Best Things to Do in Osaka, Japan

Even if you’ve only got 10 days in Japan, checking out all the best things to do in Osaka is a must. On the surface, Osaka seems little more than a drab post-war Japanese city. But once you’ve had time to hunt down the top tourist attractions in Osaka, a new picture emerges.

Feel the energy of Dotonbori. Succumb to the ageless grace of Osaka Castle. Eat your way through the streets of Namba or Umeda. In any case, exploring the best places to visit in Osaka is a highlight of any Japan trip.

Not sure what to do in Osaka? Let’s figure where to go & what to see with this complete Osaka attractions guide.

What to see & do in Osaka

Dive into Japan’s past at Osaka Castle

Even if you’ve only got one day in Osaka, don’t miss out on Osaka Castle. Wandering around the castle grounds is one of the best things to do in Osaka. 

Osaka Castle was built in the 16th century by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The magnificent building stands as one of the last vestiges of ancient Japan in a city that’s always surging forward.

Before you even enter, you’re greeted smilingly by Osaka Castle Park. The park is one of the most popular recreation spots in Osaka. Walking around the park and its gardens paints a beautiful classic scene year-round.

If you can hack it, visit in spring. The park is at its finest when the cherry, plum, and peach trees become bathed in delicate pink hues. Nishinomaru Garden (¥200) is, in particular, one of the best places to spot cherry blossoms in Osaka.

Osaka Castle

Inside, Osaka Castle houses an expansive museum. The museum reiterates the traditions of Edo and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. Far more interesting for most travellers though is the 8th-floor 360-degree observation deck. Atop the deck, you’ll enjoy tremendous views in all directions.

How to get to Osaka Castle

Several metro stations ring around Osaka Castle. They include Tanimachiyonchome, Morinomiya, Osakajokoen, and Osaka Business Park. From any one of these stations, it’s a pleasant 15-minute stroll, give or take, to the castle itself.

Get a blast from the past in Shinsekai

No list of things to see in Osaka is complete without including a trip down memory lane among the oddball nostalgia of Shinsekai. The neighbourhood was built before WWI to herald in a “new world.” Shinsekai attracted visitors in droves with its optimistic vision of the future.

Shinsekai’s heart began to beat around Tsutenkaku Tower, Osaka’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. From its founding in 1912 until WWII, when it burned down, the tower stood at the centre of Shinsekai. It proudly beckoned Osakans to its streets.

Evening Shinsekai

In the intrawar period though, Shinsekai fell out of vogue. The magic seemed all but lost. In post-WWII era, though, Osakans’ aching nostalgia yearned for a return to the good-ol’ days. The area embarked on a long road to recovery. The revitalization started in 1956 with the rebuilding of Tsutenkaku Tower.

Today, there are still plenty of things to do in Shinsekai. Start by sucking in the panoramas from the 91-metre-high observation deck of Tsutenkaku Tower. The tower gives an awesome bird’s-eye view of Osaka. It’s a must for visitors unshaken by heights.

Like Dotonbori, Shinsekai is near the front of the line for gourmands. The district is home to some of the best street food in Osaka. Don’t leave this wacky neighbourhood with trying its most famous delight, kushikatsu. These deeply satisfying battered & deep-fried kebabs feature succulent meats & vegetables. It’s among the best dishes to try in Osaka.

How to get to Shinsekai

The closest metro is Ebisucho (Sakaisuji Line), a short 4-minute stroll to the centre. Imamiyaebisu (Nankai-Koya Line) and Dobutsuen (Midosuji Line) stations are also both within 10 minutes by foot.

Dazzle at the trappings of modern Japan at Dotonbori

Lining the picturesque Dotonbori-gawa Canal, Dotonbori is Osaka’s premier entertainment district. And it gets the blood flowing like no other place in Osaka.

Osakans love letting loose in Dotonbori. It’s the perfect place to tackle Kansai cuisine favourites or indulge in a traditional bunraku performance. (In its birthplace, nonetheless.)

The scene in Dotonbori encapsulates the entire modern urban Japan travelling experience. You’ll marvel at the glowing neon-lit advertisements sprouting from the canal banks. (Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the famous Glico Man sign.) The scene here is nothing less than captivating. It’s an upbeat atmosphere for your Osaka evening exploration.

Dotonbori at Night

Aside from all the visual stimulation, Dotonbori is famous for its food. Dotonbori is one of the city’s best places to eat. The restaurants & food stalls here serve up must-eat Osaka foods like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

On your visit, don’t miss a chance to check out some of the best restaurants in Osaka. Choices include the delicious kushi-katsu of Kushikatsu Daruma and the succulent crab of Kani Douraku.

