Otaru Japan – The humble habour city of Otaru is only half an hour away from the tremendously popular city of Sapporo in Hokkaido, however, it gets nowhere near as much rapt nor as many foreign visitors. It is, however, a very popular destination for domestic tourists due to its unique canal scenery, fresh seafood, and abundance of local attractions that make for a fun, exciting, even romantic getaway.
Otaru is a small city, but it packs a punch. Its history is long and eventful, its views go from artistic and cultural to mountainous really quick. It can definitely be done as a one-day trip, however, staying here will obviously allow you to explore in more detail. Because of its port and distance to mountain ranges, it is beautiful to visit at any time of the year, however, if we had to choose, the winter season creates an absolutely stunning landscape.
How To Get To Otaru From Sapporo
From Sapporo, you can catch the JR Hakodate Main line to Otaru. It will only take 45-minutes by local train, or 30-minutes by a rapid train, and will cost 750 yen one-way. This trip is cover by the JR Pass.
Where To Stay in Otaru, Japan
Hostel in Otaru, Japan – The Otarunai Backpackers Hostel Morinoki
Staying at this hostel is like staying at a second home with close family and friends. It’s cosy atmosphere, worn but clean facilities, and snug lounging areas are great options for those who want an affordable accommodation option that provides the bare amount of privacy but also allows them to socialise with the others if they want. Its convenient location means you can access attractions and public transport easily.
Guest Tips: There’s a dog and cat who live on their property who are very cute, so if you’re an animal person, this is a big plus! A great homemade breakfast is prepared by the owner if you organise it with him. This place is so homey, it cannot be stressed enough.
Book It Now: The Otarunai Backpackers Hostel Morinoki
Hotel in Otaru, Japan – Dormy Inn Premium Otaru
This modern hotel smack-bang in the middle of the city provides a comfortable and clean stay for those who just want a convenient and relaxing place to retire back to when they’re done exploring for the day. The rooms are pretty stock-standard for a decent 3-star hotel, but if you’re not looking for a grand experience or don’t like surprises, this is perfect for you. Spacious Japanese-style or western style rooms, a delicious buffet breakfast showing off the local fare, public hot spring bath and sauna for guests, and free Wi-Fi access throughout are just some of the services and amenities provided to make your stay an easy one.
Guest Tips: Free coffee and ramen, enough said. The location is fantastic if you don’t want to lug your luggage far because it’s literally outside the station.
Book It Now: Dormy Inn Premium Otaru
Ryokan in Otaru, Japan – Ginrinsou
This ryokan situated right next to Otaru Port is the epitome of opulence. With sweeping views of the ocean, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and stunning traditional exteriors, there really isn’t anything to not love here.
There are Japanese-style rooms and western-style rooms to choose from, some bathrooms come with a private onsen bath, there’s a luggage storage service as well as an onsite gift shop for souvenirs, a free shuttle to-and-from Otaru Chikko station, and massage services are available upon request.
Book It Now: Ginrinsou
The Best Things to Do in Otaru, Japan
Here is the list of our favorite activities to do in Otaru:
- Visit the Otaru Canal
- Nikka Whisky Distillery
- Sakaimachi Street
- Otaru City Museum
- The Otaru Mount Tengu Ropeway
Visit the Otaru Canal
The Otaru Canal is the obvious main attraction of the city for many reasons. Whilst in the past it was mainly used as a port to pass on loads from larger ships to smaller ships, it’s now been transformed into a wonderful tourist sight with many activities. The restoration process saw that the surrounding warehouses were turned into historic museums, fashion and goods shops, and various types of cafes and restaurants. During the day, you’ll see the local artist community converge here to display their works for visitors, and at night, the oil gas lamps are lit, casting a romantic Old-World atmosphere over the area.
Otaru Snow Light Path – Winter Festival
The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held every year at the time of the Sapporo Snow Festival. During this period, the Otaru city comes alive with thousands of lights, candles and small snow statues for ten full days. The sight that visitors get to witness is stunning and unique; imagine a small cosy town, with thousands of small snow igloos built on the ground, lit inside with a lantern. To add to the festivity, many shop fronts also display lanterns of their own. Along the canal itself, the small igloos along with the gas light lamps makes for a very romantic stroll indeed!
Cruise Along the Harbour
If you want to take discovering the canal to the next level and actually go on a cruise along the waters, then by all means go for it! Riverboat cruising is a great way to get a different perspective of the canal, and can allow you to get some unique photos. These cruises only go on for 40-minutes so it’s a great activity when you’ve done a bit of walking and want to relax your feet for a bit.
Nikka Whisky Distillery
For those who are alcohol aficionados, the Nikka Whisky Distillery is a great way to burn a few hours whilst getting to know some handsome facts about Japan’s first whisky distiller, Taketsuru Masakata, and how he brought over the Scottish techniques of making whiskey to Japan.
Taketsuru studied in Scotland in his younger years. He married a Scottish woman, and they both decided to move to Japan to establish the country’s first whiskey distillery in Kyoto. Upon success of that, Taketsuru became known as the “father of Japanese whisky” and subsequently went to open up the Nikka Whiskey Distillery in 1934.
