11 Days 9 Nights Hokkaido Self Drive Trip – Shin Chitose & Hakodate (Part 1)

We will start off by writing our self-drive travel experience in Hokkaido as this post allows us to share our whole trip experiences & photos, follow by adding travel guides and how to plan your Hokkaido trip posts later on.

As usual, we normally buy air tickets during promotion, so when AirAsia launched KL to Sapporo flight, we managed to book 2-way return for only RM248 per pax which is the cheapest ever flight to Hokkaido.

airasiaSince rarely AirAsia will offer this price again, it is still considered cheap if you are able to book around RM600 to RM800. Do FOLLOW us on Facebook & Instagram for flight ticket & hotel promotions.

With AirAsia X flight, we arrived morning 8 am at Shin Chitose Airport which is 45 mins away from Sapporo City. Upon arriving Hokkaido, weather was negative 15 degree Celsius and visibility were very low even our plane couldn’t move upon landing and needed tow truck assistance to the gate.

Weather Condition Upon Arriving Hokkaido

Shin Chitose Airport is an attraction itself. With plenty of dining option available, it is the best starting point to fill our tummy with authentic Japanese food!

Shin ChitoseThe famous Ebisoba Ichigen

Ebisoba IchigenFood hunt starts! Ebisoba Ichigen – Shrimp & Salt Ramen

Ebisoba Ichigen is a shrimp based ramen which is very popular in Sapporo, the soup is filled with awesomely good shrimp umami topped with oozing nitamago, tender Japanese char siew & shrimp eggs. Ichigen opens at 10 am and fills up very fast hence it is good to be there before 10 am.

HokkaidoNot too sure how it tastes, I wonder? Extra Spicy pls >.<

If your departure flight is in the morning like ours, it is recommended to tour Shin Chitose Airport during your arrival before starting your Hokkaido Trip as you won’t have time to visit it during departure day. The airport is also home to both Royce Chocolate World & Doraemon Sky Park.


Shin Chitose Airport is also the perfect place to buy omiyage (souvenirs) from Hokkaido with all famous souvenirs such ask Kinotoya, Le Tao, Shiro Koibito, Royce Chocolate, Snaffles are available in this airport. If your flight is in the late morning onwards, Shin Chitose Airport is a great choice to do your final shopping. Shops gradually open from 8.30 am. If you are taking AirAsia X flight, it might be too rush on departure day.

HokkaidoPikachu wearing Shin Chitose Airport Uniform

Our trip started with only 2 of us before my brother & sister decided to join. Since there are 4 of us we decided to self-drive. Before the trip, we were struggling to choose whether to self-drive or travel by train and bus. The unknown fear of driving in different country and inexperience in snowing condition kept us thinking.

However, by the end of the trip, we were glad that we decided to self-drive as it is more convenient to get around and to visit secluded areas, especially during winter. Jumping into the heated car is much more comfortable than shivering in coldness while waiting for public transport.

We booked our car online with ToCoo!, one of the very reliable online car rental in Japan (Will blog in details on how to self drive in another post). If you are planning to drive a few days, rent from companies that offer Hokkaido Highway Pass which allows unlimited expressway with fix fare on certain highways. Do note not all car rental companies offer this.


Note: an International driving license is needed to rent a car in Japan.

Whether to self-drive depends on where are you visiting. You don’t have to self drive if you are planning to visit Sapporo & Otaru only. But if you plan to visit several places & smaller towns like Hakodate, Niseko, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Furano, Biei, Shiretoko, it is best to self-drive.

HokkaidoOur Nissan Note – Very Fuel Efficient Car

For our first Hokkaido road trip, we decided to explore Hakodate – Lake Toya – Niseko – Otaru & Sapporo. Since Hokkaido is very big, it is impossible to visit all their cities unless you have plenty of time.

Hokkaido MapHokkaido Map with Major Cities

First Stop – Hakodate (函館)!

Hakodate is approximate 280km away from Shin Chitose, though on paper it looks like a mere 3 hours drive. During winter, always double your usual travel amount when self-driving as in winter roads are slippery due to the formation of black ice and speed limit will be reduced to 50kmph during bad weather.

So our regret was not to visit Lake Toya first since Lake Toya is located between Chitose  & Hakodate. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed the long ride along the coastal road. It took us 5 hours plus to reach Hakodate with several stopping in convenience shops for rest & food along the road.

Located at the southernmost tip of Hokkaido, Hakodate is the third largest city in Hokkaido. Founded in 1454, the city is best known for the spectacular views from Mount Hakodate and its delicious, fresh seafood with squid as its prime attraction.

