Osaka, a vibrant metropolis in Japan, captivates visitors with its dynamic blend of modernity and historical charm. Renowned for its culinary delights, lively street markets, and iconic landmarks like Osaka Castle, this bustling city on Honshu Island invites travellers to indulge in its rich culture and urban energy.
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As one of Japan’s biggest cities, Osaka may seem like a concrete jungle at first glance. However, you’ll find incredible street food, electric nightlife, cutting-edge architecture, and historical landmarks beneath the tall skyscrapers.
A Bit of History
Osaka is among Japan’s earliest known capital cities, predating the Nara Period when each new emperor prompted capital relocations. Although Osaka Castle, a 16th-century icon, reflects the city’s past political prominence, Osaka has evolved into a thriving commercial hub and popular tourist destination in contemporary times.
Following the devastation of Western Japan during World War II, Osaka underwent gradual reconstruction, resulting in many historical buildings and temples being newer than their origins. Nevertheless, the city has steadfastly maintained its status as a cultural hub in Japan, boasting delectable cuisine, some of the nation’s pivotal shrines, and museums chronicling its rich history.
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Osaka to keep you busy for days. Having explored this city in depth, we hope our guide will help you discover the best Osaka offers.
Here is our take on the best things to do in Osaka!
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How to Get to Osaka
Osaka is an easy city to reach in Japan, from domestic destinations like Kyoto and Tokyo, as well as overseas destinations.
The fastest and most efficient way to travel to Osaka is by rail, but flying is also an option.
Multiple airlines operate between Tokyo and Osaka. Itami Airport is the primary regional airport and is the closest to Osaka’s city center. This airport is most frequented by domestic flights from Tokyo and other cities in Japan. It’s well connected by trains (both Monorail and Hankyu Railway), limousine buses and taxis.
Osaka’s main international airport is Kansai Airport. It is located on a man-made island, about 40 kilometres (24.8 miles) south of Osaka.
This airport is well-connected by train to the city center. Haruka Express leaves every 30 minutes to Osaka Station, while the Kansai-Airport Rapid Train offers another slightly slower and cheaper option.
The fastest and most efficient way to reach Osaka is by train, particularly the bullet train.
Tokyo (Tokyo and Shinagawa stations) and Osaka (Shin-Osaka Station) are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. There are 3 types of trains to Osaka: Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama.
- Nozomi trains are the fastest option, requiring about 155 minutes to reach Shin-Osaka Station from Tokyo.
- Hikari trains take about 3 hours
- Kodama trains about 4 hours
The regular one-way fare is nearly 14,000 yen for a non-reserved seat or around 14,500 yen for a reserved seat. If you plan on travelling around Japan, we highly recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass to save on rail costs during your trip.
The Japan Rail Pass is valid on Hikari and Kodama trains, but an extra fee is charged for Nozomi trains.
How to Get Around Osaka
Osaka has an easy-to-use and efficient public transport system, particularly the subway and trains, which travel across the city frequently.
We recommend purchasing a prepaid IC Card or Icoca Card from one of the JR Stations. This doesn’t give you a discount on rides but makes it easier to board trains without buying individual tickets.
If you’re only going to be in Osaka for a short time, you can also purchase 1-day passes. For example, the Osaka Amazing Pass provides unlimited use of subways and city buses on one or two consecutive calendar days, plus free admission to many of Osaka’s popular tourist attractions, such as Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky Building.
Best Time to Visit Osaka
Spring and Fall are considered the best seasons to visit Osaka. Moderate temperatures and the addition of the cherry blossom season in Spring and the Fall foliage make these seasons the most popular among visitors to Japan.
However, there are some perks for visiting in other seasons, too, depending on what suits your trip.
While most people avoid winter in Osaka, the weather isn’t as bad as in other parts of the country. Snow is rare, and the temperatures generally sit between 40 and 50 °F (5 to 10 °C) and only drop to around 32 °F (0 °C) overnight.
This also means you can expect fewer crowds and cheaper prices, making it a much easier time of year to lower your overall Osaka budget.
Spring is arguably the nicest time of year to visit Osaka. The lingering coolness of winter gradually gives way to milder temperatures and sunnier days, reaching the low 70s F (20s C) by April and May.
