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, with a bit of planning, 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 one-day Osaka itinerary to help you plan your time there.
If you have more than one day in Osaka, I have suggested additional attractions and recommendations for day trips from the city. This article 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.
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Osaka’s Historical Roots
The merchant city of Osaka has been a key port since the beginning of Japan’s recorded history.
Originally called Naniwa, Osaka rose to prominence in the 16th Century when the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the site for his castle following the unification of Japan. Although the seat of power was transferred to Edo (modern Tokyo) in the early 17th century, Osaka continued to prosper as Japan’s largest distribution centre for rice, earning it the nickname ‘Japan’s Kitchen.’
Today, Osaka is the business hub of western Japan and one of Japan’s great manufacturing centres.
Central Osaka divided along a north-south axis into and Minami (south). The dividing line is the city’s two rivers: Tosaborigawa River and Dojimagawa River.
The focal point of Minami is Namba, which includes Dotonbori with its restaurant scene and amusement facilities, and Shinsaibashi, which is the centre of Osaka’s youth culture.
Southeast of Minami is Tennoji, the area around JR Tennoji Station, Abeno and Tennoji subway stations and Kintetsu rail lines. Places to visit in this area of Osaka include the Shitennoji temple. Tennōji Park and Zoo and the Tsūtenkaku Tower.
Kita is the newer area of the city and includes JR Osaka Station and Umeda Station, which serve several city and private railways.
Best Time to Visit Osaka
Thanks to its temperate climate, you can visit Osaka year-round. I visited in March when sightseeing conditions were perfect and prices were moderate.
Visit in April or May for temperate weather and to welcome the cherry blossom.
October and November are also blessed with perfect sightseeing temperatures.
The summer months are hotter and wetter. Japan’s typhoon season runs from May to October each year, peaking in August and September. However, as few of these typhoons make it as far as Japan’s main islands – Okinawa bears the brunt of these – there is no need to avoid travel during these months.
Osaka is one of the best places in Japan to witness the autumn foliage with its kaleidoscopic array of dazzling colours, from the deep russet of the city’s maple trees through to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows.
For the best chance of seeing the fall foliage in its full glory, visit Osaka from late November to early December. As with sakura, the timing is a bit of a gamble, but if you are able to book your trip to Osaka closer to the time of departure, check out the fall foliage forecasts.
How to get to Osaka
You have three choices of how to get to Osaka: by air, train or bus.
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
Osaka has excellent train connections from major cities across Japan.
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.
Kyoto is a mere 12 minutes from Osaka on the shinkansen.
It is considerably cheaper to buy your JR Pass before leaving home.
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 which can be used on long-distance buses on the network of Willer Express on 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.
Tip for using the Osaka subway system
- The price of a subway ticket is based upon 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.
- 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.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Osaka in One Day
1-Day Osaka Itinerary
This 1-day Osaka itinerary starts in the Namba district, takes in 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 three separate walks linked by subway rides.
MORNING: NAMBA YASAKA SHRINE & OSAKA RIVERSIDE WALK
Start your day in Osaka at the Namba Yasaka Shrine.
Whilst you won’t find this shrine in many guidebooks, it’s the perfect place to start exploring the city as it ably represents Osaka in a microcosm. Like the city itself, it combines a deep traditionalism with a twist of Las Vegas.
Located in the heart of Namba, Osaka’s lively entertainment district, the shrine is home to the area’s guardian deity and is known for its lion’s head enclosing an entrance stage. Standing 12 meters high, this delightfully gaudy and retro stage was built in the 1970s, and the lion’s mouth is said to gobble up evil spirits and bring good luck.
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.
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.
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.
This is not the original late 16th-century castle, built by General Toyotomi Hideyoshi to demonstrate his power after successfully unifying Japan after 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.
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.
Japan’s oldest official temple, Shitennoji was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who played a leading role in introducing Japan to Buddhism.
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 THROUGH MINAMI
Take an evening walk in Minami to round off your day in Osaka.
Comprising the neighbourhoods of Namba, Dotombori, Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura, Minami is best explored after dusk to experience this area’s 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.
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.
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.
This takes you onto the main Dotombori strip, home to a multitude of restaurants and fast food joints, signposted with outlandish plastic food models.
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.
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.
And 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 one day 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 which 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.
Day trips from Osaka
Thanks to its excellent rail connections, Osaka also makes a great base for day trips to neighbouring cities. Here are a few suggestions.
Sublime Kyoto, Japan’s cultural and historical heart, is an easy day trip from Osaka.
