The best things to do in Osaka
Fall head over heels for Japan’s fun-loving, laid-back ‘second’ city, famous for its culinary scene and proud Kansai culture.
- December 2021
Osaka may be Japan’s ‘second’ city, but there’s no inferiority complex going on here. Instead, it’s one of Asia’s most dynamic and outgoing destinations. It’s one of those cities where in-the-know visitors will you tell it’s as good, if not better, than Tokyo – and that’s something you don’t need to convince locals of! Osakans are a proud lot, and rightly so with their famous Kansai cuisine and raucous neon-lit nightlife to go with endless shopping and fascinating cultural attractions. And with Osaka being only a 17-minute bullet-train-ride from Kyoto, a visit here will deliver you two prized Japan destinations for the price of one!
Live like a local and enjoy Osaka’s delicious cuisine
Ask any Japanese person what Osaka’s most famous for and invariably food is going to be the answer. Nowhere better represents the city’s mantra of kuidaore (eat till you drop) than Dotonbori with its dizzying array of garish restaurants spruiking local specialities. One of the most famous dishes is okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake loaded with seafood, pork and cabbage, cooked up tableside, all accompanied by local draft beers. Then there’s takoyaki, Osaka’s favorite bite-size fast-food snack of battered (and piping hot!) octopus balls. Add in fugu (blowfish), kushikatsu (skewered deep-fried meat, seafood or vegetables) and kappo-ryori (fine dining) and you’re still only just getting started!
Be dazzled by the bright lights of Osaka’s entertainment district
Matching Osaka’s insatiable appetite for food is its love of a night out on the town. And you won’t find anywhere more electrifying than Dotonbori. Its retina-burning neon billboards generate an exhilarating atmosphere where revellers gather for boozy restaurants, karaoke bars and clubs. Around the corner, Amerika-Mura is similarly energetic but with a distinct youth culture flavour. Among it all you’ll get anything from Irish pubs to dimly lit whisky bars and craft beer taphouses. Osaka is also Japan’s capital of rock’n’roll, so try to catch a local gig at one of its raucous livehouses for a fun night out.
Take in Osaka’s history and traditional culture
Before you rush off to take in Kyoto’s famed temples be sure to tick off Osaka’s cultural attractions. Osaka Castle is its most iconic sight, and something straight out of a fairytale. Its grand, elegant building with more than 400 years of history is surrounded by cherry blossoms in spring. And just up the road is Osaka Museum of History where you can take in the city’s past. For a Japanese cultural performance, don’t miss the traditional puppet shows at National Bunraku Threatre. Other highlights include the peaceful Shinto shrine of Sumiyoshi Taisha, and Shitennoji, Osaka’s oldest Buddhist temple, dating to 593 AD.
Check out Osaka’s contemporary attractions
Balancing out Osaka’s centuries-old sights are its current day attractions. Osaka’s aquarium is one of the world’s largest and popular for its shark tank, lava-lamp-like jellyfish, seals, penguins, otters, dolphins and walk-through tunnels of colourful marine life. Next door is the giant Tempozan Ferris Wheel that offers wonderful outlooks across Osaka Bay. For even more vertigo-inducing views, visit the landmark skyscrapers Umeda Sky Building and Abeno Harukas, Japan’s tallest building, both with observation decks. Universal Studios will appeal to kids of all ages with rides and studios covering everything from Harry Potter and Jaws to Jurassic Park and Super Nintendo World.
Get your dose of retail therapy
Alongside food and culture, shopping is Osaka’s other big lure. With its many arcades, department stores and underground malls, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to bag only-in-Japan keepsakes. The vibrant district of Minami is where you’ll find some of the city’s best shopping. Head to Amerika-Mura for all your subculture needs and Shinsaibashi-Suji Arcade for boutiques, fashion, Japanese toys, kitchen knives, sake and electronics. But for Osaka’s most well-known obsession, don’t miss Doguya-suji Arcade and its 600m-long market at Kuromon Ichiba where everything is food-related – from knives and specialty utensils to fresh produce.