Hokkaido in end December (Christmas Week)
Hokkaido in end December (Christmas Week)

Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

We are going to Hokkaido on this coming December. From dec 20-27. And we are planning to rent a car to go for day trip in Niseko as we didn’t manage to book any accommodation in Niseko. Do you think is it worth to visit in a day ?

From you blog, i understand that the food is not as good and expensive there. But the scenery really nice. Especially in a snowy day. So I want to know do it worth to go for a day trip just for the scenery ?

Also, have you visited Sapporo Teine Ski resort before ? That one is much nearer to Sapporo main city. But I not sure the scenery there. Don’t know how much different compare to Niseko.

During that period of time, will be snowy all around Hokkaido right ?

By Jackson Chai on October 29, 2015

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  • Jasline Ang says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,

    You have shared very clear write-up in Hokkaido, and really appreciated. Thank you!

    My family has last min decision to Hokkaido in Dec 2015 and managed to book all within 2 weeks, our 1st time.

    I have more issues on the timing, as we arrived in New Chitose Airport in the night 20:25, is there JR train or any kind of public transport available to bring us to Sappora? I am staying in Sapporo Monterey Hotel.

    We intend to rent a car in Sapporo after we check out from Sapporo Monterey Hotel to Otaru (1 nite) – Niseko (2nites) – Noboribestu (2 nites [either Takimoto Inn or Hotel Route Inn Tomakomai Ekimae] ) – New Chitose Airport. However, my flight out of Sapporo is at 8am. I have to reach Airport by 6am, can I return my car rental at this early hours? or I have to find alternative?

    We are travelling from 22 Dec to 30 Dec.

    Thank you.


    • bumblebeemum says:

      I did a quick check using today’s train timetable on hyperdia, the last train leaving CTS bound for Sapporo leaves CTS at 22:53, so you should have no problem catching a train to Sapporo.

      You should plan to spend your last night at Air Terminal Hotel within New Chitose Airport if your flight is so early in the morning. So return the car the day before.

      Please remember that you are driving in winter. Never drive in the dark and plan to reach your destination at 4pm (the sky turns dark at 4+ in winter). So on your second last day, return the car by 4pm and just spend the rest of the evening at the airport.

  • Jamelle Seah says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum, I am glad to chance upon your blog. Many useful information! Me and my family of 4 (2 kids, 9yo and 5yo) are planning for a winter holiday in hokkaido from 22dec – 2jan. I have heard of many snowstorm in hokkaido. Wondering if my date is recommended to go hokkaido with kids?

    • bumblebeemum says:


      Yes, in December there will be snow storms in Hokkaido. But they are not as scary as they sound. Encountering a snow storm is akin to encountering rain in summer. It’s just part and parcel of travelling. In fact, I prefer snow because they don’t drench you the same way rain does. I actually enjoyed having snow land on my (waterproof) jackets and flicking them off during my first winter vacation.. LOL!

      Your dates look great for a trip to Hokkaido. Snow parks at the various resorts should be ready by end December, and you may even be able to catch the penguin parade at Asahiyama Zoo. You can read more about planning a winter vacation on my latest post:

  • Gwen summer says:

    Hi ΓΌ we are planning to go to Sapporo on Dec 25 with our kids ages 6-1. Our plan is to stay in a Sapporo hotel and then just make daytrips to different sites especially since the rates in ski resorts are already double or even triple. Where would you recommend for us to go so we can do some snow activities like sledding or tubing? Also, would it be possible to go to Tomamu on a daytrip so we can visit the Ice Village? Thanks in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      By late December, most of the ski resorts should have their snow activities up and running. Tomamu, Rusutsu and Niseko would all have them by the time you are travelling. Yes, it’s possible to do a day trip to Tomamu. There is direct train from Sapporo to Tomamu, and you can check the train timings on hyperdia:

  • Jackson Chai says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    We are going to Hokkaido on this coming December. From dec 20-27. And we are planning to rent a car to go for day trip in Niseko as we didn’t manage to book any accommodation in Niseko. Do you think is it worth to visit in a day ?

    From you blog, i understand that the food is not as good and expensive there. But the scenery really nice. Especially in a snowy day. So I want to know do it worth to go for a day trip just for the scenery ?

    Also, have you visited Sapporo Teine Ski resort before ? That one is much nearer to Sapporo main city. But I not sure the scenery there. Don’t know how much different compare to Niseko.

    During that period of time, will be snowy all around Hokkaido right ?

    Best Regards,
    Jackson Chai

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Niseko is more for skiing imo. Beautiful scenery is abundant throughout Hokkaido, I actually think the scenery around Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya was nicer than Niseko. Because in Niseko, it snowed so heavily that the snow obstructed the view of the mountains around most of the time. If were to do a day trip from Sapporo for scenery and food, I would go to Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu instead.