Hakodate, HokkaidoAfter 5 hours drive, we arrived Hakodate and out for dinner

lucky pierrot hakodateDinner at Lucky Pierrot

Lucky Pierrot is Hakodate’s home grown fast food chain few several restaurants in Hakodate. We ordered Shrimp Burger, Lucky Cheese Burger, Chinese Chicken Burger, Chinese Chicken Curry to try.

Though famous for their Chinese Chicken Burger, we do recommend to try their Grilled Squid, Shrimp Burger & order Chinese Chicken Curry instead as we find the Chinese chicken taste much better with curry.

Lucky Pierrot, HakodateAnother must-try at Lucky Pierrot is the Grilled Squid! Very tender & delicious

Hakodate Morning MarketHakodate Morning Market

One of the must-visit attraction is definitely Hakodate Morning Market, is where a cluster of 300 shops selling fresh seafood and vegetables. In short, is where you get to taste one of the freshest seafood.

Hakodate Morning MarketSquid Fishing – After catching the squid, they will prepare fresh squid sashimi immediately

Hakodate Morning MarketOur Breakfast in Hakodate

Hakodate Morning MarketGiant Hokkaido Scallop, not the usual ones in Malaysia. Very fresh & sweet

HakodateWhile waiting for our Uni

Hakodate Fish MarketUni lover. When a dish of Uni couldn’t satisfy us at Uni Murakami

Hakodate Morning MarketMunching & keep on munching – There many stalls offering seafood snacks such as Steam Octopus, King crab bun

Hakodate Morning MarketWhich restaurant to try next?

Hakodate market

Donburi Yokocho Ichiba is a food alley arcade nearby the Hakodate Morning Market is the place to find some of the best seafood donburi in town. Also, one of Hakodate’s speciality Dancing Squid donburi is found there.

一花亭, Hakodate一花亭

一花亭, HakodateDancing Squid Don with Ikura & Ika Sashimi

一花亭, HakodateA generous bowl of Ikura, Uni & Kani Donburi

一花亭, HakodateUni, Hotate & Kani Donburi

Dancing Squid donburi is where the chef catches a live squid from the aquarium and quickly prepare the dish. As the squid is killed very fast, the muscle still reflexes hence the name dancing squid. This culinary skill is to ensure the ultimate freshness of the squid.

Video of Dancing Squid

Rest assured you do not have to gobble up the whole thing. Upon presenting the dish and upon verification of customer (and upon taking photos, videos, Snapchat, hoo ahh from tourists), the waitress will retrieve the bowl and the chef will further slice the squid into thin slices.

HakodateRussian Orthodox Church

The Motomachi area which is located at the foot of Mount Hakodate became one of the favourite areas for foreign residents. Hence you can find a wide variety of beautiful exotic townscape with Western-style buildings and slopes.

HakodateMotomachi Roman Catholic Church

HakodateOld Public Hall of Hakodate Ward

motomachi hakodate

Typical Tourist Mood

HakodateOne of the streets in Motomachi, Hakodate

HakodateIdatakimasu! Marukame Udon

HakodateKanemori Red Brick Warehouse

The Kanemori Warehouse in Hakodate is another must-visit. Located by the bay side, it was originally a port warehouse. Recently been redeveloped into an atmospheric shopping, dining and entertainment complex. This is the place to try amazing Hakodate patisserie such as Snaffles & Petite Merveille.

HakodatePetite Merveille

MelCheese Hakodate

Cheese Souffle

HakodatePumpkin & Milk Ice Cream

Petite Merveille is famous for its delicate design pastries and cheese souffle. Not only that they are also famous for incorporating pumpkin as the main ingredient in their cakes & ice cream

Japanese cheesecakes are totally different compared to other variety of cheesecake such as New York Cheesecake which is usually very solid. Japanese cheesecakes are often as soft as cotton candy with milder cheese flavour.

Petite Merveille allows customers to taste their cheese souffle and definitely recommended is their Caramel Cheese Souffle. The enrich caramel flavour yet not overpowering the mild cheese is definitely to die for.


They even make cakes super duper cute you might just buy and keep as long as possible instead of eating it.


Milkissimo offers premium gelato and originates in Hakodate, you can order the beautiful flower petal ice cream from this stall.

HakodateFlower Petal Ice Cream

HakodateSnaffles Pastry – Original, Chocolate & Caramel. Definitely, a must try. The original flavour is the best, you can forget about other flavours.

