17 Best Things to Do in Osaka, Japan + A First Timer’s Guide (2024)

Woman wearing a denim jacket and mini purse holding a camera looking up at some of the neon signs and lanterns in Dotonbori, one of the most-visited attractions in Osaka, Japan. This was during night time, and some people are walking behind her.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, consider squeezing Osaka into your itinerary!

As Japan’s 3rd largest city, Osaka is a feast for all senses, with streets lined with food stalls, neon lights, and shopping centers.

Osaka is known as Japan’s Kitchen, with vendors selling mouthwatering regional cuisine like takoyaki on every corner. From tantalizing dishes to endless entertainment activities, you’ll be spoiled with endless things to do in Osaka!

Cecilio and I spent 11 nights in Japan, with 5 nights in Tokyo, 2 nights in Kyoto, and 4 nights in Osaka. We explored almost every nook and cranny of Dotonbori and Umeda, went to Nara to see the deer, and marveled over Osaka Castle and Osaka Aquarium (the largest aquarium in the world!).

Before we dive right into this guide, there will be a section dedicated to Dotonbori. I just feel like you could spend days in Dotonbori and find something new to do and eat, and it’s Osaka’s most iconic area after all!

I will also share tips on how to get to Osaka and where to stay!

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Things to do in Osaka

Stroll through Dotonbori

Dotonbori is the beating heart of Osaka. It’s the district that never sleeps with food stall cooks toiling away from sunrise to past midnight. You’ll see neon lights and crowds buzzing their way through at night.

1. Pay a visit to the Glico Running Man

If you’ve Googled photos of Osaka, chances are that you’ve seen billboards with the iconic sign of the Glico Running Man above the Ebisu Bridge over the Dotonbori canal. Hordes of tourists flock to the bridge to get a photo of him and mimic his pose.

I had Cecilio do the pose, but I didn’t want to do it because I was probably hangry, tired, and feeling self-conscious, haha.

The Glico Running Man sign was installed in 1935 as an advertisement for Glico (the company that sells Pocky). Throughout the decades, the sign has undergone different changes, with LED lights installed in 2014.

No one can really pinpoint who exactly he was modeled after. Some sources say that he is depicted as the late Fortunato Catalon, a track athlete from the Philippines.

2. Eat your weight in takoyaki

Strolling through Dotonbori, you’ll be greeted by quirky, life-sized octopus signs attached to buildings a few stories above you. These guys are an ode to the many food stalls dishing out delicious takoyaki, Osaka’s signature dish.

A large crowd in Dotonbori at night, the most popular and most-visited district in Osaka, Japan. Above them is a large red octupus sculpture holding a pan of takoyaki, a famous dish in Osaka which consists of deep-fried octopus balls. Below the octopus is some lettering in katakana, which says "takoyaki dotonbori kukuru konamon museum"

Takoyaki is a Japanese snack shaped like balls, cooked with wheat-based batter and cooked in a molded pan. Inside each ball, there are usually pieces of octopus (tako is octopus in Japanese). Along with the octopus, the batter might also contain green onions and pickled ginger for extra flavor. Yaki means grill, which is how the takoyaki is cooked.

After the takoyaki cooks to a golden brown, it gets brushed with a savory sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce. Then they are topped with mayonnaise along with green seaweed and bonito flakes. Some stalls order different flavors of takoyaki, including spicy variations!

Talk about all the umami flavors bursting in your mouth!

Man holding a boat of takoyaki in Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan. Takoyaki is a famous Osaka dish consisting of battered and grilled octopus balls with green onion, ginger, Japanese mayonnaise, and a Japanese variation of Worcestershire sauce

3. Shop at Don Quijote and take the Ebisu Ferris Wheel

Don’t leave Japan without shopping at Don Quijote at least once, for snacks, essentials, and gifts. Think of Don Quijote as Japan’s Target or Walmart. You can find almost everything you need there (especially snacks). They also have some Sanrio and Pokemon merchandise!