      Teine ski resort is mostly for skiing, not for sightseeing. So only go there if you want to ski.

      Yup, by end December it should be snowy all around Hokkaido. πŸ™‚

  • Jackson Chai says:

    Thanks a lot for your reply. Really appreciate it. But from your picture in Niseko have those thick powder snow. Really tempting.

    By the way, is it hard to drive there during winter time ? How long to take to drive there from Sapporo city ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It was very hard to drive in Niseko frankly. I didn’t have much trouble driving in other regions in Hokkaido – only in Niseko because the snow was so heavy which meant very poor visibility. But I guess it’s precisely because of the heavy snow that you can get fresh powdery snow every morning. I would say it is about 3 hours drive from Sapporo to Niseko in winter.

  • ST says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum

    I am planning travel to hokkaido from 22 dec – 5 jan 16.
    a quick question regarding Tomamu resort.
    As the rate is currently crazy high, i was contemplating should we stay a night there or just make a day trip to let my 5 years old experience skiing (first time).
    But we are most interested in the ice village which I understand its best visited only at night.
    Does that mean we definitely hv no choice but to stay at the resort right?
    thanks to advise


  • Miyako says:

    Hi is it possible to do all the above that you mentioned in a week? I want to snow ski/board, see the penguin parade, snow monkeys, ice scruptures, ride on the ice breaker, etc. I’m looking at traveling from end Dec till beginning Jan this year.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It is possible to ski / snowboard at Tomamu, visit some ice sculptures (mainly igloos and ice slide) at Tomamu Ice Village, see penguin parade at Asahikawa and ride the ice-breaker cruise at Abashiri in a week. Snow monkeys are in Hakodate all the way South, so I wouldn’t try to squeeze that in.

      • Miyako says:

        Hi which hotel/resort do you think is optimal to do all these? And which pass should I get? I’m bringing my elderly parents and seeing that snowfall is heavy in Hokkaido, is it difficult to walk or travel around? It’s the first time we are going to a place with negative temperature, hence I’m quite worried. Asking the Japanese would be irrelevant as they are used to the snow. I would like to hear a Singaporean’s point of view. Thank you.

  • Jan says:

    Hello Bumblebee Mum

    I really love your blog! you write so clearly with such detailed information. Thank you for that!

    We are planning a trip to Hokkaido from 25 Dec 16 – 3 Jan 17 and have a few questions.

    Some background: We are planning the trip to be as far back in Dec as possible as we hope to maximise the chance of snow activities and penguin parade. We intend to take public transport and not drive. There are 5 of us (3 adults and 2 children 5 and 8 years old)

    My draft itinerary

    Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
    Day 2: Sapporo
    Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
    Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
    Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
    Day 6 – 9: Tomamu, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya
    Day 10: Return

    1. How shall i plan days 6-9 in a way that makes sense in terms of public transportation links? Do i need to return to Sapporo on the last day to go to Chitose for the flight on day 10?
    2. Do you think there are airbnb types of lodging in Tomamu? There are 5 of us and we will need 2 rooms so i am worried about the cost of the accommodation at the ski resort, especially over New Year period.
    3. Also i tried to book the ski resort but i think they are not available for booking yet. Do you know when they would be open for Dec bookings?
    4. Another concern that weighs heavily on my mind is that it will be during the New Year period. I am worried that a lot of shops/ places of interest/ public transport may not be available during this period.
    5. What would be good and affordable onsen options in Noboribetsu and Lake Toya?
    6. Alternatively, would it be wise to base the entire trip in Sapporo and do day trips? Is it feasible?

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thank you in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. If you are using public transport, I would advise you to choose either Noboribetsu or Lake Toya, not both. Moving around via public transport in winter with luggage and kids is extremely tiring. I would minimise my change of hotel if I am using public transport.

      Sapporo – Tomamu (by train)
      Tommau – Noboribetsu or Toya (train with 1 transfer at Minami-Chitose, followed by taxi to hotel)
      Noboribetsu or Toya – CTS (check with hotel for best way to go back – there may be direct buses available.)

      I would not go back to Sapporo after that. I would head straight back to CTS Noboribetsu / Lake Toya.

      2. There is a homestay called Pension ING near Tomamu. I stayed there when I visited in a group of 5, but we had our own rental car. I think the host can drive you up to Hoshino Resort, but I’m not sure if they are flexible in their timings or you need to abide by their timing. On their website, it says they will pick you up at 4pm, but if that’s the case you will miss the Ice Village. You may want to check with them regarding their shuttle timings.

      I frankly recommend staying at Hoshino Resort. But if it is really out of your budget, you may just want to go to Tomamu as a day-trip from Sapporo. The advantage of doing so is that from Sapporo, when you want to go to Noboribetsu or Lake Toya later, some hotels in the region provide complimentary shuttle bus from Sapporo to the hotel.

