In 2015, Hakodate was voted Japan’s most attractive city and it’s not hard to see why.
A vibrant harbor gateway, Hakodate is a satisfying fusion of Japanese and Western influences that makes for a perfect bookend to your travels through the spectacular wilds of Hokkaido. Despite its developing function as an entry point and transport hub for Japan’s northernmost island, Hakodate has retained its picturesque charm.
Hakodate is incredibly pretty and has an easy, breezy, holiday vibe.
Stop here to replenish your energy levels with a bit of all-inclusive sightseeing. Museums, (small) mountains, markets and hot springs are all there – often more tourist-friendly than in the bigger cities back on Honshu.
Hakodate harbor was one of the first to open up to foreign trade after centuries of isolation and the city’s blend of traditional Japanese and 19th-century Western architecture shows influences from Russia, China and Europe. It’s cosmopolitan history is epitomized by the massive star-shaped Fort Goryokaku – a Western-style citadel turned public park that is one of Hokkaido’s top spots for cherry blossom viewing.
The best time to see Hakodate is at night. Mount Hakodate, a forested mountain at the city’s southern tip, offers magical views of the city and surrounding waters below which glow with the lights of squid fishing boats. You can reach the mountain at any time of the day; by hiking, driving or cable car.
Another reason to vote for Hakodate is the great food available. Being surrounded by the ocean on three sides, the fish in any number of the city’s restaurants is always fresh. The city’s speciality is squid, which comes in a variety of forms from raw and wriggling to deep-fried and even as ice-cream. Ramen, too, is popular, with the Hakodate version adding kelp, seafood, and/or squid to a delicious, warming broth.
The Asa-ichi (Morning Market) is a seafood lover’s dream. Stalls upon stalls offer up the days catch, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and snacks, or you can try sourcing your own breakfast with a morning expedition into the bay. This is the best place to try a fresh sashimi breakfast; choose from one of the many restaurants dotted throughout the market.
Work off your fishy feast with a walk around the Motomachi area which is packed with 19th century Western-style architecture, including the old British Consulate, the Russian Greek Orthodox Church and the Old Public Hall.