The Don Quijote on Dotonbori has 6 stories. But what makes this particular location unique is the Ferris wheel above the building, known as the Ebisu Tower. It is the only oval-shaped Ferris wheel in the world, with pods that seat up to 4 people. You can ride it anytime from 11 am to 11 pm (that’s 23:00) for 600 yen (roughly $4.04 USD).

Daytime photo of Dotonbori, the most popular and most visited district in Osaka, Japan. There is a downward ramp leading to the Dotonbori canal, where you can cruise. A man wearing blue is walking out of the ramp, while a few people are walking down the streets. There are a bunch of shops and restaurants in Dotonbori. Shown on the other side of the street is Don Quijote, a large discount shopping center all over Japan. The Don Quijote in Dotonbori also has a large yellow oval-shapped ferris wheel called the Ebisu Tower right above the shop.

4. Cruise down Dotonbori canal

Take a 20-minute boat ride down Dotonbori canal with the Tombori River Cruise to get views of Dotonbori from a different angle. It also makes for an easy, relaxing activity after endless walking (and trust you, you will constantly be walking A LOT in Japan). You’ll be able to see all the famous landmarks in Dotonbori such as the Glico Running Man, Don Quijote, Nipponbashi Bridge, quirky neon advertisements at night, and bustling waterfront eateries.

The cruise is an affordable adventure with pricing as follows:

  • 1,200 yen for adults
  • 800 yen for students (junior high and older)
  • 400 yen for elementary school students

Ticketing and boarding areas are located on the Tonbori River Walk, directly below the Don Quijote store. If you have or decide to purchase the Osaka Amazing Pass, you can use that to get admitted to the cruise.

You can use the Osaka Amazing Pass for admission to other cruises, museums, and Osaka’s most famous attractions. Access to public transportation is also included!

5. Try all the strawberry treats at Strawberry Mania stalls

One thing about the Japanese is that they love their strawberry treats, from the ichigo daifuku (mochi with a strawberry on top) to the glazed strawberries on a stick. Yup, Strawberry Mania is your one-stop shop for all your strawberry cravings, which includes the two mentioned above along with refreshing (and cute, or kawaii) strawberry ice cream, shortcakes, and jars.

It hits the spot for those who have a sweet tooth! I loved my strawberry soft-serve ice cream. I tried to come back a second time, but it was already closed during the evening!

You can find Strawberry Mania in Shinsaibashi Shopping Street, around the corner in Dotonbori. You’ll find a TON of other food stalls, convenience stores, and shops inside!

Woman holding a strawberry/vanilla swirl ice cream cone with an upside-down strawberry topped. She is standing in front of Strawberry Mania, a food stall in Osaka, Japan in the Shinsabashi Stropping Street. Strawberry Mania sells all sorts of strawberry desserts. Right next to her, there is a banner advertising the glazed strawberries on a stick and ichigo daifuku, which is strawberry on mochi. Right behind her are other people in line ordering treats.

6. Brunch at Hoshino Coffee

Start your morning off in Dotonbori with a scrumptious breakfast at Hoshino Coffee with some fluffy Japanese souffle pancakes and fresh coffee.

Hoshino Coffee is a large chain of coffee shapes located all over Japan and other countries like Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

If you can, try to get the bar-style seats by the window, so you can get gorgeous views of Dotonbori canal, Don Quijote, the Ebisu Ferris Wheel, and just plain old people-watching!

A stack of two tick souflee pancakes topped with butter and maple syrup. Right behind is a metal cup of iced coffee with the straw. At a distance is a window view of buildings in Dotonbori, one of the most popular and most visited districts in Osaka, Japan.

