10 Tips for visiting Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival
My husband and I (plus our friends) visited Sapporo back in February 2017, for the 68th Sapporo Snow Festival. My friend Katie and I planned this trip together and had a bit of a hard time doing so, probably because we’re both from tropical places and winter vacations are really not our thing. So I decided to put together more information, our 3 day itinerary and a list of tips, for those planning on visiting one of Japan’s most popular winter events in the future.
What is the Sapporo Snow Festival?
It all started in 1950 when local high school students decided to build six snow sculptures at Odori Park. Much to their surprise 50,000 people attended and the rest is history! Thanks to the media coverage during the 1965 Winter Olympic Games the festival became widely known around the world. “Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events, attracts about two million people from Japan and abroad every year”, according to the official website.
The festival is an annual event that takes place in February, over the course of 8 – 12 days (depending on the site), in the city of Sapporo. There are 3 official sites: Odori Park being the biggest (1.5km) hosts all of the major snow sculptures, the main street of Susukino (the entertainment district) hosts the ice sculptures, and the Community Dome Tsudome hosts a more family/kid friendly enviroment.
Our 3 Day Sapporo Itinerary
Dinner at: Jacksonville’s Finest Burgers
Odori Park (night time)
Wish we had an extra day to visit Otaru Snow Light Festival!!
All you need to know before you go:
I cannot recommend enough getting to Sapporo early. The Odori and Susukino sites of the 2017 festival opened on the 6th of February; we arrived on the 4th. Our first visit to Odori park was the day before the festival started and were pleasantly surprised because were able to see most of the sculptures, eat all the food and walk freely without any big crowds. The photo above was taken the day before the official start of the Sapporo Snow Festival from the Sapporo TV Tower and you can’t see the minimal amount of people. Weekday mornings are also the least busiest!
* Bonus Tip: I’ve also heard it’s smart to avoid the last weekend of the festival, because it’s very crowded. But if you can only make it during the end of the festival, make sure you go the morning after it ends to see the snow sculpture demolition!!
First things first book your hotel ASAP when the festival dates are announced! We booked our hotel around May 2015 and our flights in the beginning of December (since we were only flying domestically).
If you can stay around Odori Park, do it, especially if you have kids! That way it’s easy to go in and out for nap time or to take a break from the cold, etc. Susukino, the entertainment district, may be a good option for those without kids. Also, don’t forget to check Airbnb!
For some reason it was really hard for us to find hotels available online.. thanks to the festivals popularity, but most importantly because of those darn tour companies. We booked the Hotel Kaiko Sapporo Nakajima Koen because it was affordable and close-ish enough to the area, south of Susukino. It did have pretty basic amenities but since we didn’t spend much time there it was fine!
Pretty obvious.. but get you some nice layers people! We sadly had to buy A LOT for this trip since we live in a sub-tropical island… but anyways I wore: Uniqlo heat tech thermals, a sweater, a big coat, snow pants (because we were expecting to play in the snow… but you don’t have to wear these), a warm lined beanie, fleece gloves, thick socks and good snow boots (you can also use traction cleats if you plan on bringing regular shoes) trust me the roads are slippery!!
My husband on the other hand wore: thermal top (only sometimes), a fleece pullover, fleece lined Uniqlo pants (pictured above), a puffer/waterproof combo jacket from Eddie Bauer, a beanie, fleece lined gloves, warm socks and snow boots.
Japan is pretty much a cash country and some of the places that do take card don’t take international cards! Although the festival is free, bring yen (!!!), because you will want to eat everything in sight. If you forget or don’t bring enough just go to the nearest Family Mart or 7/11 in the area!
The photo I added above is also from the day before the festivals official start. Look at all those empty seats! (YAS!)
Hokkaido is known for their seafood, ramen, genghis khan, soup curry, soft serve ice cream, cantaloupe, among others. Definitely try as much food as you can from the Odori Park vendors. We ate: corn on the cob, ramen, takoyaki (pictured above), yakiimo (baked sweet potato) and grilled meat. We also drank: hot chocolate, hot toddies, hot mojitos and horchata! Be sure to try Sapporo Beer and Nikka whisky while you’re there!
All of the photos I shared were taken during the day, but trust me you have to visit both sites at night. The snow and ice sculptures come alive once the sun goes down. You don’t wanna miss it! Even though we visited during the day, Mt. Moiwa is also another place I recommend you to check out at night! The nighttime view of the city is said to be one of the top 3 in all of Japan! (Sadly I don’t have any good camera photos of the illuminations)
If you don’t already have an IC card from Japan, get Sapporo’s Sapica card to make taking trains and buses a breeze. The initial cost of the card ¥2,000 yen, ¥500 of those is a deposit (that I believe you can get back if you return it before leaving Sapporo) and ¥1,500 is your balance. We use our Suica card (from Tokyo) every time we go to Mainland Japan and it’s so easy!! All you have to do is fill them up, place them in your wallet or phone case and just tap at the gate. Easy peasy. If you have a card from another city you can still use it in Sapporo and if you plan on continuing onto another city the Sapica will work there too!
Well first of all… it is super cute (!!). It runs a loop around Central Sapporo and the western area. You pay when getting off with the Sapica IC Card I mentioned above, or with cash (¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children). Read more about how to use the street car, here.
The cold weather makes batteries discharge faster, so fully charge them before leaving your hotel, and find a warm place to keep them on you when you’re not using them. Bring a power bank with you if you have one!
*Bonus tip: Bring with you or buy some kairo (disposable heat packs) at any convenience store. These will warm up your pockets to keep your hands and phone all toasty!
Don’t just stick to the Snow Festival sites. Go ahead and explore Sapporo’s most popular sites! We visited the Former Government Building, the Sapporo Beer Museum, the Sapporo TV Tower + Odori Park, the Hokkaido Shrine, the Mt. Moiwa Ropeway, plus the Susukino, Odori and Tsudome sites of the Sapporo Snow Festival. We also really wish we had time to visit the Otaru Canal and Lake Shikotsu. Have more time? Try some winter sports and give a traditional onsen (hot spring) a try!
Anyways, I’ll end it here by adding a map full of all of my Sapporo pins! I hope I convinced you to add the Sapporo Snow Festival to your bucket list. If you find this list before your vacation and find my tips useful I would love it if you would come back and leave me a comment telling me all about it! Under the map I’m adding a Pinterest image, please share away!