Osaka City Guide - Something For Everyone: There's no other city in Japan quite like Osaka.
Japan’s second largest metropolitan area is referred to as Japan's kitchen, demonstrating the locals' love of food and home to takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kushikatsu and more delicious regional dishes.
In this comprehensive Osaka city guide, local expert Osaka Bob provides a convincing argument for the claim that Osaka has something for everyone.
Osaka City Guide - Something For Everyone
by Osaka Bob
Once the nation’s main economic powerhouse, Osaka is the place to visit in West Japan. Big city vibes and a huge helping of fun will keep you on your toes and out all night.
The city goes by many names: Aquametropolis Osaka because of the ports and abundant waterways, Gateway Osaka due to its convenient location for travel, and The Nation’s Kitchen since it has such an incredibly rich food culture.
There is something for absolutely everyone, from manga lovers, to sports fans, to foodies, to history buffs. Family travelers will find plenty to do here too!
Osaka City Guide: Introducing Osaka
A city of approximately 2.7 million people and the hub of Western Japan - whatever you’re looking for Osaka delivers!
From hole-in-the wall restaurants to top-tier dining, the city is famous among food-lovers for good reason. Bars, clubs, concerts, and sporting events can keep you busy well into the night. Family travelers will find lots to do from the spectacular aquarium Kaiyukan to the action-packed theme park Universal Studios Japan, which features the first ever Super Nintendo World™.
Beyond the big-name attractions, Osaka also has a lot to offer in the way of niche interests and a quirky personality.
Anime and pop-culture enthusiasts should head straight to the Nipponbashi/Den Den Town. Music-lovers can find tiny specialized record shops of any genre in the city. And were you looking for a dinosaur themed karaoke joint or shopping for custom-made Lolita fashion? Maybe you’re looking for vintage Sailor Moon toys or retro video games? Themed bars and cafes will take you into worlds you never dreamed of.
SEE ALSO: 11 Unique Things To Do in Osaka
Where is Osaka?
Osaka City is located on Honshu, Japan’s largest island, in Osaka Prefecture, at the heart of the Kansai region, which includes Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and beyond. It’s about halfway between Tokyo - 2 ½ hours by shinkansen - and Hiroshima - 1 ½ hours by shinkansen.
The Climate in Osaka
Osaka winters are mild but late summer is hot and humid.
Spring and fall are very pleasant, although you’ll want to bring rain gear if you visit during the late-spring/early summer rainy season. The many festivals, museums, and cultural institutions are a good destination during any season. The city is popular with visitors year-round thanks to its fun urban atmosphere and amazing food culture.
VIDEO: 24 Hours In Osaka
Osaka Travel Guide: How to get around Osaka
Osaka has an amazing transportation network that will get you where you need to go. And fast!
Bullet trains (shinkansen) pull into Shin-Osaka Station every few minutes connecting the city with Tokyo in approximately 2.5 hours, Hiroshima in under 1.5 hours, and over to Kyoto in less than 15 minutes. Osaka Station in Umeda, used by several private train companies, the is the largest railway station in the city, connecting many local and regional services.
Because there are a number of private railways operating in and around Osaka, you’ll want to set your sights beyond the JR network when you travel locally. Osaka Metro, Hankyu Railway, Hanshin Railway, Kintetsu Railway, Keihan Railway, and Nankai Railway are all parts of the extensive public transportation system. Plus Northern Osaka Prefecture boasts one of the world’s longest monorail tracks.
Pro-tip: The JR rail pass is a good investment for visitors planning to go far and wide. Alterntaively, if Osaka and the surrounding Kansai region is a big part of your itinerary, you might want to consider the Kansai Wide Area Pass. It's issued by JR West and covers up to 6 journeys over 5 consecutive days.
Another option is to invest in an ICOCA card (¥500 deposit) which can be purchased on JR ticket machines and charged at ticket machines on almost any train line and at most convenience stores. ICOCA is the JR West equivalent of Suica from JR East, SUGOCA from JR Kyushu, and other smart card systems.
IC cards can be used seamlessly to pay transportation fares on trains, monorails, and buses. They eliminate the need to buy special tickets when you transfer between different rail companies and they make a convenient cashless payment option to be used at shops and some vending machines. Charge them on ticket machines or at some convenience stores. Before you leave Japan, return your IC card at a JR machine and collect any money remaining minus a ¥220 fee.
