Osaka is the capital city of Western Japan and now this former rice trading hub is known as a foodie destination with incredible architecture and flashy fun nightlife. Whether you’re on a family holiday or a sophisticated adults-only trip, you will find that Osaka offers experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Getting to Osaka
If your entry point into Japan is Tokyo you can travel by Shinkansen to Osaka. There are three types of train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line; the Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The Nozomi is the most frequent and the fastest train. It travels between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo in just 2 hours and 30 minutes. Osaka also has an international airport.
Shinkansen Bullet Train
Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JRP) when you arrive in Tokyo. This will allow you to travel freely around Japan on trains, buses and even ferries.
From Tokyo, the best way to get to Osaka is to catch the bullet train, the Shinkansen, from either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station. The pass covers the three different types of train on the Tokaido line which takes you to Osaka. The Nozomi is the fastest and travels the 397 kilometres between the two cities in under three hours. The Hikari and Kodama lines will take slightly longer.
Things to Do in Osaka
One of the best things to do in Osaka is to visit Universal Studios which means fun for the whole family; from little children to grandparents. Kids will also love the Aquarium and Spa World.
The Spa World in Osaka is a combination of onsens, saunas and water play areas. Enjoy a relaxing soak in themed onsens from around the world. From Ancient Greek and Roman spas, to a Finnish Sauna House, a day at Spa World is a luxurious addition to any holiday. Saunas have been recreated to offer visitors the experience of a Turkish Hammam, an Israeli Salt Room and a Canadian Forest Bath. And, of course, there is something for the kids. The swimming area has two huge water slides and a range of aquatic play equipment which will provide hours of entertainment. Kids need to be taller than 115cm to ride the slides.
With incredible exhibitions and rollercoasters, some seen only in Japan, this day out is one that everyone will love. Named the world’s best ride for five consecutive years, the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey experience will certainly thrill. For the little ones, play with Curious George, visit Waterworld, see a street festival or take in the spectacular night parade and find out for yourself why Universal Studios in Osaka is one of the world’s most beloved theme parks.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
The aquarium is a place of wonder and delight for people of all ages. Explore the underwater world and take a tour of the Pacific Ocean in the permanent exhibition. At 5 pm visit the Night Sea Theatre for a light show which makes it feel as if you are in the depths of the ocean. Bespoke adult classes and experiences can also be arranged.
The Japanese rail system makes it very easy to take side trips on the bullet trains (shinkansen).Within an hour or two of Osaska you can visit Nara, an ancient city containing eight world heritage listed sites, Kyoto, home of the Golden Pavilion and the Imperial Palace, or Naoshima, home to some of the country’s most interesting contemporary art installations.
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Top Attractions in Osaka
Once you’ve visited Universal Studios you will want to explore the more cultural aspects of Osaka. Eat your way through the different neighbourhoods and visit the magnificent temples and ancient sites.
Especially popular during cherry blossom season, Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most stunning landmarks. Built in 1583 by one of Japan’s most famous warlords, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the castle is set amongst extensive gardens. Cycling tours are available for those wanting to explore the grounds. Buy your entry ticket from the vending machines and explore the eight floors of the castle at your leisure.
For an exciting evening in Japan, you can’t go past Dotonburi. The lights are bright and at every street there is a corner with something fascinating to be discovered. Giant crab sculptures move, neon lights flash, the famous Glico Running Man does his thing, and bars and restaurants line the streets offering delicious dining experiences.
Where to Stay in Osaka
Osaka is a big city so it’s worth doing some planning before you arrive. Decide on which attractions you most want to visit and look for excellent accommodation options nearby. Near Osaka Castle there is the Osaka Castle Hotel. If Universal Studios is your number one destination, try the Park Front Hotel.
For an exquisite hotel experience near Namba, stay at the St Regis or the Ritz Carlton near Fukushima. If your budget is more restricted, try the Karaksa or the gorgeous Hotel New Otani near the castle.
Traditional Ryokan Stay
Staying at a traditional ryokan offers the traveller the chance to experience the true culture and hospitality of the Japanese people. The accommodation is simple and serene and can be found in all parts of the city. In the heart of the Dontonburi district you can find modern ryokan, Yamatoya Honten. Including a bathhouse and offering peace and quiet away from the busy bright streets, this is a tranquil ryokan.
The Hotel Ichiei looks like a traditional hotel but inside you receive the ryokan experience, futons are rolled out each night onto tatami mats and the rice paper walls are elegant and simple, allowing guests to relax and absorb the zen ambience of the place.
There are hostels in each part of the city. This very affordable style of accommodation is simple but offers all the elegance and attention to detail that the Japanese are famous for. The Hana Hostel in Namba has a sake bar on site while the CharinCo hostel is a little more family-friendly with family rooms available.
Over near Universal Studios, Hokko Marina offers waterside dormitory accommodation, an interesting twist on traditional hostel living.
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Places to Shop in Osaka
The two main shopping areas in Osaka are Umeda (also known as Kite) in the north and Namba (also known as Minami) in the south. You will find underground shopping malls as well as department stores, arcades and thrift stores.
Osaka also has specialised shopping districts for particular goods. Amerikamura is where young people shop for inexpensive fashion items, electronic and gaming goods can be found in Den Den Town and in the northeast of Osaka you can find the longest shopping arcade in Japan, Tenjinbashi-suji.
Rinku Town, near the Kansai airport, is a whole town filled with shopping malls.
Easily accessed via the subway, this district is Osaka’s main shopping area. From high end specialty stores and boutiques, to street fashion at reasonable prices, this area has more than just shopping. You can visit temples and shrines or spend your time in one of the many fun bars or restaurants. At Karma Sutra Karaoke Bar you can show off your vocal skills or you can visit a cat cafe to destress. Neko no Jikan (Cat of Liberty) invites visitors to drink coffee and play with their cats for a small fee.
Best Places to Eat in Osaka
Over time, Osaka has earned the nickname Tenka no Daidokoro (the nation’s kitchen) and is known around Japan for having an unofficial slogan: kruidaore, meaning ‘eat till you drop’. After a week in this town, you will understand exactly why this is. Okonomiyaki, the filled savoury pancake, is Osaka’s most famous dish.
In Umeda, try Koryu, a Michelin 3-star restaurant. You will find incredible seafood, delivered fresh each day, and top quality wagyu beef.
For some of the best Tempura you can eat, visit Shunsaiten Tsuchiya. The chefs are friendly at the Michelin 2-star restaurant and there is sake and wine to compliment the meals.
Amano is a one star restaurant which serves impeccable sushi at reasonable process.
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The 16th-century shogunate Osaka Castle is Osaka’s main historical landmark. It’s surrounded by a moat and park with plum, peach and cherry-blossom trees. You can book a local guide to tour the castle and the surrounding areas at Tours By Locals.
A new craze across Japan is renting Go-Karts and touring around the city in fancy dress costumes and Osaka has fully embraced this trend. From Mario Brothers to fluffy onesies, this is a fun day out for all ages.