In ancient times, Osaka was a regional port and the Imperial capital of Japan.
Today, it’s a sprawling urban area, home to 20 million people and Japan’s main financial centre.
With famous landmarks such as Osaka Castle, Shitenno-Ji – one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in the country, world-class museums, incredible food and even Universal Studios Japan to explore, there’s plenty to entertain all ages.
Our travel guide below will give you plenty of inspiration, so read on to discover the best things to do in Osaka!
Top Things To Do In Osaka
- Top Things To Do In Osaka
- Explore Osaka Castle
- See the City from Tsūtenkaku Tower
- Enjoy a Night Out in Dōtonbori
- Step Back in Time at Sumiyoshi Shrine
- Learn about the City at Osaka Museum of History
- Dine on Local Japanese Delicacies
- Gain Creative Inspiration at the National Museum of Art, Osaka
- Visit Ancient Shitenno-Ji Temple
- Spend a Day at Umeda Sky Building
- Go Karting Dressed as a Video Game Character
- Be a Thrill Seeker at Universal Studios Japan
- Get Back to Nature at Minoo Park
- Day Trip to Kurashiki’s Bikan Historic Quarter
Explore Osaka Castle
Set inside a picturesque park in the heart of the city is mesmerising Osaka Castle.
The castle, which dates to 1583, has been rebuilt several times, but always to its original blueprint. During springtime, pastel pink cherry blossoms blanket the park, and in autumn, the area transforms completely into a sea of bronze and red leaves.
The exterior of the castle is akin to an ancient pagoda, surrounded by a moat.
Food vendors and taiko drummers adorn the grounds as you wander through gardens and you’ll find yourself imagining the Japan of days gone by.
Inside Osaka Castle is an informative museum with artwork and ancient weaponry, and from the upper floor, you are rewarded with stunning vistas of Osaka.
See the City from Tsūtenkaku Tower
Tsūtenkaku, or the “tower reaching heaven” is one of Osaka’s most recognisable landmarks. It soars 103 metres above Shinsekai district Osaka and is used as an advertising platform for main sponsor Hitachi.
At the top of the tower, there’s an observation deck where you can gain incredible views over the city and beyond. However, on your way to the top, there are other areas to stop by.
Visit Billiken ‘God of Happiness’ on the fifth floor, a good luck charm for citizens, or venture to the basement to see cultural performances each weekend in the theatre.
Enjoy a Night Out in Dōtonbori
This district of Osaka is a hub of bars, cafes, shops and restaurants.
It’s one of the main tourist neighbourhoods which sits alongside Dōtonbori canal, surrounded by towering skyscrapers illuminated with bright neon lights.
Once a buzzing theatre district, it’s now popular for its lively nightlife and entertainment venues.
Many restaurants in Dōtonbori feature rooftop terraces where you can dine on Japanese cuisine or listen to live music as you look over the city’s rooftops.
You can take a ride on Ebisu Tower Ferris wheel which sits atop a shopping mall or indulge in a more relaxing, scenic boat trip along the canal.
Step Back in Time at Sumiyoshi Shrine
If you wish to explore Japanese culture and religion, pay a visit to Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka.
This charming shrine dates to the 3rd century, displaying a unique architectural style known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri which can’t be seen anywhere else in Asia.
The shrines are set in a pretty park with arched bridges, jade reflective ponds and woodland, offering the perfect place for relaxation or meditative contemplation.
If you plan to enter the shrines, you can venture into halls, admire carvings and architecture, enjoying stillness and peace away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Learn about the City at Osaka Museum of History
Osaka Museum of History showcases the city’s rich heritage – from days when Osaka was Japan’s Imperial capital, to its maritime links, neon lights and landmarks of the present day.
The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of a Japanese city, and if you’re interested in history and local culture, it’s a place not to be missed on your tour of Osaka.
One more thing to mention, it sits across the street from Osaka Castle, and you can gain exceptional views from the upper levels!
Dine on Local Japanese Delicacies
Osaka is known for its high standards of food, and thanks to reasonable prices, the city’s culinary treats are accessible to all travellers regardless of budget!
Some popular dishes include Okonomiyaki – a pancake-style dish with shredded cabbage, seafood or meat mixed into the batter. It’s served with okonomiyaki sauce, green laver and dried bonito and can be prepared at your dining table.
You can sample Kitsune Udon – thick wheat noodles, served in hot broth with deep-fried tofu or try Japanese favourite Teppanyaki – beef or seafood grilled on a hot plate.
Delicious food in Osaka can be found all across the city. However, most restaurants can be found in Dōtonbori, Shinsekai and Kitashinchi districts.
Gain Creative Inspiration at the National Museum of Art, Osaka
This contemporary underground museum, inspired by the life cycle of bamboo, transports you to a world of exquisite artworks and installations.
