One of the most beautiful port cities in the Northern region of Hokkaido, Japan, is Otaru. Otaru is a city that tells the history of the northern islands. This port city Otaru’s canals and museums hold the region’s history.
As a visitor, the things to do in Otaru in Winter and Summer vastly vary. The snowy Winter makes Otaru a perfect place to skate and host snow festivals, whilst the Summer is the time of fresh seafood and lush green fields.
Otaru’s 100-year-old museums and beautiful architecture are pleasant to visit. Otaru’s distinguishing factors are glassworks, music boxes, and sake distilleries. The fishing plants still showcase the early history of lifestyle in Otaru.
The city was fully established just 100 years ago, in 1897, when the fish processing plant was built. Here is a list of things highlighting the best places to visit in Otaru and things to do in Otaru in Winter.
Places to Visit & Things to do in Otaru in Winter
1. Visiting Snowy Otaru Canal
Completed in 1923, the Otaru Canal is one of the key things to visit in Otaru. Walk along the Otaru Canal, which was used to unload merchandise from larger vessels to smaller vessels. The canals were no longer of use when dock facilities were built, but the canals tell a tale of the earlier times still today. In 1980, the canals were restored as a result of the citizen’s movements.
As a visitor, the promenade along the canal is very pleasing and soothing. You will find a lot of cafes and restaurants along the way. In the morning, you will also find artists and musicians along the way. At night, yellow gas lights and candles lit up to reminisce about older days. The lights in the snow create a romantic atmosphere.
The canal is also the main site for Snow Light Path Festival, which you can visit during February. There are two main festival areas along Otaru Canals: the Unga Kaijo area and the Temiyasen Kaijo area. The Unga Kajio area is the 300-meter stretch where you will see a lot of warehouses and old street lights, and the Temiyasen Kajio area is along the Temiyasen rail line.
2. Otaru Art Village
Otaru Art Village is an exhibition of Art and culture in Otaru city. There are beautiful glass arts, sculptures, paintings, wood sculptures, and more in the Otaru Art Village. The Otaru art village consists of four historic buildings in Otaru: The Nitori Art Museum, the Stained Glass Museum, the Former Mitsui Bank, and the House of Western Art.
The Stained Glass Museum used to operate as former Takashashi Warehouses, and the Nitori Art Museum was formerly the Hokkaido Takushoku Bank. And the former Naniwa warehouse was converted into the House of Western Art.
The glass pieces in the stained-glass museum were created in England in the early 20th Century. Some of the known pieces are God and the Glory of Great Britain and Canterbury Tales. The former Mitsui Bank still has the safety deposit box, conference room, and old architecture. You will also see beautiful glasswork, furniture, and western Art in the House of Western Arts.
Address: 1-chōme-3-1 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0031
3. Otaru City General Museum
The Otaru City General Museum is a display of the history of the city, including its railways and canals. The City general museum was opened as the municipal museum in June 1956. Later on, the Youth Science and Technology Museum integrated with the transportation museum and got today’s name.
You will see two facilities as you enter the Museum: The Otaru Transportation Museum and The Otaru City Museum. The city museum showcases the history of Otaru canals. Both museums can be visited with the same entry ticket.
Otaru City General Museum has locomotive displays, a railway exhibition room, a Rolls-Royce room, a science exhibition room, a locomotive depot, a dome theatre, and more.
Address: 1 Chome-3-6 Temiya, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0041
4. Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
Sakaimachidori Shopping Street is one of the busiest streets in Otaru. The 900-meter-long stretch of the shopping street is an attractive merchant street that’s just a short walk from the Otaru canal area. The street starts from Sakaimachi Junction to Okobachi river. During the early 1900s, many merchants set up their shops in western architectural buildings for trading and shipping imported goods.
On the street, you will see many of these buildings that are turned into boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. The Sakaimachi Dori Shopping Street also has some glass workshops where you can see the process of glass making first-hand. Make sure to visit the Kitaichi Glass Building cafe during Winter.
