While not quite the temple hotspot of Kyoto or the sheer craziness of Tokyo, Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city firmly sits at the top of many travellers favourite places in Japan. Unlike Tokyo, Osaka’s main sights are compact and can all be visited in a day so even if are limited for time, an Osaka day trip is a great option. Upon visiting you’ll find that Osaka is perhaps a much less overwhelming version of Tokyo, a city of neon, cultural delights, history and tradition and of course food. Make sure that you don’t miss this fantastic city in western Japan and keep reading for the perfect Osaka itinerary and everything you need to see during your day Osaka itinerary.
WHEN TO GO
Osaka is a year-round destination and when to go depends on your seasonal preferences and what you’d like to see. Osaka just like much of Japan experiences all four distinct seasons. Summers are hot, rainy and humid, spring is warm and brings with it the beautiful cherry blossoms. Visit in autumn and you’ll be blown away by the cities parks and gardens turning a deep orange, whereas winters are cold and grey. Spring is the best time to visit but it’s normally the most popular time to visit (due to cherry blossom season in March). If you prefer to avoid the crowd it’s best to visit in late spring or autumn. I visited in June which turned out to be perfect if you like warmer weather.
Not yet sure what to see and do in Japan? Make sure to also read The Definitive Japan Bucket List | 30 Japan Ideas For Your Trip
GETTING TO OSAKA
If you’re arriving in Osaka by plane you’ll get to Kansai International Airport. From here it’s quite quick and easy to get to the city center and you have a number of options. The best way to get to the centre is by taking the rapid train to Tennoji Station or Osaka train station. Travel time takes a little under an hour. From here you can connect to local trains to get to your hotel or take a taxi.
The best way to get around Japan is by train. Train travel in Japan is efficient, clean and fast. Train travel in Japan can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be if you plan your trip right.
I always recommend going for the JR Pass which allows for unlimited train travel around Japan with JR Lines and even includes the bullet train. JR Passes include 7 days and 14 days of unlimited train travel around Japan, as well as Regional Passes if you prefer getting to know one region in more depth. The JR Pass really saved me hundreds of dollars on my trip to Japan. Make sure you don’t miss out!
From Kyoto – There are four different train options from Kyoto that will get you to Osaka in minutes. Your JR Pass is valid for the Tokaido Shinkansen service which takes just 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the JR Kyoto Line which will get you straight into Osaka Station in just 25 minutes.
From Nara – JR Miyakoji rapid trains are the best option from Nara, leaving every 30 minutes. The one-way trip takes 45 minutes.
From Tokyo – If you have the Japan Rail pass the best option is to use the Hikari Shinkansen which takes just 3 hours to get to Tokyo. If you are visiting Osaka for just the day from Tokyo, I highly recommend getting the earliest train of the day.
Before starting your Osaka itinerary, if you have extra luggage you need to store you’ll be pleased to know that all large train stations in Japan have luggage storage in the form of lockers. You’ll find these by following the clear signs in the stations and all lockers have instructions in English for how to use them- it’s all really easy.
OSAKA DAY TRIP: WHERE TO EAT
Osaka is known as Japan’s kitchen. It’s famous for dishes or snacks like takoyaki and okonomiyaki and the most famous district for food is Dotonbori. Here you can get all kinds of delicious street food as well as quick eats from convenience stores. It’s the perfect place to come to begin your Japanese food journey.
Upgrade Plant Based Kitchen – This little deli-style eatery is located in the basement food court of Daimaru Department Store and works in a deli-style way offering sets of various mains and sides that you can choose from at the counter. The food is fresh, delicious and makes a great yet fast option.
Paprika Shokudo Vegan – This is a gem of a restaurant in downtown Osaka which offers both Japanese and Western-style food including set dinners, salads, bowls and pizzas. The food is delicious and the restaurant has great decor and atmosphere to boot. Highly recommended!
OSAKA DAY TRIP: WHERE TO STAY
If after one day you’ve realised that you could definitely do with another day in this amazing city here are some of my favourite places to stay.
Budget– WellStay Namba– This minimally designed, wooden hotel is both friendly on the eyes and on the wallet. Rooms are compact and have crispy-clean sheets and a super comfortable mattress for optimal rest. Each room has a TV and there are common areas, great for working or eating. In true Japan style there’s also a vending machine in the lobby.
Mid– Hotel Noum OSAKA– My personal favourite in Osaka, this waterfront hotel is the place to stay for design lovers. Their minimal decor with their earth-tones and plants is perfectly styled for a luxurious, stylish and comfortable stay. They also have an amazing cafe on site serving great coffee and avocado toast and they also have bike rental to explore the city further. Located just a minute walk from the beautiful Osaka river.
