As Japan’s third-largest city, as well as its comedy and food center, there’s a lot to love about the city of Osaka. It has a markedly laidback atmosphere when compared to Tokyo, while still having everything you might expect of a big and bustling city. It’s also within easy traveling distance of Kyoto and Nara, making it a fantastic hub for exploring the country further. Find out everything you need to know before planning your trip to Osaka.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Summers are humid, hot and can be rainy during June and July, so anytime during spring or fall is ideal. Osaka comes to life with cherry blossoms during spring and yellow ginkgo trees in the fall, and the weather is temperate.
- Language: Japanese. Osaka locals famously have their own strong dialect, which is known as Osaka-ben.
- Getting Around: The subway or train is the best way to get around Osaka. You can pick up the ICOCA travel card or use the Suica or Pasmo travel card from Tokyo to make tapping in and out easier. Much of what you’ll want to see is on the Midosuji subway line, which runs north to south through the city. Taxis are also an option, and you’ll find them outside most stations, or you can flag them down, but they can be expensive.
Things to Do
Osaka is a city that really unravels, given enough time. With quirky neighborhoods and an abundance of food and cafe options, it’s a perfect blend of old city charm and modern skyscapes. Here are a selection of things you must do when visiting Osaka:
- Visit Osaka Castle. Osaka Castle is one of the highlights to any visit to the city. The five-story castle features a museum displaying historical artifacts, armor, and weapons and also a fantastic view of the gardens and city from the top.
- Spend a day at Universal Studios. The first Universal Studios to open in Asia and the only one to feature The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is a perfect Osaka day trip within the city and fun for all ages.
- Catch a view from the Umeda Sky Building. Two buildings linked at the tip with a giant observatory is the perfect spot for getting gorgeous photos of Osaka from above. The observatory is on the 39th floor and once you’re done at the top you can head to the basement where you’ll find an underground labyrinth of shops and restaurants.
- Visit one of Osaka’s quirky museums. Osaka has plenty of fun and interesting museums which you won’t want to miss out on. One of the highlights is the Cup Noodles Museum where you can learn all about the international phenomenon of convenience ramen and make your own cup noodle! If you love art then make sure to visit the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum where you can see rare wood prints and try out woodblock printing for yourself.
- Visit Osaka’s shrines and temples. Like most places in Japan, there’s no shortage of historical spots to explore. In Osaka you’ll find stunning spots like Hozen-ji temple and Shitenno-ji temple which is Japan’s oldest temple.
- Shop in Shinsaibashi. Osaka’s covered arcades are like taking a step into the past. Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade is the best place to indulge in all things shopping with 600-meter long covered area to stroll down featuring everything from stationery to kitchenware.
Plan more of your itinerary with our guides on the best things to do in the city and how to spend 48 hours in Osaka.
What to Eat and Drink
Osaka is repeatedly named as one of the top food cities in the world, and you’ll notice the sheer amount of street food and restaurant options almost immediately. Osaka is proud of its food culture and with good reason. This is the city that has specializes in three of the most comforting Japanese dishes—okonomiyaki, kushikatsu, and takoyaki—all fried and all delicious.
Dotonburi and Shinsekai are two of the major food districts in the city. Still, you’ll also find gems such as Kuromon Market, which dates back to the Edo Period and Miyuki-Dori Shopping Street, a 300-meter shopping street where you can choose from over 150 Korean restaurants. Aside from the local specialties, Osaka is also a perfect place to tuck into other Japanese favorites such as sushi, ramen, katsu curry, and yakiniku.
Where to Stay
Osaka is a wonderfully exciting city with 24 wards to explore and hotels available all over the city. Here are some of the most popular areas to stay to enjoy your trip to the full.
Minami (Namba): One of the most popular neighborhoods in the city, Namba is the entertainment hub of Osaka and where you'll find the famous Dotonburi canal and running man neon sign. It's one of the most exciting restaurants and street food areas and ideal if you want to experience Osaka's nightlife, whether that's terrific bars or bunraku and kabuki cultural performances at the theater.
