Osaka travel guide

Osaka is located on the main island of Honshu, roughly in the center of Japan. With a population of over 2.5 million people, it is Japan’s third-largest city.

Osaka was the country’s first capital, and to this day it is considered a vital economic center in Japan. It is home to the largest seaport in Japan and many leading Japanese manufacturers.

Osaka is deemed a culinary paradise: its nickname Tenka no Daidokoro means the nation’s kitchen. Lose yourself in Umeda and Dotonbori areas, Osaka’s main entertainment districts, to enjoy some of the best restaurants, nightlife, and shopping the city has to offer.

Our guides will help you get around Osaka and take you to the best attractions.

Top attractions in Osaka

As one of Japan’s largest cities, there are many great attractions for tourists. The whole family will enjoy Universal Studios Japan, the first Universal theme park built in Asia and still one of the best.

Another family favorite is Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquariums in the world. Shinsekai district and Osaka castle are also well-worth visiting.

Take a look at our guides to the top attractions in Osaka for more information.

Osaka Castle

One of the most famous historical sites in all of Japan, Osaka castle is situated right in the heart of the city of the same name and distinctive for its unique roof shape and stately white walls with gold leaf accents.

Surrounded by thick rock walls, moats and the stunning Nishinomaru Garden, the castle is particularly popular among tourists during the Sakura cherry blossom in the spring.

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Dotonbori

Dotonbori has been called the heart of Osaka. It is Osaka’s most famous tourist attraction, known for its bright and extravagant neon lights, which pierce the night and reflect off the surface of the Dotonbori Canal. This “bright heart” of Osaka is a colorful must-see anytime you travel through Japan’s Kansai region.

Dotonbori is also renowned for its variety of bars and restaurants. Is the Dotonbori nightlife calling to you? Check out this handy travel guide to learn all you need to know for your next trip to Dotonbori.

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Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building, also known as the “New Umeda City,” is one of the most unique high rise buildings in the world. How tall is this skyscraper? It is 173 meters (over 567 feet) tall and is, in fact, not one building, but two. The Sky Building’s two forty-story towers are connected at the thirty-ninth floor by the Floating Garden Observatory, where you can look out at Osaka through windows or an open-air deck.

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Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan was the first Universal theme park built in Asia, and it remains one of the best. In fact, its popularity in Japan is second only to the Tokyo Disney Resort.

You can enjoy many rides, from child-friendly to thrilling roller coasters. Your children can have their picture taken with their favorite characters, and all can enjoy theatrical spectacles.

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Getting around Osaka

Despite being a vast city, getting around Osaka is easy. The subway offers a quick and convenient way to get from A to B in Osaka city center.

You can use your Japan Rail Pass on the JR Osaka Loop Line to reach top attractions such as Osaka Castle.

Your JR Pass will also get you to other areas of the Osaka Prefecture. Check out your options using our guides to transport in Osaka.

Osaka JR Loop Line

Osaka City is a bustling metropolitan area popular among international tourists. Osaka itself is home to many unique attractions, including vast parks and gardens, historic Osaka Castle, the Tenmangu Shrine, Osaka Aquarium, and the National Bunraku Theater.

Visitors to Osaka also enjoy the Dotonbori district, where travelers can experience the local nightlife with restaurants and shopping centers open twenty-four hours a day; the covered Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street; and the Kitashinchi entertainment district.

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Main train stations in Osaka

Osaka Station City is a large transportation hub. It houses Osaka Station and 5 other railway stations. Read our complete guide to Osaka Station City so everything is clear before your trip.

Shinkansen bullet trains operate from nearby Shin Osaka station, which is just a 3-minute train ride away.

You can use your JR Pass to tour the Namba area, find out about the 4 different train stations in our Namba guide.

JR Osaka Station

Second only to Tokyo, Osaka is one of the largest cities in Japan. It is divided into several distinct districts. The Umeda District, located in the Kita ward, is home to Osaka Station City, a recently renovated and beautiful train station and shopping complex featuring an open floor plan and glass ceiling.

Why is this busy transportation hub referred to as Osaka Station City rather than just Osaka Station? One reason is that the Station City houses Osaka Station, along with five other railway stations, including the non-JR Umeda Station. Don’t let names confuse you – check out all that Osaka Station City has to offer.

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Shin-Osaka Station

In Japanese, the word shin means “new,” and this is fitting for Osaka’s modern train station. You may arrive at Shin-Osaka Station on one of Japan’s famous Shinkansen bullet trains. This station may be relatively small compared to the massive stations of Kyoto and Tokyo, but it is artfully designed for easy use by first-time travelers.

Osaka is Japan’s second largest city, but Shin-Osaka Station represents the quiet side of the city. You are likely to pass through this station when traveling to Osaka, and it serves as an excellent springboard from which to begin your travels.