Starbuck, HakodateMarch – Limited Edition Sakura Blossom & Strawberry Frappuccino

kanemori Warehouse HakodateLet it snow.. Night view of Kemori Warehouse

Mount HakodateMount Hakodate View

Mount Hakodate was awarded 3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan describing the view from the mount top as worth taking time out to see. The ropeway requires only 3 minutes to reach the top, and there are souvenir shops and restaurant as well.

Mount HakodateSpectacular View

It is recommended to visit around 1 hour plus before sunset so you can take 3 different types of shot, afternoon, evening & night shot. During winter, remember to wear sufficient warm clothes as it is very windy & cold on the mountain.

Hakodate Beer Hakodate Beer

Hakodate BeerBeer Tasting

Hakodate Beer brew artisan local beer delivered directly from their brewer, so if you are interested to try out local beer, this is the place. It is a beer hall with 200 capacity offering a variety of food as well.

Goryokaku Tower HakodateGoryokaku Tower

Goryokaku Tower stands just next to the Goryokaku which allows the visitor a magnificent panoramic view of the entire star-shaped fort and surrounding moat unveils itself to visitors from the observation platform of the 107-meter Goryokaku Tower.

Goryokaku Tower Hakodate 2On the observatory deck

Goryokaku FortPerfect view of Goryokaku Fort

HakodateBirds eye view of Hakodate

Hakodate MagistrateHakodate Magistrate Office

Hakodate magistrate

The Hakodate Magistrate Office in the centre of Goryokaku Fort is the administrative institution established by the Shogunate during the opening of Hakodate Port. From the tower, it is only 5 mins walk to the fort goryokaku and is free for visitors to visit.


Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden

Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden is the place to see snow monkeys enjoying their onsen during winter time. It is not actually a vast space of park but more like a mini zoo with a tropical botanical garden showcase.

IMG_8410Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden

After 3 days, our Hakodate trip has ended. Our next destination – Lake Toya! Stay tune for more post.

Do FOLLOW us on Facebook & Instagram and feel free to message us if you have any questions on your travel planning. Ill try my best to help out.

Hokkaido Blog

We have started to blog our Hokkaido Self Drive Trip, feel free to read the blog for our full travel experiences in Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Car Rental

We did a self-drive trip in Hokkaido which we were glad we did especially during winter and visiting small cities. Driving made our trip much more comfortable and convenient. We rented our Car Rental online from ToCoo!

If you are planning to drive a few days, rent from companies that offer Hokkaido Highway Pass which allows unlimited expressway with fix fare on certain highways. Do note not all car rental companies offer this.

Note: an International driving license is needed to rent a car in Japan.

ToCooClick the picture to book

Hokkaido Hotels

For Hokkaido hotels, we used HotelCombined to search for the cheapest accommodation & to compare hotel prices.

About Tommy Ooi 509 Articles
Luxury Hotel Reviewer & Destination Blogger. Passionate for travel, exploring new culture & indulging divine food, Tommy has traveled to 42 countries & 140+ destinations.


      • Hi tommy.. What is your impression for self-driving in Hokkaido? Is it difficult? Did you use GPS for driving there? Could I know how much rental car in Hokkaido? And how much I have to spend for rental car in Hokkaido included car-fuel? I have plan to go Sapporo next Spring. I look forward to receiving your feedback. Thanks ~ Budy – Indonesia

        • Hi Budy, driving in Hokkaido is quite easy, just drive slowly during winter due to slippery road. If you are in hokkaido in spring, it should be no problem. Approx USD600 for 10 days with 2 full tanks. Recommended if you going few cities. But if you visit Otaru & Sapporo only, driving not needed

          • Hi, Do you have good car rental in hokkaido as we are going on early jan. looking at 10 days rental.

  1. Hi,

    How easy/difficult is to drive in Japan/Hokkaido? I am from Canada and considering a self-driving trip. I have 20 yrs driving experience but have never driven in Asia.


    • Hi Tony, if you have been driving in Canada during winter season, Japan should be normal for you just make sure snow tyre & metal is available. since most ppl like us never drove during winter before.

  2. Hi Tommy,
    Noted that there is option of “4WD” under the car rental via Tocoo, do we need this if we drive during December?

  3. Hi Tommy,
    If we travel frm period of 1/12 t 10/12, possible to see snow? If we planning for ski activities. Is this a good period?

