A good Osaka guide will help you explore the food scene, museums, festivals, and more.
Osaka’s exuberant exuberance stands in stark contrast to Kyoto’s traditional culture, and the two neighbors could not be more different from one another.
Despite its closeness to Kyoto, one of Japan’s most important sites, first-time visitors to Japan sometimes miss Osaka. Nonetheless, it is a perennial favorite with return tourists and Japan enthusiasts, as well as Japanese culinary lovers.
Osaka is recognized for its delicious casual cuisine and friendly residents. It’s probably Japan’s street food capital, and it’s popular for snacks like takoyaki and okonomiyaki among foodies.
Osaka is also known for its vivacious, outgoing people, who make eating and drinking in the city a memorable experience. If you are just coming to Osaka for the first time, and you don’t know where to go and what to do in this place, The Beginner’s Travel Guide To Explore Osaka is for you.
When is the Best Time to Visit Osaka? – [Osaka guide]
Osaka is a place that can be visited all year. The weather in Osaka, like the rest of Japan, fluctuates considerably depending on the season.
Summers are hot and humid, but they can also be vibrant and entertaining, particularly if you come during a local matsuri (festival). In general, the spring and fall seasons have the most temperate and pleasant temperatures. Winter in Tokyo, as in the rest of Japan, may be bitterly cold (though Osaka is usually a little less biting than nearby Kyoto).
How to Get to Osaka
It’s simple to get to Osaka.
Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Osaka International Airport (OSK) are the two airports that serve Osaka (ITM). Osaka is well-connected to the rest of the globe via international flights as well as local flights from all across Japan.
The quickest method to get to Osaka from places like Tokyo, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Nagoya is to take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka Station.
If you’re heading to Osaka from Kyoto, which is only 27 miles (43 kilometers) away, there are several railway lines that connect the two cities (see below). A private automobile transfer may be preferable in some instances, but most of the time, using the train is faster and easier.
Taking the Train from Kyoto to Osaka – [Osaka guide]
Between Kyoto and Osaka, there are various train companies and routes to choose from.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best methods to go from one city to the next, though there is no one “best” choice because it depends on where you’re departing from in Kyoto and where you want to go in Osaka (both are large cities).
If you have access to the internet, you may use Google Maps, Hyperdia, or Jorudan to find real-time travel options based on your departure and arrival stations.
- From Kyoto Station to Osaka Station, Japan Railways (JR) Special Rapid (approx. 30 minutes). For many passengers, the commuter train is the most convenient alternative because of its frequent departures.
- From Kyoto’s Kawaramachi Station to Osaka’s Umeda Station, Hankyu Railways (approx. 40 minutes).
- From Kyoto’s Gion-Shijo Station to Osaka’s Yodoyabashi Station, use the Keihan Railways (approx. 55 minutes). The opportunity to upgrade to the Premium Car, which offers reserved seating and a more luxury ambience, is a delightful feature of this trip. Before boarding, tickets must be obtained at the station.
- Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station, operated by Japan Railways (JR) (approx. 15 minutes). The bullet train, despite its speed (and the availability of reserved seats), is not always the ideal option, mainly due to Kyoto’s moderately awkward departure and arrival locations.
What to Do in Osaka is a list of things to do in Osaka.
Osaka is more about people and cuisine than it is about attractions.
Many gourmet tourists flock to Osaka because of its tasty and simple cuisine. Osaka residents are known for their voracious appetites for food and drink, which has given origin to the infamous local idiom kuidaore (“to eat oneself to ruin”).
Osaka’s culinary universe is diverse, with dishes ranging from street-side takoyaki (fried bite-sized balls packed with octopus and other delicacies) and okonomiyaki to upscale venues and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Osaka is home to some of Japan’s most fun-loving people, in addition to fantastic food and a vibrant nightlife. Many of Japan’s most renowned comedians are from Osaka, and the city’s baseball supporters (of the Hanshin Tigers franchise) are among the country’s most fervent and rowdy.
Taking a private tour with a local cuisine expert is one of the greatest ways to get a truly immersive Osaka experience. As you might assume, it’s better to wander off the main route in the city and visit local establishments that aren’t frequented by visitors.
While Osaka has some of Japan’s best high-end restaurants, part of the enjoyment is dining and drinking with the locals at delightful hole-in-the-wall izakayas, tachinomi (standing bars), and secret cocktail bars.
Here are a few of our recommendations for more activities to do and places to see in Osaka:
- Stroll around the fashionable Horie neighborhood, which is filled with one-of-a-kind stores and trendy eateries. Then visit Amerika-mura (Osaka’s version of Harajuku) and the nearby Shinsaibashi neighborhood, which features a vibrant shotengai retail lane as well as large brand shops and department stores.
- Tenma and Fukushima are two wonderful neighborhoods for roaming about and sampling cuisine and sake at innumerable informal restaurants, food booths, and drinking establishments.
- While some visitors want to see the neon-lit Dotonbori (Japan’s most famous eating street), for a less touristy experience, head to the side streets of the surrounding Namba area, where you’ll find cheap and cheerful local shops and stalls serving everything from takoyaki and okonomiyaki to ramen, yakitori, and more.
- Tsuruhashi, Osaka’s most popular Korean quarter, offers an unforgettable ambiance and delectable cuisine.
- In the old and pleasantly grungy Shinsekai, eat kushi-katsu and drink with residents and visitors alike.
- Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the top aquariums in the world, and is ideal for families and marine life enthusiasts.
