Join me on my travelling and nom nomming adventures!
Before I got there, I thought Osaka would be just another boring bustling big city. As it turns out, there are all sorts of fun things that will be sure to keep you and the family happily occupied in this part of Japan. Here are my pick of 40 of the most awesome things you can eat, see and do in Osaka, listed region by region for your convenience. And for those friends who are paying attention, you’ll find the number 40 featuring a fair bit on here this year, hehe…
NAMBA, SHINSAIBASHI and TEMMABASHI
1. Make fake food
You’ve seen them before – those plastic food models displayed at the front of Japanese restaurants so that passersby know what to expect if they choose to dine there. Did you know you can try your hand at making your own plastic food?
Why? This makes a super cute souvenir to take home with you. Every item in my bento box has a magnet on the back so you can display them proudly on your fridge and reminisce about your trip every time you go to retrieve some food.
Where? Design Pocket, 10-11 Namba Sennichimae, Chuo-ku (at Doguyasuji Kitchenware Street).
When? Sun-Thurs 9.30am-6pm, Fri-Sat 9.30am-8pm.
How? Just rock up! Be aware that the menu changes depending on what time you turn up, ie 10am takoyaki, 11am sushi or bento, 1pm tart or parfait, 2pm takoyaki, 3pm sushi or bento, 4pm tart or parfait, 5pm whatever you like to make.
How much? Price varies from about ¥2500 for 2 pieces of nigiri sushi to about ¥3500 for the bento box.
2. Eat takoyaki
Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food consisting of little lightly crisped balls of dough with pieces of octopus mixed in, then topped with a salty sweet sauce and delicate flakes of bonito.
Why? The takoyaki in Japan actually contains pieces of real octopus. The slight chewiness gives a more pleasant mouthfeel than what we’re served in Australia, so I would consider this a must eat when you’re there!
Where? Takoyaki stands abound around Dotonbori, Shinsekai and various tourist attractions around Japan. The one in the picture is from Wanaka Sennichimae, 11-19 Nambasennichimae, Chuo-ku, just north of Design Pocket on the way to Dotonbori. I can’t say it’s the best takoyaki as it doesn’t contain as much octopus as others I’ve had in Japan, but it’s different in that it’s served like a taco between two tasty senbei (rice crackers).
When? Wanaka Sennichimae is open 10am-11.30pm weekdays, 8.30am-11pm weekends.
3. Take photos of all the big storefront mascots
In Osaka, you won’t just see fake food advertising what the restaurants are selling. It’s also oversized.
Why? This is wacky Japan at its best.
Where? Dotonbori and Shinsekai.
4. Eat Uncle Rikuro’s wobbly cheesecake
Rikuro Ojisan has been serving up millions of jiggly, light and fluffy cheesecakes since 1984.
Why? You’ll see the queues outside the Namba main branch before you even get close to the storefront. That many happy satisfied faces can’t be wrong, right?
Where? Rikuro Ojisan no Mise, 3-2-28 Namba, Chuo-ku, northwest of Wanaka Sennichimae on the way to Dotonbori.
When? 9.30am-9.30pm daily.
How much? At ¥695 for a whole cheesecake, I really regret not getting one to try just because it was my last night and I was on my own. Instead, I bought the small pastry in the above photo, which really wasn’t very satisfying. Don’t do what Bibi did. Buy their most famous product as depicted in the photo behind my pastry, even if you need to share the rest of it with a complete stranger (what I should have done!). Consider it your good deed for the day. Your next good deed will be to report back to me about whether or not it lives up to the hype.
5. Take a photo with Glico Man
This sign of a running man advertises Glico, one of Asia’s most well known confectionary manufacturers, responsible for popular products like Pocky.
Why? This sign has been around since 1935, so is now one of the most well known landmarks in Osaka. It’s kitschy, it’s touristy, and it needs to be done!
Where? At the Ebisu Bridge over Dotonbori Canal
When? It’s there all the time, but better if you rock up at night when it’s ablaze in all its LED glory. What can I say? I don’t like crowds, so I tend to visit high throughput areas during off peak times.
6. Eat crab sushi from Kani Doraku
Kani Doraku is a popular restaurant chain serving up all sorts of crab delicacies throughout Japan, and a must visit for all you crab lovers out there.
Why? The Dotonbori store is the original. Just look for the giant crab out the front. We had already eaten okonomiyaki so only bought a takeaway bento box of various types of extremely fresh and tasty crab sushi. If you have more time and stomach space, you should definitely try dining in. Currently ranked the #4 restaurant in the Chuo area of Osaka on TripAdvisor, there are good reviews about the grilled crab, crab hot pot, crab rice, crab macaroni and cheese…you get the idea.
Where? 1-6-18 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, on the other side of the Ebisu Bridge but on the same side of the canal as Glico Man.
