Osaka is one of the main cities in Japan after Tokyo and is located on the island of Honshu. It is not as traditional or picturesque as other spots in the country like Kyoto, but it is still well worth a visit if you are planning a tour of Japan.
Many locals will tell you that Osaka is one of the most laid back cities in the country and the people here are known for their warm hospitality, which means that you will have the chance to learn all about Japanese culture here.
If you are a big of a foodie then you will also be in luck in Osaka which is said to have one of the best food scenes in all of Japan. To add to this you can explore museums, galleries and amusement parks all over the city, so this is one part of the country that you definitely don’t want to miss.
Here are the 25 best things to do in Osaka…
1. Visit Osaka-jo
Osaka Castle dates from 1583 when it was first built using 100,000 workers to get the finished building.
As with many castles in Japan however, it was destroyed and the structure that stands now was built in 1931 and has also been renovated over the years.
Despite the fact that the castle is no longer the original, it is still one of the most impressive buildings in Osaka and is located in the middle of a leafy park and is encircled by a charming moat.
Once inside the castle you can check out a selection of weaponry as well as art work and there is also an observation deck on the 8th floor where you can take in panoramic vistas over the adjacent park and wider Osaka.
2. Tour Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum
If you want to learn more about traditional art in Osaka then consider a trip to Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum where you can learn all about the art of ukiyoe which is a kind of Japanese print.
The prints are made using blocks of wood and the museum itself is styled on a traditional Japanese house.
Anyone who likes art work should definitely not miss this off the itinerary as it gives you an insight into one of the less well known handicrafts in Japan.
3. Check out the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
One of the best museums in Osaka is said to be the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living which is an open air museum covered in models of houses and traditional buildings.
There are a huge number of replicas of structures that would have stood in Osaka in the Edo Period from the 17th to the 19th century and this is the ideal place to come if you want to get a glimpse of how people would have lived in Osaka in days gone.
To really get into the spirit of things you can even dress up in period garb and walk around the complex dressed in a traditional Japanese outfit like a kimono.
4. Explore Sumiyoshi Shrine
Sumiyoshi Shrine has the claim to fame of being one of the oldest Shinto shrines not only in Osaka but also in wider Japan.
The shrine was built over 1,800 years ago and it is said to be one of the prettiest Shinto shrines of its kind thanks to its ornate architecture and dainty design features.
As well as the actual shrine you will also find a park here which features a bridge that stretches over a glassy pond.
5. Ascend the Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is one of the main landmarks in Osaka and you can see it from all over town.
The building soars to a height of 173 meters and it has an observatory which is located on the 39th floor which is known as the Garden Observatory.
This is one of the famous floating gardens for which Japan is well known and you can come here to check out this hanging garden which is filled with local flowers and plants.
6. Watch a show at the National Bunraku Theater
The National Bunraku Theater is the place to come if you want to check out the Japanese art of bunraku.
This is a kind of puppet theater which would have started out life in the Edo Period, and you can now come here to watch a performance in person.
Bunraku features large puppets which are operated by as many as three puppeteers and tell the story of Japanese epics and legends from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Fortunately there is also an English translation on offer so that you can work out what is going on.
7. Go out in Dotonbori
Dotonbori is known is Osaka as the place to come if you want to go out and enjoy the best of the city.
This part of Osaka is the central hub of bars, restaurants and cafes, and you can come here in the evening to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Many of the cafes and restaurants here also have their own roof terraces and this means that you can sit out, listen to some live music and look out across twinkling Osaka at the same time.
8. Visit Osaka Aquarium
Osaka Aquarium is also known as Kaiyukan and is located inside Tempozan Harbor Village that backs on to Osaka Bay.
This is one of the largest aquariums in Japan and has eight floors of exhibits which include a plethora of marine life such as whale sharks, otters, dolphins and turtles.
There is also one main tank in the aquarium which is some nine meters in length and is a riot of color thanks to the tropical fish and other marine animals like seahorses that bob around inside.
9. Go shopping in Shinsaibashi
Locals will tell you that the best place to go shopping in Osaka is in the Shinsaibashi District which sells pretty much anything and everything.
This part of town is a collection of arcades which means that this is a good place to come on a rainy day and you will find items such as souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes and household objects.
If you want some gifts or mementoes of your time in Osaka then this is the best place to come and shop up a storm.
10. Try the local food
Osaka is known in Japan for being something of a foodie paradise so if you like to eat then you have come to the right place! Some of the highlights here include the Okonomiyaki which is a kind of pancake made from shredded cabbage which is loaded with a range of toppings, as well as battera which is a style of sushi which features mackerel compressed with rice in a wooden box.
You can also try the kushikatsu which consists of skewers which feature different ingredients such as meat and vegetables which have been deep fried in breadcrumbs.
11. Make a pot at Maishima Pottery Museum
Maishima Pottery Museum is part of the Bay Area of Osaka and sits on a manmade island which was built for the purpose in 1998. The aim of the museum is to use the marine clay which lies in the waters around Osaka and you can come here and try to make your own pot using a potter’s wheel.
There are also galleries here featuring a range of pottery pieces and you can also check out the onsite kiln.
Once you have made your masterpiece you can glaze it before it is fired in the kiln and it can then be shipped to your home as a memento of your holiday.
12. Scale Abeno Harukas
Abeno Harukas has the claim to fame of being the tallest building in Osaka and also in all of Japan.
