Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city in Japan with a population of 19 million and is located on the main island of Honshu and is roughly in the western central part of Japan. Traditionally the economic hub of Japan is home to a lot of Japan’s financial activities with the Osaka securities exchange located here. Osaka is also considered the nightlife capital of Japan, so there’s lots of fun to be had.
- When planning your trip to Japan, make sure you include Osaka. It’s a city that is heaped in tradition and has arguably the best nightlife in Japan
- Try to fly directly into Osaka from your international destination as prices are generally cheaper compared to Tokyo
- Spend 3 full days in Osaka
- Use Osaka as your base to visit Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. All of these areas are a short train journey away so to save changing hotels stays and Osaka and take day trips to each of these places
Best time of year to visit
Due to the varying temperatures in Japan in general the best time to visit Osaka and Japan are the Autumn (October/November) and spring (March/April/May). In spring specifically, it’s the Hanami (cherry blossom season). The cherry blossoms in Osaka are typically in full bloom on April 6th, so anytime in early April is best to visit.
Like all big cities in Japan, its public transport system is one to be admired. With some of the most efficient and reliable buses and trains in the world. The network of railway lines is sprawling and you can effectively get anywhere in the city by either bus or train.
Osaka has two international airports with Kansai International and Osaka international. Kansai was built on a man-made island and is linked to the mainland by a bridge, which makes it quite a unique airport to arriving into. If you arrive from an international destination you will most likely be arriving in Kansai while the majority of domestic Japanese flights arrive in Osaka international. Kansai is located around a 40-minute drive from the city center while Osaka international is just a 15-minute drive.
As Japan is a nation of cyclists, Osaka is a very cyclable city. There is a bike-sharing program in operation in the city. With over 200 bike stations dotted around the city the Hubchari rental service. All you need is a credit card and a mobile phone and you’re good to cycle around the city.
What to Eat
Osaka is known as one of the best food destinations in Japan, so you are spoiled for choice when you come to visit. Being a seaside city the seafood available is some of the freshest around, so in general, try to make the most of that.
There are a number of dishes that originated in this region and they should definitely be tried when you visit.
It’s a selection of deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables that are served with a delicious rich sauce that has Worchester sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, and sugar mixed in to create the perfect dipping sauce for your fried threats.
These little balls of joy are in fact battered octopus balls. Although they may not seem overly enticing, they are definitely something that needs to be tried with no prejudices. As you will be pleasantly surprised. Typically served with mayo and Worcester sauce, these battered treats are the perfect late-night snack.
A savory pancake that is primarily made from flour, cabbage, eggs, and water is a delicious dish that must be tried. On top of the pancake, there is a multitude of proteins and sauces that can be added to.
Where to eat
41-4 Toyotsucho, Suita, Osaka 564-0051, Japan
– This two Michelin starred restaurant is the pinnacle of fine dining. It’s specifically known for its tempura and kaiseki cuisine. With most Michelin starred restaurants you can expect to pay a premium and Shunsaiten Tsuchiya isn’t any different, but if you want to treat yourself you won’t regret it. The 10-course costs around Shunsaiten Tsuchiya ￥15,015 which is about $150 USD at the time of writing this article (August 2020).
Yakiniku a Five Toku Fukushima
1F, Fukushima Hanshin Crescent Building, 14-6 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku, Osaka City, 553-0003, Japan
This is a meat lovers dream with prime cuts of A5 Wagyu on offer. On offer is a selection of 63 items to choose from. Being a Japanese BBQ, you will choose the meats you would like to eat and cook the meat yourself at your table.
The 90 minutes all you can eat option will set you back around $58 USD, but considering the meat options, this is well worth the price. Decent all you can buffet that feature A5 Wagyu are tough to come by, so this place is definitely worth a visit.
6-12-7 Niitaka, Yodogawa-ku, Osaka-shi, 532-0033
This is a Sanuki udon restaurant that is located right next to Kanzakigawa station. This is definitely one of the hidden gems in Osaka and you won’t see many tourists chowing down at Byakuan.
We suggest that you go relatively early as you will probably have to go if you go around 12.30 – 2 pm. Prices range from about $7 -$10 for a lunch set and the food is of a really high standard. The Chicken tempura bukkake set was what we got and it was very tasty. Byakuan is a perfect example of a restaurant that does one thing and does it to perfection and that is their Udon noodles.
2 Chome-1-2 Dōjimahama, Kita-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 530-0004, Japan
This is the perfect after-dinner treat, just walking into this bakery will give you sensory overload. A firm favorite with locals and tourists alike these bakeries are famous for their dojima rolls that come in a variety. The sour peach roll was our favorite and even had large chunks of peaches on top of the soft and airy sponge roll.