This period coincides with the peak cherry blossom season, creating a breathtaking cityscape. However, cherry blossoms attract crowds, resulting in the busiest period and higher accommodation prices.
Summer in Osaka sees the hottest weather, with temperatures soaring over 90 °F (32 °C). it’s also the rainy season, which can wreak havoc on travel plans. The rains typically begin by the end of June, making walking around outdoors rather humid and uncomfortable.
However, it doesn’t rain every day, so it can still be a nice time to visit if you can handle some humidity with far fewer crowds than in Spring or Fall.
Along with spring, Fall is another popular time for visiting Osaka. Temperatures are still quite warm at the beginning of the season, sitting around the high 70s °F (high 20s °C), but the rains have subsided, making it ideal for exploring the city center.
The temperatures start to cool off by October, and the leaves start to change, bringing orange hues throughout the parks.
Things to Do in Osaka
At first glance, Osaka may look like a sprawling concrete jungle from the outside, but there are so many amazing things to do in Osaka. From museums to traditional food, you can discover Japanese culture and all its wonderful intricacies by spending time in Osaka city.
Here are the best things to do in Osaka to add to your Osaka itinerary!
By far, the most famous tourist destination in the city is the Dotonbori district. The area refers to the canal and the main street that runs parallel to the canal’s south bank. It’s the most colourful and lively part of the city and is known for its bright neon lights, huge signs, and strong aroma of Japanese food. It is also always crowded!
We recommend heading to Dotonbori in the evening so you can combine a stroll with a drink or dinner. This is also when the neon lights and huge billboards are at their best, making for great photos. Don’t miss an iconic photo of the Dotonbori Glico Sign, which has been installed since 1935.
Try Ichiran-Ramen Dotonbori – a popular informal ramen shop chain, or Kani Doraku Dotonbori Higashi Mise for crab-based dishes and fresh food, Kura Sushi – for a good conveyor belt sushi experience or splurge on one of the all-you-can-eat yakiniku buffets.
Shinsekai is the retro district of central Osaka, located just south of downtown.
It’s well-known for the Tsutenkaku Tower at its center, built in 1912 and reconstructed after the war. The tower stands at around 103 meters (338 ft) high, with the main observatory at a height of 91 meters (300 ft). It offers an open-air observation deck on top of the main observatory and a 60-meter (197 ft) long slide at the tower’s base.
Shinsekai is known for its street food and traditional Japanese dishes. Try Kushikatsu, one of the city’s specialties. It consists of various skewered, battered fried foods, ranging from chicken to pumpkin and even banana and ice cream for dessert.
Relax at Spa World
The district is also home to a unique attraction known as Spa World. This huge bath complex features a large number of pools on a European-themed floor and an Asian-themed floor. The pools are fed with natural water from hot springs pumped from under the earth’s surface.
The floors alternate between genders each month, and as customary in Japan, public bathing is enjoyed naked. The pool entrance fee is around 2000 yen on weekdays and 2,500 yen on weekends.
Visit Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle is definitely the most visited attraction in Osaka. The iconic landmark sits just outside downtown and can be accessed by multiple subway and JR train stations. Originally built in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, it was destroyed and rebuilt again by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s.
The castle park area is filled with over 5,000 cherry blossom trees, which bloom in spring, attracting thousands of visitors every year at the beginning of April.
The castle tower is now an entirely modern part of the castle, even featuring an elevator for easier accessibility. It houses an informative museum about the castle’s history and gives you great views over the city skyline.
Visit Namba Yasaka Jinja Shinto Shrine
Located in the heart of downtown, this Shinto shrine is a haven in the busy Namba district. Just a short walk from JR Namba Station, this shrine is famous for its lion-shaped stage, which stands out as a unique piece of architecture amongst the otherwise traditional temple buildings.
The huge lion’s mouth is believed to swallow evil spirits and bring good luck, especially for those looking to do well in school and business.
It’s free to visit, making it a great budget-friendly attraction in Osaka.
Shop at Kuromon Ichiba Market
One of the best things to do in Osaka for foodies is to visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market. This covered shopping street is one of the best places to take yourself on a food tour and discover all the wonderful produce and food that Japan is famous for.