      3. Try again some time in October?

      4. Public transport will continue to operate. The ryokans will definitely still be open too. If you are just going to relax in the onsen and enjoy the meals provided by the ryokan, then you have nothing to worry about. That being said, you should book your ryokan stay with half-board during that period since restaurants may be closed.

      5. At Noboribetsu, try Hotel Mahoroba. At Lake Toya, try Toya Sunpalace.

      6. I would advise you to base in Sapporo all the way until you go to Noboribetsu or Lake Toya. For these two onsen towns, I recommend spending at least a night to experience a hot spring ryokan stay.

      • Jan says:

        Hi Bumblebee mum,

        Thanks for the reply!

        I have a few follow up question.

        1. For your answer for point 2 above, just so that i understand correctly, this is in order of recommendation?
        1. stay in Tomamu resort
        2. day trip to Tomamu from Sapporo
        3. stay in the Pension ING

        2. If i only have money to splurge of either one of this: 1) Tomamu resort or 2) Noboribetsu

        3. Which train pass should i opt for if my itinerary is as follows:

        Sapporo City
        Sapporo City and Chocolate Factory
        Day trip Otaru
        Day trip Ashiyama Zoo
        Day trip to Rusutsu / Teine ski resort
        Sapporo – Tomamu
        Tomamu – Noribetsu
        Noboribetsu – Sapporo / airport

        Thank so much!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1. Nope. What I recommend is that you either stay at Hoshino Tomamu Resort, or you don’t stay at Tomamu at all and just go to Tomamu for one day as a day trip from Sappporo.

          If you don’t want to stay at Hoshino Resort Tomamu, this is what you can do:

          Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
          Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
          Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
          Day 6: Tomamu (day trip – take train there in the morning, take train back at night)
          Day 7: Rusutsu / Teine Ski Resort day trip
          Day 8: Sapporo – Noboribetsu (look for direct shuttle bus provided by hotel)
          Day 9: Noboribetsu – CTS
          Day 10: Return

          If you don’t mind paying to stay at Hoshino Resort Tomamu for a night, this is what you can do:

          Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
          Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
          Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
          Day 6: Rusutsu / Teine Ski Resort day trip
          Day 7: Sapporo – Tomamu (stay at Hoshin Resort Tomamu)
          Day 8: Tomamu – Noboribetsu (train and cab to hotel from Noboribetsu station)
          Day 9: Noboribetsu – CTS
          Day 10: Return

          2. Between Tomamu and Noboribetsu, since you are going in winter, I recommend Tomamu.

          3. You can consider either getting the 4-day flexi Hokkaido Rail Pass or 5-days Hokkaido Rail Pass. But I am not sure if it will be worth it. Use hyperdia to check the train fares, add them up and see if it cost more or less than the cost of the rail pass (which is 22000yen).

          • Jan says:

            This sounds great! Thank you so much!!

          • Cecilia says:

            Hihi. Just a suggestion. I think 1 night at Tomamu is not enough if you are bringing kids along. We stayed 2 nights there last December and my kids who were 9 and 7 did not have enough of fun! Come on, how frequently do we go skiing? If you are taking public transport and by the time you arrive there, it’s quite late for the skiing lessons and no time for you to ski on your own after that. Just a reminder. If you intend to book for the ski lessons, do book in advance online. We didn’t do that previously and only managed to book the last slot. By the time it ended, the sky was dark and we can’t ski anymore.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yeah, you’re right. If you want to ski or snowboard, you definitely need to stay more than 1 night at any ski resort. But for people who do not like to ski (like me.. haha..), I will run out of things to do at the resort after 2 days.

          • Jan says:

            Hi Bumblebee Mum,

            I wrote to ask for your advice several months ago with the intention of staying 1 night in Tomamu and another night in Noboribetsu.

            But the cost of staying in Tomamu and ryokan is too prohibitive over the new year period and so i will be staying in the airbnb near Sapporo station throughout.

            Would you be able to suggest an itinerary for 10 days (25 Dec – 3 Jan) all based in Sapporo and traveling using public transport?

            Thank you!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Hmmm….. This is frankly a very tough one. It is possible to make day trips to Otaru, Asahikawa, Tomamu and Noboribetsu by public transport from Sapporo. For Lake Toya, I would recommend you drive if you want to do it as a day trip from Sapporo. Hakodate would be too far to do as a day trip. So I guess the rest of the time would just be in Sapporo – which means lots of time for shopping and eating.

  • Alice says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mummy πŸ™‚

    Thank you so very much for your information in this blog πŸ™‚ Hope you can help give some advise as I will be going to Hokkaido 22/12 to 4/1.

