Hokkaido is my personal favourite part of Japan to visit. Being a Singaporean, I spend most of the time in a very densely populated and busy city. I love Hokkaido for her slow pace, natural scenery, fresh air, and really just the lack of people.
I have been to Hokkaido 5 times. The kids have been there 4 times, and the hubby 3. It’s funny, I know. It’s a family joke how the kids have been to Hokkaido more often than my hubby. We have reached the point where when we tell people that we’re going to Hokkaido, their reaction is almost definitely, “AGAIN?! WHY???”
The single most important reason why we keep going back to Hokkaido is because of the food. When it comes to sightseeing, I don’t need to see the same thing twice. But when it comes to food, I can eat the same thing over and over. And there are a lot of food I love in Hokkaido, which you can find in my Hokkaido Food Guides.
The other reason I keep visiting Hokkaido is because it changes so much over the different seasons! I can visit the same spot in summer and in winter and it’ll look totally different. And I am not alone. Over the years of blogging about Hokkaido, many readers have told me they are going back to Hokkaido again to experience it in another season. It’s just such an addictive place to keep going back to!
Are you ready to get addicted to Hokkaido travel? Let’s get started!
Most visitors arrive in Hokkaido via New Chitose Airport (CTS), near Sapporo – the biggest city in Hokkaido. New Chitose Airport is a destination in itself. I always recommend readers to spend more time there, and not just leave the moment you touch down or arrive just before your flight. Try to allocate a couple of hours at least at this amazing airport. There’s so much to shop and eat there! And if you have an early flight out of CTS, I recommend spending the last night at Air Terminal Hotel which is within the airport.
From Singapore, my favourite way to fly into CTS is using Thai Airways with a transit in Bangkok. Another similar option is Cathay Airlines with transit in Hong Kong. You can go for whichever is offering a better deal. So far I haven’t found a deal wit Cathay that beats Thai Airways’ frequent promotions.
In 2016, Scoot Airlines started flying from Singapore to CTS with a transit in Taipei. So if you looking for a low cost carrier to save some money, you can check them out. But DO COMPARE PRICES. Sometimes Thai Airways has deals that are so insanely cheap that it doesn’t make sense to go for a low cost carrier.
Singapore to Hokkaido by
There are really NOT that many international flights going into New Chitose Airport. So many travellers arrive from Tokyo via a domestic flight instead. Note that if you take an international flight to Tokyo and transit to a domestic flight, you do need to collect your luggage after the international flight and bring it to the domestic transfer counter to drop off again. Which is not as hassle-free as compared to finding an international flight in.
Another thing you need to be very careful about when booking a domestic transfer is that Tokyo has two airports: Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). Which are not close to each other. Try not to book your international flight to NRT and domestic flight from HND or vice versa. Be sure to check that your connecting flights arrive and leave from the same airport in Tokyo.
If you are going to fly domestic, I recommend you take advantage of open-jaw option if available to cut down on travelling. Hokkaido is huge. By flying into one end and out from another end can cut down on quite a bit of travelling time. This is particularly useful when you are visiting the extreme ends of Hokkaido, such as Shiretoko (North), Kushiro (East) or Hakodate (South).
Since 2016, it has also become possible to take the Hokkaido shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate. However, because of the lack of shinkansen from Hakodate to other parts of Hokkaido, I still personally prefer to use domestic flights for now. Later on when the shinkansen network joins up to Sapporo, that’s when I will seriously consider the rail option.
After you book your air tickets, it’s time to start planning your route. A lot of first-time visitors to Hokkaido do not realise how huge Hokkaido is and try to go from Shiretoko to Hakodate in one week. Please don’t do that, you’ll be spending your entire vacation on the road.
For our trips, we have almost always rented a car and drove. Unlike other more populated parts of Japan that are known for efficient shinkansen (bullet trains) and dense train networks, public transport in Hokkaido sucks. Sorry about the language, but there’s no better way to express how I feel about Hokkaido’s public transport. It’s annoying when you see two towns that are just a short distance apart, but there’s no direct public transport over.
But because of how big Hokkaido is, driving all the way can be extremely tiring. Which is why we would suggest you try not to cover everything from North to South within the same trip. And depending on the amount of time you have, you may just want to visit one region for each week you have.
For example if you only have one week, you may just want to do Central Hokkaido. Or Eastern Hokkaido. Not both. But if you have two weeks, you can do both Central and Eastern Hokkaido. But don’t try to squeeze in Southern Hokkaido unless you have a third week. Geddit?
To estimate how much travelling time you need, you can use Hyperdia to check for rail timings, and Google maps to estimate driving times. I have found Google maps’ driving time estimates to be quite accurate – in Summer and in good weather.
