09 April 2016

The 67th Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Hokkaido's biggest events, attracting around 2 million tourists, both from within Japan and from abroad. The main attraction of the festival is the many ice sculptures in Odori Park. Some are made by local people and groups, others by international entrants. It's actually a competition with a judging panel awarding prizes in different categories. This year's festival ran from 5 to 18 February. I spent a much-needed night away from ski resort life to visit the festival on 10 and 11 February.

I was lucky enough to find a room to stay at Cross Hotel, despite organising the trip fairly last minute. It's a lovely boutique hotel just a stone's throw away from Odori Park, the main site for the Snow Festival.

The only room they had left was on the (in their words) 'exclusive' Cross Floor. This is the top floor of the building that has rooms (the public bath is on the very top floor), and has impressive views over Sapporo, particularly at night. The room also came with a complimentary bottle of Mashike Cidre which I thoroughly enjoyed, as cider is not as easy to come across in Japan as in England!

The rooms are stylishly furnished, and spacious for a Japanese hotel room. There were lots of little details that made the stay more enjoyable: for example instead of sachets of instant coffee in the room, they provide ground coffee in a disposable filter that you sit on top of your mug and pour hot water through. Just that little bit more luxurious (not to mention tastier).

As I mentioned, the hotel also has a public bath (daiyokujou) on the top floor. This is a relaxing way to end the day, and offers an attractive view of the city. However, having gotten used to the quality of the beautiful natural waters from hot springs, which are used in onsens in the Niseko area, sitting in a slightly chlorinated bath just isn't the same.

The breakfast at Cross Hotel alone makes the hotel worth staying it. I could literally spend hours at the buffet! It has an interesting selection of Asian and Western foods, and is perfect the adventurous eater. Some of the dishes available on the morning we stayed were: Chinese leaf caesar salad, Chinese yam and beef gratin, squid salad with wholegrain mustard, macaroni salad with roe and sweetcorn bread. They also had all the things you'd expect, such as eggs and bacon. I'm going to stop the list there as my stomach is rumbling in memory of the breakfast!

As I bought my new camera on the second day of the trip, I didn't get many photos of the hotel unfortunately. However I did get a shot of the ice bar outside the hotel, where we enjoyed hot mulled wine!

Bar tenders wrapped up warm behind the ice bar!

Now, onto the festival itself. On the first night we had a look around at some of the larger sculptures, which are illuminated after sunset. There were some very impressive lighting displays which really brought the sculptures to life. They were often accompanied by live or recorded music too!

The next day we took a proper stroll around the festival and all the ice sculptures, big and small. Although there was significant melting of some of the sculptures, as they had been carved days earlier, I still managed to get some good photos.

Pretty impressive stuff! All that wandering around in the cold does make you hungry... but luckily the festival is lined with food stalls. You can literally eat your way along the park. Grilled skewers were the most popular warm snack for the cold visitors!

I would love to visit the festival again. The only draw-back is that it is quite an expensive time to visit Sapporo, as the hotels put their prices up for the festival. But I thought it was worth it. Next time I'd like to visit nearer the start of the festival so that I can see the sculptures before they start melting.

Tips for visiting Sapporo Snow Festival
A couple of pointers for planning a trip to the famous festival.

  • Plan ahead as hotels and other accommodation can book out months in advance.
  • You may wish to book restaurants in advance too... my first choice for dinner, Kanihonke, was booked out when I tried to make a reservation.
  • Make sure you take a look at the festival at night, as the sculptures are spectacularly illuminated.
  • Wrap up! Sapporo is pretty cold at this time of year, so make sure to wear lots of layers if you are going to be walking around the various outdoor festival sites all day.

Other Sapporo Sights
There are lots of other interesting places to visit if you are staying in Sapporo for a few days or more.

  • Sapporo Winter Sports Museum is located by the ski jump for the 1972 Winter Olympics. You can take a lift to the top for a panoramic view of Sapporo, and then head into the museum itself, which has lots of interesting historical materials relating to winter sports, as well as lots of interactive areas where you can have a go at simulated ice-skating, ski-jumping etc!
  • The Ainu Centre has a small but informative exhibit about the Ainu, who are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. They are not ethnically Japanese and have their own language, cultures and customs. Although now the Japanese government is making an effort to recognise the culture of Ainu people, for a long time in the country's history these indigenous people were oppressed.
  • Sapporo TV Tower offers one of the best views of the city. It's also conveniently located at one end of the Snow Festival's Odori Park site, so very easy to access.
  • The Sapporo Beer Museum - which I will write a separate blog post about!

Have you ever been to Sapporo Snow Festival, or another ice sculpture festival? Are there any other sights I should visit next time I take a trip to Sapporo?


  1. OMG the snow festival looks insane.

    1. It was... I was so impressed by the scale and the detail of some of the sculptures!