Osaka, the second largest city in Japan and home to over 2.5 million people, is a popular destination for international visitors. A slightly less conservative city than Tokyo, Osaka offers visitors a wide variety of things to see and do.
Futuristic shopping precincts, beautifully decorated buildings, historical sites, and fun-for-all-the-family attractions, Osaka has a bit of something for everyone.
1 Osaka Castle & Park
The castle is an icon of Osaka and one of the most visited attractions. The exterior has been reconstructed and restored over time and stands proudly above the city skyline.
Most visitors are surprised to find the interior has been fully modernised to house the history museum within. There is a lift and some stairs to reach the upper levels and it’s worth it for the view, but you do have to pay to enter.
Outside, you will find a very picturesque and typical Japanese setting, complete with cherry blossom trees. There are food vendors in the grounds and buskers on the weekends, making the park a lovely place to hang out on a sunny day.
Dotonbori is famous for its abundance of restaurants, bars, shops and large scale billboards. The strip is lively and crowded, and draws many visitors in the evening for photo opportunities in front of the brightly lit neon signs.
Shop till you drop in Shinsaibashi, and dine in one of the many restaurants and cafes that line the streets. This shopping area is adjacent to Dotonbori, separated by a man-made canal, so you could combine your trip to both areas.
Shops include many western brands, but you can also be lucky to pick up a traditional kimono on sale to bring back as a souvenir.
4 Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Featuring a massive amount of marine species, the Kaiyukan Acquarium has one of the largest tank displays in the world. Visitors start their journey at the top and venture deeper down inside the building, and become surrounded by large sheets of glass to view some of the bigger creatures of the sea.
Don’t miss seeing the arctic penguins, giant spider crab and large whale shark.
5 Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine
One of the oldest shrines in Japan, Sumiyoshi-taisha was founded in the year 211, meaning its architectural style is very different to other shrines.
The iconic red bridge entrance leads you to the temple buildings over the pond. The surrounding grounds offer a peaceful place to stroll and relax away from some of the more crowded attractions in Osaka.
6 Universal Studios Japan
If you’re after a fun amusement park experience, then Universal Studios Japan is your destination. You’ll find all of the usual rides inspired by famous films including Harry Potter, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Spider Man and Shrek.
7 Umeda Sky Building & Floating Garden Observatory
Step into the futuristic Umeda Sky Building and ride the lift to the top floor before ascending between the two towers at the very top.
The views are spectacular from the outdoor observatory and you can sit and have a drink in one of the building’s cafes to watch the sun go down over the city.
8 Osaka Museum of Housing & Living
If you want to know how life has changed for residents of Osaka over the last 400 years, then this museum is a must. Visitors can literally walk through the past, with recreations of life-sized streets and houses over historical periods of time.
You can even take it to the next level, and hire and wear a kimono to completely immerse yourself in the experience.
9 Spa World
Not your average spa, Spa World offers an array of spa experiences based on Asian and European spa traditions. Men and women are split into one of these areas within the spa each month.
The facility also has a gym, pool and restaurants so you could ease away the hours in this inner-city oasis.
10 Cherry Blossoms at the Japan Mint
The beautiful range of cherry blossom trees that bloom in April draw big crowds at the Japan Mint.
A special pathway of one-way foot traffic is open so that an orderly line can walk through and see all of the blossoms on display - an iconic image of Japan.
11 Museum of Oriental Ceramics
Centrally located and easy to get to from public transport, this museum displays a delicate collection of beautiful Asian ceramics.
Many are centuries old and each piece includes information on its history. You will also learn about the glazing and decorating techniques used.
12 Osaka Shochikuza (Kabuki show)
Don’t miss the chance to see a traditional Japanese theatre show, called a Kabuki show. There are three traditional shows broken up by two intermissions which include a dance show with traditional vocals and music.
Whilst the show is all in Japanese, it is also enjoyed by English only speakers, especially if you do some research on the story beforehand, or pay for the guide available within the theatre.
13 Asahi Beer Factory
See how Asahi beer is made with this free interactive tour of the Asahi Brewery Suita Factory. Book in advance (if you ring direct this can be done easily in English) and enjoy a 90 minute tour which includes seeing how the beer is made, right through to the technology used to fill and package the end product.
You receive beer samples at the end, or soft drinks, and some snacks. To get here, it’s a quick train ride to Suita station from Osaka.
14 Shitennoji Temple
The original temple was constructed in 593 making it one of the oldest sites in Japan. The five-story pagoda and stone gate dates back to 1294. This is Japan’s first Buddhist Temple and enshrines the Four Heavenly Kings.
You can also see turtles and fish that fill the surrounding pond, and wander among the lush gardens and waterfalls.
There may be some warnings that this area is dangerous, which is unusual for Japan, but it is frequented by many visitors and locals for its fantastic restaurants and unique setting.
The town was modelled after New York and Paris in 1912 and is home to the Tsutenkaku Tower, which offers views over the Osaka skyline.
Regardless of your interests, Osaka has something for everyone!