -> Osaka Station

This early morning, you get to Nagoya station from Takayama station. From there take the shinkansen to Shin-Osaka Station. It takes about 3.5 hours. After that, transfer to Osaka Station. It’s a 5-minute train ride. Check into this hotel, which is located next to JR Osaka Station.

I have so many ideas to share, but the ones I am going to share with you here are enough to help you plan your trip to Osaka.

Osaka at night is stunning and overwhelming. The city is packed with lots of restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping malls that are ideal places to keep you entertained and spend the night before you get to sleep, no doubt! Maybe there are some places in Osaka, which you think are worth visiting. Just feel comfortable and visit them.

However, the places I want you to visit are Osaka Castle Park, Umeda Sky Building, Shitenno-ji, and Dotonobori. This is not going to be a tight schedule for you. Just plan accordingly, and you would manage to do everything pretty nicely. I am sure that you will have plenty of time to visit these attractions after checking into a hotel.

Day 12 – Osaka to Nara (Day trip)

Todaiji in Nara. Photo Credit: Roy Chan at Flickr.

A visit to Nara in the winter will be a remarkable journey! It’s always inspiring visiting its famous landmarks, especially in the area of Nara Park.

When you plan on visiting Nara from Osaka as a day trip, must-see places will be Kofukuji Temple, Nara National Museum, Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha, and don’t forget to feed some deer in the park. Please note there are hundreds of them roaming free!

Wandering around the park visiting Kofukuji temple’s historic treasures, after that, spend some time at the Nara National Museum.

Nara is well-known for its sacred deer and Buddhist temples. Todaiji is one of its most sacred temples. The main hall of the temple houses Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha (15 meters tall). Please note the main hall itself a quite remarkable structure as it’s considered the largest wooden building in the world.

After discovering the incredible treasures of Todaiji, head over to Kasuga Taisha. Its eye-catching architecture will steal your heart away!

The one way train ride from Osaka Station to Nara Station takes about 45-50 minutes. It’s very easy to get to Nara from Osaka, don’t you think so?

After the day trip adventure, take a train back to Osaka. And if you are not tired, I would recommend you to visit HEP FIVE, one of the major shopping malls in downtown Osaka. Enjoy a relaxing ride on its iconic Ferris Wheel.

Day 13 – Osaka to Kyoto (Day trip)

Kinkakuji in snow, Kyoto. Photo Credit: Takeshi Kuboki at Wikimedia Commons.

It’s time to add another side trip from Osaka. And this time you will be in Kyoto!!

Staying in Osaka has a number of good advantages. It’s a shopping paradise and most importantly foods are amazing there! Apart from these, it’s easy to take a day trip to many areas around such as in Nara, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, etc.

Don’t be disappointed to find that this suggested itinerary does not tell you to stay a night or two in Kyoto. You don’t need to stay there as you can easily explore Kyoto’s best attractions from Osaka. On the other hand, many travelers prefer staying in Kyoto and come to Osaka to see its popular attractions.

When it comes to visiting Kyoto’s best attractions, I see that every place in Kyoto deserve your attention. Unfortunately, you can’t visit them all on a single day. And often tight schedule does not work properly. Considering this fact, you should visit some places, such as Fushimi Inari Shrine, Gion/Higashimyama district, and Kinkaku-ji.

Kinkaku-ji becomes truly an amazing place to take a stroll around during winter. You may see a lot of snow on its ground on the day you visit it. Bear in mind that dress warm to survive the cold there!

If you are going to stay in Japan for more than 14 days, I highly recommend you to plan on staying in Kyoto at least 2 nights. That’s the best way to experience Japanese traditions in the area.

Day 14 – Osaka to Kansai International Airport

Have a safe flight! Photo Credit: Yamaguchi Yoshiaki at Flickr.

After checking out from the hotel, make your way to Osaka Station and hop on a train (JR airport rapid train) to Kansai International airport. The one way ride takes 70 minutes and it’s fully covered by Japan Rail Pass.

Come back to Japan to travel in the future again, that’s what I can expect from you. Japan has so much to offer you and only a 14-day stay in Japan is not enough!

This suggested itinerary is quite easy to follow and if you think you still want to modify it, I would say “Why not?! – do modify it on your own and add the places you want to visit.”

Thanks for reading, and I wish you have a wonderful time in Japan this February. Take care guys!