When the buzz becomes too much to handle, search for your inner peace at the nearby Hozenji Temple. The alleyway next to the temple, Hozenji Yokocho, is a famous Osaka attraction on its own. It features a string of bars & eateries along an atmospheric alleyway. It’s look & vibe hearkens back to the charms of old Osaka.

How to get to Dotonbori

From Namba Station (Exit 14) is a short walk north up Mido-suji (270m) to the Tombori River Walk along the Dotonbori-gawa Canal.

Check out the magical worlds of Universal Studios Japan

Visiting Osaka with kids? There’s no better destination than Universal Studios Japan. Like its five global sister parks, Universal Studios Japan is a magical ride into dreamy worlds inspired by some of our favourite films.

Universal Studios Japan

The theme park is split into nine different thematic zones including Hollywood, New York City, Universal Wonderland, Waterworld, and Jurassic Park.

For many visitors though, the most exciting area is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This fantastical zone opened in 2014 to huge fanfare. The world and its signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, continues to be a huge draw for the theme park. If you’ve ever fancied yourself a budding wizard, visiting is a must!

How to get to Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan is located near Universal-City Station on the JR Yumesaki Line. To get there from JR Osaka Station, take the JR Osaka Loop Line. Change to the JR Yumesaki Line at Nishikujo Station.

Get sky-high at the Tempozan Ferris Wheel

On one of my last days in the city, the weather in Osaka wasn’t co-operating. Armed with a desire to see more of Osaka despite the rain, I stumbled upon the Tempozan Ferris Wheel. And the attraction was more than worthy!

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

The Tempozan Ferris Wheel shoots up over 112 metres high and spins with a diameter of 100 metres. It’s one of the largest Ferris wheels in the entire world—and has the views to match.

Pop into one of the 60 cabins for the 15-minute ride. You’ll be beguiled by some the best city views in Osaka. Besides the city itself, on clear days you’ll catch vistas of Mount Ikoma to the east and the Rokko Mountains to the north.

Admission to the ferris wheel is ¥800. 

How to get to Tempozan Ferris Wheel

The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is a 5-minute walk from Osaka-ko Station on the Chuo Line. It’s located beside the Tempozan Harbor Village.

Eat to your heart’s content at Kuromon Market

Looking for a traditional Japanese market experience while in Osaka? Look no further than Kuromon Market (Kuromon Ichiba). Open for over a century, Kuromon Market features about 150 shops, restaurants & izakaya spread out over a 600-metre stretch.

Kuromon Market

Household goods are plentiful at Kuromon Market, but street food delights are the focus. Kuromon Ichiba Market is particularly popular for its wide selection fresh seafood. You’ll find everything from crabs & oysters to sushi & eel available for your tasting pleasure.

How to get to Kuromon Market

Kuromon Market is located just 3 minutes south of Nippombashi Station on the Sakaisuji and Sennichimae Lines.

Gaze at the city from the Umeda Sky Building

Osaka isn’t known for dynamic modern architecture. One exception is the Umeda Sky Building. This impressive skyscraper forms a distinct part of Osaka skyline. It sits in the north of the city in Kita District, close to Umeda Station.

Opened in 1993, the Umeda Sky Building complex comprises two 173-metre-high towers. The towers are home to several amenities, including shopping, restaurants, and offices.

Umeda Sky Building

The real reason to visit, however, is for the observatory. Dubbed the Floating Garden Observatory (Kuchu-Teien), this 39-floor observatory connects the two towers. It delivers a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of Osaka from an open-air deck.

How to get to Umeda Sky Building

From Osaka Station in Umeda/Kita, it’s less than a 15-minute walk northwest to the Umeda Sky Building.

Admire the exhibitions at The National Museum of Art

The National Museum of Art Osaka sits on Nakanoshima at the confluence of Dōjima River and the Tosabori River. The museum is a must-see for culture & art lovers visiting the city. It features several exhibitions recounting the works of both Japanese and international artists.

National Museum of Art

Aside from the collections itself, the National Museum of Art is a work of art on its own. Opened in 2007, the museum’s new building was designed to look like an overgrowing bamboo plant.

Curiously enough, the museum’s exhibits also span two subterranean floors rather than above-ground.

How to get to the National Museum of Art Osaka

From Higobashi Station on the Yotsubashi Line, the National Museum of Art Osaka is less than a ten-minute walk. Watanbebashi Station on the private Keihan Nakoshima Line is only five minutes away by foot. The museum is located next to the Osaka Science Museum.

