15 Things To Do in Otaru

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Otaru Unga
Source: Toomore Chiang

Otaru is a small port city that was once known as the bustling trade quarters of the area in the 1800s. Otara has plenty of history to explore and local festivals to join. If you need to take a day trip from Sapporo, Otaru is only about half an hour northwest by train.

1. Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held every February in Otaru. This festival decorates the city in lights and small snow statues for ten days. There are two main official festival areas which get lit up every day of the festival from 17:00 to 21:00: the Unga Kaijo area and the Temiyasen Kaijo area. Locals shops and businesses get very involved in the festival as well, it is quite the thing to see if you are visiting in February.


  • Price: Free
  • Access: The Unga Kaijo area beside Otaru Canal is a ten minute walk straight down the main road from Otaru Station, while the Temiyasen Kaijo area lies about half way between the station and the canal.
  • Hours: 17:00 to 21:00
  • Festival Official Website

2. Otaru Canal

Otaru Canal has a deep history as the central part of the city’s port in the first half of the 20th century. The canal is the perfect place to have an afternoon stroll during your visit, where you can admire the artists painting along the canal. If you decided to wait to take a romantic walk in the evening you will be greeted by old-fashioned gas lamps to help set the mood.


  • Price: Free
  • Access: The Otaru Canal is a ten minute walk or a two minute bus ride down the main road from Otaru Station.
  • Hours: 24 Hours

3. Nikka Whiskey Yoichi Distillery

Yoichi DistillerySource: Norio NAKAYAMA

Nikka Whisky, one of Japan’s top whiskey makers, has its main distillery in Yoichi, a town only a few minutes away from Otaru. This Distillery maintains its original stone buildings and offers a walking tour showing how the whiskey is made. The tour takes about an hour and offers a lot of interesting information.


  • Price: Free
  • Access:The Nikka Whisky Distillery is located just a few steps west of Yoichi Station on the JR Hakodate Line.
  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
  • Nikka Official Website

4. Herring Mansions

During the early 20th century when herring fishing was a large industry in the area, the large Herring Mansions were built by wealthy fishermen. They used these residencies to process the fish and as a living space for themselves and their employees. Tools and other interesting artifacts are on display inside the mansions.


  • Price: 300 yen
  • Access: Herring Mansions is located five kilometers outside of the city center and can be reached from Otaru Station by city bus number 10 or 11.
  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
  • Herring Mansions Official Website

5. Sakaimachi Street

Sakaimachi Street is a beautifully preserved merchant street in central Otaru. The street is only a short walk from the city’s canal area. This street houses most of the cafes and restaurants that the area is known for.


  • Price: Free
  • Access: Sakaimachi Street is a ten minute walk from Otaru Station or a five minute walk from Minami-Otaru Station.
  • Hours: Depends on indivdual shop hours.

6. Music Box Museum

Music Box MuseumSource: Halfrain

The Music Box Museum is actually not just one building, but several buildings scattered around the southern end of Sakaimachi Street! These buildings are filled with a wide arrange of music boxes, some of which you can buy and take home if you like.


7. Glass Workshops

When the herring fishing industry started to have its decline in the 1950s, the makers of glass buoys had to find other ways to support themselves. They quickly shifted over to making glassware for locals and people of nearby towns. Otaru still benefits greatly from the reputation of its glassware, which you can buy and take home to show-off to your friends.


  • Price: Free
  • Access: Most glass workshops can be found on Sakaimachi Street.
  • Hours: Each workshop works on individual hours.

8. Museum of Venetian Art

This museum is five-stories high and is dedicated to the arts of Venice. The local glass producer Kitaichi opened the art museum and has handled its upkeep as well. Visitors will find displays of Venetian glassware, clothing and furniture, and its most well-known feature: a full sized gondola.


9. Bank of Japan Museum

The Otaru branch of the Bank of Japan first opened in 1912 and was converted into a museum in 2003. The Museum is known for its creative displays of Japanese money and how it has changed throughout history. Visitors can also take a tour of an old vault inside the bank where visitors can feel the weight of a hundred million yen.


10. Otaru City Museum

The Otaru City Museum helps to show visitors the important history of the town of Otaru. It is  made up of two separate museums: a conventional history museum beside Otaru Canal and a railway museum on the grounds of the town’s railway yard.


  • Price: 500 Yen for both museums
  • Access: The Canal Building is located just beside Otaru Canal. The Railway Museum is a further 15-20 minute walk to the west.
  • Hours: 9:30 to 17:00
  • Otaru City Museum Offical Website

11. Kita-no-aisukurimu Yasan

This amazing ice-cream shop is known all over Otaru as a must-go for all visitors. It is housed in a converted warehouse that was built in 1892. They include some seriously crazy flavors. If you’re brave enough you can taste a flavor like beer or squid-ink!


  • Price: Ice Cream starting from 350 Yen
  • Access: 1-2-18 Ironai, Look for the large ice cream banner along the canal.
  • Hours: 9:30 to 17:00

12. Otaru Soko No 1

If you are looking for something to do in the evening in Otaru, look no further. This restaurant is housed in a converted warehouse on the harbor side of the canal. Sōku No 1 is known in town for offering  a nice selection of microbrewed drafts, plus German culinary fare.


13. Nichingin-dori

This is a famous neighborhood in Otaru that is worth a walk through. Once known as the ‘Wall Street of the North’, Nichigin-dōri is a taste of high-class. The neighborhood is full of elegant buildings that speak to Otaru’s history as a bustling financial center.


  • Price: Free
  • Access: Nichingin-dori is about 5 minutes west of the Canal.
  • Hours: 24 hours

14. Nihon Yusen Building

Before the collapse of the herring industry in Otaru, many of major fisheries shipping orders were processed here in this building. The interior of the building has been restored to its former glory and provides an eye-opening look at the great wealth that the town had during its heyday.


  • Price: 300 yen
  • Access: Located behind the park at the northern end of the canal is the Nihon Yūsen Company Building
  • Hours: 9:30 to 17:00

15. Otaru Rickshaw Tour

TourSource: Tokyo Times

Get a city tour from the experts!  There are four tour options, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. These tours give you a great view and understanding of the four different parts of the city from an English speaking tour guide.


  • Price: Starting prices from 4000 yen
  • Access:Otaru Asakusa Bridge – 30 minute option. Otaru JR Train Station – 45 minute, 1 hour and 2 hour option
  • Hours: 9:30-17:30
  • Book an Otaru Rickshaw Tour

Have a good trip and travel!