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Our starting point in Japan was the awesome city of Osaka. For me its a mystery why not many tourists are very fond of Osaka, because we absolutely loved it there. We’ve spent 12 whole days in Osaka, the most time we spent in one place in Japan. Osaka is a city with lots of fun activities, beautiful sights to see, great restaurants and of course plenty of good hotels. In this article I share 14 fun things to do in Osaka. Besides these fun activities we also share some facts about Osaka, a little bit about the history, tour recommendations and a great hotel recommendation. But if you want, you can click here to immediately jump to 14 fun things to do in Osaka!
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Some facts about Osaka
Osaka, one of the biggest and most populated cities in Japan, is located on the main island of Honshu and in the region of Kansai. The city’s population counts roughly 2.7 million people and is spread across 221 square kilometres. Remarkably, the population of Osaka accounts for 7% of the nation’s population.
With the nicknames the Nation’s kitchen, Japan’s kitchen and The Food Capital of Japan it’s not a surprise that Osaka is best known for delicious food. Back in the day, Osaka served as a centre for the rice trade. Nowadays, the city is renowned for it’s delicious cuisines and has over 100 Michelin star restaurants. Thus, the nicknames refers more to its reputation as a paradise for food. The most famous dish in Osaka is the okonomiyaki, which is a savoury pancake.
History of Osaka
Osaka has a rich history, which can be tracked back for over 1400 years. In the fifth century, Osaka was an economic and political centre, because of the access to the sea. In the 14th century, there were a series of civil wars that led to the devastation of the area. Later, much of the city was rebuilt and during the Edo period (from 1601-1867) Osaka became Japan’s kitchen. In 1868, Osaka became a commercialised area, and a lot of factories were built. This led to a new nickname: smoke city. By 1925, Osaka was Japan’s largest city in terms of population and area. Today, Osaka can be considered the economic heart of Western Japan with companies across business, industry and commerce.
Let’s get down to business. Below you can find 14 things to do in Osaka!
14 Things to do in Osaka
1. Visit Dotonbori and try famous Osaka treats
Dotonbori is a popular, colourful district in the Namba area and runs parallel to the Dotonbori-gawa canal. It’s worth going here both at daytime and at nighttime. Already during the day it’s a vibrant place because of all the colourful shops, restaurants, bill boards and crazy signs. These crazy huge signs include giant crabs, fish, dragons and sushi. In Dotonbori you can also find one of the most famous neon bill board sign in Japan; the Glico billboard of the runner crossing the finish line. Especially during the nighttime the streets come alive with lights and big neon signs. Once the sun sets, all the lights illuminates the streets, and it also gets a lot busier with hungry people that are looking for the best food in town.
I seriously adored Dotonbori, because there is so much to see and do. Like almost everywhere in Japan, you feel like you’re a kid in Disney World. Even if you’re not looking for shops or restaurants, it’s just worth it to walk around and take it all in. But, if you are looking for great local food, Dotonbori is definitely one of the places you can find it. For instance, why not try takoyaki – dough balls with octopus? Or the famous local okonomiyaki? Another great idea is to try out some ramen, as we had some delicious spicy ramen at one of the local restaurants here. There are so many great food places and different dishes you can try – so bring your appetite! In this article you’ll find more reasons to visit this incredible place in Osaka!
Tip: Check out this cool tour that lets you discover all the tasty Japanese snacks in Dotonbori! It takes you to all the old backstreets and markets of Osaka and you get to taste famous Osaka treats, such as kushi-katsu and takoyaki octopus balls.
2. Eat Okonomiyaki in its place of origin
Osaka is known for many things, but above all is probably food. Any visit to Osaka would not be complete without indulging in the city’s unique flavours. While you’ll find lots of fantastic food as you travel in Japan, the Kansai region (and the city of Osaka in particular) is known as a prime foodie destination with all sorts of dishes that should be tried here.
And one of the dishes is okonomiyaki. Translated roughly, it means “grilled as you like”, and this famous dish is essentially a savoury pancake cooked on a flattop and stuffed with all sorts of toppings of your choosing. Often times you can watch the chef cook your personal okonomiyaki right in front of you, or you can go to an establishment where you can cook your own on a hotplate.
Popular ingredients include green onions, pork belly, octopus, vegetables, and cheese. And when it’s cooked, it’s not ready to serve until the special toppings are added: a thick and sweet okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes (dried smoked fish), seaweed, and Japanese mayonnaise. Now it’s time to dig in and try a bite!
Okonomiyaki is often referred to as “Japanese pizza” or Osaka “soul food”, and can be found all around Osaka, especially in the Dotonbori neighborhood, which is known as a foodie hotspot. Each okonomiyaki is different, so be sure to try a few different versions to find your favourite!
