Hokkaido is the furthest main island from Tokyo, but its mesmerizing beauty has successfully captivated the hearts of many to travel here despite its distance from the capital. It is also known as the next location on the visit list after Tokyo and Osaka.
What Hokkaido has to Offer
Besides appealing scenic views, you can look forward sightseeing in the city, marine products, and farm products that are distinct from the ones in other parts of Japan. With so many things to see and do, how can you travel in this vast island? Public transportation will be time-consuming. In this article, I recommend a self-drive vacation in Hokkaido that gives you the flexibility to manage your time and itinerary effectively.
Getting to Hokkaido
Before going into the itinerary, let’s talk about how you can get to Hokkaido. You can choose between the plane or the bullet train. Do take note that this itinerary is planned for those who are arriving at the New Chitose Airport.
Bullet Train: You will alight at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, which is about 292-kilometre drive away from Sapporo. Although it takes only 4 hours from Tokyo, you will need to transit to the JR Hokuto line and board a limited express train to arrive at Sapporo. The journey will take another 3.6 hours.
Domestic or International Flights: The New Chitose Airport is about 50 minutes’ drive away from Sapporo city.
To rent a car for a self-drive travel, there are many rental companies to choose from such as ToCoo, Times Car, Nippon, and Nissan. A useful website that will help you Tabirai Japan Car Rental, where you can make comparisonsfor the rental fee.
To collect your car, you can arrange for it to be collected straight from the airport when you make your online booking. Besides that, do make sure you prepare yourselves an International Driving License before coming to Japan.
Image credit: Google Maps
5 Days and 4 Nights Self-Drive Itinerary
Day 1: Yoichi Distillery, Otaru Canal
Day 2: Otaru Aquarium, Otaru Sakaimaichi Shopping Street, Moerenuma Park
Day 3: Farm Tomita, Biei Blue Pond, Furano Cheese Factory
Day 4: Kita No-Daichi Marusie (farmer’s market), Housui Winery, Kobayashi Farm, Kitamura Onsen
Day 5: Return car, departure from airport
Day 1: Otaru
Day 2: Sapporo
Day 3: Furano
Day 4: Iwamizawa
Afternoon: Yoichi Distillery
Evening: Otaru Canal
Go free and easy on the first day. After your arrival at the airport, the first thing you should do is collect your rental car when you are ready.
Since you are at the airport, you might want to walk around to look at souvenirs on sale or quickly visit tax-free shops. Assuming you are arriving in the morning, you will have time to do this.
Otaru is 1.5 hours’ drive away from New Chitose Airport. Treat yourselves to your first meal in Hokkaido right after you check-in.
Warehouses at Yoichi Distillery.
Go to Hokkaido’s famous whiskey factory, Yoichi Distillery, for your very first tour in Hokkaido. It takes 30 minutes to get there from Otaru, so depart to Yoichi after lunch before 2.30pm.
There is no English-speaking guide here, but since the guided tour takes you around the distillery, it will still be fun. At the end of the tour, there will be free whiskey tasting, so don’t miss out on this.
Address: 7-6 Kurokawa-cho, Yoichi-cho, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido
Tel. No.: +81-135-23-3131
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (last guided tour at 3.30 PM)
English-speaking tour: not available
A view of warehouses along the Otaru Canal.
After the tour, there is spare time until night falls. Go back to Otaru for a sightseeing at the well-known Otaru Canal, which is 40 minutes’ drive from Yoichi Distillery. This place is perfect for a nice stroll.
Address: Minato-cho, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido
As for dinner, there are quite a number of restaurants nearby as it is a touristy area. Fill your tummy, and then return to your hotel for a good night rest.
Morning: Otaru Aquarium
Afternoon: Otaru Sakaimaichi Shopping Street, Moerenuma Park
Begin your day by having a nice breakfast before embarking on the day’s adventure!
Spend your morning at Otaru Aquarium, Hokkaido’s biggest aquarium, and one of the oldest in Japan. It’s not far from the main part of Otaru city, which is about a 20 minutes’ drive.
The aquarium opens at 9 am. I do advise you to go there early so that there is a lesser crowd and you will have more time for the rest of the day. Be enchanted by the marine life you see here! You might even be so enchanted that you lost track of time (especially when you are enjoying yourselves!). After all, it’s not just aquariums to see, but there’s also an outdoor amusement park, and the aquarium’s museum too! If you are travelling with family and kids, or with a group of friends, the amusement park will be a perfect gateway. If the aquarium’s museum is not your cup of tea, I recommend you to travel to Sakaimachi Street, which is outside the aquarium. Along the street, you will find Music Box Museum, Museum of Venetian Art, and even a glass workshop where you can make your own glassware. These places will be more fun and suitable for couples.
