One of Japan's newest and nicest cities, Sapporo's population has grown from 7 in 1857 to nearly two million today. Being a new city, especially by Japanese standards, means it has little in the way of traditional architecture and the like of cities such as Kyoto. But what it lacks in "Japanese-ness" it makes up for with its lovely open, tree-filled boulevards to enjoy in summer and excellent snow (and facilities to cope with said snow) in the long winter.
Sapporo is Hokkaido's main transport hub.
All international and inter-island flights land at New Chitose Airport (CTS) to the south east of the city. The route from Tokyo is the most heavily traveled in the world, with several dozen Jumbos flying daily on a variety of carriers and flights as low as ¥10000 one way if you book more than one month advance. From the airport, JR trains run every 15 minutes directly to Sapporo station (36-40 mins, ¥1040; reserved seats are ¥300 more expensive).
Direct international service to Sapporo is limited to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Sakhalin, Guam and seasonal flights to Australia, but both JAL and ANA provide nonstop service to Narita for intercontinental connections.
A few local flights within Hokkaido also land at the older Okadama Airport (OKD) to the north of the city.
JR trains run from Honshu to Hokkaido via the Seikan Tunnel, the longest tunnel of any kind in the world (the Gotthard Base Tunnel, under construction in Switzerland, will surpass it by about 5 km).
The fastest way to get to Sapporo from Tokyo is 10 hours in duration, taking three trains (one Shinkansen and two Limited Express trains, connecting in Hachinohe and Hakodate). The one way fare is ¥22,470 so this option may only be of value to Japan Rail Pass holders.
Perhaps the most popular way to reach Sapporo by train, however, are on the various overnight sleeper services. These are popular, so book in advance.
Japan's most prominent - and most expensive - overnight train is the Cassiopeia (カシオペア) which runs a few times a week between Ueno Station in Tokyo and Sapporo. The one-way trip takes about 16 1/2 hours. The less expensive and more frequent Hokutosei (北斗星) makes two daily runs from Ueno.
The daily and less expensive Nihonkai (日本海) runs twice daily from Osaka and Kyoto to Aomori, from which two connecting express trains bring you to Sapporo by the following afternoon. The total journey time is about 20 1/2 hours.
Note that for these sleeper trains, the Japan Rail Pass will only cover the basic fare. Pass holders will be responsible for paying for the room, as well as any limited express and other surcharges. For example, a B2 room on the Hokutosei costs ¥12,600. Up to ¥6,000 in surcharges will also have to be paid, which includes a charge to travel between Morioka and Hachinohe over lines which are not owned by Japan Railways.
A free overnight option from Tokyo to Sapporo for Japan Rail Pass holders is to take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe and a Limited Express to Aomori, then take the Hamanasu (はまなす) express train to Sapporo. The one-way ride takes just over 13 hours, with arrival in Sapporo at around 6 AM the next morning. The return trip to Tokyo takes 12 hours, owing to a faster ride on the Shinkansen.
The JR Sapporo station is at North 2, West 1 on the subway Namboku line.
Express buses connect to most points in Hokkaido. The main terminal is next to the Bus Center-Mae station of the subway Tozai line.
Most unusually for a Japanese city, Sapporo is logically organized thanks to its strict grid system. The main thoroughfare, the leafy Ō-Dōri (大通り、 lit. "Big Street"), runs east-west across the city and divides the city into North and South, while Sōsei-Gawa (創成川、 lit. "Creation River") divides the city into West and East, running under the main street Eki-Mae-Dōri (駅前道リ、lit. "In Front of the Train Station Road"). The address of every block in the center is thus of the type "North X West Y" (prominently signposted at all intersections), making navigation a snap. However, most businesses etc. will still provide maps to their location, building names or landmarks, because the address "North X West Y" or the like simply means that the place you are trying to find will be somewhere in the block, and blocks in the centre of the city can be quite large!
