Hakodate is a city located approx 4 hours south of Sapporo (train/car), sitting right on the bottom of Hokkaido. Thanks to the new Shinkansen (bullet train) that opened in 2016, you can now also get there from Tokyo in about 4.5 hours, all covered by the JR pass. I was only there for a brief weekend visit and hit up all the best local attractions and food spots. It’s not a particularly big city and there isn’t too much to do there, so here’s everything you can squeeze in 24 hours:
The Morning Markets are Hakodate’s fish markets comprising a few blocks right next to the main JR Hakodate Station. The city is famous for squid and fish roe, so there are many market stalls and restaurants here offering rice bowls (donburi) with these. You can even fish your own fresh squid to be served as sashimi where it’s served so fresh that the tentacles are still sucking on your mouth(!) – just look for the market stall with large fish tanks containing live squid.
Market stalls are open from as early as 6am-ish, however it doesn’t get bustling until about 9am onwards. Most of the market is open most of the day, closing in the evening, so it’s best to stop by here for breakfast or lunch.
One popular restaurant situated towards the back end of the market is Nibankan (二番館), also known to locals as offering “one coin meals” as they have delicious donburis starting from ¥500. I opted for their 5 types of seafood donburi which contained salmon, tuna, crab, fish roe, a prawn and egg omelette. For such a cheap price, it’s a generous serving of seafood and even comes with a side of miso soup, a great bargain for seafood lovers!
It may sound crazy, but most people make a pit stop at Lucky Pierro, a restaurant chain known for their burgers, whenever they visit Hakodate. The restaurant is only available in Hakodate and is so successful that they’ve already got 15+ branches in Hakodate, so you’ll be sure to find one while strolling around.
The menu is very extensive featuring omurice (omelette rice), curry, donburi and bento boxes, but what they are famous for are their burgers and with good reason too! I opted for their famous “Chinese Chicken Burger” – tender chicken thigh pieces in a sweet soy glaze, sandwiched in a super light and fluffy sesame bun with mayo, lettuce and cheese. It’s so delicious that I went back again during my trip and got a different variation of the chicken, the Chinese Chicken Curry Rice.
Red Brick Warehouses
The Red Brick Warehouses are a line of, you guessed it, red brick warehouses which are home to a range of boutique stalls selling fashion, craft, souvenirs along with cafes and restaurants. It’s a nice place to have a wander and walk around, plus there’s a Lucky Pierro next door which I went to.
Inside one of the warehouses is Pastry Snaffles, one of the local cheesecake brands. They’ve got a café setup there where you can get their famous “catch cakes” and a small coffee for just ¥200, what a bargain! The cake is soft, creamy and light, possibly one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had. And contrasted with the bitter coffee, it really is a match made in heaven.
In between the Red Brick Houses and Mount Hakodate is Motomachi, an area covering the steep hill with lots of scenic paths and historic buildings (churches, consulate, memorial hall and government building). It’s beautiful and a good time killer if you have nothing to do but isn’t one of the most interesting attractions of Hakodate. I did manage to find an ice cream stall while walking around and got adventurous with flavours. The best part about ice cream in a snowy winter is that it doesn’t melt!
On the other end of Hakodate sits Fort Goryokaku, a star shaped citadel. As it was snowing when I visited, I didn’t walk around the actual area itself but opted to head up the neighbouring Goryokaku Tower for the night views instead. In winter, the star is lit up, providing a breathtaking illumination to accompany the birds-eye view of the city. The view is also particularly famous in spring when the sakura trees all blossom, lining the star in a sea of pink.
It’s a bit annoying to get to as it’s nowhere near any of the other attractions, but I decided to head there in the late afternoon just to catch the night views, before looping back to where I was earlier to see Hakodate’s most famous night spot.
Winning a bunch of awards along with being one of the top 3 views of Japan, the night view from the peak of Mount Hakodate is definitely a beautiful one. A paid cable car will get you to the top and back, although in warmer months you can hike up and down for free. I only visited at night and it was packed full of tourists, but with a bit of patience you’ll get to the front of the crowd and marvel in panoramic views of the lit city, highlighting the bay-shape of Hakodate. There’s also a restaurant up there if you’d fancy a meal with a top notch view!