Little known outside Japan but repeatedly voted as the most attractive city in the country by the Japanese, Hakodate is something of a best-kept secret. Perhaps that’s because the port city on the southernmost peninsula of Hokkaido is soft-spoken with its charms: century-old brick warehouses (today a hub for cafés and art galleries) dot Hakodate’s historic harborfront, while old-fashioned trams ply its tidy streets from the foothills of Mount Hakodate down to the morning market and out east to the Yunokawa hot springs. But expect the word to get out soon: March saw the opening of the first section of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, a bullet-train line that whisks passengers from Tokyo to Hakodate in just four hours. The service’s debut comes just in time for travelers to revel in the city’s seasonal transition. In April, the macaques at the Tropical Botanical Garden enjoy their last month of onsen soaking before the weather warms up in May, when the grounds of the star-shaped Goryokaku fort burst with cherry blossoms to welcome spring. —Gabrielle Lipton
Shinkansen aside, Hakodate receives numerous daily flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, an hour-and-20-minute trip.
Where to Stay
A contemporary, upscale ryokan near the Yunokawa hot springs, Bourou Noguchi Hakodate (doubles from US$590) offers the plushest rooms and the highest open-air baths around.
Be Sure to Try
Bordered by water on three sides, Hakodate is known for unbelievable seafood. Go for the seafood rice bowls—essentially deconstructed sushi—and found in abundance at the morning market.
Take a 20-minute express train out to Onuma Park for a day of hiking and boating around scenic lakes at the base of Mount Komagatake.
This article originally appeared in the April/May print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Right on Track”).