Top 25 Things to Do in Osaka for a Memorable Visit

The colourful and vibrant streets of Osaka
The colourful and vibrant streets of Osaka | Unsplash
Judith LaFaver

Japan’s second-biggest city, Osaka, can seem like a never-ending maze to many visitors. Because of this, it’s important to plan your trip wisely to ensure you experience the very best things that Osaka has to offer, whether it’s sampling world-famous cuisine or exploring historic castles.

1. Osaka Kickstart: Hotspots & Hidden Gems

Historical Landmark

Start exploring Osaka through a vetted tour highlighted for its authenticity and uniqueness. This experience, celebrated on television, offers a genuine and quirky snapshot of the city. Insider guides share personal stories, historical insights, and plenty of enthusiasm and humor throughout the tour. Participants can choose between private, customized tours or lively group expeditions, ensuring a tailored experience suited to individual preferences.

The Best Things to Do in Dōtonbori, Osaka

2. Dotonbori


2CCFFYX Osaka, Japan - Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan. Dotonbori is one of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka, Japan.
Courtesy of beibaoke / Alamy
The bustling walkways and bridges near the Dotonbori canal have been the site of Osaka’s entertainment district since the 1600s. After firebombing during World War II destroyed much of the area, which was originally the location of many theatres, this area was reborn as a popular dining and nightlife location and is characterised by massive neon signs – most notably the “Glico man” that reflects brightly in the water come nightfall.

3. Stroll along the Tonbori Riverwalk


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Dōtonbori comes into its own at night, as the canal reflects its neon lights. A hub of social activity, this waterway cuts through the bustling Namba district. Walk along its adjacent Tonbori Riverwalk for plenty of shops, al fresco restaurants and live music performers. Stop at Dōtonbori Bridge to marvel at the giant, garish digital adverts, like a watery version of New York’s Times Square.

4. Take a Tonbori River Cruise

Natural Feature

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Walking along the Dōtonbori Canal, you’ll see a steady stream of yellow, open-air tourist boats. These are the Tonbori River Cruises, which take just 20 minutes to whisk you around the canal, so you can see the famous sights – such as the Glico running man sign (see below) – from a new perspective. You embark near Namba Station, where cruises depart every hour on the half hour.

5. Shop in the Shinsaibashi-suji shotengai arcade


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The Shinsaibashi shotengai shopping arcade has been around for hundreds of years in some form. And it feels it: the covered walkways often make it feel more like an old-fashioned marketplace – especially when you tuck into a chocolate-smothered crepe on your way to the kimono and tea shops. Although parts of the arcade seem traditional, you’ll also find well-known international brands, such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21.

6. Dine in the early hours at Sōemoncho


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Sōemoncho is the heart of the Dōtonbori area’s evening exuberance, with its plethora of bars, clubs and karaoke joints. Most of the restaurants are open until the early hours of the morning, so join the locals by recharging with traditional fast foods after you’ve worn yourself out singing and dancing. Slurp an early morning meal at Ramen Zundo-Ya Shinsaibashi, which is open round the clock.

7. Travel back in time on Hozenji Yokocho street


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The Hozenji Yokocho is a narrow, stone-paved street that leads to Hozenji Temple. In stark contrast with the rest of Dōtonbori, this lane evokes the ambiance of Osaka as it was in the Edo Period (1603-1867). It’s lined with 60 tiny family-run cafes, serving traditional Japanese food. Order okonomiyaki at Hozenji Sanpei for an authentic taste of Osaka – a patty of cabbage, flour and egg with your own meat and vegetables of choice.

8. Pause in the Hozenji Temple

Buddhist Temple

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Hozenji might be one of the smallest temples you’ll see in Japan, but it’s also likely to be the most memorable. Right in the middle of crowded Namba, Hozenji manages to be a serene oasis in the middle of a neon jungle, and the alleyways surrounding the temple hark back to an older Osaka, with cobblestone streets and noren cloth-covered entryways. Peep inside the temple and you’ll notice the Buddha that makes it so famous. The Buddha is covered with a thick layer of moss due to the constant stream of prayers and subsequent splashes of water that are thrown in its direction.

