One Day in Osaka, Japan: Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

Friendly, free-spirited Osaka may not have as rich a history as Kyoto or Tokyo, but it is bursting with cultural attractions and is home to some of the most incredible food in Japan. And that’s saying something.

Despite being Japan’s third-largest city, it is possible to experience the best of Osaka in one day. Whether you’re taking a day trip to Osaka or staying overnight, I’ve got you covered with a 1-day Osaka itinerary to help you plan your time there.

This guide also includes recommendations for where to stay, how to get around Osaka and, most importantly, where to eat. So put on your most comfortable shoes and bring an empty stomach.

chinese lantern in cobblestone street in osaka at night

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Is One Day in Osaka Enough?

Ideally, you should spend at least two days here, but if 24 hours in Osaka is all you have, grab it with both hands. One day is enough time to hit the city’s highlights and sample the cuisine for which it is famous.

Osaka is a good alternative to Kyoto as a base in the Kansai region. From here, you can take easy day trips by train to Himeji, Nara and even Kanazawa and Hiroshima

1-Day Osaka Itinerary

This 1-day Osaka itinerary starts with the cultural attractions on Nakanoshima Island, stops at Osaka Castle and Japan’s oldest temple before spending the evening exploring neon-lit Dotombori and the atmospheric Hozenji Yokocho.

You can travel between many of these sights on foot but there are a couple of subway journeys involved. If it’s easier, think of this as two self-guided walks linked by subway rides

MORNING: Osaka Riverside Walk

map of the places on a 1 day osaka itinerary
For an interactive map click here or on the image. Map data @ Google 2023.

Start your day in Osaka with coffee at 2-1-16 Kitahama, Chuo. Service with a smile, a rich brew and river views.

Caffeinated and raring to go, walk across the Sendannoki Bridge to the island of Nakanoshima, sandwiched between the Tosaborigawa River and Dojimagawa  River. This island oasis, which is home to art museums, early 20th-century architecture and a park, is the setting for a wonderful late-morning stroll.

buildings lining river in osaka
Osaka riverfront walk

Facing Sendannoki Bridge is Osaka City Central Public Hall.

Designed by Kingo Tatsuno of Tokyo Station fame and completed in 1918, this Neo-Renaissance gem is home to some of Osaka’s major cultural events.

Opposite Osaka City Central Public Hall is The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, which houses one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese and Korean ceramics and a smaller collection of Japanese ceramics. At any one time, approximately 300 pieces are on display in the permanent collection.

The Museum of Oriental Ceramics is closed for renovation until Spring 2024

Continue walking east along Nakanoshima Island, through Nakanoshima Rose Garden before veering south to your next stop, Osaka Castle.  

AFTERNOON: Osaka Castle & Shitennoji Temple

Although Osaka Castle is the city’s main tourist attraction, you need to manage your expectations.

osaka-castle-reflected-in-water-of-pond-in-garden
Osaka Castle

This is not the original late 16th-century castle, built by General Toyotomi Hideyoshi to demonstrate his power after successfully unifying Japan following centuries of conflict. Nor does it date from the 17th century when the original castle was rebuilt after its destruction by the armies of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Instead, it is a 1931 concrete reconstruction, the main tower modelled on a picture of the original main towers. That said, it is an impressive structure, and there are several surviving turrets from a 17th-century reconstruction.

For the best photo spot, on entering Osaka Castle courtyard turn left into a small garden.

 From Osaka Castle it’s a 15-20 minute walk to Tanamachiyonchrome Station. Take the Tanimachi Line to Shitennoji, from where the temple is a five-minute walk.

Shitennoji is Japan’s oldest official temple. It was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who played a leading role in introducing Japan to Buddhism.

pagoda of temple in osaka

Like Osaka Castle, the temple buildings we see today are reconstructions dating largely from the 1960s and 1970s. However, these have been thoughtfully executed.

Most of the outer temple buildings and grounds are free to enter. However, you will need to pay to enter the inner precinct (Chushin Garan) with its five-storied pagoda, the Gokuraku-jodo Garden and the treasure house. 