    1) My intended itinery is as follows. what is your opinion?
    22/12 – 27/12 – Asahikawa (stay and do day trips)
    27/12 – 31/12 – Tomamu (stay at ice village and do day trips to biei/furano etc)
    31/12 – 4/1 – Sapporo (stay and do day trips)

    2) how do you book the hotels in ice village?

    3) where would you recommend for day trips while I am in Asahikawa and Tomamu?

    Thank you very much bumblebee mummy!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) What day trips are you planning to go from Asahikawa in winter besides Asahiyama Zoo? And I wouldn’t go Biei and Furano in winter either.

      2) Ice Village is not for staying, it’s just igloos with ice bars, santa’s house etc. You can go there and walk around and play with the slides and ice-skating rink. It is located at Hoshino Resort Tomamu and you can book a room there through their official website. But they are not open for 2016-2017 winter season yet.

      3) At Ashikawa, I would only spend a day to visit the zoo. From there, I would move to Sounkyo or Lake Akan. These are onsen towns which deserve at least a night stay at an onsen resort, rather than visiting as a day trip. As for Tomamu, I wouldn’t go anywhere. I would just stay there for skiing, snowboarding and other snow activities.

      • Alice says:

        Wow, thanks so much Bumberbee mummy for your fast respond XD

        Yes, after thinking about it, I decided to stay just 3 nights in Tomamu. and okie will wait for the booking for Hoshino Resort to open for winter season πŸ™‚

        22/12 – 27/12 – from chitose airport (will land abt 6pm)head straight to Asahikawa (stay and do day trips)
        27/12 – 30/12 – Tomamu
        30/12 – 4/1 – Sapporo (stay and do day trips)

        1) is the above itinery fesible?

        2) Is Asahikawa a good base for travelling out for day trips? or is it better to stay at Kushiro?

        3) where would you recommend for day trips around Asahikawa or Kushiro? I have 2 big boys around 16 to 21 and my 81 yrs old dad. we would like to go places with beautiful scenery and theme parks for adults would be great if any πŸ™‚

        Thanks Bumberbee mummy!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          2) For winter, I think Kushiro is a better base than Asahikawa. However, you do need a car to get around the crane area and Akan National Park from Kushiro.

          3) In winter, theme parks will be closed. So it is mostly about enjoying the scenery and food and onsen. I recommend driving around Akan National Park – it is very scenic. If you want to visit Asahikawa for the zoo, you can do it as a day trip from Sapporo.

          • Alice says:

            Thank you so much Bumberbee mummy πŸ™‚

            Really appreciate all your info and advise. yap! I will change my base from Asahikawa to Kushiro. So will this itinery be better?

            22/12 – 27/12 – from chitose airport (will land abt 6pm)head straight to Kushiro (stay and do day trips)
            27/12 – 30/12 – Tomamu
            30/12 – 4/1 – Sapporo (stay and do day trips)

            • Alice says:

              O 2 more questions Bumberbee mummy XD

              1) If I am not comfortable to drive, is it still a good choice to spend 5 days in Kushiro as a base for days trips near that area?

              2) do you know of any website where I can book apartment type of accommodation in Hokkaido?

              Thanks again !

              • bumblebeemum says:

                1) If you are not comfortable to drive, it is going to be very hard to make day trips from Kushiro. In fact, it is very hard to visit many places in Eastern Hokkaido without a car.

                In my opinion, the best way to enjoy the region is by car and staying at the onsen towns. If I had 5 days, I would do the following:

                22/12: If you are arriving at CTS in the evening, spend the night at Air Terminal Hotel.
                23/12: Train to Obihiro, eat buta don and visit Rokkatei. Then rent a car and drive to Tokachigawa onsen. Spend the night there. If you want to save money, then skip Tokachigawa onsen and spend the night at a hotel near Obihiro station and pick up the car the next morning.
                24/12: Drive to Lake Akan.
                25/12: Drive around Akan National Park.
                26/12: Drive to Tsurui to see the cranes, then to Kushiro to visit Washo Market and drive back to Obihiro to return the car. Spend the night at Obihiro.
                27/12: Train from Obihiro to Tomamu.

                2) Apartments are not common in Hokkaido with the exception of Sapporo city. You can try AirBnb. If you are on a budget, try the chain hotels like Toyoko Inn / Super Hotel etc. I particularly like Super Hotel because they have rooms with a bunk bed. At Obihiro, I recommend Richmond Hotel. They have big family rooms that are very reasonably priced.

                • Alice says:

                  Okie XD

                  Thank you very much Bumberbee Mum! I should try driving for the first time in winter, haha.

                  Have a great day!