Famed for its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, bamboo forest, Zen gardens, and, of course, geishas, Kyoto is somewhere that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
In my view, it is difficult to do Kyoto justice on a day trip and you need at least three or four nights to appreciate the city. However, if time is limited and you want a taster of the city, visiting Kyoto as a day trip from Osaka is worth considering.
Although Osaka has better train connections, Kyoto is also a good base to explore this region. I used Kyoto as a base on my first trip to Japan, visiting Nara and Hiroshima as day trips.
How to get from Osaka to Kyoto
Catch a direct train to Kyoto from Shin-Osaka station. Trains are frequent and the journey time is 12 – 14 minutes. Slower trains (29 minutes) leave from Osaka station.
For a chance to visit Japan’s most magnificent surviving feudal castle, and another UNESCO World Heritage Site, take a day trip from Osaka to Himeji.
Himeji is also an excellent place to taste different varieties of sake!
How to get from Osaka to Himeji
Direct trains from Osaka station to Himeji take around just over an hour. Faster trains from Shin-Osaka will take you to Himeji in just under 45 minutes.
The site of Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara is stuffed full of historic treasures and is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and some of Japan’s oldest temples.
Its most famous residents are the friendly Sika deer that roam freely in the gorgeous Nara Park.
How to get from Osaka to Nara
Frequent direct trains from Osaka station to Nara take around 50 minutes.
Hiroshima & Miyajima
For a more sombre day trip from Osaka, visit Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first atomic bomb. Marking the site where the bomb was dropped, the city’s Memorial Park is a profoundly moving place to walk around, a reminder of what happened but also a celebration of peace.
Extend your day trip by visiting Miyajima, a small island less than an hour from Hiroshima, which is famous for its giant torii gate, which appears to float on the water at high tide.
How to get from Osaka to Hiroshima & Miyajima
Frequent direct trains from Osaka station to Hiroshima take 85 minutes.
Trains depart from Hiroshima Station every 15 minutes for the 26-minute ride to Miyajimaguchi (JR Sanyo line), from where you catch the ferry bound for Miyajima (you can ride on the JR Ferry for free with the Japan Rail Pass).
The ferry takes 10 minutes to reach Miyajima.
For an opportunity to visit Kenroku-en, one of the country’s top three gardens, and to eat an ice cream sprinkled with gold flakes spend the day in Kanazawa, Japan’s samurai town.
This jewel of a city is also home to three well-preserved Edo-period Chaya Districts, several attractive temples and a handful of first-rate museums.
How to get from Osaka to Kanazawa
The frequent JR Thunderbird limited express travels between Osaka and Kanazawa in just over two hours.
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.
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.
Where to eat in Osaka
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.
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 distances of your accommodation, particularly important considerations for solo travellers.
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.
Here are some alternative accommodation options that I have found in Osaka that may suit other budgets
Honeycomb Hostel – Located close to the Namba Yasaka Shrine, this highly-rated hostel offers 8-bed dormitory rooms and double rooms.
HOTEL THE FLAG Shinsaibashi – this modern boutique hotel close to the bars and restaurants of Dotonburi has excellent reviews
Japan: Suggested Reading
Do you want to learn a little bit more about Japan? Here’s my pick of books to read either before travelling to Japan or whilst you are there.
One of my favourite books ever, Hiromi Kawakami’s gentle novel sets three national obsessions – dining out at izakaya, hanami (flower viewing) parties during cherry blossom season and discussing baseball – against the growing relationship between a thirtysomething woman and a much older man. The literary equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket.
There had to be at least one Murakami book on this list and this is my current favourite. In this tale of love, friendship, and loss, the main protagonist tries to make sense of being abandoned by his closest friends. Unforgettable and heartbreaking.
Ever since reading The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has been one of my favourite authors. This excellent novel set in post-war Japan features an artist who uses his skills promote the military government’s imperialist ambitions
Packing a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Japan, and explore the country whilst you are there, is a wise move. I can recommend the Rough Guide, which includes a free e-book that you can load onto your phone for information on the go.
- Detailed regional coverage
- Full-colour maps and photos throughout
- Recommendations for where to stay and where to eat
- Includes valuable contextual information
- Includes FREE e-book for ultimate portability
Why You Should Visit Osaka
Osaka’s important history and its buzzing nightlife and cultural scene are just a few of many compelling reasons to visit this vibrant city. But ultimately, it was its sublime cuisine and the area around the Tombori River that won me over.
Finally, if you are visiting Japan for the first time, Osaka is an easier city to navigate than Tokyo, and with fewer crowds. A perfect introduction to this seductive country.