Located on the island of Honshu is Japan’s third largest city, Osaka. The city is huge with a population of over 2.5 million people and is bustling with plenty of things to see in Osaka.
Osaka isn’t always located on the traditional Japan tourist trail like Kyoto and Tokyo, but it is full of life and things to do. Osaka has plenty of great restaurants, shopping, bars, and culturally interesting activities to keep visitors busy for at least a few days. Here you’ll find 15 of the best things to do in Osaka.
Table of Contents
- National Bunraku Theater
- Tenjin Matsuri
- Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
- Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple
- The Coolest Coffee Shop in Japan
- National Museum of Ethnology
- ROR Comedy Club
- Universal Studios Japan
- Osaka Castle
- Spa World
- Osaka Station City
- Den-Den Town
- Walk Around Dotonbori
- Evening Cruise on the Dotomborigawa River
- Soar to New Heights
- Try The Best Udon
- National Museum of Art Osaka
- Play a Few Games of Pinball!
- Ice Cream
- Local Specialty Coffee Shop
- Try Okonomiyaki
- Try Takoyaki
- Try Jiggly Cheesecake
- Umeda Sky building
- Namba Yasaka Jinja
- Nakanoshima Park
- Kuromon Ichiba Market
- Become a Samurai
- Wear Kimono
- Where to Stay in Osaka?
- What to Pack for Osaka?
The Best Things to do in Osaka, Japan
National Bunraku Theater
For centuries, Osaka has been the heart of Japan’s traditional Bunraku puppet theater. Making a visit to the National Bunraku Center is one of the many things to do in Osaka that shouldn’t be missed. It has a large hall seating over 700 and a smaller one seating more than 150, but if you think the seats don’t sell out quickly, you’d be wrong. A production of the Japan Arts Council, Bunraku is a performing art form which uses intricate puppets to entertain and tell a story.
Though the traditional shows are nearly four hours long, don’t worry if that’s more time than you wanted to spend here, because tickets to individual acts are also available. The theatre is just a short walk from the subway, and if you happen to end up there on an off day, stop by anyway because they may let you check out the theatre and its famous puppet collection. The Japan Arts Council website has an English translation function, so look there for specific times, dates and pricing information.
“Festival of the Gods” to us English speakers, Tenjin Matsuri is often referred to as the world’s biggest boat festival by proud Osakans. Though that claim hasn’t been confirmed, there’s no doubt that it’s a big one, and it’s Osaka’s largest festival of the summer season happening every July 24th and 25th. The Jaapanese have a reputation for being reserved and well-behaved, but Tenjin Matsuri is a time when many of them let their proverbial hair down.
Celebrated for over 1,000 years, the festival includes fires lit aboard elaborately adorned riverboats in the evening, rituals, traditional dance, fireworks, and a parade comprised of thousands of revelers dressed in ancient garb. Considered one of the most important festivals in Japan, it’s especially important in Osaka and is held to honor Sugawara no Michizane – the god associated with astuteness and learning.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Due to its geography, the island nation of Japan and its people have been seafarers and seafood lovers since the beginning of time. The sea is an integral part of their culture, hence the popularity of the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Considered one of Japan’s best aquariums – and one of the largest in the world – it’s located near Osaka Bay and contains fish, crustaceans, mollusks and marine mammals from around the world.
The massive central tank is so large that it’s able to hold the world’s largest fish – the whale shark – which is closer in size to whales than it is to sharks and dwarfs even the mighty great white. The exhibits are clearly labeled in English, so you’ll be able to read and understand just what it is you’re looking at. Like most things in Osaka, it’s an easy walk from the subway station.
Visit Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple
Finding things to do in Osaka isn’t tough, but few of them capture Osaka’s essence better than the Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple. Also referred to as Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple is among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. Built in the 11th year of the 3rd Century, its aesthetic architecture is purely Japanese and free of any foreign influences, which may make it stand out among other Japanese temples to those with a discerning eye.
The temple is considered the home of three deities who are purported to protect travelers, sailors, and fisherman. Still an active shrine site for the locals, it’s packed on New Year’s Day, when the Japanese come to present offerings, pay their respects, and ask the divine beings to aid and protect their loved ones. We visited on a weekend and found hardly anyone there.
