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Osaka Travel Guide: Things To Do For First Time Visitors

By Bennet Johnston Self-confessed ramen addict and Osakan local of 15 years.
09 February 2020
Osaka Travel Guide: Things To Do For First Time Visitors

Edited by Emma White

Famous for its fantastic food scene, vibrant nightlife, friendly locals, and bright city lights, Osaka is one of the best and most exciting places to visit in Japan. With so much to see and do in Osaka, it can be tricky to narrow down which sights to visit and how to best fill your time during your stay, especially for first-time visitors. Never been to Osaka but planning to go? Check out this Osaka travel guide for the top things to do in Osaka for first-time visitors. Discover the city’s best tourist attractions and activities as well as a few hidden gems and some local hot spots off the beaten path. See the best of Osaka with this Osaka trip itinerary and get to know the city like a local!


Dotonbori

Dotonbori

Visiting the Dotonbori district is an absolute must see for first time visitors to Osaka. This lively entertainment hub is Osaka’s beating heart and a place that encapsulates the city’s personality and spirit. Famous for its blinding neon lights, animatronic signage and its eclectic mix of different shops, restaurants and bars, Dotonbori is home to a never-ending party of busy tourists, curious crowds and frantic groups of merry locals letting their hair down at the end of a long of hard work. Be sure to take your time when exploring this animated district. Sample the local street food, check out the cool and quirky shops and admire the extravagant styles of the locals that pass you by. For those looking for things to do at night in Osaka, Dotonbori is a great place to start. It’s well-known and loved for having some of the best nightlife in the whole city with locals and visitors gathering together once the sun goes down to eat, drink, sing karaoke and party into the early hours of the morning. And don’t leave Dotonbori without going to the Ebisubashi Bridge to take that all important photo of the iconic LED Glico Man!  

See Osaka from above at the Umeda Sky Building

See Osaka from above at the Umeda Sky Building

One of the best ways to see a new city is from above. The Umeda Sky Building, located in the northern part of the city, is a striking skyscraper made up of two conjoined towers complete with a garden rooftop observation area, restaurant, and cocktail lounge. Although it is not the tallest building in the city, the Umeda Sky Building’s outdoor area with unobstructed 360-degree views of the city below makes this viewpoint a must for first-time visitors wanting to get an overview of the entire city. The elevator’s glass window is also a pleasant surprise, allowing you to steal a glimpse of what awaits you at the top! The best time to visit the Umeda Sky Building is towards the end of the afternoon, you can watch as a wave of soft orange and yellow washes over the streets and buildings below as the sun sets. The Umeda Sky Building has an entrance fee of ¥1,500 but is free for Osaka Amazing Pass holders. For first time visitors to Osaka it is recommended to purchase an Amazing Pass which allows you to enjoy 35 sightseeing spots for free, ride local buses and trains for free and offers several discounts and deals for restaurants and shops. A 1-day pass costs ¥2,500 and a 2-day pass is ¥3,300 for two consecutive days. These passes can also be purchased in advance for a number of kiosks around the city. 

Explore the south

Explore the south

A great place to go exploring whilst in Osaka is the Shinsekai district located in the south. It’s an area of the city that was developed before the war and then neglected in the decades that followed. The northern area of Shinsekai was designed to look like Paris while its southern counterpart was modeled on New York’s Coney Island. The Tsutenkaku Tower, constructed in 1912 to look like the Eiffel Tower, suffered a fire during the war but was later rebuilt and now stands at 103 meters high and boasts an open-air observatory deck since 2015. Although Shinsekai is steadily being modernized, it stills retains its dark and dirty character which is reminiscent of the city’s unique past. Shinsekai presents a huge contrast to the glitz and glamour of the more modern uptown area and provides an insight into the city’s history, its cultural identity, and its vision of the rest of the world. Its ‘in-between’ style accommodates a quirky atmosphere that is hard to explain to those who haven’t experienced it. You’ll see people singing karaoke in the morning as others make their way to work, you’ll run into pop up carnival games that look out of place and you’ll find people eating kushikatsu, Shinsekai’s specialty food, on the side of the street at all hours. Shinsekai shows another side to Osaka that shouldn’t be missed by first time visitors.

Visit Osaka Castle

Visit Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is the city’s crown jewel. Originally constructed in the late 1500s, the castle is one of the most historically significant sites in Japan. Since it was destroyed in the Second World War, the castle has been reconstructed and modernised inside and while the castle may have lost some of its authenticity, it remains one of the best things to see in Osaka for those wanting to get an understanding of the city’s history and cultural identity. The castle is home to a history museum that uses holograms, 3D pictures and other technologies to educate visitors on the castle’s history and the period in which it was built. Perhaps the best feature of this popular attraction are its beautiful gardens which covers 15 acres and is free to enter. If visiting in late winter or early springtime, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing the castle grounds inundated with a sea of pretty pink and white plum blossom followed by Japan’s famous cherry blossom later in the year. Be sure to take your camera, the sight of the gardens in full bloom against the spectacular backdrop of the Castle is one you'll want to remember forever. And for those visiting Osaka in winter, don’t miss the city’s famous Osaka Castle Winter Illumination at 5:30pm every day from the 1st December to the 3rd of March.

Discover Otaku culture

Discover Otaku culture

Den Den Town, or Nipponbashi, is a lively part of town tucked away in a small corner of southern Osaka famous for its display of Japanese otaku culture. This entertainment hotspot is home to an array of unique stores selling and showcasing anime and manga memorabilia as well as many electronic shops and other gaming stores. This place is heaven on earth for all anime-lovers and cosplay enthusiasts out there! With so much to see and do you you’ll be able to spend hours geeking out and delving deep into the world of Japan’s world famous animation phenomenon. This truly is one the most unique things to do in Osaka and must see for first time visitors to the city.

Sample the local street food

Sample the local street food

An essential part of Osaka culture is food! Osaka boasts a wide range of amazing restaurants serving both international food and traditional Japanese dishes, but it must be said that the star of the show is Osaka’s street food. From crispy deep fried dumplings to Japanese-style pizzas and juicy skewered meats, Osaka’s street food will have foodies from around the world licking their lips. There are countless street foods stores throughout the city waiting to welcome you in for a quick bite to eat. Try Osaka’s famous savoury pancake, okonomiyaki, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage and finished off with your choice of toppings and condiments. Try it at Chibo in Dotonbori, where you can watch the chefs cook your Okonomiyaki right in front of you. Stick to classic toppings like pork belly or experiment with crazy combinations like kimchi and cheese! Takoyaki, deep fried balls typically filled with octopus, and yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, are both also very popular street foods in Osaka. Many of these dishes actually originated in Osaka and form an important part of the city’s food culture. Be sure to give everything a try, you won’t regret it! Tip: Most eateries don’t take card so having cash is essential.