We recently spent a week in southern Hokkaido, Japan (and got engaged there in the snow!) and had such a fun time on an Otaru day trip from Sapporo.
Otaru is just a short 30 minute train ride from Sapporo station along one of the most scenic coastal railways I’ve ever been on, making it the perfect option for an easy day trip from Sapporo.
Read on to plan your visit to Otaru from Sapporo!
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Where is Otaru?
Otaru is 35 minutes west by train along the coast from Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido in Japan. Making it the perfect option for an Otaru day trip.
Otaru is located on the coast and was traditionally a shipping port. When you’re there, you’ll see the Otaru canal lined with historic warehouses which used to store produce and goods.
What is Otaru famous for?
No longer a major port, Otaru is most famous for Otaru glass production which can be seen and bought in many of the stores in the town, you can even do your own glass-making in a glass blowing workshop!
How to get to Otaru?
The easiest way to get from Sapporo to Otaru by train is to take the Rapid Airport line towards Otaru from Sapporo station.
A one-way ticket costs 1,830 yen and takes around 35 minutes. The Sapporo to Otaru train schedule runs every 30 minutes.
This train runs between Sapporo Chitose Airport and Otaru, so it’s a regular train that’s easy to get on at any time and you don’t need a reservation.
Find the Sapporo to Otaru train timetable here.
Google Maps also works really well in Japan for accurate public transport timings and prices so I recommend using Google Maps for your Sapporo to Otaru day trip to get around and navigate during your day trip to Otaru from Sapporo.
Day trip to Otaru itinerary: How to spend a day in Otaru on a day trip from Sapporo
9am - depart Sapporo station
Start your Sapporo to Otaru day trip at a good time with a 9am train to Otaru from Sapporo station.
The Sapporo to Otaru train price costs 1830 yen one-way and you don’t need a reservation.
I recommend making a good start in the morning to go to Otaru, especially if you’re visiting in winter when daylight hours are shorter.
approx 9.35am - Otaru station melon bread
Once you arrive in Otaru station, head to the French bakery Otaru Saint Germain, in the station lobby.
Japan loves a French style bakery but they sell traditional Japanese or local speciality baked goods. We had to get the famous Hokkaido Melon Bread to try - it’s a must when you’re visiting Hokkaido - so much lighter and fluffier than I expected it to be!
10am - Otaru Canal and canal boat tour
When you’re outside the station, walk straight down the road in front of you and you will reach the famous Otaru Canal.
Make sure you stop for photos on the bridge - this is one of the most famous photo spots in Otaru and it’s especially beautiful covered in snow during the winter time!
Just across the bridge is the Otaru canal boat tours office. From here you can book a 40 minute cruise for either 1,800 yen during the day, or 2,000 yen if you’d prefer a night cruise.
11am - Explore Sakaimachi Hondori Street and get some Otaru Glass souvenirs
Optional: glass-blowing workshop
After your Otaru Canal cruise, walk to Sakaimachihondori which is the famous shopping street in Otaru.
Here you’ll find the famous glass warehouses and stores in stunning wooden warehouses with vaulted ceilings and timber beams. These stores are huge and it’s worth walking around and getting a souvenir as the glassware is also very affordable and a must do in Otaru!
Kitaichi Glass Otaru is the most famous store which I highly recommend. I bought a dancing glass from here (one with a round base that rolls around but never falls) and also glass cocktail stirrers.
However if you continue just past Kitaichi Glass store, you’ll find their outlet store just a couple of stores down and this is even cheaper! The outlet store has the end of season, test pieces, sample pieces or imperfect pieces that don’t make it into the main store.
The prices here are even cheaper and the store is just as big as the main store! So if you’re looking for a bargain Otaru glass souvenir on your Sapporo to Otaru day trip, don’t miss the outlet store.
If you have time or perhaps aren’t interested in one of the other things to do in Otaru on this itinerary, then you can also book your own glass-making workshop in Otaru where you can try your hand at glass blowing and make your own unique Otaru glass souvenir to take home!