When? 11am-11pm daily.
7. Take a cruise along Dotonbori Canal
Why? Dotonbori can get very crowded. If it gets a bit too much, you may find that hopping onto one of the cruise boats is a more peaceful and relaxing way to take in the sights and atmosphere.
Where? 20 minute cruises on the yellow Doton boats depart from the Don Quijote store which is marked by the yellow ferris wheel in the photo above. Osaka Wonder Cruise offers a 40 minute cruise connecting Dotonbori (the embarkation point is behind Kani Doraku) and Osaka Castle (board at Keihan City Mall next to the Temmabashi subway station).
How? You can just rock up to the boarding location, or reserve online here to confirm your spot on the Osaka Wonder Cruise.
How much? The 20 minute Doton cruise is ¥900 for adults, ¥400 for kids, or free with the Osaka Amazing Pass. The 40 minute Osaka Wonder Cruise is ¥1800 for adults, ¥800 for kids under 6, or free with the Osaka Amazing Pass.
8. Eat okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is a savoury Japanese pancake filled with all sorts of delicious goodies like eggs, shredded cabbage, thin pork belly, shrimp, cheese and even noodles, then topped with a salty sweet sauce and bonito flakes.
Why? This dish is said to have originated in Osaka, so what better place to try it?
Where? Like takoyaki, it won’t be hard to find a restaurant serving okonomiyaki in the Dotonbori and Shinsekai areas, but if you’d like to sit at the bar and watch them making it as pictured above, then a good place to try is Chibo Dotonbori, 1-5-5- Dotonbori, Chuo-ku.
When? Chibo Dotonbori is open 11am-1am daily.
9. Visit a mythical lion
The Namba Yasaka Shrine features a giant lion head baring its teeth.
Why? Slightly off the beaten path, this is a nice place to visit for a bit of peace and quiet, and for the Instagram factor of taking a photo that looks like you’re getting swallowed by a lion!
Where? 2-9-19 Motomachi, Naniwa-ku, west of Namba Parks.
When? Dawn to dusk daily.
How much? FREE.
10. Go shopping
I’m not much of a holiday shopper, preferring to see the sights, but the atmosphere from Shinsekai to Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi sure got me into a bit of a shopping mood.
Why? Cute souvenirs, delicious food items to take home, cosmetics, trendy clothing… Japan is a shopaholic’s delight, and here in Osaka, you’ll easily be able to find all of these and more!
Where? Shinsekai and Dotonbori for souvenirs, Shinsaibashi for high end brands and fashion chains. Don’t miss Doguyasuji Kitchenware Street (where you’ll also find Design Pocket) for food related items, Daiso Shinsaibashi for all sorts of homewares and stationery priced at ¥100 a piece, and Tokyu Hands Shinsaibashi for just about anything you could ever want under the sun.
When? Varies, but most shops are open from 10 or 11am until 7 to 9pm daily.
11. Eat kushikatsu at Daruma
This is a chain that has been serving up skewers of fried goodies since 1929, with stores at the Osaka Lucua store, Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori. Just look for the angry man holding onto said skewers with his arms crossed.
Why? They’re crispy and delicious, and the entire dining experience is quirky and fun.
Where? Kushikatsu Daruma Shinsaibashi, 1-5 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku is the address of the store pictured above.
When? Kushikatsu Daruma Shinsaibashi is open 11am-10pm daily.
How? Each table has an iPad where you tap on what you’d like to order. Soon after you’ve submitted your order, your food is delivered to your table by train! Pick up the food and press the button to send the train back to the kitchen. The dipping sauces at each table are not changed until the end of the day, so the rule is you only dip each skewer in once. No double dipping allowed!
12. Visit Osaka Castle
Why? The construction of Osaka Castle was decreed in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the samurai lords credited for bringing about the unification of Japan, and hence is an important symbol of a unified Japan.
Where? 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo-ku. The closest metro stations in a clockwise direction from north to northwest are Osaka Business Park (Metro Nagahoritsurumiryokuchi Line), Osakajokoen (JR Osaka Loop Line), Morinomiya (JR Osaka Loop Line, Metro Chuo and Nagahoritsurumiryokuchi Lines), Tanimachiyonchome (Metro Chuo and Tanimachi Lines) and Temmabashi (Metro Chuo Line, Keihan Main and Nakanoshima Lines). You can also arrive by boat from Dotonbori.
When? 9am-5pm daily (until 4.30pm from November through February). The best times to visit are early April for cherry blossoms (open until 9pm during cherry blossom season), mid November for autumn leaves, or December through to end of February for the Illuminage winter illuminations (5-10pm).
How much? The grounds are free to walk around but admission into the castle museum will cost ¥600 (free with Osaka Amazing Pass). Admission to Illuminage is ¥1200.