Leaving Shitennoji Temple, it’s a ten-minute walk to Tennoji Station. From here, take the Midosuji Line to Shinsaibashi Station.

EVENING: A Walk in Minami

map of the places to visit during one day in osaka
For an interactive map click here or on the image. Map data @ Google 2023.

Take an evening walk in Minami to round off your day in Osaka.

Minami comprises the neighbourhoods of Namba, Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura. It is best explored after dusk to experience its vibrant street life in all of its neon-lit splendour.

Walk through the trendy enclave of Amerika-Mura with its hip shops, cafes and bars to Triangle Park. This is not a park in the traditional sense, but a concrete area with benches for people-watching.

When you are walking through Amerika-Mura, keep an eye out for street lamps that resemble stick people. There are reported to be 50 of these scattered throughout the neighbourhood, designed by various artists.

man walking past a painted lamp post in osaka japan

Your next stop is Shinsaibashisuji, which is  Shinsaibashi’s long, covered shopping street. Continue south along this street, until you reach the Ebisu Bridge and the start of the Tombori Riverwalk, a promenade that runs alongside the canal.  

neon-signs-reflected-in-canal-of-dotombori-osaka
Tombori walk with ‘Running Man’ sign

Ebisu Bridge is one of the best photo spots for views over the canal, the reflections from neon signs glowing in its water, including the iconic Dotombori Glico – ‘Running Man’ – Sign, dating from 1935. Another famous Osaka landmark, the giant animated crab suspended over the entrance to Kani Doraku Honten, a crab restaurant, is a few steps away.

giant crab sign at saka-dotombori-kani-doraku-honten
Osaka’s iconic crab sign

This takes you onto the main Dotombori strip, home to a multitude of restaurants and fast food joints, signposted with outlandish plastic food models.

shops and restaurants at night in osaka-dotombori-strip
Dotombori Street

Now it’s time to step out of the modern world into the past.

Turn right into Sennichi-mae Arcade (just before the big cow!) and then left into Hozenji Yokocho to reach Hozen-ji Temple. This tiny gem of a temple, established in 1637, is home to a moss-covered statue of Fudo Myo-o, a Buddhist spirit that represents law and discipline.

japanese temple at night lit ny a row of lanterns

There is an urban myth that around 80 years ago a lady’s wish came true by throwing water over the statue. Inspired by her success, this has been copied by many others, so much so that the is nicknamed ‘Mizukake-Fudo’ or ‘Splashing water Fudo.’ 

Hozenji Yokocho, a narrow cobblestoned street stretching 80 metres long, is a taste of old Japan. Guided only by the light of traditional lanterns, reflecting off the cobblestones, it is a tranquil alternative to Dotombori Street.

a osaka hozen ji yokocho 4

Lined with more than 60 restaurants and bars, Hozenji Yokocho is the perfect place to end your day in Osaka. 

If You Have More Than 24 Hours in Osaka

If you have more than one day in Osaka, you could take in more sights in Tennoji, notably the Harukas 300 observation deck and the Abendo Harukas Art Museum. Both of these can be found in the Abendo Harukas, Japan’s tallest building.

If you have nerves of steel, walk the Edge of Harukas, a 20-metre ledge tethered to the building.

A gentler alternative is the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan in the Tempozan neighbourhood. This is one of Japan’s best aquariums and its occupants include a whale shark and manta rays.

For one of the best views in town, visit the rooftop observatory at the Sky Building, located in Osaka Umeda.

How to get to Osaka

Getting to Osaka by air

Osaka’s Kansai International Airport is one of the biggest airports in the country and it serves both national and international flights.

The Limited Express Haruka train runs from Kansai Airport every 30 minutes to Tennoji and Shin-Osaka stations. This is covered by the JR Pass.

Getting to Osaka by train

japan-shinkansen-train passing platform
Shinkansen

Osaka has excellent train connections from major cities across Japan.

Kyoto is a mere 12 minutes from Osaka. The Hikari shinkansen (bullet train) travels between either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station in central Tokyo and Shin-Osaka Station in just over three hours.

