Tokyo and Hokkaido Self-drive - Japanspecialist
Discover the untouched nature of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island.
Hokkaido is home to bountiful serene landscapes and snow-capped mountains, revered by outdoor lovers globally.
This self-drive tour is ideal for those who want to explore tranquil nature, stunning flower fields, challenging hiking trails, winter sports, volcanic lakes, eclectic local towns, delectable seafood, outdoor onsen (hot springs), and much more. For the active traveller, Hokkaido has it all, making it a fantastic post-pandemic destination!
The Japanese road system is simple to navigate, and all cars have an English GPS, so you'll have no trouble finding your way around town.
A four-day extension to this program is also available, with visits to the scenic volcanic Lake Toya and the port city of Hakodate, which is highly recommended for those looking for a longer excursion!
You'll depart Europe for Tokyo on an overnight flight, so kick back and get some sleep before your action-packed adventure begins.
After touching down at the airport, you'll continue to the city centre.
Tokyo, Japan's capital, is a city unlike any other, home to innovative, cutting-edge design and traditional culture. Immerse yourself in cultural experiences, visit exquisitely landscaped gardens, and admire the city's high-tech side; there is something for everyone. For the foodie, there's plenty to indulge in whether you visit the Michelin star-rated restaurants or cosy hidden izakayas (food pubs) in your local neighbourhood.
During your stay in Tokyo, you'll be living central, allowing for quick access to all of Tokyo's sights and attractions. You can also find countless bars, restaurants, shopping malls, game halls, and cafes to explore in your local area.
We recommend visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory in Shinjuku as an easy afternoon activity on your arrival day. You can learn everything there is to know about the beloved city while taking in the breathtaking views of the cityscape. After, grab dinner at a local ramen store or izakaya.
Kick-off your first full day by exploring Tokyo's bustling streets. Due to its size, we recommend deciding on specific areas to explore; ideally, two to three neighbourhoods are sufficient for a day's worth of sightseeing.
Recommended must-see sights include the Imperial Palace Plaza, Senso-ji temple (the oldest in Tokyo), Tokyo Skytree, the Tsukiji fish market, and the fashionable Ginza district with its grand boulevards and top-notch department stores.
For lunch, there are plenty of options to choose from; experience the joys of a tasty bowl of local ramen or soba (buckwheat noodles), or try a Japanese set lunch known as teishoku. These set deals typically include rice, miso soup, one or two main dishes, and tea.
To end your day on a high note, we recommend dining in Roppongi Hills at one of the many stylish restaurants. For a late-night activity, head to Tokyo Skytree with its 360-degree view of Tokyo.
If you are looking for a day trip out of the city, Nikko is a must-have on your travel list. Two and a half hours north of Tokyo, Nikko is just a direct train away from Tokyo's Asakusa station.
Among the many attractions of Nikko is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine. This unique destination serves as a mausoleum for shogun (political leader) Tokugawa Ieyasu, the great military leader of the early 17th century. After, explore the beautiful national park complete with expansive lakes and picturesque waterfalls surrounding the shrine.
If you have time, a visit to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa is worthwhile. The villa, which was erected in 1899, uses parts of a previous building that stood in Tokyo.
Before being moved to Nikko, the building had previously served as the Tokyo residence of the Tokugawa family and temporarily as the Imperial Palace. Once relocated, the building became a summer residence and retreat for the Imperial Family. Before taking the train back to Tokyo, try Nikko's high-quality wagyu beef at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel restaurant.
For your final day in Tokyo, we suggest a visit to the neighbourhood of Harajuku, the birthplace of Tokyo's most eccentric fashion movements. Down Takeshita Dori, you can find trendy fashion boutiques, uniquely themed cafes, alluring speciality stores and people-watch the stylish characters of Harajuku.
After Harajuku, visit the relaxing Yoyogi Park located right next to Harajuku Station, and take a little stroll through the park and visit the tranquil Meiji Jingu shrine - one of Japan's most famous shrines.
