How to spend 24 hours in Hakodate
Hakodate at the south of Japan's most northern island of Hokkaido is not usually on the itinerary of most international tourists. It is however a great small city and you can easily fill 24 hours in Hakodate. Wondering what about things to do in Hakodate? I've got you covered. I loved Hakodate and while I can't imagine filling in multiple days here, it is a great stop over point if you are heading between Hokkaido and Honshu on the train.
My 24 hours in Hakodate
A co-worker suggested the Japanese port city of Hakodate to me. Thanks Angus! I probably wouldn't have stopped but for Angus suggestion and I'm so glad I did. I only had one night in Hakodate as I used it as a stop between Abashiri and Nagano. I had a big day coming down on the train from Abashiri and the next day I had two train connections on the way to Nagano, so I decided to stop and spend the evening in Hakodate.
I found this amazing little guest house Oyado Aozora which was only a minutes walk from the train station and cost me ¥3,670 (about $42 AUD or $32 USD) for my own very Japanese tatami room. The woman who runs it is so sweet and made me feel so welcome and I couldn't recommend it more.
I arrived at 3:50pm and had forgotten that being winter, it gets dark quite early, so instead of wandering around the port area like I had planned, I went straight to my hotel and had a little rest before heading out for the night.
How to fill 24 Hours In Hakodate
Hakodate is famous for its very early morning Fish Markets, the Ropeway up to Mt Hakodate which has an amazing view, Fort Goryokaku & the port and it's very popular breweries. Knowing there was a lot to see I was confident I could fill my 24 hours without rushing and also without missing out on anything. Starting the evening I arrived, here is how I filled my 24 hours in Hakodate.
Custom Private Tour Of Hakodate
I booked a tour of Mount Hakodate and everything else I did on my own. However, if you don't have a full 24 hours the private tour shown below would be a great way of seeing Hakodate in a day. They will adjust the tour to go wherever you want AND will pick you up from the station which means the cost is pretty good. I'm sure entrance fees for the cable car is probably not included but it is a way to get around Hakodate without having to use the buses and taxis.
24 Hour Itinerary for Hakodate
I did arrive mid afternoon, however you could rearrange this itinerary to suit your own arrival and departure times.
6pm – Panoramic City View from Mount Hakodate
Knowing I would be late in with not much time to organise anything myself, I had booked a night tour of Hakodate with Japanican who was picking me up at the bus station which is out the front of the train station conveniently. My very lovely host recommended a great little restaurant for dinner so I ventured out in the freezing cold wearing almost everything I owned.
Did I mention it was February! So cold – so cold!
The view from the top of the mountain is usually amazing and showcases Hakodate's port and surrounds. Of course, it's February and half way to the ropeway (For those Aussies of you – that's a cable car) it starts snowing . It's only snowing lightly though and I must admit to being entranced with the beauty of it. I'm grinning to myself like the weird Australian I am and proceed to follow my guide (and her flag) up to the Ropeway entrance. Being February, it was pretty quiet so we got on the next car and up we go. The snowing takes my enchantment as a cue to ramp up, and by the time we get to the top, it's snowing hard and we've seen nothing at all out the cable car. Cest La Vie – it's out to the viewpoint.
By the time we are out on the landing, its a total white out, but its so very beautiful to be up there in the softly falling snow that I just don't care.
Others in the group are pretty disappointed (if my Korean tourist expression meter is accurate) but we all start taking photos of each other trying to make the most of it. We are the last group up there and they marshal us inside so they can close the veranda and we start to line up for the gondola.
What happens next?
Of course – the snow dissipates and the view of Hakodate appears like a sparkling fairy land beneath us. The door to outside is normally locked at this point so we resort to taking photos though the glass which is less than ideal but something to prove we were there I guess.
The ride down is uneventful and I elect to hop off the bus on the way back so I can partake of another of Hakodate's famed services: The Hakodate Beerhall!
9pm – Hakodate Beer Hall & Red Brick Warehouses
Situated in the red brick warehouses of the port area, Hakodate Beer Hall is a warm respite from the bitter cold. I always planned to check out the red brick warehouses and even though I was at night, I was able to get a great feel for them and it felt like an even better way to see this row of historic buildings. The snow had stopped, but everything was covered in a layer of white and to me as a sun worshiping Aussie, it was just beautiful.
I had only eaten a small dinner and no lunch so I was ready for something decent to eat. I arrived right on the cut off time for meals, however, a bus tour that usually eats there had been waylaid due to the snow so I got lucky and was still able to order dinner. I was surprised at how western the menu was and managed to scoff a full plate of American style ribs!
A couple from Long Island spotted me across the room and as much as I'd like to say it was my friendly travel face that invited them over, I'm pretty sure it was the fact that I was sitting at a table of 4 with the only empty seats in the room. They were as we Aussies say “good people” and we had a few beers and chatted for an hour or two.
