There are many things to do in Niseko beyond snow sports to keep everyone entertained during the winter season. While Hokkaido's powder snow and skiing are the main attractions, Niseko offers much more. Whether you're visiting for the first time or seasonally, there are plenty of great activities to relax, explore and experience Japanese culture in a new light.
Having called this resort home and revisited it many times over the years, we know exactly during the winter season, no matter when you visit Niseko to ski.
As an international ski resort, most staff will speak English (unlike the rest of Japan) and will gladly give you recommendations. So it's always good to ask them too. But if you're looking for more in-depth information and off-the-best activities to avoid the crowds, our guide will come in handy. Here's our take on what to do in Niseko and also some tips based on our experiences so you can make the most of your adventure.
Experience Local Culture
Nothing beats the fun and fulfilment of immersing yourself in local culture when exploring a new place. Especially when it comes to Hokkaido, where the culture has many familiarities as well as differences from the culture of mainland Japan.
This town has hidden gems that will surely entertain adventure seekers and cultural enthusiasts. These cultural activities are especially great for travelling with kids, as they are incredibly family-friendly.
Watch a Taiko Drum Performance
One of the many entertaining things to do in Niseko, Hokkaido, is watching a Taiko Drum performance. Also known as Yotei Daiko (羊蹄太鼓), this performance is part of the area's cultural heritage. It was also the first taiko song to be recognised as a cultural treasure for Hokkaido. The drumbeats are inspired by the preparation of hiking Mount Yotei throughout the seasons. If you're interested in reading more, we previously interviewed the local organiser for a feature magazine article in Experience Niseko.
The local taiko drummers from Kutchan typically carry out the performances. It's always fun to watch, and it never fails to mesmerise resort guests with their energy and power in the snow.
This is why a lot of Niseko hotels in the area will organise performances several times a month to entertain their guests. Furthermore, it's usually free to watch. Some popular hotels that do this are Skye Niseko, Ki Niseko, and Hanazono Resort. However, we suggest checking the hotel's social media pages for more details.
You could dive into tea-making (茶道) through a unique Japanese tea ceremony. We tried it during our visit to the Somoza Art Gallery. The ceremony comes as part of the café's tea set, along with a leaflet to guide you through the tea preparation. We found it slightly expensive considering that there was no demonstration from the staff. Nonetheless, crafting our tea and enjoying some wagashi was a great hands-on experience.
Alternatively, you can visit Kiyoe Gallery, located inside AYA Niseko. It occasionally provides live tea ceremony demonstrations, and attendees might get to try their hand at the process. We suggest checking their website or contacting the Kiyoe Gallery to stay informed on upcoming tea ceremony demonstrations.
Visit a Shrine
Visiting a shrine will combine cultural exploration and finding tranquillity. Shrines in Niseko are not as touristy as the ones you might be more familiar with in Kyoto. However, it comes it's own charm and allows you to immerse yourself in Niseko's spiritual side in the snow. If you're seeking a serene escape, exploring the shrines could be one of the best things to do in Niseko to get away from the busy slopes.
A notable gem is the Hirafu Yamada Shrine, a small shrine in Hirafu. It has a unique silver tori gate to mark its entrance. Although there isn't much to see most of the time, it transforms into a must-visit spot during New Year's. The shrine path will be lit up on New Year's Eve to invite you to partake in Hatsumode (初詣). Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the Japanese New Year.
In addition, we recommend visiting the Kaributo Shrine to check out more shrines within the area. It's larger and equally captivating with its grandeur and cultural significance. Ultimately, you get a more expansive exploration of the region's spiritual landscape.
Go to a Snow Festival
Attending snow festivals is among the best things to do in Niseko, especially when travelling with family. There will be many of them in Hokkaido if you're visiting Niseko in the winter. The Sapporo Snow Festival and the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival are the most popular.
Sapporo Snow Festival boasts fascinating sights like huge snow sculptures and ice stages for live performances. Meanwhile, Otaru's Snow Light Path wows its visitors with stunning displays suspended over water and within ice sculptures.
However, we highly recommend attending Yukitopia, a two-day festival in Kutchan Town. Kutchan is a neighbouring area to Hirafu, so this festival is much closer to Hirafu than the first two.