Weather. Omg. Hokkaido’s weather is madness. Be prepared to drive through near-zero visibility when the weather gets bad. Don’t be frightened off, most of the time it’s fine. But sometimes you may find yourself caught in a situation where you’re driving at like 20km/h through thick fog. My point is – it’s important to keep your itinerary loose to allow time for unforseen delays. You REALLY do not want to be caught out on a road after dark in an unexpected snow storm with nobody else in sight (remember how I started by saying Hokkaido lacked people?). And btw, snow storms are not limited to winter in Hokkaido. Just so you know.
Things get even more complicated when it comes to winter where daylight hours are extremely short and you can’t drive fast even on a clear day. Which is why we have dedicated a whole post to planning a winter trip in Hokkaido, and we recommend you start there if you’re planning a winter trip.
Visiting in Winter?
Essential Tips for Planning a Hokkaido Winter Trip
When planning your itinerary, it is absolutely essential that you take into account the season. You CANNOT be using a summer itinerary for a winter trip – it won’t work, because of shorter daylight hours and longer travelling time (yes, I know I just repeated myself, but I can’t stress this enough).
Same can be said vice versa. Don’t go to Tsurui in Summer and ask me why you don’t see any cranes. Or Lake Kussharo and wonder where the swans are.
We are putting together some of our favourite places to visit at different times of the year. Below are what we have for now, and we’re slowly working through the rest of the year. In time to come, we hope to complete writing the series for the whole year for your easy referencing.
Visiting in late May – June?
Best Places to Visit in Hokkaido in Early Summer & Sample Itineraries
Visiting in July & August?
Best Places to Visit in Hokkaido in Summer
Below you will find the itinerary to our past trips. In each itinerary, you will also find detailed travel journals broken up into parts. So don’t just scroll through our itinerary and try to replicate what we did. We have taken great pains to write down details and reflections of what we should have done differently, and why we had to make some decisions that we actually will NOT recommend you follow.
After you have drawn out your itinerary, you probably want more information on what to do at each destination. Below, you can find our blog posts sorted by destinations to give you ideas on how to fill up your days in Hokkaido.
As I mentioned earlier, Hokkaido changes a lot according to season. When choosing places to visit, it is essential that you take into account the season you’re visiting, as some places in Hokkaido only open during certain seasons. We have learned it the hard way – turning up at restaurants during winter to find it closed, or turning up in Niseko in summer to find ourselves the only guests in the entire building.
Hence, we have also sorted our blog posts by seasons below to help you select the right places to visit for the time you’re travelling.
Is there a festival happening during the time you’re visiting? If there is, lucky you! Below, we have written guides for some of the festivals in Hokkaido that we have visited. We hope these will help you find your way around the festivals and make the most of your time there!
After you have your route and itinerary all planned out, it’s time to start securing accommodation! During lull periods, accommodation in Hokkaido can be very cheap. But if you are visiting Hokkaido during peak season (Golden week, July – August, around Christmas week or when there are major festivals going on), good luck.
Okay, kidding, I’m not going to leave you in the lurch. If you’re visiting during peak period, please BOOK EARLY! I usually recommend using Booking.com to secure a free cancellation plan as early as you can. Later on, you can pop back in again to see if a better offer pops up and rebook if you come across one. Booking.com makes it really easy to change your bookings – as long as you do it within the free cancellation window. Don’t go and book a non-cancellable early bird deal and wonder why you can’t change your bookings later on. More often than not, I have found the savings on a non-cancellable deal not worth it, as I don’t have the flexbility to change my itinerary later on if I want to.
For our recommendations, we have shortlisted some accommodation that we would personally choose in the guide below.
Take Me There!>
Bumble Bee Mum’s (Not So) Official Accommodation Guide
In this section, you will find some of the generic guides we have written about Hokkaido travel, from travelling with kids to budgeting to transport etc. Do take the time to read whatever you think would be relevant for your trip.
Hokkaido with Kids
Activities for Kids at New Chitose Airport
Hokkaido with Kids
Places to visit with kids in Hokkaido during Summer
Budgeting for a Hokkaido Trip
Money-Saving Tips for a Self-Drive Hokkaido Trip
Driving in Hokkaido
Hokkaido Expressway Pass, ETC Card & Toll Fees
Hokkaido by Rail
Hokkaido Rail Pass
Hokkaido by Rail
Hokkaido Winter Trains:
Ah…. Saving the best for the last… Food. The reason we’re back in Hokkaido over and over again. Below, we have written about some of our favourite food in Hokkaido. *Droolz*
Our 10 Favourite Restaurants in Hokkaido
Our 10 Favourite Cafes in Hokkaido
Kids-Friendly Restaurants in Hokkaido
Famous Sweets & Confectionery
Visit Travel Buzz (Coming Soon)>
If you still have questions about Hokkaido travel, or you would like to share with us YOUR Hokkaido experiences, come on over to Travel Buzz! We look forward to chatting with you there.