If you’re after the legendary powder of Hokkaido you may wonder what are the best things to do in Niseko. A ski trip to Japan is a once in a lifetime experience, and you will certainly want to make the most of it by enjoying everything on offer.
We’ve spent several weeks over the years enjoying the legendary ski town of Niseko and while our first trip there was all about snowboarding at the resort, this past trip we ventured out a bit more. Here are some of the best things to do in Niseko in the winter – and yes it involves other Niseko activities besides skiing or snowboarding!
Where is Niseko?
Niseko is a town located in the Iwate Prefecture on the island of Honshu in Japan. It is located in the western part of the prefecture, near the border with Akita Prefecture, and is well known in the ski world for its epic powder dumps in the winter.
The town is in a mountainous region, with the Niseko Annupuri mountain range to the east and the Niseko Moiwa mountain range to the west. It is about a four-hour drive from the city of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture.
The Best Things to do in Niseko
One of the main reasons you likely came to Niseko in the winter is to ski or snowboard in the legendary JAPOW powder. Even if you are not an avid skier or snowboarder no trip to Niseko is complete without taking at least a few turns on one of the four ski resorts here. Read on for more information about each.
If the mountain had a “main” area it would be Niseko Hirafu. Hirafu is where most of the action takes place off the ski hill. It has a bus station, information center, bars, hotels, hostels, restaurants, coffees shops, and ski shops. All of this is within walking distance of the gondola. When someone refers to the town of Niseko they’re referring to Hirafu.
The Hirafu ski area is the largest of the four resorts and is of course supplied with amazing powder and terrain. You’ll find night skiing every night in Hirafu, meaning you can do a few laps before heading into town for some sake.
However, all of this action means that Grand Hirafu is the busiest and most popular of all the mountains. Since it’s the most accessible, you’ll find crowds at the base, lift lines for the gondola, and plenty of ski schools. To break away from the crowds, keep going higher, into the trees, or to one of the other resort areas.
Niseko Green Leaf and Hilton Niseko Village are at the base of Niseko, all owned by YTL Resorts. We stayed at the amazing Niseko Green Leaf hotel and spent many days hanging out on this side of the mountain. Niseko Village is serviced by a long gondola and provides visitors leg-burning long runs down to the bottom or access to the neighboring resorts.
Niseko Village has incredible off-piste powder and some epic black runs. It’s a short hike up past the ski patrol building and old gondola station to access one of our favorite areas.
The Niseko Green Leaf has a ski school in the hotel and a fantastic learners area. Like Hirafu, Niseko Village offers night skiing on the lower half of the mountain.
Next door to the Hilton Niseko is a small shopping and dining area in traditional Japanese architecture. We enjoyed a few good meals at Yang Shu Ten for lunch.
Niseko Hanazono has a variety of terrain for everyone. There are great beginner, and intermediate runs and fabulous tree runs for when the powder hits. Hanazono also has a terrain park for park riders and is home to the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono.
It’s also home to one of the most famed powder areas in Niseko Strawberry Fields. It’s not so much a field but a run through some epic trees that hold plenty of the snow.
When Hirafu felt crowded, we found ourselves exploring the off-piste offerings of Hanazono for a much quieter experience.
Annupuri is known for being a quiet, family-friendly resort with mellow runs. They have great tree runs that are super fun on a powder day! The only issue with Annupuri is it’s a bit disconnected from the other three resorts. So when the top lifts are closed, the only way to access Annupuri is with the shuttle bus, which can take a long time and is often overcrowded at peak times.
Have a Bowl of Ramen
There’s nothing better than a piping hot bowl of ramen after a day out in the snow in Northern Japan. Ramen is one of the best Japanese foods you could possibly have, and we found Niseko Ramen to offer great value in Hirafu.
Niseko Ramen is a good lunch and dinner spot for those on a budget. For ¥1000, hungry skiers and snowboarders can get themselves a delicious bowl of their famous “Niseko Ramen.”
What is Niseko Ramen you ask? It’s a potato cream vichyssoise topped over traditional and hearty miso. Niseko is known for its potatoes, so the chef here wanted to create ramen unique to the area. It’s absolutely delicious – but you’ll likely have to queue as the restaurant is small!
