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Osaka is one of Japan’s largest cities and therefore there are a number of top things to do in Osaka. Unlike Tokyo and Kyoto, it may be harder to plan a list of top things to do during your time in Osaka. There are fewer temples than Kyoto and there is less chaos than Tokyo. However, Osaka still attracts a number of tourists each year and with good reason too. The city is popular for its nightlife, food and shopping.
Here is a list of, in my opinion, the best things to do in Osaka (but first here are some really weird heads with feet I found outside the entrance to Dotonbori Hotel).
Osaka Street Food
First of all, lets talk about the important stuff. Let’s talk about the food.
There are many who say Osaka has the best food in Japan. And, to be short, it really does offers some fascinating and thoroughly tasty food.
Known as the “Nation’s Kitchen”, Osaka lives up to its reputation with restaurants and street food vendors guaranteed to make your tastebuds sing. This makes Osaka a foodies paradise where you can try authentic Japanese street food.
Try some Okonomiyaki (a savoury filled pancake) or push the boat out a little more and try some Takoyaki (fried balls filled with octopus).
Umeda Sky Building
The Umeda Sky Building is a striking high rise building in the Kita district of Osaka, located near Osaka and Umeda Stations.
The 173-meter tall building consists of two towers. These towers are connected with each other by the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor of the building. The observatory offers great views of the city from both its windows and from its open-air deck.
Unfortunately, with the help of Typhoon Trami, I was unable to actually enter the building as it was closed for safety reasons.
The Floating Garden Observatory is open from 10.00 until 22.30 but last entries are at 22.00 (As long as there is no imminent typhoon!). Because the observatory stays open till fairly late, you can also enjoy a night view of the Osaka skyline.
Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks. Mainly due to the fact it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century.
The castle itself sits on top of a hill. Therefore, the castle really stands out between many modern office buildings.
Although its history dates back to 1583, the landmark main tower of the castle was reconstructed at a much later date of 1931.
Within the grounds, the Nishinomaru Garden is a decent-sized lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house, the former Osaka Guest House and, more importantly, excellent views of the castle tower. However, unlike most of the rest of the castle grounds, the garden requires a small admission fee.
For a picturesque view of the Osaka skyline, ascend the stairs or take the elevator up to the observation deck at the top of the castle.
Finally, if you are a fan of history, the castle houses a museum with over 10,000 historical artefacts.
Dotonbori is the lively entertainment area of Osaka. This is Osaka’s most famous tourist destination and famous for its flashing neon lights and extravagant signs. Here you can find a tremendous assortment of restaurants and bars.
The name Dotonbori is given with reference to the Dotonbori Canal and to Dotonbori Street which runs parallel to the canal. It is one of the most vivid areas in Osaka and a definite must-visit neighbourhood when travelling through Japan.
By far the most famous sign in Dotonbori is The Glico Man. This is a large sign which depicts a man in athletics attire running down a bright blue track. Why this is so famous I have no idea. You will find at almost any time of day someone will be mimicking the pose for a photo.
On the surrounding streets, there are more bars, restaurants and street food vendors than you’ll be able to handle.
After the unfortunate news that the Umeda Sky Building was closed, a local mentioned that Harukas 300 actually offered a better view anyway from up high in the Abeno Harukas building.
When I visited Abeno Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan, I expected a decent view of Osaka, but I didn’t realise I’d spend three hours enjoying this stunning space. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a viewpoint?
The skyscraper opened in 2014 and is 300 metres tall with 62 floors that are home to a department store, hotel, museum, and the observation deck called Harukas 300. The observatory deck is on the 58th, 59th and 60th floors of the building.
From here there are incredible panoramic views of Osaka through the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows on every side of the building. You can see everything in Osaka from the castle to the roads that intersect each other.
After dark, the Harukas 300 Light Show takes place on the 60th floor. Large towers in the centre of the deck are illuminated with interactive lighting. During my time here the kids would send fireworks up the tower bursting into magnificent colour at the top.
Harukas 300 is open from 9.00 until 22.00. Entry costs 1500 yen for adults and kids are less, depending on age. Children under 3 are free. There is no need to plan ahead as you can buy tickets on arrival.
I would recommend heading up for sunset and relaxing while enjoying the view. It’s not every day you get the chance to relax with a beer 300 meters in the air.
Daytrips from Osaka
Osaka is the perfect base for exploring some of Japan’s most popular cities. I would recommend visiting nearby Kyoto and spending some nights there rather than a day trip. However, there are a number of other cities you only need a day to see everything you want.
Kobe is a short train ride round the water from Osaka. Within around 30 minutes you can be exploring Kobe, making this a perfect day trip from Osaka.
It is perfect to spend one day in Kobe. Get up early and head to Kobe to see Kobe Harborland, eat some Kobe beef, and much more!
Osaka also makes an ideal base to spend one day in Nara.
In Nara, a trip to the Todaiji Temple is a must. And what better way to get there than to stroll through Nara Park surrounded by hundreds of wild deer all around you.
Again, this is only a short train journey. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes to get from Osaka to Nara.
In my honest opinion, Osaka has the best nightlife in Japan. There is an endless number of bars around Namba / Dotonbori which you can choose from. I personally spent a number of nights with my friend in Rock Bar Cherry Bomb. I am going to use this as the excuse for my horrible pictures and picture quality during my time in Osaka.
Around Namba and Shinsaibashisuji you will find a number of lively izakayas and cocktail bars ascending up into the buildings. There is as many bars on the 7th floor as the ground floor in some cases, so remember to look up.
This is also the area where you are likely to see very intoxicated Japanese businessmen wandering harmlessly through the streets with their briefcase in hand.