I am always impressed with Japanese beer, however in Japan it seems to be better still. AFter probably 2 or 3 beers more than I should have consumed, I headed back to my tatami room with it's wonderful heated floor around 11pm and went to bed.
Laura and Jonathon – thanks for the company!
6AM – Hakodate Morning Markets
After a nice night out I didn't set my alarm for the fish markets the next morning. I knew it was supposed to be amazing but I've seen so many over the years and I just wasn't sure it was worth the early morning wake up. I figured if I was asleep I would stay that way. I did however wake up early so I dragged my butt out of my nice warm bed and again, put on every piece of clothing I own and headed out into the arctic weather.
The market was a lot more organised than I expected. I know it's Japan and I should have realised it would be like that, however, I was thinking Asian markets like Bangkok or Malaysia so it was quite a surprise to see everything so clean and organised.
There was however, lurking behind those sterile stands a couple of elderly Japanese fishermen who's very love of life is clearly closely linked to how many unsuspecting tourists they can have screaming in a mess on the floor.
I'm wandering along, thinking about what I should select to get cooked for breakfast when a gentleman engages me in conversation. He's grinning like he's taken 2 ekky's for breakfast but I assume (blindly) that he is a lovely Japanese fisherman interested in the tourists. HE WAS NOT!
While I am engrossed in his conversation, his partner in crime was sneaking up behind me with a LIVE octopus.
Sorry – that's wrong. A HUGE LIVE octopus.
OMG, I seriously have never come that close to dying and not actually doing so.
Imagine if you will, a 6 foot, heavily rugged-up Australian sprinting in circles screaming “get it off me, get it off me” and that might come a little close to what actually happened. I'm pretty sure there was lots of swearing, maybe some threats and at the very least a few homicidal thoughts.
Bastards! They thought it was frigging hilarious. I however, DID NOT! I faked that it was funny and smiled and laughed with them, and they did very sweetly give me some fish to take to have cooked for breatfast, however, it took me 2 hours and $8 in laundry fees to wash and dry my parka so as NOT to smell like dead Octopus. I know he was alive but he smelt dead!
I sadly have no photos or video of the aforementioned event, however, I have no doubt there would be some circling YouTube, on a channel registered to the “Laurel And Hardy of Hakodate Fish Markets” and has probably paid for their new fishing boat in views by this point.
Months later – still not funny! Ok it is a little funny now, but Geez Louise, it was damn terrifying at the time.
Map to find Hakodate Fish Markets
7:30AM – Breakfast
A lot of the stalls can cook the seafood themselves, however these two comedians yelled to someone further down the row, who came scurrying up, grabbed my very expensive fish (I'd paid for that damn thing in heartbeats!) and ushered me down to their stall. I honestly have no idea how they assembled the ingredients but I ended up with a bowl of rice topped with the diced fish in what tasted like a miso/ginger broth. It was so very good and I was more than pleased to pay for the cooking service.
Realising that at some point this would be one of my favourite stories from Japan, I went back down to Laurel and Hardy and gave them one of my Koalas. I always carry these funny little Koala's who's arms grip on to things and when someone does something really nice for me or helps me in some way I give them a Koala. I presented them with their Koala and there was much laughter and bowing and hand shaking from everyone in the vicinity. I think they were just happy I had been a good sport about it.
A friend went to Japan last year and told me that the Koala has pride of place hanging on a string over their money box so maybe they think its a magic Koala?
9AM: Fort Goryōkaku
This massive 5 corner star shaped fort is Hakodate's second most visited landmark. While the fort is now a public park and is great to wander around, to get the true scale and grandeur of this citadel, you need to go up Goryōkaku Tower and take a picture from above. Being so cold and snowy was great for pics from the tower but wasn't as conducive to wandering around the fort and its gardens.
There are over 1000 Cherry trees planted along the moat edges of the fort and it is very popular around May when the cherry blossoms are out. There is also a building in the centre of the fort that once was the Magistrates Office for the Shogunate that governed Hokkaido. You can enter the fort and it is 500 Y, however I didn't as it was open but being so cold and having had so much snow I decided instead to head up the tower to take some photos from up there.
How to get to Fort Goryōkaku
You can get to Goryōkaku Fort quite easily from Hakodate Station. Simply take the Hakodate City Tramway 5 toward Yunokawa and get off at Goryōkaku Koen Mae station which is the first station after you do a hard right around a sharp corner on the tram. Once you get off, turn around and walk back to the main road you just turned off. Turn right at the corner and continue on down that main street going 4 blocks and then turning right. This street goes off at 45 degrees and isn't a complete right turn. Proceed down this street and the fort will come into view. It's about a 10 minute walk.
You will walk past Goryōkaku Tower to get to the park so that will be easy for you to find. Actually you can't miss it. It looks like an airport flight control tower.
The tower was 900 Yen last I checked.