9. Watch traditional kabuki plays at Shochikuza


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Kabuki is a Japanese form of traditional theatre that’s combined with dancing – an art form you can witness at the Osaka Shochikuza Kabuki Theatre. Although performances are only in Japanese, the visual spectacle makes the storylines easy to follow, so you’ll find yourself invested in the plot and laughing along with the characters in no time. The building itself is impressive, too, having been modelled on the Teatro alla Scala in Milan when it opened in 1923.

10. Learn about takoyaki at the Konamon Museum

Restaurant, Japanese

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If you’ve got a taste for takoyaki (griddle-cooked octopus balls), the Konamon Museum is for you. It’s entirely dedicated to the popular Japanese street food, with interactive sections that allow you to watch takoyaki masters at work, or make your own takoyaki wax figurine to take home. The lower floor contains a takoyaki restaurant with selected wines and champagnes for pairing with your meal.

11. Pose in front of the famous Glico sign


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The Glico Man is the symbol of south Osaka. This sign, advertising popular Japanese snack maker Glico, was put up in 1935 and remodelled in 2014, maintaining the old design but adding new LED lights and animations that change with the time of day. The best photo-op spots are on the adjacent Ebisu Bridge or across the river on the Tonbori Riverwalk.

The Best Things to Do in Osaka

12. Osaka Food Tour

Historical Landmark

Savor Osaka’s culinary offerings with this enticing food tour, where your local guide will introduce you to a few secret restaurants that have appeared in the popular Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil.” Experience a wide assortment of cuisines during the tour, including gyoza, takoyaki, kitsune udon, and more. You will also sample two nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks to provide you with a complete understanding of the local food and beverage culture. This tour offers an insider’s view of Osaka’s vibrant food scene. The combination of hidden gems and popular eateries ensures a diverse and delicious experience. It’s perfect for food lovers and fans of the show.Savor Osaka’s culinary offerings with this enticing food tour, where your local guide will introduce you to a few secret restaurants that have appeared in the popular Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil.” Experience a wide assortment of cuisines during the tour, including gyoza, takoyaki, kitsune udon, and more. You will also sample two nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks to provide you with a complete understanding of the local food and beverage culture. This tour offers an insider’s view of Osaka’s vibrant food scene. The combination of hidden gems and popular eateries ensures a diverse and delicious experience. It’s perfect for food lovers and fans of the show.

13. Tennoji Park


This green park is situated beneath Abeno Harukas, a soaring 300m (984ft) skyscraper above Osaka Abenobashi Station, the highest in Japan. Inside, there’s a host of family-friendly attractions, including Tennoji Zoo, which houses 1,000 animals of 200 different species, such as lions, chimpanzee and koalas, along with the traditional Keitakuen Garden,and the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts. In the surrounding Tenshiba area, you’ll find restaurants, a market, futsal courts, and the Kintetsu Friendly Hostel, which offers affordable accommodation for families and groups of up to eight people.

14. Osaka Castle Park

Museum, Park

Looking for somewhere to take part in the Japanese tradition of hanami (flower viewing)? This large green space in the centre of Osaka is popular for viewing cherry blossom (sakura) in the spring. Built on a historic site, the park is also home to the Osaka Castle Keep Tower, an enormous 16th-century castle and one of the most famous landmarks in the country. From the top of the tower, you get an expansive view over Osaka Bay to Mount Ikoma. There’s also a variety of sports fields and an open-air concert hall.

15. Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park


Think Japan and you probably don’t envisage a quaint windmill in a tulip garden. However, this is exactly what you’ll find at Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park. This 300-acre (120ha) park, on the outskirts of the city on the site of the 1990 International Garden and Greenery Exposition, also features one of the world’s largest greenhouses, a traditional Japanese teahouse, a large pond, swimming pool, fitness centre, tennis courts, a dog park and many other amenities. The windmill is found in the Mountain Area, alongside the International Garden, which is made up of micro-gardens inspired by different countries around the world.

16. Spa World

Amusement Park, Health Spa

After spending time in any large city, it is often good to unwind. One great way to let off steam is by enjoying a soak at Spa World, a gigantic spa and water park. Spa World’s main attraction is the around-the-world-themed bathing experience, which features European and Asian influences. The spa, which features numerous opulent baths, alternates between admitting either men or women, depending on the month.