- Despite the fact that it is a restoration (and thus not particularly interesting on the inside), Osaka Castle is lovely on the outside, and the adjacent park is a great spot to relax.
Where Should You Stay in Osaka?
There are several outstanding hotels in the city, however not as many as in Tokyo or Kyoto in terms of fascinating boutique and luxury hotels. Here are some of Osaka’s greatest hotels:
- The St. Regis Osaka: The St. Regis Osaka is the perfect blend of casual luxury and convenience. The hotel’s location provides easy access to all of the city’s attractions, including Namba’s countless restaurants and bars, Shinasaibashi’s boulevards and backstreets, fashionable Horie, and more.
- Conrad Osaka: One of the city’s newest luxury hotels, the Conrad Osaka is located in the heart of the city on the urban island of Nakanoshima, with stunning views of both the skyline and the ocean.
- Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel: It’s all about the views at the Osaka Marriott Miyako. While its position in Tennoji is a little out of the way for most visitors, the magnificent city vistas help to compensate.
- Swissotel Nankai is a dependable and handy mid-range hotel located atop Nankai Namba Station in the heart of the city (offering easy access to all of Osaka, not to mention the Buddhist mountaintop of Mount Koya).
The high-end InterContinental Osaka and The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka, as well as the budget-friendly Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi, are all worth noting in Osaka.
Sam Crofts of Cycle Osaka joins us for a bonus interview.
We asked our buddy Sam Crofts, an Osaka resident and travel-industry entrepreneur, to give us some further insight into what makes his chosen town so wonderful.
Sam has co-founded many enterprises with his wife, an Osaka local, aimed at providing tourists with immersive experiences, including their first tour company, Cycle Osaka.
What are some of the aspects in Osaka that you particularly enjoy?
The first is the variety. Here you will find the country’s largest Koreatown, the country’s tallest structure, and the country’s oldest temple. There’s just so much in such a small space.
The second factor is how genuine it is. What I mean is that if you go to Shitenno-ji Temple, you will see actual monks and priests. The great temples of Japan are swarmed by visitors and school groups in various areas. I appreciate that most portions of Osaka are non-touristy hangouts for true residents, and you can tell when you’ve been here even for a short time.
What would be the ideal day in Osaka, excluding your tours?
I’d attempt to see a little bit of everything on an ideal day in Osaka, so I’d start with the Sumiyoshi Shrine in the city’s south. It’s connected by one of the few remaining trams in Japan, since all trams were phased out in favor of the subway in the 1920s, but there remains one tram in Osaka that connects this temple to Tennoji.
I’d have lunch at Tennoji and have kushikatsu, which is deep-fried pork and veggies on a stick, and then go to Tower Blades, a knife exporter, and play with some of the hand-forged knives.
I’d probably travel up to Osaka-jo from there because you can’t visit Osaka Castle without going for a run or a bike ride. After that, you’ll probably go to Umeda for sushi.
I’d finish the day in Namba. It’s a densely packed neighborhood of neon pubs and restaurants that, in my opinion, rivals anything in Tokyo, and there are plenty of colorful personalities. Finally, return to The St. Regis or wherever you’re staying, depending on your budget.
Assume you’re on your last day in Osaka. There’s still time for one more dinner. What are your plans?
That is a question that can’t possibly be answered.
Okay, I’ll tell – for the sake of atmosphere – that in my neighborhood, in the Fukushima area, there’s a yakiniku restaurant beneath the train tracks. I believe I would have to go there. It’s rather ancient. There are no nice tables; instead, everyone sits on upside-down beer crates, and the atmosphere is exciting. It’s smokey – there’s a strong aroma of cigarette smoke, beer, and frying meat – and I think that’ll be my abiding impression of Osaka.
Perfect. So, switching gears, when is your favorite time to visit here?
The fall and spring seasons are breathtakingly lovely. In Japan, Osaka has a reputation for being a wholly industrial working-class city, yet nothing could be farther from the truth.
The river in Sakuranomiya bends round in the spring and is surrounded by cherry blossoms. Similarly, in the autumn, you’ll discover parks with magnificent foliage as well as ideal weather for cycling or strolling.
Do you have any recommendations for families with children, other from well-known tourist attractions like Universal Studios, the Kaiyukan Aquarium, or even Osaka Castle?
Yes, there is a spot in Osaka named Kids Plaza. It’s simply an Aladdin’s cave of crazy activities for kids, complete with ball pools and things to climb and jump from and have a wildly wonderful time while your parents sit and watch. That, I believe, is the location to visit.
So, for those who are unfamiliar with your firm, Cycle Osaka, tell us about it.
Basically, it’s a flat town with a lot to see and do, but we didn’t feel like there was much infrastructure for English-speaking tourists, unlike, example, Kyoto or Tokyo.
Many people visit Japan on their route to somewhere else, which is one of the realities of tourism in Japan. People are traveling from Tokyo to Hiroshima, for example, and will likely spend one night in Osaka.
And I’m scared that people will come here and lose out on all of the beautiful things that are just beneath the surface because they don’t have access and the city doesn’t really market its hidden jewels to tourists, particularly English-speaking tourists.
So we put it all together and created Cycle Osaka, and now every day we go out and ride with four or five other people, checking out these tiny areas that no one has heard of, then checking out the main things, and just having a great time and eating delicious food.
It’s actually not that difficult.
Sam, thank you so much for your time!
We hope this article has given you a better understanding of why we love Osaka, and why it’s worth considering as part of your Japan trip!