While the Sapporo Snow Festival and Otaru's light show are visited by millions annually, Yukitopia offers a distinct local charm. We love that this two-day event gives you a glimpse into the region's culture as well as the daily lives of locals. You can get a taste of the magical experience in February 2024.
However, if you're seeking more than visual delights, consider joining the open-air winter BBQ party. This is an opportunity to indulge in tasty dishes while enjoying the winter chill in Niseko town. As food lovers, it is among our favourite things to do in Niseko in winter during our more recent visits.
As this is a relatively new and small event, it is dependent on turnout. We recommend asking your accommodation for the most up-to-date information on when it take place.
Snow Activities in Niseko other than Skiing
There are many snow activities and things to do in Niseko besides skiing. This includes snowmobiling, snow tubing, snowkiting, and snowshoeing. If you prefer something less challenging than skiing but equally thrilling, try these winter activities instead. Furthermore, they are ideal for young kids and perfect for a wholesome family activity.
Snowmobiling is among our favourite things to do in Niseko in winter, mainly for the stunning view of Yotei Mountain. It also allows us to explore the scenic forestry and wide snow-covered fields. A much more relaxed way to enjoy the snow than skiing.
Hanazono Resort offers a snowmobiling service in partnership with a local service known as White Isle. The service offers several programs that you can choose from depending on your preferences. However, we highly recommend their Super View Course for an opportunity to see the panoramic view of the mountain range.
You can either request your hotel to book the slots directly for you or book from Hanazono's website. The last time we checked, there was no difference in price between these two booking methods. However, we recommend booking it through the website to understand the various courses available better.
Go for a snow tubing session if you're looking for something to do in Niseko with kids. Hanazono Tube Park is one of the best places in Niseko Grand Hirafu to snow tube. It is also a safe spot for children as young as three years old to play in the snow.
This place also provides conveyor belts to return you uphill after sliding down the tube lanes. So, you can enjoy the activity with your family without tiring yourselves. Moreover, no booking is required for this activity. However, arrive early to avoid crowds and maximise your snow tubing experience.
Go snowshoeing if you're looking for things to do in Niseko during winter that involve a bit more physical exercise. Many places offer snowshoeing services within the Hokkaido ski resort area. You might also find individuals (not tour companies) who would offer it at a cheaper price. Besides that, you can book the service through leaflets and business cards found in restaurants and cafes.
We love going around Lake Hangetsu to snowshoe. The views there are breathtaking, and the walk is fairly easy. This makes it one of the most ideal winter activities for all fitness levels and ages.
You go through some woodlands and reach the lake, which will be frozen over. Depending on if you're going on a group tour or private, it can be a lovely, serene activity to get away from busy Hirafu.
Whether you're trying to sneak in a winter workout or want a peaceful, snowy stroll, it is a must-do. Finally, end your outing with some amazing fresh-made udon at Houzuki Udon.
Try snowkiting if you want to do something beyond ordinary winter activities. Snowkiting is an activity offered by White Isle that we haven't seen other ski resorts offer. It lets you ski or snowboard through the snowy fields with the power of wind. Think of it as water kitesurfing but on snow.
The appeal lies in the sport's uniqueness, which involves manoeuvring a kite while gliding over snow. The stunning scenery of Niseko Grand Hirafu simply enhances the thrill. Most people will have never done it before, but you'll be in good hands with experienced instructors who will provide guidance.
Snow rafting is one of the most thrilling things to do in Niseko other than skiing. Sliding through the snowy roads is another fun way to explore Hanazono's scenery and enjoy the snow.
We think it makes a fun ride with the family and relatively safe for small kids. So, we highly recommend including this activity when you're planning what to do in Niseko with your family.
Things to Do in Niseko for Foodies
Among other things to do in Niseko, Hokkaido is food hunting. You'll be delighted to find many gastronomical gems in this town. It is a haven for foodies, especially those who enjoy traditional Japanese dishes. Apart from local restaurants, the area's food scene also offers cosy cafes and a distillery worth checking out. Of course, the prices are slightly more expensive compared to the rest of Hokkaido but some places are really worth the money.
Tour Niseko Distillery
Make your way to Niseko Distillery for liquid bliss in this winter wonderland. The establishment exudes a cosy and rustic vibe that gives sampling-crafted spirits a whole new experience. Plus, it sits within the beautiful forest of Niseko Annupuri, so you can pamper yourself with delightful drinks and stunning views.
