I’ll start with an admission: Sapporo Snow Festival is not the most spectacular winter event in the world. This was clear for me from the first time I attended it, back in 2015, just weeks after going to China’s next-level Harbin Ice Festival.
With this being said, Sapporo’s snow and ice sculptures are still impressive, to say nothing of the jubilant atmosphere in the city in early February. Certainly, if you happen to be in Hokkaido during this part of winter, you’d be a fool not to attend.
Continue reading to learn more about the practicalities of visiting Sapporo Snow Festival, including when it takes place each year and what there is to do there. (Besides the obvious, I mean—it’s more than just sculptures!)
When is Sapporo Snow Festival?
Sapporo Snow Festival takes place every year for a week in early February. The dates are usually (but not always) February 4-11. If you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido before these days, you might be able to see some of the snow sculpture being created; those arriving after the end of the festival may still be able to enjoy the craftsmanship, depending on specific dates of travel.
If you’re planning a winter trip to Hokkaido next year, I’d plan on target February 4-11, 2024 if visiting the snow festival is a priority for you during your trip. In my experience, it’s best to kick off your travels in Sapporo (both at the festival, as well as enjoying experiences within and outside the city center), then setting off to wilder locales after you’ve finished in the capital.
What to Do at Sapporo Snow Festival
Admire sculptures in Odori Park
Although snow and ice sculptures can be found in several locations in Sapporo, you’ll want to make a beeline for Odori Park to see the bulk of them. Which is easy, maybe even unavoidable: Odori Park sits literally at the center of everything in Sapporo, making it virtually impossible to avoid.
Take in a panorama from Sapporo TV Tower
Another way to appreciate the Sapporo Snow Festival? See it from overhead, by ascending to the viewing deck of Sapporo TV Tower. While you might need a good zoom lens in order to make out any particular sculpture from this height, taking the event in from above gives you an idea of its massive scale.
Eat, drink and be merry
Even if you don’t go up it, the base of Sapporo TV Tower is a great place to satiate hunger and thirst. From classic Hokkaido winter foods like oden and potato mochi, to meaty items like Wagyu and deer skewers, to hot versions of Japanese drinks like sake and the highball, Sapporo Snow Festival is a feast for more than just the eyes.
Don’t forget Susukino’s ice sculptures
Of course, no matter when you visit Sapporo, the Susukino district just south of Odori Park is the best place in town to have a drink, grab a bite to eat or go to a karaoke bar. It also boasts a charm specific to Sapporo Snow Festival: This is where the bulk of the city’s ice sculpture take shape (and, later, go on display).
(Or the rest of Hokkaido)
Just because you come to Sapporo during the snow festival doesn’t mean it has to be the only highlight of your trip. In fact, I’d say that it should be the first of many. For some travelers, this will simply involve taking any number of day trips from Sapporo, while others will make a point of heading far outside the city.
Is Sapporo Snow Festival Worth It?
As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, Sapporo’s snow festival isn’t my favorite one I’ve visited in the world. While the craftsmanship that goes into the snow and ice sculptures can’t be denied, the scale isn’t that impressive by 2020s standards. This makes sense, of course, since most of the festival takes place within the confines of Odori Park, which is wedged into the city center by skyscrapers on all sides.
On the other hand, just as visiting Hokkaido during the winter is about more than skiing, so too does a cold-weather trip to Sapporo transcend the snow festival. If it ends up lining up with your dates anyway, you could simply spend a day (or part of a day) at the snow festival, then go about the rest of your Hokkaido winter itinerary as you would even if it weren’t taking place.
Other FAQ About Sapporo Snow Festival
What do people eat at the Sapporo Snow Festival?
All kinds of famous Hokkaido foods are available at Sapporo Snow Festival. Stay warm with crab soup or other oden, or tear into something meaty, be it a skewer of Wagyu beef or locally-hunted Hokkaido deer. There are also a wide variety of beverages, including hot sake and hot versions of Japanese classics like the Highball.
What do people wear at the Sapporo Snow Festival?
The Sapporo Snow Festival takes place outdoors, so dress as you otherwise would visiting one of the world’s coldest cities during winter. In addition to a good winter coat and plenty of warm layers, I’d recommend investing in a thermal base, ideally HEATTEACH from Japan’s own Uniqlo.
Why is the Sapporo Snow Festival so famous?
Having started in the 1950s as a small, local event put on by students, Sapporo Snow Festival has grown in popularity over the years, as has Hokkaido’s appeal as a tourist destination. It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for this, if I’m being completely honnest.
The Bottom Line
Visiting Hokkaido during the Sapporo Snow Festival is so much more than snow and ice sculptures. For starters, you’ll get to sample a variety of amazing foods at the base of the Sapporo TV Tower, and enjoy a generally festive atmosphere as you wander around Odori Park. This is to say nothing of the fact that all Sapporo’s attractions—and day trips from Sapporo—are fully accessible during the first week of February. Think of the festival not as the end of your trip, but the beginning. Want to make sure your Hokkaido winter adventure goes off without a hitch? Consider hiring me to plan it!