Rows of lanterns illuminating a dusky evening sky against the backdrop of red-brick warehouses on either side of a canal that glitters under the stars; this is the image that Otaru is most famous for. The charming Hokkaido port city is renowned for its stunning glasswork, sake, and music boxes along with the famed Otaru Canal. The city has much and more to offer visitors who make time for their own Otaru-based adventure.
The bayside port sprawls out with Otaru Canal as its beating heart of the city. Otaru has served as a major port since the late 1800s; owing to this, the city has an ambiance that remains untouched by the hands of time. In summer, green ivy covers the warehouses—a stark contrast to the icicles that adorn the eaves in winter. Autumn paints the distant hillsides in a flurry of colors and spring brings delicate pink cherry blossoms. We’ll let you decide when the best time to visit is, because the truth is, you won’t be disappointed no matter when you make your way to Otaru.
If you’re wondering how you can make the most of a day in Otaru and see all the sights, look no further than this perfect day trip.
1. Sankaku Ichiba Market
Start your day early with a visit to Sankaku Ichiba Market where you can find a truly Hokkaido-style breakfast. Located between Otaru Station and National Highway No. 5, the market is an assembly of 15 individual shops and diners. Breakfast is served as early as 6:30 am. Enjoy the freshest seafood on a rice bowl that you choose the toppings for called kaisen donburi.
2. Otaru Music Box Museum
It may seem a little strange that Otaru is also famous for music boxes, but the brown-brick Otaru Music Box Museum houses an astounding 25,000 music boxes in its collection. The building, built in 1902, brings a sense of nostalgia to all who visit its warm, spacious interior. Let yourself be caught up in the atmosphere of whimsy and wonder while you enjoy familiar and new tunes.
3. Sakaimachi-dori Shopping Street
The next stop could easily consume your whole day, and why not? The Sakaimachi-dori Shopping Street is an area with more than 65 shops, from glassworks, cafes, wineries, and crafts. This is the place to go if you’re looking to soak up everything that Otaru has to offer. Why not hire a rickshaw to explore the street in style?
4. Kitaichi Glass Otaru
Venetian glass is renowned worldwide, but Otaru may give Venice a run for its money. Kitaichi Glass Otaru houses their own unique glass works of art—as well as Venetian examples in the Kitaichi Venezia Museum. The on-site glass shop showcases Japanese-style handiwork as well as more folksy and western pieces. While you’re there, stop for lunch in the Kitaichi Hall No. 3. Herring soba, kaisendon, or lighter cafe fare are available.
There are also many restaurants along Sakaimachi-dori Shopping Street.
Now that lunch has been sorted, how about a sweet treat? LeTAO is famous for its delicious sweets. Try their Double Fromage—called the masterpiece of LeTAO—that has a rich, milky taste of smooth no-bake mascarpone cheesecake on top of a melt-in-your-mouth baked cheesecake. For chocolate lovers who need a bit more cacao in their cheesecake, the Chocolat Double will be your slice of heaven.
6. Stained Glass Museum
Time to burn off those afternoon calories with a short 12-minute walk to the Stained Glass Museum. The Former Takahashi Warehouse has been splendidly renovated to become a masterpiece of glass and light. These late-19th and early-20th-century pieces were all part of churches in England before finding their way to the museum. Many of the churches where the stained glass was originally from no longer stand today—these panels of glass are a lasting remembrance.
7. Otaru Canal
Of course, no trip to Otaru would be complete without a visit to the beloved and picturesque Otaru Canal. It’s no wonder that many of the city’s events are held around the canal. It’s an absolutely charming sight to behold no matter the time of day or the season. Originally, the canal was used to ferry goods to the many warehouses found along it. Nowadays, the restored canal is a pleasant place for a stroll or a romantic rendezvous.
8. Otaru Canal Boat Cruise
While you’re in the area admiring the water, why not gain a new perspective of Otaru from the water’s surface? Take a cruise along the canal and create memories (and photos) that will last a lifetime. There are seven cruises during the daytime and five during the dark. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience the magic of dusk on the Otaru Canal.
9. Otaru Beer Otaru Warehouse No. 1
The day draws to a close and so too does your time in Otaru. Let the day end on a high note at the Otaru Beer Otaru Warehouse No. 1. Enjoy some German cuisine inside of this renovated warehouse and don’t forget to raise a pint with a heart “Kanpai,” or “Prost” as the case may be inside the German-inspired warehouse. The microbrewery pub also offers visitors a close-up look at how their in-house beer is made.
While you’ve made the most of your time in Otaru, you’ve seen sights and made memories that will last long after you return back to the comfort of your home. And Otaru will always be waiting, ready to welcome you back again.
Getting to Otaru
You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to access Otaru on your next Hokkaido trip and wonder why you didn’t visit sooner.
By train: From Sapporo Station, it’s as easy as catching the JR Hakodate Line and riding it directly to Otaru Station; 30 minutes via rapid or 40 minutes on the local.
By car: Taking a rental car around Hokkaido is a great way to see as much of the far north of Japan as possible. It can also be a real-time-saver. Drive from Sapporo to Otaru via the Sapporo Shindo to exit Otaru IC. It’ll take just over one hour.
By bus: Similar to rental cars, the bus takes just over one hour and offers a lot of freedom and is cheaper than renting a car. The one-way bus ride to Otaru is 680 yen. Board the bus at Tokeidai-Mae at Sapporo Station and ride until Otaru Station-Mae bus terminal.