This attractive coastal city on Hokkaido’s southern tip was the first to be colonized by Europeans in the mid-19th century, which explains the presence of so many antique red-brick and clapperboard buildings, including an old British consulate and Russian Orthodox church. The poster piece, however, is the splendid, star-shaped Goryokaku Fort, which is today surrounded by a park lined with ranks of cherry trees – a glorious spectacle in the spring.
The old port town is squeezed onto a spit of sandy land dividing two bays, and with the ocean on three sides, fishing remains central to the life of the city. Check out the day’s catch at the bustling ‘Asaichi’ (‘morning market’), where you’ll see crabs and shellfish displayed in huge cold water tanks. Customers are invited to hook their own squid, which is sliced into melt-in-the-mouth sashimi as you wait. Seafood rice bowls featuring local salmon roe steeped in soy sauce are the speciality of the restaurants crammed into the nearby Donburi Yokocho Ichiba arcade – a Mecca for Japanese seafood lovers.
In the evening, jump in the cable car up Mount Hakodate, from whose summit a superb view extends over the city and surrounding coastline. The panorama is particularly dramatic at night, when the streets recede to the shadowy mountains in the distance like a giant lake of lights.