7. Thrift Shop at Bookoff

Thrift stores in Japan are another level of cool. Unlike the ones in the US, it’s not hard to find stylish clothes, as the locals are already very put-together. The only thing that would be difficult is being able to find clothes in your size! As someone who normally considers herself midsize, I would definitely be seen as plus size in Japan. Because of that, I never even bothered with clothes shopping! But I was still able to rent a kimono in Tokyo!

Bookoff is a popular chain thrift store all over Japan that not only sells clothing and accessories but also CDs, DVDs, video game consoles, toys, Pokemon cards, books, manga, and magazines. It’s also a perfect shop for tourists since you can go tax-free as long as you show your passport and spend over 5,000 yen ($33.80 USD).

If you’re lucky, they might have a Nintendo Switch. Cecilio was thinking of getting one either in Bookoff or BIC Camera, an electronics department store in Japan.

8. Visit Osaka Castle

It’s hard to imagine a large historical castle wedged between tall skyscrapers, but we are describing Osaka Castle right here! Built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (known as the “Napoleon of Japan”), Osaka Castle is filled with a rich and bloody history with severe damage from wars. As a result, the castle had to be reconstructed multiple times throughout the centuries, with the most recent one being in 1931.

Osaka Castle is surrounded by two moats and forts.

You don’t need to enter the tower to enjoy marvel at Osaka Castle. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it because the lines are super long. When Cecilio and I went, there was a guide holding a sign saying that the wait time was around 45 minutes. But then again, we went on a Saturday so that probably also accounted for the wait. I’ve also heard that it’s a bit underwhelming inside.

If you still want to go inside the tower, it is 600 yen for adults.

Instead, you can walk around the park surrounding the castle which is around 261 acres (106 hectares). The park and castle grounds are free. It’s a nice, chill area for picnics, strolling, and taking photos! You’d be surrounded by so many trees, plants, and greenery. With over 600 cherry trees, Osaka Castle is filled with visitors from all over the world during cherry blossom season in the spring to see the candy-coated pink blooms surrounding the tower.

Needles of pine trees taking up the foreground. Right above is Osaka Castle, one of the must-visit top attractions, and best things to do in Osaka. Osaka Castle has three irimoya style (hipped-gable) roofs, where they are triangle-shaped with a slope and gold on top. The castle is a cream color with muted teal lining and and some gold acccents.

9. Have fun at Universal Studios Japan

Tokyo has Disneyland, but Osaka has Universal Studios! This is more of a family-friendly place, but couples who are kids at heart will enjoy this amusement park. Are you into Harry Potter, Nintendo, Jurassic Park, or Minions? Then you will absolutely love Universal Studios.

To make the most of your time, download the Universal Studios Japan app. Through the app, you can timed entry tickets, check for wait times at different attractions, and use the map if you need help finding attractions and food.

Here’s the pricing for a 1-day pass to Universal Studios:

  • 8,600 yen for adults (ages 12 and over)
  • 5,600 yen for children (ages 4-11)
  • 7,700 yen for seniors (ages 65 and over)
A large red mushroom and Nintendo-themed buildings and outdoor decorations on a sunny day. This is the Nintendo themed section in Universal Studios Japan, one of the most family-friendly things to do in Osaka.
Photo Credit: AmeriCantaro stock.adobe.com

10. Ride the Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Ebisu Ferris Wheel in Dotonbori isn’t the only one in Osaka! Standing at 369′, the Tempozan Ferris Wheel is much larger, yet slightly smaller than the London Eye. It’s right next to the Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan Marketplace, an indoor shopping center with eateries and arcades.

Unlike the London Eye which gives you a 30-minute ride, the Tempozan Ferris Wheel only takes 15 minutes to spin. As you reach the top, you are treated to sweeping views of Osaka Bay and parts of Kobe and Nara.

General admission for one person is 900 yen, and it’s 450 yen for disabled individuals.