13. Visit Shitennoji Temple
Why? Founded in 593, this is one of Japan’s oldest temples, featuring many ginkgo trees whose bright yellow leaves provide a lovely contrast against the bright red of the temple buildings in autumn.
Where? 1-11-8 Shitennoji, Tennoji-ku, roughly 10 mins walk north of Tennoji station (JR Osaka Loop, Yamatoji, Hanwa, Haruka or Kuroshio Lines, Metro Midosuji or Tanimachi Lines).
When? 8.30am-4.30pm daily (until 4pm from October through March).
How much? The grounds are free to walk around but admission into the inner precinct as pictured above costs ¥300, or is free with the Osaka Amazing Pass (I took the photo from outside the entryway without paying).
14. Eat animal shaped doughnuts
Why? This is surely a mandatory stop for all foodies, Instagrammers and foodies who Instagram. Unfortunately, I woke up too early, walked through Shitennoji Temple too quickly, and got to Floresta an hour before they were open for business. I decided not to wait, so please have an extra doughnut on my behalf and tag me on your Instagram upload!
Where? Floresta Nature Doughnuts, 1-12-28 Shitennoji, Tennoji-ku, just a little bit further north of Shitennoji Temple.
When? 11am-6.30pm daily.
15. Enjoy a peaceful stroll through Tennoji Park
Foiled in my attempt to brunch on doughnuts, I decided instead to take the scenic route towards the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower that was looming in the distance, beckoning me towards the street foods of Shinsekai.
Why? It’s peaceful and a great place to people watch. It’s funny how things turn out. I’d never planned to visit Tennoji Park, or Shinsekai for that matter, but the Tsutenkaku Tower really was like a beacon calling me to come closer. So, on a whim, I decided to cut through Tennoji Park and, as it turned out, I snapped one of my favourite photos in Osaka of this painter. I don’t know why I love this picture so much. Maybe it’s because I feel serenity in watching someone doing what he clearly loves and does well. Maybe it’s because I only had one chance to capture this image before a couple decided to stop and have a conversation with the man, at which point I was spotted. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll also find Osaka Zoo towards the western edge of the park. Isshinji Temple towards the northern end is worth a quick peek.
Where? Directly connected to Tennoji station at the southeast corner of the park. Perhaps you should consider strolling through the park in order to get to Shitennoji Temple, and that way, you might be more likely to make it to Floreste at opening time.
16. Relax in a bath house
Why? When in Japan, do as the Japanese do. Besides, the steam and hot water in onsen (Japanese bath houses) really do help to soothe tired aching muscles after a long day of walking and exploring. SpaWorld in Shinsekai is open 24/7 and features a range of European and Asian inspired bathing areas so you can bathe around the world. If that’s not enough, there’s also a variety of saunas and a water park! You can read more about it here.
Where? SpaWorld, 3-4-24 Ebisu-higashi, Naniwa-ku, about 2 mins walk south of Tsutenkaku Tower. The photo above of Tsutenkaku Tower is taken from roughly where you will find SpaWorld, which I did not have the time to experience.
When? 24/7 but with various provisos, eg restricted access during cleaning from 8.45-10am, the European Zone is only open to women during the odd months and men during the even months, while the Asian Zone is open to women during the even months and men during the odd months. Read more about the various regulations here.
How much? ¥1200 for all day access to the onsen and swimming areas during weekdays and ¥1500 during weekends and public holidays (¥1000 for kids under 12 on any day, various savings available with the Osaka Amazing Pass).
17. Visit Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
Why? It never gets old walking through Hogsmeade, even if it’s much the same as the one in Orlando. There’s a Minion Park and a Wonderland area dedicated to all things kawaii where Hello Kitty features prominently. The food is super cute. And for the daredevils, there’s the opportunity of being seized by a pteranodon and taken on a wild ride through the skies when you go on the Flying Dinosaur. I thought the Dinosaur Amazing Encounter was also rather well done and should delight the dino-obsessed littlies. For those who’ve already been to Universal Studios in Orlando, just be aware that two of the main attractions, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Minion Mayhem rides are both the same as the originals.
Where? 2-1-33 Sakurajima, Konohana-ku, about 5 mins walk through Universal Citywalk from Universal City station (JR Sakurajima Line).
When? Varies but typically from about 9am-8pm. You can check the daily schedule here, and based on what it says on the website, aim to arrive at least 1 hour before opening time on a Wednesday or Thursday. Very important, trust me on this one. This is one popular tourist attraction that you’re not going to enjoy if you wind up at the back of the queue and have to wait up to an hour just to be let into the park, after which time you’ll be stuck in more queues for all of the attractions. Pace yourself and make sure you hang around for the Universal Night Parade. I was super bummed that the Night Parade was cancelled due to rain when I visited, and this YouTube video should give you an idea why!
