When people travel to Japan, especially with kids they think about heading to Tokyo, taking the bullet out to Kyoto and Osaka but few think to head to Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido with kids. We wanted to get off the beaten track when we headed to Japan so for the second part of our trip we headed north. It is a true japan hidden gem! Here we round up best places to stay, best time to visit Hokkaido and things to do and places to visit in Hokkaido with kids.
Updated: July 2019
Where to stay in Hokkaido with kids
Hokkaido is a huge island and there are so many choices for types of accommodations and places to stay. I t really depends on your itinerary for the best places to stay in Hokkaido.
If you are looking for one place to base yourself then the best choice is Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. Sapporo has lots of attractions in itself and also has lots of great transport links.
If you are looking for specific hotels in Sapporo then Traveling families may want to consider:
Ibis Styles Hotel – good for families as they are known to have quite generous room sizes and are reasonably priced.
JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo – a centrally located hotel with great public transport access.
However it is worth shopping around especially if there are specific attractions you want to be near to.
Sapporo also has a variety of AirBnBs for rental. We always recommend staying with a Superhost when booking with AirBnB – for more available AirBnBs CLICK HERE.
But if you are feeling more adventurous you could move around the island a bit more. Some of my favorite spots were Otaru and Hakodate and you could head further north to visit the beautiful Shiretoko National Park.
Best time to visit Hokkaido
Really there is no bad time to visit Hokkaido with kids. We were there in summer and had a fabulous time but there are definitely benefits to all the seasons.
Why Visit Hokkaido in Summer with kids
In Summer Hokkaido has better weather and longer days which makes sightseeing easier. Also if you are opting to drive around Hokkaido the driving conditions are much better than in the Winter.
Why Visit Hokkaido in Winter with kids
Hokkaido is a stunning in place in all weather but in Winter has some great seasonal activities.
Hokkaido is a great destination for skiers as there is great snow in the winter.
But for kids there are several festivals that they will love including the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) a truly magical ice and snow festival that is a true winter wonderland. A sure fire hit with kids.
There is also the Takino Snow World which is a great first snow experience for kids
The only down side to visiting Hokkaido in Winter is the driving conditions can be difficult.
Getting around Hokkaido with baby, toddler or kids
Get a Japan Railway (JR) Pass
If you have a Hokkaido railway pass, you can ride all JR Hokkaido trains (except the new Hokkaido Shinkansen). This is a great money and time saver at the stations and is an easy way for families to travel.
Tip to for Travelling around on train in Hokkaido with toddler or baby:
If you are travelling with Hokkaido with toddler or baby you may be worried about space on transport. In our experience it was fine to take a stroller with you but we would advise taking an umbrella stroller or a stroller that can be folded into an airplane overhead locker.
To see the stroller with travelled to Hokkaido with click here!
Do the Hokkaido Shinkansen bullet train
No visit to Japan is complete without a ride on the bullet train.
Hire a car
Hokkaido is a great place to drive around and it gives you more flexibility in your itinerary. However if you are going in Winter you may want to consider how comfortable you are driving in the Wintery conditions.
Take a cruise around Hokkaido
Japanese cruises are rising in popularity with many of the major cruise lines now offering cruises around both the North and south islands of Japan.
Princess has one ship permanently based in Japan but the experience is more tailored towards the Japanese and Asian market which may not be what European and American cruisers are used to.
Best things to do in Hokkaido with kids
Hokkaido might not be the first place that springs to mind when travelling with kids, or even when travelling in Japan with kids. However, we really enjoyed our time on the northern isle – in this section of the guide we won’t just talk about travelling to Hokkaido with kids but what to do in Hokkaido for Kids.
Things to Do in Sapporo with kids
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and there are lots of really unique things to see and do. In this section we round up the best thing to do in Sapporo for kids.
Sapporo has some amazing parks that kids will enjoy. The most famous being the long Odori Park but if you visit in May you may want to visit Nakajima Park in Sapporo which is a great place to see Hokkaido’s cherry blossom blooms.
Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”
Puppet theatre are a Japanese tradition that kids will love. No visit to the Northern island is complete without catching a show.
Observatories are always a great hit with kids and this one is free to enter.
Sapporo Maruyama Zoo
A sure fire hit with the kids. The red pandas are a particular star of the show.
A beautiful shrine next to Maruyama Park. Another great place to spot the cherry blossoms for those traveling in Cherry blossom season.
Otaru with kids
Otaru is the Venice of Japan. Kids will love walking the canals or taking a boat ride round the sites of the city.
Otaru glass blowing lesson
Otaru is famed for its glass as well as its’ canals. There are many studios you can go and watch glass blowing in and even some reasonable priced lessons that older children with love.
Music box museum
A beautifully quirky museum with creaking floorboards that is a delight to wander around.
For more things to do in Otaru including a one day Otaru itinerary click here!
Outdoorsy things to do in Hokkaido with kids
Located in Hakodate, you take a short bus ride up to the top of the mountains for some of the best views in Hokkaido. It is particularly stunning at night as you the city lights twinkle.
A beautiful volcanic caldera that is easy to explore with kids in tow.
Shiretoko National Park
Hokkaido has several National Parks but the one we went for was Shiretoko. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site with easy hikes.
The main entrance is at Shari and is the easiest place to go with kids. But one special way to see the park is to take a cruise. On our cruise we managed to see the symbol of the park the elusive Brown bear.
We really enjoyed Shiretoko as it was such a contrast to the rest of the Japan with its busy cities and ancient shrines and temples.
Things to eat in Hokkaido with kids
Hokkaido has some really distinct cuisines and speciality products that everyone must try on a visit to the island. The most famous include
Sushi on Otaru’s sushi street
We had the best sushi we had in Japan in Otaru. It has a dedicated sushi street and the quality was absolutely unbelievable.
Soft serve ice cream and Squid Ink Ice Cream in Hakodate
Hokkaido dairy products are famous and one of the most popular ways to eat it is in soft serve ice cream form. You can get traditional flavors such as Matcha but we also tried Squid Ink Ice Cream a Hakodate speciality. It tastds like a cross between having a whisky after taste and metallic taste it divided the crowd.
Catch your own squid in Hakodate
We didn’t partake in this but at the Hakodate fish market one of the main draws is the tank of squids where you are given a fishing rod and can catch your own squid and have it cooked in front of you.
As with everywhere in Japan, Matcha is hugely popular in Japan and comes in many forms.
Letao cheesecake in Otaru
This is a speciality double fromage cheesecake you can get in Otaru.
A famous Japanese chocolate cookie that can be sampled at the Shiroi Koibito Factory in Sapporo.
Have you been to on a Hokkaido family trip? Where did you go and what did you do?