April 13, 2024

Niseko, found on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, has long attracted skiers and snowboarders thanks to its epic snowfalls — each season, the mountains in this region get more than 600 inches of fluffy “champagne powder.”

But even if you aren’t a powderhound — or are keener on visiting in summer — Niseko is still an exciting destination, and one that will only become more popular in the coming years.

Here’s a guide to the best experiences in Niseko, from activities and dining to accommodations.

What to Do Year-Round in Niseko

There are incredible ski resorts all over Hokkaido, but arguably, the most lauded is Niseko United. Thanks to cold temperatures and low humidity, the snow is famously airy and, considering that there are more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain spread across four interconnected resorts (Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono), it’s easy to find untouched pockets of snow, even days after a storm. If it’s your first time in Niseko, consider spending a day with Hanazono Powder Guides — the operator knows all the best runs, especially on powder days. 

Niseko’s snow is famously airy, making skiing and snowboarding a winter highlight.
Niseko’s snow is famously airy, making skiing and snowboarding a winter highlight.
Credit: 2024 Niseko Tourism

In recent years, Niseko has been trying to position itself as an all-seasons destination and has invested considerable resources in creating unique summertime experiences. For thrill-chasers, various companies run daily mountain-biking, horseback-riding, rock-climbing, whitewater-rafting and ziplining trips. 

Onsen (hot spring) culture is huge year-round in Niseko, and if you’re looking for a truly authentic experience, head to Goshiki Onsen, a rustic hot spring offering gender-segregated areas. For something co-ed, Niseko Grand Hotel has a mixed-gender pool and incredible mountain views. 

Those interested in better understanding how Niseko Annupuri mountain has influenced the local art scene will enjoy St-Gallery (the largest in town), the adjacent Somoza and Shiguchi galleries (found in a 150-plus-year-old farmhouse), as well as Katachi Gallery (a co-op in the center of Hirafu), among dozens of other showrooms and museums. 

What to Eat and Drink

While there are excellent eateries and watering holes across the Niseko area, Hirafu — the largest of the villages — has the lion’s share of restaurants and bars. There, you’ll find everything from sushi spots and soba shops to pizzerias and barbecue joints.

The Hokkaido region is famous around Japan for its ramen, and one of the busiest spots is Afuri, where noodles are made fresh daily, and yuzu features heavily. The Yuzu Shio Ramen — topped with bamboo shoots, mizuna greens, chashu (braised pork belly), a jammy egg and nori — is one of the most-ordered options. Another solid ramen option is Hanazono Edge Restaurant & Bar, which offers steaming bowls of soup with whole legs of snow crab at a surprisingly reasonable price. 

Suggest that clients make restaurant reservations in advance, especially in peak season and at popular eateries.
Suggest that clients make restaurant reservations in advance, especially in peak season and at popular eateries.
Credit: 2024 Niseko Tourism

Charcoal-grilled lamb is another famed menu item in Hokkaido. Typically, the barbecue spots serving this popular item operate on an “all you can eat (and drink) in 90 minutes” model. At Genghis Khan, diners are given a cast-iron hotplate to grill various cuts of meat and vegetables.

In peak season, it can be challenging to get restaurant reservations, especially at the perennially popular restaurants, so if all else fails, there are a handful of food truck areas where chefs whip up everything from crispy gyoza and soba to burgers. 

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Most restaurants have Sapporo on draft, but if you’re looking for a craft cocktail, consider Bar Gyu+. There’s no sign outside the pint-size bar — drinkers enter through a small, red fridge door half-buried in snow. The cocktail program at this moodily lit bar is exceptional and well-loved by visitors and locals alike, so there’s almost always a line to get in — if you come after 6 p.m., expect to wait at least 45 minutes.

Alternatively, there’s Powder Room, another upscale club with elevated cocktails, and Toshiro’s Bar, a whiskey spot for those seeking more potent potables. For something casual, send clients to Wild Bill’s, a log-cabin dive bar with a pool table and darts, or Niseko Taproom for home-grown craft beers.

Where to Stay: Three Great Accommodation Options

Opened in late 2022, Setsu Niseko is setting the benchmark for luxury hotels in Hirafu. The 190-guestroom hotel offers a range of accommodations, from one-bed studios to four-bedroom suites and penthouses. All guests have access to personal ski lockers (with boot dryers), public and private onsens (guests can reserve one complimentary time slot per stay for the private onsen), a ski rental shop and six dining venues — including Tempura Araki, the omakase sister restaurant of a two-Michelin-star eatery in Sapporo with the same name. The hotel also offers a convenient ski shuttle service to the gondolas. 

Setsu Niseko offers luxury accommodations and a convenient ski shuttle service.
Setsu Niseko offers luxury accommodations and a convenient ski shuttle service.
Credit: 2024 Niseko Tourism

In Hanazono, Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono is an excellent choice. Each of the 100 guestrooms features a deep soaking tub, massive walk-in closets and spacious living and dining areas. Early birds can take advantage of the First Track program, where it’s possible to ski with the general manager before the resort opens. Other amenities include an indoor pool, onsens, an award-winning spa and 10 restaurants and lounges. 

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There’s also Raku Suisan for those seeking a ryokan-style hotel. Each of the 18 sumptuous rooms sleeps two guests (some rooms sleep up to four), comes with a private onsen and boasts views of Mount Yotei. There are also three on-site restaurants, including a teppanyaki counter and a sushi spot. 


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