While it is fun to try out the drinks, the main highlight is the tour itself. The staff will expose you to the whisky and gin production process throughout the tour. Whether you're a spirits enthusiast or simply seeking a relaxing spot to sip, it's a must-visit. Do note that the tasting comes with a fee. That said, those who don't drink can also take the tour.
We recommend booking a Soba Kaiseki course if you wish to indulge in Japanese fine dining. Rakuichi Soba is a must-visit kaiseki spot. It is a soba noodle place known for its traditional multi-course Japanese meals and was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show.
The establishment provides seasonal menus specially crafted with the best ingredients. However, the place is particularly loved for offering some of the best sushi in Niseko too.
Enjoying a rich and succulent serving of fatty tuna sashimi and their signature, Seiro soba was the highlight of our last visit there. You can book a slot for either lunch or dinner through their website. Rakuichi Soba is also an ideal place to visit if you're wondering what to do in Niseko for special occasions.
Try Hokkaido Soup Curry
Another of our favourite things to do in Niseko, Hokkaido, is sipping on a nice bowl of Hokkaido Soup Curry. Before you think that it’s just like Japanese curry served in the Kanto area, let us clarify that this dish is unique to Hokkaido.
It's a hearty dish from Sapporo, which combines broth with traditional Indian curry spices. The dish is typically served with plenty of vegetables and pieces of meat or seafood for more flavour. We think it is a must-try dish while you're in Hokkaido as it is the prefecture's reinvention of the traditional curry.
We usually head to Tsubara Tsubara to enjoy the flavourful dish. While you're there, we recommend trying their tasty chicken and vegetable curry. It is the best place for soup curry in Hirafu, but it is not located within the main village. Therefore, you may need to hail a taxi to get there.
Meanwhile, If you're in or near central Kutchan, you can visit Markie's Curry. Here, you can enjoy the dish with various soup bases, including coconut and shrimp. Markie's Curry allows you to experiment with the rich flavours and is our go-to Hokkaido soup curry spot in Kutchan.
Café-hopping should be included in your itinerary of things to do in Niseko during winter. Sure, you will get to warm yourself up with a nice cup of drink. However, enjoying it with the scenic views of the ski resort offers an ultimate unwinding experience.
Café If (いふ)
One of favourite cafes is Café If, which is run by an old Japanese couple. They serve a small yet delicious selection of lunch plates and desserts. We recommend their hot spiced chocolate and scallop spaghetti. Moreover, the place's interior is very green, with many plants in the window aisle. They also provide blankets for you to warm up while you're there.
Although we find Café If a bit expensive, it is definitely worth the price and wait. We suggest requesting your hotel to help you make a reservation before heading there. This is because the opening hours may vary, and you can't rely solely on Google Maps. Since an old couple runs the café, there have been times when it was not open during winter.
However, if you're near the area, you can try your luck by simply heading there. It is only a short walk away from Seicomart at the Hirafu intersection. Also, take note that the elderly couple may take some time to prepare your meals. So, you might want to bring a book or chat with a friend while waiting.
Another café is Graubunden, which is a bit further out of the Hirafu intersection and close to the Hokkaido soup curry spot, Tsubara Tsubara. While we recommend getting the local bus, you can walk there in about 15 minutes from the Hirafu Lawson.
This spot is known for its delicious cakes and sandwiches. One of our favourites is their Cheese Omelette sandwich with soft baguette. You will also see many locals here as the prices are relatively affordable.
Green Farm Deli Café
Besides that, we also love Green Farm Deli Café as they serve some of the best breakfast dishes with the freshest ingredients. We suggest going here if you want healthier food choices, as their dishes are made with organic produce from local farms. Our favourites are Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and their flavourful Shakshuka. The prices are also pretty reasonable since drinks are provided with each dish.
Guzu Guzu Bakery
Lastly, we recommend visiting Guzu Guzu Bakery. It is the furthest away from Hirafu, but their baked goods are worth travelling for. We absolutely love their French toast, which is fluffy and sweet.
