Split by the Yoda River, Osaka is a city of cuisine and canals. The river’s tributaries split off toward the Osaka Bay, creating a city of over a thousand bridges. Its geographical position also led to Osaka become Japan’s food capital, but more on that later.
Osaka is Japan’s third biggest city and its beginnings are in line with the start of the Japanese Empire. Overtime it’s grown into a modern metropolis with world-class architecture, beautiful gardens and an endless line of things to do.
Travelers will have an enthralling time making their way between the downtown core and various neighborhoods. All of which are brimming with inviting culture, delicious delicacies, shopping and plenty of fascinating tales.
Roam Dotonbori at Night
In a city of nine million people, you’ll never find a shortage of atmospheric destinations in Osaka. But it’s at night, in Dotonbori, that you can roam the city’s most vibrant district. It’s where the neon lights shine through town like New York’s Times Square, an illuminated place that can be seen long before you arrive.
Join an abundance of locals for an endless array of shopping and a delectable foodie scene. The district’s main street is flanked by boutique stores and international brands with the full selection of authentic local cuisine waiting to be picked.
A highlight of Dotonbori is the Don Quijote, a discount store that quite literally sells everything. Eat up beforehand as you’ll want to spend plenty of time wandering the never ending aisles.
For a break from the organized chaos, wander off the main street to Hozen-ji Yokocho. You’ll find a quiet and charming alley with a quaint temple laden with bright lanterns.
Live out Your Wildest Mario Kart Dreams
An attraction that has exploded over the last decade allows you to drive around Osaka on a go-kart dressed up as your favorite Mario Kart character. Beginning near the Namba Station, your guide will give you a brief demonstration and make sure everyone is safely strapped up. Before letting you pick between their wide range of costumes that also include famous Anime characters.
Travelers will have their choice of several packages that include different sights and attractions. Popular destinations include the Osaka Tower and the aforementioned shopping district of Dotonbori. As you drive between each destination, you will reach speeds of up to 37 miles per hour (60kmph).
The ingenious idea is one of the best things to do In Osaka. It’s an amazing and unique way to see the city. But travelers should come ready with their international driver’s license in order to embark on this adventure.
Embark on a Food Tour
Known as the Nation’s Kitchen, Osaka is the true foodie capital of Japan. It quickly becomes clear why as you roam the streets. You’ll find delicious and sometimes unrecognizable smells of local treats stemming equally from street-side vendors and fancy restaurants. It’s easy to see why the city’s motto is kuidadore: eat till you drop.
The culinary tradition began in the 17th century in a heyday that lasted for almost 300 years. From 1603 to 1868, Kyoto was the Japanese capital. But its more remote location made the nearby Osaka that center of the nation’s trade. Osaka also has every type of farming terrain. So while the city had to feed much of the country, it got first choice of local ingredients which began a rich tradition.
Osaka’s famous food scene now awaits your arrival. English translation isn’t that common here, so it helps to begin your culinary adventure alongside an expert guide. On this night time food tour, try the best authentic eats under the bright lights of Japan’s third biggest city.
Visit Osaka Castle
The Osaka Castle was built in 1586, during a period where decade-long construction on such elaborate designs was par for course. This ornate castle took a mere three years due to the fame and prestige of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a warrior and politician.
The famous historical figure required almost the entirety of his military commanders to provide the stones for its construction. Upon completion, the Osaka Castle was the largest of its kind in Japan. Its biggest individual stone stands at 20 feet (6m) tall and 48 feet (14.5m) wide.
Unfortunately, the breathtaking castle you see today is not the original. Hideyoshi’s army was defeated three decades after construction, leading to the destruction of the castle. It was ruined a second time, before finding a semblance of peace after renovations in the 1930s.
Visitors will quickly fall in love with the soaring central tower, home to a fascinating museum and excellent views of Osaka. Be sure to also visit the Hokoku Shrine, which commemorates Hideyoshi.
Stand at the top of the Umeda Sky Building
The Osaka Castle may offer splendid views of the city from the top of the 5-story tower, but the Umeda Sky Building is a whole different beast. At almost 570 feet (170m) above the ground, the Sky Building has a continuous presence wherever you go in Osaka. It’s an easily recognized sight, thanks to its multiple bridges that connect the two towers.
You can enjoy one of the best views in Osaka from the comfort of the 39th floor. Featuring the main bridge atop the twin buildings, you can witness jaw-dropping vistas of the city laid out before you like a map.
But you’ll also find yourself within the Floating Garden Observatory, one of the several floating gardens in Japan. The hanging garden complements the views with many colorful plants. Before heading off on another adventure, stop by a more standard garden at the base of the building that leads to an underground market.
