When people are choosing a Summer holiday destination, aside from cost and attractions, it usually comes down to a choice of what environment you want to spend time in: mountains, beach or city?
But it's rare that a place exists where you can enjoy all three in just a single weekend - Niseko is one of those places. Perfectly situated in central Hokkaido between Sapporo, the Shakotan peninsula and Muroran, it's located ~1 hour away from all the best Hokkaido has to offer. Here's a proposed itinerary for experiencing many different activities while using Niseko as your base:
Day 1: Hiking and relaxing in Hokkaido's volcanic mountains
Take a late Friday evening flight to New Chitose Airport and stay in the Air Terminal Hotel to get a fresh start to the morning - breakfast in included! Rent a car at the Toyota counter and you're on your way! The first stop is Mt Tarumae - one of the easiest yet most rewarding hiking trails in Hokkaido. The trailhead is located just 1.5 hours from the Airport, and it only takes ~1.5-2 hours to get to the top, so you can experience lunch on a mountaintop as you gaze over the Pacific Ocean and the volcanic fumaroles of Mt Tarumae! A low treeline means you'll have stunning vistas the whole way up this trail.
In the afternoon, head to Noboribetsu to soak your tired muscles in one of Hokkaido's most beloved onsen towns. Enjoy the scenic drive as you head deep into a volcanic valley and reach the quaint village of Noboribetsu. Choose from one of the many hotel onsens (open to the public) or take the short trail to the free natural footbath surrounded by forest. If you have some extra time, be sure to visit Jigokudani, a huge volcanic basin that puts one of Hokkaido's many famous geothermal areas on display.
After Noboribestu, it's time to head to your accommodation for the night - take the route via Lake Toya, a beautiful caldera lake that's almost perfectly circular. You can cover almost half of the lake on this route, so it's perfect for a pit stop to take some pictures of the natural surroundings. As you head to Niseko from Lake Toya, you can also make brief stops for fresh mountain water at the Wakimizu no Sato Tofu Factory in Makkari, and fresh fruit and veggies (or even gelato) at the Niseko View Plaza michi no eki.
Check into your private villa or apartment in Niseko and relax in the bathtub overlooking Mt Yotei, or get started on a scrumptious dinner using your fresh produce from your stops along the way. Get some rest, the fun continues tomorrow!
Day 2: Scenic drive to Otaru and the ocean's finest delicacies
Get an early start on Sunday and hop back in the car to make your way to Otaru via Shakotan. Shakotan is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Hokkaido, thanks to its gorgeous cliffs, crystal clear water (the colour of the ocean is called 'Shakotan Blue' - it's uniquely beautiful!) and prime fishing areas. As you take the scenic route, stop in at Cape Kamui for a quick yet rewarding walk along the ridge of the cape, or rent a sea kayak and go for a paddle, peeking into tidepools and watching the kelp calmly swaying in the ocean currents. You could also bring some light fishing equipment and try your hand at catching some incredible Hokkaido seafood on the rocks at Benten Island. If you have extra time, visit Misaki no Yu for a soak, where you can relax in the onsen with views of the breathtaking Hokkaido coastline.
As you make your way around the cape, you'll start the descent into twin cities of Yoichi and Otaru. If you're a Japanese whiskey fan, be sure to stop in at Nikka Whiskey Distillery in Yoichi for a tour of the distillery and some delicious whiskey to take home (they have some brews you can't find anywhere else!).
Once you're in Otaru, start by having lunch at one of the many fabulous seafood restaurants (they're all amazing, but we recommend Kantaro Sushi, Otaru Seafood Market by the station and Minshuku Aotsuka Shokudou by the aquarium), then make your way to the Otaru Music Box Museum. Here you can see the artisan crafts that make Otaru famous in Japan such as cute music boxes, glassware and ocean-inspired trinkets. Right by the museum you'll find a shopping boulevard filled with street food, delicious sweets like LeTao cheesecakes, and artisan giftware stores where you can pick up a unique souvenir. As you continue walking, make your way back to the Otaru canals, where you'll feel like you're in a Japanese-style Venice with gondaliers, cute bridges and romantic passageways. Finish up with a warm drink at the Otaru Times Garten cafe, which has outdoor seating right on the bank of the canal or sneak in some extra retail therapy at the Aeon Mall.
Now it's home time! Make your way back to Niseko through the mountains where you can pick up some locally made wine from Yoichi Winery, or maybe even spot a famous Hokkaido fox if you're lucky! Relax once again in your villa as you watch the clouds turn pink as they settle over the majestic Mt Yotei.
Day 3: Sapporo high life
Sleep in and take some time out for an easy morning in your Niseko accommodation - you have a free late check out after all! Make a hearty meal in the full kitchen or have a private chef visit your villa and make you a scrumptious breakfast (Japanese style or Western style). Take one last look at your breathtaking view of Mt Yotei as you say goodbye to your room and hop in the car once again.
Now it's time to go to Sapporo, Japan's 5th largest city and the capital of Hokkaido. Take Nakayama Pass and stop in at the mountaintop michi no eki for incredible views of the Niseko mountain range and delicious fried potato doughnuts. You can reach Sapporo in around 2 hours - you'll want to return your car at the Toyota Rent-a-Car shop near Sapporo station, then explore the downtown area by foot. The heart of the city is spread between the Sapporo and Susukino train stations, so we recommend making a linear journey, peeling off to explore different malls, restaurants and attractions along the way. Try your luck in the Round One arcade, find your new style in the endless shopping malls, try some of Japan's finest culinary delights in a restaurant or find a furry friend in a cat cafe!
Once you've made your way to Susukino station, catch the subway back 2 stops to Sapporo Station then change to the rapid airport train, and you'll be on your way to the airport! The trip between Sapporo Station and the airport is only ~40 minutes (less than driving!).
Wanting to plan the ultimate Summer holiday with Niseko as your base?
Our team has all the local knowledge you need to plan a perfect trip, no matter your interests! We also have a range of accommodation ranging from hotel rooms to apartments and villas. Contact us today to get started on your next Summer getaway!