The market is particularly known for its fresh seafood and meat, where you can pick out what you want and have it cooked immediately. Thousands of people, from locals to tourists alike, head to the shopping arcade every day, so try to avoid peak meal times.
The market is open from 8am until 6pm every day, although many shops are closed on Sunday. Nipponbashi Station on the Sennichimae and Sakaisuji subway lines is the closest stop.
Enjoy a Traditional Tea Ceremony
A traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony is a must for any visitor in Japan. While many believe that a tea ceremony is the best experience in Kyoto, we are here to confirm that a tea ceremony in Osaka can be just as interesting.
We recommend this Tea Ceremony Experience in Dotonbori, where you can take part in a traditional ceremony while learning about the culture, traditions, and traditional etiquette of this old practice.
You’ll learn how to make matcha and pair it with delicious Japanese sweets while relaxing in a traditional tea house. No kimonos are required, and hourly time slots are available throughout the day. It’s the perfect way to break up your day of sightseeing!
READ NEXT: Best Things to do in Kyoto, Japan
Eat Kobe Beef
Kobe beef is the highly prized Wagyu beef from the Kōbe region of Honshu island. It comes from the Tajima strain of Japanese black cattle raised in the Osaka prefecture in Kobe, just south of the city. It’s distinguished as a tender, flavorful meat that is well marbled with fat and is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine.
Kobe beef production is very limited, which makes eating Kobe beef a premium experience.
To try the best of the best, hop on the train to Kobe (it’s only a 30-minute ride) and head to a steak house, like Tor Road Steak Aoyama, Kobe Beef Eikich, Steakland Kobe-kan, or a slightly more down-to-earth spot, called Meriken Hatoba. Be prepared to spend $50-100+ on your meal.
If you don’t have time to visit Kobe, you can still sample Kobe beef in Osaka. We recommend heading to a steakhouse, like Steak House Juju in the Dotonbori district or Kobe Beef Steak Ken, just across the Ebisubashi Bridge.
Another foodie addition to the best things to do in Osaka is Yakiniku, which literally means “grilled meat”. Yakiniku is a Japanese-style barbecue meal that features thinly sliced pieces of beef grilled over a stove or charcoal.
There are lots of yakiniku restaurants in Osaka. Many of them are all-you-can-eat, featuring high-quality Wagyu or Kobe Beef, served with rice, vegetables and dipping sauces.
The best places for yakiniku in Osaka are in the Dotonbori district. They are generally more affordable and casual than steak houses and high-end restaurants serving Kobe beef as a specialty. We recommend Yakiniku Rikimaru Sennichimae, Yakiniku Lab Umede, or Korean kitchen ZEN.
Take Day Trip to Kobe
If you do want to try Kobe Beef in Kobe, you might as well make a day trip of it.
Kobe is one of the best day trips from Osaka, as it’s located only 12 minutes away by Shinkansen or 35 minutes by local train.
1 day is plenty of time to see the main sights in Kobe and be back in Osaka by evening. We suggest checking out the Kitano district, the historic district where you’ll find the former homes of many foreign merchants and diplomats.
Other things to do include taking the Kobe Ropeway to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens. From the ropeway, you get to enjoy some of the best views of the city. The journey takes around 10 minutes and, on a clear day, allows you to see as far as Osaka. The ropeway ticket also includes entry to the gardens, which is also worth exploring.
When it’s time for lunch, head to Nankinmachi District, one of the few Chinatown districts in Japan. This area was rebuilt after WWII and now features many street food vendors and Chinese restaurants along the main road. Try Chuka Ryori (Japanese-adapted Chinese food) from any of the little stalls.
Visit Universal Studios Japan
Harry Potter fans should not miss a trip to Universal Studios Japan! As the second Universal Studios amusement park to open outside the US, this is one of the biggest draw cards in Osaka.
Universal Studios Japan is located southwest of the city center. You can reach it by taking the JR Yumesaki Line to Sakurajima Station.
You’ll need a full day to experience all the rides and attractions in the theme park. An Entry Ticket costs around 8,600 yen per adult and gives you access to the park and use of all attractions. Be prepared for long lines (especially on weekends) and serious crowds.
If budget allows, skip the lines by purchasing an Express Pass. The pass is expensive, ranging from 6,800 to 18,800 yen depending on the rides, but is well worth the investment if you are short on time and don’t want to spend 60-90 mins in line for each ride.