Spend a day at Legoland
One of the best things to do in Osaka with kids, and for anyone who’s young at heart, is to spend a day at Legoland. In Tempozan Market Place, Legoland is open every day until as late as 8pm.
If you played with Lego growing up, then this attraction promises to be an enchanting trip down memory lane. Here, you’ll find an endless array of tables waiting for you to create your very best buildings, cars, trains and much, much more. Not to mention the Master Builder Academy and the Lego Racer: Build and Test.
But your time at Legoland isn’t purely restricted to creation. You’ll find an extensive selection of rides and even a 4D cinema, transferring a day of discovery into a day at the theme park. Some of the most thrilling experiences include the Great Lego Race and the Kingdom Quest.
Explore the National Museum of Art
Within a unique underground location, Osaka’s National Museum of Art will quickly captivate art lovers and culture hounds. Just out of downtown, the museum is on a small island called Nakanoshima that sits on both the Dojima and Tosabori rivers.
Visitors can explore a wide range of work that has continued to expand since the museum opened in the late 1970s. You’ll find sections dedicated to the promotion of local artists, including the renowned luminaries of Miyako Ishiuchi and Ryuji Miyamoto. While there is also a large area that celebrates international art, including paintings by Paul Cezanne, who helped ring in the post-Impressionist era.
Complementing the permanent art is a wide range of historic artifacts. These include statues, along with a string of beguiling temporary exhibits. To take your art experience further, add in a trip to the Municipal Museum of Fine Art to your Osaka itinerary.
Sign Up for a Cooking Class
There’s something special about our sense of taste and smell. Memories can fade and photos can lose their edge, but a whiff of a scent or taste of a spice can bring us right back to the moment we experienced them for the first time.
A great way to have your travels live on forever is to take a cooking class. Learn the tricks of the trade to recreate your favorite international eats so that your adventures never fade. It also helps that Japanese cuisine is downright delicious and a worthy addition to your cooking repertoire.
Besides jogging memories, learning local cuisine peels back the curtain on the city’s culture. You can gain a perspective of Osaka and Japan as a whole that may have otherwise fallen by the wayside.
In this local cooking class, join a small group in discovering the culinary traditions in one of Japan’s best foodie cities. Learn to make takoyaki, miso soup and okonomiyaki, before sitting down to enjoy your delectable creations.
Visit the Shitenno-Ji Temple
In the middle of the 6th century, Japan’s first state-built Buddhist temple was created. Shitenno-Ji Temple has survived almost 1400 years of history and multiple renovations, but was destroyed during World War II. It was later faithfully recreated using traditional designs. The beautiful site now showcases every bit of its long history, which you can experience on a fascinating guided tour.
While you can explore the temple grounds on your own, your guide will provide invaluable insight as you witness the Central Gate, the 5-story ornate pagoda, and the Kon-do Hall. All of which are aligned from north to south, in traditional Buddhist design. Inside the Kon-Do Hall (Golden Pavillion) you’ll find embellished statues and paintings.
The temple also harbors a collection of amazing artifacts including the Senmen Hokekyo Sassi, which depicts Hokkeyo Sutra and has been official labelled as a national treasure. After your tour, spend time in the temple’s manicured gardens.
Wander Through the Osaka Bay Area
Osaka is a historic port town and owes much of its standing as a modern metropolis to its position on the Osaka Bay. This part of town lights up at night and features the towering Ferris wheel, one of the largest in Asia, along with an expansive entertainment complex and plenty of attractions.
You can reach the Osaka Bay Area via the Chuo subway. In 20 minutes, you’ll find yourself a world away from the hectic inner city while looking out over the Inland Sea. Begin at the Tempozan Marketplace, where you’ll find plenty of delicious street food and restaurants, perfect for using the knowledge gained on the food tour.
From there, journey 370 feet (112m) above the ground on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel for impeccable nighttime views of the bay, Kobe and Osaka. Taking a page straight of Santa Monica, USA, the Bay Area also has its own amusement park hovering over the water. Take your evening up a notch with an experience at Universal Studios!
Enjoy a Sun-Soaked Picnic
Speaking of getting away from the action, another popular option is a day at Tennoji Park. The park is the largest green space in Osaka and is an easy way to leave the noise behind, to spend time with friends and family or just your own thoughts.
There is ample space to lay down the picnic rug and have lunch with your traveling crew. Likewise, you’ll find plenty of shady trees and cherry blossoms to read or relax underneath. But you should allocate plenty of time to explore the gorgeous park. The many trails bringing you to distinct gardens such as Keitakuen, home to a lake, traditional pavilion and bridges leading to vibrant flowers.
Within the park you’ll also find the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Tennoji Zoo home to over 1,000 animals, including koalas, rhinos and elephants.