If classical Japanese paintings pique your interest, the Ota Memorial Museum of Art is a close walk away. The museum carries a small but impressive collection of Ukiyo-e works, including woodblock prints and paintings, dating back to Japan's Edo period (1600-1868).
To end the day off with a bang, check out the neighbouring city of Shibuya, visit Shibuya Scramble Square for excellent city views and end the day with some kaiten (revolving) sushi.
Today you'll leave the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for the tranquillity and wild nature of Hokkaido. It's a two-hour domestic flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to reach Memanbetsu Airport, located on Hokkaido's northeast coast.
At Memanbetsu, you'll pick up your rental car and set off on your drive to the Shiretoko Peninsula and the small town of Utoro Onsen. The drive is approximately 90 kilometres along the coast and full of excellent ocean views.
Utoro is located on Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO Natural Heritage-listed national park. It's primarily known for its hot springs ('onsen' in Japanese), many of which are connected to the various ryokan (Japanese inn) around town, where you will also be spending the night. Try and arrive in advance to take full advantage of the relaxing baths with breathtaking views of unspoiled nature before the traditional dinner usually served around 6.00 pm.
Today is dedicated to the many wonders of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Shiretoko National Park contains some of the most pristine nature in Japan and an abundance of rare animal species.
Shiretoko Peninsula is home to opportunities to embark on thrilling whale and bear watching cruises. During the chilly winter months, early morning cruises depart from Rausu, where you can witness the majestic bird species that northern Japan has to offer, like the striking Steller's sea eagle.
Make sure you don't miss the chance to visit the Shiretoko Park Nature Centre located at the National Park entrance. The centre serves as a rest stop, complete with a restaurant and gift shop and includes excellent information on the local area.
Continuing your Hokkaido car journey southwest, you will reach Akan Mashu National Park, another stunning forest only a two and a half journey away. The park's extraordinary landscape has been shaped by thousands of years of volcanic activity, and it is also renowned for its pristine volcanic lakes, including Lake Akan, home to the unique and vibrant green moss-like balls known as marimo.
After exploring the national park, arrive at your ryokan with plenty of time to explore what the lakeside has to offer. Heading back to the ryokan, take a well-deserved bath in the hot springs absorbing the beautiful lakeside views and end the day dining in style with the superb traditional dishes the ryokan has to offer.
Today you will have a full day in the Lake Akan area, where we recommend also visiting the two other impressive crater lakes in the National Park, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo.
Lake Mashu is one of the best lake views in all of northern Japan. Surrounded by steep crater walls 200 metres (660 feet) high, it is one of the clearest lakes in the world and one of Japan's deepest.
Lake Kussharo, located 30 minutes from Lake Mashu, is another lovely caldera lake with a circumference of 57 kilometres, making it the largest lake in Akan Mashu National Park. Fishing, hiking, kayaking, and cycling are just a few of the outdoor activities available in the area. For those interested in bird watching, you can also drive nearby to Kushiro Marshland National Park to spot Japanese cranes.
Today you will travel to Asahidake Onsen located in Daisetsuzan National Park. Enjoy the scenic four and a half hour journey through sloped landscapes, meadows, valleys, and gorges. Daisetsuzan National Park is Hokkaido's largest national park, preserving a mountainous area of virtually untouched wilderness larger than some of Japan's smaller prefectures. It's a hiker and outdoor enthusiast's dream!
Your base will be the small town of Asahidake Onsen, located at the foot of Mount Asahidake, Hokkaido's highest mountain (2290 meters). From here, you can take a ride on the Asahidake Ropeway cable car up the mountain. Daisetsuzan National Park has many hiking trails and is well-known for being one of the first places in Japan to see autumn colours as early as September.
Today is a day of exploring the natural beauty of Hokkaido, either going deep into the Daisetsuzan National Park and hiking trails near Asahidake Onsen.