Address: 4-4 Sakaimachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0027
Opening Hours: 10 AM to 6PM
5. Otaru Musicbox Museum
The Otaru music box Museum is just before Sakaimachi street. The city is well known for its music boxes, and the museum provides great performances of large music boxes. Around 80,000 music boxes of 5000 different kinds are available in the Otaru Musicbox Museum.
On walking along the Otaru canal through Sakaimachi street, you will reach the music box museum building. On 29th March 1989, the museum became a historical building of Otaru city. You will see decorated ceilings and handrails in the museum.
The main building has a steam clock, with 5.5 meters in height, 1-meter in width, and 1.5 tonnes in weight. Along with the music boxes, upon entering the hall, there will be jewellery cases and egg-shaped jewellery boxes that will blow your mind. Some of the popular music boxes that are displayed in the museum are the Glass Angel Musicbox, Sushi-shaped music box, Maneki-Neko music box, and stuffed toys music box.
Address: 4-1 Sumiyoshicho, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0015
6. Otaru Aquarium
The Otaru Aquarium is a large-scale aquarium with exhibits of the ocean and marine life. To get to the Otaru Aquarium, visitors can easily get a bus from the Otaru station. The Aquarium was built in 1958 and was built for EXPO Hokkaido.
The Aquarium is connected to the sea so that the sea lions and seals can roam freely. The Aquarium was the first enclosure to successfully breed the ringed seal. The Aquarium’s host shows seals, penguins, and dolphins.
The most famous show of the Aquarium is the penguin show, along with the Walrus show, penguin show, and sea lion show. In Summer, the Humboldt penguins leave the aquarium area and head to the sea. The summer show for the event that the Aquarium puts up is “The Penguin’s Excursion to The Sea.” In Winter, you can see the Gentoo penguins walking around the enclosure.
Address: 3 Chome-303 Shukutsu, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0047
7. The Bank of Japan Otaru Museum
The Circa-1912 bank is turned into a financial museum with displays of currencies and the history of Otaru. The building was designed by Kingo Tatsuno and his protégé. The historical atmosphere presents a great ambience for a historical display of the bank’s business operations, the development of the city, and more. On the right side of the entrance, there will be a history zone just behind the lobby area.
There are displays of the original bank of Japan notes issued during World War II in the banknote gallery, the architecture and maps of the building. Behind that, through a lane, you can see the Business Operations Zone, a special exhibition hall, and the vault of the bank. There is also a gift shop and video room in the museum. Visitors can collect coins and understand the financial history of Japan with audio-visual effects in the museum.
Address: 1 Chome-11-16 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0031
Opening Hours: 9:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Entry Fee: None
8. The Otaru Light Path Snow Festival
Otaru light path snow festival is a snow festival that lasts for 10 days and is worth witnessing. In the months of Winter, lanterns made out of snow are lit in different parts of the city. The white city covered in snow gets decorated with lights, and it looks magical.
The festival is held in February, and each year more than 50,000 visitors come to see the festival. Many tour operators have packages for Snow Matsuri in Sapporo and Light Path Snow Festival in Otaru, as they are held during the same time.
Enjoying walks along the lights in the snow and along the Otaru canals during the LightPath festival is marvellous. You will also find a lot of sweet shops during this time. You will see a lot of lamps made of snow and cute snowmen, mostly everywhere in the city.
9. Herring Gotten Otaru Hall
The herring fishery industry is one of the biggest parts of the history of Otaru. The Herring Mansion is a large mansion, that was built by wealthy fishermen. It was used previously for fish processing and as a residence for the fishermen and their employees.
The tools of fishermen and their day-to-day lives were displayed in the Otaru Hall. Just 1 km inland from the Herring mansion, there is the Aoyama Villa, built by the most successful fishermen family, Ayoyama family. Their actual residence was very simple and humble despite their wealthy condition.
