What to do in Niseko without skiing.
Everything you need to know about Niseko for non-skiers, enjoy the culture, food, family activities and where you can play in the snow. Skiing isn't required to have a great winter vacation.
Niseko is a holiday destination for everyone, even in winter. So you shouldn't feel like you need to ski or snowboard to have a great time here. These are a few activities for all ages to enjoy on your next trip to Niseko.
The famous Takahashi Farm also known as the 'Milk Kobo' is a must visit for food loves in Niseko. They are most famous for their soft serve ice cream, choux creme and cheese tarts, but they also sell many other delicious dairy items such as cheesecakes, soufflé, cheese and flavoured ice cream.
The Takahashi Farm also includes Prativo restaurant which is a popular lunch spot with a farm fresh vegetable buffet for lunch each day and if you are lucky you'll get perfect views of Mt Yotei from both the restaurant and the carpark. Mandriano pizza restaurant is on the same property
In winter you can take the Niseko United shuttle bus to the 'Milk Kobo' bus stop which is right outside the building, and they have a large car park for visitors wanting to stop into the restaurants and dairy cafe.
Niseko United Bus Stop: Milk Kobo
Winter hours: 9.30am-17.30
There is nothing quite like the powerful and rhythmic sound of traditional Taiko drumming. In Niseko it's not uncommon to accidentally walk past a performance, with regular performances arranged for Christmas, New Years Eve, Chinese New Year. You will also find performances at festivals (Matsuri's) or for a new hotel opening, and some businesses arrange performances weekly over the busy winter period.
Taiko literally means drum, so it can refer to any kind of drum but we are referring to large drums and coordinated group performances that balance rhythm and movement together. It really is quite an experience to see in person. Our team will keep you updated on our Instagram and Facebook page to let you know when Taiko events are happening over winter.
Natural hot springs are all over Japan due to the volcanic landscape with mineral rich spring water found deep underground that can be tapped and used for bathing.
Onsen's are scattered around the Niseko resort areas with some stunning traditional indoor and outdoor bathhouses, and more modern luxurious options inside large new hotels. While staying in Niseko you can visit an onsen in Annupuri, Niseko Village/Higashiyama and Hirafu villages or further afield if you have a car.
Fun Onsen Fact: Japan has laws related to onsen's and the requirements for businesses to call hot spring an onsen. The water must contain certain minerals and be over 25 degrees at it's point of release from the earth.
Take a trip up the mountain and enjoy the views on a clear day or play in the snow throughout winter. If you visit early or late in the season you might not have as much snow in the village, so a trip up the Niseko gondola's can be a great way to throw some snowballs.
For a trip up any gondola in winter you will want to have some long winter boots to keep your feet dry (and prevent snow from falling inside your shoes), and thick gloves, a beanie, and a warm winter jacket. You can rent many of these items in town (or at the base of the ski resorts) if you need them.
Hirafu Gondola: Buy a ticket at the Hirafu Mountain Center, then you can cross over to the gondola entrance and wait in line. The ride up will take you halfway up the slopes and you have plenty of space to play in the snow, and a cafe to walk to so you can warm up, or have lunch. Then you can take the gondola back down.
Return trip cost: ¥2,300 (adult) discounts for children and 60+
Niseko Annupuri: Buy a ticket at the office next to the Annupuri Gondola entrance, and get in line for the gondola. You will ride to over halfway up the mountain and have some space to enjoy the view, take some photos and watch skiers and snowboarders too. There is not a cafe to visit near this gondola, only further down the slopes for skiers and snowboarders.
Hanazono snow tube park is a fun gentle slope to slide down on an inflatable tube. This is open to all ages and a great family activity in a safe dedicated area at the bottom of Hanazono Ski Resort. Once you reach the bottom of the slope you can take your tube back up the hill on a magic carpet (a moving walkway) so you don't have to walk uphill for each slide. A 60 minute snow tubing experience costs ¥2500 per person.