Do remember to keep track of time. A walk at the aquarium and watching an animal show take about 2 hours, and the amusement park will take another 2 hours. When everything’s done, it’s time for lunch. The good news is that there are restaurants within the aquarium compound that serves food!
Address: 3-303 Shukutsu, Otaru City, Hokkaido
Tel. No.: +81-134-33-1400
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (Mar. 16 – Oct. 15), 9 AM – 4 PM (Oct. 15 – Nov. 30), 10 AM – 4 PM (Dec 15 – Feb 28)
Admission: ￥1,300 (adults), ￥530 (elementary & junior high school students), ￥210 (children aged 3-5)
Closed: March 1 (Fri) – March 15 (Fri), 2013. December 29 (Sun), 2013 – January 1 (Wed), 2014
Note: last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
Otaru Amusement Park
Opening Period: Apr.19 – Oct.13
Opening Hours: 9.30 AM – 5 PM
Admission Fee: Free
Riding Ticket: ￥100 per ticket
Otaru Sakaimaichi Shopping Street.
Image credit: Google Maps
After activities at the aquarium, go ahead with souvenir shopping and enjoy local street food at Otaru’s Sakaimaichi Shopping Street, which is about 15 minutes’ drive away. Don’t miss out on Hokkaido’s ice cream, it’s delicious!
Sakaimaichi Shopping Street
Address: Hokkaido, Otaru-shi, Sakai-machi 6-11
Sapporo Clock Tower.
Pack your luggage and check-in at Sapporo. From Otaru it’s about an hour’s drive. There’s so much to see here, so spend the rest of the day exploring Sapporo. Some of the well-known landmarks are the Sapporo Clock Tower and Sapporo TV Tower.
Sapporo TV Tower.
Sapporo Clock Tower
Address: Kita 1-jo Nishi 2-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Opening Hours: 8.45 AM – 5:10 PM
Tel. No.: +81 11-2310838
Admission Fee: ￥200
Sapporo TV Tower
Address: Odori Nishi 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi 060-0042
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM
Tel. No.: +81 11-241-1131
Admission Fee to Observation Deck: ￥720
When you are tired of the city, I recommend you to take a breather at Moerenuma Park – a public park with unique sculptures and landscapes. The place is huge, so rental bikes are available if you want to cycle around. The park was designed by Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. He designed it in a futuristic manner, with a blend of architecture and landscape. In the middle of the park is the Glass Pyramid, which functions as the information centre, and also houses a gallery featuring works of Isamu Noguchi.
Address: Moerenuma-koen 1-1, Higashi-ku, Sapporo
Opening Hours: 7 AM – 10 PM
Parking Fee: Free
After spending some time at the park, it’s time for dinner. I recommend you to have a seafood meal here, as it is Hokkaido’s delicacy. Do keep an eye out for the Sapporo’s snow crab too, it’s delicious!
Morning: Farm Tomita
Afternoon: Biei Blue Pond, Furano Cheese Factory
The day to look at beautiful flower fields at Furano is finally here! It’s a 2.5 hours’ drive from Sapporo. Start your day early and depart right after breakfast to enjoy a stroll through the fields before noon. Farm Tomita is one of the best places to see lavender fields and it is only 20 minutes from central Furano.
People easily spend half a day here as there’s a lot to see and do on this farm. There is a total of 9 different flower fields, 2 gardens, a forest, and a greenhouse where you can enjoy mother nature to your heart’s content. The best viewing season for most flower fields and gardens are in July, expect for Spring Field and Mother’s Garden, which is in June. For lavenders, the peak blooming season is mid-July.
Inside Farm Tomita, there are also gifts and souvenir shops, a perfume workshop, cafes, and even a lavender gallery. If you are craving for their famous soft-serve lavender ice cream, take note that it is only on sale from April to October.
Address: Kisen Kita 15-go, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido 071-0704
Tel. No.: +81-167-39-3939
Opening Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
There are restaurants in Farm Tomita, so you could have your lunch there before departing to the next destination – Biei Blue Pond, which is 35 minutes’ drive away.
Biei Blue Pond.
The water here is very blue, and it is said that the scenery changes depending on the weather. There was no breeze when this picture was taken, hence the water was like a mirror reflection.
