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Sapporo

A cosmopolitan, festive & open-hearted Japanese city, quite unlike any other in Japan.

As the capital of Hokkaido island, Sapporo is the entry and / or exit point for many ski resorts, including Niseko. It is renowned for its Snow Festival (which takes place mid-February), though it's actually well worth a day or two of your time whenever you choose to visit northernmost Japan. Dining-out here is a joy and relatively cheap, and there is also great shopping, raucous nightlife and a few interesting museums. Its snow covered wide tree-lined streets are a pleasure to wander, and there are a number of parks and gardens ideal for Japanese-people-watching, a favourite pastime of ours.

If you are here for the Snow Festival - which features amazing ice sculptures and a party atmosphere spilling out on to the streets - then we need to book well in advance. Visitors from all over the globe descend on Sapporo for this week, quite right so - it's fantastic!

Sapporo INFORMATION

Population:  almost 2 million

Highlights:  The Sapporo Snow Festival in Odori Park (mid-Febuary) / Sapporo Beer Museum / Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art

Access:  New Chitose Airport (which is Sapporo Airport) has direct flights from most cities in Japan, and then also from Hong Kong, Singapore & Seoul. The airport is 30 miles south of the city and is linked by a fast and reliable train service, as well as convenient coaches.

Suggested Itineraries featuring Sapporo

These suggested itineraries will give you a starting point for what your ski holiday to Japan could entail. Sometimes we combine ski resorts and we often cherish the opportunity to explore and experience Japan beyond the ski slopes. We hope these itineraries will inspire, excite and inform you as we begin the planning process. They’re not set departures or tours, as every holiday we plan is completely tailor-made for you - treat them as inspiration only.

Japanese Powder Unlimited

Niseko - Sapporo - Furano - Asahidake

Duration: 10 / 12 days

An itinerary with a singular objective: to ride the finest, deepest powder snow in Japan. Stay on Hokkaido Island, and ski hard.

from £2,345 per person, including flights

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Our ‘Classic’ Niseko Itinerary

Niseko - Tokyo

Duration: 10 / 12 days

Niseko has it all: on-piste; off-piste; nightlife; adventure; backcountry; cuisine. You then spend a few days in Tokyo en route home.

from £2,145 per person, including flights

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Prices are indicative only and include accommodation (low season), lift passes, transfers and – because we are ATOL-bonded – your flights from the UK. Different Snow can also include ski hire, backcountry and off-piste tours, rail passes, private transfers, English-speaking guides, cultural excursions and activities.

Accommodation

There are so many hotels in Sapporo – most of them rather nondescript. Its the commercial hub for Hokkaido and many a Japanese salary-man passes through town. We like to base ourselves in the Susukino district, the buzzing entertainment district, where you'll find fabulous restaurants and lively bars.

Overseas guests, as well as the Japanese themselves, visit en masse when the Snow Festival comes to town in mid February. Try book with us early...really early...really, really early.

A few of the hotels we like to regularly use include...

Keio Plaza Sapporo

A luxurious hotel in the centre of the city, just five minutes' walk from Sapporo Station.

Far too many room categories to list here - something for everyone including family rooms, triples, and suites. And then there are all the facilities; in-house gym, a large swimming pool, a sauna, spa, and “high ultrasonic vibra-baths” (very important, obvs)....etc. We could go on - it's a large, upmarket hotel. You get the picture.

Other than comfort and service, it's the location which makes it favourite - you'll be spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants, bars and shops – but if you'd like to eat in, there are eight different cafés, restaurants and bars inside the hotel itself, including a patisserie and a Cantonese restaurant.

Cross Hotel

A hip, urban retreat - Sapporo’s only boutique option. Rooms are vibrant and spacious.

The rooms are decorated in three styles: ‘urban’ – monochrome and slick, with clean lines; ‘natural’ – neutrals, mellow lighting, and natural materials; and ‘hip’ – splashes of colour and unique design pieces against a black and white canvas; you can choose which style suits you best when you book. All are a good size for Japan and have enviable bathrooms.

There’s a good Italian restaurant, and we enjoyed drinks in the 18th floor lounge bar overlooking the city; there’s a fabulous indoor-outdoor onsen up there, too.

Cross Hotel lies 15 minutes from Sapporo station, within easy walking distance of the Odori shopping area and the park that hosts the snow festival.

Holiday Inn ANA Susukino

With the perfect location in the entertainment district, a convenient and comfortable base.

Holiday Inn's don't usually mean luxury, but this is a cut above the usual. Yes...we're here principally for the location - right in the heart of Susukino - but the accommodation is comfortable, clean, offers good service, serve a hearty buffet breakfast and have plenty of facilities. All boxes resolutely ticked for a good dependable (and affordable) hotel, with any ostentation.

Excursions

The second week in February it all happens - Sapporo's showstopper. The snow festival's ice sculpture competition attracts artists from all around the world, competing to create the largest and most elaborate artworks. The festival takes place on Odori Koen, in the centre of Sapporo and is made up of large-scale replicas and artistic sculptures; children-aimed attractions; and a separate section for world-wide competitors. The festival can be enjoyed in the day, but its even better when the light fades and the sculptures are lit up.

A trip to the brewery is, for us, a pilgrimage. Sapporo is the finest beer in the world. They offer free guided tours covering the history of beer in Japan and the process of brewing and whilst the museum is not very big, it's an interesting trip. Made all the better by the tasting session at the end.