Website: Hanazono Snow Tube Park
Explore Niseko on snowshoes with a tour walking on the snow through the forest! It's a great way to get into nature and take photos in the snow, and with many locations to enjoy a tour you can find the perfect tour for you. All tours will include some time preparing your gear and learning to walk in snowshoes before you depart, so expect most tours to be at least 15minutes shorter than the total time.
Niseko Village: Snowshoe tours depart daily at 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm and last 1.5 hours. They cost ¥4000 per person and the journey will take you around the forest near Niseko Village ski resort.
Website: Niseko Village Snowshoe Tours
Niseko Adventure Centre (Hirafu): Snowshoe tours depart at 9am and 1.30pm daily and last 3 hours. The tour takes you on a journey through the forest to Hangetsu lake (also known as half moon lake) or Shiribetsu river which are both beautiful spots to walk around. You can also try the night tour which you walk under the moon or the falling snow with head torches to light your way. We have done this and loved it! The tours cost ¥7000 per person, or you can book a private tour for up to 6 guests for ¥24,000 which is a better option if you have 4+ guests and it includes free transportation from your accomodation.
Website: NAC Snowshoe Tours
Hanazono Resort: Hanazono resort offers snowshoe tours at 1.30pm and 2.30pm each day that last for 1 hour and explore the forest around the base of Hanazono ski resort. The cost is ¥4000 per person.
Website: Hanazono Snowshoe Tours
Located near Hanazono resort, Somoza Gallery is a beautiful spot to visit to see exhibitions held by local artists as well as enjoy classes, workshops, events that are often held at the gallery. Their aim is to connect people with art and work with local artists and businesses to bring new and exciting products to the gallery.
The gallery is part of the same building that houses Somoza Restaurant and Tea Room which must be booked in advance for exceptional fine dining and unique Japanese Tea Ceremony experiences.
Visiting the gallery is free and the view out to the forest is stunning, we recommend popping in during your stay in Niseko.
Somoza's Website: http://somoza.jp/
Niseko is well known for it's amazing quality and quantity of meal options, from delicious local ramen restaurants to luxury Michelin starred chefs. You really can have it all.
Some restaurants don't take bookings and are walk-in only (mostly traditional Japanese izakaya's), many restaurants do require bookings and often can be made online, and kaiseki (multi course) style restaurants usually must be booked.
In Niseko many restaurants offer a transfer pick up and drop off for your dinner experience, so you can arrange that in advance and it will allow you to try more restaurants during your stay. The Niseko United shuttle is a great way to get around to restaurants as well, especially if you want to have a few drinks.
Hirafu is a great place to start browsing stores with many winter-wear and snow-wear options to add a few items to your wardrobe. But there are also great souvenir shop options including:
The Hotel Niseko Alpen: Right below the ski resort at the top of Hirafu Zaka you can find T-shirts, sweets and treats, and classic Japanese souvenir trinkets. It's a great place to find the right item for your friends and family back home.
Rhythm Japan: Not only can you find great winter items here, but they have some really fun Japanese and Niseko themed T-shirts and a few of their own branded items such as drink bottles which are nice little Niseko souvenirs for yourself.
Green Saso: Try a traditional Japanese tea and enjoy this relaxing quiet hideaway on the outskirts of Hirafu (and right near Trailside Apartments and Trailside Chalet). They sell unique Japanese tea ware in the cafe that you can take home and they source their items from all over Japan. It is also possible to book a traditional tea ceremony here (please contact them in advance to book in).
Green Saso Website: http://greensaso.com/
There are towns nearby that are great for day trips including Lake Toya and Otaru (which you can pass through Yoichi on the way and visit the Nikka Whisky Distillery).
Otaru: Easy to visit by train from the Kutchan train station, the trip takes a little over 1 hour (one way), once you're there you can enjoy fresh seafood and shopping for Japanese sweets, snacks and trinkets. Some of the highlights include visiting the canals and the converted storehouses along the canals which are now shops, restaurants and cafes.