Where to stay
Osaka is a sprawling city, so it is integral that you stay in an area that is near the attractions, restaurants, and bars that you are visiting. On average tourists only stay between 2-3 days in Osaka when they visit, so it’s integral you choose the right spot for your stay.
Namba is considered the main hub of activity in Osaka, so it’s a great location to base yourselves for your stay. Close to Osaka’s main nightlife district of Dotonbori, you’ll be spoilt for choice for restaurants, bars, and shopping. In the vicinity of Namba are three separate train stations that service three separate lines, so it’s pretty easy to get around from this base.
Kita (Umeda) is also a very convenient location to stay in. Located in the Northern part of the downtown area, it is very close to Osaka’s biggest transport hub. The hub contains two large stations with Osaka and Umeda. There is also a wealth of choice when it comes to restaurants, bars, and things to do.
Although Kita is the business and financial hub of Osaka there are lots of cool areas within walking distance. One of these areas is the Nakazakicho area, which is home to some of the best boutiques and trendy cafes in Osaka.
Things to do
1. Jump from Izakaya to Izakaya
For those of you that don’t know what an Izakaya is, it’s basically a Japanese bar/restaurant that serves great drinks and Tapas type food. They are typically small in size and have a bustling atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to go in and sample the great food and drinks as they can be a bit intimidating to first-time visitors.
Sample some of the best food that Osaka has to offer by jumping from bar to bar in the Namba Area. The Namba area is the main entertainment district of Osaka and is a good starting point for your Izakaya crawl. Our top recommendation for the Namba area is the Dining Ajito. Located right next to Namba station the food and atmosphere here is something special. Not very well known by tourists, it really is a locals spot. So, don’t tell anyone else. The beef bowl is so tasty.
You’ll be amazed by the sheer volumes of bars/restaurants. Literally every street corner you turn there will be even more choice. As you move from Izakaya to Izakaya make sure you try and sample all of the local dishes we mentioned above.
2. Do a cooking class with a local chef
This is a great way to get an understanding of Japanese cuisine and the care and craft that is put into cooking their local dishes. From Gyoza’s, Ramen, Okonomiyaki to Sushi there is a range of different experiences. When we visited we used AirKitchen.com to book our experience and would highly recommend going through them. What made the cooking lesson unique was the fact that it took place in a local’s house. We took a Soba noodle making class which was a really unique experience.
The price for these cooking classes range from about $40-80 USD, but they are well worth the cost in our opinion.
3. Visit Osaka most famous castle
Address:1-1 Osakajo, Chuo, Osaka 540-0002 Osaka Prefecture
Cost: 600 Yen
Opening Hours: Sun – Sat 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Osaka castle is a historic Japanese landmark that was opened in 1597. It was a key location in Japan as we know it today. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, a lot of the political unification efforts occurred in this castle. It also gives a great overview of the life and times of the Feudal period in Japan.
The castle has been through a lot since it was initially opened in 1597. In the siege of Osaka in 1615, a lot of the castle was destroyed when the Tokugawa shogunate overthrew the Toyotomi clan. The castle was rebuilt by the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 1620s. Again in 1665, the castle was burnt to the ground when it was struck by lightning. As the century went on and the castle was rebuilt and destroyed again multiple times and is a symbol of Osaka’s growth over the years. The city has gone through a lot and this historic landmark epitomizes it.
The grounds around the castle has become a very popular walking and relaxing location where you’ll see locals and tourists alike chilling out in the beautiful grounds. There is no admission price to the surrounding gardens. There is also an observation platform on the top floor of the castle that provides 360 degree views of the surrounding gardens and the city.
4.Visit the Shitennoji Temple
Address: 1-11-18 Shitennoji, Tennoji Ward, Osaka, 543-0051,
Cost: 300 Yen
Opening Hours: 8:30 to 16:30 (until 16:00 from October through March)
Another place of deep historical significance, the Shitennoji Temple is one of Japan’s oldest Temples. Founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku who wanted to bring Buddhism to Japan. It is also the first Buddhist temple to receive financial aid and backing from the nation at the time.
There are a number of historical artifacts and jewels on display in the temple and the complex. Although the temple may not be as visually impressive as other temples in Osaka and Japan, there is a fantastic atmosphere around it with chanting prayers and incense lit all around the complex it’s a very calming tour.
The highlight of the Temple for animal lovers will undoubtedly be the pond beside the main temple. Living in this pond is over 100 turtles. This tradition of keeping turtles in the pond on the ground when people started to leave unwanted turtles in the pond. The monks began taking care of these abandoned turtles and the Turtle sanctuary was born. Although this temple is one of the key pieces of Japanese history, the temple has fondly become known as the “turtle temple” due to the sanctuary.