Two other trains run along this line: the Nozomi and Kodama. However, as Nozomi trains are not part of the National JR Group, they are not included in the Japan Rail Pass. The Kodoma makes more stops and takes longer to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Getting to Osaka by bus

Although not the fastest way to get around, travelling around Japan by bus is certainly the cheapest. Consider a Japan bus pass that can be used on long-distance buses on the network of Willer Express for three, five or seven days of your choice.

How to get around Osaka

Osaka’s modern and efficient subway system makes it easy to get around the city.

train on platform osaka subway

Tips for using the Osaka subway system

  • The price of a subway ticket is based on the distance travelled.
  • You will need to buy your ticket from a machine. Ticket machines don’t take cards but will give you change even in return for large notes (I fed the machine a 10,000 yen note with some trepidation!). Helpful assistants who speak a little English are usually on hand.
  • To make life easier, consider a day ticket. This costs less at the weekend.
  • IC cards are also accepted.
  • Keep hold of your ticket for the entire journey as you will need it to exit the station.
  • Use Google Maps to determine which station exit to take. There are sometimes multiple exits and it’s not always clear which one is best.
  • Avoid travel during rush hours
  • Train announcements are made in English and some trains also have LED route displays.

In addition to the city’s eight subway lines, there is also the JR Kanjo-sen, or Osaka Loop line. The good news is that this is free for JR Pass holders. The bad news is that it’s not very useful for sightseeing.  

osaka-metro-ticket-machine
Ticket machine, Osaka subway

Where to Eat in Osaka

One of the best reasons to visit Japan is to try its regional culinary specialities.

You can’t leave Osaka without feasting on okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake with vegetables (particularly cabbage), meat, or seafood, topped with a thick, sweet sauce, mayonnaise, aonori seaweed, and dried bonito flakes.

For excellent okonomiyaki,  hot off the grill in an atmospheric setting,  I highly recommend Yakizen on Hozenji Yokocho Street.

okonomiyaki-on skillet in osaka
Okonomiyaki

Why not experience the best of Osakan cuisine on a street food tour? You can book your place here.

Where to Stay in Osaka

To be right in the thick of things, I recommend staying in any of the neighbourhoods in Minama. You will have easy access to public transport and there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance of your accommodation, particularly important considerations for solo travellers.

Mid-range: Bridge Hotel, Shinsaibashi

I stayed at this 3* hotel just three minutes’ walk from Shinsaibashi Station. I loved its central location, free in-room beverages and friendly staff. 

double bed in hotel room with grey wall and curtains
fridge with canned drinks and bottles of water

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Budget: Deer Hostel

Located close to the Namba Yasaka Shrine, this highly-rated hostel offers 8-bed dormitory rooms and double rooms.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Splurge: HOTEL THE FLAG Shinsaibashi

This modern boutique hotel close to the bars and restaurants of Dotonburi has excellent reviews

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Is Osaka Safe for Solo Travellers?

Japan is one of the safest solo travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is a country that takes pride in its safety, uniformity and order, and has a very low crime rate.

Whilst you shouldn’t be complacent, you don’t have to be concerned about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries. If you use your common sense, watch your belongings, drink alcohol in moderation and share your itinerary with someone back home, your trip to Osaka should be trouble-free.

Safety as a solo traveller is a particular concern of women travelling alone. For first-time female solo travellers, Japan is one of the best countries to travel alone.

Whilst you are in Japan it is highly unlikely that you will be subjected to the catcalling experienced in other countries. However, women have been the recipients of unwelcome male attention when riding the subways.

Chikan, or public groping, has been a dark cloud hovering over Japan for many years. This has led to railway companies introducing designated women-only cars. In Osaka, the Midosuji subway line has cars reserved for women.


Have a wonderful day in Osaka!

Its rich history, buzzing nightlife and cultural scene are just a few of the many compelling reasons to visit this vibrant city.  But ultimately, it was Osaka’s sublime cuisine and the area around the Tombori River that won me over.

If you are visiting Japan for the first time, Osaka is an easier city to navigate than Tokyo, and with fewer crowds. It’s a perfect introduction to this seductive country.

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About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.