How much? ¥7400 for adults, ¥5100 for kids aged 4-11, ¥6700 for seniors 65 and over. If you hate queueing, consider investing in an Express Pass which ranges from ¥4200-7600 depending on which option you pick – click here for more details. Note that Express Passes can and do sell out, so if you’d like one, either pre-purchase them online or from your Universal hotel as soon as you’ve checked in.
18. Stay in a minion room at Hotel Universal Port
Why? This is hotel theming at its best, sure to delight young and old!
Where? Hotel Universal Port, 1-1-111 Sakurajima, Konohana-ku.
How much? This is not cheap, but worth every penny for the experience, in my opinion. A two night stay cost us $767 per person twinshare, including daily buffet breakfasts and souvenir amenity packs, slippers and a laundry bag each per night’s stay to take home.
19. Visit the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Why? Kids love fish, penguins, dolphins and sharks, and this is one of the largest public aquariums in the world, even housing two whale sharks.
Where? 1-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato-ku, accessible by Captain Line ferry from Universal City Port, or about 5 mins walk northwest of Osakako station (Metro Chuo Line).
When? Variable but open at least 10am-8pm, check the website for specific times. If you visit between November through to end of February, you’ll also be able to enjoy the winter illuminations from 5-10pm.
How much? ¥2300 for adults (¥100 discount with Osaka Amazing Pass), ¥2000 for seniors over 60, ¥1200 for kids aged 7-15, ¥600 for kids aged 4-6, and free for kids under 3.
20. Go to the Legoland Discovery Center
Why? It’s right next to the Aquarium, making it a perfect combination for a day out with the family.
When? 10am-7pm weekdays (last entry 5pm), to 8pm weekends and public holidays (last entry 6pm).
How much? ¥2000 if you pre-purchase the ticket online, ¥1600 for pre-purchased entry after 4pm, ¥2300 at the door, or free with Osaka Amazing Pass. Various saver combination tickets are also available online.
21. Check out the fantastical exterior of the Maishima Incineration Plant
Fans of quirky brightly coloured buildings will be sure to be delighted by this waste incineration plant designed by famous Austrian-born New Zealand architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Why? Instagram loves all things quirky and colourful.
Where? 1-2-48 Hokukoshiratsu, Konohana-ku, take the No. 81 bus or walk about 35 mins northwest from Sakurajima station (JR Sakurajima Line), not far from USJ.
22. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city
There are several tall structures in Osaka from which you can enjoy views of the city, but my research tells me the best views can be found atop the most conveniently situated Umeda Sky Building.
Why? This unusual building consists of two towers joined by an observation ring at the top that provides 360 degree panoramic views of Osaka, making it a great stop for those who enjoy great views and modern architecture.
Where? 39th, 40th and rooftop floors of Umeda Sky Building, 1-1 Oyodonaka, Kita-ku, about 7 minutes walk northwest of Osaka station.
When? 9.30am-10.30pm daily.
How much? ¥1500, or free with Osaka Amazing Pass until 6pm.
23. Catch a Pokemon
Need to stock up on Pokemon merchandise? Head to the Pokemon Center!
Why? Serious props to you for taking your kids here if they’re Pokemon fans.
Where? 13th floor of Daimaru Umeda department store, 3-1-1- Umeda, Kita-ku, right next to Osaka station.
When? 10am-8pm daily.
24. Go shopping at Kiddy Land
This is shopping heaven for big kids and little kids alike!
Why? This place is sure to put a smile on your face even if all you do is snap photos of every single cartoon character!
Where? 1st floor, 1-1-3 Shibata, Kita-ku, about 10 mins walk northeast of Osaka station.
When? 10am-9pm daily.
25. Eat at a character cafe
Why? They’re sure to delight the fussiest little eaters, because who wouldn’t love rice served in the shape of a puppy or a lazy egg?
Where? Pompompurin Cafe on the 2nd floor (B2F) of the Hankyu Sambangai South building, 1-1-3 Shibata, Kita-ku or Gudetama Cafe on the 7th floor of the Hep Five building, 5-15 Kakudacho, Kita-ku.
When? Pompompurin Cafe is open from 10am-10pm daily and Gudetama Cafe is open from 11am-10.30pm daily.
26. Make your own cup noodles
The Instant Noodle Museum in Ikeda, Osaka is named after Momofuku Ando, who is credited as being the inventor of instant noodles in 1958 and cup noodles in 1971.
Why? Decorating your own noodle cup, customising the flavours and then carrying it around your neck all day like a horse feed bag is curiously fun. You know what they say, only in Japan!