Grab a Coffee at the Coolest Coffee Shop in Japan
After you leave Sumiyoshi don’t hop on the train back to the city center just yet. You are only steps away from our favorite coffee shop in Japan. Cool Lamb Coffee Shop is a coffee shop we just stumbled upon while searching for an iced latte under the hot Japanese sun.
There’s no noticeable entrance or anything of note around the coffee shop. Everything is in Japanese and you likely won’t find anything that speaks Enlish. BUT the coffee is amazing and the vibe is something out of old school Japan. It’s where you come to read a book and relax with other locals. Plus they serve up lamb cookies!
National Museum of Ethnology
Though you probably didn’t fly halfway around the world to Osaka, Japan to spend your time learning about Swedish and Australian culture, that doesn’t mean a trip to the National Museum of Ethnology doesn’t deserve one of those precious spots on your itinerary. A tour of the National Museum of Ethnology may remind you that centuries ago, distant and unique people from all over the world were trading, fighting, and influencing one another cultures.
The exhibits are full of fascinating artifacts, icons and even mundane and quirky items used in everyday life. There’s also a special audio room where you can listen to music from around the world. Located in Senri Expo Park, the museum is an easy walk from the subway.
Tickle your funny bone at the ROR Comedy Club
If going to a comedy club and seeing a routine in a language you don’t understand sounds like a great way to waste an evening, then fear not, because since 2011, ROR Comedy Club has been Osaka’s only English-speaking stand-up comedy club. Known as Japan’s, ‘Comedy Central,’ they’ve won excellence awards from a host of international travel sites, so you know it’ll be funny. On the other hand, since Osakans love a good laugh, why not throw caution to the wind and walk into one of the clubs where the routines are in Japanese.
What better way to knock elbows with a few locals, drink yourself into oblivion and have a great time that you’ll remember for years to come. Remember, just laugh when everyone else does and you’ll be fine.
Universal Studios Japan
It may seem a bit backward to visit an icon of American culture when vacationing in a unique and exotic country like Japan, but a trip to Universal Studios Japan may help reverse that bout of homesickness. Universal Studios is one of the best places to go in Osaka. Featuring exhibits from such timeless blockbusters as Jaws and Terminator, it’s a place that lovers of movies will appreciate. Much more than a boring exhibit of movie paraphernalia, the site is an amusement park too.
The facility has been open since 2011 and was the fastest one in history to rack up 10 million visitors, which it did in its first year. There are special areas for kids full of lovable characters they’ll recognize, but the wait for rides at peak times can be excessive and the tickets aren’t cheap, so in order to get your money’s worth, try to go during non-peak times, weekdays, and days that aren’t bright and sunny.
One of the greatest places of interest in Osaka is the Osaka Castle. Though Japan isn’t a country most people associate with castles, you’ll be surprised at just how many there are.
Osaka Castle is one of the country’s largest and has seen its fair share of important historical events since it was built in the 16th Century. Built by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was an integral figure in the country’s unification, the current castle is a reproduction that was completed in the 90’s because the original was totally destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945.
During World War II, the castle played a central role in Japan’s munitions industry, so became a high-priority target for aerial bombardment, but don’t worry, you’ll never know it’s not the original. You’ll still be impressed by the stalwart stone walls, moats, turrets, and architecture. There’s a fascinating and educational museum inside that will fill in all those important details too.
It seems the more you travel, the more you realize that natural hot springs aren’t that rare. As a geologically active country, Japan is home to hundreds of hot springs – or ‘onsens,’ as they’re known in Japanese. Spa World is one of the world’s largest hot spring facilities and is divided into two floors – one for men and the other for women. The areas are decorated with themes from different countries and regions, including Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Greece.
Many spas in Japan – including Spa World – are open around the clock, to accommodate and cater to those with different schedules. There’s a gym, restaurant and water park on-site, and massages if the warm, therapeutic waters didn’t quite do the trick. Most of the signs are written in English in addition to Japanese, so make sure to read them, because they’ll tell you about proper onsen etiquette.
