Finnair to Launch Direct Flights from Helsinki to Sapporo from December 2019 to March 2020
In line with Hokkaido's growing popularity as a prime destination for "powder snow" skiing, stunning natural landscapes and exquisite food, Finnair has recently announced the opening of a new direct winter service between Helsinki and Sapporo's New Chitose Airport from mid-December 2019 to late-March 2020. Japan's commitment to hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup as well as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is likely to boost inbound tourism from around 29 million visitors in 2017 to an expected 40 million in 2020 and as such, a new direct route from a major European hub to another Japanese city, especially in the more distant Hokkaido, is welcome news.
Sapporo will be Finnair's fifth destination in Japan, in addition to Tokyo Narita, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, making it the largest European carrier flying to Japan. Outbound flights will depart from Helsinki on Thursdays and Sundays while inbound flights will return from Sapporo on Fridays and Mondays. Fight time is expected to be around the 8-9 hour mark (just the right amount of time for a couple of films!) and prices for return flights starting from £785.
Upon arrival at New Chitose Airport, you need not worry about reaching your final destination; rapid and local JR trains, airport "limousine" buses and a multitude of regional buses all provide quick and easy access to a number of destinations without breaking the bank right at the beginning of your adventure.
Why fly to Sapporo?
Sapporo is an excellent city from which to begin your adventure across Hokkaido: be it to Otaru and Niseko to the west, Hakodate in the region's south, or Asahikawa and Kushiro to the east.
Unlike most of Japan's major cities, Sapporo is open and full of greenery. One of the best green spaces is Odori Park, which stretches about 1.5km and splits the city into north and south. The park also serves as the main venue for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February; some two million visitors flock from Japan and across the world to witness spectacular snow and ice sculptures, some measuring more than 25m high and 15m wide! Hokkaido is also famous for its incredibly tasty food and Sapporo is just the place to try it: head to any of Sapporo's popular fish markets or nearby Otaru for a fresh and delicious 'kaisendon' (海鮮丼, seafood rice bowl), or take a stroll down Sapporo's 'Ramen Yokochо̄' (Ramen Alley) where you can try specialties from all over Hokkaido, including Sapporo (miso), Asahikawa (soy sauce), Hakodate (salt) and even miso butter corn ramen - absolutely mindless deliciousness - before washing it down with some of that famous Sapporo beer! Once you've finished eating for two, take a leisurely walk around Maruyama Park and pay a visit to the truly magnificent Hokkaidо̄ Shrine, splendid enveloped either in snow or an abundance of beautiful cherry blossom.
The atmospheric port town of Otaru is an absolute must-visit for visitors to the Sapporo area - located a mere half an hour away by train. Once a bustling financial and business centre during the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926), Otaru has grown to possess a lot of old-world charm: one of the town's star attractions being the Otaru Canal which has been restored and now houses a variety of trendy coffee shops and restaurants. If you're about Otaru in February, you'll be treated to a heart-warming scene - cute snow lights and small snow statues line the canal during the town's annual Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, making for perfect Instagram material! Or if snapping pictures of food (or just eating it!) is more your thing, there's no alternative but to tuck in to some super-fresh sushi widely considered the best in Japan. Make sure you leave enough room for some squid ink flavour ice cream!
Located just two and a half hours west of Sapporo by train, Niseko is the most famous ski resort in Japan, renowned for its legendary 'Japow' (fantastic Japanese powder snow) and assortment of après-ski activities such as highly therapeutic onsen hot spring bathing - perfect after a long day on the slopes or off-piste, one of the few Japanese resorts to allow the option. As for getting around the place have no fear - continuously large numbers of foreign skiers and snowboarders have cemented Niseko's place as an accessible winter sports destination for foreign first-time visitors as well as seasoned sporting enthusiasts. You'll feel right at home in this carefree corner of Japan.
Roughly 2 hours southwest of Sapporo, located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park is the gorgeous Lake Toya, Japan's third-largest volcanic caldera lake and second-most transparent. In the centre of the lake lies Nakajima, a cluster of four islands said to have formed as a result of a gigantic eruption some 110,000 years ago. These islands, the lake and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes make for a spectacular sight that changes from morning to evening - it's no wonder Lake Toya is widely considered to be one of Hokkaido's top three great landscapes. What's more, from spring through to autumn the night sky is filled with dazzling fireworks daily, adding a colourful sparkle to an already extraordinary natural landscape. Such mesmerising views are aplenty from the recently-opened WE HOTEL TOYA, designed by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma. Inspired by the rich natural beauty of Lake Toya, WE HOTEL TOYA utilises a great deal of natural materials and provides guests with a simple yet high-end accommodation experience. And for a final fun fact: did you know that Lake Toya was also the inspiration for Lake Verity in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl and Pokemon Platinum?