Sapporo Travel Guide
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido. It is one of the most visited destinations among the Japanese themselves.
Being the fourth largest city in Japan, Sapporo’s population is nearly 2 million today.
Although it doesn’t have as many shrines, temples and old-looking architecture, Sapporo still manages to attract visitors from around the globe because it is the gateway to access the breathtaking scenery that the whole island has to offer.
If you think that you had enough of concrete jungles, check this Sapporo travel guide out and take an escapade to Sapporo to experience a total different side of Japan!
Sapporo is not huge. The whole city is very well planned out. It doesn’t really matter where you stay. However, if you can stay near Susukino station that would be ideal.
Japanese travel in their own country extensively. They book their accommodation WAY IN ADVANCE and that is why many places are booked out months before your arrival. I strongly suggest booking your accommodation in advance to avoid disappointment.
Budget – It’s very hard to find a nice accommodation in Sapporo that is within my budget range. The best that I found was The Stay Sapporo Nagomi and you have to book fast as prices jumped from 50 euros to 87 euros as you get closer to the date.
If you have missed out, you can also stay at the Grids Sapporo Hotel/Hostel. A dorm bed kicks off at the price of 30 euros.
Comfortable – Stay with Karaksa Hotel Sapporo – one of the newer hotels in Sapporo. Japanese hotels normally have smaller rooms and this business hotel is no exception. Book earlier to avoid disappointment.
High-end – Look no further and stay with La’gent Stay Sapporo Odori Hokkaido. Check their availability earlier as they tend to have a full house most of the time as Hokkaido has been on the radar among the East Asians!
Capsule hotel: If you wanna experience how is it like to stay in a capsule hotel, you can get a capsule for 3200 JPY [30 USD] per night. This is perfect for lone traveller who wants to have a private space (well, really private and limited in this case) but doesn’t want to pay the price for a budget hotel.
Definitely not for claustrophobes.
For an experience, stay with Capsule Hotel City Cabin Susukino!
AirBnb: Recently, Airbnb has become travellers’ first choice when it comes to accommodation, mainly because of the flexibility that Airbnb can offer. The best part about AirBnb is you get to hangout with the owner sometimes. They can also give you handy tips about the city, as well as identifying the tourist traps in Tokyo for you.
Walk as much as you can: Well, I am strong advocate of walking because this will keep both your wallet and you in shape.
Public transport: Public transport in Japan is very reliable. If you have an IC card (it is called Kitaca or Sapica in Sapporo), you can use it in Sapporo too as it is accepted throughout Japan.
Get it from one of the many card dispensers found at major subway stations.
The main difference between Kitaca and Sapica is that Sapica has point system that allows you to accumulate points until you have enough to redeem a free ride.
Although Kitaca doesn’t have the point system, it covers the JR trains as well and it covers a greater area of Sapporo which includes Otaru. If you are not staying in Sapporo for more than 7 days, I would suggest you to get a Kitaca card. Find out more at JR Hokkaido official website.
You can also get a one-day ticket for 1000 JPY [9 USD] which covers all your rides on trams, buses and subways for the day.
PS: The bus system is really complicated in Sapporo. Tram doesn’t have a big coverage in Sapporo. So, just stick to the subway system.
Car Rental: Consider renting a car if you decide to explore places in greater Sapporo that is out of reach of the public transport system (which is not very likely).
Public transport just doesn’t make the cut.
For example, if you wanna visit Blue Pond Aoiike (the beautiful default screensaver on Mac featuring a blue lake), there’s only like 5 buses going there per day.
Unless you are adept at timing (and dragging your family/friends away from spending more time to take awesome photos of the sight because you have got a bus to catch), consider renting a car.
It is a lot more expensive, but can be affordable if shared among a group. Price varies a lot, and you also have to pay for insurance which is around 100 JPY to 1000 JPY [0.90-9 USD] per day.
Always check the requirement and the policies of the rental company before renting a car. There might be specific age requirement that the driver has to fulfill.
Bike rental: The biking culture in Sapporo (or Hokkaido in general) is not very strong. It’s mostly because the city is rainy and snowy. But if you really want to rent a bike, it’s around 1000 JPY [9 USD] per day.
Food and drinks
Food is amazing in Sapporo. I personally think that food in Sapporo is not as expensive as Tokyo. The variety of food is generally similar throughout Japan.
Extremely budget: Generally, there are 1001 food that you can try in Japan. It isn’t much of a difference in Sapporo as well. To eat cheap, you can try one of the many Japanese fast food chains such as Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuda and many more. You can get a don for as cheap as 400 yen [3.60 USD]. They prepare the food really quick in these restaurants. Although the quality might not be as high, it is considered one of the best cheap eats you can find in Japan.