Osaka Station City
Osaka Station City is a fantastic thing to see in Osaka. Bustling with tourists, commuters, and harried people of all stripes, Osaka Station City is a busy train station comprised of many different buildings. More than just another ho-hum train station though, Osaka Station City includes entertainment, retail, and dining areas, all of which are housed in a magnificent, contemporary, glass-topped building said to be the largest of its kind in Japan.
It’s also one of Osaka’s busiest and trendiest shopping districts, comparable to even those found in Tokyo, according to many Japanese. For a great photogenic vista, head to the elevated bridge above the platform, which gives a bird’s eye view of the trains and tracks below. The station reportedly handles more than a million passengers a day and there are public spaces on the rooftop if you need to relax while waiting to catch your connecting train.
Also called Nipponbashi, Den-Den Town is a shopping district in Osaka that’s famous for electronics and otaku – which is an often-derogatory term used to describe people whose interests in anime and other fetishes are borderline neurotic. The name became mainstream after one of Japan’s most infamous psychopaths and serial killers was dubbed the otaku murderer.
The term is becoming less negative though, and the district has a reputation for an eclectic nerdiness which most find endearing. Due to the competition between electronics vendors, it’s okay and even expected that you’ll haggle over the price if you decide to buy something to take back with you.
Walk Around Dotonbori
Dotonbori is one of the most popular places to visit in Osaka. It’s a lively area that is as crazy as it looks. If you want bright lights, crowds, restaurants, food stalls, and plenty of shopping then travel to Dotombori.
Dozens of restaurants line the Dotomborigawa River, and while you’re enjoying dinner you can admire the numerous billboards. Afterwards, a popular thing to do in Osaka is take an evening cruise on the river. It’s always busy, but at night is when it really comes alive.
Take an Evening Cruise on the Dotomborigawa River
As mentioned above, one of the most popular things to do in Osaka is to take a river cruise on the Dotomborigawa River. While sitting in the comfort of your boat you’ll be able to gaze up the bright lights and billboards!
Soar to New Heights
There is no way you can miss the bright yellow Ferris wheel that towers over Dotonbori. Most people just look at it, but for ¥600 you can actually ride it.
This Ferris wheel was actually out of commission for nine years before opening up again in 2018, so it’s worth the money to ride up on it now!
The whole ride takes 15 minutes to go full circle, and once at the top of the 77-meter structure, you get amazing views at night. Be forewarned it was a tad bit scary if you are afraid of heights.
Try The Best Udon
As you leave Dotonbori make sure to stop at Tsurutontan Soemoncho for a bite of delicious Udon. Udon is a type of thick wheat flour noodle used frequently in Japanese cuisine, it’s served hot or cold and can be found throughout the country.
However, we had our very best Udon meal at this shop for only ¥1000 while overlooking the Dotomborigawa River.
National Museum of Art Osaka
Located on Nakanoshima Island between the Dojima and Tosabori Rivers in central Osaka, the National Museum of Art is an underground facility also known as NMAO, or National Museum of Art Osaka. Though it’s a national museum, it has a decidedly international flare, partly because it was originally built to house an international art expo in 1970.
The name of the famous Japanese architect who designed the museum probably won’t mean anything to you, but you’ll likely find his work impressive. The majority of the museum’s collections and exhibits are from the post-war era, and there are some exemplary works from world-renowned masters like Cezanne and Picasso as well.
Japanese for “American Village,” America-Mura is a chic pocket of hipster-ridden coffee bars, shops, tattoo parlors, clubs and hotels that cater to trysts between young lovers. Though you may not think it has much in common with any town in America you’ve ever visited, it got its name after World War II, when the devastated country began the slow process of rebuilding; this area was the place to go to get American goods like t-shirts, razors, and cigarettes.
Sitting starkly in the middle of the village is a park constructed of concrete called Triangle Park, which is known as a rallying point preceding a night on the town (it’s also the dirtiest spot we’ve found in Japan – tons of litter).
There are also many bold murals – some of which have been painted by famous, contemporary Japanese artists – and there’s even a pint-size Statue of Liberty if you’re feeling homesick or just want a quirky photo to show your jealous friends back home. Though the area is fun and lively, it’s not a great place for families after the sun goes down.
Play a Few Games of Pinball!