Head to Shinsekai
While districts like Dotonbori and the Bay Area have kept pace with modern glitz and glamour, the charming Shinsekai is a glimpse into the old Osaka. It’s rather ironic then that Shinsekai translates to New World.
This was because the neighborhood was developed rather recently at the turn of the 20th century. The early days of the district began with earnest. After 5 million people came to the area during the National Industrial Exposition, improvements were quickly made and were full of creativity.
Walking around Shinsekai may bring travelers an eerie sense of familiarity. That’s because the southern part of town was designed to recreate the one and only Coney Island. While the Tsutenkaku Tower, to the north of town, was developed with the Eiffel Tower in mind. However, upon the Second World War, development quickly halted, leaving Shinsekai paused in time.
Arrive at dusk to see the neon light sweep through the old parlors, and restaurants serving traditional kushikatsu, a skewered deep-fried meat or vegetable.
Relax at Spa World
While in Shinshekai, treat yourself to an invigorating experience at Spa World. Featuring a mix of traditional and European-style spas, the enormous complex is open 24 hours a day. Visitors will also have a choice of a range of pools and saunas for a thorough experience that even has the option of staying overnight.
Spa World allows you to experience hot springs from around the world, including a traditional Onsen soaking tub. These spas are located outside, where you can bathe in the hot water while enjoying the cool breeze and wondrous views.
For the full experience, you can complement your spa with a number of treatments, such as massages. While families can make use of the various water attractions, including slides.
If one afternoon just wasn’t enough, Spa World’s full pass allows you to spend the night in its luxury hotel. Visitors should keep in mind that the complex has strict rules regarding tattoos, with no visible designs allowed.
Watch Sumo Wrestling
Although major sumo tournaments occur infrequently throughout the year, travelers who arrive in Osaka during March must experience the Sumo Spring Grand Tournament. Sumo wrestling is a 2000-year-old tradition where heavyweight wrestlers battle to eliminate their opponents by pushing them outside the circle or onto the ground.
The Sumo Spring Grand Tournament is held in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. The tournament lasts for two weeks with the matches taking place from 8am to 6pm daily. Osake Prefectural Gymnasium is also known as EDION Arena and is within the Namba district just a short walk from the subway station. The first part of each day features a range of up-and-coming sumo wrestlers. With the best wrestlers taking to the arena after 3pm when the higher division fights occur.
Tickets go on sale a month before the start of the event and major fights will sell out quick. So get in early in order to grab a top seat.
Take the Kids to ATC Asobi Mare
Along with the Legoland Discovery Centre and the Osaka Bay Area, one of the best things to do in Osaka with kids is the ATC Asobi Mare. The attraction is an indoor park designed for families and kids who can explore on a whim and let their creativity run wild.
Thanks to its indoor location, parents won’t have to worry about any lingering bad weather and can simply let the young ones run amok over the many playgrounds on offer. But this isn’t just a place to enjoy the slides and the ball pit. The many games and toys will help stoke curiosity and provide a fun but educational experience.
One popular play area is the Jumbo Blocks. The huge blocks cover a whole range of different sizes, allowing visitors to create whatever the heart tells them, from giant castes to towering skyscrapers. Another hit is Nariki Street, an imaginary shopping boulevard full of shops where kids can “buy” princess dresses and various career-oriented costumes.
See the Tenmangu Shrine
The original Tenmangu Shrine dates back to the 10th century and, like a lot of the temples and historic buildings in Osaka, has been rebuilt several times. The shrine commemorates the deity of education and scholarship, and offers a place of tranquility close to the inner city.
Wandering around the shrine will showcase some of Osaka’s local traditions and their memorable hospitality. You’ll find members of the shrine dressed in period costumes and more than willing to guide you around.
Every year in July, the Tenmangu Shrine hosts one of the largest national festivals in Japan. Shortly following the construction of the shrine, the Tenmangu Festival began. Every year for 1,000 years, people have come from all over to celebrate the principle deity of Sugawara Michizane.
On the second and final day of the festival, drummers lead a procession from the shrine into Osaka before the night ends with an elaborate fireworks display.
Visit the Nearby City of Hiroshima
Under two hours west of Osaka via train, Hiroshima makes for an incredible day trip. Much of your time here will probably be focused on the tragic events in World War Two, but there is a lot of local cuisine and culture to enjoy along the way.
Hiroshima was the site for the world’s first atomic bomb. The bomb brought to an end an entire city that had grown to be a major industrial and military hub. It was a base of command during WWII, controlling the entire defense of south Japan. The bomb wiped out 90% of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 residents.
Soon after, Hiroshima was designated as a city of peace and has grown an international reputation as a diplomatic city and a place to discuss social issues and develop inter-nation relationships. To learn more about the dark events, visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome. The latter is one of the few buildings left standing.
