A complete travel guide to Osaka, Japan

Located on the island of Honshu within the Kansai region, Osaka is Japan’s third-biggest city and one of the nation’s largest ports. The metropolis has a reputation for amazing street food and a burgeoning culinary landscape, a diverse art scene and thriving nightlife – a personality that rose from the ashes of World War II. The 1945 bombing of Osaka destroyed around a third of the city, but resilient locals recreated an urban sprawl with eclectic charm, edgy architecture and contemporary drawcards. Whether you’re planning a multi-day stay or a quick stopover, these are the best things to do in Osaka, Japan

Where is Osaka, Japan?

Situated roughly in the centre of Japan on the island of Honshu, Osaka belongs to its eponymous prefecture and the city is perched on the delta of the Yodo River. A direct flight from Sydney, Australia to Osaka, Japan takes just under 10 hours, or two and a half hours from Tokyo via Shinkansen

Katsuo-ji Temple daruma Dolls
Katsuo-ji Temple © Adobe Stock

How do I get from Tokyo to Osaka? 

The quickest way to travel from Tokyo to Osaka is by catching a Nozomi Shinkansen, which takes two and a half hours to complete the journey. However, it’s worth noting the Nozomi train is not included in the JR Pass so visitors will need to purchase a separate ticket for this train. 

How many days do you need in Osaka, Japan? 

Visitors can see the best of the city within two to three days within the city. However, if you plan to venture further afield or take day trips into the surrounding areas, allocate more days. 

Tempozan ferris Wheel Osaka
Tempozan Ferris Wheel © Adobe Stock

Things to do in Osaka, Japan 

Ride a Ferris wheel

Osaka has four Ferris wheels for the enjoyment of locals and visitors alike. The largest of the four is Redhorse Osaka Wheel which stands 123 metres tall at Expocity at Expo Commemoration Park. The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is 112.5 metres tall at Tempozan Harbour Village next to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The HEP Five Ferris Wheel can be found on the roof of the HEP Five Shopping Centre and is 106 metres above the ground at its highest point. The Ebisu Tower claims to be the world’s first oval Ferris wheel with four-seat cabins that rotate horizontally. The Ebisu Tower Wheel is a smidge over 77 metres tall and can be found in Dotonbori. 

Visit a temple

There are many shrines and temples peppered across the city of Osaka, however some of the most popular are Sumiyoshi Taisha in Sumiyoshi-ku, Shitenno-ji in Tennoji-koen Park, Hozen-ji Temple in Hozenji Yokocho, the dragon-faced Namba Yasaka Jinja near Namba Parks, Osaka Tenmang shrine in the Kita district, and the famous Daruma dolls of Katsuo-ji Temple in Minoh. 

Namba Yasaka Shrine osaka
Namba Yasaka Shrine © Adobe Stock

Eat your way through the food scene

Osaka is known for its fantastic culinary scene, which includes delicious street food as well as fine dining venues. Get a taste of the real Japan by hunting down a dinner spot beloved by locals. The main thoroughfare of Dotonbori is lined with eateries, as are many of the smaller streets that branch off from it. Take a walk down the Edo-period Hozenji Yokocho and check out the 60 small traditional shops and restaurants. Try takoyaki, fugu or okonomiyaki in Kitashinchi entertainment district, of strol Shinsekai for kushikatsu shops. 

Get a bird’s-eye view of Osaka

One of the best things to do in Osaka is to visit a rooftop observation deck to take in the view of the city at sunset. Harukas 300 is a triple-tiered observation area on floors 58 to 60 in Japan’s tallest skyscraper, Abeno Harukas. The Kushu Teien Observatory (also known as Floating Garden Observatory) in the Umeda Sky Building has panoramic views of the city and a spectacular escalator that’s become Instagram-famous. Tsutenkaku Tower is a famous Shinsekai landmark with an indoor observation deck on the fifth floor, an open-air deck known as Tembo Paradise on the rooftop, and a Tower Slider that snakes its way from the top of the tower to the third-floor basement. 

Imeda Sky Building & Kuromon Ichiba Market
Imeda Sky Building & Kuromon Ichiba Market © Unsplash/Romeo A

Shop ‘til you drop

Whether you’re in the market for luxury goods, budget treasures or antique trinkets, there’s a shop, mall or arcade to suit your style.  Shinsaibashi-suji is one of Osaka’s oldest and busiest shopping destinations. Umeda Shopping Arcade is a series of underground malls with department stores, independent shops and bookstores. Kuromon Ichiba is a covered public market selling fresh produce and souvenirs. International brands can be found in America Mura, colloquially known as Ame-Mura. HEP Five is a massive leisure complex with shopping, dining, cinemas and other entertainment venues. Den Den Town is a collection of more than 150 retailers dedicated to electronics. Tennoji (where you’ll find Tsutenjaju Tower) is a mix of old specialty shops, contemporary fashion and souvenir stores. Not far from Tennoji is JanjanYokocho (also known as Nanyo-dori Shopping Street) which has cheap eateries, a retro vibe and old-world retailers. If you’re looking for a unique shopping experience, find your way to Hirakata T-Site in the north of Osaka, which has a bookstore with seven-metre tall bookshelves. 