10. Kitaichi Hall
You can’t leave Otaru without visiting the Kitaichi hall. The Kitaichi hall is an old cafe made with a wooden framework and gets lit up with 167 oil lamps. The atmosphere is extremely romantic with an old-school charm. The Kitachi Hall was originally a part of the Kitachi glass-making factory.
The Kitachi glass is one of the renowned glassworks of Otaru. There are many buildings in Sake-cho, among which the no 3 building is the Kitachi Hall. The hall showcases the various Kitachi Glassworks, as well as t, has a cafe with cakes, coffees and various sweet items.
11. Tour the Tanaka Sake Brewery
The legendary Tanaka Sale Brewery has been brewing sake in Hokkaido since 1885. Made from the fermentation of rice at the right temperature, the signature’s sake house of Japan is worth a visit to taste and see the brewing process (Not for Muslims). There are different types of liquor depending on the brewing temperature. The aroma and taste change with a 5-degree increment.
Some of my favorite sakes are Junmai Daiginjo, Daiginjo, Junmai Gingo, Futsuu-shu. Junamai is a type of sake made purely using rice and fermenting it. But Futsuu-shu is made by mixing alcohol with rice during fermentation. Visit the Tanaka Sake warehouse and get a tour of sake-making. Taste some of their signature beverages.
Address: 2-2 Nobukacho, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0016
Opening hours: 9:05 AM to 5:55 PM
12. Otaru Tenguyama
One of the best places to ski in Winter in Otaru is Tenguyama. The skiing resort is located just 3km from Otaru train station. The ski routes are steep and off-piste. The beginner section is at the top, and the middle and lower section is steep and better suited for experienced skiers.
You will have to buy tickets for the gondolas to go to the upper action. Tenguyama gets plenty of snow, and the snow quality is best in the peak of Winter. It’s wise to carry a raincoat in Tenguyama.
13. Visiting Matcha Sweet Shops
After the last harvest season of matcha green tea in November, many fresh sweets, cakes, mochi , and traditional Japanese sweets are made during Winter. Enjoy a hot Matcha Late or just Matcha tea, crepes, and cakes from famous cafes like Kashisakan Otaru, Shirokuma Coffee, Coffee House Chaff, and Sa Wa Wa.
14. Trying Cheesecakes in Otaru
You will not find the amount of variety of cheesecakes as you will find in Otaru. One of the best shops to try cheesecakes are Le Tao Main Shop, Le Tao Pathos, and Nouvelle Berg Letao Chocolate. The beautiful intricate decoration with unmatched taste and a wide variety of flavours along with drinks.
Being located in the Northernmost part of the country, the temperature is way cooler from December to February. There is snowfall almost daily. For winter vacation in Otaru, carry raincoats and snow boots. The city is known for their signature glasswork, and beautiful lamps are the perfect destination for chilly winters.
How to reach Otaru, Japan?
By train/ bus: Otaru is within reach of Sapporo. If you are visiting Sapporo, it’s 40km southwest of the Hakodate line. Otaru can easily be reached from Sapporo station to Otaru station. By train, it takes 30-minutes by express and 45 minutes by all-stop local trains. You will also find regular buses from Sapporo to Otaru.
By Air: For travel by air, you will have to land at the Shin-Chitose airport. The major cities of Japan are connected to Otaru by air. From Tokyo to Otaru, the travel time is around one and a half hours.
Q) How to get to Otaru from Sapporo?
Between Sapporo and Otaru, there are regular trains through the JR Hakodate Main Line. The trip will take you around 45 minutes.
Q) How long it takes to visit Otaru?
Otaru is a perfect place for a day trip. One day is enough to visit Otaru. There are a lot of packages for visiting this city during the month of February.
Q) What is Otaru known for?
Otaru is known for its old buildings; it’s old-school architecture. The Otaru canals, their glasswork, and Otaru’s snow festival are three key elements that bring tourism to this city.