Splurge– THE BOLY OSAKA – Another riverfront property with a Hollywood feel to it is this gorgeous place to stay. Rooms are spacious and have an apartment-like feel and some even have balconies overlooking the river. Each room comes with tea and coffee making facilities, a desk and an ensuite bathroom.
OSAKA DAY TRIP ITINERARY
It’s difficult to see Osaka in just one day and I would highly recommend you stay at least two but this itinerary does take into account some of the most popular sites, oldest temples, main areas and places to visit in Osaka which you simply can’t miss. I highly recommend you save all these locations into your Google Maps so you can better plan how to get from one place to another.
Start your Osaka day trip itinerary with a visit to one of the most well-preserved of all traditional Japanese Castles. Osaka Castle is easily one of the best things to do in the city. It is located inside vast, park-like grounds filled with cherry blossom trees which turn everything pink in the spring. Access to the outside grounds is free and even though the castle is surrounded by a moat you can get quite close for free. To access the more centralised Nishinomaru garden you’ll have to pay an extra Y200 but it can be worth it if there are lots of people around.
Inside you’ll find that the castle has now been converted into a museum, showing a variety of artefacts from the Azuchi-Momoyama period, when this castle played a major role in unifying Japan in the sixteenth century. You can also visit the observation deck on the top floor for views of the surrounding gardens and city. After visiting make the most of Osaka Castle Park by exploring the vast castle grounds that are full of cherry trees that blossom in the spring.
A few kilometres south of Osaka Castle, in central Osaka, you’ll find Tennoji, an area of sprawling skyscrapers, green spaces and historic temples and shrines- a wander here is simply a must on your Osaka itinerary. Tennoji is a great place to walk around in for a few hours and admire the perfect existence between the green and natural, the traditional and the modern- something Japan does so well.
Arriving at Tennoji Station, start with a little walk around Tennoji Park particularly the Keitakuen Garden, a gorgeously pretty Japanese garden with a still pond, stepping stones and beautiful flowers growing nearby. Make sure to also see Horikoshi Shrine in passing too upon leaving the park.
Nearby you’ll also find Shitennoji, one of the most well-known Buddhist temples in Japan that apparently dates back to 593 A.D. It’s a large complex featuring many different temple buildings and shrine, statues, a pond and a 5 story pagoda. Walking around here is a great way to discover more about Japanese temple architecture and culture.
In the late afternoon make your way to Tsutenkaku Tower, the iconic tower of Osaka, located just west of Tennoji Park in Shinsekai. At the top of this emblematic tower, you’ll find an observation deck with 360-degree views of the city- well worth it if you’re just here for 1 day. If you’re in Osaka during the winter or early spring try to come up here for ‘golden hour’ for the best views of the city. If you are planning to visit or are staying near the Umeda Sky Building, another iconic building and observatory in Osaka, you might want to miss this observation deck.
After heading back down, it’s worth taking a quick walk around the small, busy alleyways leading away from the tower that really are an assault on the eyes. These energy-charged streets are full of eateries, pinball arcades, halls of vending machines selling toys and local stores full of light, colour and of course neon. There is so much to look at you’ll definitely need to stop and do nothing but look to really take it all in.
There are only a few places to spend the evening in Osaka and they are the Dotonbori, Namba and Shinsaibashi neighbourhoods, the nightlife areas of downtown Osaka. These areas are all filled with restaurants, bars, snack bars and shopping streets that will keep you amused for hours. Don’t miss Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi shopping streets filled with famous neon lights billboards advertising Asahi beer, stores of global fashion brands and local restaurants.
Along the Dotonbori river, you’ll also find a pedestrian walkway where friends meet and families gather in the evening to enjoy the cool air, especially in summer. Strolling under the white paper lanterns its a really great way to enjoy this iconic part of Osaka.
If you have more than one day…
If you do decide to stay in Osaka for more than one day you definitely won’t regret it. Another great area to visit is Umeda, which is surrounded by modern skyscrapers and the iconic Umeda Sky Building, a modern architectural marvel.
Make sure to also visit Kuromon Market, Osaka’s largest and well-known market where you can sample some of the best quality foods of the region and get to know more about this region’s culinary history. Tempozan Ferris Wheel is another symbol of the city offering great views and if you’re a fan of theme parks you might want to spend the day at Universal Studios Japan.
Many people also visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan however we don’t recommend visiting as they keep captive dolphins, sharks and whale sharks. If you love animals then please consider NOT supporting such businesses that contribute to animal cruelty.
If you prefer not to plan your own Osaka day trip itinerary you can also sign up for a day tour. Day tours are a good idea as you can see a lot in a short time, have access to a local guide that speaks English and get the best, local recommendations. This way you’ll be able to see most of the popular attractions and more as part of a day tour. Check below for our selection of the best day tours in Osaka.
Do you have any comments or questions about this Osaka itinerary or your Osaka day trip plans? I’d love to help you out, let me know below.
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