Sapporo has three subway lines, all converging at Ōdōri station at the center of the grid. The Namboku Line ("North-South") runs north-south, the Tōzai Line ("East-West") runs along Odori west-east, and only the Tōhō Line breaks the mould by running in a C-shaped curve from northeast to southeast. Single fares cost ¥200 and up, with a choice between subway-only tickets or subway-transfer (bus and streetcar) tickets, or you can buy the oddly named With You stored value card (lowest denomination ¥1000). On weekends and public holidays, the Donichika-Kippu (ドニチカキップ, lit. "Saturday, Sunday, Holidays Ticket") allows you to travel all day, anywhere on the subway network for a bargain ¥500. On weekdays the "One-Day Card" allows the same, but costs ¥800. The "One-Day Card" isn't limited to weekends, but why pay ¥800 when a ¥500 card does the trick? That said, for ¥1000 you can buy a Bus & Subway transfer "One-Day Card" which allows travel on the entire suburban bus, subway and streetcar network, all day. For all of the above, Child tickets are usually about half of the adult fare.
A streetcar of relatively little utility to most visitors trundles around the southwestern side of Sapporo, connecting to the subway at Susukino. Its most important stops are probably the Chuo Library (Main Public Library in Sapporo) and the Mt. Moiwa Ropeway. It's most useful in winter, when walking the icy footpaths to get to the library or otherwise less-accessible south-western areas of the city becomes quite treacherous. Single-trip tickets are ¥170. They also sell a "Do-san-ko Pass" on weekends and holidays which allows you to ride all you want for a day for ¥300. Since this is less than the cost of 2 normal trips, it is usually advisable to buy this if you are going to make a round trip on an eligible day.
Sapporo is famous for its ski resorts. There are some ski resorts near downtown Sapporo, easily accessible by bus.
The festival is focussed on Odori Koen, in the centre of Sapporo. It consists of a combination of large-scale replicas and artistic sculptures; children-aimed attractions; and a separate section for world-wide competitors (where you can see a wide range of smaller artistic sculptures). The festival should be enjoyed both in the day - but particularly at night when the sculptures (especially the larger ones) are lit up. When the weather is warmer and there's a bit of melting, the smaller sculptures are literally remade everynight to ensure that they are in perfect condition the next day.
For those living in Japan who have an omiyage (souvenir) obligation to fill in your Japanese office when you return from your Hokkaido holiday, the best omiyage to buy in Sapporo is the ubiquitous Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人, "White Lovers"). It is a chocolate slice sandwiched in two wafers of sweet biscuit, individually wrapped and available boxed in a range of different quantities — tasty enough, but rather bland, and few Westerners would associate the taste with Japan. The original flavour is white chocolate sandwiched in plain sweet biscuit, but there is also a dark chocolate version. It's available in every souvenir store in the city (try the Sapporo JR area or Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade when shopping for souvenirs), and also most souvenir stores around the island.
Being a wintery kind of place for a good part of each year, Sapporo also has many stores selling all manner of snow goods. At the beginning and end of each season, many good deals on the previous year's gear can be found, often at discounts of up to 60% off, sometimes more! Also, there are several sports recycle stores in the city and suburbs where good deals on barely-used gear can be found, thanks to the Japanese fondness for having new gear every season. Ask Tourist Information to help you locate sports recycle and snow-goods stores.
Sapporo is famous for hairy crab (毛蟹 kegani), an expensive treat available at any seafood restaurant, and miso ramen (味噌ラーメン), sweets and a more affordable local variation of the ubiquitous noodle dish with miso paste added to the stock. The ramen in particular will warm you up nicely on a chilly winter day. Sapporo soup curry (just what it sounds like) is also increasingly famous.
As elsewhere in Hokkaido, you can also enjoy dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, chocolate and ice cream), seafood (especially as sushi), fruits (honeydew melon, strawberries) and meat (sausages, ham, bacon and beef).
The drink of choice when in Sapporo is obviously Sapporo beer, and the cheapest way to get sloshed is the factory tour (see See).
Susukino (すすきの), to the south of the center, is one of Japan's largest nightlife (and red-light) districts. It has a somewhat unsavory reputation due to heavy yakuza involvement in the business, but is generally safe for travellers not actively looking for trouble. Get there on the subway Namboku line, Susukino station.
There are a quite few internet cafes in the city, ask at the International Plaza (in Sapporo JR or near the Clock Tower) for current information and directions.