Tokyo may be the cosmopolitan center of Japan, with Kyoto its cultural, historical sister, but Osaka is where the Japanese go to eat. Historically a merchant city, the Osaka of today bustles with fantastic street food and great nightlife, all while being more laid-back and approachable than its siblings to the east.
When To Visit Osaka And How Long To Stay
Spring and autumn see Osaka at its best, when temperatures are warm but have yet to swell to summer highs. If you come in April, you may glimpse Japan’s famous cherry blossom season—though be aware that you’ll be fighting hordes of other visitors, both domestic and international, for a view.
Three days is plenty for an overview of Osaka, especially if you’re also visiting Tokyo and Kyoto.
Transportation To And Within Osaka
Osaka has two airports, Kansai International Airport and Osaka International Airport, but most flights are handled through Kansai. Visitors may also arrive in Osaka from Tokyo or Kyoto via train or bus.
From the airport, hop on the Kansai Airport Rapid line, which takes between 60 and 70 minutes to arrive at Osaka Station and costs 1,190 yen one-way. Alternatively, a limousine bus from Kansai Airport to Osaka Station runs 24 hours a day and costs 1,550 yen one-way; the journey takes one hour, and tickets can be purchased from vending machines with English instructions.
Within Osaka, the subway and trains are the easiest forms of transportation. A Suica or Pasmo card is the most convenient way to pay for journeys and can be topped up at any station; it also works across the public transit systems of major cities throughout Japan. The bus is also an excellent way to travel around the city, but compared to the subway, it may be more difficult for foreigners to navigate.
Osaka’s Must-See Sights
Built in the sixth century, Shitennoji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan—an impressive distinction, considering the dozens of thousand-year-old temples throughout the country. Midway through each month, a large flea market is held on the temple grounds.
Though not quite as ancient as Shitennoji or the temples of Kyoto, Osaka Castle still dates to 1583, well before many modern countries were born. The interior is a museum, while the exterior is a marvel of Japanese architecture surrounded by a beautiful park.
This aquarium, one of the world's largest, houses fifteen exhibits and 30,000 species of animals. Adjacent is the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, an icon of the city that offers spectacular views from the top.
Osaka’s Must-Eat Food and Drink
If you’re looking to try okonomiyaki, Osaka’s famous savory pancake, head to Mizuno. This local joint uses yams instead of the standard flour, resulting in a thin and subtly sweet okonomiyaki that’s a perfect match for the salted pork and cabbage. You get to watch the cooks make your dish in front of you, which makes for a fun spectacle, but get there early—this place can get crowded.
Located near Shochikuza Theater, Harijuu is a delicious meat-focused restaurant known for its sukiyaki and shabu shabu (Japanese hotpot) offerings. Head upstairs to the quiet tatami rooms to fill up on black wagyu beef, boiled to your liking and dipped in ponzu and sesame sauce.
One of Japan’s best-known fast foods, takoyaki consists of fried dough balls filled with minced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. Yamachan's takoyaki are famous for being crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Served with soy sauce and smoky bonito flakes, this snack is perfect with beer or sake—plus, at three pieces for less than 200 yen, it’s incredibly cheap.
Osaka’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
This commercial area, which straddles a canal, is among Osaka’s liveliest. Animatronic signs flicker wildly at night; be sure to look for the running Glico man, an icon of the city. You’ll find plenty of lively tourist-geared eateries along the main avenue, but for the best restaurants, wander into the hidden alleys south of the canal.
This district in the north is Osaka's most important hub, filled with business centers, hotels, shops, and places to eat. For some retail therapy, check out the sprawling Hankyu department store. Afterward, check out the panoramic views from the rooftop garden at the Umeda Sky Building.
Though it may appear to be a carryover from the city's past, retro Tennoji is still held dear in the hearts of many Osakans. Rough-and-ready nightlife, as well as the best kushikatsu (fried skewers) in the country, can be found in the Shinsekai area. Climb up Tsutenkaku Tower for a good view of the neighborhood.