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.
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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.