3. Explore Shinsekai and take the best photos
Just like Dotonbori, the neighbourhood of Shinsekai is a remarkable and fun place to walk around. Here you find big quirky advertising props like a huge blowfish lantern or other 3D models of various food and sea creatures. One difference we found with Dotonbori during our visit, is definitely that Shinsekai is less crowded.
Meaning “New World”, Shinesekai officially opened in 1912 and was meant to resemble New York and Paris. At Shinsekai it is possible to see Tsutenkaku Tower, which stands in the center of the area. At the time the Tsutenaku tower was the second highest building in Asia.
In the 90s this area got a bad reputation, and it is still considered to be one of the most dangerous areas in Osaka. But, Japan is really one of the safest places in the world. Shinsekai is not dangerous at all compared to most places worldwide, so there’s no reason to be scared.
The area has remained untouched over the years, giving it a sort of retro vibe. For instance, the advertising in the streets are still in the Japanese 60s style. Plus, it is possible to find lots of traditional Japanese restaurants. A must visit in Osaka for sure!
4. Visit Osaka Castle Park
The Osaka Castle Park is worth a visit if you like pretty fairytale-like castles with beautiful mint-coloured details. It’s free to visit and you can get different food (yay, matcha ice cream!) at various stands opposite the castle.
Actually, the castle you can visit is not the original one, and the original Osaka Castle has quite a long history. The construction already started in 1583, it has faced destructions over the years and was even struck by lightning and burned down in 1665. In 1931 the present Osaka Castle was built, reconstructing the look of the original one.
During our visit to the Osaka Castle Park, Jeffrey and I decided not to go inside, as we didn’t feel like buying a ticket and standing in a line to get in. Also, we read that the inside of the castle is very modern, which is a bit disappointing if you want to see a traditional interior. Next to the castle there was an elevator, which was also a bit disappointing, because it ruins the aesthetic of the gorgeous traditional architecture. But of course the elevator is also great, as it makes it accessible for disabled people. Each floor is accessible by lift. Luckily, you can’t see the elevator from every perspective, so the traditional aesthetic isn’t completely ruined.
Entrance fee: free of charge, but tickets to get inside the castle are 600 yen. Check out more free things to do in Osaka.
5. Admire the Cherry blossoms at Kema Sakuranomiya Park
If you’re coming to Osaka in the cherry blossom season, which usually takes place in late March to early April, then you can’t miss witnessing this breathtaking natural phenomenon. For a few magical weeks, people flock to the city’s major parks and other known spots to enjoy hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, while socialising and picnicking with friends and family.
While there are many great spots in Osaka to enjoy the cherry blossoms, I would recommend Kema Sakuranomiya Park for first timers. This riverside park, which gets its name from sakura (cherry blossoms) has a staggering 4500-5000 cherry trees lining either side of the O River. As you walk along the riverside paths, the cherry blossoms form a seemingly endless canopy over your head.
While nowhere near as popular as Osaka Castle Park, which is another fabulous spot to see cherry blossoms, Kema Sakuranomiya Park offers a more intimate and non-touristy experience, and is said to have even more cherry trees than the latter.
When we visited Kema Sakuranomiya Park on a weekday, there were no other tourists besides us. The only other people using the riverside paths were locals going for a jog or bike ride. If you follow the park south, it also connects to another famous cherry blossom viewing spot, the Osaka Mint Bureau.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park can be accessed in a number of different ways, including from Temmabashi Station (Keihan Railway and Subway Tanimachi Line), Sakuranomiya Station (JR Osaka Loop Line), and Osakajo-kitazume Station (JR Tozai Line).
Entrance fee: free of charge.
6. Ride the giant Don Quijote Ferris Wheel in Dotonbori
A trip to Osaka will undoubtedly mean a visit to the most popular tourist destination in all of Osaka, Dotonbori! The most popular thing to do in this area is to walk around, shop, and eat from the hundreds of restaurants and food outlets along the river. As you enjoy your time here, you will absolutely notice the big colourful ferris wheel in the heart of the area. That’s the ferris wheel owned by the incredibly popular discount store Don Quijote!
I highly recommend riding it for great views of the area, especially in the evening time with all the lights in the Dotonbori district. I don’t know what it costs to ride it, but you don’t have to pay! If you go into the store and buy something, hold on to your receipt, and show it to the ride operator, you get to ride the ferris wheel FOR FREE! That’s right! Don Quijote has everything from water to lingerie (they sell practically everything). So you’ll be able to buy something useful. I highly recommend visiting this store anyway for the experience of the unorganised madness that is Don Quijote!
Entrance fee: free of charge if you purchase something in the Don Quijote discount store.
