Otaru (小樽) is a small harbor city, about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. Its beautifully preserved canal area and interesting herring mansions make Otaru a pleasant day trip from Sapporo or a nice stop en route to or from Niseko or the Shakotan Peninsula.
From the early days of Hokkaido's colonization in the late 1800s, Otaru served as a major trade and fishing port. It was hence chosen as the terminal station of Hokkaido's first railway line that connected the port with nearby Sapporo. Many old warehouses and former office buildings by shipping and trade companies give Otaru's city center a special character reminiscent of past decades.