Biei Blue Pond
Address: Shirogane, Biei-cho, Kamikawa District, Hokkaido 071-023
Opening Hours: Always open
I had some time left after visiting the pond, enough for a very short visit to Furano’s Cheese Factory on my way down. I get to see the cheese production process but didn’t have time for hands-on workshops. There is an ice cream parlour and pizzeria here, so you can also sample food products.
Furano Cheese Factory
Address: Nakagoku, Furano, Hokkaido 076-0013
Tel. No.: +81 167 – 23 – 1156
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
Admission Fee: Free (except workshops)
- Butter (￥700, 40 min.)
- Ice cream (￥700, 40 min.)
- Cheese (￥880, 60 min.)
- Bread (￥880, 90 min.)
Reservation: only for bread-making workshop
If you want to spend more time at Farm Tomita (since it is quite fun), I suggest you to scrap visiting the cheese factory. I head back for a good rest after that.
Morning: Kita No-Daisha Marusie (Farmer’s market)
Afternoon: Housui Winery, Kobayashi Farm, Kitamura Onsen Hotel
Towards the end of the trip, you can take things at a slower pace by staying at Kitamura Onsen Hotel in Iwamizawa, which is 1.5 hours’ drive from Furano.
Iwamizawa is a place rich with local produce, so take time to stroll at the farmer’s market – Kita No-Daichi Marusie, a place you can see and buy rare farm produce of Hokkaido. It is 30 minutes’ drive from central Iwamizawa. One of their specialities here is the peanut, which is boiled before consumption.
Boiled peanuts in paper cups.
Image credit: 北の大地マルシェ on Facebook
I do recommend you to have your lunch at a restaurant nearby, so that you could taste their fresh local produce.
Other local produce on sale.
Image credit: 北の大地マルシェ on Facebook
Kita No-Daichi Marusie
Address: Kitamurahosei, Iwamizawa, Hokkaido
Tel. No: +81-90-9510-3881
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
After lunch, head to Housui Winery in the afternoon for a tour and try their soft cream (ice cream). It’s 15 minutes’ drive from Kita no Daichi Marusie. Do take note that there’s no guided tour here, but you are free to walk around to look at the winery. On the first floor or the main building is a souvenir shop selling wine and products of Iwamizawa.
Housui Winery’s vineyard.
Image credit: Akira Ishizaki on Facebook
As for their soft cream, it’s topped with homemade grape sauce and is sold at an ice cream stand outside the main building. Do note that it is only for sale during summer (June – August).
Address: 364-3, Housui-cho, Iwamizawa-city, Hokkaido
Tel. No.: +81-126-20-1810
Opening Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM (only opened from spring to autumn)
Translation help: Upon request
Next, you could go to the cabbage field at Kobayashi Farm to pick cabbages. It is about 20 minutes from the winery. Picking cabbage may sound easy, but it’s not! It is the size of a human head! Besides cabbages, there are also other vegetables in the farm that you can have a look.
Address: Kita, Iwamizawa, Hokkaido
Tel. No.: +81-126-22-3470 (Iwamizawa Tourist Association)
Admission Fee: ¥1,500 – ¥2,000 (for cabbage picking)
Opening Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Reservations: Required (via telephone), at least 2 weeks in advance
Kitamura Onsen Hotel is the orange building.
Image credit: Google Maps
When all these are done, it’s about evening. I recommend you to go back to your lodge at Kitamura Onsen Hotel to enjoy a nice onsen bath. The hot spring here is rich with salt and mineral. The hotel also offers delicious Japanese Kaiseki meal, which is consumed after onsen bath. As Kaiseki meals come in big portion, there also smaller portion available if the full set is too much for you.
Kitamura Onsen Hotel
Address: 156-7 Kitamuraakagawa, Iwamizawa 068-1213, Hokkaido
Tel. No.: +81-126-56-2221
Morning: Return rental car, departure from airport
After the last breakfast at Hokkaido, it’s time to return the rental car and head back to the airport. From Iwamizawa back to New Chitose Airport is about an hour’s drive. I recommend you to reach the airport 3.5 to 4 hours before your flight’s departure because you need to return your car. After check-in, you can shop for souvenirs or walk around. If your flight is in the afternoon, you can consider to go to the airport early to return your car, then walk around in the airport, shopping or even look at exhibitions.
In conclusion, this sums up the itinerary for a short five days four nights trip in Hokkaido. All in all, renting a vehicle does make your travel easy and hassle-free in this vast Hokkaido. Just make sure you have your International Driving License, an itinerary, Wi-Fi, useful travel apps, and you are ready to go!