An itinerary for Hokkaido (and specifically Sapporo) cannot be complete without a stop at Otaru. Otaru is a small port North East from Sapporo and makes a perfect day trip outside of the city. This is my one day itinerary for Otaru and covers all the must sees and must dos while in Otaru.
Getting to Otaru from Sapporo
Otaru can be reached by train from Sapporo. There are two stations you can alight at depending on your itinerary: Otaru Station and Minami-Otaru Station.
As to which is better, I would personally pick Minami-Otaru Station over Otaru Station as the former allows for a better/smoother itinerary. Otaru has two main attractions. There is a shopping street and also its canals. Coming in from Minami-Otaru Station places you close to the edge of the shopping street and from there you can visit the canals before ending at Otaru Station for your train back.
Otaru Shopping Street (Sakaimachi Shopping Street)
Once you exit from Minami-Otaru Station, grab yourself a map of the local area and walk towards the Sakaimachi Shopping Street. The walk is largely downhill with the occasional gem along the way:
Coming from this end also gives a good start to your visit as you will first encounter the Otaru Music Box Museum with an odd pendulum clock by its entrance. Head on in to be amazed by the variety of music boxes available for sale. You can find the plain simple hand wound device and also delicate (and extremely expensive) music boxes on offer. Somehow, in our modern day and age, such a simple device still amazes. Be sure to look out for the historical music carts that are essentially self contained entertainment machines belting out popular jingles. There is also a short display showcasing the development of music boxes together with other major technological developments in the world:
Across the road is the Sakaimachi Shopping Street. While I was there, there were free brochures left along the footpath advertising the different shops available and where they are located. Otaru, I think, can be considered as a mini Venice. Like Venice, Otaru appears to be a glassware city. There are countless number of shops selling delicate and beautiful glassware and also a number of wine shops selling both red and white wines as well as local sake.
Make sure to grab a Hokkaido Cream Puff while there. There is a shop selling pretty decent puffs for a mere 90 yen that comes with a free cup of coffee. Definitely value for money! On a side note, the cheese based dessert was average. So stick with the puffs!
Otaru is also famous for its seafood/sushi shops. Do shop around to see if you can get a better deal.
If you are like us, you can consider venturing away from the shopping belt to get the real deal. Not far from the other end of Sakaimachi Shopping Street is Otarusankaku Market (just beside Otaru Station).
Otarusankaku Market is a small seafood market where you can dine in. We decided to splurge this time round and got ourselves a hairy crab for 6,500 yen on top of our kaisendons. Having done some research both pre and post Otaru trip, 6,500 yen is a reasonable price to pay for a hair crab. Snow crabs are generally cheaper. King crabs are generally way more expensive. Why not also grab a 400 yen oyster and down it with some local Otaru beer?
Once lunch is out of the way (definitely a late lunch by the time you are done with Sakaimachi Shopping Street and having walked over to the market area), you can stroll over to the canals. It is generally better to visit during winter as the views are better. The canals are just average without the snow. Consider having a Hokkaido Ice Cream while there. Perfect for a hot summer day and maybe a perfect supplement on a cold winter’s day!
Do look out for the area just beside the canal where it used to be called Wall Street of the North. Despite its small town appearance, Otaru had for a brief moment the chance of being a financial centre in the North. What remains today are the streets lining the canals with their old stone warehouses (now converted into restaurants).
Getting from Otaru to Sapporo
From the canals, you have two options. You can either head back via Otaru Station or Minami-Otaru Station.
If you are travelling during winter (night falls earlier as compared to summer), going back via Minami-Otaru Station offers a different night view and may be worth the walk.
If not, head back to Otaru Station.
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Signing off, eTraveller.