Japan’s third largest city, Osaka is a stone’s throw from two of the nation's historic old capitals, Kyoto and Nara. It's a very different beast, however. The happiest and most welcoming large city in Japan, Osaka offers so many things to do. It's home to a rich nightlife scene, beautiful cycling routes, some of the best local cuisine in the whole country, and many hidden historic shrines and temples. Neon-soaked and full of life, get ready to make your way around the city in 48 hours.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: Whether you’re coming by high-speed train from another city or from Kansai airport, you’ll probably arrive at Osaka Station. Fortunately, almost all train and subway stations in Japan have coin lockers, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere to store your luggage while you’re traveling. If you would prefer to drop your luggage off at a hotel, look for accommodation in the Kita or Minami areas, both of which are central and close to transport links. For a quick breakfast or coffee, head to LeBRESSO; one of their two locations is minutes from Osaka Station.
11 a.m.: Osaka Station is located in Umeda; before leaving the area, make sure to see the Umeda Skytree. This is one of the most famous contemporary buildings in Japan, with a 360-observatory on top for great views of the city. If you’d rather take a little time out in nature, Nakanoshima Park is within walking distance and has a rose garden that blooms between May and October. For Pokémon fans, the Pokémon Centre is a five-minute walk from the station.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: Exploring the Shinsekai area will satisfy your stomach and allow you to wander one of Osaka’s most nostalgic retro districts. Just take the subway from Osaka Station to Shin-Imamiya Station, and walk down the colorful Jan-Jan Yokocho Lane. Full of small restaurants, bars, and shops, this alley offers a great view of the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower at the end.
You’ll be able to find every specialty of Japanese food in Shinsekai—including high-quality sushi, wagyu, and takoyaki— but kushikatsu is best tried here. One of Osaka's specialties, these deep-fried meat and vegetables are coated in panko and dipped in sticky sauce; stop by Yakko for some of the best. You can also visit Spa World in Shinksekai if you’d like to relax in Asian- and European-style baths for a couple of hours.
4 p.m.: Just 11 minutes from Shinsekai's busy streets is Shittennoji Temple: Japan’s oldest Buddhist Temple. It’s spacious and offers a calm, meditative atmosphere after a busy day. You can explore the outside for free, but you will have to pay to enter the treasure house, which stores ancient paintings and scriptures, a Japanese garden, and a five-storied pagoda.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: There’s no better place to spend your first evening in Osaka than Dotonburi. Bright with neon and larger-than-life signs, this is where you’ll find the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kuidaore Taro, a drummer boy figure that has become the symbol of Osaka. The main street is 1.9 miles long, with an endless number of shops to choose from and a mixture of street food vendors, bars, and restaurants. For a pub experience that overlooks the river, Kitazo is a great option. Alternatively, you can try famous crab restaurant Kani Douraku, or Creo-Ru for traditional Osaka food. Afterwards, pick up one of Osaka’s famous fluffy cheesecakes at Pablo.
8:30 p.m.: Enjoy the neon from the river (and without all the crowds) with a Tonbori River Cruise. You’ll see all of the tourist spots along the way, making this an efficient way to capture the iconic area in all its splendor.
9 p.m.: While the riverside is busy in Dotonburi, there are many little alleys known as yokocho that are perfect for drinking or snacking the night away. Some notable yokocho include Ukiyo Shoji and Hozenji Alley, where you will find the atmospheric Hozenji Temple. Hop between izakayas for beer or sake, and enjoy snapping pics of the alleys, lit up with with lanterns and neon signs.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: If you’re looking for something to eat, try one of the most popular breakfast and brunch spots in the city: Eggs ‘n Things. They offer a big menu and larger portions than your typical Japanese breakfast—perfect for fueling up for the busy day ahead.
10 a.m.: One of the most famous Japanese landmarks, Osaka Castle has a history that dates back 450 years. Surrounded by a moat and park, this five-story castle promises a dynamic visit that you will need a couple of hours for. Particularly beautiful during cherry-blossom season and fall, you can catch a great view of the city from the top. If you’d like to rent a kimono to wear around the castle and grounds, you’ll find many rental shops nearby, including Kimono Rental Wargo.
Afterwards, grab ramen within Osaka Castle's grounds at Takahiro Ramen, or check out one of the many nearby restaurants for lunch. If you just want a snack, you’ll find vendors leading up to the castle selling sweet treats like matcha ice cream and custard-filled takoyaki.
Day 2: Afternoon
12 p.m.: Osaka has some fantastic shopping districts, and which one you visit very much depends on your personality type. The big all-rounder is Shinsaibashi, where you’ll find Shinsaibashi-suji, the famous 600-meter-long shopping arcade packed with boutique shops and department stores like Daimaur.
A four-minute walk from Shinsaibashi, America Mura’s cute streets have a Harajuku vibe and are where the youth culture and vintage clothes scene is centered. For video game, electronics, or animé fans, you have to visit Denden Town in Nipponbashi, Osaka’s answer to Akihabara. Denden Town is a 24-minute walk from America Mura (or 19 minutes on the subway).
2.30 p.m: Visit Osaka’s only kabuki theatre, Osaka Shochikuza, and grab a coffee or afternoon snack while you’re there. The theatre has nightly kabuki performances; if you'd like to catch some culture before you leave, you can buy tickets here. They have a brewery on site, so this is also an ideal place to try Osaka’s own beer on tap.
3:30 p.m.: For people who love Japanese art, Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum deserves a lot more attention. Located in a former private home and decorated in a traditional style, they showcase woodblock paintings from the Edo period—many of which feature kabuki actors who demonstrate more detailed expressions than those created in Tokyo. There are more than three floors to explore, and you’ll be able to purchase stunning ukiyoe prints on site. Entry is 500 yen, and it's open much later than other Osaka museums (until 6 p.m.).
Day 2: Evening
6 p.m.: You can’t leave Osaka without trying okonomiyaki, a local comfort dish fried right in front of you to make a fully-customizable pancake of flour, meat, and vegetables. At Mizuno, they use yam flour, which lends to a unique texture that has made them an immensely popular choice among food critics. There is a grill menu so you can choose your own sides, and they also cater to vegetarians.
7:30 p.m.: Just a 12-minute walk from Mizuno, you can enjoy a slow drink at the laidback Hana Sake Bar. While they do serve other drinks like plum wine, yuzu liqueur, and craft beer, the main event here is their wide sake collection. As you taste your way around some of Japan’s best spirit, ask the staff to teach you more about it. The rustic wooden interior adds to the overall atmosphere, making this a perfect place to while away a couple of hours.
9 p.m: Did you know Osaka is Japan’s comedy circuit central? Visit RoR Comedy, which hosts English-friendly stand-up acts starting at 9 p.m. most nights. From local celebrities to fresh faces to open mic nights, there’s a great atmosphere with plenty of drinks available and time to mingle. Make sure to check their schedule to see what's on.