Head to Takahashi Dairy Farm
When locals think of Hokkaido produce, most immediately think of Hokkaido milk and cheese. And that’s why Takahashi Dairy Farm is a must-visit among things to do in Niseko during winter. Apart from dairy delicacies, the farm hosts a few eateries and shops, which makes it a perfect spot for travellers.
One of them is Milk Kobo, which is a small café selling dairy products. As the name suggests, all their treats are made with fresh Hokkaido milk. However, they are mostly known for their exceptional cheese tarts and ice cream. If cheese is your thing, we highly recommend visiting the Niseko Cheese Factory.
Meanwhile, if you're a chocolate lover, Cacao Crown is a must-visit. Here, you can get local and imported chocolates from other Asian countries. There is even a café selling chocolate-based drinks and desserts.
If you want to dine with a view, visit Mandriano and Prativo. Both restaurants offer a beautiful sight of Yotei Mountain on a sunny day. Prativo offers vegetarian lunch buffets, whereas Mandriano is the perfect place to enjoy Italian pizza within the Hokkaido ski resort. As these restaurants are very popular, we recommend making a booking beforehand.
Other than fueling yourself with tasty food, you can shop for souvenirs at the small shop next to Milk Kobo. Besides a small selection of Niseko-themed souvenirs, you'll also find artisan craftwork and some boutique clothing there. Also, be sure to spend time outside the area before heading back, as there are many good photo spots there.
Best Things to Do in Niseko to Relax
Apart from engaging in winter sports and food-hunting, this vacation spot is also a place of relaxation. Although the beautiful natural sceneries contribute to the healing effect, this area offers a lot more than that. There are many relaxing things to do in Niseko in winter, ideal for solo travellers and families.
Soaking in an onsen is the epitome of relaxation in this Hokkaido ski resort area. It is among our favourite things to do in Niseko besides skiing and makes the best post-ski treatment. You will find some of the best onsen in Niseko, each providing a calming escape amid the stunning surroundings. Some of our favourites in the Hirafu area are Hirafutei, Kira No Yu, and Niseko Grand Hotel.
Onsen dipping also offers a relaxing experience you cannot achieve from other rejuvenating activities. Its soothing warmth and highly beneficial minerals will melt away your fatigue and stress. Furthermore, these minerals are great as natural beauty enhancements. Onsen dipping is the perfect ending to a long day of playing in the snow. Therefore, we highly recommend including it in your list of things to do in Niseko village.
Listen to Live Music Performance
If you're a music enthusiast, enjoying a live music performance is one of the best things to do in Niseko Village. The type of music performance usually depends on the musician invited to perform. However, most of the performances involve traditional Japanese koto and live jazz.
Hotels usually organise these events on some evenings at their lobbies to entertain their guests. Among the popular hotels that do this are Setsu Niseko, Aya Niseko, and Ki Niseko. Furthermore, these performances are usually free to watch. We recommend checking on social media and with your hotel if you want to do this during your stay.
Sometimes, there is nothing more relaxing than a good session of yoga. Plus, it is great for stretching after spending a few days in the snow. There are several yoga studios across the town that organise daily and weekly classes. Alternatively, you can attend yoga sessions provided by some hotels.
Visit an Art Gallery
Visiting an art gallery is also among the best things to do in Niseko, especially if you're an art lover. The range of art pieces is also different from other parts of Japan, making visiting art galleries here worthwhile.
Those looking for local art should visit the Kiyoe Art Gallery. It is located in town and boasts many artworks from local Hokkaido artists.
Another great art venue is the Somoza Art Gallery. This gallery features artefacts which are part of the private collection of the owner. You will find lots of Taxidermy on the bottom floor, while the top floor is a Kominka. We love how the gallery sits beside a river, making it more serene. However, you will need to drive or arrange transport to get there.
Visit a Museum
We think visiting museums is another of the best things to do in Niseko. It offers a calm surrounding as you learn more about the history and culture of the local area. In addition, going to a museum is an excellent activity for the curious ones, whether adults or young kids.
One of the museums that you should visit is the Shu Ogawara Museum of Art. This museum is in Kutchan Town and boasts a collection of works by the local painter Shu Ogawara. They also hold special exhibitions that feature works by other artists.