Convenience stores (a.k.a. konbini in Japanese), are also a darn good place to get cheap food. Japanese people often get their breakfast from convenience stores (or lunch, or even dinner) because they are always busy. Always. Typical yakisoba (fried soba) in a convenience store costs 250 JPY to 350 JPY [2.30-3.20 USD]. An onigiri (rice balls in triangular shape) costs around 100 JPY.
If you really crave for potatoes and can’t take in Japanese food anymore (which sounds totally blasphemous to me), you can go to Western fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King. For McDonald’s, there is a 100 JPY [0.90 USD] menu where you can get a basic, small burger for 100 JPY only. I personally think that Mos Burger is a better (and healthier) choice compared to those mentioned.
Budget: Typically, you can get a bowl of hearty ramen for 800 JPY – 1000 JPY [7.20-9 USD]. I had the best ramen in Sapporo (it’s called enjin ramen and I can’t find the official website). If you wanna make the most out of your money, ask if there’s “kaedama” (which is literally translated as change noodle). It basically means that if you still have some soup left, you can ask for kaedama and they can get you another serve of ramen noodle and put it into your remaining soup for a small cost. I personally didn’t do it because 1 serving is already enough for me, but if you have a bigger appetite, you should totally try it out. This is probably one of the best tips in this Sapporo travel guide.
If you live a stone throw away from universities, you can have a meal at their shokudou (cafeteria) of the universities. They sell pretty basic student food at a very cheap price.
Well, you might have heard enough advices against going to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (Kaiten sushi) to have a true Japanese gourmet experience. That might be true in other parts of Japan. However, as the fish is very fresh in Sapporo, you can probably still have sushi in a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Sapporo and have an amazing experience. You will probably spend around 1000 JPY – 1500 JPY [9-13.50 USD] to have a satisfying meal.
Not so budget: Have a meal at a decent restaurant during lunch hour as many Japanese restaurants offer lunch menu, or lunch hour specials, or all-you-can-eat buffet for a price that is heavily discounted compared to their dinner menu. This applies in Sapporo as well. That means, expensive Japanese food such as Teppanyaki, Kobe beef, Donburi, Genghis Khan and etc, becomes more affordable at this hour. Wanna try Wagyu beef? You can get it for around 2000 JPY [18 USD], compared to 4000 JPY [36 USD] if you dine in the same restaurant in the evening. Fond of some tempura? Get a full tempura set for only around 1600 JPY [14.50 USD]. In short, make full use of your lunch hour. Restaurants like this can be found anywhere from the subway stations to the highest floor of most high rise buildings. Search around and pamper your tummy.
Sapporo is known to have the best desserts in Japan. Maybe, it’s because of the cows here produce exceptional quality milk. I really recommend going to Rokkatei (I lost count of how many times I have been there throughout my stay in Sapporo). Rokkatei is a souvenir shop + cafe that you can get a cup of coffee and a slice of cake for around 600 JPY [5.40 USD]. It is a cafe chain can only be found in Hokkaido. And the good thing about this is, the coffee is refillable. I know right? You are welcome.
Expensive: I am not gonna write a lot on this section because I personally only had one fine dining experience in Japan throughout my stay. I can’t really comment much on this.
This section is basically all Michelin restaurants. And all the high end restaurants that you can find at all those skyscrapers. According to my host, it is not uncommon to pay 5000 JPY- 7000 JPY [45 – 63 USD]for dinner in a good restaurant.Also, if you can afford, go to a king crab buffet! This is actually one of the reasons why people come to Sapporo.
Be surprise that Japan hasn’t gone into the cashless era yet despite being a modern nation. This section of the Sapporo travel guide will deal with all the ATMs and tipping and money culture in Japan.
ATM: Luckily, ATMs are everywhere. You can normally find them in the city centre and the convenience stores. If you are withdrawing your money from any Japanese bank ATM, you will normally be incurred ATM fees of 100 – 200 yen [0.90-1.80 USD], on top of the international fees that your home bank will charge you.
If you are with one of the many international backs that have a presence in Sapporo, withdraw from their ATM so that you won’t be incurred any fees. I was with Citibank so there wasn’t any charges incurred.
Tipping: Instead of having a tipping culture, Japan has a strong “no-tipping” culture. There was once I was having supper at an Izakaya (Japanese beer house) and I had 100 yen [0.90 USD] change. I asked them to keep the change and they kept refusing it to the point that they were a little annoyed (although they were still really polite). Save yourself from some trouble and don’t leave any tip.