  • Carrie says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Thanks for your write up on this. Its very informative. Need to get some advice and recommendation from you on my trip.
    I’m visiting Hokkaido 7 days 6 nights, just me and my partner. Don’t want to travel too long/far away from the central part. Will be there end of Dec – early Jan. Wanted to try some ice activities and leisure ski and not forgetting the hot spring. Do you have any recommendations on which area shall I look for? Not something too pricey =P

    • bumblebeemum says:

      End Dec to early Jan is peak period in Japan so it may get quite pricey. For ice activities and leisure ski, you can try Tomamu. It is an easy train ride from Sapporo. For hot spring, you can try Noboribetsu. Some resorts like Hotel Mahoroba have free shuttle to and fro Sapporo. And then you can plan a day trip from Sapporo to Asahiyama Zoo for the penguin parade. πŸ™‚

  • Kris says:

    Hi bumblebee ,

    I am planning a year end trip to hokkiado from 16 dec to 2 Jan and my itinerary is as follows –

    Day 1. – arrive at Sapporo late and check in to air bnb
    Day 2-4 – exploring Sapporo
    Day 4 & 5 – stay at Kushiro
    Day 5 &6 Lake Akan and planning to stay at onsens
    Day 7&8 – Tomuma resort ( freakingly expensive price at the resort , so I staying at air bnb inside the resort)
    Day 9 – Noribetsue
    Day 10 & 11 – lake Toya and day trip to Rutsusu
    Day 12-14 back to Sapporo and make day trip to Otaru

    Day 15 – departs from CTS

    Now my dilemma is whether I should be doing my trip to eastern hokkiado via driving . My hubby and I have no experience in driving in snow condition before. But looking through ur informative blog , I was rather encouraged and my hubby also thought it should be ok to drive if we keep our speed to 50km/hr. However when I start to share with my friends – we were met with “awe” , “sure , in snow condition “?
    Hence I was rather hesitant and worried . So would like to ask u whether is it really “quite ok to drive in late December ” for first timer drivers in snow condition ? πŸ™ plus I would like to skip obihiro and instead am thinking is it feasible to drive all the way from Sapporo to Kushiro and stay for 2 nites as first day will be a long day drive and second day will be up and ealry to explore Kushiro and the cranes area… My only concern is it feasible to do this leg of driving ? Hahaah lastly my plan to stay at Tomuma has been fixed as my friends will be joining us on that day and accomodation has already been booked . And lastly , is it ok to drive from lake Akan to Tomuma resort ? Cos I have read like u said not advisable to drive to ski resort … A handful of questions … But thanks for taking time to reply πŸ™‚

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is always a first time for everything. Akan National Park is really hard to get around without a car. You could hire a private driver, but it will be much more expensive than driving yourselves. Book with a reliable car company with good roadside support (e.g. Toyota), drive slow, keep your itinerary loose, drive in bright daylight and you should be fine. Many of our readers have been coming back from their winter self-drive trips and saying it wasn’t that bad.

      If you want to minimise your driving, I would say only drive at Akan. So you rent a car from Kushiro to drive around Akan and return it to Kushiro. Then from there, train to Tomamu.

      For your day trip to Rusutsu, I’m not sure of your public transport options between Lake Toya and Rusutsu. Have you looked that up?

  • Kris says:

    I forgot to add , I am traveling with my daughters aged 7 & 11. I have surfed some car rental website and it seems to me that they are not cheap ..so alternatively, I am actually considering to buy a 4 day JR flexi pass and used it to travel from Sapporo to Kushiro. From Kushiro , will do a 3 day car rental to explore Kushiro and drive to and fro lake Akan. Return the car at Kushiro and take train from Kushiro to Tomuma. Pls let me hear ur views. Thanks !

  • Serin Chng says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    This will be my first time to Japan and see snows. I have tried to read many of your blogs, but it is still quite difficult to figure out what should I do.
    can you kindly advise me in details.

    I am travelling in Dec 23 to 7 Jan 2016 with 9 pax. They are all adults except 1 three year old child.

    We intend to have 3 nights at Tokyo before begin our journey to Hakodate.

    Day 1 (25 Dec, chk out on 26 Dec)
    – Hakodate (issue is not many domestic flight. as far as I know is Ado)
    Can we go to Hakodate airport and fly out using other airports?
    and I have already booked accommodation.
    so will still prefer to begin with Hakodate (I saw yr website that the train from Tokyo to Hakodate. But it is very expensive)

    2 -3 places a must visit for Hakodate

    Day 2-3, (in 26, out 28) – pick up car from Hakodate and start driving (can again give me advise on the car package, cos we are going to make reservation on next week)
    Ashahikwa (stay there)
    places of interest and long the way?

    Day 3 – Day 5
    28 Dec – 31st (out): Kushiro
    places of interest?

    Day 6 – 9
    31st Dec – 3rd Sapporo
    places of interest.
    should we return car in Sapporo and what kind of transport to move around?