Where? Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, 8-25 Masumi-cho, Ikeda-shi, about 5 mins walk south from the Masumi-cho Homen exit of Ikeda station, which is a 20 minute ride on the Hankyu Takarazuka Line from Hankyu Umeda station.
When? 9.30am-4.30pm daily.
How? Join the queue before the vending machines on the left hand side of the factory space in order to buy a cup. Take your cup to the tables at the centre and decorate to your heart’s content. Join the queue at the far end of the factory towards the right to choose your soup base flavour and toppings. Seal your cup. Finally, inflate the bag that you store your cup in so that you can continue exploring throughout the day without having to worry about crushing your cup. Don’t worry – there are plenty of staff around to guide you through every step.
How much? Free to visit, but each cup of noodles that you make will cost ¥300. ¥270 for a one way train fare.
27. Hike to Minoo Falls
Situated less than 10km northeast of Ikeda, a visit to Minoo Park makes a perfect combination for a day trip combined with a visit to the Instant Ramen Museum.
Why? Minoo Park is one of the best places in the Kansai region to view autumn leaves, and a short 3km walk through a beautiful valley will bring you to a small but pretty waterfall. Those with more time and energy can keep walking towards Katsuoji Temple, which is famous for its collection of Daruma dolls. Alternatively, the gourmands amongst you should take note that Minoo is also famous for yuzu, so if you’d like to sample all sorts of yuzu goodies and purchase some yuzu products to take home, be sure to leave enough time to walk back to the shops near Minoo station before they close around 5pm. If you pick this option, make sure you try the yuzu soft serve ice-cream. I think I actually like it more than matcha!
Where? Minoo Falls is about 45 mins to an hour’s walk north of Minoo station, which is a roughly 25 minute journey all up from Hankyu Umeda station (take the Hankyu Takarazuka Line from Umeda to Ishibashi, then transfer to the Hankyu Minoo Line to Minoo). Katsuoji Temple is another 5km northeast of Minoo Falls (just under 1.5 hours walk).
How much? ¥270 for a one way train fare from Hankyu Umeda or ¥190 from Ikeda station, free to walk the trail.
28. Spend a day at the World Expo Memorial Park
The World Expo Memorial Park was the site of Osaka Expo in 1970, and is now home to Expocity, one of Japan’s largest entertainment complexes.
Why? There’s something for everyone here, including Nifrel, an offshoot of the Osaka Aquarium, a ferris wheel, an amusement park based on Shaun the Sheep, a Pokemon museum, an Imax cinema, and about 300 shops and restaurants. And that’s just Expocity alone! Within the park grouns, you’ll also find the Tower of the Sun, the National Museum of Ethnology, a Japan Folk Crafts Museum, and beautiful gardens to wander through.
Where? 2-1 Senribampaku Koen, Suita-shi, about 2 mins walk from Bampakukinenkoen station, which is accessible by Osaka Monorail.
When? Expocity is open 10am-9pm.
29. Feast on Kobe beef
It takes just under half an hour to reach Kobe with its diverse range of sights and activities, making this a fun day trip from Osaka.
Why? You’re spoilt for choice with things to see and do here, including a Gigantor (Iron Man) Memorial at Shin-Nagata station, pretty European style architecture at Kitano Ijinkan, a picturesque port with a dramatic Earthquake Memorial, and great views and walking trails accessible by the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. Be sure to feast on the famous Kobe beef before you make your way back to Osaka.
Where? About 35km west of Osaka. The quickest way to get there is by the Special Rapid Service on the JR Kobe Line, which will get you from Osaka station to JR Sannomiya station east of the city centre in 22 mins, or to Kobe station west of the city centre in 25 mins.
How much? The JR fare to either JR Sannomiya or Kobe is more expensive than the slightly slower Hanshin and Hankyu Lines, at ¥410 one way to either station (JR pass accepted). On arrival in Kobe, consider purchasing the Kobe City Loop 1 day bus pass for ¥660 (¥610 if you have the Kansai Thru Pass, ¥330 for kids under 12), otherwise each bus ride will cost you ¥260 or ¥130 for kids under 12.
30. Visit Himeji Castle
An additional 60km west of Kobe, the quicker and more energetic travellers amongst you may like to consider combining a visit to Himeji Castle with your day trip to Kobe.
Why? Only 12 castles in Japan have survived in their original state through years of earthquakes, fires and war, and of these, Himeji Castle is considered to be one of the finest. A World Heritage site, there are many who say that if you see only one castle in Japan, let it be Himeji Castle.
Where? 68 Hommachi, Himeji, about 15-20 mins walk north of Himeji station, which is a roughly 1 hour direct train journey from Osaka station on the JR Special Rapid Service for Himeji.
When? 9am-5pm daily (until 6pm late April through August).
