Hokkaido: 6 things to do in Otaru (小樽)

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    Otaru Canal, Hokkaido
    Images shot with iPhone

    Otaru is very popular among Hokkaido travellers, particularly those passing through Sapporo. The small city of Otaru is well loved for its European charms, thanks to the old brick houses and stone buildings found throughout the city. If you’re in Hokkaido, we recommend setting aside at least half a day to visit this romantic city to soak in its old world charms. As Otaru is rather small, you can get to most places on foot. So be prepared to do lots of walking. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and bring enough warm clothing during the cooler months so you can enjoy the city to the fullest. Here are 6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru.

    1. Try the LeTAO cheesecake and caramel tart

    The number of dessert cafes in this small town is just insane! There seems to be a LeTAO or Rokkatei (六花亭) everywhere we turned and it didn’t helped that most of the cafes were giving out free samples to tempt us further. Who could blame us for going on a sweet binge? We liked everything we had but the ones that blew our minds were the LeTAO cheesecake and caramel tart.  The heavenly combination of light as cloud whipped cream on a base of creamy baked cheese cake of the Double Fromage was simply amazing. We’ve never tasted cheesecake like this — you’ll have to try it to believe how divine the Double Fromage is. The  caramel tart which had just the right balance of sweetness, saltiness from the cheese and slight bitterness from the burnt sugar reminds of a perfectly executed crème brulee.

    LeTao double fromage
    LeTao double fromage
    LeTao caramel tart
    LeTao caramel tart
    LeTao store in Otaru
    LeTao store in Otaru carries a variety of cakes, pastries and biscuits

    2. Have 2 scoops of Uni (sea urchin) ice cream

    A dessert binge wouldn’t be complete without ice cream. For that, we recommend Kita No Aisu Ya San for its variety of funky flavours from squid ink ice cream to uni (sea urchin) and Coenzyme Q10.  Too adventurous for your palate?  More popular flavours like peach, green tea are also available. Kita No Aisu Ya San is located at 1-2-18 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan.

    Kita No Aisu Ya San exterior
    Kita No Aisu Ya San is tucked inside a small lane. Here’s how it looks on the outside
    Kita No Aisu Ya San interior
    Go for 2 scoops of the unique Sea Urchin flavour for JPY500

    3. Otaru Music Box Museum

    Address:  4-1, Sumiyoshi-cho, Otaru, Hokkaido
    Opens daily from 9am-6pm

    The Music Box Factory is one of Japan’s largest. Music box lovers will be spoilt for choice, as you’ll find music boxes of all shapes, sizes and designs including those adorned with flowers, crystal animals and dolls. Try your hand at making your very own music box at the main building of the museum. If you prefer to just admire the creations, check out the museum section in Building 2. Over there, you’ll find a dizzying collection of antique music boxes from all over the world — it’s really quite an eye opener.

    4. Take a stroll along the Otaru Canal and selfie away

    You haven’t been to Otaru until you’ve strolled along the famous Otaru Canal and taken lots of selfies to prove it. So do as other tourists do and snap away with the traditional brick warehouses in the background. You might also be interested to get your portrait drawn by one of the street artists along the river bank.

    A visit to Otaru canal is one of the main things to do in Otaru
    The perfect selfie and wefie spot in Otaru

    5. Shop/eat at Otaru’s Sankaku Fish Market(三角市場)

    Address: 3-10-16 Inaho, Otaru 047-0032, Hokkaido

    We didn’t expect to find a fish market in Otaru but as Sankaku (meaning triangular) Fish Market was the first place that greeted us when we exited Otaru JR Station, we didn’t want to miss it. Compared to Hakodate’s Seafood Market or Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the Otaru fish market is much smaller and triangular in shape (thus its name). But the variety of seafood was just as dazzling and the prices were pretty reasonable. If you missed the seafood markets in other parts of Hokkaido, get your fix here.

    Sankaku Fish Market at Otaru
    Sankaku Fish Market
    Sankaku Fish Market store
    A typical stall at Sankaku Fish Market
    Melons at Sankaku Fish Market
    Other than seafood, you can also find stores selling melons
    King Carbs at Sankaku Fish Market
    Most seafood stores at Sankaku can grill, boil and prepare the king crabs in sashimi style

    6. Pottery and glassware shopping

    Thinking of what souvenirs to bring back for friends and family? Check out the various pottery and glassware shops on Sakaimachi Street(境町通)where you’ll find everything from handmade tea sets to glass beads to delicate sake glasses. As most of the pieces are handmade, the shops here tend to carry unique designs. If you see something you like, grab it as you may not find a similar piece outside of Otaru. We couldn’t resist getting ourselves these pretty handmade yuzu tea cups and onigiri plates. And we’re glad we did. It reminds us of our lovely Otaru trip every time we use them.

    How to get to Otaru by public transport

    One of the quickest and most convenient ways to get to Otaru is via Sapporo. Simply hop on the train along the JR Hakodate main line heading for Otaru. The one-way trip from Sapporo to Otaru costs JPY640 and takes around 30 minutes by express train or 45 minutes by local train. Non-Japanese tourists should consider getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome pass for JPY1,700.  You’ll get unlimited use of JR trains between Sapporo and Otaru. The pass also comes with a one-day unlimited use of Sapporo’s three subway lines. The pass is sold at Sapporo station and New Chitose Airport.

    Display at JR Sapporo station
    You can take a JR train at Sapporo to Otaru
    Sign at Otaru station
    Sign at Otaru JR station