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 a little time hunting down the top tourist attractions in Osaka, a whole new picture emerges.
From the energy of Dotonbori to the ageless grace of Osaka Castle to eating your way through the streets of Namba or Umeda, 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 featuring the top points of interest in Osaka…
What to do in Osaka
- Osaka Castle
- Universal Studios Japan
- Tempozan Ferris Wheel
- Kuromon Market
- Umeda Sky Building
- National Museum of Art
- Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine
- National Bunraku Theater
- Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
- Abeno Harukas
- Hozenji Yokocho
- Shitennoji Temple
- Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda
- Kema Sakuranomiya Park
- Osaka Museum of Housing & Living
Dive into Japan’s past at Osaka Castle
Even if you’ve only got one day in Osaka, you simply can’t miss Osaka Castle, one of the best things to do in Osaka.
Originally built in the 16th century by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, this magnificent building stands as one of the last vestiges of ancient Japan in a city that never ceases to surge forward.
Before you even enter, you’re greeted smilingly by Osaka Castle Park, one of the most popular recreation spots in Osaka.
Walking around the park and its surrounding gardens paints a beautiful classic scene year-round.
If you can hack it, visit in spring when the cherry, plum, and peach trees here become bathed in delicate pink hues. Nishinomaru Garden (¥200) is, in particular, one of the best places to spot cherry blossoms in Osaka.
Inside, Osaka Castle houses an expansive museum that reiterates the traditions of Edo and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.
Far more interesting for most travellers though is the 8th-floor 360-degree observation deck that supplies tremendous views in all directions.
Getting there: Several metro stations ring around Osaka Castle including 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.
Originally built to herald a “new world” before the onset of WWI, the in-vogue neighbourhood attracted visitors in droves who came to see its optimistic vision of the future at work.
Not long after, 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, proudly beckoning Osakans to its streets.
In the intrawar period though, Shinsekai fell out of vogue.
The magic seemed all but lost until post-WIII when Osakans’ aching nostalgia yearned for a return to the good-ol’ days. The area embarked on a long road to recovery starting in 1956 with the rebuilding of Tsutenkaku Tower.
Today, there are still plenty of things to do in Shinsekai.
Sucking in the panoramas from the 91-metre-high observation deck of Tsutenkaku Tower gives an awesome bird’s-eye view, and is a must for visitors unshaken by heights.
Like Dotonbori, Shinsekai’s near the front of the line for gourmands, offering some of the best street food in Osaka.
Don’t leave this wacky neighbourhood with trying its most famous delight, kushi katsu, deeply satisfying battered and deep-fried kebabs featuring succulent meats & vegetables of varying types.
Getting there: 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, Osaka’s premier entertainment district of Dotonbori gets the blood flowing like no other place in Osaka.
Osakans love letting loose in Dotonbori, whether that means tackling their Kansai cuisine favourites or indulging in a traditional bunraku performance in its birthplace.
In many ways, the scene in Dotonbori encapsulates the entire modern urban Japan travelling experience.
The glowing neon-lit advertisements (including the famous Glico Man sign), sprouting from the banks of the canals, are nothing less than captivating and create an upbeat atmosphere for evening exploration.
Aside from all the visual stimulation, Dotonbori is famous for its food.
This is, by far, one of the city’s best places to eat, serving up must-eat Osaka foods like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
Don’t miss a chance to check out some of the best restaurants in Osaka including the delicious kushi-katsu of Kushikatsu Daruma and the succulent crab of Kani Douraku.
When the buzz becomes a little too much to handle, search for your inner peace at the nearby Hozenji Temple.
The alleyway adjacent to temple, Hozenji Yokocho is a famous Osaka attraction on its own featuring a string of bars & eateries along an atmospheric alleyway that hearkens back to the charms of old Osaka.
Getting there: 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
If you’re 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.
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.
Opened in 2014 to huge fanfare, this fantastical zone 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!
Getting there: Universal Studio 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 and 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 little more than an idea to see more of the city despite the chance of rain, I happened to randomly stumble upon (with a few new friends) a gem of an attraction in the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.
