Hakodate Japan – Hokkaido’s claim to fame may be its stunning snow fields and Genghis Khan dish, but there’s much more to this northern island that generally meets the eye. Hakodate is a port city located near the southern tip of Hokkaido, and is one of the closest cities to the main Honshu island, thus making it an extremely popular entry point to Hokkaido and one of the most frequented cities in the north by domestic tourists (not so much foreigners, unfortunately, but hopefully that’s will change!)
As one of the first port harbours to open up in Japan, Hakodate has a colourful history in trades with the world, and therefore when you visit the city, you’ll see remnants of international influence all around; you’ll see it in the local dishes being sold, the building structures and styles, and even across some of the main attractions of the city.
Whilst flying straight into Sapporo is the more popular route to take when visiting Hokkaido, we recommend reading on as we highlight some of the more popular Hakodate attractions, and you can see for yourself what a great city this is.
How to get there
There are two methods to get to Hakodate from the main Honshu island. Firstly, the quickest and easiest way would be to fly from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Hakodate. The flight will take approximately 80-minutes, and cost around 16,500 yen, one-way with Air Do and ANA.
Otherwise, the Japanese have actually built a tunnel underneath the Tsugaru Strait that connects Honshu and Hokkaido, and approximately 50 trains run through this tunnel every day. To use this method, you will need to take the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, and then transfer to Hakodate Station. This entire trip should take approximately 5-hours, and cost 23,000 yen, but is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Where to stay
Guesthouse – Capsule Hotel Hakodate
Capsule hotels are a great way to experience Japan. It’s one of the accommodation styles that they take pride in providing with utmost care and quality, even if the size of the room you book might be (much) smaller than the usual. This particular capsule hotel is one of the first ones to ever open in Hakodate; they’re the pioneers in the region, and so you know from that alone that they’re one of the best. Offering separate floors for men and women, comfortable lounge rooms with bean bags, an abundance of amenities in the bathrooms, and located within good distance to a variety of different attractions and activities, this one’s a real bang for your buck.
Book It Now: Capsule Hotel Hakodate
Ryokan – Wakamatsu Hot Spring Resort
Wakamatsu is one of the bestsellers in terms of accommodation across the entire Hakodate region. Why? Well, to begin, let’s start with their absolutely exquisite open-air hot spring baths available for all ryokan guests that offer stunning private ocean views.
The larger-than-average traditional Japanese rooms are complete with tatami mat flooring, stunning wooden detail across the ceilings and walls, and incredibly soft and fluffy futon bedding. You’ll feel the Zen vibe the moment you step foot in Wakamatsu ryokan, and during every single moment after that. This is a place where you can retire to after a long day of exploring and really let your mind rest. The superb food provided is just a bonus!
Book It Now: Wakamatsu Hot Spring Resort
By the way, you can find more beautiful Ryokan in Hokkaido here: Best ryokan in Hokkaido.
Hotel – Four Points By Sheraton Hakodate
The name Four Points By Sheraton is synonymous with luxe, class, and comfort, and that’s exactly what you get if you book a room at this hotel in Hakodate. As one of the reigning champions of hotel stays in Hakodate, you can’t go wrong with their beautifully classic interiors, gorgeous mountain views, private bathrooms, buffet breakfast (with over 80 Japanese and Western dishes!), panoramic night views at the sky bar, and in-house dining at Main Dining FOUR POINT. You’ll definitely be getting more than you pay for with this hotel stay.
Book It Now: Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate
Hakodate Japan – Hakodate Morning Market
Similar to the Toyosu Market in Tokyo, the Hakodate Morning Market offers some seriously fresh seafood to those who rise and shine early in the morning. The market is located just a few minutes outside Hakodate Station, and there, you’ll be able to get your seafood fix for the week. Visitors head here to sample the renowned seafood donburis (rice bowls), as well as ‘fish’ (you actually reel it in) for fresh squid, which is a local specialty. If you’re keen for the latter, they will even offer to slice up the squid sashimi style for you to eat immediately! Explore the market and purchase some of the freshest crabs and oysters you’ll ever taste, and finish it off with some sweet seasonal fruits.
Access: 1-minute walk from JR Hakodate Station
Hours: Jan-April: 6:00am-2:00pm; May-Dec: 5:00am – 2:00pm (varies from stall to stall)
Hakodate Japan – Tour Fort Goryokaku
Fort Goryokaku was originally built in 1864 towards the end of the Edo period as a defence fort against enemies. It’s now the most popular attraction in Hakodate due to its unique layout and seasonal festivities.
Goryokaku was built in the shape of a star because they believed it was the best layout to view upcoming enemies; soldiers were stationed at each point of the star to make sure any attacks were seen from afar immediately and prepared for. Nowadays, all tourists are able to head on over into the fort and walk around to explore the area. The fort is especially popular during the cherry blossom season and autumn foliage season when the gardens are blanketed with pink flowers and burnt leaves. If you want a top down view of the star, you’ll need to make your way up Goryokaku tower.
Access: From Hakodate Station, take the bus towards Goryokaku Koen Iriguchi and alight. You will then need to walk another 7-minutes. Otherwise, take the tram towards Goryokaku Koen Mae and alight, then walk 10-minutes.
