All eyes will be on Japan in the summer of 2021 as Tokyo hosts the delayed Olympic Games, but we’re focusing on another impressive city as our main pick of feel-good Japanese destinations. Osaka has a lively shopping district, a thriving entertainment scene and a superb mix of historic buildings and modern architecture.
You can fly direct from Tokyo to Osaka if you want to get there with minimal fuss, but if you do have more time and want to take in some of the country on the way, a trip on the famous shinkansen, or bullet train, is a must. This rapid transport system is known around the world as one of the best ways to see Japan, and with a little planning, you can reach most places around the country if you’re keen on doing a tour. Even the destinations that don’t have shinkansen networks still boast a public transport system that is the envy of other countries.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
The ultimate benefit of rail travel in Japan, especially for doubters, is that it’s often as quick as a direct internal flight if you factor in check-in times and other unavoidable airline time constraints. If Osaka is the only place on your itinerary next year, then you can, of course, opt to fly straight to the city from most major destinations around the world.
So, why visit Osaka? There’s the Universal Studios Japan theme park for starters, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021. It’s great fun for the entire family, and it’s always interesting to see how each country adapts the basic premise to fit local tastes. And to mark the anniversary, Super Nintendo World opens in the spring. Fans are already excited about being able to play some of their favourite video games in real life while interacting with some larger-than-life characters.
Osaka is often cited as the best foodie destination in Japan, and that makes it one of the best in the world. You’ll even hear the word kuidaore, which roughly translates as “Eat until you drop,” uttered, which tells you how much locals love dining out.
For a modern take on old classics, visit the Minami district, also known as Japan’s Kitchen, where high-end restaurants jostle for your attention alongside street-food vendors; wherever you choose, standards are high. Make sure you try a teppanyaki meal at least once in Osaka – there’s no better way to excite your taste buds than by seeing your dishes grilled before your very eyes.
Finally, no visit to the city would be complete without a trip to the five-storey Osaka Castle, which encapsulates everything you might imagine from ancient Japanese architecture. If you time your visit right (think early spring), you can also enjoy views of the city as it glows from the collective warmth of the cherryblossom.
Feel-good places to stay in Osaka
Osaka has many hotel options for the savvy traveller. We’ve picked out four of our favourites, which will serve you well if you’re visiting in 2021.
This trendy hotel-hostel hybrid, in Shinsaibashi, is ideal for those looking for a convenient no-frills experience. If you’re travelling as part of a large group, you won’t find many better places to stay than Home Hostel Osaka, and if you’re a solo traveller on a budget, it’s a lifesaver.
At the other end of the spectrum, the imposing monolithic façade of the Conrad hides a warm and cosy retreat away from the busy streets below. It has a cool rooftop bar that showcases the more luxurious side of the city, and an elegant indoor pool. Plus they serve some of the best food in town here, and with four on-site restaurants and lounges, it means you can dine well without even having to leave the hotel.
All the rooms in this hotel are stylish, but if you want that extra flourish, make sure you pick one of the suites on the Cross Floor. Additional care and attention have been paid to the design features in these rooms, although the standard options aren’t bad either. Overall, the biggest selling points here are the great pricing and excellent location.
In any other country, the more “basic” traditional lodging options would be the cheapest to stay in, but this is Japan, where the traditional tends to be the ultimate in luxury. A compromise – of sorts – is this ryokan (inn) in the heart of Osaka. You’ll find more authentic places outside the city, but in the centre of a busy metropolitan area with a population of about 20 million, this one is hard to beat.
The Culture Trip list features places with a feel-good factor that we can’t wait to visit in 2021 and beyond (once we can travel again). It celebrates travel that’s good and makes you feel good. The destinations are dedicated to sustainability; they offer something new and exciting, or an unforgettable moment that will make us fall in love all over again with the world we’ve missed in 2020.
Culture Trip compiled the list based on insights and recommendations from its global community of travel experts and local insiders, combined with search data from millions of users from around the world to understand interest in those destinations.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.