How much? ¥1490 for the direct JR train one way (JR pass accepted), ¥100 if you’d prefer to take the bus from Himeji station to the castle instead of walking or ¥650 for a taxi, ¥1000 to visit the castle or ¥1040 to visit the castle and nearby Kokoen Garden.
31. Cross a suspension bridge
Just what is it about suspension bridges over dramatic gorges that seem to capture my attention every single time? So bummed I didn’t have the time to fit this into my itinerary!
Why? Are you kidding me? A 280m long suspension bridge 50m above the ground? I’m still wondering why I didn’t make this my first priority in Osaka!
Where? Hoshi no Buranko (Swing of the Stars), 5019-1 Hoshida, Katano-shi, 2.5km or 30 mins to an hour’s walk south of Kisaichi station, which is which is a roughly 50 minute journey all up from Umeda Metro station (take the Metro Midosuji Line from Umeda Metro station to Yodoyobashi, then transfer to the Keihan Main Line for Demachiyanagi and alight at Hirakatashi, and transfer again to the Keihan Katano Line for Kisaichi).
When? 9am-5pm Wednesday-Monday, closed public holidays and from 29 December to 4 January each year. The best time to visit is late November to early December for the autumn foliage.
How? This blog post summarises beautifully all you need to know about a day trip to Hoshida Park.
How much? The park itself is free to visit. ¥560 for a one way train fare with unreserved seating.
32. Go and pat some very friendly deer
If you like animals, temples and beautiful park lands, then this could quite possibly be the ideal day trip for you.
Why? To be honest, as someone who’s not big on animals, I ask myself the same question. On the other hand, I know a lot of people would rate this as one of the top things to do in Japan, so go and judge for yourself.
Where? Nara is about 30km east of Osaka, and is best reached within 40-50 mins from Namba station by taking the Kintetsu Nara Line Semi Express bound for Kintetsu Nara station. The deer are in Nara Park, about 500m east of Kintetsu Nara station. While you’re there, be sure to check out some of the temples like the Kofukuji five storey pagoda, Kasuga Taisha Shrine with its 3000 stone lanterns and Todaiji Temple.
When? The park is open 24/7 while the temples are generally open from about 8am-5pm, so you may want to plan your visit around the opening times of the temples.
How much? ¥560 for a one way train fare. The park is free to enter but deer food will cost around ¥150, if you’re interested in that sort of thing (I like to keep all my fingers personally). The temples have different admission costs.
33. Experience traditional Japan
While I don’t recommend just going to Kyoto for a day trip because there’s so much to see and do there, those of you who happen to be in Osaka for whatever reason and are short of time should definitely set aside at least one day to check out what is arguably Japan’s most famous city.
Why? You may or may not know this, but when you close your eyes and picture Japan, it’s Kyoto you’re thinking of. If you only have one day in Kyoto, I recommend ticking off the Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji), Silver Pavillion (Ginkakuji), walking along the Philosopher’s Path towards Nanzenji Temple, and finishing off the day in Gion as matters of first priority.
Where? Kyoto is situated around 55km northeast of Osaka and can be reached within 1/2 hour from Osaka station by the direct JR Special Rapid Service train bound for Tsuruga.
When? The Golden Pavillion is open from 9am-5pm daily, the Silver Pavillion from 8.30am-5pm (9am-4.30pm from December to February), and Nanzenji Temple from 8.40am-5pm (until 4.30pm from December to February).
How? Kyoto is full of tourists especially at the peak times of cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, so expect crowds. On the plus side, the tourist infrastructure is excellent, making it it easy to get around. On arrival in Kyoto, you should purchase the One Day Bus Only Pass from the main bus station right next to where all the buses pull up. Once you have the bus pass, it’s a simple matter of checking the signs above each bus stop to work out which bus to take depending on where you’re headed. To summarise what I consider to be the perfect (but long!) one day itinerary, the 101 or 205 bus will take you directly from Kyoto bus station to the Golden Pavillion in just under 40 mins. From there, the 102 or 204 bus will take you towards the Silver Pavillion, again in just under 40 mins. Gion is only 4km from the Silver Pavillion and a very pleasant walk along the Philosopher’s Path, with opportunities to duck into cute shops, beautiful temples and stroll through the peaceful grounds of Maruyama Park. Those who do not enjoy walking should at least walk the Philosopher’s Path, then hop on the 100 or 46 bus to Gion. Finally, the 100 or 206 bus will bring you back to Kyoto station in about 20 mins. This itinerary is definitely doable in a day, but will require you getting up at sunrise and aiming to arrive at the Golden Pavillion at opening time.