The Tempozan Ferris Wheel and Osaka Aquarium, right next to the Osaka Bay, on a sunny day.
Photo credit: liptoncnx stock.adobe.com

11. Walk through one of the largest aquariums in the world

Visiting the Osaka Aquarium is one of the most fun things to do in Osaka. At 286,000 square feet and 8 stories (and an escalator), it is one of the largest aquariums in the world! The Osaka Aquarium houses over 29,000 animals from 420 species.

When you first enter the aquarium from the ground floor, you will take the escalator to the 8th floor and first go through the Aqua Gate, which is a tunnel-like tank full of sea creatures. After you exit the Aqua Gate, you enter Japan Forest, which mimics the Japanese forests with greenery native to the country. Here, you will see Japanese wildlife such as Asian small-clawed otters, black-crowned night herons, and freshwater crabs,

In the aquarium, there are 16 exhibitions with a total of 27 tanks. These exhibitions are themed based on the different habitats around the Ring of Fire. For example, the Monterey Bay exhibition has the California sea lions and seals. The Antarctica exhibit houses gentoo and king penguins. Each exhibition is recreated as close to their respective region as possible, from the animals to the plants.

Walking through these exhibits is like one giant maze. It’ll take you about 2-3 hours to get through the aquarium.

The largest exhibition is the Pacific Ocean one, which has two whale sharks. They are the most popular animals in the aquarium. There are comfy seats right next to the tank to watch them swim.

There are set schedules for animals’ feeding times in the aquarium. We got to see some of the sea lions being fed!

Once you’re done, there is a gift shop and a cafe that serves hot dogs and “whale shark” ice cream floats with blue and white swirls. One side of the cafe has large windows that overlook Osaka Bay. Oh, and there’s a Starbucks inside the aquarium!

A dark silhouette of a woman sitting on a cushioned seat watching the fish in Osaka Aquarium.

12. See the Mermaid Statue gifted from the Port of Copenhagen

Almost everyone is familiar with The Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen, and how there are replicas of her all over the world. But what you may not know is that there is an eerily similar statue outside the Osaka Aquarium overlooking Osaka Bay. She looks exactly like the original one thousands of miles away in Denmark’s capital, down to the size.

That’s because the Mermaid Statue in Osaka was not only donated by Carlsberg (yes, the Danish beer company) in 1995 but it was also designed by Edvard Eriksen’s Heirs Partnership. Edvard Eriksen is the sculptor who designed the original mermaid in Copenhagen!

This donation from Carlsberg was part of an ongoing cultural exchange between the Port of Copenhagen and the Port of Osaka.

So if you’ve never seen the original one in person, Osaka’s mermaid is the next best thing. But if you aren’t stepping into Japan anytime soon and you live in North America, you can see the replica in Solvang or a modernized version in Vancouver.

A bronze teal statue of the Little Mermaid in Osaka, kneeling on the rock atop a shallow fountain, right next to Osaka Bay, on a sunny day with some clouds. This is an exact replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was gifted from the Port of Copenhagen to the Port of Osaka

13. Shop at the Pokemon Center

If you grew up watching Pokemon in the 90s and 2000s…you’re in for a treat! The Pokemon Center in Daimaru Umeda, a department store right next to the Osaka Station, has gifts, toys, snacks, and souvenirs dedicated to the 300+ “pocket monsters” we all knew and loved!

There are rows and rows of plushies that will make your head spin, as you try to figure out which one you want to take home, and where your favorite ones are (spoiler alert: not all of them are gonna be there).

Then there is a section dedicated to just Pikachu plushies with different facial expressions. If you bought only one thing, let it be a Pikachu plushie!

2 shelves full of Pikachu stuffed animals at the Pokemon Center in Osaka. Pikachu is a character in Pokemon that resembles a mouse but is yellow with pointy ears with black on the tip, red cheeks, and a thunder-shaped tail. Above the stuffed animals, there's a sign that says Pokemon Center right next to a red and white ball, called the Pokeball.
Shelves full of stuffed animals based on the creatures of Pokemon, the popular Japanese cartoon. These are in the Pokemon Center, a store with all Pokemon merchandise in Osaka, Japan.