Rebalance at Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine

Osaka is rife with shrines & temples, but none is more important than Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine. The origins of this impressive Shinto shrine are a little fuzzy. The founding date of Sumiyoshi-taisha ranges somewhere between the 3rd and 5th centuries.

The current reconstruction of Sumiyoshi-taisha was completed in 1810. It recreates the mood of the original’s wholly unique Japanese architectural style, sumiyoshi-zukuri.

The design in unlike most other shrines & temples around Asia. The sumiyoshi-zukuri style forgoes elaborate curves, and forked gables. Instead, it’s characterized by simple straight roof lines.

Sumiyoshi-taisha

Aside from the main buildings of the shrine complex, the beautiful grounds are worth exploring. They’re a wonderful place to while away an afternoon in relaxation.

Want to witness one of the classic scenes of Sumiyoshi-taisha? Find a vantage point to snap a shot of the high-arched Sorihashi Bridge (also called Taikohashi) amid the greenery and stone gates.

How to get to Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine

The quickest (and most interesting) way to get to the shine by public transportation is on the Hankai Tramway Uemachi Line. This cable car undertakes the journey from Tennoji near Shinsekai (¥200) in just 15 minutes. Alternatively, the Nankai train runs between Namba and Sumiyoshi-taisha or Sumiyoshi-higashi.

Enjoy the Japanese dramatic arts at National Bunraku Theater

Think puppets are just for kids? Don’t tell that to the performers at the National Bunraku Theater. The artists at the theatre have made it their life’s mission to keep this 17th-century Japanese dramatic art pumping in modern Osaka.

Bunraku performances revolve around three main elements: puppetry, storytelling, and music.

Bunraku

The puppet masters are highly-skilled & teamed up in threes. They bring tremendous realism to the large puppets’ movements. Alongside, a narrator (Tayu) melodically voices the characters, changing the tone to reflect each of their vibes.

Even if you can’t speak Japanese, you’ll enjoy attending a bunraku performance at this intimate hall. English performances are available though. You can also wear earphones to translate the dialogues of Japanese-language plays (¥700 + ¥1,000 deposit). Single-act tickets cost just ¥1,000.

How to get to National Bunraku Theater

To closest metro stop to the National Bunraku Theater is Nippombashi. Walk straight out of Exit 6 along Sennichimae Dori. The theatre will be the third building to your left.

Marvel at the marine life of Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

You don’t need to be a kid to love the dazzling array of marine life at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Overlooking Osaka Bay, this top Osaka tourist attraction is one of the biggest aquariums around the globe. It impresses from the moment you catch a glimpse of its magnificent building.

Jellyfish Osaka Aquarium

Entering into Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, you’ll be captivated by its unique spiral design. Soon, an ethereal world will unfold before your eyes.

Starting at the top, you’ll descend past 15 tanks hosting over 600 different species from around the Pacific Rim.

All the while, keep your eye on the centre tank. (Not that you could miss it.) You’ll catch sight of the aquarium’s claim to fame, its two giant whale sharks.

Want to skip the line? Get your Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan Tickets ahead of your trip! Pick up is available at Osaka Kansai Airport and Osaka City Air Terminal (JR Namba).

How to get to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

The closest metro stop to the aquarium is Osakako on the Chuo Line. From here it’s about a 10-12 minutes walk via Tempozan Market Place.

See more of the city from above at Abeno Harukas

Want to check out some of the best city views in Japan? Look no further than Abeno Harukas. The skyscraper opened in 2014 as an addition to the Abenobashi Terminal Building at Tennoji Station. The 300-metre-high Abeno Harukas currently holds the title as the tallest building in Japan. And you’d better believe its views match!

Abenos Harukas

The complex is home to several amenities. You’ll find everything from the biggest department store in Japan to a luxury hotel to an art museum. The real reason for visiting Abeno Harukas, though, is for the observation deck.

The three-story observation deck, called Harukas 300, is located on floors 58 to 60. Peering through its windows, you’ll dazzle at breathtaking 360-degree views of Osaka and beyond.

Even if you’ve already checked out the skyline from Umeda Sky Building, it’s well-worth the ¥1,500 entrance fee. You’ll enjoy sweeping views from the south to the north towards city’s centre.

How to get to Abeno Harukas

Abeno Harukas is connected to Tennoji Station on the Midosuji Subway Line. Several JR West lines also flow through Tennoji Station.

Hang out with mystical deer in Nara

For many travellers (including myself), one of the highlights of visiting Osaka is having a chance to spend one day in Nara. The pint-sized city of Nara is located less than an hour from the city and is one of the most-popular Osaka day trips.

Nara is famous for being the first permanent capital of Japan, digging into that role way back in 710. Much like the more recent imperial capital of Kyoto, Nara shows off its heritage gracefully. The city is chock-loaded with temples & shrines begging to be explored.