  4. Hei thr, actually got anything special to focus for driving during winter time, bcoz tis might b my 1st time to drive during winter season…

  5. Hi Tommy
    My family and I will be visiting Hokkaido in Jan 2017. The cities we are planning to visit is in this order, starting from Hakodate – Lake Toya/ Niseko – Otaru – Sapporo. We are still not sure about self driving. I just wanted to find out if there are public transports that will take us to Lake Toya and Niseko. Appreciate your advice.

  6. Hi Tommy, how do you get to Sineko? Self drive as well? is it dangerous to drive to Niseko?
    i’m going to visit Hokkaido in mid Dec.. still consider self drive or not…
    We are 2 families with kids. Total 10 of us. we will be covering Sapporo, Otaru, Niseko, Lake Toya and Hakodate. Appreciate your advise. Thanks.

  7. i never knew there are English blogs like yours, i would say i am very impress with your article,
    actually i am thinking of writing blogs like this too, and yours is just… wow. really loved it man.

  8. Hi Tommy, hows the experience driving on winter ? Was contemplating whether should drive or by train. Will be travelling with 5 adults and 2 kids. I will be going to Hokkaido on 27/12/2016 – 06/01/2017 . . places to cover would be Hakodate, Otaru and Sapporo

  9. Hi Tommy, I am planning to self drive Hokkaido in early July with 5 adults and was thinking of this route; Sapporo, Lake Toya, Hakodate, Niseko-Otaru-Chitose for 7 days. Q1) Is 7 days sufficient? Q2) where should I stop for the night?

  10. Hi Tommy

    The car rental company you engaged, allows you to return the car at different location? Can you choose the type of model? I would love to drive a 面包车…..LOL

  11. Hi Tommy, great read. Your Hokkaido blog post has actually inspired me to go in April and do a self-drive tour too.

    How did you deal with parking though? Parking at your hotel? Parking at attraction sites? Parking in Otaru/Hakodate?

    Thanks heaps

  12. Hi another question, i plan to visit hokkaido next year March with my wife & planning self drive as well..i would like to inquire more to make this trip more convenience and relax.
    1. What is the cost of self drive car + petrol of your trips.
    2. Would you mind sharing name of the Inn you stay each cities? As i’ve check no room are available, guess too early for allotment.
    3. Do you think RM10k enough excluded flight tickets? If not roughly how much would be sufficient. Guess many would like to know for advanced planning.

    Thank you.

  13. Hi Tommy Ooi,i reaching on Sapporo 1st Nov morning… And until now its haven’t booking any hotel😅.i happen to searching on line happening saw u guys post👍is very useful..can give me a suggestion where can I start my journey on the first day arrives n each hotel should staying? In Nov will it snow? I plan of stay in snow ski… Thks slot for helping n reply. 😉

  14. This is the first blog I came across and it is really detailed and well-written. I believe it will help me a lot in my planning! Hope to find more details on accommodation soon too 🙂 Thank you!

  15. Hi, read many posts and they strongly discouraged driving in late December. Can you share more information on your self-drive trip? Was it during late December too?

  16. For car rental in Hokkaido, did you purchase the additional insurance such as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Rental Car Assistance Pack (RAP)?

  17. Hi Tommy,

    May I know how do you get the car from the company? Do you need to walk or take bus to the office to get the car? Or is it just outside the terminal?


  18. Hi Tommy, how safe is it to drive in snowy winter? We wanted to self-drive but our travel agent strongly advised us not to. Thanks.

  19. Hi Tommy
    I have read through your article on self drive Hokkaido .
    my family of 6 plan to travel to Hokkaido from 1st july to 9th july 2018 via airasia.
    I need your input on my travel plan .
    1st july arrive Sapporo in the morning.
    Drive to Hakodate and visit Nororibetsu on the way.
    Spend 2-3 th july in Hakodate . Is 2 full days enough for Hakodate?
    4th july morning Drive to Lake toya . On the way visit Niseko.
    5th July afternoon or evening Drive to Otaru. spend 6th july in Otaru.
    6th july evening drive to Sapporo. Spend 7 and 8 july in Sapporo.
    Please comment on my trip planning .
    Appreciate your reply.

  20. Hi Tommy,
    May I know how to book the car rental that can allow you to return the car early in the morning at 7am near airport as our flight is 9.20am. They always put in as 8am only is their opening for the day and can accept the returned car at 8am.
    How do you use the GPS for the places to visit, just type in the map code ??
    Any ways to use road that avoid tolls ??
    As we are going there in May 20 to May 27, where should we head to in order to see the flowers ?
    Appreciate your reply. Thanks.

