[Updated 18 Oct 2019]
Hokkaido is reputed to be one of the best Japanese cities to experience winter, yet most people also tend to think that it is an expensive travel destination.
If you’re looking to spend your vacation in Hokkaido without breaking the bank, we have rounded up some useful budget tips for an affordable, yet enjoyable time in Hokkaido!
1. Affordable flights to Hokkaido
The main airport of Sapporo, New Chitose Airport, serves the bulk of international flights to and from Hokkaido! Plenty of low-cost carriers also operate in New Chitose, making it a centre for affordable air travel. AirAsia, Jetstar, and Scoot are just some of the cheapest options that operate direct flights to New Chitose Airport from Malaysia or Singapore. There are also plenty of other low-cost alternatives, albeit with stopovers.
Credit: Miki Yoshihito on Flickr
A quick check on Skyscanner reveals that on cheaper months, direct return flights can go as low as MYR1,300 from KL (via AirAsiaX). From Singapore, Scoot offers direct flights to New Chitose, however it may be cheaper to opt for connecting flights - based on Skyscanner, prices can go as low as SGD435 for a round trip. The cheapest time to fly to Hokkaido tends to be outside the summer months. While wintertime may see a slight spike (especially during the December holiday season) as Hokkaido is becoming an increasingly popular winter destination for foreign travellers, it's still not as expensive as the summer months.
#HHWT Tip: Do keep a lookout for good flight deals to New Chitose Airport; you may end up saving a whole lot (read: hundreds!) more per pax by grabbing the cheapest deals!
2. Transport passes
While car rental is the cheapest way to get around in Hokkaido during summer, it may be a pain to be driving around in thick winter snow. An affordable alternative to travel around Hokkaido is via bus.
Inter City Bus Pass
Credit:Hokkaido Xon Facebook
The Inter City Bus Pass provides you with either a 3-day or 5-day access to popular tourist spots within Hokkaido! Not only is it one of the cheapest modes of transport in Hokkaido, but travelling via bus is an efficient way to explore the smaller and less crowded towns in Hokkaido. Look out for bus companies such as Chuo Bus, JR Bus, Jotetsu Bus and more!
Ticketing counters: You can purchase the Inter City Bus Pass at the New Chitose Airport, Sapporo Station Bus Terminal and more other locations.
Price: 6,000 yen (3-day pass), 9,000 yen (5-day pass). Children aged 1-11 years old pay half the price
Hokkaido Rail Pass
Credit:@bella_ssun on Instagram
You may also opt for the Hokkaido Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on trains (except for bullet trains) and most buses in Hokkaido for 3, 5 or 7 consecutive days depending on the pass! You may also opt for a flexible 4-day pass that can be used within a 10-day period.
Ticketing counters: You can purchase outside the Hokkaido Rail Pass from authorised travel agents. Otherwise, you can buy this pass at New Chitose Airport Station, Sapporo Station, Hakodate Station and more locations.
Price: 16,500 yen (3-day pass), 22,000 yen (5-day pass or a flexible 4-day pass), 24,000 yen (7-day pass). Children aged 1-11 years old pay half the price.
3. Free things to do
While activities and tours generally take up the bulk of travel expenses, it need not be with these FREE sightseeing that you can do while you’re in Hokkaido ?
Credit: Yusuke Miyaharaon Flickr
The turquoise waters of Biei Pond are a must-visit if you’re looking for cost-free, yet gorgeous wintry views! During winter nights, the pond gets illuminated with diverse lighting patterns, creating a magical and mysterious scene.
Credit: Leonard Linon Flickr
You can also stroll along the beautifully restored Otaru Canal, which plays host to Otaru Snow Light Path Festival during the second week of February every year ?
Credit: ruich_whxon Flickr
During the festival, many glass and snow lanterns adorn the walkways and historical buildings in this port city. Even the canal is lit up with lanterns!
Hokkaido University Campus
Credit: Hokkaido Universityon Facebook
While the Hokkaido University Campus is often visited during fall as the lanes, lined with gingko and maple trees, take on a vibrant hue of crimson, this pathway (which is open to public) goes through a snowy transformation that is every bit as pretty as its autumn look ?
Sapporo White Illumination
Credit: @sakura.8878 on Instagram
If you’re looking to catch some of the famed Sapporo festivals, head out to Odori Park to catch the Sapporo White Illumination, where strings of fairy lights and various installations light up the trees and spaces in the park. Definitely makes for an enchanting sight!
Sapporo Snow Festival
Another of Hokkaido’s well-known festivals include the Sapporo Snow Festival. This festival is also held at Odori Park! A major attraction for both international tourists and locals alike, the festival showcases various famous landmarks, cartoon characters, and mythological figures crafted out of snow and ice. Think Mickey Mouse and minions!
Credit: David McKelveyon flickr
The best part? All the aforementioned festivals are FREE!!!! ?