Stone Lanterns @ Nara Park

More unique than its temples (which, let’s be honest, isn’t hard to find in this part of Japan) is Nara’s massive population of free-roaming deer.

Entering Nara Park, you’ll be greeted by an army of wild deer. They’ll accompany you on your journey to check out all the best things to see in Nara. Be sure to set time aside to check out the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at Todaji Temple and the mossy lantern-covered grounds at Kasuga Taisha.

How to get to Nara

The quickest way from Osaka to Nara is via Kintetsu Railways from Osaka-Namba Station. The journey is approximately 30 minutes. Or, if you want to use your Japan Rail Pass, catch a train on the Yamatoji Line from JR Osaka Station (45 minutes) or Tennoji Station (30 minutes).

Chow down to the charms of old Japan at Hozenji Yokocho

Did the dazzling time-capsule of Shinsekai leave you yearning for quieter times? Crawl into the backstreets of Namba to Hozenji Yokocho. This atmospheric alleyway runs north from Hozenji Temple towards Dotonbori.

By day, this narrow passageway hardly seems worth visiting. It looks like little more than a typical Osaka laneway with a few quiet & handsome wooden-shuttered façades.

By night, it’s a different story. The faint glow of neon signs hums as paper lanterns sway between the alleyway’s merchant houses. In them, you’ll find several dozen bars, cafés, and restaurants that hearken back to the aura of old Japan.

Lanterns @ Hozen-ji Temple

Despite its small stature, Hozenji Yokocho hits heavy in the Osaka food scene. Don’t miss tantalizing your tastebuds on mouth-watering local favourites at one of the eateries. Seek out takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and kushikatsu (deep-fried battered skewers).

Already stuffed from gorging on Osaka street food? Carve out some relaxation time to visit the alleyway’s namesake, Hozenji Temple. This small Buddhist temple is famous around Japan for its moss-covered statue of Fudo-myo.

What’s special about the statue—called Mizukake-Fudo—is that it was one of the only things in the area to survive the WWII bombing raids of Osaka. Join local worshippers and splash the moss with water for good luck!

How to get to Hozenji Yokocho

From Exit 14 of Namba Station walk straight up the small east-west street to the crooked alleyway leading to the temple. Hozenji Yokocho is the narrow street heading north from here.

Marvel at Shitennoji Temple

Unlike Kyoto, there isn’t a massive barrage of temples & shrines in Osaka. If you’ve only got time for one or two, make Shitennoji Temple one of them.

Shittennoji Temple is located in Tennoji Distrinct in the southern part of the city centre. It isn’t just the oldest temple in Osaka but one of the oldest in Japan. The temple was originally built in 593 by Prince Shotoku, one of the most important political figures to help bringing Buddhism to Japan.

Shitennoji Temple

Thanks to a series of devastating fires, what you’ll see at the temple is a reconstruction. Still, it reflects the original design brilliantly.

If you’ve already visited Tokyo, you’ll find the five-story pagoda reminiscent of Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa.

Visitors can wander around the outer grounds of Shitennoji Temple for free. If you’ve got a few yen to spare though, pop into the inner grounds. You’ll catch a glimpse of the beautiful Gokuraku-jodo Garden and the Main Hall (Kondo).

There’s also a treasure house with several paintings and relics that may interest Japan history buffs.

How to get to Shitennoji Temple

The temple is located close to Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station (Tanimachi Line). You can also reach Shitennoji from JR Tennoji Station within ten minutes by foot.

Get your soup on at the Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda

You don’t have to be a college student in desperate financial straits to enjoy the offerings of the Cup Noodle Museum Osaka Ikeda. This instant ramen museum is a love letter to everyone’s favourite childhood after-school snack. It features several cool interactive exhibits to excite foodies & families alike.

Cup Noodles Museum

Try your hand at making your own fresh noodle goodness at the Chicken Ramen Factory. Or your own package of ramen at the My CUPNOODLES Factory.

Tastes lean more towards seeing than doing? Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of ramen noodles and its founder, Momofuka Ando. There are also several colourful exhibits showing that “ramen art” is, indeed, a thing. Most interesting is the museum’s popular Instant Noodles Tunnel.

How to get to Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda

It’s an approximately 20-minute ride via train from Osaka Station to Ikeda Station. In Ikeda Station, take the Masumi-cho Homen exit. The museum is about 5 minutes away by foot.

