Osaka might be the third-largest city in Japan (in its second-biggest metropolitan area), but despite its size, most travellers will agree that getting around Osaka is relatively easy thanks to the city’s highly efficient public transport system.
In visiting Osaka, you’ll capture the whole culture of Japan. Whether it’s in theatres that host travelling ballets and musicals, underground art museums, sky diners & cocktail bars, street food vendors, noisy pachinko halls and hundreds of shops, large and small, this city’s easily become one of the most popular travel destinations in Japan.
For centuries Osaka has been known as the nation’s kitchen. And for good reason. Much of Japan’s traditional cuisine originates here. From crab to blowfish, ramen to sushi and some of the freshest sashimi in the nation, Osaka’s the place to sample all that Japanese cuisine has to offer.
Ready to experience the culture of Osaka? Scoot around the city with ease with this complete guide on how to get around Osaka…
How to get around Osaka: A transportation guide
Like most Japanese cities, Osaka has an efficient and well-run public transport system. Transportation in Osaka is dominated by the subway system. As long as you can make your way through the sometimes-confusing subway stations this is by far the best way of getting around Osaka.
The subway stations are vast and include shopping areas and restaurants. The system covers almost every part of Osaka and, in true Japanese fashion, the trains are always on time.
Travel between Osaka and the other large cities in the Kansai area including Kyoto is also easily accommodated by the various above ground rail services.
Buses, trams, taxis and bicycles are also readily available and form an essential part of the Osaka’s transportation system.
Osaka transportation cards & passes
There’s a variety of passes available for discounted travel or simple convenience while using public transportation in Osaka
- Day Passes – These passes offer unlimited use of buses and subways for a single day. There are several different passes available:
- The Osaka Amazing Pass – This pass is also valid for private rail lines but not for Japan Rail Lines such as the Osaka Loop Line. It offers free entry to 35 of Osaka’s top tourist attractions. The cost of this pass is ¥2500.
- The Osaka Enjoy Card – At ¥800 on weekdays and ¥600 on weekends for adults, this pass is less expensive than the amazing pass and is the best choice for you if you do not require free entry to any tourist attractions.
- Osaka Kaiyu Ticket – With free admission to the Osaka Aquarium, this pass also offers discounts at over 30 of the top tourist attractions in Osaka. It costs ¥2,550 per adult
- The Kansai Thru Pass – for subways, trains and buses throughout the Kansai province costing ¥4,000 for two days and ¥5,200 for three
- Multiple Ride Card and the Rainbow Card – These prepaid cards available at the Osaka subway allows for travel on buses trams and subways. The fare is deducted when you travel.
- ICOCA – used on the JR West Line, these electronic prepaid cards will allow you through the automated gates of subways and stations. They are also useful for purchasing goods at participating stores. They don’t save you money but they are convenient
- JR West Kansai Pass – Designed specifically for foreign tourists in the Kansai region, these passes provide unlimited access to various buses and trains over a 2- to 4-day period.
Trains and subways
Trains & metros are without a doubt the best way of getting around Osaka, but it is best to avoid travelling at peak times when the subway stations are crowded with commuters.
The subway transportation in Osaka is comprised of eight subway lines. Two of these lines service most of the city. They are the Midosuji Line, running north to south indicated in red and the Chuo Line running east to west which is green on maps and charts.
All lines are colour coded and most signs at the stations are in English, so it is easy to find you way around using Osaka transportation.
A subway fare will set you back ¥180 to ¥370, depending on how far you are travelling. If you are unsure about the ticket price for your destination, take the cheapest ticket you can find. You can top it up at the fare adjustment machine at your destination.
Tickets can be bought outside subway stations. They are valid for all nine subways. Trains run from 5am to midnight every day of the week
The train line the Osaka Loop Line circles the city. It’s part of Japan Rail which runs most of the above ground rail system in Osaka. There are also a number of privately-owned railway companies that service the city.
Osaka makes a great base from which to explore the wider surrounding area because of the efficient train systems that run between the cities and towns in this part of Japan.
Intent on exploring the region? Grab the 5-Day JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass to save some money and add a little flexibility to your trip!
Buses and trams
The tram service in Osaka has been active for a hundred years and offers a nostalgic way to see some of the older more historic sites in the city.
While Osaka does have an efficient bus service, the subway system is more convenient and less expensive. Buses in the city centre charge ¥210 for adults. The easiest way to pay your fare is with a prepaid card.
Bright green Umegle tourist buses run through the main Umeda area of the city between eight in the morning and eight at night, leaving the bus station every half hour on an exploration of the city centre.
Taxis in Osaka are plentiful, but more expensive than other forms of Osaka transportation. If you like to party late into the night you may have no choice but to use a taxi as the subways stop operating at midnight.
Want to prepare for the inevitable language barrier in Japan? Pick up the Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook & Dictionary as a trusted travel companion!
Cycling is a great way of getting around Osaka as the city is relatively flat, and there are plenty of rental bikes on offer. Osaka has wide cycling areas downtown and along the tranquil Yodo River. It also has many pleasant parks which include cycle lanes.
Keep fit while exploring the depths of the city. Cycling is an excellent way to experience not just the sights around the city. In the open air you can also enjoy the sounds and smells of this busy city, a really immersive downtown experience.
A cruise on the river
A river cruise through Osaka will take you past many points of interest in the city. There are several operators of this popular Osaka transportation known as river buses.
A day trip or an evening cruise could take you from the sea to the famous Osaka Castle with its interesting history and tranquil gardens (visit during Osaka’s cherry blossom season for an extra treat).
Alternatively, treat yourself to tranquil music and gourmet food as you glide across the surface of the water. There’s even an amphibious bus here that navigates both land and water!