Last year, D and I went on our first ever trip to Japan. Tokyo and Kyoto made for THE best combination – the history and natural beauty of Kyoto contrasted against the neon city cool of Tokyo, and we totally loved it. So much so that this year we wanted to visit Tokyo again as 3 days there had barely scratched the surface. But… when flight prices shot up, we had to consider other options – cue Osaka!
To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Osaka when we booked – but when Osaka was described as the ‘food capital’ of Japan, I was SOLD. Then, weeks later, when I saw something online calling Osaka the ‘Manchester of Japan’, I got EXCITED. Was Osaka actually the hip, friendlier younger brother of Tokyo, feeling constantly in its shadow?! Well, maybe… but apparently that nickname does have historical roots stemming from its past industrial regeneration – interesting fact!
So, if you are interested in Osaka as an alternative to Tokyo, read on for my Top 10 places to visit in Osaka!
What guide to Osaka would be complete without a mention of the famous Dotonbori? This area runs along the Dotonbori canal and the buzz of illuminated billboards and animated shopfronts will make you smile.
The famous Glico ‘running-man’ sign is here. Join the crowds and take a selfie!
This is a place where you can literally eat your way down the streets. We sampled the best takoyaki, okonomiyaki and ramen here – yum!
Then when you want a moment of peace, go down a few side streets and find yourself in the peaceful Hozen-ji shrine. Make a wish, say a prayer and splash some water on the moss covered statue of deity Fudomyoo.
Shop until you drop – AND be safe from the rain! – along the covered shopping street Shinsaibashi-suji, which runs for a few blocks straight onto Dotonbori.
Spend an afternoon in this area browsing all the shops – don’t miss my personal favourite, lifestyle store Tokyu Hands. I spent an hour here just in the stationery section…!
3. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the city’s most loved attractions. Follow the spiral walkway around the main feature tank “Pacific Ocean” which spans 4 floors and is the home to a magnificent whale shark. There’s a ton of other fish to see, but also penguins, seals and otters!
4. Osaka Castle
Another must-see landmark is Osaka Castle. It has a museum with lots of informative exhibits on the life story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the castle’s history. You can see some great views over Osaka from the top level or take a walk in the castle’s grounds to see the turrets and the moat.
Go to the “New World” – the neighbourhood of Shinsekai was created in 1912 using New York as the blueprint for its South side and Paris, for its North side. Look out for statues of Biliken known as “The God of Things As They Ought to Be”, and try out kushikatsu- a speciality of the area. In the middle, Tsutenkaku Tower looks down on the retro alleys – when lit up, this part of town kinda reminded me of the town in Spirited Away!
My absolute favourite area of Osaka was Americamura: an impossibly hip homage to all things American. Come here and lose yourself in the cool vintage stores, you are sure to find something, whatever your style.
7. Universal Studios
OK, this one is a bit of a cheat… we didn’t go to Universal Studios… we ran out of time! so no pics 🙁 but it is a definite must for Harry Potter fans as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located here! Other famous rides include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Jurassic Park!
8. Sennichimae Doguyasuji
This is a pretty random choice but Sennichimae Doguyasuji shopping arcade makes it into my Top 10!
This is a street that ONLY sells kitchen goods – Japanese ramen bowls, kitchen gadgets, you name it! I picked up some classic black and red bento boxes here and can’t wait to use them!
Another bonus is that this street has a huge Don Quijote (Japan’s most famous discount store) at one end, and Daiso (known as the “Japanese dollar store”) at the other end = JOY 🙂
9. Umeda Sky Tower
For 360 degree views over the city, head to the Kuchu Teien or “Floating Garden” Observatory which sits at the top of Umeda Sky Tower on the 39th floor. At 170 metres high, you will certainly feel the wind through your hair!
10. Location, location, location
The last thing isn’t really a place but more about Osaka itself… the city is really well placed for day trips – Kobe, Nara, Kyoto amongst others are all easily accessible by train.
For us, we took a trip to Nara to say hello to the deer, eat the famous mochi and see Japan’s biggest buddha in Todaiji Temple. We also had an amazing traditional kaiseki dinner there – the presentation of the dishes was so beautiful!