Wakkanai is located on the island of Hokkaido and also has the claim to fame of being the northernmost city in all of Japan. It also encompasses the neighboring Soya region and many domestic travelers come here to check out the snowy scenery and the slower pace of life here.
As this is the northernmost spot in the country, there are a range of attractions dedicated to marking this feat of geography, and you can also check out a range of northern animals such as cute seals. As you would imagine, you can also enjoy winter sports here such as skiing and there are a range of resorts that are located close to Wakkanai.
The scenery in this part of the country is also unparallel and you can spend time biking in the region and whizzing up and down rolling green hillsides that look out over sparkling waters as Wakkanai is located next to the sea.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Wakkanai…
1. Visit Cape Soya
Cape Soya is also known as Soya Misaki and is around 30 kilometers outside of Wakkanai proper.
Cape Soya looks out over Soya Bay and this is also known as the northernmost part of Hokkaido, which also means that it is the northernmost part of the entire country (that you can visit anyway). To mark the spot there is a Northernmost Point Monument and a Statue of Mamiya Rinzo who was a famous Japanese explorer and many domestic tourists consider this the prime attraction in the area, so be ready for some crowds.
2. Explore Wakkanai Park
Wakkanai Park is also called Wakkanai Koen and you can spend time here walking past some 4,000 cherry trees for which the park is famous.
One of the great things about the park is that it is located on a hill and this affords you the chance to take in the spectacular views across the city.
You can also walk to the Hokumon Shrine which sits at the top of the hill and there are a number of trails to explore on your way down.
3. Try the local food
Wakkanai is located next to the sea so with that in mind you can expect a huge range of seafood here.
Some of the highlights include freshly caught fish which is simply frilled as well as crab, octopus and shrimp.
This part of Japan is also known for its dried seafood industry and you can try the best and freshest local far around the Minami-Wakkanai Station.
4. Check out the seals at Bakkai
Bakkai is just outside of Wakkanai and this is also the spot where you will find the spotted seals which love to congregate here from November through to May.
The seals lounge around on the rocks and you can watch how the fishermen here go about their business seemingly oblivious to their visiting neighbors.
If you are in Hokkaido at this time then make sure not to miss this cute spectacle.
5. Have fun at Wakkanai Youth Science Center
Wakkanai Youth Science Center first opened its doors in 1974 and you can check out a range of scientific hands-on galleries which are aimed at teaching little ones about science.
There is also a very popular Arctic section which tells you about the exploration of Sakhalin and the Arctic region as a whole.
There is also a Planetarium here and some other galleries which will tell you more about the geography and topography of this part of Japan.
6. Soak in an onsen
Onsen are traditional Japanese bathhouses and can be found all over the country.
One of the reasons why you should make the effort to visit one in Wakkanai however is that many of these are located outside and look out across the sea.
One of the most famous is Riyu Harbor Onsen which, as the name suggest has open air tubs that face the harbor.
You can also try Wakkanai Onsen which is the most famous onsen in Wakkanai and looks out over the gorgeous Rishiri Mountains.
7. Check out Breakwater Dome
Breakwater Dome dates from the 1930s and is basically a breakwater which measures some 1,401 feet.
The dome is also made up of 70 pillars which are built in the Roman style and this is one of the most recognizable structures in the area.
If you visit from July to August you can also check out a range of activities that take place in the arched hallway such as karaoke events and even a market.
8. Explore Lake Onuma Bird Observatory
Lake Onuma is located just outside of Wakkanai and is known for its Tundra Swans who migrate here to and from Siberia every year.
To celebrate their migration you can even enjoy the annual swan festival in May, and there are a range of other avians to enjoy such as herons and White-fronted geese.
To check out the birds you can stand in rustic log cabins and access free telescopes or binoculars.
9. Shop at Fukuko-ichiba
Fukuko-ichiba is the name for a market complex which is filled with cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
The entire complex is designed in the heritage style and is meant to look like Wakkanai as it would have been in the days of old.
People come here to shop for souvenirs but it is also a pretty spot if you want to take some pictures.
10. Do some winter sports
As you would imagine, Wakkanai is known for its winter sports and you can try these for yourself if you come to the Komadori Ski Center.
Here you will find a ski resort which is part of Wakkanai koen and there are some lifts here and three short slopes which are a good choice for beginner skiers.
You can also rent out snowmobiles in the area around Wakkanai and go whizzing over the snow in the winter season or you can also have a go at snowshoeing if you want something with a slower pace.
11. Dine on some Russian food
One thing you may notice in Wakkanai is that much of the signage is in Russian which is a nod to its geography more than anything.
With that in mind you can also try some Russian flavors here and one of the best places to do this is at Pechika.
Here you will find traditional Russian dishes such as pelmeni which are dumplings as well as pirozhki which are stuffed buns.
The owner often sings Russian songs to really get you in the mood and you can of course toast the night with some vodka and beer.
12. Visit Noshappu Cold Water Aquarium
Noshappu Cold Water Aquarium is easy to visit as part of a trip to the Science Center which is in an adjacent building and has the claim to fame of being the northernmost aquarium in all of Japan.
Here you will find a range of northern animals such as seals and penguins and you can also find other fish from all other over the world here.
There are several outdoor pools with feeding sessions as well as outdoor and indoor tanks.
13. Attend the Japan Cup Dogsled Race
One of the main attractions in Wakkanai is known as the Japan Cup Dogsled Race and this happens annually every February.
As you would imagine from the name, you get to watch as the dogs race over the frozen plains and the event starts in Onuma.
One thing to note is that it will be very cold at this time and without much in the way of scenery the winds can be extremely strong so you need to dress the part if you are going to stand out and watch the race for a long period of time.
14. Visit Wakkanai Centennial Memorial Tower
Wakkanai koen is the name for a hill which is topped with a dramatic tower.
The tower dates from 1978 and it was built in honor of the town of Wakkanai.
If you wish you can ascend to the top of the tower and check out the views from there.
When the weather is clear you can sometimes even see as far as Russia, so this is definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.
15. Go for a bike ride
One of the best ways to get around Wakkanai, especially in the summer months, is to take a bike ride along the north coast.
As part of the ride you will get to cycle past amazing seaweed farms that harvest and dry the seaweed in the sun, and once you get to the end of the coastline you will be greeted by a scenic lighthouse.
When the weather is good here you can look out across to neighboring Rishiri and Rebun and you can also take in the bracing coastal air and then enjoy the rolling green mountains that encircle this part of Hokkaido.