7. Visit the Cup Noodles Museum
The Cup Noodles Museum is one of the most unique museums in the entire world. It details how the inventor of cup noodles, Momofuku Ando, invented the cup noodles and how it was mass produced. Believe it or not, it is not as easy as you think. The museum describes the process and the difficulty that was encountered to produce the cup noodles. The Japanese thought that the invention of cup noodles was magical, because they can just add hot water and have decent food. It was a game changer for the soldiers at war.
The museum also has a section with a timeline that shows when and what kind of cup noodles were invented. For cup noodles fan, this is an absolute paradise. You would be surprised how many different kinds of cup noodles are invented!
The cup noodles museum is a short walk from the Ikeda train station. Entrance is completely free and you can make your own cup noodles and take it home with you. From the design of the cup to the flavours and toppings for the noodles, you can decide all of this yourself at absolutely no cost! How awesome is that?
For those wondering if anyone in the museum speaks English, they have hosts that speak perfect English. The museum is in Japanese but they have audio recording guides that are in English. You won’t miss out on any of the information there!
Entrance fee: free of charge, although fees are charged at some facilities in the museum.
8. Take a Japanese cooking class in Osaka
Osaka is considered by many the culinary heart of Japan. While Tokyo has its own incredible culinary scene, Osaka and its residents are food crazy. There are a lot of local Osaka food specialities like okonomiyaki (the Japanese pancake) and takoyaki (fried octopus balls).
For those eager to learn how to make these traditional Osakan dishes, the city presents several opportunities to step into a Japanese kitchen and take a cooking class. Cooking classes are a fun and hands-on way to learn about a country’s cuisine. But, more importantly, it helps to better understand a culture through food. Osaka is the perfect city to take a cooking class because it is one of the most food-focused cities in a very food-focused country.
There are several types of Osaka cooking classes. You can take a class at a cooking school or restaurant, or locals host cooking classes in their homes. By taking an at-home cooking class, you can learn to make traditional Osakan dishes, learn about Japanese food culture, and see inside a home in Japan. Many cooking classes also include tea ceremonies and sake tastings as well.
9. A walk through Minoo Park
When we came across a photo of this waterfall, we knew we wanted to go there. Although we enjoy the city life, we love green and lush places more. Minoo Park is the closest area to Osaka where you can find a forested valley. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for a serene place and need to breath in some fresh air.
The main hiking trail is about three kilometres alongside the Minoo River. It leads to the Minoo Waterfall that is pictured above. The trail is easy and only takes about 30 to 45 minutes (one way). The elevation is not steep at all, so it’s just a walk in the park. There are also other trails you can follow, some that go into the hills beyond the waterfall.
Entrance fee: free of charge.
10. Epic view over Osaka from the Harukas 300
Abeno Harukas is the tallest skyscraper in Japan. Besides that it houses Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel, here you can also find an amazing observation deck called the Harukas 300. This observation deck is located on the top three floors, floor 58 to 60, and can be accessed from the 16th floor.
During our visit in Osaka, we went to the observation deck Harukas 300 during the sunset, and had the most amazing view. On the 60th floor you have a 360 degree view over Osaka, and on the 58th floor there is an inner court with wooden deck. When we were there, people were relaxing on fat boys at the window, which you can see this on the photo above. Also, there is a cafe where you can grab some food and drinks, and a souvenir shop and restrooms.
If you’re staying at the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel you get a free ticket to the Harukas 300. This way you can easily visit it during your stay!
Entrance fee: 1500 yen.
11. Visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market
Dating back as far as 1902, Kuromon Inchiba Market is one of the best places in Osaka, Japan to get fresh food and a variety of other things. Stretching 580 meters in length, Kuromon Ichiba Market has another name, Osaka’s Kitchen. This is due to locals and restaurant owners using these stores and eateries as a great source for supplies.
There are around 150 stores all up along this busy street, with 25 of those offering some of the freshest seafood and beef you will ever find. On top of that, there are some pretty unique and interesting foods to try here – as well as being a cheap alternative for some more prestigious cuts. From bright orange sea urchin to the poisonous Tiger Blowfish, known as Fugu, the seafood here is delicious. With Fugu being more poisonous than cyanide if prepared wrong, it is a must to have it served by a professional. Kuromon Ichiba Market is a much cheaper alternative than many restaurants you will find throughout Japan.
Kobe beef is another food that was on my personal bucket list. However, the hefty price tag made me think twice if I really needed to try it. Once again, this bustling market street is a great alternative with a much lower price.
At the south end of the street, you will find a Tourist Information Center. Here you can store your bags, get maps and information about what to eat and see.