Hot Tip: Match your train times with buses from the ski villages... it will make your trip more relaxing to know what time you need to meet the bus back to the resort.
Lake Toya: The only way to travel in winter is by car, so if you have hired a car and want to visit a beautiful lakeside onsen town... this is the one! With quaint cafes and restaurants it's a great area to spend a day, and you might enjoy a boat ride around the lake which is a caldera (volcanic crater but formed from lava not an external force).
If you find the boat ride idea too cold, you could explore the onsen's and visit Mount Usu via the Usuzan ropeway (a cable car trip to a viewpoint). It's open from 9am-4pm in winter, so if you plan to visit, head here first and continue to the lake afterwards.
Make the most of your snow trip by riding a snowmobile through the snow instead of skiing. It's a great activity for most of the family, but the important thing is the bring the right clothing for the experience (Gloves, face covering, googles, ski jacket and pants, and super warm boots are a good start with some warm layers underneath).
If you haven't heard of it before, think of it as a jet ski on the snow. Great for the entire family to have some fun in the snow.
Hanazono Snowmobiling: They offer two courses, Rabbit course (30minutes) and Panorama course (1hour) which are open from late December until Mid April depending on snowfall. Youngest age to ride is 7 years old if sharing with an adult, or 13 years old with a single snowmobile. Two adults can also share a snowmobile and ride tandem.
Kids snowmobile area is also open for younger children who want to ride their own snowmobile, with smaller kids sized snowmobiles for 6-12 year olds. Perfect for safe and fun adventures in the snow.
Website: Hanazono Snowmobile Tours
Kids Snowmobiles: Kids Snowmobiles Hanazono
White Isle Snowmobiling: Free shuttles are offered from the Hirafu Welcome Centre to Mt Weiss where the snowmobiling takes place. There is a Forest course (30 minutes), Family Tour (60 minutes), Super View course (90 minutes) and a few other options as well. They offer rental items for winter clothing to keep you warm as well.
Website: White Isle Snowmobiling
Niseko Village Snowmobiling: Niseko Village resort offers 50 minute snowmobile tours, kids are allowed to join the tours if they can reach the controls, and tandem (two guests on one snowmobile) are welcome. You will explore the snowy white surroundings of Niseko Village resort.
Website: Niseko Village Snowmobile Tours
In the evenings the slopes and the streets come alive. Enjoy walking around the village in the snow and finding unique restaurants for dinner, followed by drinks at some of the local bars.
Dinner in Hirafu: For most restaurants it's worth booking ahead, or for those that don't take bookings (usually small izakaya's) try and arrive when they open to ensure you get a table. Many restaurants will accept bookings on their website a few months in advance, and for many of the fine dining restaurants you can book 6-8 months in advance.
Drinks in Hirafu: There are many bars all over town to enjoy, here are a few that are also often the top of everyone's list for their Niseko trip.
Gyu+ Bar: The entrance is via an old fridge door and the inside has a very relaxed speakeasy vibe. Try their delicious cocktails and extensive whiskey menu while watching the snowfall out the windows. The bar has extended so that it is over 2 floors, but it is still very popular and can get busy during peak winter season so we recommend getting in early or being prepared to wait.
Barunba: Tucked down the side of Momiji street this is a laid back and super popular bar that is well worth popping into for a drink (if you can get into the bar to order one). When the inside is full, people make their way out onto the street to drink, chat and relax. Some of the popular menu items include the Bruce Lee, Bruce Willis and the Jet Li... strong names, for some strong drinks.
Toshiro's Bar: Located inside the Hirafu Prince hotel (next to the Hirafu-tei onsen) is the new home to Toshiro's bar. Enjoy watching skiers make their way down the slopes outside while you sip unique cocktails (include the famous Smoked Penicillin). They offer a huge range of whiskey, gin and many other spirits at their bar with over 400 different bottles.
Just a few items to add to your list for the next Niseko trip! We look forward to seeing you in Niseko again soon.