Currency Exchange in Japan: You can also change your home currency to Japanese Yen while you are there. At the airport, there are official Bureau de Change. The rate is normally bad. If you didn’t change some Yen prior to arriving in Japan, you can either withdraw from the ATM or change just enough to cover your transport to the city. Then, change your money in the city centre which normally will have better exchange rate.
When you are in the city, compare between different places for the best rate. There are a lot of shops with dodgy looking storefront though. Stay away from them to not get ripped off! After changing your money, always ask for an official receipt!
If you want to save yourself from the hassle, just use an ATM.
I wouldn’t say that alcohol in Japan is cheap. But with this section of the Sapporo travel guide, you will definitely get a bang for your buck and know which alcohol to drink + where to get them!
Beer: Japan has large breweries that produce their own beers (Think: Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin). As beer is heavily taxed in Japan, they can be quite expensive. These breweries cut down costs by watering down the malt liquor. That’s why most of the Japanese beers are lagers. You can get a can of beer for 150 – 200 yen [1.40 – 1.80 USD] from a supermarket.
Liquor: On the other hand, hard liquor is comparatively cheaper. If you are a whisky or a bourbon lover, you will drown in happiness.
Wine: Wine is also pretty cheap in Japan. Their wines are normally imported from countries like Chile, Argentina, Australia, Italy and so on. I was surprise that I could get a bottle of quality Chilean sauvignon blanc for 1000 yen [9 USD].
Sake and shoju: You should also try sake (pronounced as: Saa-kay) or shoju when you’re there. Sake is brewed from rice (around 10% alcohol) and Shoju is brewed from sweet potato (around 25% alcohol). Try both the original and the flavoured ones and you will love both of them. Sake is one of the cheapest way to get drunk (if you want to) in Japan. It comes in all sizes (and also a 5L size). Note: Some people get a really really bad hangover after drinking but some don’t. Hope lady luck is on your ship.
Sapporo, in general, gives a very laid-back vibe. The nightlife in Sapporo is definitely not as happening as it is in Tokyo.
But, there are still some pretty good places to hang out if you are looking for a great night out. Bear in mind that most bars and clubs incur a fee called “table charge” if you take a table.
That means, if you are hanging out with your friends and decided to have a table among yourselves, you will need to pay table charges. Ask the staff how much each table costs before you enter.
Izakaya, or Japanese beer house, is more like a place for friends to catch up on each other. You can see workmates and friends (mainly males) coming here to have some food and beer while chit-chatting with the owner of the Izakaya. It’s an authentic experience if you are looking for a quiet night out.
Susukino district: This is arguably the most happening district in Sapporo but still, it’s not too happening. However, there are some good bars and clubs that you can go to.
If you want to go to the cheapest bar, go to 350 Bar. It’s named 350 bar because everything is 350 Yen [3.20 USD] there. They are arguably the cheapest place to have a beer in Sapporo. 350 Bar serves food as well.
Club Booty is the place to go if you are looking for a hookup. It’s normally packed at 1.00am and there’s no entrance fee. There are both Japanese and foreigners hanging out at this club.
If you are looking to hangout with other foreigners, you can rock up to Gaijin Bar (literally translates to foreigner’s bar) or Rad Brothers. Their staff speaks English and you can definitely feel the western vibe here.
For gay bars, you can rock up to SA Building which is located in the city centre. Most of the gay bars are on the second floor. The famous one is ID and it attracts mostly young people. If you want a nice view of the city, you can go to Bar Sign Oh. Unlike any other entertainment establishment, gay bars do not have table charge so it’s a great place to hang out if you are not to keen on paying table charges.
I mean, if you want a true Japanese kind of nightlife, you can head up to one of the many Karaoke Bars in Susukino district. This is gonna be a total different experience from your normal night out. People just sing and drink and sometimes they have food there as well. Ask about the price and what’s included before you enter. You don’t want to have a “surprise” when you’re paying after a fun karaoke night.
I hope that this Sapporo Travel Guide will help you plan your trip to Sapporo!
I highly recommend getting an internet connection as soon as you land in Japan. This is a land of culture shock and it’s really hard to navigate if you don’t know the language!
Get a cheap portable wifi router today! You can pick it up in major airports in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. Make sure you get this at least a few days prior to arriving in Japan as they will need time to send it to the airport for you to pick up!
If you wanna save money and just survive on free wifi, check out my post about the 7 must-have apps before going to Japan.