Experience Japan’s remarkable winter festivals, travelling from Sapporo to Otaru, Asahikawa and Soun

Be entranced by winter in Japan. Experience the sensational Sapporo Snow Festival, be awestruck by the size of snow sculptures and watch the soft lantern light cast its magic over festivalgoers in Otaru. Experience some of the best and biggest winter festivals in the country! Explore picturesque landscapes, don some snowshoes for a wintery walk and sample some of the region’s finest beers and sakes as you enjoy an adventure of natural, cultural and artistic delights that celebrates the splendour of Japan’s far north.

Sapporo, Japan
Sapporo, Japan
Festivals and Events
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
357kg pp per trip


  • Winter is a beautiful time of year to explore Japan. The streets are lit up and blanketed in snow, the markets are bustling and the food is piping hot
  • Explore the unique region of Hokkaido in a relatively short period of time
  • The Sapporo Ice and Snow Festival is world famous for its huge and elaborate sculptures. Make sure you get your camera out, as this is a haven for photographers
  • Warm up with visits to some of Japan's best-known breweries and whiskey distilleries
  • The picturesque Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru is a true winter experience. Stroll along the river, gathering around snow mounds filled with light. You might like to enjoy a mulled wine, too


Konnichiwa! Welcome to Sapporo, Japan. As travellers are arriving from all over the world, there are no activities planned for today. However, you're expected to attend a group meeting in the evening - your group leader will leave a notice for you at the hotel detailing the exact time and place. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information during this meeting, so please bring these with you.

Nestled in a wide basin beneath snowcapped mountains, Sapporo is the lovely capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s northernmost island. Only 5% of the population live on over 20% of Japan’s land mass. It's a very special time of year in the city, as it hosts its annual Snow Festival. This is an incredible display of lights, ice sculptures and snow, which delights both domestic and international visitors. Join the eating, dancing, drinking and singing festivities during this art festival.
Today visit the Sapporo Snow Festival in all of its glory. This is Japan's biggest snow festival and full of beautiful snow sculptures, exciting food and lots of different activities. The markets serve up hot wine, which is great to warm you up while you enjoy the spectacular sculptures. You'll also pay a visit the Sapporo JR Tower Observation Deck for amazing views over the city.
Head to the small, picturesque harbour city of Otaru today, which is about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. The Otaru canal that stretches through the whole city is still beautifully preserved along with many other buildings from the past. During your visit, Otaru holds it’s magical Snow Light Path Festival. The whole city is decorated with lanterns and snow statues, which creates a fantastic fairytale-like scenery when it gets dark. In your free time, perhaps visit the Nikka whiskey distillery to warm up with some strong Japanese whiskey.
Take an express train further into the northern wilderness today, from Otaru to Asahikawa (approximately 2.5 hours). Asahikawa and its surrounding areas host a number of smaller and more local snow and ice festivals. Enclosed by mountains and famous for winter sports, the city has something for everyone. Soak in a traditional onsen, dog-sleigh through the snow or check out the many breweries, museums and unique traditional art displays. Visit the Asahikawa Winter Festival and use your free time in the afternoon to further explore Asahikawa. Possibly pay homage at Kamikawa Shinto Shrine, shop in the city centre or visit the Asahikawa Snow Museum. Alternatively, you could take a local bus to visit nearby Biei for the day, which is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Hokkaido.
Make the 2 hour trip to Sounkyo this morning, which is a small tourist town known for its hot springs. Located in a scenic narrow gorge that's flanked by 100-metre-high, forested cliffs, this region is also known as one of the coldest parts of Japan - so make sure you bring your winter woolies. While here, visit a sake brewery and visit the Sounkyo Ice Festival. This chilly winter festival takes place along the Ishikari River and features large, multi-story buildings and structures made of ice and snow.

While the layout of the festival can change from year to year, it normally features large ice sculptures, snow domes and a snow tubing run (small fee required to rent tubes). There's also a stage area that's built out of snow, where various shows and stage events are held. In the evenings, everything is illuminated with colourful lights and it's a great attraction to see.
Your morning is free, before visiting the Nijo Fish Markets in the afternoon. The Nijo markets cover around one city block and is a public market. You'll find the locals here haggling for crabs, salmon eggs, sea urchin, and various fresh and prepared fish. Enjoy some local delicacies or check out the several restaurants that can be found among the shops, including a collection of small drinking places and eateries along a narrow corridor called Noren Yokocho.
Take a tour of the Sapporo Brewery and learn about the birthplace of beer in Japan at the Sapporo Beer Museum, while also enjoying some tastings. Sapporo beer is one of Japan's oldest and most popular beers, not to mention a good way to warm up. The rest of the day is free to do as you wish.
Your 'Japan Winter Festivals' adventure comes to an end today. You're free to depart the accommodation at any time, and your leader can assist you with any onward travel plans you may have.
View trip notes to read full itinerary


7 breakfasts, 1 dinner
Metro, Express Train, Bullet Train, Public bus
Hotel (7 nights)
Included activities
  • Snow Festival Sights and Performances
  • JR Tower Observatory
  • Snow Light Path Festival
  • Asahikawa Winter Festival
  • Sake Brewery Tasting
  • Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival
  • Nijo Fish Market visit
  • Sapporo Brewery
  • Mt. Okura Observatory


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Important notes

1. No Single Supplement is available for this trip.
2. This itinerary is far from a hand-holding, all inclusive trip, so enjoy the freedom and indulge in some raw fish!
3. Transport from one destination to the next is included, however transport to get around the destinations in your free time is not included.
4. There is no Japan Rail Pass included on this trip.
5. In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, Intrepid's local ground representative Venture can be reached on +81 (90) 6531 9269
6. Please make sure you have access to an additional US$500, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
7. Decorative tattoos are uncommon in Japanese culture and therefore you may receive curious and sometimes disapproving looks from locals. Generally, nobody will make a comment about your tattoos but please endeavor to wear modest clothing and exercise discretion when using a public onsen if you are permitted to attend.
8. Please note the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo will close on the 3rd of November 2016. The new fish market in Toyosu will open on the 7th of November 2016.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes