Osaka is Tokyo’s fun-loving younger brother (although it’s now Japan’s third-largest city after Yokohama), with a taste for hearty street food and an easy-going swagger. In the 7th century, it served as Japan’s capital, its port trading heavily with Korea and China. Now a city of neon-signed tower blocks, it has kept its commercial edge. Decades of supporting a hungry workforce have nurtured Japan’s biggest food scene. Here, according to the locals, it’s possible to kuidaore (eat yourself bankrupt).
Namba, downtown Osaka, is where many local people head each evening, to peruse the rows of glass-walled malls and restaurants. Most eateries are along Daikokubashi, the city’s liveliest entertainment street. The road straddles the Dotonbori-gawa Canal, its neon signs and animated adverts reflected in the still water. You don’t need a grasp of Japanese to work out what each restaurant is serving — most are bedecked with a giant plastic recreation of their forte above the doorway.
Kushikatsu, one of Osaka’s many culinary specialties, is a signature of the nearby district of Shinsekai. Pork, chicken, seafood, mushrooms or vegetables (particularly asparagus) are skewered, seasoned and deep fried then usually dipped in tonkatsu (barbecue-style) sauce. A traditional street food, you can graze on kushikatsu as you wander past pinball parlous, shooting galleries and tiny cinemas.
In the early 20th century, Shinsekai was a symbol of modern Japan. Its futuristic amusement arcades and architecture include the Tsutenkaku Tower, modeled on the Eiffel Tower (although it looks more along the lines of air traffic control).
Dominating the heart of the city is the handsomely restored Osaka Castle, which sits on a little island of green among the angular, gray cityscape. Built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a feudal warlord, it played a key role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century.
The five-story building has undergone numerous reincarnations over the centuries, the most recent — and, hopefully, permanent — in 1931 (with a major refurbishment in 1997). Head up to the top floor for views across the citadel and city beyond.
As well as visiting the castle, you can explore the gates, turrets and chunky stone walls of the surrounding park. The best view of the castle is from Nishinomaru Garden, a lawn dotted with 600 cherry trees. In among their trunks, you’ll find a traditional wooden teahouse (aptly for Osaka, it was donated by the founder of Panasonic) and a shrine dedicated to the feudal warlord Hideyoshi.
Osaka’s residents are equally as proud of their historic baseball stadium as they are their castle. Built in 1924, Hanshin Koshien is Japan’s oldest baseball ground and home to the Hanshin Tigers. Professional baseball has been gaining traction in Japan for a long time and is now vying with sumo wrestling as the national sport. Games have a family-friendly, festival feel — we recommend buying tickets well in advance.
Best time to visit Osaka
Due to Osaka’s coastal location, its weather is relatively temperate year-round. The best times to go tend to be from October to November and March through to May, when the skies are generally clear.
June to August can be hot and humid, but the coastal breeze makes it more bearable than in the rest of Japan. If you’re comfortable with cold temperatures, December and January are quiet months to travel, although most businesses close for a few days over Shogatsu (New Year).
Suggested itineraries featuring Osaka
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Osaka, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
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Map of Osaka
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Places near Osaka
- Nara 27 kilometers away
- Kyoto 42 kilometers away
- Mount Koya 58 kilometers away
- Tokushima 112 kilometers away
- Kinosaki Onsen 121 kilometers away
- Takamatsu 140 kilometers away
- Naoshima 142 kilometers away
- Tottori 146 kilometers away
- Iya Valley 160 kilometers away
- Kurashiki 172 kilometers away
- Shikoku 209 kilometers away
- Tsumago 214 kilometers away
- Shirakawago 216 kilometers away
- Takayama 225 kilometers away
- Kanazawa 232 kilometers away
- Matsue 238 kilometers away
- Kamikochi 264 kilometers away
- Matsuyama 270 kilometers away
- Tateyama 272 kilometers away
- Matsumoto 281 kilometers away
- Hiroshima 282 kilometers away
- Miyajima Island 297 kilometers away
- The Japanese Alps 302 kilometers away
- Hakuba 307 kilometers away
- Izu Peninsula 317 kilometers away
- Hakone & Mount Fuji 326 kilometers away
- Yudanaka 348 kilometers away
- Noto Peninsula 352 kilometers away
- Kamakura 376 kilometers away
- Tokyo 403 kilometers away
- Beppu 403 kilometers away
- Yufuin 413 kilometers away
- Nikko 441 kilometers away
- Kurokawa 442 kilometers away
- Kyushu 455 kilometers away
- Aso 459 kilometers away