To explore the city at a slower pace, consider renting a bicycle or joining a cycle tour to see the city up-close at a different speed.
9 Top must-see Osaka attractions
Japan's second-tallest building is also home to an observation deck (HARUKAS 300) that delivers spectacular 360° views across the city and beyond, and includes shops, restaurants and cafes, an art museum, university campuses and more. The five-star Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel offers luxury accommodation on the building's floors 38 to 57.
Standing at a towering 300 meters (984 feet) tall, it has 62 floors. The department store Kintetsu Abeno Harukas, is the largest department store in Japan, occupying 16 floors! Its name “Abeno Harukas” comes from the old Japanese word “晴るかす” (harukasu). It means “to brighten, to clear up”.
The most popular attraction of Abeno Harukas is the rooftop observatory, which is located on the top floor of the building. The observatory offers stunning, panoramic views of Osaka and the surrounding area, and is open from 9am to 10pm. After taking in the scenery from the very top, head down to the open-air observation deck on the 58th floor, where you will find a cafe selling food and drink, including ice cream and beer. Abeno Harukas is a unique destination for tourists visiting Osaka.
Access is easy as Osaka Abenobashi Station can be found in the ground and first basement levels of the building.
The Dōtonbori area of Osaka is a vibrant (some might say gaudy!), lively shopping and entertainment district, renowned for its buzzing atmosphere and delicious street food. If you’re looking to experience the best of Osaka's food and drink scene, you absolutely must visit Dōtonbori.
Tourists flock to the area for its restaurants and bars, which serve up a range of traditional Japanese dishes and drinks. So be prepared for the streets to be packed during peak hours. The area is best known for its iconic neon and extraordinary, colourful 3-D character signs which light up the streets at night, helping create a carnival atmosphere.
The volume and variety of restaurants here can be overwhelming, so it can be a good idea to plan ahead.
Famous ones include Kani Dōraku Crab, which specializes in crab dishes; and the popular Ichiran, which serves up delicious ramen, specializing in tonkotsu ramen (ramen in a pork bone broth). For drinks, head for Hozenji Yokocho Alley, where you find a wealth of genuine izakaya bars, serving up a tempting range of Japanese beers and sake.
SEE ALSO: Japanese Craft Beer – A Beginner’s Guide
HEP Five Ferris Wheel
The distinctive red HEP Five Ferris Wheel is one of the most popular attractions in Osaka, located in the HEP Five shopping mall in Umeda. Although it isn’t the city’s biggest Ferris wheel, what makes this one special is that it is located on top of the HEP Five shopping mall.
The highest point of the wheel reaches 106m (348ft) above the ground, offering some great views of the heart of Osaka.
Getting to the Ferris wheel is easy. Hankyu Umeda is the closest station, but you can also get there from JR Osaka Station (the wheel is directly opposite Osaka Station’s eastern exits), as well as from Umeda and Higashi-Umeda stations on the Osaka Metro.
The wheel is popular with tourists and locals alike, and especially young couples, as the small individual cabin's glass windows provide a romantic view of the city below.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the largest aquariums in the world, located in the Tempozan Harbor Village entertainment and shopping complex next to Osaka bay. It’s home to almost 30,000 fish and other aquatic creatures, and is internationally known for its whale sharks - the world’s largest fish growing up to 12m (39ft) in length.
The aquarium tour starts with you entering via the Aqua Gate, aka ‘fish underpass’, allowing visitors to walk through a glass tunnel and be surrounded by sea creatures. Progress through the strikingly-designed aquarium in a spiral ramp surrounding the main water tanks.
Visitors take the escalator to start at the top, on the eighth floor, before making their way down back to the fourth floor, via a series of aquatic exhibits. Along the way, you can explore each of the aquarium's 15 large tanks, each recreating a specific region of the Pacific Rim.
Kaiyukan's highlight is its whale shark tank, which is 9 meters (30ft) deep and 34m (112ft) long, holding 5,400 tons of water. The huge tank is also home to manta rays, octopuses, ocean sunfish, Japanese giant spider crabs, otters, sea lions and more.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is an unforgettable experience, offering visitors the chance to see some of the world's largest sea creatures up close. It should also be noted that elevators are available for wheelchair users and there is a prayer room on the premises. Baby strollers may be checked at the information desk on the second floor.
Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most iconic castles, located in the Chuo ward in the center of Osaka.
