The charming city of Hakodate is located on the island of Hokkaido which sees a large number of domestic tourists but sadly far fewer international travelers. If you are going to make the trip to Hokkaido, then Hakodate is a great place to visit at the start of your journey as it is located in the south of the island and also has the claim to fame of being one of the most beautiful spots in all of Japan.
Hakodate lies in the shadow of the impressive Mount Hakodate and you can spend time walking in the leafy streets here and enjoy sights that include museums, handicraft workshops, former merchants’ homes and delicious street food stalls.
Another highlight of Hakodate is the gorgeous countryside that surrounds it, so if you have time you can also take several engaging day trips to lush parklands as well as national parks and quaint local villages.
Also make sure to spend some time checking out the craft scene in Hakodate as this part of Japan is known for its talented artisans who make curios such as delightful music boxes and glass ware.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Hakodate…
1. Explore Tsugaru Fort
Tsugaru Fort is the crowning glory of Hakodate, literally, as it sits atop spectacular Mount Hakodate.
It would have been used during the Second World War and you can now see how it would have operated as a battery at that time.
To get to the fort you can take a ropeway to the top of Mount Hakodate and walk from there which takes you past the west battery and you can then hike onwards to the east and south batteries.
There are some picnic tables outside the fort where you can stop for refreshments and you can also take in the views back across the city.
2. Shop at the Morning Market
If you want to get a look at the local produce for which Hokkaido is famous then consider a trip to the Morning Market which is located inside a series of buildings that overlook the main bay.
Here you will find a wide variety of local treats including piles of fresh seafood.
Hakodate is known in particular for its juicy crabs which you can buy fresh, or you can move on to one of the delicious seafood restaurants located next to the market.
Here you can try one of the local specialties which is a rice bowl known as donburi which is loaded with toothsome freshly caught seafood.
3. Tour Fort Goryokaku
Fort Goryokaku was built in 1864 and has the claim to fame of being the first fort of its kind to be constructed in Japan using the Western style.
It would have been the seat of the Ezo Republic in the days of old and it was also constructed in the shape of a star, so when you climb to the top and look back over the structure you will be able to see the unique design.
Not all of the fort still stands as much of it was knocked down in the days of old but you can also go for a walk here and take in the pretty cherry trees that line the pathways.
These are particularly resplendent in the spring time when the cherry blossom season is in full swing.
4. Try the squid
As Hakodate is located next to the sea, it stands to reason that seafood is a main component on many menus here.
The signature seafood however in this part of Japan is the squid and you can try this in a number of dishes all over town.
One of the best however is called Hakodate shio ramen which is a dish made with ramen noodles which are made using squid stock instead of the more common pork.
Another dish to try on your travels around Hakodate is the ika-meshi which is rice stuffed with the ubiquitous cephalopod.
5. Visit the Nakamura-ke Residence
If you want to get out of Hakodate proper for the day then consider a trip to neighboring Esashi which is some 70 kilometers away.
This part of Japan was known for its herring trade in the 18th and 19th century and this would have turned it into an important central hub in the days of old.
Now you can see how Esashi would have looked during that period by visiting the Nakamura-ke Residence which is a graceful home built in the traditional style using cypress wood and stone.
This home would have belonged to a rich merchant and it is famous as it was built by slotting the wood together with the stones without using any nails, which makes it even more impressive and well worth a visit.
6. Enjoy the views from Goryokaku Tower
Goryokaku Tower is located close to Fort Goryokaku and is famous as an attraction thanks to its viewing platform which stands at a height of 90 meters.
Here you can look down over the neighboring Fort Goryokaku, and take in its unique star shaped design and there are also explanations here of how the Enomoto and Ezo republics would have operated here in the days of old.
This is a great way to take in some stunning views and also learn some of the history of Hakodate at the same time.
7. Attend the Port Festival
If you are in town at the beginning of August then make sure that you do not miss the chance to attend the Port Festival in Hakodate.
The festival takes place over six days and this is the main event in town, centered on the port area.
One thing that the festival is best known for its Squid Dance which celebrates Hakodate’s most famous and best loved foodstuff.
8. Walk around Motomachi
Motomachi is known for being the historical heart of Hakodate and you can check out a range of gorgeous architecture when you are here.
This part of town is known for its consulate buildings and churches ach as the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the former British Consulate building.
These are all built in the former European style, and you can also check out the Old Public Hall which was built in the 1900s.
Another spot to look out for on your heritage walk include the Gokuku Sheine which was used as a cemetery for members of the imperial house who died during the famous Battle of Hakodate.
9. Visit the Hakodate Museum of Northern Peoples
The Hakodate Museum of the Northern Peoples is located inside a building that would once have served as the Japan Bank and was built in 1926. The museum is an ode to the Ainu culture and offers you a fascinating look at this indigenous culture which is not well known outside of Japan.
You can also learn about other indigenous groups in Japan such as the Sakhalin who are from an island which is to the north of Hokkaido that is now a part of Russia.
10. Try the street food
If you want to try some of the most delicious street food in Hakodate then you need to head to the old town marketplace known as Daimon Yokocho where you will find some 25 street food stalls serving up some of the best dishes in town.
These include the famous ramen made with squid stock which is the signature dish of Hakodate as well as donburi rice bowls which are filled with fresh seafood.
11. Walk around the Red-Brick Warehouse District
One of the signature features of Hakodate is the Red-Brick Warehouse District which faces the harbor and is one of the most historically significant parts of the city.
If you go for a walk here you will be able to take in a range of red brick buildings which would have been built at the start of the 20th century when Hakodate was making a name for itself as an important port town in the region.
They are now restored to their former glory and there is also a shopping area here where you can stock up on local souvenirs.
12. Have a drink at Tea Shop Yuhi
Tea Shop Yuhi is located inside a building that dates from 1885 and would once have been used as the Hakodate Quarantine Office.
The teahouse is charmingly made all out of wood and you can sit here and get a drink and look out over the harbor.
The tea that is served here is the traditional Japanese green tea for which the country is famous and you can also snack on local wagashi which are Japanese sweets that are served with a side of pickles.
13. Shop for souvenirs
Hakodate is known in Japan for its strong handicraft culture and you can stock up on quaint souvenirs here that are made in the region.
Hakodate is most famous for its glass ware and there are a number of shops all over town where you can watch local glass blowers at work and also have a go at blowing your own glass objects.
Other options for souvenirs include delightful music boxes and you can buy these in the area close to the former Meijikan Post Office.
14. Have a drink at Hakodate Beer
If you are looking for a drink in Hakodate then why not head for Hakodate Beer? This beer hall and pub makes its beer using water that comes from neighboring Mount Hakodate making it the quintessential local tipple.
They have a number of different blends of beer that you can try, and you can also buy bottles to take home with you for a taste of Hakodate at home.
They also serve toothsome local bar snacks like signature fried squid plucked straight from the bay of Hakodate.
15. Climb Hakodate-yama
Put simply, the main attraction in Hakodate is Hakodate-yama which is also known as Mount Hakodate.
The night views from the peak are said to be some of the best in all of Japan, and the summit is located at around 334 meters.
To get to the top of Hakodate-yama you can take the ropeway or you can also hike to the top if you are feeling active.
It takes around an hour to walk up the hill to the viewing platform although the routes are only open from May to October.
You can of course choose to go in the daytime, but the big draw here is the chance to see the town twinkling beneath you at night, surrounded by the inky waters of the harbor.
If possible try to hit the peak right before sunset so that you can take in the fiery orange light show followed by the night views.