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JR Namba Station

Located in south-central Osaka, Namba is one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods. At the heart of the city, Namba pulses with a life uniquely its own. It is an entertainment district with an abundance of shops and restaurants.

When using your Japan Rail Pass to tour Namba, the number of train stations in the area can prove confusing. Why? Because Namba is home to four different train stations: Namba Station, Nankai Namba Station, Osaka Namba Station, and JR Namba Station (formerly Minatomachi Station). Learn to navigate Namba like a pro with this helpful guide.

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JR Tennoji Station

Tennoji Station, called Tennoji-eki in Japanese, is located in the Tennoji-ku region of southern Osaka. It is an important transportation hub.

In the past, the area around Tennoji Station has had a “seedy” reputation. It’s the setting of many crime mangas and a historic “pleasure district.” However, renovations and tourism have elevated Tennoji, and there’s something there for everyone - from zoos and museums to ancient temples and food stands.

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Suggested itineraries in Osaka

To get the most out of your stay in Osaka, it’s a good idea to have a travel itinerary prepared.

We’ve created a selection of Osaka itineraries to make planning your stay easier. They include visits to the top attractions in Osaka and also explain how to get around the city.

You can use our itineraries as they are, or adapt them to your needs. Have a look and choose the one that works for you.

Osaka 3 days: Best things to do

You’ve got three days – three days to tour the second largest city in Japan. What should you see first? Can you taste the best that Osaka has to offer in just two or three days? With the help of this travel guide, yes you can. We’ll help you hit the highlights and provide helpful information along the way.

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Day trips and nearby destinations

If you’re staying a little longer in Osaka, you might want to visit nearby areas. Fortunately, there are many interesting places to visit close to Osaka, and most are easily accessible by train.

Some of the best day trips from Osaka include Kobe, Kyoto, and Koyosan. For further information on how to get there and what to see, consult our Osaka guides to nearby destinations.

Kobe

Kobe is a coastal city of the Kansai region of western Japan, located on the main island of Honshu bordering Osaka Bay. It is one of Japan’s ten largest cities. Enclosed by the sea on one side and a majestic mountain range on the other, it is also considered one of Japan’s most beautiful big cities.

Kobe is rich in history as the first port in Japan to open to foreign trade. This is evident in the western style architecture of some neighborhoods. Recent history is displayed at the Kobe City Museum and the Earthquake Museum.

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Nara

Nara is an ancient city located in the Kansai region of Japan’s main island of Honshu. It was the first “real” capital of Japan, remaining such for less than a century. This historic location is home to a nearly unmatched eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including numerous Buddhist temples. The city was founded in the year 710 C.E. and originally known as Heijo.

Among its attractions are the oldest and largest wooden buildings in the world, the Nara Deer Park whose tame deer delight in entertaining visitors, fantastic cherry blossom viewing spots, and ninjas.

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Mount Koyasan

Located in the heavily forested Wakayama mountains, Mount Koyasan is an important religious destination in Kansai, as well as a popular tourist attraction.

The cradle of Shingon Buddhism, it offers over 100 temples and pagodas to explore, as well as the mysterious Okunoin cemetery, where spirits are said to roam. Perfect for a day trip, visitors also have the option to stay overnight in a temple lodging.

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Kyoto

Kyoto, located in the central part of the island of Honshu, is considered by many as Japan’s most beautiful city. Kyoto was the Japanese capital until the government was moved to Tokyo in 1868.

However, Kyoto is still Japan’s religious center with over 1000 Buddhist temples. Kyoto is home to some of Japan’s most iconic landmarks, with some of the most exquisite gardens, temples, and masterpieces you will ever see.

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Naoshima

Imagine walking in the sands of a beautiful island in the Seto Inland Sea. You approach a concrete pier jutting out into the water. Rather than your usual retinue of fishermen and tourists, you are greeted by an enormous black and golden pumpkin.

The scene described is no fairytale or dream. It is part of the sculptures and modern art for which the island of Naoshima is known. The island enjoys sunny weather and rural living that rivals that of Europe’s Mediterranean region.

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Okayama

Okayama is a city where history meets modern technology. It originated as a castle town during Japan’s Edo Period, which spanned from the early 1600s to mid-1800s. Today, Okayama is the second largest city in the region, being somewhat smaller than Hiroshima. It is a railroad transportation hub, located at the junction of the Sanyo Shinkansen Line to Shikoku’s only rail connection.

What is there to see and do in Okayama and the surrounding cities? How do you get there from popular destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto? Consider this helpful travel guide.

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Himeji

Built in 1609, Himeji castle is one of the most highly regarded castles in Japan, in part because of its immense size and the fact it has survived centuries of natural disasters and wars.

Also known as ‘White Heron Castle’ because of its distinctive pale facade, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is located close to the city of the same name and is also easy to reach by Shinkansen from Kobe, Kyoto, or Osaka with a JR Pass.

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