All up, you’ll come away with a memorable experience and a full stomach after visiting Kuromon Ichiba Market.
12. Day trip to Kyoto
Kyoto is definitely one of the most fascinating places in Japan. There is just so much history and rich culture. There are many shrines, temples, palaces, gardens and so much more to explore. It’s worth at least a two day visit!
Luckily, it’s easy to reach Kyoto from Osaka. Even if you’re not spending a night in Kyoto, you can purchase a two day train ticket and still explore as much as possible. Some of the biggest highlights in Kyoto definitely are: Arashiyama bamboo forest, Gion district and Fushimi Inari Shrine.
There are so many ways to go to Kyoto from Osaka, and even if you decide on taking the train there are still loads of possibilities. We found the sight seeing pass from Keihan Electric Railway useful and affordable.
If you want everything sorted for you, check out this full day UNESCO and Historical Sites tour in Kyoto. It brings you to all the historical landmarks of Kyoto in one day, and includes a Japanese style lunch at Arashiyama. If you don’t like tours, don’t worry! It’s easy to explore Kyoto without one.
Be sure to check out our article with 14 Fun things to do in Kyoto for your time in this beautiful city.
13. Day trip from Osaka to Nara Park
Nara Park is definitely one of the main day trips from Osaka. The reason for this is definitely the countless of free roaming deer. These deer are considered to be messengers of god, according to the indigenous fait of the Japanese people (also known as Shinto).
Advice: don’t feed the deer. When you’re visiting Nara Park you can buy cookies almost everywhere to feed the deer. We’ve witnessed that it can go wrong, as some deers can get aggressive. If you have cookies, and one of the deers really want to take it from you, he might bother you until you just drop the cookies. Also, a lot of the deers looked a bit rough. This might be because the deers also fight each other to get cookies from tourists. To me it seems unethical to interact with animals in any case, and it’s clearly affecting them in a negative way.
Also, we want to add that it’s definitely possible to get photos of the deer without feeding them cookies. For instance, the shot above was of a deer that was very calm, looked healthy and not as if it fought a lot. We didn’t need any cookies to get his attention. Just some patience.
How to get from Osaka to Nara
Take the train to get to Nara from Osaka. It’s possible to use the JR Yamatoji Line and the Kintetsu Nara Line. I would recommend the Kintetsu Nara Line, since it’s just a five minute walk from the Kintetsu Nara Station to Nara Park.
14. A day out at Universal Studios
If you don’t think Dotonbori resembles a fun amusement park enough, then you can always go to a real one. Universal Studios is a popular destination and we can understand why. It looks like a lot of fun! It has eight sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Tip: Get this Universal Studios Japan entry ticket with transport. It includes an admission ticket to the park and a round-trip transport from your Osaka hotel.
Entrance fee: check prices here.
Even just one night during your visit in Osaka should be spent in the tallest building of Japan: Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel.
Where to stay in Osaka
After all the fun activities you can do during the day in Osaka, it’s certainly nice to come home to a relaxing accommodation. In Osaka we had one of the best stays during our travels so far. This certainly has something to do with the great view. Even just one night during your visit in Osaka should be spent in the tallest skyscraper of Japan: Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel.
Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
During our stay at Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel, we definitely had the best view ever. It’s not a surprise, since the hotel is located in Abeno Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan. Our room was located on the 52th floor, and the floor to ceiling windows offered us an endless panorama over Osaka. The room was very comfortable and luxurious; we seriously slept like angels on the soft beds. The bathroom was amazing, and of course it included a bath tub with an outlook over the city.
The facilities of the hotel include a club lounge, gym and business centre. As it’s located in the Abeno Harukas, you can also easily go to the Kintetsu Department Store, the Abeno Harukas Art Museum and eat and drink at various cafes and restaurants. Also, the Harukas 300 observation deck is worth a visit. Of course, most rooms of Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel already offer an epic view over the city. We still think it’s worth at least one visit during your stay. Luckily, Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel offers it’s guests a free ticket to go to the observation deck and see a 360 view of Osaka.
The location of Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is also excellent, with easy access to multiple tourist attractions. Some of the nearby sight seeing spots are Shinsekai, Shitennoiji Temple, Osaka Castle and Universal Studios.
So far the Marriott Hotel chain always offers the best breakfast. This was proved yet again by Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel. On the 19th floor there is a big buffet, with countless options. Besides Asian cuisine, there were also options such as pancakes, hash browns and more. We also think it’s good that there were so many healthy options, such as vegetables and lots of fruit.
Book the hotel here.
Hopefully, you’ll love Osaka as much as we did! Make the most out of it by trying out some of the fun activities we shared in this article. Are you on a budget in Japan? Be sure to check out this post with 12 free things to do in Osaka.