Find your bliss at Kema Sakuranomiya Park

Lucky enough to be in Osaka in cherry blossom season? No viewing spot in Osaka is quite like Kema Sakuranomiya Park. This famous riverside park centres around a 4.2-kilometre promenade lining the banks of the Okawa River. Along the stretch, over 4,800 cherry trees dazzle with their delicate pink blossoms when you time your visit just right.

Kema Sakuranomiya Park

Whether you’re there to hanami or not, strolling along the riverbank and on the walking trails at Kema Sakuranomiya is a must. It’s among the most relaxing activities in Osaka. The park is the perfect place to unwind from the trappings of Japanese urban life.

Jump onto an Okawa River cruise to catch the park’s wispy trees at their finest from afar.

How to get to Kema Sakuranomiya Park

From Sakuranomiya on the Osaka Loop Line, head towards the Okawa. Turn left at the riverside promenade. Walk south for less than 10 minutes to get into the heart of the park.

Time travel at the Osaka Museum of Housing & Living

Ever wonder what Osaka might have looked like almost 200 years ago? Set your sights on the Osaka Museum of Housing & Living. The museum showcases a life-sized re-creation of an Edo Period Osaka neighbourhood. For history buffs, it’s one of the most interesting places to see in Osaka.

Explore everything from toy stores to pharmacies as you stroll through the streets as if you were a time-traveller in Japan. (Rent a kimono here to really get into the role!)

Besides the model town, the Osaka Museum of Housing & Living features several dioramas. They help to enlighten on Japanese architecture and culture throughout the ages. Most interesting are the pre-WWII models of Tsutenkaku Tower and Luna Park in Shinsekai. The Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street model is also eye-catching.

Make the museum one of your last attractions in Osaka to compare the replicas to the real thing.

How to get to Osaka Museum of Housing & Living

The museum is located next to the Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome metro in Kita. Use Exit 3 for quick access.

Spend yo’ yen in Shinsaibashi

Yen burning a whole in your pocket? Spend it all in Shinsaibashi. Dotted with high-end fashion boutiques, Shinsaibashi is the ultimate stop for fashion lovers to go shopping in Osaka. Wherever you wander in the neighbourhood, you’re bound to find something to catch your eye.

The most fascinating part of the area is Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street. The 580-meter-long shopping arcade runs north-south from Dotonbori to Nagahori-dori Street. Its history dates back to the Edo Period, when it was one of the most bustling trading centres in Osaka.

Today, Shinsaibashi-suji’s lined with about 180 stores. The selection include department stores, fashion boutiques, brand retailers, tea shops and cafes. Dip into the alleyways radiating from the arcade to lay your hands on more traditional handicrafts such as scrolls and kimonos

Shinsaibashi

Done browsing the boutiques on Shinsaibashi-suji and Mido-suji (Osaka’s high street)? There’s more to experience in Shinsaibashi than just shopping. The area’s dotted with some of the best restaurants in Osaka. Spend time here to chow down on specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushikatsu.

Shinsaibashi also one of the best places to go in Osaka to let loose. You’ll find raucous nightclubs popping up all around the area.

For a taste of something different, head to the western part of Shinsaibashi and explore America-mura (American Village). America-mura is Osaka’s favourite youth counter-culture hangout. It’s a colourful place to walk around to catch the edgy fashion trends as they’re happening.

How to get to Shinsaibashi

The area is most accessible via the subway station of the same name. The station lies on the Midosuji Line and the completely unpronounceable Nagahoritsurumiryokuchi Line. Even from Namba Station it’s just a short walk north along Mido-suji to the heart of the neighbourhood.

Where to stay in Osaka for sightseeing

Choosing where to stay in Osaka isn’t always an easy task. Osaka’s got a serious case of sprawl. If you’re not sure how to narrow down your search, you’re gonna end up with a tad too much choice. I’d recommend sticking to either Namba or Umeda. In each of these districts, you’ll be close to major transport routes. You’ll be able to scoot around with ease to take on all the top activities and Osaka points of interest.

Here are a few top hotel recommendations:

  • Red Roof Inn & Suites Osaka Namba Nipponbashi is a delightful modern hotel occupying a prime location in Namba. Rooms feature contemporary colourful designs for homely feel.
  • Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka Premier is a excellent value 4-star hotel on quiet Nakanoshima Island. Top rooms show off spectacular views and rich furnishings. The centre of Umeda is a quick jaunt away. The hotel also offers free shuttles to guests.
  • InterContinental Hotel Osaka is one of the top luxury hotels in Osaka. Rooms are decked out with über-modern furniture. You’ll enjoy high-flyin’ skyline views through large picture windows. The hotel is home to five on-site dining options. Dabble in delectable French dishes paired with 20th-floor panoramas at Pierre. Umeda Station is 7 minutes away by foot.
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