Nipponbashi: This is a perfect place to stay if you're hoping to explore the nerd and electronics haven that is Denden Town, Osaka's version of Tokyo's Akihabara. Once a year, there's a big cosplay festival, and there are often small events happening in some of the local businesses. You'll also be close to Kuromon Market and Namba, so it's an easy way to be close to the action but have room to explore some of the smaller neighborhoods.
Osaka Bay Area: This is an ideal area to stay if you’re hoping to be close to some of the family-friendly attractions of Osaka like the giant Ferris wheel and the world’s largest aquarium! There is also shopping, restaurants, and a ferry that will take you to Universal Studios. The gorgeous views of the harbor alone make it worth staying here.
Shinsekai: This is a traditional area that’s ideal for foodies and people looking to experience traditional aesthetics and neon side streets. Shinsekai is where you’ll find the iconic Osaka Tower and local hole-in-the-wall restaurants that specialize in kushikatsu, sushi, and yakiniku barbecue joints. You can also pay a visit to Spa World, perfect for relaxing in after hard day sightseeing and the Osaka Museum of Fine Arts
Shinsabashi: This dynamic area near Namba puts fantastic tax-free shopping opportunities on your doorstep. You have the Shisabashi shopping arcade and plenty of boutique shopping options as well as nearby America-mura (also known as Amemura), where you’ll find trendy and vintage shopping plus eclectic cafes and bars.
To access Osaka by plane, you’ll arrive at either Osaka International Airport or Kansai Airport, which serves both domestic and international flights. From Osaka Airport, you can reach downtown in around half an hour, and you’ll find several options such as taxis (around $50), a bus ($60 and a combination of train and subway ($6). You can also hire a car from the airport to drive downtown, which will take you around 25 minutes.
If you’re traveling from Kansai Airport, the easiest way to get downtown is via train ($11), which takes around 70 minutes. You can also catch a taxi which will take 45 minutes, but it is a more expensive option at $165. Finally, if you are arriving on the shinkansen from Tokyo or another Japanese city, then you’ll arrive at Osaka Station, which is a prime location to simply hop on the subway to your next destination or get a taxi to your hotel.
Culture and Customs
- There's no need to tip in Osaka. In some cases, it can even be considered offensive.
- If you're shopping, whether at a convenience store, department store, or boutique, make sure to place your money in the dish on the counter. Your change will also be placed there. On that note, remember to carry cash as some places don't take cards. You'll find plenty of ATMs around the city if you're stuck.
- The bow is the standard form of greeting in Japan, but a head nod will usually suffice. Politeness goes a long way!
- When on the subway, make sure not to use the seats reserved for the elderly, even if there are no elderly on the train car who might want to sit down. Even when the car is packed, and those seats are empty, don't ever sit in them.
- If you’re using a JR pass then you will also be able to use this on the JR subway and train lines within Osaka. If you can avoid buying another pass and just use the JR lines you can save money.
- Get the ICOCA & Haruka card at Kansai airport for discounted travel into the city center on the train. You’ll also be able to use the ICOCA as a travel card going forward.
- Make sure to try some convenience store food and coffee to save money. Stores like 7/11, Lawson, and Family Mart have excellent quality bento boxes and hot snacks—perfect for picking up breakfast, a quick meal or gathering a picnic.
- Take advantage of tax refunds while you’re shopping. Purchases more than 5,000 yen (around $46) are exempt from the 10 percent consumption tax. Wherever you see the tax refund sign just show your passport and that store and they’ll seal your items and give you a receipt to show at the airport before you leave.
- Look out for Osaka’s free attractions like walking in Minoo Park, exploring the grounds of Osaka Castle, and visiting the Tomb of Emperor Nintoku, the third-largest tomb in the world.
Statista. "Population of Osaka Prefecture in Japan from 1920 to 2018." November 2019.
Japan Tax-Free Shop. "Japan's Tax Exemption."