72 hours in Osaka: what to see and do

Hi guys! I’ve just got back from a long weekend away in Kansai, a prefecture about 2 hours west of Tokyo on the train, but most notably home to some of Japan’s most famous cities – Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. I had some time off work and so we wanted to take the opportunity for a bit of travel. Flights anywhere were really expensive, so we hopped on the shinkansen instead! I’ll be posting a guide on the JR pass and getting across Japan via train separately, so keep an eye out for that!

We arrived in Osaka just after lunchtime and immediately took our suitcase to the hotel to store it – most hotels will let you drop off luggage ahead of check-in (which in our case wasn’t available until 3pm). We stayed in an APA in Honmachi – it was conveniently located on the Midosuiji Line and less than 15 minutes from the main train stations and tourist attractions. Our hotel also had an onsen in the basement, the room was a good size (it would probably be a squeeze with a large suitcase) and we booked a room that was guaranteed to be high up, giving us excellent views of the neighbourhood from the 30th floor. From there, we set off and here’s where we spent most of our time:

↓ Clockwise from top left: Shinasaibashi-suji Shopping Street, Glico Man at Dotonbori, the canal which runs alongside Dotonbori with the Ebisu Tower (ferris wheel) in shot, and the backstreets of Osaka near Hōzenji Temple.

Dotonbori/Namba – situated alongside the canal, this is probably one of the busiest areas in all of Osaka. Dotonbori is famous for being jam-packed full of restaurants and bars offering all kinds of food. This area is especially good for seafood (for sushi, try Genrokuzushi Dotombori – the queue outside can get quite long in the evening though) and street food (such as takoyaki – Dotombori Takohachi Sohonten does the biggest ones!). Be sure to explore the side streets – there are parts of Osaka that look like Kyoto and are much quieter than the main strip.

Shinsaibashi – the Ginza of Osaka, Shinsaibashi is known for being the main shopping district of the city. Many stores in this area offer tax-free shopping for tourists – the best place to start is the Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade. Sadly some of the stores in the main district were closed for New Years while we were there, but the ones that were open had some awesome fukubukuro sales!

↑ Umeda Sky Building

Umeda – this is where most workers commute to and from, and is home to many skyscrapers, including the Umeda Sky Building. It’s well connected to the rest of Osaka via the city’s main train stations – Osaka and Umeda. You can get various metro and local trains from this area, as well as the Shinkansen. It’s also home to the HEP building, a large shopping and entertainment complex with a huge, red ferris wheel sat on the top.

Nipponbashi – Den Den town is the home of nerd culture in Osaka and while this makes Nipponbashi the location of several questionable bars and maid cafes, it’s an excellent area if you’re big into anime, gaming and all things Akihabara. Foodies should visit Kuromon Ichiba market and lovers of Japanese cuisine will enjoy checking out the cooking utensils and fake food at Doguyasuji.

↑ Shinseikai

Shinsekai – the land of kushikatsu, Shinsekai is probably one of the best parts of Osaka. It has all the charm of Dotonbori with a fraction of the tourists! It had its heyday just after the second world war and subsequently fell into disrepute, but the area is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance and now the area around Tsutenkaku Tower is one of the best places to go for true Osaka vibes.

Osaka Castle – the castle is kind of in a neighbourhood on its own, but it’s definitely a must-see while you’re in the city. I love this castle and it’s well served by a variety of stores and cafes near the main keep. If you can get there during new years, there are food stalls, live music, people dressed as samurai and craft activities dotted around the castle.

Osaka Castle and its grounds often hosts cultural events

Things we did that I would recommend:

  • Visit these areas, eat lots of food and take lots of photos
  • Ride Ebisu Tower ferris wheel and, if you’re okay with heights, HEP5
  • Go on a 20 minute boat tour up and down the canal
  • Check out Osaka Castle and learn all about Toyotomi Hideyoshi as you make your way to the top
  • Do AirBnB experiences – food tours, cooking classes and even Japanese lessons!
  • Go all the way up Umeda Sky Building for excellent city views
  • Day trip out of Osaka to Kyoto, Kobe, and/or Himeji
  • Osaka Aquarium is a lot of fun and a great rainy-day activity, especially with kids
  • If you want an excellent meal at a decent price, I highly recommend Matsusaka Yakiniku (called Yakiniku M Hozenjiyokocho on Google Maps). Tucked away in a Gion-style backstreet away from the crowds near Hozenji Temple, this restaurant served excellent food (5000 yen per person including drinks for a three course meal) and was in an awesome location. There is another branch which looked as cool from the outside if this one is full – you may need to reserve in advance to get into either. I think we got lucky that they managed to fit us in!

Clockwise from top left: a small box of sushi from Genrokuzushi Dotombori, the famous crab restaurant called Kani Doraku Dotombori Honten, Ebisu Tower (ferris wheel) and the regular 20-minute boat tour which cruises up and down the canal

On our second day, we did a couple of AirBnB Experiences in order to maximise our time in Osaka. These were an intimate okonomiyaki cooking class – 10 people maximum and a mix of foreigners and Japanese people. The class run by Keiko was so much fun! The food was delicious and it was great to meet new people. It’s based in Shinsaibashi, so it’s really convenient to get to. We also did a night walking tour – despite already thinking I knew a lot about Osaka, in truth I didn’t know much at all! The tour was really cool and great value given it’s about 3 hours long and includes dinner. I can’t recommend AirBnB experiences enough.

↑ Cooking okonomiyaki with local Osaka residents

Some practical tips:

  • Your Tokyo IC card (Suica/Pasmo) will work in Osaka, Kyoto and elsewhere, so use it on the metro systems (and at conbinis if needed).
  • If you’re a tourist, get a JR pass. A 7-day pass isn’t much more expensive than a return ticket to Osaka from Tokyo, and that pass will cover you on day trips to the surrounding area on JR trains too (and I encourage you to use it and explore Kansai!). It’s awesome value, and sadly I had to pay full whack as a resident and not a tourist.
  • Try and get accommodation on the Midosuji line – it’s the best (and busiest) metro in Osaka and is will get you to most of the key areas.
  • Relaxing in an onsen is an excellent way to ease sore feet and an aching back after a long day of sightseeing – I always recommend finding a hotel that has one.

That’s Osaka in a nutshell! I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this city – there are parts of it I really love (such as Shinsekai) and parts I hate (such as Dotonbori), but it’s a cool city with excellent links to the nearby area, so it’s an awesome place to see during your trip to Japan.

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