Against the backdrop of Japan’s numerous tourist attractions, Osaka is sometimes eclipsed by nearby Kyoto and its ancient temples and gardens, and even more frequently by Tokyo’s unique mix of the ultramodern and the traditional. In recent years, Osaka’s popularity has surged as the city became a popular hub for travelling to Nara, Hiroshima, and Kyoto. Visitors soon discovered that there are plenty of things to do in Osaka as well, and the city is quickly gaining recognition as a major tourist destination in its own right. While Osaka is primarily a major port city and an important commercial center, the city’s modern architecture, exciting nightlife, and delicious street food make spending even just one day in Osaka a memorable experience.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT OSAKA?
The weather in Osaka is very temperate, with few extremes, especially compared to Tokyo and Hokkaido, which experience much sharper temperature drops and significantly colder winters. The moderate climate essentially makes Osaka a year-round destination. Even so, for the best possible experience, you should aim to visit Osaka either in spring (April-May) or fall (October-November), which benefit from balmy temperatures and very little precipitation. The second half od June experiences the height of Osaka’s rainy season. Even then, it doesn’t rain every single day, and travel is possible in spite of the humidity. If you visit Osaka in late March/early April, you will get to experience the beautiful sight of cherry blossoms in full bloom. November, on the other hand, is a great option due to the city’s parks and gardens being painted in lively shades of yellow, orange, and red.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT OSAKA
Osaka, the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the largest constituent of the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, is a bustling metropolis with a lively local music and arts scene, and several lovely rivers (the Yodo River being the biggest one) zigzagging through the heart of the city. Known as the “Nation’s Kitchen,” Osaka is renowned for its culinary scene, with famous dishes such as the Osaka yakitori, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki. Dōtonbori is the most well-known food district in the city, with numerous gorgeous illuminated billboards soaring over fashionable restaurants and popular theaters. The city’s enviable culinary reputation started during the Edo Period, when Osaka served as Japan’s rice-trade hub. When it comes to some other interesting historical facts, you may be interested to learn that Osaka is the birthplace of Bunraku or Ningyō jōruri, the traditional puppet theatre of Japan, and it also played a vital role in the development of the heavily stylized Kabuki theatre. Experiencing these unique performances is certainly among the best things to do in Osaka. The city also houses the Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium, one of the best-equipped aquariums in the world, as well as Universal Studios Japan, the first Universal Studios theme park built outside the U.S.
ONE DAY IN OSAKA ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Osaka.
Visit Osaka Castle First Thing in the Morning
With its immeasurable historic significance, Osaka Castle is not only one of the most extraordinary and admired places to visit in Osaka, but also ranks highly among the most famous and recognizable landmarks in all of Japan. Originally completed in 1597, the castle has been reconstructed several times since, and now features a museum with several exhibits. The present structure, entirely true to the original fortress, dates back to 1931. Osaka Castle is a frequent staple in historical novels and other works of popular art, having appeared in James Clavell’s Shōgun, as well as the films Godzilla Raids Again and James Bond: You Only Live Twice (1967). In the 16th century, the castle was the largest and most important stronghold in Japan, and it played a key role in the country’s unification. The castle opens at 9AM, but there is plenty to see in the area around the castle as well, so feel free to come earlier and explore its surroundings. The Osaka Castle Park, spread over 2 square kilometers, is particularly gorgeous, with little walking paths, charming gardens, and a vast plum orchard (1,200 trees). In case you come to Osaka in springtime, make sure to visit Nishinomaru Garden, whose 600 cherry trees make it one of the best places to visit in Osaka for cherry blossom viewing. When it comes to the castle itself, it is worth mentioning that your entrance fee will be waived in case you buy the Osaka Amazing Pass in advance. In addition to the museum exhibits, you will love the observatory at the top, with great views of the surrounding park and the city in the distance.
Enjoy the View from Abeno Harukas
After a couple of hours of exploring Osaka Castle and the surrounding park, the best way to switch things up is to visit Abeno Harukas, one of the most popular modern Osaka attractions. The tallest building in Osaka, Abeno Harukas is a massive office tower with a hotel, an art museum, a department store, and an observation deck with stunning, unobstructed views of Osaka. To get there, you can take the Osaka Loop Line (subway) from Morinomiya Station, located southeast of the castle, for 5 stops (approx. 10 minutes) until you reach Tennōji Station. Abeno Harukas is just across the road from the subway station. The 60th floor, the top floor of the building, towers 300 meters above Osaka, with an interactive light show on the floor of the lookout. The 9th floor is also interesting due to special events and merchandise from different parts of Japan.
