Japan’s cities are, generally, polarizing. Those who love Nara, Kyoto, Fukuoka, or the countryside in general, are less likely to appreciate Osaka and Tokyo (and vice versa). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things for absolutely everyone to see in Osaka.
Osaka is Japan’s second largest city, so they have temples, amazing food, and fun streets to find yourself lost in.
Due to still not knowing how and when to take photos, I’ve supplemented some of these recommendations with photos from Pixabay. Never fear, I have learned things since January 2020.
Of course we have to start with Osaka’s most famous site – Osaka Castle. Even if you don’t have time to complete the “to see in Osaka” list, you’re sure to find things that suit you the most.
Osaka castle is one of the best and most easily accessible castles in Japan. And it has a pretty fantastic museum with some pretty stunning views from the top. After learning all about the battles that took place it is easy to picture the assembling armies in the distance.
There’s also a lot of fun buskers and performers to see outside the castle. Expect magic shows, sword demonstrations – even an owl in a stroller. It’s fun for all!
Sake and Side Dish Tasting
Absolutely one of the best things I did in my entire Japan trip. While very regrettably the host I did this with is no longer offering the tasting (if things change after covid I’ll update) there are similar options.
While I am definitely down on Airbnb in terms of staying in them, I adore the experiences. They are much more personalized and have unique touches than your average tourist outing.
Not only did I get to sample a truly stunning array of sake and decide on the ones I liked the best, I got some of the most delicious and unusual side dishes. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but the fish cartilage with some kind of tangy sauce was ridiculously incredible.
I recommend doing something like this early on in your trip so you can know what you’re looking for in Sake for the rest of the trip!
Don’t let the alcohol fun stop there! Again, you know stuff now. Take it out into the wild. Two of the most well known areas for drinking include Tenma (check out the great local beer selection) and Doyama-cho (known for being LGBTQ+ friendly and multicultural).
An important thing to note is that if you are into the food and drink scene, you are absolutely going to want more time in Osaka. While of course Kyoto and Kobe and other places have amazing food, Osaka has some of the best mix.
The UNESCO site no one knows is there. I kind of accidentally went there in my search for historical sites to see. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was looking at. Do your research before coming so you can appreciate what is before you.
These are neolithic tombs laid out in the shape of a keyhole island (hence, it’s hard to understand that from the ground). There are 49 beautiful tomb mounds that are super cool – if you haven’t been to Gyeongju in Korea, it’s somewhat similar in concept. Why does no one talk about this? It’s incredible!
Check Out The Best Streets
One of the things everyone talks about in Osaka is the great streets and alleys. Around every corner is some kind of foodie, alcohol, or exciting opportunity. We’ve already discussed the best drinking spots, but there’s more to see beyond the drinks.
Dotonbori is often ranked as the best street to visit in Osaka – and I have to agree. There’s just so much going on here! Through this crazy street you can really see why Osaka is the food capital of Japan. The street food is simply to die for.
For the shoppers among you, make sure to check out Shinsaibashi, although Amerikamura might have more vintage stores. Midosuji is simply the main road through Osaka, so it’s great to take a wander up and down and see what you might find!
Even though no one talks about the historical and religious sites Osaka has, they are here. So if you’re not a drinker or a foodie, a visit to the temples in the area can be the perfect thing to see in Osaka.
Not too far from the drinking in Dotonbori, this 400 year old temple is here to remind you of days gone by but still present. It’s also good time for a little scavenger hunt – find the statue of Fudo Myoo and splash him with water. Fudo Myoo is one of the five guardians of the Buddhist religion in Japan – and splashing him with water is said to grant you good luck!
According to some, this is the first and oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. It is far larger and better spaced ut than Hozenji, but will take much longer to look around.
It features a beautiful pagoda, ponds, and a great air of ambiance with the lit candles and incense floating through the air. If you can, try to time your visit around the 14th of January for the annual festival that celebrates the time Osaka used to be the capital city.
Ride on A Ferris Wheel
I’ll be honest, I often roll my eyes when someone suggests I climb something or pay to take an elevator to see some “views.” I personally don’t get it, generally everywhere you look there are awesome things to see and do so why take the time?
Well, Osaka weirdly has two options to get your views while riding a Ferris wheel. Dotonbori is arguably the cooler of the two, in an oval shape center town with cool pods from which to view the city nightlife. But Tempozon is also a fun, typical Ferris wheel a bit more out of the way that could be of interest. Why not do both? It’ll be a fun story to tell and remember.
A Note on Hotels:
Ever wanted to stay at the Ritz?
In case you’ve ever wondered if those travel credit cards are worth it….in my experience the answer is a resounding yes. I got a flight to Seoul, South Korea, and a round trip super last minute flight to Boston for free because of the 60,000 miles my American Airlines card got me.
Now for the wonders of the Marriott card…For some reason, while Marriott hotels in Europe and the US can cost tons of Marriott points…the ones in Japan are relatively cheap. So I’m staying at the Ritz-Carlton here in Osaka. For free. I’m normally not one for staying in expensive places, I don’t usually get the point but wow. I jumped at this chance.
And look a the view for just 40,000 points (for reference, the free yearly stay is about 35,000 points – although I’ve heard Hilton has better deals so compare! I don’t have referral links here, this is only my experience)