4. Things to do on a budget
If you want to further relish in the wintry atmosphere while still maintaining your budget, you can take part in additional sightseeing with these affordable, yet interesting places of interest.
Credit: nschouterdenon Flickr
If you’re looking for spectacular views of the city from a high vantage point without spending much, Mt Hakodate is the place to go! The summit’s facilities, with the sweeping view of the city below, are accessible via a 10-minute ropeway (also known as a cable car). Bridging Sanroku (mountain base) and Sancho Tenbodai (summit observation deck), the fee will set you back at JPY1,500 for adults for a round trip (JPY700 for children) or JPY1,000 (JPY500 for children) for a single trip. You can find more information about Mt Hakodate here.
By car: The average price for a standard 5-passenger car starts from 5,000 yen (on a 6-hour basis). Do note that there is also a toll-free road to the summit, though it is closed at 5PM-10PM (April to September) and 4PM-9PM (October and November). The roads are fully closed during winter for safety purposes.
By bus: Take the bus from JR Hakodate station that takes you to Mt Hakodate. The fee is JPY400 for one-way.
By railway: Alight at the Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. The Hakodate station is connected to a 20-minute shuttle train service named Hakodate Liner. The fee is JPY360 for one-way.
Goryokaku Fort and Goryokaku Tower
Credit: かがみ～on Flickr
Another place of interest with a high vantage point is Goryokaku Tower! Situated 30 minutes from Mt Hakodate, this tower is also known as one of the best places to catch cherry blossom blooms at the neighbouring Goryokaku Fort. This fort, built as a defence against growing Western military powers, is also as spectacular during winter, where the star perimeter of the fort lights up in what is known as Hoshi No Yume, or the Dream of Star Illumination ?
Address: Goryokaku Tower, 43-9 Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0001
Operating hours: Daily, 8AM-7PM (21 Apr-20 Oct), 9AM-6PM (21 Oct-20 Apr)
Admission fee: JPY900 (per adult), JPY680 (for junior and high school students), JPY450 (for elementary school students)
5. Affordable accommodation
Finding affordable accommodation in Japan can be a daunting task, however, Hokkaido does offer plenty of options if you’re on a budget. If you’re travelling to Hokkaido alone or in a small group, a backpacker’s inn may be a good way to cut back on spending those yens!
Disclaimer: All nightly rates are based on a search in Oct 2019 for a stay in early Dec 2019 for 2 adults (unless specified). Prices may change during peak travel periods and over weekends. We recommend that you do a search before booking. Prices are generally lower if you book at least 3 months in advance, so start planning ahead to get the best deals!
One such inn is Emina Backpackers, with gender-segregated rooms that are spacious enough for daily prayers and a kitchen for you to cook your own meals.
Rate: Starts from JPY2,129 (for dormitories) on Agoda
Address: Emina Backpackers, 2 Chome-15-17 Midori, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0034
Contact: +81 80-4502-4500
The Stay Sapporo
Credit:@the_stay_sapporo on Instagram
If you’re looking for family rooms that offer privacy, The Stay Sapporo is one worth checking out! Located in Sapporo, you can be assured that this budget accommodation allows you to be well-connected to various places of interest in Hokkaido. They have private rooms that can accommodate 2 people all the way up to 6 people. They have dormitories too (including female-only dormitories) for an even cheaper option.
Rate: Starts from JPY2,899 per night (private room for 2) on Agoda
Address: The Stay Sapporo, 9 Chome-1008-10 Minami 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 064-0805
Contact: +81 011 252 7401
Credit: @hikotan2525 on Instagram
Another value option within Sapporo includes Untapped Hostel, which offers both private along with dormitory-styled rooms! The dormitory rooms have female-only options as well ? You may also cook your own meals in the shared kitchen area.
Rate: Starts from JPY2,327 per night (dormitories) and JPY9,727 per night (private room for 4) on Agoda
Address: Untapped Hostel, Kita 18jo Nishi4 1-8, 1, Kita Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 001-0018
Contact: +81 11-788-4579
#HHWT Tip: The benchmark in Hokkaido for family lodging is between 8,000 and 9,000 yen. The room rates may fluctuate according to availability, especially during festival periods such as late December and early February. Book early if you are looking for a winter stay!
6. Cheap Halal Food
Credit: @pack_the_suitcase on Instagram
Sapporo is well-known for their miso-based ramen; one eatery that offers such meals, while being Muslim-friendly at the same time, is Houryu Ramen! The Genghis Khan Ramen; a grilled lamb-based dish served with plenty of vegetables and a special dipping sauce, is reputed to be a must-try when you’re in Hokkaido, especially during winter ?
Halal status: Halal menu available, with separate utensils and tableware used (do request for the halal menu from staff when ordering). Please note that alcoholic beverages are served here, and that we recommend that you dine at your own discretion.