Another museum worth visiting is the Arishima Takeo Memorial Museum, which exhibits the life of an enigmatic Taisho-era writer. Arishima greatly impacted the local area as he released his family-owned land on the premise that tenants share the land. Besides the exhibition, there is also a small observation tower, which gives a beautiful view of the mountain range.
The Shu Ogawara Museum of Art and the Arishima Takeo Memorial Museum are also great scenic spots during the winter. They boast a magnificent view of Mount Yotei. Therefore, we recommend visiting if you wish to enjoy some peaceful moments and beautiful views.
Activities to Do in Niseko Away from the Snow
Besides playing in the snow, there are many other things to do in Niseko in winter. This includes ziplining, tree trekking, and horse riding. While you can do these in other places, doing them at the ski resort here gives a different vibe. If you're looking for things to do in Niseko besides skiing that give you an adrenaline rush, consider these activities.
If you have ever dreamed of ziplining through a wintery scene, this is your time to shine. During our last visit, Hanazono ski resort had just opened up this thrilling aerial adventure. The ‘Hanazono Zipflight’ is the longest zip line in Japan and is also open in winter.
Honestly, we haven't yet tried it ourselves. But we have heard great things about it from our local friends who work in the hotels. Surprisingly, it has become a really popular activity among the older guests. So, we recommend it as one of the things to do in Niseko if you're not skiing. Just be prepared, as it can get really cold while you're ziplining through the area.
Tree trekking is an exciting activity where you travel from tree to tree on zip lines or suspended bridges.
Within the resort, this thrilling adventure can be done at the Winter Adventure Park near the Family Ace Run. It's open for young and big kids, making it among the best things to do in Niseko with family.
The highlight of our tree trekking adventure was the free fall at the end of the course. We've tried doing it in the summer, but we think the winter setting would offer a different experience.
Although it might sound extreme in the cold, this activity is quite safe. Also, hearing from our friend's kid who went on it during winter, it's not too cold once you get going on it. Perfect for adventure seekers and little kids. If this is on your list of things to do in Niseko in winter, make sure to dress up warmly.
Winter Horse Riding
Believe it or not, this town also offers winter horse riding activities. So, those who have dreamed of horse riding in the snow can make their dreams come true here. It is definitely among the fun things to do in Niseko other than skiing.
It provides not only a magical experience but also a unique connection with nature surrounding the winter setting. Whether you prefer horseback riding or the enchanting horse-drawn sleigh, you'll have a fun and memorable experience. Also, don't worry about your lack of horse-riding skills, as training will be provided before you start your adventure.
Things to Do in Niseko at Night
Despite its calm and quiet setting, this town offers plenty of stuff to entertain you at night. So, you don't have to spend the rest of your day in your hotel after a day of adventure. Here are some of our favourite night activities in Niseko.
Watching fireworks is one of the most enchanting things to do in Niseko if you're not skiing. Moreover, you don't have to wait for any festive season for it to happen in this town. It happens every weekend at Hanazono and lasts for 5 to 8 minutes. You can simply head to the resort and watch it from the bottom of the slopes.
Alternatively, you can witness it from the restaurants around the area, which will remain open. If you're staying at Park Hyatt Hanazono, you can enjoy an unobstructed view of it from the hotel. Moreover, if you're in Niseko during the New Year, we highly suggest seeing the fireworks at Hirafu. The performance will be longer, and you can watch it from the slopes.
Adrenaline junkies who don't know what to do in Niseko at night can continue their adventure with night skiing. Night skiing has a completely different vibe to skiing during the day. We recommend it, especially on days when it snows heavily in the daytime.
This is actually our favourite activity in Hirafu, as the mountains are usually much quieter at night. Moreover, we find the view of the lit-up Hirafu breathtakingly beautiful.
Apart from this area, we also recommend night skiing at Hanazono. Although the route is less challenging, the slopes are longer and perfect for cruise rides. You can even see the fireworks from up there on the weekend.
Visit a local bar
We suggest visiting a local bar if you're looking for what to do in Niseko alone or with friends. Like other places, the town has some interesting night spots. Some of our go-to Niseko bars are Sake Bar SaSa, Bar Gyu+, and Musu Bar.
