Hakodate is a fascinating city for many reasons. From the Motomachi area in the harbor, which features foreign-inspired architecture that reminds us that this port was one of the first to open to international trade, to the Goryokaku Tower, where the Edo Shogunate made its last stand, history pulsates this area. Add in some fun activities in the region’s nature and the famous Yunokawa Onsen for some relaxation and you have all the ingredients for a satisfying trip to the star of Southern Hokkaido.
Hakodate is best explored on foot
Hakodate is fascinating due to its unique history, and there are many spots where you can still see and feel this history today. That is why we recommend a gingerly walk through the city in lieu of the bus or a car. If you need a guide, be sure to pick up the “Hakodate Machi Aruki Map” (literally town walk map), which points you to all the sights that are worth seeing. There are two maps in total, one for the Motomachi and one for the Goryokaku area. These can be found online or on-site at Tourism Information. Furthermore, there are also guided tours available (by prior reservation) if you want a more structured experience. These fixed-price tours are available in a variety of languages and are a great way to familiarize yourself with the city.
The most famous historical sight in town
Goryokaku Park and the sights within it are known as some of the historical spots that best represent Hakodate. The unique star-shaped fort that forms the main area was built by the Edo Shogunate in 1857 as part of their last stand against the Meiji Imperialists. At its center lies the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office, which has been completely restored to its former appearance and is open to visitors. Another highlight is the 107-meter tall Goryokaku Tower, where you can see the entire Goryokaku Park as well as the city of Hakodate, the Tsugaru Straits, and Mt. Hakodate. If you have a pick of when to go, we recommend the cherry blossom season in spring. Starting from the end of April and lasting until May, the 1,600 cherry blossoms in the park dip the entire grounds into different shades of pink.
43-9 Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido
Hakodate’s premier hot spring area
Yunokawa Onsen in Hakodate is arguably the most famous hot spring area in Southern Hokkaido and is one of the three major hot spring villages in Hokkaido, alongside Noboribetsu Onsen and Sadayamakei Onsen. It has a long history and legend has it that in 1653, the local feudal patriarch was cured of an incurable disease after bathing at Yunokawa – and locals have loved the spot ever since. In addition to the relaxing spa experience, the view overlooking the Tsugaru Straits and the fresh seafood unique to Hakodate add to the area’s charms. All of this is made possible by the myriad of hot spring resorts, ranging from the affordable to the luxurious. Furthermore, at the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden located within the area, visitors are known to enjoy watching the monkeys relax in their own hot spring bath, which can be observed primarily in the winter months. Finally, Yunokawa’s convenient location between Hakodate City and Hakodate Airport (it is just a 10-minute drive from the latter!) makes it an ideal stopover.
Fish your own squid for a delicious snack
When looking for a bite to eat in Hakodate, you will find more than your fill of seafood, and one of the most famous ingredients is fresh squid. Squid has permeated Hakodate culture to the extent that locals dance the famous “squid dance” imitating the animal during summer festivals. If you are visiting and want to try some fresh squid, you will quickly notice numerous places where you can fish your own squid. Once you have caught a few squid, they will then be prepared as sashimi for you to enjoy on the spot. If you are looking to partake in this fun eating experience, the Hakodate Morning Market is a good bet, as it will most likely feature the freshest squid in town – and it goes without saying that the fresher the squid, the more delicious it is!
Navigate the slopes with ease on an electric bicycle
If you are tired of walking, another option to enjoy Hakodate’s sights is to hop on an electric bicycle. This is especially true since Hakodate is also known as “the city of slopes”, which can get tiring at times while on foot. The electric assist on these bikes makes speeding up the slopes a breeze, and the relatively cool weather (even during summer) makes it easy to enjoy an all-day bike tour. Several businesses offer electric bicycle rental services, including “Hakorin”, which has two convenient locations in Hakodate. However, for use during the tourist season we do recommend you make a reservation in advance. Also, please note that Hakorin is only open from April to November.
Enjoy spectacular panoramic views at Shirotai Ranch
Located around 40 minutes by car north of Hakodate in the small town of Nanae you will find the Shirotai Ranch. The ranch is at an altitude of 550 meters, meaning that can enjoy panoramic views that include Komagatake in the north, Mt. Hakodate in the south, as well as an excellent view of Hakodate’s cityscape. During the day, the view is augmented by the cows grazing the ranch nearby. However, at night, you can enjoy the spectacular view of the starry-eyed night sky over the city lights. Finally, if you happen to come in morning hours, you might be able to catch the “sea of clouds” forming over the panorama. There is also an indoor observatory space within the grounds, which can be used during the daytime from late April to mid-October.
Breath in the lakeside air while going canoe-riding
Onuma Park is a scenic spot located about 30 kilometers north of Hakodate. The national park features a massive lake (Lake Onuma), which makes for an excellent landscape whatever the season. Indeed, the lush green in summer, colorful foil foliage in autumn and snowy scenery of the winter months has kept bringing locals back to the park for decades. One of the more popular activities here is taking to the lake by canoe, which allows you to get a new perspective on Onuma’s natural landscape. Furthermore, as there are few waves, canoeing here is also great for beginners. In addition to the regular daytime canoe program, early morning and night canoeing are also available for a limited time, which have proven popular as they grant a view of the lake in a light that can rarely be seen otherwise. Canoeing on Lake Onuma is available from spring to autumn.
85-15 Onuma-cho, Nanae-cho, Kameda-gun