Japan's fourth largest city by population (around two million) and the largest on the northern island of Hokkaido, Sapporo is one of the country's major tourist destinations. A relatively modern city by European standards, it was established in the mid- to late-19th century and was partly rebuilt after suffering damage during the Second World War. Sapporo is similar to many other world cities in that it is organised according to a grid system making getting around slightly easier (even if you cannot read Japanese). In terms of weather it has a similar climate to the UK, with large temperature differences between winter and summer, although it is perhaps overall a little chillier. Although it is a cliché to say so, there is something for everyone in Sapporo: a typical regional cuisine, vast areas of greenery, a thriving arts scene, places to go out at night, sports events and some great cultural sites such as museums and concert halls. For the best weather then May to September is the ideal time, however the most beautiful time of the year is when Sapporo is under the snow.
One of the city's most visited attractions is the Sapporo Beer Museum, run by the world famous eponymous brewery. The only such museum in Japan, it is housed in the former Sapporo Seito (sugar) building and is free of entry. The Sapporo TV Tower, which resembles the Eiffel Tower, is another popular stop for tourists. Its viewing platform which stands at 90m above the ground offers stunning panoramas of the city, its famous Odori Park, the surrounding mountains and of course the Japan Sea. You can also enjoy views of the city from the T38 observation deck at the JR Tower, the highest in the city. There are several museums worth visiting during your stay in Sapporo. One is the Historical Village of Hokkaido which shows how the area was around its conception, while the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, built for the areas centenary, charts its history. Sports fans will enjoy the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum which commemorates the city's hosting of the Winter Olympics in 1972. Those with a sweet tooth should head to Shiroi Koibito Park and the factory which produces the famous biscuits of the same name (which translates as 'White beloved ones'). The park boasts blossoming roses between May and October. Talking of gardens, the most well-known is Odori Park which houses sculptures, monuments and beautiful white and purple lilacs. The park is also the venue for the Lilac Festival and the dazzling Sapporo Snow Festival. Other gardens include the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens and Moerenuma Park (just outside Sapporo) with its Glass Pyramid. These parks are particularly pretty in autumn when the leaves are changing colour.
Arguably the main event in the Sapporo calendar is the Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place every year at the beginning of February. Two million people flock to the city during a week of snow statues and ice sculptures in one of the biggest winter events in the whole country. For lovers of classical music, head to the Sapporo Concert Hall Kitara, home to the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, or for outdoor concerts, the Sapporo ArtPark. There are several sporting options in Sapporo too. Fans of baseball and football can watch a game of either at the Sapporo Dome to cheer on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Consadole Sapporo respectively. If you fancy getting active yourself then there are plenty of ski slopes in and around the city. For shoppers there are several department stores in the city, as well as shopping centres, one of which is Sapporo Factory, a former government building which was also owned at one point by the Sapporo Beer Company. Don't forget too to head to one of the city's fish markets such as Nijo or Hakodate Morning Market (which has restaurants).
Both British Airways and All Nippon Airways fly to Sapporo via Tokyo. Other major European airlines also serve the city but this will involve a stopover at the airline's home base. The majority of flights will arrive at New Chitose Airport, around 20 odd miles from Sapporo and there are frequent trains linking the airport with the city with a journey time of around half an hour. Once in the city, it is relatively simple to navigate as blocks are named like points on a compass (for example North 6, East 3). Sapporo has a small metro system, trams and buses so getting where you want is very efficient. If you intend staying for a while then it may be wise to buy a pass.
To be honest, Japan is in general one of the safest places on Earth and there are very few areas where you would advise against going. So our advice for Sapporo is simply related to the weather. It can get extremely cold in winter although it is generally dry and in summer it can be very humid. If either of these climates bothers you then avoid the height of both winter and summer. Otherwise it's just a question of avoiding insulting the locals by disrespecting their traditions. For example, never stick your chop sticks upright in a bowl of rice, avoid shaking hands with people and always remove your shoes when entering a private home.
The jingisukan, names after Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan, is a typical lamb barbeque unique to Hokkaido Island. Popular in beer halls, the lamb is either marinated or dipped in a special sauce after being grilled. Sapporo is home to the popular dish miso ramen and you'll find plenty of ramen shops around the city, including down Ramen Yokocho (Ramen alley) where there is nothing but ramen shops! These noodles served in a miso, soy or salt soup are a ubiquitous dish in the city. The island of Hokkaido produces lots of quality vegetables and has excellent seafood including crab, scallops and salmon. Of course you cannot come to Sapporo without enjoying one of the city's own beers and you should also try the Shiroi Koibito biscuits also famous in the city.
To bring back
Many of the things Sapporo is famous for are difficult to bring back, such as lilacs, snow, beer and seafood. One thing that you could take back with you (unless you think you'll eat them all before you arrive back home) is a pack or two of the local biscuits, Shiroi Koibito. You can also find other types of sweets and chocolate unique to the city and island. It may also be a nice idea to take back with you a bottle of local sake which you can find in many of the shops in the city (or even at the airport). Alternatively you could purchase some local art work or crockery/eating utensils and for technology fans, you may find some futuristic looking electrical items that take your fancy.