How much? ¥560 for a one way train fare on the JR Special Rapid Service train. Make sure you don’t wind up on the Limited Express Thunderbird or Shinkansen services or you’ll find yourself paying 4-6 times this price while still taking the same amount of time to get there! The One Day Bus Pass costs just ¥600 where each single bus fare is ¥230, which means you get more than your money back if you just take the bus three times. Admission to the Golden Pavillion is ¥400, while the Silver Pavillion costs ¥500. The grounds of Nanzenji are free and I saw no need to pay the required admission fees to visit the various subtemples.
34. Explore the temples and tombs of Koyasan
Why? Considered to be one of Japan’s most sacred mountains, Mount Koya makes a lovely day trip for those who enjoy history and tranquility. The main sights are Okonuoin Cemetery and Temple where you should make your way towards the Torodo Lantern Hall, the Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum, Kongobuji Temple, Danjo Garan with its striking, bright red, two tiered Konpon Daito Pagoda, and the main Daimon Gate. This is definitely all doable in one day provided you start your day at sunrise.
Where? Koyasan is 85km south of Osaka. Getting there is a journey in itself, requiring several transportation changes as outlined below, but the countryside scenery and mountainous terrain will capture your attention and make the trip seem shorter than it really is.
When? Torodo Lantern Hall is open from 6am-5.30pm daily, while the Tokugawa Mausoleum, Kongobuji Temple and Konpon Daito are all open from 8.30am-5pm.
How? The easiest way to visit Koyasan is to purchase the Koyasan World Heritage ticket from the Nankai station at Namba station. This ticket gives you a round trip train journey to Koyasan, unlimited use of buses once you’re there, and discounted admissions to several of the attractions. From Namba, take the Nankai Koya Line to Hashimoto, then switch over to the Nankai Koya Line to Gokurakubashi at the foot of the mountain. A cable car will take you to the mountaintop, from where you can hop onto a bus to get into the town centre. I suggest starting at one end of town and walking all the way to the other end, then hopping onto a bus again to get back to the cable car station at the end of the day.
How much? The Koyasan World Heritage ticket is ¥2860 and is actually valid for 2 days, if you’re considering an overnight temple stay, but is worthwhile even for a day trip as the return train journey to and from Gokurakubashi would normally set you back ¥1740, the return cable car rides ¥780, and two bus rides ¥580, for a grand total of ¥3100 without accounting for any additional discounts. In saying that, I must admit I did not actually use my Koyasan ticket for discounted admissions as the Lantern Hall is free to enter, there were no discounts available at the Tokugawa Mausoleum (admission fee ¥200), and I was satisfied to simply wander the grounds of Kongobuji Temple and Danjo Garan for free without entering any of the buildings (admission to Kongobuji Temple is ¥500 without additional discounts, and to Konpon Daito is ¥200).
35. Go outlet shopping
Why? Rinku Premium Outlets are situated less than 20 mins by public transport just across the bridge connecting Osaka to the island that is Kansai International Airport, making it the perfect pitstop to stock up on last minute souvenirs and gifts before you board your flight back home.
Where? Rinku Premium Outlets, 598-8505 Izumisano, 3-28 Oraiminami, Rinku, is about a 10 minute walk from Rinku-Town station, which is accessible within 1 hour by direct JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service from Osaka. There are lockers to store your luggage at the station and at the Outlets themselves. There’s also an information center at the Outlets where you can check flight arrival and departure times. When you’re done, just head on back to Rinku-Town, hop onto the Kansai Airport Line, and in 5 mins you’ll be at the airport.
When? 10am-8pm daily (only closed once annually on the 3rd Thursday in February).
36. Experience a German Christmas market
It’s no secret I love Christmas and especially the German Christmas market experience, so if there’s one around, you’ll find me there for sure regardless of where in the world it actually is!
Why? C’mon, one of the biggest winter events in Japan, featuring one of the tallest Christmas trees in the world, and all sorts of delicious goodies sold at beautifully lit gingerbread huts? Unless you’re Scrooge, surely this is a no-brainer!
Where? Umeda Sky Building, beneath the Sky Walk (details above).
When? Mid November to late December, from 12-9pm Mondays to Thursdays, to 10pm Fridays, and 11am-10pm weekends and public holidays.
How much? Free entry. Just bring plenty of money to spend on mulled wine and other goodies.
37. Enjoy the Festival of Lights
Osaka’s Festival of Lights includes multiple city-wide events, the two main events being the Midosuji Illuminations and Osaka Hikari Renaissance.
Why? There’s nothing quite like Christmas lights to get you in the mood for the holiday season.
Where? The Midosuji Illuminations feature illuminated ginkgo trees along the 4km long avenue that stretches from Namba to Yodoyobashi station and beyond, while Hikari Renaisannce involves light projections onto Osaka City Hall on Nakanoshima Island. Osaka City Hall is just 1.3km (about a 15 mins walk) southeast of Osaka station, or you can take the Metro (Midosuji Line) to Yodoyobashi station and walk 300m north across the O River.
