Osaka is often considered the second (or third) city in Japan. It is often overlooked in favor of Tokyo, but in many aspects, the Kansai capital delivers what the Kanto capital does not. For example, popular Neighborhoods in Osaka, like Namba and Shinsekai, offer a grittier, brighter and more retro atmosphere than Tokyo—ideal for photographers and night owls.
The largest city in Kansai, the vibe in Osaka is considered more cheerful and relaxed compared to Tokyo. To get a well-rounded experience of this colorful city, we’ve curated 10 of Osaka’s best things to do.
Of course, this is just the beginning of what Osaka has to offer. If you’re seeking even more activities to explore in Osaka, check out our selection of 25 recommended Osaka picks.”
1. Eat Takoyaki
Osaka has no shortage of tasty specialties, but perhaps the most important is takoyaki. Fried octopus balls may at first sound unappetizing to those unfamiliar with the concept, but takoyaki is truly delicious and very cheap.
Made with a flour and egg batter filled with octopus pieces, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion, these golf ball-sized snacks are fried to a golden brown and topped with mayonnaise and a special takoyaki sauce. They are usually served at special stands, many of which have large octopus decorations outside them. Be careful that they are molten hot when you receive them, so wait for them to cool down before you take a bite!
Here are a few recommended shops where you can get excellent takoyaki in Osaka:
2. Stroll Dotonbori Canal
The neon lights and illuminated signboards alongside the Dotonbori Canal frame one of the most iconic spots in Osaka. After dark, the area is awash in neon light, but the daylight does not diminish its colorful and vibrant atmosphere. Dotonbori is a busy shopping area and remains one of Osaka’s most popular food districts, with some restaurants open 24 hours.
Despite its futuristic feel, Dotonbori has been a popular entertainment district for about 400 years. The canal’s construction began in 1612 by canal administrator Nariyasu Doton. After he died in the Siege of Osaka, the new lord of Osaka Castle named the canal “Dotonbori,” bori meaning “canal.”
3. Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle is an integral part of Osaka’s history. Its striking appearance includes glimmering gold ornamentation with tiger imagery, and it is a particularly excellent spot to visit in the spring when the castle park is in full bloom back to back, with plum blossoms in February and cherry blossoms at the end of March.
The original castle was constructed in 1583 under Toyotomi Hideyoshi but was destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times within the following century. The current Osaka castle is a reconstruction dating to 1931 that underwent major renovations in 1997. Its ferroconcrete structure makes it much sturdier than the original wooden castles of Japan, so this version is built to last.
4. Namba Yasaka Jinja
This small shrine’s unique appearance is unlike any other shrine in Japan. The exterior of its stage is shaped like a massive lion’s head, with the stage located in the lion’s open mouth, and it has a traditional and retro look. Namba Yasaka Jinja is home to Namba’s guardian deity.
At 12 meters tall and seven meters deep, the stage is believed to swallow evil spirits and leave only good luck. It is a short walk from the busier areas of the neighborhood, offering a quiet refuge from the chaos of Namba.
5. Watch a Bunraku Performance
Bunraku, a traditional puppet theater from Osaka’s early Edo period (1603–1868), features large half-life-size puppets operated by three puppeteers. A single narrator handles the story and voice acting. Once popular with Japan’s common class, it’s now a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
To experience this unique art form, visit Osaka’s National Bunraku Theatre. It offers English programs and headsets for foreign tourists.
The most iconic photo spot in Osaka is in this retro neighborhood. Shinsekai, meaning “new world,” was developed in 1912 as a futuristic neighborhood. After decades of neglect, it has been revitalized. It transforms into an 80s dystopian world at night, adorned with neon lights from Tsutenkaku Tower and vibrant lanterns for a campy, nostalgic atmosphere.
Along with its iconic view, Shinsekai is also well-known for its kushikatsu, an Osaka specialty of deep-fried skewers. Since many restaurants are open 24 hours, this neighborhood is always awake.
7. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and Tempozan Ferris Wheel
Osaka Aquarium, or the Kaiyukan as it is known, was the largest public aquarium in the world when it opened and remains one of Japan’s most remarkable aquariums. The visitor path starts on the 8th floor and passes by about a dozen tanks, all revolving around a central tank home to a whale shark.
This route allows visitors to slowly descend to the bottom of the central tank and view the marine creatures from different depths. Right next to the aquarium is the Tempozan Ferris Wheel. At 112 meters tall, it offers an excellent view of Osaka Bay.
8. Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park
If you’re looking for a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of Namba and Umeda, consider Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park. The park sprawls over 300 acres and hosted the 1990 International Garden and Greenery Exhibition. Throughout the park, you’ll discover structures representing different countries.
Highlights include Japan’s largest greenhouse, a charming Dutch-style windmill surrounded by seasonal flowers, a peaceful lake, three barbecue areas, and a tearoom alongside a traditional Japanese garden.
9. Umeda Sky Building
If you want a spectacular bird’s eye view of Osaka, Umeda Sky Building is the place to go. At the top of the Umeda Sky Building is the Kushu Teien Observatory. It offers a 360-degree view of Osaka and its surroundings atop the building’s 170 meters. A pair of futuristic escalators lead up to the observatory, which makes the ride up feel like ascending to the heavens.
Though the observatory’s open-air space is exhilarating, the winds can be strong, so visitors must secure their hats and umbrellas before stepping out onto the observatory. When you’re there, see if you can find Osaka Castle within the vast cityscape.
10. Universal Studios Japan
Despite resting on the waterfront near Osaka’s center, Universal Studios Japan creates its own fantasy realm. It’s Japan’s second most popular theme park after Tokyo Disney Resort.
Currently, the park is divided into ten sections, with crowd favorites including Jurassic Park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Super Nintendo World. USJ boasts an array of rides and games, along with themed shops, cafes, restaurants, and numerous chances to snap photos with beloved characters such as Hello Kitty and Snoopy.