In Amerika Mura, you have the chance to enter an old school pinball arcade and practice your pinball skills. There must be at least 100 pinball machines inside The Silver Ball Planet, costing between ¥25 to ¥100.
There’s a machine inside to break your change and some glass bottles of Coke to feel refreshed after you sweat it on on the tables.
Get Yourself Some Ice Cream!
Also in Amerika-Mura is Long Softcream, which is exactly as it sounds – long soft ice cream. It’s here that you can get your hands on 40 cm tall ice cream for ¥300, and they claim it to be the longest ice cream cone in Japan. Long Softcream is an institution in the area.
Also nextdoor is Shiroichi, which serves higher quality cream ice and also a cotton candy shop where you can get your Instagram photos with a huge rainbow mess of cotton candy!
Try One of Osaka’s First Local Specialty Coffee Shops
Don’t leave Amerika-Mura just yet! Lilo’s Coffee Roasters is the first specialty coffee shop to open up in Osaka. It’s a small shop, but the coffee is delicious! It’s here you can get pour over coffee, cold brew, or a GOOD latte from beans all over the world.
Sometimes good coffee that doesn’t come out of a vending machine can be hard to come by in Japan so I always appreciate hip coffee shops when I see them. Here each coffee is also accompanied by a card that details the coffee origins and tasting notes.
Okonomiyaki is a type of Japanese savory pancake filled with cabbage and many other toppings. It is a staple food to try while in Japan and can be found around the country. Okonomi means “as you like it” and yaki means “grilled,” so it’s a meal catering to your own personal preferences.
Okonomiyaki is said to originate from Osaka, so to have it in the city is a must do. We scoured Dotonbori for the best Okonomiyaki in Osaka and landed on Creo-Ru Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki. Depending on the type of Okonomiyaki you order you can expect to pay between ¥700-¥1300 for one pancake. However, we found one was more than enough for two!
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack that is made out of wheat flour based batter. It is typically topped with tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion and then brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise.
It’s a sweet and savory snack that is sure to fill you up at least a little bit. It became popular in Osaka in the mid-1930s and nowadays you will see street vendors selling Takoyaki down Dotonbori street. The most famous place to try Takoyaki is Aizuya, recommend in the Michelin guidebooks.
Try Jiggly Cheesecake
Another famous food to try in Osaka is a Japanese Jiggly Cheesecake. Rikuro Ojisan no Mise is a small shop that sells hot and fresh cheesecakes all day! You can only buy a whole cheesecake, not by the slice here, so come with friends.
You’ll likely have to wait in a line to buy a cheesecake fresh out of the oven, but if you prefer not to wait you can also go into the shop and buy one that was made earlier in the day.
We got lucky and only had to wait five minutes or so in the line, but we were told it gets much busier depending on the day. A Jiggly cheesecake will set you back all of ¥700 and it is more than worth it! Plus they keep well if you have a refrigerator in your hotel room.
Umeda Sky building
Google ‘Umeda Sky Building’ and take a look at the photos, then you’ll definitely want to make it one of the things to do in Osaka. Comprised of two towers connected with a massive observation span, it’s a great place to get vistas of the city that you won’t find elsewhere. Though not tall by modern skyscraper standards, the building’s magnificent architecture more than makes up for what it lacks in height.
The building is also a magnet for Japanese couples, who have their names engraved on heart-shaped locks, then leave them at the top overlooking the city as a symbol of their love and commitment. In the building’s basement, there’s a restaurant designed to look like a typical street in Osaka about 100 years ago.
Namba Yasaka Jinja
Namba Yaska Jinja shrine is one of the most famous in Osaka, mainly because of the monster head at the entrance. Because of this Namba Yasaka Jinja receives visits from all over the world, and it’s a very photogenic spot to see in Osaka.
If you’re looking for free things to do in Osaka, then head to the park! Since you’ll already be on this beautiful island visiting the National Museum of Art, why not cool those hot heels and stick around a bit, because there’s a lot to see on this long, narrow island – like its historic government buildings, museums, and the promenade that runs along the riverfront.