1pm - get lunch
Get a well-earned break at one of the many restaurants along Sakaimachihondori or close to the canal..
Hokkaido’s soup curry is a personal favourite of mine, check out one of the best places to eat it in Otaru Soup Curry Daruo.
1.30pm cake from LeTAO
Of course you can’t miss dessert when it’s a famous local specialty!
LeTAO has three locations in Otaru, but there’s one on Sakaimachihondori so you can try their famous Hokkaido cheesecakes.
2pm - see the Otaru steam clock
Continue on down Sakaimachihondori until you reach a crossroads where you’ll see a large steam clock.
If you’ve ever been to Vancouver Canada, they have a similar one in Gas Town and it’s super unique to see one here!
The 4-faced clock is an open heart so you can see the mechanism working and while steam does come out all the time, it plays a small steam tune at each quarter hour and the full tune on the hour.
It sounds like a musical organ and for each note played, steam spills out the top of the clock - it’s very cool to see!
I recommend going on a cool day or perhaps passing by at dusk to see the steam more clearly.
2.30pm - Tanaka Sake Brewery
Continuing in the same direction, you will eventually reach Tanaka Sake Brewery.
This is a really unique experience and one of the best things to do in Otaru because the sake is only produced and sold here in Otaru - you can’t find it anywhere else!
The beautiful traditional wooden building is over 100 years old and you can do a free self-guided tour of the brewery. Just go into the brewery shop and turn right, go up the stairs and follow the signs and see the actual working brewery.
Afterwards, head back down to the shop and at the back of the store there is a sake tasting table which is also free!
We sampled 4 sake made at the brewery, including two seasonal limited editions - one of which we ended up buying and taking home.
Free sake tasting in Otaru AND a free brewery tour has to be one of the best free things to do in Otaru and it was a highlight of our Sapporo to Otaru day trip.
Note - you cannot do the tasting if you’re driving or cycling or under the age of 20.
3.30pm - visit the Music Box Museum
If you’re still keen to see the sights of Otaru, or perhaps it’s cold and you’d like to duck into the warmth, head to the unique Music Box Museum in Otaru.
This is not only a beautiful historic building, but also one of the most unusual places I’ve been to in Japan.
With traditional music boxes, music snow globes, music box sushi, animals, boats, jewellery boxes and more - literally anything you can think of is a music box here.
We also visited during December and it was super festive here!
4.30pm - drinks and snack at a German Japanese Brewery
Take a last stroll back along the canal and head to Otaru Brewery.
This is a German-style bierkeller and again, the historic wooden warehouse interior is just spectacular. The huge brass brewing vats are right in the centre of the beer hall and you can sit and watch as the staff pour in hops, check the beer and basically watch the brewing process happening as you have a drink.
They have traditional-style German lagers, Dunkel, wheats and dark ales in ceramic mugs or large steins.
I wasn’t expecting to find such a cool brewery in Otaru but it was the most welcoming, cosy and fun way to end the day in the warm and watch the snow falling outside.
If you visit in the warmer months, they have an outside patio along the canal so you can sit by the water and enjoy a beer.
I also loved the food ordering process here, in such an old-style brewery, your food is brought to you by a robot!
6pm - train back to Sapporo
If you’re visiting Otaru in winter, it gets dark around 4pm and it’s probably very chilly and you might even head back earlier.
But in the summer, the daylight is still going strong and the canal and outdoor areas in Otaru are lively into the evening.
Depending on whether you stick to this Otaru itinerary or swap the order, you might find it easier to catch the airport back from Otaru’s other station Minami-Otaru Station. This one is closer to the sake brewery if you choose to end your day there instead.
Summary: the perfect Sapporo to Otaru day trip
Hopefully this Otaru travel guide has inspired you and given you all the information you need to plan your day trip to Otaru from Sapporo.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t even aware of Otaru until we arrived in Sapporo and I saw some pictures of the glassworks and the canal and we decided to visit. But I’m so glad we did!
Otaru is definitely one of the best places to visit in Hokkaido as an easy day trip from Sapporo.
Pin for later to plan your Otaru day trip!