17. Experience traditional Japanese drama at Osaka Shochikuza Theatre


Osaka’s only kabuki theatre, Shochikuza, is the place to go to experience a traditional Japanese drama. Kabuki was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and is a highly stylised performance of song, mime and dance. While kabuki has existed in Japan since the 17th century, Osaka’s Shochikuza Theatre was only opened in 1923. It’s still a fascinating building, though, and sticks out from its surroundings due to its Neo-Renaissance architectural style, which was modelled on Milan’s La Scala theatre.

18. Drink craft beer at Tachibana


While you’re at Shochikuza, head to its second basement floor to visit Tachibana, the only on-site theatre brewery in Osaka. One of the first Osaka-brewed beers, Dotonbori has been around since 1996, and Tachibana is one of the only restaurants to have it on tap. Plus, it has an excellent reputation for its seafood and tofu. Beer and tofu might seem like a strange combination, but in Japan it works.

19. Visit the historic Osaka Castle


Osaka Castle is the shining jewel of the city’s tourist attractions. One of the most historically significant sites in Japan, the castle was originally constructed in the late 1500s by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Later the site of the famous Battle of Sekigahara, the castle would eventually fall to the Tokugawa clan, who were the last of the shogunates of feudal-era Japan. While the castle standing today has been reconstructed many times, there are still numerous areas of the park that are considered cultural assets, such as Otemon Gate, with its wooden pillars. Inside the castle itself, you’ll find a number of exhibitions dedicated to Osaka during the 16th and 17th centuries. The castle grounds have become a popular place to walk and relax in Osaka, and are particularly pretty in late winter, when the branches of the plum tree orchard are bare, and at the beginning of spring, when the flowers burst forth in brilliant pink and white blooms.

20. Marvel at the fish at the Kaiyukan aquarium


The Kaiyukan aquarium is truly one of the top aquariums in the world. It has over 30,000 sea creatures living in 15 different areas that are designed to take the visitor through the varying environments found in the Pacific Rim. It’s relaxing to watch the hypnotic movements of fish darting in and out of coral, but try listening in on a Japanese conversation. Occasionally, you’ll hear an oishiso (“looks delicious”) as the fish swim by.

21. Eat Kansai-style sukiyaki at Kitamura

Restaurant, Japanese

Step through the sliding glass door of Kitamura to immerse yourself in the world of sukiyaki. This traditional Japanese stew-like dish is prepared in a hot pot and usually consists of thinly sliced meat, vegetables and other ingredients that are cooked and simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin (sugary rice wine). Take a seat at one of the tatami-mat tables and watch your hot-pot meal be cooked right in front of you for an unforgettable Osaka experience.

22. Check out Japan's oldest Buddhist temple

Buddhist Temple, Market

Shitennoji was built in CE 593 and was the first state-funded temple in Japan after Buddhism was brought to the country from China (some reports actually state it is the first ever Buddhist temple in Japan). Although the temple has been ravaged by many fires over its 1,400-year history, the grounds remain the same as they were when it was originally built – except now they are surrounded by skyscrapers. Try to plan your trip to Shitennoji to coincide with the temple’s flea market, which is a great opportunity to pick up second-hand kimonos, antiques or perhaps a piece of Japanese pottery.

23. Sample the freshest seafood in Osaka

Market, Japanese

Ten years ago, Kuromon Ichiba Market wasn’t really on visitors’ radar, but in the years since its reputation as one of the best wet markets in Japan has quickly transformed it into one of the most traveller-friendly areas in Japan. It’s also a chance to experience what shopping in Osaka might have looked like before large department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya opened. The market is well known for selling the freshest ingredients in Osaka, and is the main destination for Osakan chefs to buy produce for their restaurants. Don’t pass up the chance to have fresh-from-the-ocean fish and shellfish grilled right in front of you at one of the fish shops in the shopping arcade.

24. Try fried maple leaf at Minoo National Park


Just a quick 30-minute train ride from Hankyu Umeda station is Minoo National Park. While not technically part of Osaka city, it’s well worth a visit for an escape from the suburban sprawl. From Minoo Station, the main path to the park runs alongside a scenic river and is lined by traditional buildings and temples. Inside the park, the main attraction is its stunning waterfall, which cascades down from a height of 33 metres (108ft). Minoo is also well known for its bright red maple trees, and is one of the loveliest places in Kansai to see autumn leaves. Don’t pass up an opportunity to sample the area’s speciality, a fried maple leaf, which is sold by vendors on the side of the road back to the station.

Additional reporting by Osaka hub writer Brooke Larsen

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