City Guide: What to do in Osaka

Osaka is the fun, chill little brother of Tokyo and today I’m sharing the best things to do in Osaka!

What to do in Osaka

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Osaka is Japan’s third most populous city but has a palpably more relaxed vibe than Tokyo. The top words that come to mind are food, fun, and nightlife! This seaport town and booming commercial hub certainly merits a few nights on any first-time visitor to Japan’s 2-week itinerary.

What to do in Osaka

The number one thing to bring to Osaka is an appetite! Food is the core of this city’s soul. Like most of Japan’s major cities, it is easiest to break Osaka into districts. The two districts that cater the most to tourists are Dotombori and Shinsekai.


With limited time, focus your attention here. The area is home to an incredible food market, several shopping streets, a pint-sized temple from the 1600’s, and a carnival-like river walk that is packed with food stalls and restaurants.

District Highlights:

  • Hozen-ji Temple: Tucked into a tiny alley hidden from the bright lights and neon, this pocket-sized temple can be explored in under a half-hour.
  • Kuromon Market: This market has over 150 vendors selling all sorts of tasty treats, including Osaka’s famous takoyaki (yummy fried balls of minced octopus and seasonings). Spend an hour or two sampling your way from one end of the market to the other.
  • Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street: This covered shopping arcade offers eight blocks of stores, food establishments, and epic people-watching. Be sure to try the famous Rikuro cheesecake!
  • National Bunraku Theater: Japan’s top theatre for performing arts. While a newer building, this smaller theatre (approximately 800 seats) hosts an assortment of performances but is best known for its preservation of the art of Bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre). Visit the small museum on-site.
  • The Ebisubashi Bridge is the heart of Dotombori and home to the famous Glico man sign. Consider taking in all the neon on one of the short river cruises on offer.
What to do in Osaka
Some of the magical madness that is Dotombori by night!


Shinsekai translates to “New World” but nowadays this area has a retro feel. Built in 1912, Shinsekai boasts restaurants & souvenir shops, in an array around the 100-meter Tsutenkatu Tower.

District Highlights:

  • Tsutenkatu Tower: Visit the observation deck for a view or just have fun taking in the fun-loving atmosphere surrounding the tower’s entrance.
  • Tennoji Park: This nearby park is a peaceful oasis with gardens, museums, a zoo, and more.
  • Shitennoji Temple: Founded in 593, this is Japan’s oldest official temple and one of two major sights on the opposite side of Tennoji Park from Shinsekai.
  • Harukas 300 Observation Deck: The other major sight on the east side of Tennoji Park, this 300-meter high observation deck offers views of all of Osaka. There’s a fun beer garden on the floor below the observation deck for a mid-day pick-me-up.

While not exactly in this district, about 5 kilometers south, you’ll find the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. This is the main shrine of all Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. The iconic red bridge is a delightful spot to relax and/or take a photo.

What to do in Osaka
Iconic Bridge at Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine

NOTE: Osaka Free Walking Tours offers a fantastic, 2-hour walking tour that visits many of the highlighted sights in both Dotombori/Namba and Shinsekai. I highly recommend this as a way to get your bearings.

Osaka Castle Area

Osaka Castle is one of Osaka’s most famous landmarks. A visit to explore this castle from the late 1500s and the surrounding grounds will take 3+ hours. The park is particularly picturesque during cherry blossom season.

Slightly north of the Osaka Castle complex is the Osaka Museum of Housing & Living if you have an interest in seeing recreations of what the streets of Osaka looked like during the Edo, Meiji, Taisho, and Showa eras.

Also north of Osaka Castle is the Umeda Sky building with its spectacular glass escalator and observatory and the nearby Hep 5 Ferris Wheel.

What to do in Osaka

Minato District

The district of Minato, set on Osaka Bay, is home to Universal Studios, Legoland, the Aquarium, and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel. I personally feel that this area only merits a visit if you have kids in tow. 😱

Sleeping & Eating

We considered two hotels for our stay in Osaka, the Swissotel Nankai and Hotel Royal Classic. Both are superbly located adjacent to the Namba train station. We landed at the Swissotel and were very pleased with the hotel’s amenities and location. It was also one of the largest rooms we encountered in Japan with a huge bed, equivalent to an American king-size plus another 50%.

From a dining perspective, there’s not much that can go wrong in Osaka. A few places we especially liked are noted below.

  • Okonomiyaki is one of Osaka’s must-try dishes and there is no better place to do this than at Chibo Okonomiyaki. Try to sit at the bar so you can watch the production process and don’t worry, the line moves fast!
Kushikatsu Daruma
Conveyor belt sushi at Genrokuzushi Shinsaibashi
  • Jack’s Inn is a very small, intimate jazz and cocktail bar located near Hozen-ji Temple. The bartender speaks very limited English but we got on well with sign language and Google Translate. All his musical selections are vinyl and turntable. NOTE: There seem to be very few places where you can just get a drink and linger. This is one of those places.
  • And of course, ALL THE STREET FOOD!

Day Trips from Osaka

There are several worthwhile day trips you can make that are less than an hour from Osaka!

My #1 choice is Himeji Castle! The White Heron castle does not disappoint but can be exhausting. Come prepared to walk a LOT of steps. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of only twelve original castles remaining in Japan.

Himeji – The White Heron Castle
View from one of the upper levels.

Nara features hundreds of tame deer that wander this ancient capital that pre-dates even Kyoto. Two shrines, Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha are historically significant.

Come for the beef, stay for the incredible seaside parks and nighttime views. Kobe is only 20 minutes from Osaka by train and home to one of Japan’s three Chinatown districts.

Nature lovers will enjoy a day trip to Lake Biwa, where you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, paragliding, hiking, zip-lining, and skiing.

Lastly, Uji is home to the highest quality matcha tea in Japan. Come here to see the tea fields, tea shops, and enjoy the picturesque town.

Uji, Japan

If you or someone you know is planning a first-time visit to Japan, make the trip planning easy! Bookmark this post as well as the perfect 14-day itinerary for first-time visitors. And subscribe now because I’ll be adding city guides for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Miyajima/Hiroshima in the coming weeks.

Thanks so much for your likes, shares, and follows! Until next time,

Osaka is the fun, chill little brother of Tokyo and today I'm sharing the best things to do in Osaka! #osaka #osakacityguide #osakaguide #thingstodoosaka
Osaka is the fun, chill little brother of Tokyo and today I'm sharing the best things to do in Osaka! #osaka #osakacityguide #osakaguide #thingstodoosaka

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