Relax at the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
Since both Abeno Harukas and Osaka castle are very popular attractions and often quite crowded, it might be a good idea to take a short break and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet at the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, one of Osaka’s hidden gems. In order to reach the shrine, you’ll need to board the Hankaidenki-Uemachi Line from Tennojiekimae Station and ride the subway for 9 stops. Exit at Sumiyoshitorii-Mae Station and walk for 200 meters until you reach The Primary Shrine. The entire area is gorgeous, with a quaint little red bridge crossing a small lake. The Shinto shrine dates back to the 3rd century. In spite of the shrine’s location near the city center, it seems almost secluded, with the slightly dimmed sunlight shining through the treetops giving the well-manicured grounds a slightly mystical feel.
Treat Yourself to a Nice Lunch
After enjoying the meditative ambience of Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, hail a taxi or an Uber for the 20-minute ride to Akarenga Steak House in the ward of Minato. The restaurant is located in Tempozan Harbor Village in Osaka Harbor. The Tempozan Harbor Village is an expansive leisure spot in the bay area, featuring the famous Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, as well as a number of first-class restaurants, shopping centers, and cruise ships for sightseeing. Akarenga Steak House is an amazing steak restaurant in a refurbished red brick warehouse. Classic cars are also exhibited and sold at the property. There are frequent live piano performances at the restaurant. The food lives up to the high expectations set by the steakhouse’s prime setting. Highlights include prime beef baked in charcoal grill, excellent Kenzo wine, and top-notch service. If you would like to have a cup of coffee before exploring the remaining Osaka attractions, pay a visit to 9 Borden Coffee, located to the northwest, across the street from the Super National Chikko supermarket. You can get there in 10 minutes on foot. You’ll love the clean, orderly city streets along the way, with charming little balconies, store fronts, and miniature gardens.
Make Your Way to Osaka Aquarium
Located not far from 9 Borden Coffee in a large contemporary red and blue building near the waterfront, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the world’s best aquariums, with a large number of animals from both tropical and Arctic ecosystems. The rare whale sharks are certainly the aquarium’s main draw, although the giant Manta rays are just as impressive. Children love the seals and sea lions, which are much more adorable and quite cooperative when it comes to posing for pictures. A large number of the aquarium’s exhibits were specifically developed with kids in mind. There is also a huge pool for interacting with and touching various animals.
Spend the Rest of the Afternoon at Universal Studios Japan
Experience some of the greatest Hollywood franchises brought to life at Universal Studios Japan, with attractions and rides including Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter, the replica of Amity Island from Jaws, The Flying Dinosaur Jurassic Park rollercoaster, Hello Kitty’s Ribbon Boutique, and many, many others. Whether you are visiting the city on your own or with a family, the attractions at this sprawling theme park are among the most unabashedly, unapologetically fun things to do in Osaka. The fastest way to get there is to call an Uber or a taxi as soon as you’re done exploring the aquarium, but you can also board a ferry near Tempozan Park and then walk there as soon as you cross the river. Harry Potter is the most popular ride, so your best bet is to go there first before exploring the rest of the theme park. Universal Studios Hollywood is open until 7 PM, which should give you plenty of time to enjoy everything.
Try to Get to Umeda Sky Building in Time for Sunset
After you’ve had your fill of la-la-land, take a short walk to Universal-City Subway Station near Hotel Keihan Universal Tower and take the Sakurajima Line to Osaka Station. The vast Umekita UMEDAI Garden and Umekita Southern Park are located between the subway station and the Umeda Sky Building, a pair of skyscrapers conjoined at the top, with a shared rooftop observation area. If you plan on watching the sunset from the top, make sure to arrive a little early, since you can wait for up to 15 minutes to get into the elevator. The scenic viewpoint at the top offers a stunning 360° aerial panorama of urban Osaka. It is the best place to enjoy the very last rays of daylight as the amazing classical music in the backgrounds creates a unique, unforgettable ambience. It is worth it to stay there for a little while after sunset as well to admire the city lights at night.
Try the Best Okonomiyaki in Osaka
Don’t get tempted by the amazing views at the top and dodge the tourist traps serving Indian food and sushi. While views of Osaka’s night skyline can be truly enchanting, if you care about good food, then head back down to the ground level and seek out Okonomiyaki Kiji inside the Shin-Umeda Shokudo-gai, a 2-story food mall. Okonomiyaki is one of the dishes that Osaka is famous for. Nutritious and tasty, served in this humble, authentic restaurant, it is the perfect way to end your one day in Osaka. The place is tiny so be prepared to wait. It is absolutely worth it, though. The food is delicious and very affordable, but the amazing décor with the retro atmosphere really completes the whole experience. Great beer too!