Shooting up over 112 metres high and spinning with a diameter of 100 metres, the Tempozan Ferris Wheel is one of the largest Ferris wheels in the entire world with views to match.
Popping into one of the 60 cabins for the 15-minute ride, you’ll become absolutely beguiled by some the absolute 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 attraction is ¥800.
Getting there: 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
If you’re 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.
While household goods are plentiful at Kuromon Market, its street food delights are the focus.
Kuromon Ichiba Market is particularly popular for its wide selection fresh seafood with everything from crabs & oysters to sushi & eel available for your tasting pleasure.
Getting there: 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
One of the only examples of outstanding modern architecture in Osaka, the Umeda Sky Building is an impressive skyscraper located in Kita District near Umeda Station.
Opened in 1993, the Umeda Sky Building complex consists of two 173-metre-high towers. The complex is home to a number of amenities including shopping, restaurants, and offices.
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, offering spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of Osaka from an open-air deck.
Getting there: 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
Located on Nakanoshima at the confluence of Dōjima River and the Tosabori River, the National Museum of Art Osaka is a must-see for culture & art lovers visiting the city.
The museum features a number of exhibitions recounting the works of both Japanese and international artists.
Aside from the collections itself, the National Museum of Art is a work of art on its own. The museum’s new building, opened in 2007, was designed to look like an overgrowing bamboo plant.
Curiously enough, the museum’s exhibits also span across two subterranean floors rather than above-ground.
Getting there: 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’s rife with shrines & temples, but none’s 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, completed in 1810, recreates the mood of the original’s wholly unique Japanese architectural style, sumiyoshi-zukuri.
Unlike many other shrines & temples around Asia, sumiyoshi-zukuri is characterized by simple straight roof lines, rather than elaborate curves, and forked gables.
Aside from exploring the main buildings of the shrine complex, the beautiful grounds are a wonderful place to while away an afternoon in relaxation.
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.
Getting there: The quickest (and more interesting) way to get to the shine via public transportation in Osaka is via 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-higash.
Enjoy the Japanese dramatic arts at National Bunraku Theater
Think puppets are just for kids? Don’t tell that to the serious performers at the National Bunraku Theater who’ve made it their lives’ missions to keep this 17th-century Japanese dramatic art pumping in modern Osaka.
Bunraku performances revolve around three main elements: puppetry, storytelling, and music.
The puppet masters—highly-skilled & teamed up in threes—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 along with earphones to translate the dialogues of Japanese-language plays (¥700 + ¥1,000 deposit). Single-act tickets cost just ¥1,000.
Getting there: To closest metro stop 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.
As one of the biggest aquariums around the globe, this top Osaka tourist attraction impresses from the moment you catch a glimpse of its magnificent building overlooking Osaka Bay.
Entering into Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, with its unique spiral design, unfolds an ethereal world before your eyes.
Starting at the top, you’ll descend past 15 tanks that host 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!) to catch sight of the aquarium’s claim to fame, it’s 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).
Getting there: 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
If you want to check out some of the best city views in all of Japan, look no further than Abeno Harukas.
Opened in 2014 as an addition to the already massive 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 the views match!
The complex is home to a number of amenities 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.
Located on floors 58 to 60, the three-story observation deck, called Harukas 300, offers 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 for its sweeping views from the south to the north towards city’s centre.
Getting there: Abeno Harukas is connected directly to Tennoji Station on the Midosuji Subway Line and several JR West lines.
Hang out with mystical deer in Nara
For many travellers (including myself), one of the biggest highlights of visiting Osaka is having a chance to spend one day in Nara.
The pint-sized city of Nara, located less than an hour from the city and one of the most-popular Osaka day trips, 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 that simply beg to be explored.
Even more unique that its temples (which, to be honest, isn’t such a stretch 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 who will accompany you along your journey to check out all of the best things to see in Nara including checking out the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at Todaji Temple and the mossy lantern-covered grounds at Kasuga Taisha.
Getting there: The quickest way from Osaka to Nara is via Kintetsu Railways from Osaka-Namba Station. The journey is approximately 30 minutes.