Alternatively, relaxing in Sounkyo, a hot spring town northwest of Daisetsuzan, is another excellent option. Bask in the renowned hot springs amidst pristine nature in a region comprising of gorges and 100-metre-high cliffs. The scenic resort town of Sounkyo is one of Hokkaido's top hot spring resorts, with the cosy village centre offering both modern and traditional onsen bath options, beautiful waterfalls with hiking opportunities and a plethora of dining options with restaurants nearby. Additionally, take the chance to witness a different perspective of Hokkaido's natural beauty with a mile-long cable lift ride accessible nearby Sounkyo to Mount Kurodake.
From here, you can choose to add a four-day extension program to your Hokkaido trip, including visits to the scenic volcanic Lake Toya (Shikotsu-Toya National Park) and the port city of Hakodate!
Your extended excursion begins with a scenic 318-kilometre drive from Asahidake Onsen to Shikotsu-Toya National Park. To divide the trip, the towns of Biei and Furano are great resting spots.
The town of Biei is known for its captivating Aoi-ike (Blue Pond), while Furano is noted for its expansive lavender fields that blossom in June and July.
As you reach the shores of Lake Toya, you will arrive at your ryokan, where you will be spending two nights. As previously mentioned, arriving earlier will give you time to soak in the baths before enjoying the delectable dinner on offer.
Day 2 of the extension trip consists of a full day in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Here you can roam around the volcanic Lake Toya and take a visit to Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido's most famous spa town.
Above the town of Noboribetsu Onsen is Jigokudani (地獄谷), also known as Hell Valley, which is the main source of Noboribetsu's hot spring waters. Although a picturesque and exciting destination, watch out for the hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity!
Those who can't get enough of Hokkaido's long scenic car rides can take a drive to Lake Shikotsu, a small town on the lake's eastern shore that has a visitor centre and a few lodging options. Here you will be able to rent boats, bicycles and scuba gear or join a sightseeing cruise on the lake in glass-bottomed boats.
Wake up early to enjoy breakfast and a final onsen dip before heading off to the port city of Hakodate, only a two-hour drive away. Hakodate is a well-kept local secret and home to amazing panoramic city views, best admired from Mount Hakodate.
The city was one of the first Japanese ports to open to foreign trade in the 19th century, after 250 years of international isolation. Here you can explore unique buildings such as the Russian Orthodox Church, an Old British Consulate, a Chinese Memorial Hall and the old Hakodate Public Hall.
The last day of the extended excursion is a full day in Hakodate and the nearby town of Matsumae.
Start the day off with a visit to Fort Goryokaku, built in the final years of the Edo Period (mid-nineteenth century) to protect Hakodate from the imperialist threat posed by Western powers.
After you explore Fort Goryokaku, head to the town of Matsumae. Home to the only Japanese style castle to have been built in Hokkaido, the town is located one and a half to two hours from Hakodate. In the springtime, you will be able to witness the stunning blossoming of the ten thousand cherry trees surrounding the castle grounds.
Lastly, while visiting Hakodate, we recommend taking the opportunity to taste some of the delicious, fresh seafood for which the city is known.
Your final drive of this exciting Hokkaido exploration tour will be to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido and Japan's fifth-largest city.
If you booked the optional package, the trip is four hours from Hakodate. If you didn't book the optional package, your trip is about three and a half hours from Asahidake.
After arriving in Sapporo, you drop off your car near your hotel. The final stay of your Hokkaido holiday will be two days and nights in this bustling northern city. In Sapporo, you will find a good mix of Japanese culture and foreign influences, with plenty of scenic sights, both natural and man-made.
The annual Sapporo Snow Festival (held in early February) draws more than two million tourists from abroad. Other places worth sites include the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Sapporo TV Tower located in Odori Park.
Today is one final day of leisure in Sapporo and an excellent opportunity to go shopping and make the last purchases before you head home. Finally, try some of the local delicacies like Sapporo's miso ramen, soup curry, and grilled lamb known as jingisukan, best enjoyed with a glass of Sapporo beer.
It's time to say 'sayonara' (goodbye) or maybe 'matanee' (see you again) to Japan. You'll transfer from your hotel to Sapporo's New Chitose Airport. We hope you've enjoyed your adventure through Hokkaido, Japan's truly undiscovered gem!
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