- Address: 179-36 Yamada, Kutchan (Link)
Apres in The Village
The Japanese Apres scene is nothing compared to Europe or North America, but there are a few ski bum bars to grab a drink at in Niseko Village. Here you can come and drink sake until your hearts content. Bar Gyu+, Toshiro’s Bar, and Baddies Niseko are a few fantastic places to check out first.
Go Cat Skiing
Cat skiing is one of the best things to do in Niseko. What is cat skiing? This is a type of backcountry skiing or snowboarding that involves being transported to remote areas of the mountain by a snowcat, a vehicle that is designed for traveling over snow and ice. Think endless powder without all the work of touring!
Niseko Powder Cats provides guided cat skiing tours in the Niseko backcountry, with options for both advanced and intermediate skiers and snowboarders for ¥65,000 per person. Make sure to specify your level when booking.
NAC Adventure Park
A fun thing to do in Niseko for families is the NAC Adventure Park! You can get your adrenaline pumping on more than two acres of beautiful land here.
Adventure Park has multiple courses with varying degrees of difficulty up to 13 meters up in the air. Swing from tree to tree from the safety of your harness leash and enjoy the scenic snowy view!
Tea Ceremony at Somoza
Somoza is a one-of-a-kind art gallery deep in the Hokkaido forest. The concept here is a combination of Japanese craftsmanship, history, and scenery all housed in a beautiful old Japanese farmhouse in the woods.
Somoza has its own upstairs tea room where tea ceremony rituals are performed. Attending a Japanese tea ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can see the traditional way of preparing and drinking green tea on a tatami floor. It’s here you can enjoy the atmosphere and hospitality of the host. Reservations for this activity should be booked in advance.
Go for a Night Time Snowshoe
One of the best things to do in Niseko for families of all shapes in sizes is go for a snowshoe walk in the beautiful forest! Snowshoe tours are run by NAC and start at the foot of Mt. Yotei.
When guided with NAC you’ll head out for the most beautiful river in Niseko “Hangetsu-ko” or the “Shiribetsu-gawa” and end your hike at the frozen Half Moon Lake. It’s here you can appreciate the beauty of the Japanese forest.
Soak in an Onsen
One of the greatest things to do in Niseko is to soak in an onsen – especially in the winter – and especially after a day on the mountain. Visiting a Japanese Onsen while in Japan should be at the top of your things to do in Japan list!
An onsen is a Japanese hot spring where visitors are typically separated by sex and can soak naked in the warm geothermal water, usually outside. It’s so relaxing especially during the winter months and a unique cultural experience. You’ll find onsens all over Japan as it is a volcanically active country and there are thousands scattered throughout Hokkaido and Honshu.
Don’t be shy! Everyone in an onsen is naked and no one cares. You may not wear a bathing suit in an onsen and some traditional onsens even ban tattoos, due to Yakuza, so check accordingly if you have tattoos. Onsens are separated by sex and you are required to wash your body before entering. Watch some YouTube videos before visiting if you are concerned, or check out my detailed how-to guide.
There are a few sublime onsens in Niseko. We frequented the onsen at Niseko Green Leaf when we were staying there and it is free to hotel guests. The best onsens in town include:
- Yunosato Onsen
- Niseko Grand Hirafu Onsen
- Niseko Annupuri Onsen Yugokorotei
- Goshiki Onsen
- Niseko Hana-no-Yu Onsen
It is worth noting that many of the onsens in Niseko have strict rules about bathing attire and tattoos, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these rules before visiting.
Day Trip to Otaru
One of the main complaints I find that I hear about Niseko is that it isn’t very Japanese. Niseko is an international ski resort, and with that comes international hotel chains, restaurants, bars, young Australian workers, and everything in between. While it makes traveling in Japan a bit easier for first-time guests I actually find that it’s the only place I’ve ever been in Japan that doesn’t actually feel like Japan.
To get back into real Japan in under an hour I highly recommend heading to the seaside town of Otaru. Otaru is a port city in Hokkaido, world-renowned for its fresh seafood and Japanese desserts. It’s worth a day trip here just to check out the beautiful canal, and then I guarantee you’ll end up staying even longer walking around eating all the delicious (and budget friendly compared to Niseko) Japanese food you can.