Alternatively, if you want to use your Japan Rail Pass, catch a train on the Yamatoji from JR Osaka Station (45 minutes) or Tennoji Station (30 minutes).
Chow down to the charms of old Japan at Hozenji Yokocho
If the dazzling time-capsule of Shinsekai leaves you yearning for quieter times, crawl into the backstreets of Namba to Hozenji Yokocho, an atmospheric alleyway running north from the beautiful Hozenji Temple.
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 several dozen bars, cafés, and restaurants to hearken back to the aura of old Japan.
Despite its small stature, Hozenji Yokocho hits heavy in the Osaka food scene.
Don’t miss tantalizing your tastebuds on mouth-watering local favourites like takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) and kushikatsu (deep-fried battered skewers) in one of the eateries along this charming strip.
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!
Getting there: From Exit 14 of Namba Station walk straight up the small east-west street to the crooked alleyway that leads 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.
Located in the district of Tennoji in the southern part of the city centre, Shittennoji Temple isn’t just the oldest temple in Osaka but one of the oldest in all of Japan.
It was originally built in 593 by Price Shotoku, one of the most important political figures to help bringing Buddhism to Japan.
Although what you’ll currently see at the temple is a reconstruction (thanks to a number of devastating fires), 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 to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Gokuraku-jodo Garden and the Main Hall (Kondo).
There’s also a treasure house with a number of paintings and relics that may interest Japan history buffs.
Getting there: 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.
A love letter to everyone’s favourite childhood after-school snack, this instant ramen museum features a surprising number of cool interactive exhibits that’ll excite foodies and families alike.
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.
If your tastes lean more towards seeing than doing, you could always learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of ramen noodles and its founder, Momofuka Ando.
There’s also a number of colourful exhibits that show that “ramen art” is, indeed, a thing including the museum’s popular Instant Noodles Tunnel.
Getting there: 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.
Whether you’re there for hanami or not, strolling along the riverbank and on the walking trails at Kema Sakuranomiya is among the most relaxing activities in Osaka to help you 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.
Getting there: From Sakuranomiya on the Osaka Loop Line, head towards the Okawa and 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.
This life-sized re-creation of an Edo Period Osaka neighbourhood is, indeed, 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 a number of dioramas that enlighten on Japanese architecture and culture throughout the ages.
Most interesting for visitors might be the pre-WWII models of Tsutenkaku Tower and Luna Park in Shinsekai and Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street.
Make the museum one of your last attractions in Osaka to compare the replicas to the real thing.
Getting there: The museum is located adjacent to the Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome metro in Kita. Use Exit 3 for quick access.
Spend yo’ yen in Shinsaibashi
Dotted with endless high-end fashion boutiques, Shinsaibashi is the ultimate stop for fashion-lovers to shop in Osaka. Wherever you wander in this neighbourhood, you’re bound to find something that catches your eye.
The most fascinating part of the area is undoubtedly Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street, a 580-meter-long shopping arcade running 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 including extensive department stores, independent 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
Despite the pull of Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street and Mido-suji (Osaka’s high street), there’s far more to Shinsaibashi than just shopping.
The area’s dotted with some of the best restaurants in Osaka where you can chow down on specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki and kushikatsu.
It’s also one of the best places to go in Osaka to let loose with raucous nightclubs popping up all around.
For a taste of something a little different, head to the western part of Shinsaibashi and explore America-mura (American Village).
As 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.
Getting there: The area is most easily accessible by the subway station of the same name on 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, and 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 by either Namba or Umeda. From each of these districts, you’ll be close to major transport routes and will be able to scoot around with ease to take on all the top activities.
Here are a few top hotel recommendations:
- Red Roof Inn & Suites Osaka Namba Nipponbashi: A delightful modern hotel occupying a prime location in Namba. Rooms feature contemporary colourful designs for homely feel.
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka Premier: A brilliant excellent value 4-star hotel on the 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: One of the top luxury hotels in Osaka. Rooms are decked out with über-modern furniture and high-flyin’ skyline views through large picture windows. Five on-site dining options including delectable French dishes paired with 20th-floor panoramas at Pierre. Umeda Station is just 7 minutes away by foot.