5. Take in the view at the Umeda sky building
This building is one of the modern landmarks of the Osaka skyline. A truly unique piece of architecture, the Umeda sky building, the “garden observation deck” on the 39th floor gives you 360-degree views of the Osaka skyline. We advise that you visit during the night where the hue or the lights and bustling activity is something to be seen.
The building is known for its unique architecture and probably the most impressive feats of engineering around. There are two towers in this complex and to get to the observation deck there are two escalators that are suspended between the two buildings. This makes for an impressive escalator ride, though it’s probably not great for those of you that are uneasy with heights.
6. See the Osaka Aquarium
Spanning over eight floors and being one of the biggest aquariums in Japan, the Osaka aquarium is definitely worth a visit. WIth 15 large water tanks housing over 470 different species representing the diverse range of sea life from the pacific ocean and beyond.
7. Visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
Ramen is life in Japan and whether you’re chowing down on a bowl of instant ramen in Lawsons or eating a bowl of tasty goodness in a Michelin starred restaurant the Japanese and tourists alike are mad for the stuff. Located in Ikeda City, the instant ramen museum takes its visitors through the origins of this tasty meal through to the modern-day variation of this quick and easy meal. WIth recreation of the birth spot of chicken ramen where Momofuku Ando developed the world’s first instant noodles. The instant noodle tunnel of products is also a visually appealing and interesting exhibit. With 800 different products on show, it documents the change in packaging throughout the years as well as the impressive variety of instant noodles on offer.
The best thing about this museum was the build your own noodles part. By purchasing a blank cup you could design your label as well as choose your own toppings in order to produce your own brand of noodles. This was really unique and resulted in a great keepsake for years to come.
The good thing about this museum is that entry is completely free and it’s a great way to spend a few hours.
8. Visit the trendy district of America mura
Translated as “American Village”, America mura is a super trendy part of Namba. From vintage clothing stores to trendy bars and cafes, America Mura is the center of youth culture and fashion in Osaka. It was aptly named the American village when a number of shops started selling American fashion in the 1970s. Although the name would suggest some sort of themed area, it’s not what you would envision it being.
This is the perfect spot to pick up gifts for people back home or if you want a non-touristy keep safe to bring home. There are a number of shops selling unique items that you can’t find in the main areas of Doton-bori.
9. Embrace the bright lights of Doton-bori
If you’ve ever seen pictures of Osaka before it’s probably been an image of the bright lights of Doton-bori. This bustling area is home to some great eats and drinks and is definitely an area that should be explored. Although this area is quite touristy we still recommend checking it out for its wide selections of street food and restaurants. This is a great place to sample all of the food recommendations we had above. Especially the Takoyaki.
If you’re looking for something a bit quirky to do make sure you visit Mr.Kanso canned goods bar. This bar specializes in canned goods of every variety imaginable. From pretty much every version of spam ever made to canned bear and crickets it’s a really unique experience browsing the shelves and deciding what’s for dinner. This place is also a bar, which is always good news. It is located in the Minami-horie area of Osaka; it’s a short walk from the Doton-bori area.
10. Get some insta inspo at Shinsekai
This is probably the most photographed location in Osaka. The neon lights of the and food signs from the restaurants and the backdrop of the Tsutenkaku tower makes for the perfect photo op. It’s best to visit during the night when the hue of the neon lights is something to be seen.
If you come during the day and walk through some of the shopping arcades you will see areas filled with locals playing a chess-like game. The game is called Shogi and is a Japanese variety of chess. Although this area has become pretty popular in the last number of years there is a great number of local characters in the area.
Osaka is the birthplace of Kushikatsu and the first-ever Kushikatsu restaurant that was opening in 1929 was located in the Shinsekai area (Kushikatsu Daruma). This type of battered meat and vegetable is delicious and can be sampled throughout Osaka, there is a large concentration of these restaurants around the city, so no matter where you are they should be one within walking distance. If you are in the Shinsekai area make sure to check out Kushikatsu Daruma.
Pro tip – about Kushikatsu it’s that the sauce that you dip the fried goods in is communal so you never double dip.
Overall it’s a place worth visiting. As you walk down the street it’s definitely sensory overload with everything that is going on, but the character of the area exudes making it a special place to visit.
Osaka is a really wonderful city and should be considered an essential destination for first-time visitors and repeat visitors alike. If your looking for top nightlife, superb food, and a hell of a good time Osaka is the place for you.