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Hokkaido’s Best City

Hokkaido is one of my favorite places in Japan now, though that wasn’t always the case. As you’ll remember if you’ve been following me for a long time, I actually didn’t like the island at all on my first trip there.

Well, with one exception: I fell deeply, madly in love with Hakodate, its southernmost city. My feelings about Sapporo, its better-known capital, were much more negative.

Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll be drawing on my entire decade of experience exploring Hokkaido to compare Sapporo vs Hakodate. I think you’ll find my insights enlightening, even if the final conclusion I reach is predictable.

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How I Came to Know Sapporo and Hakodate

Most of you, I’d imagine, have not been reading my blogs for a decade, so I’ll briefly outline my experience to contextualize my credibility for debating between Sapporo or Hakodate. I first visited Hokkaido in January 2015, although in retrospect, the itinerary seems pretty ill-conceived. After three days based in Sapporo, which I used as a base for exploring nearby destinations, I traveled southward to Hakodate, where I stayed for two days.

The bad news? My camera died a day into my trip. I wish I’d been able to avail a 銀行振込 オンカジ for some extra cash—replacing it was not a cheap purchase, given the strength of the yen at that time. The good news? Although this unfortunate incident colored my impressions of virtually everywhere in Hokkaido I visited at that time, I’ve now returned to both of the island’s big cities more than half a dozen times each.


Ways to Compare Sapporo With Hakodate


Neither Sapporo nor Hakodate are lacking in things to do. In Sapporo, I love to relax in Odori Park, whether in summer amid the flowers, or in winter when the Sapporo Snow Festival is taking place. In Hakodate, meanwhile, I love the Western-style architecture of Hachiman-zaka slope, as well as Goryokaku fort, particularly in spring when it’s overflowing with sakura.


To me, this is the first place where Sapporo vs Hakodate becomes a contest. While Sapporo isn’t especially far from the sea and is surrounded by mountains, the city itself is a rather standard grid pattern spread out over a flat plain; with the exception of the Sapporo TV Tower, no building really stands out. Hakodate, meanwhile, sits between two bays, which led to the “night view” from Mt. Hakodate being labeled one of the best in the world.


I love eating my way through both of these cities. In Hakodate, Hakodate Morning Market is the place to be, whether you eat the controversial ika odori don (dancing squid bowl), or fresh-caught crab. Seafood is popular in Sapporo, too, though I personally prefer slurping through the stalls of Ganso Ramen Alley, which is near the Susukino nightlife district.

Getting there and around

Comparing Hakodate vs Sapporo on this front is more complicated than it seems. On one hand, only Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station is currently served by the Shinkansen. On the other hand, Tokyo Haneda-Sapporo Shin-Chitose is one of the world’s most-served domestic air routes. Likewise, while Hakodate has a respectable network of street cars, Sapporo Municipal Subway is simply more useful (and more user-friendly).

Day trips and excursions

Sapporo, as I mentioned earlier, is better as a hub than as a self-contained destination. Popular destinations accessible as day trips include the onsen towns of Jozankei and Noboribetsu, plus Lake Toya and Otaru Canal. Hakodate’s location along the Shinkansen line makes it possible to visit prefectures like Aomori and Iwate on day trips, but these aren’t nearly as convenient as excursions from Sapporo.


Other Hokkaido Destinations

Hokkaido often begins in Sapporo and ends in Hakodate, or vice-versa. But there’s a lot to explore in-between, depending upon how much time you have to spare:

  • The lavender fields of Furano are amazing to visit in July, whether on a day trip from Sapporo or Asahikawa, or an overnight stay.
  • Kushiro, located along the southern coast of far-eastern Hokkaido, makes a great base in any season. But this is especially the case in winter, when red-crested cranes (tancho) flock to snowy fields.
  • An even wilder destination in eastern Hokkaido is the Shiretoko Peninsula, accessibly via cities like Abashiri, Shari and Utoro along the northeastern coast.
  • Far northern Wakkanai and the outlying islands of Rishiri and Rebun are probably the wildest Hokkaido expedition you can take.

Of course, if you only have a few days, and your choice ends up simply being “Hakodate or Sapporo,” you’ll be able to make the choice easily after reading this post.

Other FAQ About Hakodate and Sapporo

What’s the difference between Sapporo and Hakodate?

There are several differences between Sapporo and Hakodate. Hakodate’s cityscape is largely constrained by the two bays it sits along, while sprawling Sapporo extends far inland. Hakodate is connected to the Shinkansen line; Sapporo is not (yet). Sapporo enjoys mainstream popularity among travelers to Japan, while Hakodate is still somewhat off most people’s radars.

How long is the train from Hakodate to Sapporo?

As of May 2024, it takes at least 3.5 hours to travel between Hakodate and Sapporo, onboard one of the Hokuto Limited Express trains that depart several times per day. In the early 2030s, however, an under-construction Shinkanksen extension will shorten the journey time to about 45 minutes.

How do I travel to Hakodate from Sapporo?

If you aren’t in a rush, then the easiest way to travel from Sapporo to Hakodate is via Hokuto Limited Express train. This takes a while—up to 4 hours—but transports you directly from city-center to city-center. Flights are much faster, but obviously require getting between each respective city and its airport.

The Bottom Line

Comparing Sapporo vs Hakodate might seem like a fool’s errand, but I think it can be a productive exercise. For one, many travelers to Hokkaido will eventually end up visiting both of these cities, even if this doesn’t happen on the same trip. It’s not so much a matter of choosing one and abandoning the other, as it is prioritizing them according to your preferences. While Sapporo is great for travelers who want a comfortable base for exploring outlying destinations, Hakodate is better suited to a self-contained urban experience. Need personalized help assembling your Hokkaido itinerary? Consider hiring me to plan it!


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