Prices: Starting from 650 to 1,600 yen, depending on the menu item and the portion size.
Address: Houryu Ramen, 3 Chome Minami 6 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 064-0806
Operating hours: Daily, 11AM-1AM
Sapporo Central Wholesale Market
Credit: @instabrucery on Instagram
If you prefer to cook your own meals using the freshest seafood, yet not wanting to spend a bomb, be sure to check out the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market! From various kinds of fish, crabs and veggies, you might even find yourself getting some free sushi if you’re lucky, which is surely every budget lovers’ dream come true. You can also find vendors selling prepared seafood ready for eating.
Halal status: Seafood options available. If eating at the market, do check with the respective vendors on ingredients used (check out our handy guide on useful Japanese phrases for checking ingredients!). We recommend that you dine at your own discretion.
Address: Sapporo Central Wholesale Seafood Market, 21 Chome-2-3 Kita 11 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0011
Operating hours: Mon-Sat, 9AM-3PM (Closed on Sun)
TERRA Farm To Table
Credit: @farmtotableterra on Instagram
If you’re looking for a more decadent halal alternative for food in Hokkaido (c’mon, we can all afford to splurge a little more on food sometimes) you might also want to check out TERRA Farm To Table! Do try out their fusion meals, such as the scrumptious Muslim-friendly Japanese beef burgers.
Credit: Arina Sama on Facebook
Halal status: While the restaurant is not halal-certified, you can identify the Muslim-friendly meals that are marked on the menu. Do note that alcoholic beverages are also served on the premise. We recommend that you dine at your discretion.
Price: Starting from 680 yen onwards depending on menu options, with most meals around 1,000- 2,000 yen
Address: TERRA Farm To Table, 2 Chome-2-10 Minami 9 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 064-0809
Operating hours: Daily, 7AM-10PM; 11.30AM-11.30PM
P.S. If you’re hungry for more halal food in Hokkaido, check out 3 Muslim-friendly Japanese eateries for your Hokkaido winter vacation!
7. Budget shopping
If you’re on a shoestring budget for souvenir shopping, the 100 yen stores in Hokkaido are perfect for you! You can probably grasp this concept fairly well if you’re familiar with Daiso, which operates its biggest outlet in Japan within Sapporo; at Daiso Sapporo Central. 5 storeys filled with millions of 100 yen items for you to discover – imagine that ?
Credit: Derek Leung on Facebook
Other interesting 100 yen shops include Can*Do, Watts, Seria, and 100 Yen Shop (yes, it is really named that way ?) which are found throughout various malls in Sapporo.
Credit: Delaina on Facebook
8. Hokkaido Golden Coupon Book
You can never be fully budget without coupons, right? ? With the Hokkaido Golden Coupon Book, you get to explore even more of Hokkaido at HEAVILY DISCOUNTED rates, with 10 coupons covering up to 37 attractions; including the Mt Hakodate and Mt Moiwa ropeways, the Sapporo TV Tower Observation deck, relaxing hot spring sessions and more! They also provide you with recommended routes if you can’t decide on which coupons to pick for a day trip. You may even win free gifts if you participate in the stamp rally provided with the coupon book!
Credit: Yak Pai Hokkaido
Priced at 3,800 yen, you can purchase one of these coupon books at New Chitose Airport (domestic or international tour desks), Hakodate Airport information counter or Chitose Station Tourist information counter. You can also find them on sites like Klook for a cheaper price! For more information regarding these highly sought-after coupon books, click here!
9. Book your Wi-Fi ahead of time
If you’re looking to get a portable WiFi router for your family to get connected, the most cost-effective way is to get it ahead of time in Malaysia or Singapore, such as through Klook or Changi Recommends. In a pinch, however, you can also pick-up wifi routers at New Chitose Airport.
Credit: Somsak Wankijcharoenon Facebook
If you’re a tech-savvy solo traveller, you might prefer getting a SIM card for yourself! So-Net Prepaid LTE SIM cards offer the best bang for your buck. For 3,000 yen, you can get a whopping 30-day 1.2 GB worth of internet use.
Bonus! Sapporo Mosque
Credit: Khairunnisa Hamzahon Facebook
Located in the town of Kita-Ku, which is conveniently sandwiched between Chitose and Otaru, Sapporo Masjid is where you can go for your prayers and get in touch with the local Muslim community! Being the only mosque located in Hokkaido, it is also where the Hokkaido Islamic Society is situated, with a vision to strengthen the Muslim community within Hokkaido, and spread the message of Islam to non-muslims in the country.
Credit: @xiceyao on Instagram
So, now you know that travelling to Hokkaido doesn't need to be expensive. Whether you're visiting Hokkaido for winter or any other season, these budget tips will make sure you definitely won’t be needing to empty your wallets for the perfect vacation ✌?