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4 min.

I’ll start by saying that a single day would be enough to visit Hakodate, but I needed to slow down and relax, and this town in southern Hokkaido was the perfect spot at the perfect moment.

Quick guide of Hakodate

It’s a 3h30 train from Sapporo and is a port city with a treacherous shape… it looks like an hourglass between high hills, the harbor, and the Strait of Tsurgu, and while strolling aimlessly is easy to get lost finding yourself on the wrong waterfront.

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Quick guide of Hakodate, pearl of Hokkaido

With its long, uphill roads, the vintage tram, nice colored wood houses, the relaxed atmosphere, and the sea breeze Hakodate has immediately made me think of San Francisco, despite the heavy snowfall!

I stayed for three nights in one of these houses in the Motomachi district, on the hillside, furnished in traditional style, my room included a coffee table on the tatami floor, cushions and futons to sleep at night, all in front of a large window covered with rice paper panels.

Zen and cozy at the same time. The owner, Masahiro, has another two rooms with bunk beds in hostel-style, but during my visit, I was the only guest.

What to see in Hakodate

Hakodate was the first Japanese harbor opened to the Western world, and in Motomachi district, you really can tell! It’s dotted with churches of all religions and architectural styles, with the ancient government buildings in colonial style. According to the tombstones, there is also a cemetery for foreigners, mostly sailors and mainly Russians, British and French.

Among the many churches scattered around the hill, I especially liked the Orthodox one, just behind “my home.” Its typical convoluted copper domes were just right in the snowy landscape. From its courtyard, you can also enjoy a nice view of the gulf.

The zen sanctuary Gokoku, near the entrance of the cable car, is also with a visit. Very peaceful and lovely designed.

I rather liked the Public Palace (300 yen) among the public buildings, in wood painted in yellow and blue, with a sumptuous porch and a terrace overlooking the sea that makes you dream. A few meters further down, the former British Consulate (300 yen) exhibits some memorabilia linked to the Crown and is home to a nice English tea room. Some rooms were undergoing restoration, so I’m not sure if the exposition is more extensive.

The museum that I preferred is the Museum of Northern Peoples (300 yen), dedicated to Ainu culture.

But what I really loved in Hakodate is the morning fish market, a few tens of meters from the station. As in Sapporo, here you go to the market to buy fresh fish, but also to eat on the spot and the grilled crab is actually yummy!

If the sky is clear, you should also take the cable car up to the top of the Hakodate-Yama (1200 yen the return pass). The view at sunset is awe-inspiring and, due to heavy snowfall, I had to wait till the last evening to enjoy it.

Masahiro told me that there is also a tourist bus that leaves from the train station and climbs to the top, in case you suffer from vertigo …

Another panoramic site, always if the weather is nice, is the tower of the Goryo-kaku (840 yen), you can admire the strong namesake-shaped five-pointed star. The park of the fort under the snow is not that beautiful, and it’s actually not worth the tram ride (tram n° 2 or 5, 250 yen per ticket or 600 yen for a daily pass), but it’s full of cherry trees, and I imagine that in mid-April is a fairytale place.

Where to eat

In addition to the morning market, closing around 1:30 p.m., there are plenty of restaurants in the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses on the seafront. These old warehouses for maritime trade have been restored and converted into a large shopping mall.

I particularly recommend the Ajisai, Kurenai for their excellent ramen, especially for the succulent curry noodles soup. I’m still dreaming of (you order at the touch screen outside and only after paying you to enter the restaurant handing your ticket to the waiter).

If you are in a hurry and love sushi/sashimi, you should also try the Kaitenzushi Marukatsusuisan Honten, a good value for money. If you’re quick ordering on the tablet at your disposal, they’ll serve you in a minute!

I also liked the Takahashiya‘s ramen, and the one served in the restaurant in the corner of the food market, always in the neighborhood of old brick warehouses. If you love to cook and experiment in this market, you can buy all the ingredients of traditional Japanese cuisine!

What to see in the area

Maybe I should say: what not to visit, but I would be totally partial …

I have been to Yunokawa Onsen Saru, 15 minutes by bus from Hakodate (260 yen), to take a bath in an onsen they recommended me (the Nezaki-yu) and once finished I went to visit the botanical garden by the sea (300 yen). The garden is really well maintained and lush, and during my visit, there was also an older man who dabbled – with great skill – the grand piano for the visitors, but once there, I found that the main attraction is the macaques taking a bath in an onsen built for them.

It’s actually a tiny zoo between the city buildings, too many monkeys in a too-small space, and visitors pulling them food from an upper platform. I felt sick, I cried, and I walked back to destress.

If this doesn’t bother you, I have to admit that you can actually take nice pics…

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.