    • Hi Rowena, our flight time was the same as yours. So I dropped all passengers at airport to queue for check in while I drove the car to return it. Since petrol is not cheap in japan we just follow the way shown by gps. Yes type map code

  21. Hi
    I was told driving in Sapporo city is a bit challenging and it’s advisable to take public transport. I intend to hire a 2 lit car, does hotel provide parking lot for such big car?

  22. Hi Tommy, i’m planning to visit Hokkaido this coming May with my parents & we’re planning to self drive to Hakodate. Would like to know if is easy to drive around in Hakodate? And how you deal with parking around Hakodate (mainly in area like Motomachi Park, Hachimansaka slope, Goryokaku Tower, etc)? Really appreciate your feedback ^^

  23. Hi Tommy – I am planning for a trip to Hokkaido this Dec 2018 and intend to self-drive after i read your blog. My routing will be Chitose > Lake Toya (2 nights) > Hakodate (3 nights) > Niseko (2 nights) > Sapporo (5) with a day trip to Otaru. We intend to drive from Chitose and then return car in Sapporo. However, as i searched other blogs, I am contemplating if i should self-drive due to warnings of icy road, blizzard, etc. Could you share your experience driving in Dec as my routing is likely the same as yours? I wanted to explore Rail but with the 4 of us with luggage it may be a bit cumbersome and with the cold weather, i am unsure if rail is a better option compare to self-drive. I heard from some friends that it is okay, just go slow but again some friends advised against it. Any tips and your experience sharing is appreciated. Thanks!

  24. Hi Tommy, I would like to thank you for your great blog, very detail, awesome photos, and lots of info.
    I have checked your blog for almost 2 years, and finally me and family just visited Hokkaido last week based on all info in this blog. (although I cannot afford to buy the king crab and wagyu in Marche…lol)

    Once again, thank you, wishing you all the best and having more great trips in future.
    Regards from Indonesia.

  25. Hi Tommy,

    Thanks for sharing your experience online.

    I am planning for a trip to Hokkaido next year (13 March to 25 March 2020) (12 days and 11 nights). I will be arriving at Shin-Chitose (13 March, 8am) and departing at the same airport (25 March, 5pm).

    I will be traveling with 2 seniors. Therefore winter activities like snowboarding or skiing is out for us. However, last year, I brought them to NZ and we did zip lining, RTV bikes and horse riding. If it is not so physical intensive, I will let them experience it.

    In term of budget, I will always try to keep it low. I will avoid hefty parking if possible. We are ok to stay in dorminatory. As for food, I don’t mind paying extra if it is worth the experience. Of course not to the extend of fine dining.

    Can you recommend an itinerary to me? It will be a great help.



  26. Hi Tommy,
    After reading this great blog sharing your wonderful experiences, I feel more confident now to self-drive for my coming trip to Hokkaido from April 13 to 20 (8D7N). I have Airbnb credit of RM3500 for one single booking for our group of 8 and intend to cover Sapporo, Otaru, Lake Toya, Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Furano, Biei, Asahikawa and Lake Shikaribetsu. If snow has not fully melted and ski resort still opens, we intend to visit Niseko Ski Resort. I need your advice, where should we put up since we could only book one single homestay and make day trips to the various destinations. Also, will the roads be snow free around this time and whether my draft itinerary is too challenging too cover all the places. Lastly, which 8 seaters would you recommend for us. Thank you.

    • Hi Michael, i do recommend to self drive as it is more convenient if you are hopping around few places. Just drive slower.However the number of places you mentioned, it is kinda impossible to complete within 7 nights. You will be rushing around. I doubt you can based in one place to get around all these places. Only Furano ski resort is still open that period. The best bet is Sapporo to cover Otaru, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Furano, Biei, Asahikawa. Still it would be tiring though. 1st day noboribetsu & lake toya, 2nd day otaru, 4th Furano & Biei, 5th Asahikawa, 6 & 7 Sapporo

      • Hi Tommy,
        Thanks for your prompt reply, appreciate your view on following:
        1) Based on your recommendation, I have decided to leave out Hakodate and Lake Shikaribetsu and find a homestay near Sapporo as our base.
        2) May I know whether car parking is easily available at the main attractions in Sapporo & Otaru & what are the fees and method of payment? Or do you think that it’s better to use the subway for touring Sapporo & Otaru.
        3) Is there any type of 8 seaters van with good luggage space that do not require the “D“ licence?
        Thanks again,

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