Otaru is easily reached via train from the JR Kutchan station (just 10 minutes outside of Niseko Hirafu).
Fine Dining in Niseko
Japan is well known for being foodie heaven and if you’re after some of those culinary delights you should definitely make stops in Otaru and Sapporo. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some sublime meals in Niseko.
The resort is well know for having the best nightlight and restaurant scene of any Japanese ski resort. We had tremendous meals at Sushi Kato (seriously one of the best meals of our life) and An Dining where we enjoyed dishes such as Hokkaido Snow Crab and Hokkaido Waygu Beef.
The good news for foodies is that the prime season for seafood in Hokkaido is from November to March while the snow falls.
Day Trip to Yoichi
Another easily accessible town just 45 minutes from Niseko and Kutchan is Yoichi. Most visitors will skip over Yoichi on their way to Niseko, Otaru, or Sapporo but it’s definitely worth a few hours stop!
Yoichi is a coastal town, with a few nice beaches to enjoy in the summer. In the winter it’s best to get off the train and head straight to the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery, the birthplace of Japanese whisky. It’s free to enter and explore the distillery grounds and they also offer free Nikka whisky tastings!
Day Trip to Rusutsu
Rusutsu is another great Hokkaido ski resort that gets more and more well known each year. It’s only a 30-minute drive away from Niseko base area and is a good place to head when you feel like you’ve skied a majority of Niseko. Rusutsu gets similar snowfall to Niseko, but being that it’s not as internationally known it sees far fewer visitors.
This doesn’t mean that it’s an unheard-of Japan pow town, it’s still got quite a few visitors kicking around. It’s a fun place to head for a few days if you’re seeking some fresh lines.
This festival only comes around once a year, typically in February and if you happen to be in Niseko during this time you should definitely make the journey to Kutchan for Yukitopia.
This is a beloved winter festival in Kutchan, the town only 10 minutes drive away from Niseko. It’s at this festival you can enjoy a very local atmosphere with fun games, delicious Japanese food, and events for all children to enjoy!
Niseko Cheese Factory
Visit Niseko Cheese for some mouth watering fresh cheese made from Hokkaido dairy cows. The small cheese factory makes around 20 different kinds of cheese and all of them are amazingly delicious. Make sure to try the deserts as well such as the milk tart, cheese pudding and ice cream.
Even if you don’t make it to Niseko Cheese you should absolutely hunt down some Hokkaido milk tarts or cheesecake while in the reagion – seriously they are life changing. Luckily they sell both at the airport so it’s the first and last thing we do on the island of Hokkaido.
More Things To Know About Niseko
Map Of Things To Do in Niseko
When is the Best Time To Visit Hokkaido?
Hokkaido is Japan’s Siberian north. Home to some truly polar temperatures that plunge way below zero, Hokkaido is home to prime snowboarding and skiing and if this is your inerest the best time to travel here is between December and February. Also some of the wildest, most remote slices of nature to be found in Japan.
If you are wondering when the best time to visit Hokkaido is, we’ve got the answers for you. Whether you want to hike under clear skies or throw yourself down a ski slope, we’ve got you covered with our handy guide.
MORE JAPAN TRAVEL
Hopefully this helped you prepare for a trip to Niseko Ski Resort. For more travel around Japan see below:
- The Best Restaurants in Niseko
- 25 IMPORTANT Things to Know About Niseko Ski Resort
- Where to Stay in Niseko, Three Amazing Hotels By Vacation Niseko
- 30 Japanese Culture Facts That Will BLOW Your Mind
- When is the Best Time to Visit Hokkaido?
Japan Travel Planning Resources
- Packing Guide — Check out our Japan Packing List to help pack your bags and ensure you don’t leave anything at home.
- Protect Your Trip — We don’t travel without travel insurance, and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Adapter – Find a good adapter to keep your electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Book an Experience – See all the best experiences and tours in Japan here.
- Get a Japan Rail Pass (Buy Here) – They make traveling around Japan much easier and cheaper. Read all about if it’s worth it here.
- Travel Shoes – Allbirds are the ultimate travel shoe. They are sustainable and last forever while looking good. Read our full Allbirds review.