See Sakura at the best cherry blossom spots in Osaka 

Late March to early April (and sometimes into May, depending on where in Japan you are) sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom throughout Japan. If you’re in Osaka for the springtime, visit Daisen Park, Kishiwada Castle Garden or Akashi Park to view the blooms. On the right bank of Kema Sakuranomiya Park in Miyakojima Ward near The Mint is a famous central blossom-viewing area. One of the best things to do in Osaka during this season is to walk the rows of trees along Higashioji Street or the East Plaza of Expo ’70 Commemorative Park. If a day trip is possible, venture out to Mount Yoshino, an area renowned for its vast plantation of cherry blossom trees. 

Shinsekai & Tsutenkaku Tower
Shinsekai & Tsutenkaku Tower © Adobe Stock

Spend some time in nature

One of the best things to do in Osaka is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city into a green retreat or meet the animals at the local zoo. Kema Sakuranomiya Park is located on the banks of the Osaka River; Nakanoshima Park is on the Nakanoshima Sandbank between Dōjima and Tosabori Rivers; Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park in Tsurumi Ward is famous for its windmill and tulip farm; and Tennoji Zoo is an 11-hectare precinct in Tennoji Park. A 35-minute drive from central Osaka will get you to Minoh Park to see Minoh Falls and the picturesque bridge. A day trip outside the city can see you braving the 280-metre-long Swing of the Stars suspension bridge in Hoshida Park, also known as the Forest of Osaka. 

Check out the castles in Osaka

Take a step back in time by visiting one of the castles in Osaka, and their museums. Two of the most accessible castles in Osaka are Osaka Castle and its beautiful gardens and Kishiwada Castle, a waterfront structure right in the centre of the city with views over Osaka Bay. 

Minoh falls red bridge
Minoh Falls © Adobe Stock

Brush up on your art, history and nature knowledge at a museum

One of the best things to do in Osaka is to visit one of the many art, history or nature museums. Visitors to the city should add the Osaka Museum of History, Cup Noodle Museum and Osaka National Museum of Art to their itineraries. 

Spend the day at Universal Studios Japan 

Home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Nintendo World, Universal Studios Japan was the first in the world to open outside the United States. Those short on time with aspirations of experiencing the best the park has to offer should look into purchasing express passes as the lines for rides can be extremely long, and both the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Nintendo World often require timed entry. 

Glico Man in Dotonbori, Osaka
Glico Man © Adobe Stock/Luciano Mortula

Catch Pokémon

Tucked away on the 13th floor of Daimaru Department Store in Kita Ward is the Pokémon Centre, an official retailer with merchandise, toys, food and games – some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. If that isn’t enough Pokemon, reserve a table at the Pokémon Cafe on the 9th floor to indulge in themed snacks and sweets. 

Hit up a major tourist attraction

It’s true that every city is home to hidden treasures only found by those willing to veer off the beaten path, however, some of the best things to do in Osaka really are the major tourist attractions. 

  • Experience the neon lights of Dotonbori at night, get a photo with the Glico Man or snap a selfie on Ebisubashi bridge. 
  • The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the largest in the world. 
  • See Shinsekai ‘New World’ lit up at night, with the shop signs and food stalls framing the famous Tsusenkaku Tower. 
  • Cruise the city canal on a Tombori River cruise
  • Those familiar with TeamLab Planets in Tokyo should visit TeamLab Botanical Garden Osaka, the newest outdoor museum installation by the world-famous collective. 
  • Join a Japanese whiskey tasting at the award-winning Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
  • Watch a Kabuki performance at Osaka Shochikuza Theatre.
  • Take some time out at Solaniwa Onsen Osaka Bay Tower which has baths, saunas, open-air bathing and garden viewing areas. 
Ninetendo World at Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan © Unsplash/Romeo A

Where are the best photo spots in Osaka? 

  • Osaka Castle: the Japanese Garden, Gokuraku-Bashi Bridge & Osaka Castle Park 
  • Dotonbori from Ebisubashi bridge
  • The Glico Man in Dotonbori from the yellow stairs immediately opposite the usual photo spot 
  • Shinsekai ‘New World’ towards Tsutenkaku Tower as viewed from Koen Hondori or Janjan Yokocho
  • Shitennoji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan 
  • The red footbridge at Sumiyoshi Taisha 
  • Namba Yasaka Shrine 
  • The cobblestone street of Hozenji Yokocho 
  • The daruma dolls of the Katsuo-ji Temple in the mountains north of Osaka 
Osaka Castle from the Japanese Gardens
Osaka Castle © Adobe Stock

Read more: 
The ultimate guide to the best food in Japan
When is cherry blossom season in Japan?
Nine of the best Kyoto districts for sightseeing, food and culture
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