It was originally built in the 16th century but was destroyed by fire, more than once, during conflicts and once in a lightning storm. The main castle tower is a modern reconstruction, with the most recent restoration completed in 1997. The stone walls, moat, Ōtemon gate, Tamon turret, Sengan turret, and other old buildings that can be seen today are all from the Edo period (1603 - 1867).
The castle is easily accessible for wheelchair users, with elevators and ramps to the upper floors. Visitors can also explore the castle's grounds, which feature a museum, gardens, and turrets. The castle is particularly popular during the cherry blossom season, which is usually in late March to early April. However, it can get very crowded during this time, so visitors should arrive early to secure a picnic spot and be prepared for crowds.
From the observation deck at the top of the main tower, there are some expansive views across Osaka City. The castle is open daily between 9am and 5pm (last admission at 4:30pm) and is closed completely from December 28th to January 1st.
Kuromon Market is a sprawling food market located in the heart of the city in the Minami (Namba) southern downtown Osaka.
It’s one of the oldest of its kind, having been around since the Edo period, and is still a popular destination both for locals and tourists. The market is home to around 150 stores, selling everything from fresh seafood and meat produce to traditional Japanese snacks. It’s a great place to sample some of the freshest and cheapest produce available in the city, as well as the perfect spot for souvenir shopping.
When it comes to eating in the market, it’s a good idea to stroll along, and simply stop at any stall that catches your eye (or nose!). Local specialities include takoyaki, a popular Osaka snack made with octopus, grilled in batter, served with bonito flakes. Other popular options include grilled seafood, tempura, and sushi.
Located in the Tennoji area, Shitennoji Temple (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings) is the oldest officially sanctioned Buddhist temple in Japan. Founded in 593 AD by Prince Shotoku, it is one of the most important Buddhist temples in the country and has been designated a National Treasure.
The temple grounds are home to a collection of buildings and shrines, including a five-story pagoda, and the Main Pavilion (Kondō), which houses the Kannon Bodhisattva statue.
Shitennoji is also home to a large monthly antique and flea market that takes over the entire temple area and can host upwards of 300 stalls. Everything from second-hand kimonos, hand-crafted furniture, pop culture ephemera, household items, vintage 35mm cameras, children’s toys and even samurai swords can be picked up here, often for a fraction of what they’d cost outside Japan.
Umeda Sky Building (Kuchu Teien Observatory)
Umeda Sky Building (Kuchu Teien Observatory) is located in the heart of Osaka and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Standing at 173 meters high, this uniquely-designed building offers stunning views of the city from its two observatories, one on the 39th and one on the 40th floor.
From the observatory is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the city’s skyscrapers, as well as its landmark rivers and bridges during the day. At night, the building takes on a different character. Head for the outside terrace and see the sky illuminated with the lights and hear the noises of this vibrant city.
The building also hosts a cinema, the Sky 40 cafe (on the 40th floor), the Sky Lounge Stardust bar, a Chinese restaurant, an art museum, souvenir shops and an entire underground floor of restaurants. It's a short walk from Osaka Station City.
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan is one of the most popular theme parks in the world and a must-visit for many a visitor to Osaka. Located in the city's Bay Area, the park contains over 30 attractions, ranging from roller coasters to live shows.
The park is divided into nine themed areas, each designed to transport visitors into a different world. The most popular areas include Super Nintendo World, Hollywood, New York, and Jurassic Park. Each area contains a number of attractions, ranging from thrilling roller coasters to interactive shows.
In addition to the classic rides and attractions found in other Universal Studios parks, USJ also offers a number of unique (and limited-run) experiences that can only be found here.
The park also offers a range of dining options, including traditional Japanese cuisine and American-style fast food. The Universal Dining Street area is a great spot for a bite to eat, with a decent enough selection of restaurants, cafes, and snack stands. Plus themed foods, drinks, and snacks are available in each area. Try a Hello Kitty steamed pork bun or bite into a bright yellow Minion cookie.
When visiting Universal Studios Japan, it's crucial to plan ahead. The Universal Studios Japan app is convenient for navigating the park, checking wait-times, and booking timed-entry tickets to the busiest areas in the park. The park can get seriously crowded, so it's best to purchase tickets in advance and be prepared to wait in line for some attractions (Express Passes are worth the extra expense if you want to spend more time having fun than standing in queues for hours). See our Universal Studios Japan: The Ultimate Guide for everything you need to know when planning a visit to USJ.