They also have a lighting festival called Hoshi no Yume Illumination from November to February most years during which the moats are lit with over 2000 lights showcasing the star shape of the citadel. Check the tower's website for current wait times and opening hours. It is usually open from 9am to 7pm daily during the winter lighting festival, however will close earlier in summer.
1PM – Wander Motomachi.
While I got the tram back to the Hakodate station and walked up to Motomachi, by this stage the roads were very slippery and icy and I didn't stay long in this area. It is the historic area of Hakodate similar to Dutch Slope in Nagasaki. I probably spent around 45 mins walking around the area, however I was getting a little concerned I was going to slip and hurt myself, and after already providing some humour to the Japanese citizens of Otaru previously I figured I was pushing my luck if I continued.
I decided instead to head to lunch before catching my 3:45 train to Nagano.
2PM – Lunch At The Victorian Rose Tearooms
While I don't usually eat outside of the traditional food in the area I'm visiting, I had been recommended The Victorian Rose Tearoom for high tea so I figured what the hell. I can do scones, jam and cream for lunch! If I'm being fully transparent here the other factor in my decision was that lunch in Japan isn't a time for sitting. Lunch is a business transaction a lot of the time and chairs are a valuable commodity. I knew I had time before my train, but not enough time to go too far afield, so I wanted somewhere I could do a casual lunch and not feel like I was taking up real estate.
The Tea house is inside the Former British Consulate of Hakodate which is at the northern port side of Motomachi. It's very close to the Suehirocho Station which meant I could jump on the tram and head back to my accommodation where they were very kindly holding my bag.
It must have been at least 3 months since I'd had a proper cup of tea and my goodness – I had totally forgotten just what a good cuppa can do. Served in a China pot, with a full high tea that hot cuppa was just delightful.
A young Korean couple walked in just after me and while they didn't speak great English, and I can't speak any Korean, we shared a table and ordered 2 high tea's between the 3 of us, which made it the perfect amount of food. I probably could have eaten a good chunk of what you get served for 1 high tea but there would have been a fair amount of wasted food so I was glad to share.
They were very friendly and through Google Translate we worked out that we were all web developers and they were planning to visit the Gold Coast the next year for their honeymoon! I ended up catching up with them again in Busan however sadly I was in Africa when they visited the Gold Coast. Regardless, it was a nice hour or so in a non-rushed environment with scones and cream! What's not to love.
3:45PM – Train to Nagano
I left Hakodate 24 hours after I'd arrived and felt like I'd seen everything I had set out to. Best of all, none of it felt rushed and while the weather did make things a little bit harder, it was also pretty cool to see Hakodate in a blanket of white.
If you are visiting Japan for more than a few days as an international tourist, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass to lessen the cost of the trains.
Accommodation Options In Hakodate
Oyado Inn Aozora that I stayed at was very nice. It is private rooms with shared bathrooms but the woman that runs it is I assume the owner because she is very welcoming and the entire place is sparkling clean. The location across from the train station was perfect and it was close enough to the port that I could walk home from there even in the bad weather. The pics below are of the front of the building and my room which was a single room of course. I know that hostel/guest house accommodation isn't for everyone so more Hakodate accommodation options are shown below.
My accommodation in Hakodate (Inn Aozora) & my traditional Tatami room.
Other Accommodation Options In Hakodate
Hotel Tetora Hakodate Ekimae
From $36 AUD per night for a single room. This hotel is close to the train station and only about 10 mins walk to the port area.
La'gent Stay Hakodate Ekimae
Great value from only $87 AUD per night, These rooms include a bathroom and the hotel has a hot spa and sauna. Also close to the train station.
Hakodate Kokusai Hotel
$287 AUD (aprox) per night will enable you to stay in this modern hotel with an indoor pool. Closer to the port, this hotel also has an airport shuttle.
FAQ's About Hakodate
Absolutely. Hakodate is easy to get around and has a great amount of things to see and do. It is different in every season, offering some great nature based options in the summer and some more cozy things to do in the winter. It is said to be a great place to see the Cherry Blossoms in the spring too.
I would recommend 2 days. While you can see the main sights in a single day, two days would mean you can have a more leisurely visit to Hakodate and manage to see a little more of what this great city has to offer.
Hakodate is known for its fishing port and consequently the amazing seafood available in it's cafes and restaurants. Make sure you try the Ramen in Hakodate as it is made with a seafood soup base. The fort and Mount Hakodate are the primary tourism locations these days.
The easiest way to get to Hakodate is from either Tokyo or Sapporo. The trains from Tokyo take around 4 hours and only slightly less than that from Sapporo.
Spring and summer are wonderful times to visit Hakodate, however don't discount visiting in the winter. Seeing the view from Mount Hakodate over the snow covered town is very nice and the fort makes for amazing photos in winter.
Absolutely. The locals are friendly, its affordable, the food is amazing and there are more than just a couple of things to see. Just keep your eyes peeled at the morning market for those 2 very naughty fishermen!
Check out my Japan Destination Page for all the info, posts & places to visit in Japan.