When? The Midosuji Illuminations can be enjoyed from November through to end December, while Hikari Renaissance runs for about 2 weeks right up until Christmas Day.
How much? FREE, unlike many other illuminations.
38. Be impressed by Lightscape in Rokko
I only learned about Rokkosan and its observatory designed to resemble a giant tree atop a mountain when I checked into our hotel in Osaka. Although to me it more resembles a nest, so taken was I by its design and its otherworldly beauty when it’s all lit up, that it promptly ended up on my Japan bucket list. Whatever your view of the structure, I think you’ll agree it’s certainly worth a visit.
Why? Enjoy spectacular views as far as Osaka Castle, framed by the unique shapes and patterns of the observatory. Near the observatory, there is also a Musical Box Museum, an Alpine Botanical Garden, and a Snow Park in winter.
Where? Rokko Shidare Observatory, 1877-9 Gosukeyama Rokkosancho, Nada-ku, Kobe, is situated about 45km northwest of Osaka, a slight detour north before getting to Kobe and about one third of the way to Himeji Castle. All three locations are reachable on the same train line, so quick travellers might be able to visit all three in one day.
When? The observatory is open from 10am-8.30pm daily (to 9pm from December to March). Lightscape in Rokko runs from 6-9pm daily and is different every 3 months to reflect the four seasons. Please take heed of the last departure times for the Rokko Sanjo bus and the cable car on the Rokkosan website.
How? The fastest way to get to the observatory from Osaka is to take the JR Kobe Line Rapid Service for either Himeji or Aboshi, alighting at Rokkomichi station within 22 minutes. From there, take the roughly 20 minute ride on the 16, 26 or 36 Kobe city bus to Rokko Cable Shita station. Take the 10 minute cable car journey to Rokko Sanjo station, then switch to the Rokko Sanjo bus which will take you to the observatory in another 10 mins. However, I recommend timing your visit for around sunset so that you can enjoy daytime views, sunset and Lightscape in Rokko, all for the price of one. Therefore, if you’d like to visit Himeji Castle and/or Kobe first earlier in the day and make a pitstop in Rokkosan on the way back to Osaka, rest assured that the same JR Kobe Line Rapid Service train takes just 5 minutes to get to Rokkomichi from the JR Sannomiya station in Kobe.
How much? ¥410 for a one way train fare from Osaka or ¥160 from Kobe, ¥210 for the bus to the lower cable car station, ¥590 for the cable car ride, ¥260 to get from Rokko Sanjo station to the observatory, and ¥300 for admission to the observatory (¥200 for kids aged 4-12). Better yet, save a ton of ¥ by pre-purchasing the Rokkosan Tourist Pass for just ¥1000 at various locations including the Hankyu Tourist Center at Umeda station or the Kansai Tourist Information Centers at either Kansai International Airport or Daimaru Shinsaibashi. The pass gives you round trip tickets on the Kobe city bus, cable car and Rokko Sanjo bus, as well as discounted admissions and other discounts once you get to the top of the mountain.
39. Attend Tenjin Matsuri
This summertime festival which dates back to the 10th century today features a land procession along the streets of Osaka followed by a river procession on the O River, climaxing in a fireworks display.
Why? This is one of Japan’s top 3 festivals. As long as you can handle the crowds, I’m sure the colourful processions, the traditional costumes, music and dancing, the food stalls and the general atmosphere will all combine to make this a day you won’t forget in a hurry!
When? 24 and 25 July each year, with the main celebrations commencing with the land procession at 3.30pm on the second day. On arrival at the O River at about 6pm, the river procession then takes places from 6-7pm, with fireworks from about 7-9pm.
Where? The land procession begins from Tenmangu Shrine, 2-1-8 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku. The closest Metro station is Minami Morimachi (Sakaisuji and Tanimachi Lines) and the closest JR station is Osakatemmangu (Tozai-Gakkentoshi Line). The best viewpoints are around Tenjinbashi and Nakanoshima Island.
40. Slurp noodles at the Ramen Expo
One of the biggest ramen festivals in Japan, the Ramen Expo in Osaka has been enticing noodle lovers since 2013.
Why? Food tourism is a thing!
When? Over 4 consecutive weekends in late November to December each year (including Fridays). Be sure to hang around until Illuminight, a sound and light show at the Tower of the Sun that occurs between 5-9pm, so that you can enjoy dinner with a show.
Where? World Expo Memorial Park, which is easily reached by Osaka Monorail to Bampakukinenkoen station.
How much? FREE to enter, but you buy tickets at the venue to exchange for bowls of ramen.
Have you travelled to Osaka? What were your favourite things to see and do there? Please share!
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