The site that you visit now is still in operation, and is a fascinating experience indeed. The owners have created an easy self-guided walking tour of the buildings, which will take about a leisurely hour or more to go through. It takes you through the original stone buildings of the distillery and allows you to learn about the process of whiskey-making from start to finish. Even if you only know conversational Japanese, don’t worry, there is plenty of English information for you to read. You will end up at a tasting room where you can sample some of the famous whiskey blends of Nikka.
- Address: Japan, 〒046-0003 Hokkaido, Yoichi District, Yoichi, Kurokawacho, 7 Chome−６
- Access: From Otaru Station, tae the JR Hakodate line to Yoichi Station and alight there. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the station.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: Free
Originally a merchant strip constructed in the early 1900s, Sakaimachi Street now thrives as a quaint strip of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, boutiques, and museums that draws people for its lively atmosphere and variety of attractions. Here, you can easily spend a few hours perusing the streets, ducking in an out of shops to search for gifts, clothing, souvenirs and random knick-knacks, and of course, sampling all the local cuisine you can fit.
Some of the activities you can do include:
Visiting the Music Box Museum
This museum is actually made of a few different buildings, all of which consist of bits and pieces of the history of Otaru’s music box origins to now, understand how it rose to prominence, and see some gorgeous historical pieces. Did you know that Otaru is actually home to one of the main music box industries in Japan?
- Address: 4-1 Sumiyoshicho, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0015, Japan
- Access: It is a 22-minute walk from the station.
- Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Museum of Venetian Art
Why travel to Italy when you can experience a slice of Venice right here in Japan? A local glass artist decided to introduce the arts of Venice through this museum, and from then on, he’s never looked back. Here, visitors can admire stunning displays of Venetian glassware, and, get this, it’s actually a whooping five storeys high!
- Address: 5-26 Sakaimachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0027, Japan
- Access: It’s an 18-minute walk from Otaru Station.
- Hours: 8:45am – 6:00pm
- Price: 700 yen
Otaru City Museum
Across all the cities in Japan, each one tells a unique story of its history, and Otaru is no different. The Otaru City Museum, made up of two separate buildings, tells the story of how Otaru ended up in the state that is in today, as well as details the earlier stages of how Hokkaido developed. Some of the things you can expect to learn is about the history and nature of Otaru and a bit about the native Ainu people of Japan, and also see displays and models set up.
Whilst you may not identify as a history buff and want to eat all this information up, you have to admit, the Japanese culture is one that is inherently intricate with a variety of aspects that stand out as extraordinary, sometimes peculiar, often engaging, and learning about its history is the best way to gain insight into this.
Aside from its history, the second part of this museum focuses on telling the story behind Hokkaido’s first railway line. This was significance in its history because it was the one that connected Otaru’s then thriving port to Sapporo. There are life-size models to view (great photo opportunity!), exhibitions and dioramas as well.
- Address: 1 Chome-3-6 Temiya, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0041, Japan
- Access: From Otaru Station, it is a 10-minute walk. It is near Otaru Canal.
- Hours: 9:30am – 5:00pm
- Price: 300 yen (history museum), 400 yen (railway museum), 500 yen (combo ticket)
The Otaru Mount Tengu Ropeway
If you’re wondering if you can get back in touch with nature during this trip to Otaru, then you’re in luck because the Otaru Mount Tengu Ropeway is a fun, family-friend activity that’s both affordable and convenient, and provides some epic views indeed!
The beautiful landscape of Otaru is, of course, stunning up close when perusing through the historic streets, but being able to see this seaside city from above against the gorgeous coastline is something else. Mount Tengu is actually only 15-minutes away from Otaru Station by taxi, and you can actually catch the Mount Tengu Ropeway from the foot of the mountain to the very top in just about 4-minutes. No sweating involved!
The view is stunning during both daytime and night time, so the choice is yours really, but if we had to suggest, it would be to head on up during dusk to capture the last glimpse of sunlight before the night sky takes over the city illuminates itself – Hokkaido seaside night views truly is a gorgeous sight.
- Address: 2 Chome Asarigawaonsen, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0154, Japan
- Access: From Otaru Station, you can either catch a taxi for 15-minutes, or catch the Chuo #9 bus to ‘Tenguyama’, which will also take 15-minutes.
- Hours: 9:30am – 9:00pm
- Price: Adult: 1,200 yen round trip, Child: 600-yen round trip
Otaru Japan is a great option for “something different” to the more populous city of Sapporo. With a vastly different history, a funky amalgamation of attractions, lots to see and capture, great local fares to try, and located only a short train ride away, there really is no reason to not include Otaru on your list the next time you go up north.
And if you happen to be in town for the winter festival? Well, make sure you’re the envy of all your friends and family and head to Otaru for some visually stunning wintry captures, romantic strolls, and get a taste for how the locals’ embrace and celebrate the snowy season.