For that reason, you mustn’t miss it on a trip to the city and you can travel to the 5th floor here where you will find a charming cafe.
There is also an observation deck located here that lets you take in stunning panoramic vistas across the city.
Once you have checked out the views, you can also explore the rest of the building which features a museum, a department store and other shopping and dining venues.
13. Ride the Tempozan Ferris Wheel
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is one of the most iconic sights in Osaka and is located on the edge of the scenic Osaka Bay.
At one time this would have been the tallest Ferris wheel of its kind in the world and the main attraction here is the chance to take a spin on the wheel and check out the pretty sights across the city.
The wheel is illuminated at night so if possible try to come here in the evening and enjoy the nighttime views of Osaka.
14. Enjoy some retail therapy at Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street
Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street has the claim to fame of being the longest shopping street in Japan, so for that reason alone make sure not to miss it.
The street stretches for over two kilometers through Osaka and you will find a huge range of items for sale here.
These include things such as clothes, household items, shoes, books and souvenirs and there are also a range of places to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat here.
Make sure to also look out for the traditional Japanese medicine shops which sell a range of unusual products.
15. Tour Peace Osaka
Peace Osaka was built to educate visitors on the importance of peace and is also a tribute to all those who lost their lives in wars around the world.
Some of the key galleries here are dedicated to dark periods in Osaka’s history such as the bombings which razed much of the city to the ground during the Second World War.
For a moving look at how war has affected Japan and other countries in the world, this is well worth a visit if you are in town.
16. Check out Shitennoji Temple
Shitennoji Temple would have started out life in the 6th century when it was built under Emperor Suiko but like many buildings in Japan it was destroyed during the Second World War.
Nowadays the buildings here are reconstructions and you will find a range of different structures dotted around a compound.
Some of these take their inspiration from the 7th century onwards and some are more modern in style, so this is a great place to come to check out different examples of Japanese religious architecture.
17. Enjoy the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
One of the most iconic sights in Osaka is the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum which is dedicated to the humble instant noodle.
Here you will find a range of quirky attractions such as a statue of Momofuku Ando who is credited with inventing instant ramen and you can also check out a giant replica of a cup noodle.
The museum also offers you the chance to taste and even make your own noodles as part of a series of workshops.
18. Relax at Spa World
Spa World, as the name suggests, is a complex in Osaka which is made up of a range of spas, saunas and pools.
The facility is open 24 hours a day and you can come here and try out the onsen which are bathing pools located outside so you can also take in the fresh air and views at the same time.
You can also choose from a range of spa treatments such as massages and you can even stay here overnight if you buy a full pass to Spa World.
One thing to note however is that Japan has a very strict policy on tattoos so you will not be able to use the facilities if you have any visible tattoos on your body.
19. Watch a Sumo Spring Grand Tournament
Every spring you will find the Sumo Spring Grand Tournament in Osaka which is a great way to find out more about the amazing Japanese sport of sumo wrestling.
The event usually starts in March and is located inside the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium and you can watch some of the most famous sumo stars battle it out in the ring.
Schedules are subject to change so you need to check out the local listings to see what is on when you are in town.
20. Visit O-hatsu Tenjin
O-hatsu Tenjin is the name for a shrine in Osaka that is said to date back some 1,300 years and which is known for its unique legend.
The story goes that O-hatsu was a sex worker who committed suicide here along with Trokubei who was the apprentice of a merchant in Osaka, so that they could live together forever in paradise.
As a result of the legend, couples come here to pray for a strong relationship.
21. Admire the Tower of the Sun
The Tower of the Sun is one of the more unusual attractions in Osaka and is made up of a tower which is 70 meters in height and was designed by Okamoto Taro, a famous Japanese artist.
The tower is in the form of a creature which has three faces pointing in different directions and it was built in the 1970s in honor of the famous World Expo that was held in Osaka.
22. Explore the National Museum of Ethnology
This museum is an ode to not only Japanese ethnology but of other world cultures.
The aim is to show how people from all over the world are interconnected and you will find ceramics, costumes, masks, vehicles, and other memorabilia from countries all over the globe.
These include galleries dedicated to Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and of course Japan, and there are interactive exhibits such as a fun music room where you can play a range of world music.
This is also the place to find out more about Japanese culture from all over the country.
23. Check out Tenjin Matsuri
Tenjin Matsuri is one of the main festivals in Japan and there is no better place to check it out than in Osaka.
The festival takes place in July and lasts for two days and you can check out the mikoshi on the second day.
These are shrines which are hoisted through the streets of Osaka and revelers wear traditional costumes and carry the shrines to O-kawa where they are loaded onto boats.
In the evening you can also watch an opulent fireworks display.
24. Have fun at Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan is one of the most important theme parks in the country after Disneyland in Tokyo and is also the second largest in Japan.
As you would expect this is similar to Universal Studios in the United States and you can come here to check out everything related to your favorite films.
One thing to note however is that there is obviously more of a Japanese twist here, so expect to see a range of local characters as well.
25. Scale Tsutenkaku
Tsutenkaku is one of the most famous spots in Osaka and features a tower which was originally built in the 20th century but which has been replaced since then.
This is one of the main landmarks in town as is a symbol of how Japan rose again after being heavily bombed during the Second World War.
Now you can check out the sights across Osaka from the viewing platform and there is a lucky genie here known as a ‘sky billiken’ which grants wishes if you rub its feet according to local legend.