14. Catch views from Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building is a must-visit landmark in Osaka, offering breathtaking views of Osaka’s cityscape from its rooftop observatory on the 40th floor. Technically, Umeda Sky is two buildings connected by a glass bridge.

On the 39th and 40th floors, you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants where you can enjoy shopping or grab a bite to eat with a view. You can grab some coffee at cafe SKY 40 on the rooftop, or taste one of their sips from their extensive beer menu.

Or you can grab some cocktails at Sky Lounge Stardust or Cantonese cuisine at Chinese Restaurant Sangu, both of which are on the 39th floor.

Admission prices to the Umeda Sky Building are listed below:

  • 1,500 yen for adults ages 13 and up (750 yen for disabled adults)
  • 700 yen for children ages 4-12 (350 yen for disabled children)

If you’re using the Osaka Amazing Pass, you’re in for a treat! You can gain admission into the Umeda Sky Building for free from 9:30 am to 4 pm. But if you decide to visit from 4 pm to 10 pm, you’ll get a 30% discount with the pass.

Escalator in Umeda Sky Bulding in Osaka, Japan, leading to to the rooftop. The escalator's windows and walls are a tunnel shape.
Photo credit: Senstock.adobe.com

15. Get pampered at a super sento

You can go to any onsen or sento (public bathhouse) in Japan, at any time. But consider going to a super sento: think of it like a Japanese waterpark!

One of the most popular super sentos in Osaka is Spa World, located right behind Don Quijote in Dotonbori. Spa World has themed baths based on different spa/bath cultures around the world, and some of them are separated by gender on different floors.

For example, the men’s section is on the 4th floor, with European-themed spas. There is a spa based on Capri’s Blue Grotto in Italy, with dim blue lighting, transporting you to a cave-like scenery. You’ll also find Ancient Greek and Roman baths. There is even a Finnish-themed spa!

The women’s section is on the 6th floor with Asian-themed spas like the classic onsen, Turkish hammam, and a Bali bath.

There is also an indoor water park with slides and swimming pools for children.

Cecilio and I went to Naniwa No Yu, which is pretty far from the center of Osaka. It’s more deep in the residential center in a commercial building with pachinko (Japanese casino slots). Very unassuming, but based on the photos, the baths were stunning.

We didn’t get to go bathe because we were running late, and barely made it in time for our 9 pm massage. Although Naniwa No Yu opens until 1 am, we could’ve bathed after our massage (we didn’t have oil on our bodies). But the trains stopped running past midnight and we didn’t want to be stuck there.

Next time, I really want to go to Spa World and I recommend you give it a shot too, since it’s right in the heart of Dotonbori!

16. Go on a food tour

Osaka is Japan’s Kitchen after all, so why not dive into the culture through the local cuisine? Going on a food tour is one of the most obvious things to do in Osaka, and don’t you dare use “being tired” as an excuse. You can sleep when you go home.

Even though Cecilio and I ate amazing food all over Japan and went on a food tour in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, I regret not going on one in Osaka. As the hours went on throughout the day, our feet would ache from walking and our eyes would get heavy. If I could go back, I would’ve tried to push through the fatigue to go on a food tour.

Here are a few popular food tours in Osaka I recommend you check out:

17. Shop at Hanshin Umeda Department Store

Aside from Daimaru, another great place to go shopping in Osaka is at Hanshin Umeda Department Store. It reminds me of Macy’s here in the US with a variety of brands selling high-quality items for a reasonable price like clothes, home decor, gifts, beauty products, and more.

There is a food hall in the basement that sells premade bento boxes, picked vegetables, desserts, sushi, and pastries.

If you’re a baseball fan, head to the Hanshin Tigers Shop on the 8th floor. The store sells merchandise dedicated all things to the baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, who are based in Hyōgo (located an hour and a half away from Osaka).

The Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series in 2023 (which is similar to the World Series in the US), so they were pretty much a big deal when we went to the store. It was crowded as people were trying to get their hands on all the merch. Cecilio was able to get a baseball cap!

merchandise of the Japanese baseball team Hanshin Tigers wrapped in plastic. Right above on a wall features 4 jerseys on sale dedicated to different players, with signage that says Hanshin Tigers. This is the Hanshin Tigers store at the Hanshin Umeda Department in Osaka, Japan.
Man wearing a denim jacket and khaki shorts, crossing his arms right next to a life-sized cutout of a baseball player from the Hanshin Tigers, holding a bat, located at the Hanshin Umeda Department Store in Osaka, Japan.

How to Get to Osaka

By Airports

By Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Wherever you come from, if you take the Shinkansen to Osaka, you will arrive at the Shin-Osaka Station.

From Kyoto via train

Kyoto is the closest large city to Osaka (other than Kobe), and you don’t need to take the Shinkansen. Cecilio and I didn’t. There are two train routes from Kyoto to Osaka that don’t require the Shinkansen:

  • Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station (23 minutes long)
  • Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station to Osaka-Umeda Station (43 minutes long)

Where to Stay in Osaka

Cecilio and I stayed in Hanakaze-no-yu Onyado Nono Namba, a 4-star hotel 5 minutes away from Dotonbori. It is a part of Dormy Inn, a chain of hotels all over Japan (and one in South Korea).

During our 11-day itinerary in Japan, this was our best stay. The lobby was large and airy with bright, warm lights. You needed to take your shoes off before walking into the lobby, and there was a locker where you had to store them. So you couldn’t bring your shoes into your room. The room was so spacious with the comfiest, most plush bed we slept in during our trip. We also had a more luxurious bathroom.

The dining area offered complimentary breakfast and midnight ramen, both of which were okay, but not the greatest.

The highlight of this hotel was the onsen! The onsens are separated by gender. It felt amazing to take a soak after long days of walking. Once you’re done, there’s a freezer outside with fruity popsicles for you to treat yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Osaka best known for?

Osaka is known as Japan’s Kitchen, for its robust street food scene with regional dishes like takoyaki (grilled and battered balls with octopus, green onions, and ginger), and okonomiyaki (battered savory pancakes with meat, seafood, and cabbage).
Osaka also has some major attractions like Universal Studios, Dotonbori, Umeda Sky, and Osaka Aquarium.

Are there more things to do in Osaka or Tokyo?

There are way, way more things to do in Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be bored in Osaka! Quite the opposite, actually. Osaka has a TON of shopping and nightlife like Tokyo, observatories, family-friendly entertainment (like Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios), and of course, food.

How many days in Osaka is enough?

Cecilio and I stayed in Osaka for 4 nights including a day trip to Nara. I recommend staying in Osaka for at least 3-4 nights, especially because you can take day trips to other cities like Nara, Kyoto (although I recommend staying overnight there), Kobe, Kinosaki, and Hiroshima. But if you plan to spend less time than that, stay near Dotonbori.

Hot tip: If you are taking a day trip to Osaka from Kyoto, check out these amazing ryokans with private onsens in Kyoto where you can rest your head!

Wrapping it Up: Best Things to Do in Osaka

If this guide isn’t a sign to book a trip to Osaka as a part of your Japan itinerary, then I don’t know what is 😉

In some ways, Osaka has a similar vibe to Tokyo (especially with the bright lights and density of crowds), but grittier and rawer.

If Tokyo is the quiet, successful, and stylish salaryman, then Osaka is the outgoing younger brother who is always down to party, eat, and show his friends around for a good time. He is laid back doesn’t take himself seriously, and takes a c’est la vie approach to life.

If food, shopping, and family-friendly activities make your heart sing, then you’re going to have a fabulous time in Osaka!

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Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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