Sake bar SaSa
Sake bar SaSa is not famous, but it is our favourite spot after dark. The owners, Kazu and Mami-san, are a warm couple we first met while working in the town. They will try to assist you in choosing the best sake for you despite the language barrier. The owners are also strong sake enthusiasts, and Kazu often takes regular trips across Japan to source the best sake.
We love that Sake Bar SaSa is a very local bar, with everyone being super friendly. However, do note that this is a smoking area. Behind the bar, you will find bottles of Nikka Whiskey with someone's name on them. These are from their regular customers who will drink from their bottles later on.
Meanwhile, Bar Gyu+ is famous for its unique fridge entrance, offering good Japanese whisky. You must check out the establishment at least once, as the outside view from the bar is magical. Therefore, if you are unsure what to do in Niseko at night, you should visit this place for good night photo spots.
Musu Bar is located in the centre of Hirafu. Unlike the local bars, it offers a more modern and stylish interior. We particularly love the cocktail mixes here, especially the wasabi margarita. If you happen to pay a visit here, be sure to try it out.
For the party animals, we suggest heading to Wild Bills. This place is known for its wild parties and would be ideal for a younger crowd. Do note that it often gets packed by seasonal staff. Although we'd advise always keeping your jackets with you, jackets are known to go missing here.
Go to an Izakaya
We suggest going to an Izakaya if you prefer a casual dining and drinking spot at night. Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar that is typically small with inexpensive dishes. One of our favourites is Otsukisama and Bar Moon.
It sits below the Hirafu and is a great spot to eat and relax. However, you can only come in a group of two or three as the small eatery has only three tables downstairs and two upstairs.
Besides that, we also like Ebisutei, which is famous for its Oden. We love enjoying the hot and flavourful dish with their Hokkaido-style fried chicken. Additionally, since this spot is pretty popular, we suggest booking a table in advance if you plan on visiting.
Meanwhile, if you're in Kutchan, check out Torimatsu. They specialise in yakitori, which consists of chicken on skewers. Although the eatery has always been famous for yakitori, it gained more recognition after being featured in Anthony Bourdain's TV series.
Things to Do in Niseko Village
Unfortunately, there isn't much to explore around Niseko Village. Most restaurants there are not open until later in the day. If you still want to look for what to do in Niseko village, we suggest walking around a small market there. You can also visit the Takahashi Dairy Farm, which is within the village area.
Other than that, we recommend stopping by Sanroku Parlour. It's a cafe nestled within a shipping container owned by a couple. Their best offering is the roast beef sandwich, which is worth making a trip out for. However, be sure to get there early since the queue usually starts 15 minutes before they open.
Visit Niseko Town
Truthfully, we find that Niseko town is more for the locals as there are no main tourist attractions here. Despite that, it is still a nice little area to explore and see what the neighbouring towns look like. It's a great place to visit if you prefer to know how the locals spend their days here.
Although there's nothing touristy here, we still have some recommendations on what to do in Niseko Town. One of them is to stop by Niseko Station. It has unique Western architecture, which is a rare sight in Japan. This also makes it a great spot to take photographs. Inside the station, you'll find Cafe Nupuri, where you can try the cafe's special curry.
You can also visit the Kaributo Shrine since it is located in this area. In addition, we highly suggest visiting the local onsen, Kira No Yu. It is just across the town's aesthetically pleasing train station and boasts various relaxing indoor pools. There are also lots of small gifts to buy here.
Visit Kutchan Town
Kutchan Town has plenty of interesting activities for you to do here. So, head to the neighbouring town once you've run out of ideas on what to do in Niseko. We think it is a great place for foodies as many affordable options exist here.
Family Restaurant ROCO is a must-visit if you're travelling with family. They have ample seating, with space suitable for small kids. Furthermore, they offer great lunch deals if you're on a budget. Their menu changes weekly, but we devoured their Tomyum Goong Coconut Curry. Please note that this place is open daily in winter except on Tuesdays.
However, If you're craving seafood in Kutchan, visit Ichifuji. They offer fresh Hokkaido fish at a reasonable price, and the lunch sets here are big in portions.
Furthermore, Taru Zushi is a great spot for tasty and affordable sushi in Kutchan. We recommend trying their Otoro tuna, which satisfyingly melts in your mouth. You should also consider visiting for dinner to try their affordable omakase courses. Otherwise, you can enjoy some delicious donburi served during the day.