If it’s more unusual and off-the-beaten-path things to do then you should check out the post 11 Unique Things To Experience in Osaka.
Food in Osaka
Osaka is a foodie city with its own unique food culture born from ingenuity and a variety of readily available fresh ingredients. The country’s location and major port has historically given Osaka an advantage in procuring diverse foodstuffs from all over the country.
Plus the city’s Korean diaspora has recreated some of Korea’s best cuisine and street food in Osaka’s own KoreaTown, which is actually the largest in Japan.
New food trends pop up regularly, but here are some of the tried and true local specialties:
Come ready to eat because this list alone will keep you busy.
Osaka’s reputation for great food goes back hundreds of years and was forged through ingenuity and innovation. Popular favorites like conveyor belt sushi and instant ramen were created right here!
The city offers plentiful options for high-end dining, with the overwhelming number of Michelin-starred restaurants serving everything from traditional Japanese to yakitori, Chinese, and French.
VIDEO: Backstreet Night Tour In Osaka
The number and choice of places to eat and drink in Osaka can be a challenge to choose from. One sure-fire option to is to join some knowledgeable locals for a night out as part of backstreet night tour. Your personable guides navigate a small group of eight or fewer to the izakaya and backstreet bars of Namba, Shinsaibashi, and Amemura, where you sample local food and drink throughout the evening.
Read more about this Osaka Backstreet Night Tour via Viator.
Department stores, international fashion brands, mom & pop shops, and shopping arcades. If you’re buying, they’re selling!
Hankyu Department Store and Hanshin Department Store are the giants in the north and Takashimaya Department Store does a steady trade in the south. That’s just the beginning. Beyond department stores, you’ll find a wall of independent storefronts along Midosuji Boulevard for designer brands like Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, and the list goes on.
Underground shopping malls wind around in labyrinths under a handful of major stations like Umeda, Namba, Uehonmachi, and Shinsaibashi. Osaka also claims Japan’s longest shopping arcade, Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street.
Bathe in neon lights along Dōtonbori
A visit to Dōtonbori is incomplete without posing in front of the iconic Glico Sign, the most famous billboard in the city. Look for the animatronic crab crawling in place at the beloved restaurant Kani Dōraku. The billboards here are larger than life and there is food, food, food!
Take a cruise on a riverboat
Experience the city from the water on any one of the river cruises along the Ō River or the Dōtonbori Canal. Or head out to the open waters of Osaka Bay on the Santa Maria, which departs from Tempozan near the aquarium.
Osaka attraction passes will save you time and money
As you're probably discovering, there's a lot to see and do (and eat) in Osaka.
This is where Osaka's attraction passes can come in handy. Not only to rationalise the array of options, but they can also save you time and money. There's several to choose from, but the best-known are probably the Amazing Osaka Pass and the Osaka e-Pass - both available in 1-Day and 2-Day versions.
If you'd like to know more about the various passes, what they include and how they work, I have a post dedicated to them. You can read that here: 5 Great Value Osaka Attraction Passes to Save You Time and Money.
Day Trips from Osaka
Osaka is centrally located in the Kansai region making it a great starting point to launch your trip. Explore neighboring cities like Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe on easy one-day trips to cover a lot of ground and make the most of your stay.
Visitors to Kyoto will undoubtedly seek out spiritual beauty in the countless temples, shrines, gardens, and photogenic bamboo groves. Nara visitors flock to Nara Park to mingle with deer and step inside the main hall of Tōdaiji Temple to view the giant Buddha statue.
The port city of Kobe attracts visitors with its big-name brand of beef, reputable sake breweries, and a large Chinatown. Osaka is also an essential starting point for any journey to the beloved Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Trail or over to the Buddhist temples of Koyasan in Wakayama.
Venture further in Osaka Prefecture to see nature, history, and world-renowned craftsmanship
Explore other parts of Osaka Prefecture venturing north to see the adorable daruma dolls at Katsuōji Temple or the lush nature surrounding Minoh Falls. Head south to Sakai to see the world’s largest tomb Daisen Kofun, handcrafted knives, and historic sites related to Sen no Rikyū aka the godfather of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
What to do in Osaka: Seasonal events and festivals
Spring in Osaka
From the end of March thru early April, the city’s parks come alive with picnickers out to see the cherry blossoms. Popular spots include Osaka Castle Park and Sakuranomiya Park which connects to the river promenade lined with food stalls.