Cost: 900 yen
Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Hakodate Japan – Goryokaku Tower
If you’re the type to enjoy panoramic views of a city, then make sure you find time to head up to the viewing platform of Goryokaku Tower, which stands at a height of 90m! Here, you’ll be able to look down on the famous Fort Goryokaku and see it in its entire star-shaped glory.
As you make your way up to the platform, and whilst walking around the top, you will be able to learn much about the history of Hakodate – how it was during the olden era, how it came to be what it is today, what it’s famous for, and so on.
Access: Take the tram towards Goryokaku Koen Mae, where you will need to walk another 15-minutes.
Hours: 8:00am – 7:00pm
Dubbed as the ‘historical heart of Hakodate’ a trip to Motomachi will see you walking amongst Japanese-European-American infused architecture that spans over many years. When Hakodate first opened its port up to international trade years ago, Motomachi unintentionally became a hub for overseas residents, as can be seen through their influence on the building structures as well as international consulate and religious structures such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church (first in the country!), and the former British Consulate Building.
If you have a 1-2 hours to spare, we suggest that you go for a stroll here after a long lunch, as the views are quite therapeutic and appealing, making for a great place to snap some pictures.
Access: From Hakodate Station, hop on the train and alight at Suehirocho Station. Motomachi is located at the foot of Hakodate Mountain, so you can walk towards the mountain.
Hakodate Museum of Northern Peoples
For those who enjoy learning about unique and interesting histories and facts that are not particularly known about a foreign country, then this Hakodate Museum of Northern Peoples is the one for you. Spend a few hours here and you’ll leave having learnt about indigenous people of Hokkaido, including the Ainu and the Sakhalin, as well as be able to view exhibits of traditional tools, clothing, and various other artifacts in display. There are workshops that you can take part of, and lots of information to absorb, however, keep in mind that some explanations only come in Japanese, so it might be handy to have a Japanese friend with you, or else Google Translate might do the trick!
Access: Take the tram to Suehiro-cho, and it is a 1-minute walk away.
Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Hakodate Japan – Explore Kanemori Red-Brick Warehouse
If we’re going to be honest, the Red-Brick Warehouse is one of the most picturesque places you can snap a picture of in Hakodate. The lineup of actual red brick warehouses, which used to serve as storehouses back during the times when Hakodate was building its reputation as a trading port, looks incredibly beautiful as they face the harbor with mountains in the background.
Here, you can snap away on your phone as well as with your wallet, as they’ve now all been converted to shopping complexes that house boutique fashion stores, household goods shops, specialty cafes and plenty of souvenir stalls for you to explore! The area is also illuminated at night so if you’re happy to stick around, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the beauty of the place in the evening.
Access: It is a 15-minute walk from Hakodate Station.
Hours: 9:30am – 7:00pm
Hike or Take the Ropeway up Mount Hakodate
Mount Hakodate is an absolute must if you’re visiting this city – it’s said that the view of the twinkling city lights beneath you as you take it all in at the top is one of the best night views you can get in the entirety of Japan!
This mountain is extremely popular with tourists as it is not a difficult one to get to nor is it difficult to climb – it will only take around one hour to arrive at the viewing platform. Otherwise, if you really don’t want to work for it, you can easily hop on the ropeway and be at the viewing platform in just a few minutes!
Our recommendation? Aim to get there just before sunset, set up your camera and wait for the incredible bursts of orange and red to light up the sky; then, as you head into the night, take in the gorgeous view of the city below as the buildings slowly light up one by one.
Access: From Hakodate Station, take the taxi for 7-minutes.
Hours: 10:00am – 10:00pm
Try The Local Beer
The Japanese take their beer very seriously, so if you’re no stranger to a good old fashioned brewed beverage, we recommend dropping into the Hakodate Beer Hall to get to know a bit about Hakodate’s gift to the world.
Here, you’ll learn about how special Hakodate Beer is; its history, its brewery methods, etc. Did you know that the beer itself is made from water derived from the neighboring Mount Hakodate? Whilst you’re there, you can taste a number of different blends of beer, and even purchase some to take away home. Try some of the local snacks from the bar such as Hakodate’s signature fried squid, and relax over a few pints before you head on out to your next activity.
Access: Take the tram to Suehiro-cho tram station, and walk 6-minutes.
Hours: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-9:30pm (closed Wednesdays)
Hakodate Japan – Daimon Yokocho
Whilst there seems to be an abundance of food stall villages all over Japan, here in Hakodate, Daimon Yokocho is the only food stall market there is, making it a popular destination for all those wanting to explore the street food side of Hakodate. It’s located only 5-minutes away from the station, and with a whooping 26 stalls of izakaya, sushi restaurants, fresh seafood restaurants, ramen joints, specialty restaurants serving ‘jingisukan’ (barbequed mutton), and various other food offerings, you’ll be spoilt for choice and will probably be back on another night to try everything else that you missed out on!
Access: 5-minutes walk away from Hakodate Station.
Hours: 5:00pm – 12:00am (varies from stall to stall)
We’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Hakodate, which doesn’t seem to receive nearly as much international love as it should. Whilst its northern sisters Sapporo and Niseko rank highly on the list as the destinations to go to in winter when traveling north of Japan, Hakodate is surely making a name for itself as the northern destination for every other season. If you’re a traveler who likes to dabble in various activities (shopping, nature, history, food scene), then this is the place for you.