There are lots of fun rides in the park to enjoy. And they are not just for kids. The Flight of the Hippogriff and Hollywood Dream Ride were our favourites. The famous Jurassic Park Ride was unfortunately closed for refurbishment during our visit.
Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
One of the most popular parts of the theme park is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which brings locations from the magical world to life.
Enjoy a great roller coaster ride, tour Hogwarts Castle and the Black Lake, and see iconic props like the Hogwarts Express train and Ron’s flying car from The Chamber of Secrets. Purchase a magic wand and try your hand at wand spells as you meander around the park.
Visit Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World is a fairly new and very exciting addition to Universal Studios Japan. This colourful and interactive section is dedicated to Nintendo’s iconic characters and games.
There are a couple of fun rides here, a restaurant serving some funky Super Nintendo-inspired dishes, and some shops with Mario Kart paraphernalia.
Have a Drink in the Submarine Bar
For a completely unique night out, head to Chuo Ward east of downtown to visit the Submarine Bar. It’s not too far from Osaka Castle, so it makes for a nice spot for evening drinks after a day of sightseeing.
The Deepening Submarine Bar SHINKA is a uniquely themed and somewhat bizarre bar with an interior designed like the inside of a submarine. It can be hard to find, as it’s hidden down an alleyway, but you can find it on Google Maps.
There’s limited seating inside the submarine, so get in early and order one of their iconic gin and tonics to kick the evening off.
Visit Pokemon Centre
Located close to Osaka Train Station, a Pokemon Centre is a must-visit for any Pokemon fan. In addition to Pokémon game software and card games, the shop also offers a wide range of original products, from toys to stationery, t-shirts and snacks.
The store is open daily from 10am to 8pm and is one of the best things to do in Osaka for those with kids or anyone wanting to unleash their inner child.
Umeda Sky Building
A standout piece of modern architecture in the city is the Umeda Sky Building, a landmark building in the Kita district not far from Osaka Umeda Station. The 173-meter (568 ft) tall building consists of two towers connected by the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor.
The observatory offers great views of the city through its windows and from its open-air deck. We recommend arriving there in the late afternoon to catch the sunset and or in early evening when the modern city lights illuminate the landscape. You can get free admission to Umeda Sky Building with the Osaka Amazing Pass until 4pm or pay 1500 yen for entry until 10pm.
Tempozan Ferris Wheel
Located right next to each other in Minato Ward on the edge of Osaka Bay, you’ll find one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world. The 100-meter (330 ft) diameter Ferris wheel takes visitors on a 15-minute tour of the sky. The trip is best at night when the city is completely illuminated.
Skip a Visit to Osaka Aquarium
While Osaka Aquarium, also known as Kaiyukan, is a popular attraction showcasing a diverse range of marine life, we recommend reconsidering a visit for ethical reasons.
The confinement of marine animals in captivity, despite efforts to recreate natural environments, raises concerns about their well-being and the impact on their natural behaviours. By opting out of a visit, you actively contribute to a movement supporting marine life in their natural habitats.
Visit Some Museums
If you’re interested in learning more about Japanese history, here are a few world-class museums worth visiting in Osaka.
Osaka Science Museum
Full of interactive exhibits targeted at teaching children about the natural world, this museum is perfect for families looking for a rainy day activity.
Osaka Museum of Natural History
Located inside the Nagai Botanical Garden, this museum features a bunch of archaeological and paleontological finds from around the Osaka region.
National Museum of Art
Located close to the convention center in downtown Osaka, this art gallery showcases a range of contemporary art from Japan and around the world, with rotating special exhibits each year.
Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda
For a completely unique experience, this small quirky museum is located north of the city in Ikeda district. This instant ramen museum is dedicated to the history and culture of ramen noodles with displays and tastings available.
As you wrap up your time in Osaka, take with you snapshots of its diverse cityscape. From the lively street markets to the tranquil shrines, Osaka leaves an impression of a city balancing tradition and modernity. It’s not just about the sights but the blend of flavours and local encounters.
We hope our suggestions for top things to do in Osaka allow you to appreciate the best of Osaka’s bright lights, its down-to-earth authenticity, and culture and allow you to have many enriching experiences.