    Day 10 – Day 14
    3rd Jan – 7th Jan (out)
    Niseko Freeman Inn
    how to travel from niseko to kutchan train station?

    how is the travel route? possible? too crowded or could include more?
    so far we only know bits and there.

    Hope that you can guide us for more details. Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hakodate has far fewer flight options compared to CTS. And hence more likely to be more expensive. A round-trip Tokyo-CTS flight is usually much cheaper.

      If you want to go via Hakodate, I would opt for rail travel using the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass:

      This covers train travel between Tokyo and Hakodate, as well as within Hokkaido for 6 days over a 14-day period. Hence, it can totally replace your domestic flights and you do not need to drive the long distances in Hokkaido (which can be painful in winter).

      Correct me if I am wrong, you booked Hakodate on 25th night and Asahikawa on 26th night? These 2 cities are extremely far apart. And after Asahikawa you are moving to Kushiro? Again that’s another very long travel. Is there any way you can change your accommodation bookings?

      This is what I would recommend:
      Day 1 (rail pass): Tokyo – Hakodate
      Day 2: Hakodate
      Day 3 (rail pass): Hakodate – Tomamu (transit at Minami-Chitose)
      Day 4 (rail pass): Tomamu – Kushiro
      Day 5 (rent car): Drive around Akan National Park
      Day 6 (rail pass): Kushiro – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo
      Day 8 (rail pass): Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
      Day 9: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      Day 10: Sapporo – Niseko (bus – please contact your hotel to check if there is any direct bus there from Sapporo.)
      Day 11: Niseko
      Day 12: Niseko
      Day 13: Niseko
      Day 14 (rail pass): Niseko – Tokyo (requires 2 transits at OSHAMAMBE and SHIN-HAKODATE-HOKUTO)

      • Serin Chng says:

        Thank you for going through our itineraries.
        After going through your suggestions and also further reading,
        I would like to amend as follow. Is it more feasible on our itineraries and travel distance?
        Because I am travelling with 9 people, hence we prefer to drive as much as possible.
        Tokyo to Hakodate (rail pass)
        sleeps at Hakodate

        Day 2 (drive)
        Hakodate to Lake Toya (worth to go??)
        sleep at Noberibetsu

        Day 3 (drive)
        Noberibetsu (go to hell valley)
        drive to Asahikawa (sleep)

        Day 4 (drive)
        Asahikawa (zoo)
        drive to Shiretoko (sleep)

        Day 5 (drive)
        Shiretoko (1.5 cruise tour)
        drive to Kushiro (sleep)

        Day 6 (drive)
        Seafood market (am)
        check in to Akan Yuku (enjoy onsen and walk around)
        Kushiro (sleep)

        Day 7 (drive)
        Akan national park and crane visit
        sleep at Kushiro

        Day 8 (drive)
        from Kushiro to Sapporo
        sleep at Sapporo

        Day 9 (drive)
        day trip to Otaru
        Mt. Okura Observatory?

        Day 10 (rail)
        Sapporo to Kutchan station
        sleeps at Niseko Freeman Inn

        Day 11 – 13

        Day 14
        Kutchan to Tokyo (thank you for alerting me about the transit)

        with our itineraries, is it still necessary to buy ETC card?

        Really appreciate your reply.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Day 4: Asahikawa to Shiretoko is a looooong drive…. Especially after spending the day at the zoo! I suggest only driving as far as Kitami or Abashiri and spending a night there bfore driving on to Shiretoko the next morning.

          It doesn’t make sense to me to drive from Shiretoko to Kushiro then back to Lake Akan then back to Kushiro again. I would use Lake Akan to break up the drive from Shiretoko to Kushiro.

          Day 5: Kitami / Abashiri – Shiretoko (cruise) – Lake Akan
          Day 6: Drive around Akan National Park
          Day 7: Lake Akan – Kushiro

          If you can get an ETC card for a nominal fee, you should try getting one. You have long stretches of toll roads to cover, though not frequently. Just at 3 stretches: Hakodate – Toya, Noboribetsu – Asahikawa, Kushiro – Sapporo. So even if you cannot get one, it’s not that much of a hassle to pay cash.

          • Serin Chng says:

            Your prompt reply was a great help.
            I shall follow your suggestion.

            May I know the place to see the crane is it Akan National Park?
            Is there any place that we will be able to see more cranes?
            I saw some reading that some of them joined tour and get to see many cranes not listed from the normal site.
            are you aware?

            thank you for helping me to plot my driving journey.


            • bumblebeemum says:

              In winter the cranes gather at the feedings grounds at Tsurumidai and Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary. You can read more about places to see the cranes here:

              I felt Tsurumidai and Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary were good enough for pretty good observations of the cranes because so many of them gather around there in winter. And just driving along route 53, we got to see flocks of cranes flying across the sky towards and away from the feeding grounds.