Although you can’t picnic at the Japan Mint, this location is famous for the tunnel of cherry trees, which draw tens of thousands to admire the 100 varieties of blossoms.
In the beginning of May, the 3-day Nakanoshima Matsuri is a unique festival put on by citizens featuring countless hand-made attractions and amateur stage performances.
Summer in Osaka
The most exciting summer event in Osaka is the Tenjin Matsuri Festival. It’s one of Japan’s largest and is held July 24–25. In addition to the abundance of festival games and food stalls, there is procession of kami and attendants that traverse the streets and waterways of the city near Tenmangu Shrine over the two days. The festivities culminate in a huge fireworks show on the last night.
Fans of fireworks will also appreciate the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival in early August and the record-setting PL Fireworks festival in the nearby city, Tondabayashi.
Dokoton boats take over Dōtonbori for one night during the Namba Yasaka Jinja summer festival in mid-July. Don’t miss this chance to see the boats perform tight turns in front of the famous Glico Man sign.
Autumn/Fall in Osaka
In October, take a trip to Universal Studios Japan for Halloween. The zombies are both terrifying and adorable. They’ve managed to mix up the perfect combination of psycho killer cute. Plus they can dance!
Osaka Castle also looks amazing surrounded by autumn foliage. And Midosuji Boulevard is carpeted in gold as the iconic gingko trees lose their leaves.
Winter in Osaka
Gorgeous light displays make the city shine, especially the rows of gingko trees along its main boulevard Midosuji during the winter months. New Years is lively and crowds throng to shrines and temples praying for good fortune and buying new good luck charms. Setsubun festivals abound at the city’s many shrines, temples, and landmarks.
How to Get to and from Osaka
Osaka is accessible by two major airports - Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Itami Airport (ITM), also known as Osaka International Airport. While ITM is slightly closer to the city center, KIX services more international flights. Both are very modern and have excellent dining and shopping facilities. [NOTE: Parts of KIX are undergoing renovations during 2023 that are temporarily limiting some of the facilities available.]
The cool-looking Nankai Express Rapi:t Train connects Kansai International Airport with Osaka's central Namba Station in 35 minutes.
From Itami's Osaka International Airport, the Osaka Monorail service provides the only direct rail access to the airport and is also useful for the Osaka Expo Park.
SEE ALSO: Riding The Osaka Monorail
The shinkansen stops at Shin-Osaka Station, which is within city limits and has connections to JR and Osaka Metro.
The city is also connected to neighboring cities and prefectures via Hankyu Railway, Hanshin Railway, Kintetsu Railway, Keihan Railway, and Nankai Railway.
A great side trip from Osaka using the Nankai Railway is to the beautiful mountain town of Koyasan. Grab yourself a Nankai Electric Railway All Line 2-Day Pass, travel to and stay overnight in the peaceful Buddhist retreat. Nankai runs Limited Express trains out of Osaka’s Namba Station.
Use the Hanshin Expressway to travel within and outside of the city to connect to the larger network of expressways. Please be aware that expressways in Japan charge a toll. See Driving in Japan Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide for more practical advice and information, including how to use Japan's toll roads.
For travelers looking for something different, keep in mind that Osaka has a huge port. Ferry boats can take you directly from Osaka down to the southern islands of Kyushu or Shikoku on an overnight cruise.
Buses are a great option for those on a budget, who would rather be guaranteed a seat, or looking to travel beyond the train network. Go for a relaxing getaway in nearby Awaji Island. Take a trip to a hot spring town like nearby Arima Onsen or Kinosaki Onsen. Perhaps head up north to Kanazawa or Nagano.
TIP: Use a website like 12GoAsia to check timetables and reserve seats on highways buses.
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I hope this introductory Osaka city guide inspires you to add it to your next itinerary. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment below...
About the Author
Osaka Bob is the mascot character for the Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau. He is also an exchange student who calls Osaka his home. He shares his best Osaka travel tips and advice on Instagram and Twitter, and is working hard to build community travel resources on his website MAIDO.
Location Guide Map: Osaka City
Tours & Experiences Mentioned In This Guide
Day Trip Tours From Osaka
Osaka Info (Official Tourism Website)
JNTO Osaka Guide
Things To Do In Osaka
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