The Romantic town of Otaru is an ode to Hokkaido's history, a pleasant harbour town located just 30 minutes north-west of Sapporo. Heritage buildings line its beautiful canals and many of the city's original warehouses showcase a 19th century charm. Visiting Otaru is a very popular Sapporo day trip, especially with Japanese tourists. However, its quaint canal district makes Otaru a charming place to spend the night and soak up local flavours.
Sakaimachi Street is probably the most attractive thoroughfare, with old brown-stone buildings standing over small market stalls. Follow the road to the coast and it's possible to visit Herring Mansion, then the City Museum, which illuminates the tales from Otaru's history as a herring centre. Tasting the oily fish is a big part of the Otaru experience, and the town has many other unusual culinary specialties. Canal District is the true heart of the city and nostalgic warehouses surround the picturesque waterways. Many people combine Otaru with a visit to neighbouring Toichi town, where the world-famous Nikka Whisky Distillery is located.
It only takes half an hour to travel between Sapporo Train Station and JR Otaru Station by train. Constructed in 1880, this was Hokkaido's first ever railway line. Upon arrival, walk downhill from the station and it's only ten minutes to the canal and port area. Otaru is easily explored on foot and the main attraction is to wander around and take in the attractive buildings and streets.
Otaru was previously the financial and business capital of Hokkaido, flourishing due to its status as an open trade port during the early part of the 20th century. A great dedication to this history is the Bank of Japan building, which is now a museum.