  • Wenny Yip says:

    Hello again! i’ve been reading your blog over and over again! haha!
    Anyway, need to trouble you for your expertise please πŸ™‚
    Is it possible to cover both the Otaru aquarium and also the Sekimachi shops in 1 day during winter time?
    And if i only have time for either Nijio market or Sapporo Wholesale market, which one should i go to?
    Any good recommendations for BBQ yakiniku? or nice restaurants for Xmas eve dinner? Thank you very much in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I have never been to Otaru Aquarium before so I’m not sure how much time it requires. They open at 9am so if you reach there early and limit yourself to say 3 hours at the aquarium and leave the aquarium by say 12noon, you should still have enough time to explore Sakaimachi.

      Personally I prefer Sapporo wholesale market. But Nijo market is a lot more accessible since it is right smack in town so if you want to save time, you should go to Nijo market.

      Hmmm.. I don’t have any particular recommendation for yakiniku restaurants. I searched Tabelog for yakiniku restaurants in Sapporo and this is the top-ranked restaurant:
      It is at Susukino, looks easily accessible.

  • Laurence says:

    Hi,Thank you for the most informative blog about hokkaido. We plan to go during the week of Christmas with self drive,tentaviely: tomamu,kiroro,asahikawa,otaru,taisetsu,lake akan or shikaribetsu.

    1. Which one do you recommend between lake akan and shikaribetsu? Does the lake frozen during this period? So we can see iglo,ice activities,etc?

    2. Do we need 4wd car? Or just 2wd with winter tyre will do?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. I THINK Lake Shikaribetsu has a higher chance of being frozen because it is located at higher elevation. But the frozen lake festivals at both lakes will not be ready yet in December. Your best chance of finding igloos and ice activities is at Tomamu.

      2. So far I have been using normal 2wd with snow tyres for my Hokkaido winter trips.

  • Dave says:

    Hi hi😊,
    I had booked my flight to Hokkaido from 20th to 31st Dec. Kids 8&7. I have yet to decide whether to self drive or buy the JR Hokkaido rail pass. My plan is as such:

    20: reach and rest
    21: Sapporo
    22: Asahikawa Zoo
    23: Sapporo
    24: Sapporo
    25: is there any ski resort where we can go n be back within the day?
    26: Otaru

    Now tat is !y problem. Not sure where to go for the 4days. Return flight is 31st 9pm.

    So could you advise:
    1. Should we stay at Sapporo for all the nites?
    2. Any suggestions to go for the 4 days (if no car)
    3. Or should I been renting car for the 4days to travel further away?


    • bumblebeemum says:

      Do you know how to ski already? If you don’t need ski lessons, the folks from the Sapporo hostel I stayed in usually went Teine for skiing.

      You can also go to Tomamu as a day trip. Tomamu has English lessons and also Ice Village at night.

      You go to either Noboribetsu or Lake Toya for onsen and spend a night there. Some of the ryokans there offer free return transfers from Sapporo.

      Hakodate can also be visited by train, but you should also spend at least a night there. It is too far from Sapporo to be done as a day trip.

  • Kelvin says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    I am planning for a family trip to Hokkaido in late December. Have been going through your blog posts to decide on the itinerary but no firm decisions yet. Date should be 23rd or 24th to 4th or 5th.

    I like to ask if there are any attractions that are closed during the new year period so that I can plan around it? I will probably spend a day or two for skiing and the rest for sightseeing but using public transport.


    • bumblebeemum says:

      Possibly some of the attractions and restaurants would close during the new year period. E.g. Asahiyama Zoo closes from 30 Dec to 1 Jan. The ski resorts should still be operating so you can plan to ski during the new year season.

  • Melvin says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    I am planning to go to Hokkaido end of December 2016.
    Can you please advise me where should I stay during New Year Eve 31/12/2016 ?
    Hakodate, Sapporo or Niseko Village.
    Is it true that all the attraction will be closed in New Year Eve in Sapporo and Hakodate ?

    Thank you


    • bumblebeemum says:

      I’m not sure if ALL attractions will be closed but yeah, many attractions will be closed. Pretty sure the ski resorts would operate as usual (otherwise what will all their guests do?), so I would plan to stay at Niseko Village over the new year holidays. Just that it would probably be terribly expensive.

  • Josh C says:

    Hi Queen Bee,

    I came across your webpage when I was researching on Hokkaido. Your write ups are truly informative. I would like to get your feedback on the following itinerary I roughly planned for my coming December Hokkaido trip.

    My trip to Hokkaido falls on 25th December 2017 (early morning 8am arriving from Malaysia) – 1st Jan 2018 (departing 9:20am).