Like most things Japanese, they did an excellent job combining the natural and human-made worlds into a pleasant and soothing environment. It’s a great place to take a relaxing stroll and look at the magnificent views of the city across the river too.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Kuromon Ichiba Market is 580 meters of Japanese food! This is a covered market in the heart of Osaka’s Chuo Ward where locals and tourists alike come every day.
You can get fresh fish, sushi, fruits, Japanese treats, or pretty much anything you want here. Come hungry, because there is a lot to try.
As with most fish markets, it’s best to get here earlier in the day, though if you arrive around 5 pm vendors will start slashing prices to get rid of their food for the day.
This is a very popular thing to do in Osaka, so expect crowds and higher than normal prices.
Take Photos in Shinsekai
Shinsekai is an old neighborhood in downtown Osaka. It’s said to be one of the most dangerous and most impoverished areas of Osaka, but we traveled here at night to grab a few photos and didn’t notice a thing.
Most travelers travel to Shinsekai to grab a photo with the Tsūtenkaku tower in the background, but there are also a few places to eat and drink around here as well.
Practice Your Samurai Skills
Have you ever wanted to be a Samurai? In Osaka, you can take lessons on how to be one. You’ll begin by changing your clothes into an iaigi, the clothing worn by samurai. Then you’ll enter the dojo, which is a traditional Japanese training room where you will learn your samurai etiquette and ritual! It’s an exciting thing to do in Osaka! See experience here.
One of the most popular things to do in Osaka and Kyoto is to practice wearing traditional Kimono. Who doesn’t want to look beautiful and take photos in kimono while in Japan?
You don’t just get to try Kimono, but you can actually venture around Osaka in it too! See experience here.
Where to Stay in Osaka?
Osaka has some fabulous Airbnb’s to choose. To feel more at home, we use Airbnb – you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or take this coupon for your first stay!r
Residential Hotel HARE Kuromon
Residential Hotel is in the Chuo Ward district just 1 km from Namba CITY shopping mall. I love this place because it is a very traditional Japanese fashion.
The Ritz-Carlton Osaka
The Ritz Carlton Osaka is as glamorous as Ritz Carlton comes. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the main JR Osaka Station and has a Michelin star restaurant attached.
What to Pack for Osaka?
Delsey 24″ Spinner
Delsey makes my favorite hard side luggage, and after five years of travel around the world, they have yet to let me down. Plus their bags look incredibly stylish, have heavy duty wheels, TSA approved lock and two full packing compartments with tie-down straps and a zippered divider. If you want something different, check out our other favorite carry on luggage pieces.
Carry on Backpack
As far as design the Knack Expandable Backpack is one of my favorites in the travel world. Everything about this pack has been well thought out, and I’m impressed by the organization of the pockets and the ridiculous amount of features in such a small layout. Serious kudos to the designers of this pack. There are a lot of travel backpack companies popping up these days, but the vast majority of them are lacking in terms of build quality — not the case with this pack.
Travel Water Bottle
The tap water in Japan is clean, so there is no need to buy plastic water bottles and contribute to our world’s plastic problem. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well and also keeps drinks warm when need be. See all of our favorite water bottles here.
Smith Lowdown 2
If you’re visiting during the summer, you will want sunglasses in Japan. Smith makes my favorites. The Chromapop lens technologyis like seeing the world with a fresh set of our eyes. They enhance contrast, reduce glare, and reflection for grand vision while driving, walking around town, or out on the water. We also love the style of glasses for anyone who likes to live an active lifestyle.
It is considered rude to wear your shoes inside in Japan so most places will give you slippers to walk around with once you take your shoes off at the door. However, I never found these slippers comfortable and would rather have my own from home.
You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Japan, especially if you are hanging out in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, or Osaka. Make sure your feet don’t want to kill you and get a pair of good men’s walking shoes or women’s walking shoes.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and found the images to look amazing. Check out our other travel cameras here.
Check out some of the best sellers right now and pick up a copy. There’s nothing better than enjoying a good book under the comfort of a Japanese katsu table. I’ve recently upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s small, has touchscreen functions, and a backlight so that I can read at night without a harsh glare.
Japan mainly uses the Type A plug like North America, but there is generally no socket for the grounded portion. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may struggle to find one once you land.
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans for Japan!
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