But before returning to Osaka, try some local okonomiyaki, which differs greatly from Osaka. Or visit Hiroshima Castle or Miyajima Island, home to mountain views and wild deer.
Explore the Markets
Osaka has several exceptional markets, which should come as no surprise thanks to its standing as a foodie haven. If you’re feeling adventurous, then ditch the restaurants and make your way to Kuromon Ichiba Market. The large market has a captivating atmosphere with a seemingly endless number of vendors selling the full range of fresh produce and local delicacies.
Kuromon Ichiba is all about the fresh food. With Osaka’s proximity to the Inland Sea, a huge part of that is fresh fish. A smell that floats through the market. While you may think that you will need to leave the market do the cooking yourself, you’ll be delighted to learn that most vendors will do it all right in front of you.
Whether it is fish, noodles or takoyaki (fried octopus), pick what you like the most and soon have yourself a freshly prepared dinner.
Enjoy the Osaka Science Museum
In the Bay Area, the Osaka Science Museum is one of the most insightful attractions in the city. Perfect for young and old, time will fly as you wander between a series of hands-on and educational exhibits.The interactive displays will guide visitors through the various eras of science, the development of electricity and even provide a beginner’s look into the world of chemistry. A highlight of the Osaka Science Museum is Japan’s first planetarium. In the underground section of the museum, the planetarium allows visitors to participate in a range of scientific experiments. With the lack of English translation, however, you’ll have to rely on the visual cues, providing your experiment with a necessary layer of improvisation. The planetarium also has sprawling dome screens showcasing outer space, with incredible up-close visuals of the stars we see every night.
The Osaka Science Museum is under 10 minutes from two major subway stations, making it a straightforward journey from downtown.
Celebrate Everyone’s Favorite Cheap Meal
Whether you’re a teenager yet to discover the wonders of the culinary world, or a hungover university student with barely a penny to their name, we have all, at one stage, fallen in love with the humble ramen noodles.
In order to pay our respects and celebrate a dish that has got us all through hard times, we must make the pilgrimage to the Instant Ramen Museum. Of course, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then we invite you to learn about the wonders of this simple delicacy.
It’s one of the most unique things to do in Osaka and the best news? It’s free. Inside you’ll find an array of displays showcasing the history of Cup Noodles, the various international iterations and even a Cup Noodle cinema.
For the ramen aficionados among us, the highlight will no doubt be the Cup Noodles Factory. Here, you can customize your own package. While in the Chicken Ramen Factory, you’ll make chicken ramen with your own hands.
Explore Nagai Botanical Garden
Spanning an enormous 24 hectares, the Nagai Botanical Garden is the largest in Osaka. Its many paths while guide you through elaborate gardens home to bright blooming flowers and over 1,000 types of trees.
Thanks to the seasonal variety, each visit to the botanical garden won’t be like the last. While some are no longer blooming, other areas are enlivened with a burst of fresh color. Spring and summer bring the most amount of flowers. But the Christmas rose, one of the few that blooms during the winter, is a sight to behold.
The trees that surround the park are from all over the world. They come in various shapes and sizes, attracting many birds to flutter between them. But for sheer size, it’s hard to miss the garden’s giant sequoias. Within the park, you’ll also find the Museum of Natural History and Yanmar Stadium home to Cerezo Osaka.
Watch a J-League match
Sports fans traveling to Osaka may have the opportunity to indulge in one of Japan’s biggest football rivalries. Over the last three decades, Cerezo Osaka and Gamba Osaka have developed a heated rivalry which each one battling for bragging rights and to be the city’s best club.
Traditionally, Cerezo Osaka represents the inner-city, or what they call the real Osaka. While Gamba represents the surrounding suburbs. Either way, the matches are always heated with some of the biggest crowds of the year.
If you’ve arrived in Osaka outside of the derby, then you can still get along to a local game. The J-League season runs from February to the beginning of December, with each team having 17 home games.
Unleash Your Inner Wizard at Universal Studios Japan
Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, it’s hard not to have a magical time at Universal Studios. One of just four around the world, the Osaka version is similar to the one found in Orlando, Florida. Just with its own local twist.
The large part of the park is dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here, you can indulge in the mythical world, with rides dedicated to the iconic novels, along with replica versions of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, where you can toast to your travels over a pint of butter beer.
But there is a whole lot more to this theme park, with many sections dedicated to different famous movie franchises. Jump on the hair-raising “Hollywood Dream: The Ride”, a roller coaster based on Spiderman that even travels backwards. Other highlights include the kid-friendly Universal Wonderland, and an entire section dedicated to Jurassic Park.
But as we are in Japan, you’ll find plenty of unique aspects to this theme park experience. You’ll stumble upon various theme sections based on Japanese movies, TV and games. These include the One Piece Premier Show and Monster, which can be a wonderful introduction to local pop culture.