When we visited Japan one thing that was on my Japan Bucket List was to visit Japan’s Northern Isle of Hokkaido. Hokkaido isn’t as visited as the Southern island by many tourists but in my opinion it should be. Hokkaido is beautiful and one of the best things in Hokkaido to do in my opinion is to visit the beautiful canalside town of Otaru. In this guide we round up the best things to do in Otaru along with our perfect Otaru itinerary so you can enjoy the town as much as we did.
Best Things to do in Otaru
Walk the Otaru Canals
Otaru is a bit like the Venice of Japan. It is a beautiful canal city and the canals are one of the main draws of tourists to the city. Otaru was originally a port city and the canals played an important part in Otaru’s development. As industry modernised the canals became obsolete but in the 1980s the citizens created the Otaru canal walk as a tourist attraction and was my favourite thing to do in Otaru.
There is a beautiful walk along the canals and at the far end there are restaurants and cafes to stop. We stopped in one for a delightful matcha cheesecake (a must while you are in the town). But if you don’t fancy exploring the canals by foot you can also explore by boat and take on of the canal tours.
When we were in Otaru we only explored by foot as most tours of the canals seemed to only have Japanese commentary for the times we were looking but it is worth checking when you arrive if they have any English language commentaries that day. Or just hop on a boat for the beautiful views of the city.
An alternative way to see the canal is to take a rickshaw ride around the town. We saw many rickshaws on our walk and commentary was being offered in both English and Japanese. To book your rickshaw tour in advance click here!
Learn and Try your hand at Glass blowing
Another way in which Otaru is similar to Venice is that one of the main products of the city is glass and glass blowing can still be seen all around the town today. Glass is a great Hokkaido souvenir to take home with you from Hokkaido and there are plenty of ways to learn about the glass blowing history in Otaru.
Our favourite shop in Otaru for buying Hokkaido souvenirs was the Kitaichi Glass shop but there are plenty of shops in Otaru to make purchases. And at the Kitaichi Glass Hanazono Shop you can even try your hand at making some of these famous Otaru products. For a more in-depth glass blowing experience you could head to Glass Atelier Nakamori where you can create a vase – this is a great thing to do in Hokkaido with kids and children over 4 can participate.
Otaru Music Box Museum – one of the best Otaru attractions.
After glass one of the main products of Otaru historically is music boxes and one of the best Otaru attractions is the Otaru Music Box Museum. The main building of the Otaru Music Box Museum is in the centre of the city and has a wide variety of traditional music boxes on display. The only downside to the museum is that the interpretation is offered in Japanese but if all you want to do is look then be sure to head inside as this is a great free thing to do in Otaru.
See the steam clock
Outside of the Otaru Music Box Museum is Otaru’s famous steam clock that goes off on the fifteen mintue. Be sure to check this out on your way in or out to the museum.
This was absolutely one of my favourite things we did in Otaru. Otaru is renowned for its seafood and I was so excited to go and try sushi on Otaru’s famous sushi street – yes that it what it is known as! Despite its relatively small size by Japanese standards the city of Otaru has a plethora of sushi restaurants.
I’ll be honest I can’t remember the name of the place we ate at but I can tell you it was fantastic and talking to some other people all who ate at different places to us the general consensus was that this was the place with the best sushi in Japan.
Regional specialities include sweet shrimp and urchin which are in season over the summer.
Visit the Fish Market
Every city we went to in Japan we seemed to visit a fish market. Sankaku Fish Market is a great place to have a wander while in Otaru and there are a few places selling bowls of rice and fish if you don’t want to eat lunch on sushi street.
Try a Famous Otaru Dessert
While most famous for its Sushi the other food Otaru is famous for is its amazing dairy desserts. Next to the Music Box Museum is the Letao main shop. Letao is one of Hokkaido’s most famous foods and is a confectionary king. It is most famous for it’s delicious cheesecake.
On top of desert – Otaru is also famous for it’s dairy such as soft whip ice cream. One of the most famous places in Otaru to get ice cream is Kita No Aisu Ya San however don’t expect traditional flavours. We tried Squid Ink ice cream which isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Be sure to try at least one dairy product while you are in Otaru even if you aren’t brave enough to try squid ink ice cream.
Otaru Tenguyama ropeway
If you like me don’t link heights then this one isn’t for you. But if you are ok with them be sure to check out the Otaru Tenguyama ropeway which is a gondola ride up the mountain just a short way from Otaru city centre. From the top of Mount Tegu you have beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Otaru Beer Warehouse
The other culinary gem that Otaru has is its beer. The Otaru Beer Warehouse is located on the canal and is actually a brewery where you can sample some of the famous Otaru Beers. We didn’t do this as we were travelling with our toddler but is definteiyl on our list for when we return.
If beer isn’t your thing then be sure to check out the
Tanaka Sake Brewing Company
to try a more traditional Japanese beverage.
Another museum in the centre of Otaru but this one is dedicated to the history of the city. It also has a partner museum just outside of the city which is dedicated to trains which I am disappointed we didn’t do.
Please note: limited English.
Otaru Aquarium – best things to do in Otaru with kids
We hadn’t got chance to go out to the Aquarium for our visit however I have heard great things about the Otaru Aqaurium a short ride outside of the city. This would be a great additional to a Otaru itinerary with kids
What to do in Otaru Seasonal Activities
All of the above can be done all year round in Otaru but if you are wondering what to do in Otaru in the different seasons then you could time your travel to go insider with:
- See Cherry Blossoms
We didn’t travel during cherry blossom season but Temiya Park in Otaru is reported to be the best place to see cherry blossoms in the area.
- Autumn Leaves
Hokkaido has good autumn colours. Otaru is a great place to see them. I can just imagine how beautiful the canals look at the foliage changes colours.
- Otaru Tenguyama Ski Resort
Otaru’s first ski resort and somewhere to add to your Winter Otaru itinerary.
- Snow Light Path Festival
If skiing isn’t for you but you want to visit Hokkaido in Winter then you might want to check out the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Held every February this is one of the best things to do in Otaru in Winter.
My Perfect One Day in Otaru Itinerary
Start your one day in Otaru itinerary by visiting the famous Otaru fish market. Definitely best to do in a morning. Follow this with a walk down the canals. Be sure to stop at one of the many canal side cafes for a drink and perhaps one of Otaru’s famous dairy deserts.
Once back in town head to the Otaru Music Box Museum to see some of Otaru’s famous exports and be sure to check the steam clock located outside the museum on entry or exit.
This will probably take you to lunch time. We recommend heading to Otaru’s famous sushi street to try some lunch. After lunch be sure to check out the glass blowers of Otaru and make a stop in Kitaichi Glass shop. After purchasing your souvenirs be sure to grab an ice cream or visit the Letao Shop to buy some Hokkaido Dairy.
End your day in Otaru at either the Sake or Beer Brewing Warehouses.
Frequently Asked Questions About Otaru
How do I get to Otaru from Sapporo?
Otaru is just over 30km from Sapporo. You can reach Otaru from Sapporo by train on the HakOne day in Otaru is definitely enough to do the main Otaru tourist attractions and city centre. But if you want to do some of the other out of town activities such as the Ropeway, Aquarium and Railway Museum you may want to allocated two days in your Hokkaido itinerary to Otaru.
Have you been to Otaru? What were your favourite things to do in Otaru?