Experience the City’s Nightlife
While not as known for its nightlife as Tokyo’s Shinjuku, there is still no shortage of things to do in Osaka at night. Competing against several great clubs in Osaka for partying and dancing the night away, Club Piccadilly Umeda Osaka is a relatively newer contender in the Osaka club scene, having opened in 2015. Located in a former movie theater, Club Piccadilly is a trendy, fashionable dive with a London-themed bar. Visually, it is one of the most impressive clubs in Osaka, with a nice overall setup and easy bar access. The club is a live music venue with both renowned and local DJ-s and occasional entertainment such as pole dancing and drag queen shows.
WHERE TO STAY IN OSAKA?
The Ritz-Carlton Osaka
At the Ritz-Carlton Osaka, it’s all about convenience, attention to detail, and outstanding service, second to none. The rooms are luxurious, spacious, and well-appointed, with great views, private bathrooms with marble double sinks, and 55-inch flat-screen TVs. The hotel is located in close proximity to both the Hankyu Umeda Station and JR Osaka Station, linked with the hotel by an underground tunnel. The hotel’s facilities include a deluxe spa where guests can relax with a reinvigorating massage, a hot tub, business center, banquet facilities, and a beauty/barber shop. The cuisine at the hotel is a particular highlight, with 6 dining options including La Baie, the trademark French restaurant, Splendido, which serves Italian food, and Hanagatami, the restaurant of choice for high-quality Japanese dishes. The service is phenomenal, with the staff giving it their all to make the stay at The Ritz-Carlton Osaka a memorable experience for each and every guest.
Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka Premier
Located in the heart of Osaka, Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka Premier is only 5 minutes on foot from Higobashi Subway Station, with all the biggest Osaka attractions within easy reach. Although it was opened only recently, in 2014, this distinguished hotel has been featured in the Michelin Guide for 3 years in a row. The fashionable guest rooms all have wooden flooring and modern amenities including flat-screen TVs and unrestricted access to video-on-demand services. There are large public baths on the top floor, with in-room massage and laundry services available upon request. A number of the rooms come with magnificent views of the river.
Hotel Cordia Osaka
Another newer property, Hotel Cordia Osaka opened in 2017 and quickly gained a reputation of excellence, especially its friendly and helpful staff, whop speak very good English. With two subway lines located very close to the hotel (Higobashi and Yodoyabashi Station), moving around the city and sightseeing becomes a breeze. The rooms and the bathrooms are newly appointed, very modern and well-designed, with beautiful wooden highlights, and noticeably bigger than the Japanese standard. The overall design of Hotel Cordia Osaka is on point, with preplanned, keenly placed details heightening the entire concept. This is one hotel in Osaka where you get more than what you pay for, including a free smartphone with a data plan in case you need it.
Situated in the Nishi Ward close to the Higobashi Station, Ark Hostel is great for feeling the pulse of the city along the street littered with chill bars and great restaurants. The hostel’s unique ambience is another big draw, as well as good amenities including free Wi-Fi, elevator access, an on-site restaurant serving great breakfast, elevator access, and bike rental. The staff are helpful and friendly and speak English fluently. If you are primarily interested in sightseeing, great local food, and partying, then Ark Hostel is the perfect choice for you.
DAY TRIPS FROM OSAKA
Although you can never run out of cool things to do in Osaka, there are endless opportunities to see more of Japan, whether by retreating to secluded nature reserves or by exploring ancient temples and shrines in centuries-old sites of immeasurable historic significance. Some of the most exciting day trips from Osaka include a private car day trip to the Kobe Mountains, Gardens and Hot Springs. It is a unique opportunity to explore the hot springs near Kobe and even take a dip at Arima Onsen hot springs to soak all the stress and tension away. The Mt. Koya Day Trip from Osaka with a visit to Okunoin and Danjo Garan Temples lets you visit the most revered temples of Japan, now UNESCO World Heritage sites. There is also a Kyoto day trip from Osaka by bus, with a tour of the most significant sites in Japan’s former capital filled with temples, gardens, and imperial palaces. For a complete run-down of the best and most exciting offers, check out this article.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING OSAKA
-When you’re spending just one day in Osaka and want to see as much as possible, you may get tempted to take the taxi instead of the subway to save some time. This is a pretty good option, since taxis are not as expensive as you might expect. The cost for the first 2 km equals Y660. At Y80 for each additional 300 m, getting across the whole city shouldn’t cost much more than Y2,000. The taxi drivers are reliable and honest.
The subway system in Osaka is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass since it is run by a different company.
Osaka is kind of known for a significant number of sex-oriented businesses, especially the Tobita Shinchi Osaka district, otherwise known as Tobita Yūkaku, the largest red light district in Osaka, and the largest brothel district in western Japan. Be wary of ‘hostess bars’, where they charge exorbitant prices for a couple of minutes of small talk with either a man or a woman working there. Furthermore, many of these businesses, including the strip clubs, are run by the Yakuza (Japanese mafia). Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you decide to look for some adult fun in Osaka.
PIN FOR LATER!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Osaka Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comments below!