NMAO’s art collection comprises permanent pieces, which include modern and contemporary works from Japan and overseas.
It also hosts travelling exhibitions, with masterpieces from London’s National Gallery and Contemporary European and US art.
Future exhibits will introduce the life of video pioneer Shigeko Kubota and photographs spanning a 20 year period from Takano Ryudai, so if you adore all things art, this is the place to be in Osaka.
Visit Ancient Shitenno-Ji Temple
Founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, this temple is a sight to behold.
Like many historic buildings in Japan, it has been reconstructed throughout the centuries, but always remaining true to the original design.
You can explore the outer grounds, including the Treasure House which displays important scriptures, relics and artworks, wander through tranquil Gokuraku-Jodo Garden and enter the five-storey pagoda to reach the Main Hall where further statues and artefacts await.
Spend a Day at Umeda Sky Building
It’s easy to spend an entire day at Umeda Sky Building.
The towering glass skyscraper stands 173 metres above ground, affording the best views of Osaka.
But this isn’t any ordinary tower.
It contains a retro shopping street, which replicates a Japanese 1920’s town with a gourmet restaurant alley, shops and buildings of the era – that’s just the lower floors!
There’s a cinema covering the 3rd and 4th floors and an art museum on the 27th.
After browsing more shops and restaurants on the 39th floor, you reach Kuchu Teien, a floating garden observatory on the rooftop.
The circular rooftop boasts a sky lounge and outdoor viewing platform from where you can see all across this prefecture of Japan.
It’s also possible to take a guided tour of the building if you book in advance to learn more about its construction and history.
Go Karting Dressed as a Video Game Character
This has to be one of the coolest things to do in Osaka! If you love video games, you can dress as your favourite character and drive around the city in a go-kart!
This is a fun, unique way to visit tourist hotspots and historical sites including Osaka Tower, Namba and Dōtonbori.
You’ll be accompanied by an English speaking guide and probably be photographed by tourists as you race by!
Be a Thrill Seeker at Universal Studios Japan
Less than 15 minutes’ train ride from downtown Osaka, Universal Studios Japan promises to be a thrilling and exciting day out for movie lovers of all ages.
With rides ranging from an upcoming Mario Kart attraction to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will be spoiled for choice.
You can experience the Flying Dinosaur, the Hollywood Dream roller coaster and even get your picture taken in Amity Village with Jaws! Younger children will enjoy it too with Minion Park, Snoopy Studios and Hello Kitty cupcake rides, making this the perfect family day out.
Get Back to Nature at Minoo Park
Just an hour north of the city centre, on the outer fringes of Osaka lies picturesque Minoo Park.
This forested valley is a peaceful haven – a place you can visit each season to see natures changing colours. Hike to Minoo Waterfall, the park’s main attraction or enter Ryuanji Temple tucked away amongst the trees.
During autumn months, quaint shops along the pathways sell delicious local treats like maple leaf tempura.
The tasty snacks deep-fried in the light batter are perfect to take on your journey as you explore hills and observation points around Minoo Park.
Day Trip to Kurashiki’s Bikan Historic Quarter
Just 2 hours by train west of Osaka, is the canal-side town of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture.
It is a great stop-off point if you plan to travel to Hiroshima and Miyajima Shrine Island.
This historic area dated to the Edo Period when Kurashiki was a popular distribution centre for rice merchants.
It’s built on pretty canals flanked by some of Japan’s best-preserved houses.
Narrow alleyways are lined with former storehouses which have been transformed into shops selling handicrafts and Japanese art and restaurants serving mouth-watering sushi.
Take a serene boat ride along the water, ducking beneath tree branches and imagine this place hundreds of years ago as a major trading centre in Japan.
If you still have time to spare, visit Ohara Museum, the oldest museum of Western art in Japan and take a tour of Ohashi House, a former merchant’s quarters.
How to Get to Osaka
You can fly to Kansai International Airport, 50 kilometres outside Osaka. Airlines which fly here include KLM, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa, United, Thai, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and many more.
Once you’ve arrived at Kansai International, you’ll want to know how to reach Osaka. It’s easy to travel to Osaka by train from the airport.
JR Railway has services to Tennoji, Osaka and Shin-Osaka stations or you can travel via Nankai Railway to Namba Station.
Limousine buses are another good option as they stop around Osaka station and nearby hotels on request, or you can travel to Osaka via taxi or rental car.
If you’re travelling to Osaka from other regions of Japan, the fastest, most efficient way is by bullet train or Shinkansen.
Trains operate to and from Kyoto taking between 15 and 30 minutes; you can reach Osaka from Nagoya in less than an hour and from Tokyo in less than 3 hours via high-speed train.
Once inside the city, public transportation is excellent, with trains, metro’s and bus services all accessible with prepaid ICOCA cards.