Bright, noisy, chaotic and crazy, Osaka is an exciting and unique destination which is often overlooked by visitors to Japan. But that’s precisely what makes it so great! The atmosphere is warm and familiar, the locals are like friends I’ve known forever, the nightlife is wild and the food culture is excessive yet homely. The city’s rhythm perfectly complements my adventurous spirit and is the reason I choose to call Osaka home. There are so many fun, unique and exciting things to do in Osaka, it’s impossible to get bored. Still not convinced? Follow this guide to the top 10 best things to do in Osaka to help you discover the city’s hot spots and hidden gems. You’ll feel like a local in no time and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with Osaka just like I did!
If you were to visit just one place in Osaka, it would have to be Dotonbori. This vibrant entertainment district is Osaka’s most famous tourist destination and known for its dazzling neon lights, animatronic signage, and the huge variety of shops, restaurants and bars. This area is the city’s beating heart and is a true representation of Osaka culture – especially at night. When the sun goes down, the pace accelerates and you’ll find yourself swept up into the frantic crowd of merry locals letting their hair down at the end of the day. There are an infinite things to do in Dotonbori no matter what time of day. Take your time to discover this animated area and don’t miss your opportunity to get the iconic photo of the LED Glico Man from the Ebisu Bridge. Enjoy a Japanese meal at a lively Dotonbori restaurant, check out Don Quixote to see every KitKat flavour imaginable and keep your eyes peeled for the host boys walking around with extravagant outfits and hairstyles.
Umeda Sky Building
I’m a sucker for amazing city views, there’s something really magical about looking down upon a beautiful city from high up. The Umeda Sky Building itself is an architectural wonder and the Kuchu Teien Observatory provides the most impressive panoramic views of Osaka below. Marvel at the view from the glass elevator as you ascend up the tower to the observation platform then head up again to the 40th floor where you can walk around in the open and breathe in the fresh air while you watch the city from up above. If you can, go there towards the end of the afternoon and stay until the evening so you can see the Osaka night lights. The Umeda Sky Building has an entrance fee of 1500 Yen but it’s free for Osaka Amazing Pass holders.
Visit the Instant Ramen Museum
The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum is a must do if you love cup noodles (honestly, who doesn't?) and is also one of the most unique things to do in Osaka. Dedicated to the invention of ramen noodle cups, the museum showcases the staggering number of instant ramen flavour variations created over the years as well as a reproduction of the hut where Momofuku Ando first created them. As part of the experience you also get to make your own customised version of noodles to take home! This place is quirky, super fun and great for all the family. It’s a very charming little museum, easily accessible by getting the local train to Ikeda, which is a fun experience in itself.
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 Osaka and the rest of Japan. The castle has been reconstructed to cater for tourists and while the castle may have lost some of its authenticity, I still believe it’s one of the best things to see in Osaka to get an understanding of the city’s history and cultural identity. The castle contains a history museum that uses holograms, 3D pictures and other technologies to describe the history of the castle and the period in which it was built. My favourite part is the castle’s sublime exterior and peaceful gardens. If visiting in late winter, you’ll be able to enjoy the plum-tree orchard in full pink and white bloom against the spectacular backdrop of the Castle.
Unwind at Osaka’s Spa World
If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed by the crazy fast-paced life in Osaka then why not take some time out to experience Spa World, one of the largest hot spring complexes in the world. Drawing on natural spring water, this complex features themed rooms modelled on different spas around the world and a water theme park on the roof. Going to the onsen is a unique experience and one of the most relaxing things to do in Osaka. If you’re not familiar with nude public baths it might seem daunting at first but the experience is one of a kind and totally freeing. The baths are gender-specific with men on the European bath floor and women on the Asian bath floor. Enjoy hopping from bath to bath, massaging yourself with salt scrub in the sauna, and laying out near the open-air baths!
Visit a temple
Much like the rest of Japan, Osaka is full of ancient temples and shrines each with their own meanings and history. Visiting a temple is one of many free things to do in Osaka and a peaceful place to escape the chaotic city crowds and discover the spiritual side to Osaka. There are many famous shrines dotted throughout the city which draw crowds of curious tourists, however my personal favourite is Hozenji, a small, unassuming temple tucked away down a quaint side street near the Dotonbori Bridge. This temple pays homage to the wisdom king, Fudo Myoo, and is a popular spot amongst locals who come here to worship by splashing water on the statue. This is a true hidden gem that you’d just walk past if you didn’t know it was there but it provides an authentic local experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Ramen at Ichiran
I’d argue that the most important part of Osaka culture and society is food. Locals have a saying, “eat and drink until you die”, and I think that perfectly sums up the food culture in Osaka! Some people even say there are more restaurants in the city than people! One particular dish that you must try when in visiting Osaka and Japan in general is ramen. For this, you should check out one of Japan’s most famous ramen chain restaurants, Ichiran (Dotonbori branch). There will almost certainly be a queue but don’t be put off, it’s definitely worth the wait! They take ramen very seriously here. When you enter, you pay and make your selection from a vending machine. You get a ticket and fill out your preferences such as lightness or thickness of broth and chewiness of your noodles and you then get sat either in individual stalls with bamboo curtains or at long tables with dividers to give you the space and privacy required to fully appreciate your meal. Tip: Officially you’re not supposed to talk. Some places are more lenient but some aren’t – I learnt the hard way!
Experience Osaka’s sub-culture in the American Village
Ame-mura (Amerikamura), literally translated as ‘American Village’, is an area near Shinsaibashi famous for its alternative, hipster vibe based around the Japanese interpretation of American culture throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. This place is a riot and one of the most quirky things to do in Osaka. Plenty of my favourite bars are here and there are a ton of weird and wonderful vintage clothing shops, anime merch stores, restaurants, old-style toy shops as well as Goth and heavy metal type shops. It’s also one of the best spots for people watching in the whole city, you’re sure to see the wildest and most colourful fashion trends as well as many, many people with intriguing and eccentric individual styles. Grab a conbini beer and sit in Triangle Park to just watch and enjoy.
Anime in Den Den Town
Den Den Town, or Nipponbashi, is an exciting part of town tucked away in a small corner of Osaka’s southern district frequented by fans of Japanese otaku culture. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Osaka I’d absolutely recommend this entertainment hot spot. It is home to an array of unique stores selling and showcasing anime, manga and cosplay memorabilia as well as electronic shops and gaming stores. This place is a must-see for anime-lovers and the secret geeks inside us all!
Eat street food
Another crucial part of Osaka’s food culture is street food. Locals eat out a lot and people rarely cook at home. With many people working long hours in Osaka and not finishing until late, demand for delicious on-the-go food is high. My favourite street food is Takoyaki, deep fried balls typically filled with octopus. These scrumptious dumplings originated in Osaka and are a must-eat for all visitors! If octopus isn’t your thing there are many variations that you can try. Countless street food stores sell these delicious snacks at all hours throughout the city so make sure you squeeze in a take away treat during your visit!
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