    My main uncertainty is whether should i cover Sapporo – Otaru – Niseko – Hakodate – Noboribetsu – Sapporo …..all by renting a car or taking rail/buses. Is this realistic? Below is just a tentative itinerary.

    DAY 1 (25-12-17) – Arrival 8:30am New Chitose Airport – Brunch@Ebisoba Ichigen – proceed to Sapporo town for Hotel check-in. Walk around. Sapporo Beer museum. Odori Park night White Illumination

    DAY 2 (26-12-17) – To Otaru canal – whole day – stay 1 night at Otaru

    DAY 3 (26-12-17) – Morning depart to Niseko – noon – play snowboard – stay 1 night at Niseko

    DAY 4 (27-12-17) – Morning depart to Hakodate – 1st day . Eat seafood

    DAY 5 (28-12-17) – Hakodate 2nd day

    DAY 6 (29-12-17) – Morning depart to Noboribetsu – visit Hell Valley (Jigokudani) and Jigokudani monkey park. Enjoy hot spring. See Garo Gorge @ Tomakomai

    DAY 7 (30-12-17) – Night arrive Sapporo

    DAY 8 (31-12-17) – Check in Air Terminal Hotel – shopping. evening head to sapporo city for new year countdown – back to hotel to sleep

    DAY 9 (1-1-18) – Depart to Malaysia

    Just wondering is the above plan is realistic? The only hotel i booked now is Air Terminal Hotel, which i plan to shop here for souvenirs and fly out the next morning. Appreciate much your feedback.


    • Queen Bee says:

      Ermm… why do you have two 26 Dec?

      I suggest you don’t return to Sapporo on 30 Dec and go straight back to CTS from Noboribetsu.

      For Otaru, I would recommend you do it as a day trip from Sapporo to save the hassle of changing hotel for that one night.

      For Niseko, I would recommend spending at least 2 nights. 1 night is very rushed. You may want to shift the 2nd day in Hakodate to Niseko.

      i.e. this is how I would tweak it:

      25 Dec: CTS – Sapporo
      26 Dec: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      27 Dec: Sapporo – Niseko
      28 Dec: Niseko
      29 Dec: Niseko – Hakodate
      30 Dec: Hakodate – Noboribetsu
      31 Dec: Noboribestu – CTS
      1 Jan: Flight back

  • Josh C says:

    Hi Queen Bee,

    Thanks for your feedback above. Really appreciate it.

    After careful consideration, and looking at your previous postings, I decided to not go Hakodate due to the distance as I would be taking public transport only.

    Hence, I’ve changed it to:

    Day 1 Dec 25: CTS-Sapporo
    Day 2 Dec 26: Sapporo/Day trip Otaru
    Day 3 Dec 27: Lake Toya , stay at Lake Toya
    Day 4 Dec 28: Noboribetsu, stay at Noboribetsu
    Day 5 Dec 29: Tomamu (for the Japanese feel vs Niseko) / possibly as day trip if accommodation is steep
    Day 6 Dec 30: Sapporo – Shopping
    Day 7 Dec 31: CTS Airport Terminal – shopping
    Day 8 Jan 1: Depart

    • Queen Bee says:

      Tomamu is probably going to be very expensive for your date! If you plan to do Tomamu as a day trip, you should it from Sapporo on a day where you have a full day there. So I would suggest you return to Sapporo on Dec 29 and stay in Sapporo that night, and use 30th for the day trip to Tomamu.

  • Jesslyn says:

    Hi very nice blog u have. Would like to get some advice as I am sure you are very familiar with Hokkaido. I will be travelling to Hokkaido with teenager kids from 23 dec to 1 jan 2018. Would appreciate if you could advise whether my itinerary below is practical:

    D1 to 3 stay at Granvillage toya daiwan ryokan to visit lake toya, noboribetsu bear park, rusutsu/niseko and usuzan ropeway if possible.

    D4 stay at Smile hotel hakodate to visit mt hakodate and morning market.

    D5 to 9 stay at APA hotel Sapporo eki-kitaguchi excellent to visit asahiyama zoo, beer factory, chocolate factory, mitsui outlet, otaru canal, otaru music box museum, odori park, etc.

    Can I use the JR pass to get back from lake toya to noboribetsu ? Also if the train does not reach the tourist spot, can I use the JR pass to get there by bus?

    Thank you very much in advance for your kind advice.


    • Queen Bee says:

      For Day 1 to 3, I don’t think you have time for so many places in 3 days. I would say to pick maximum of 2 from Noboribetsu / Lake Toya / Niseko.

      You can use the JR to get from Toay station to Noboribetsu station, but neither onsen towns are exactly at the train stations. I don’t think the buses are operated by JR, so you can’t use the JR pass for the buses to get between the train station and the onsen towns.

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