Osaka is one of Japan’s most ancient settlements, dating back more than 2,500 years. It is brimming with history and culture to a degree almost unparalleled by the rest of Japan. Strangely, though, the city tends to be forgotten among those traversing the country by rail, with Tokyo and Kyoto taking the lion’s share of the tourists.
Despite this, the city is well worth the visit, especially if you’re a culture vulture and history buff. Let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll want to see and do during your stay.
Where to stay
First thing’s first: where should you stay during your stop (if you’re staying overnight in the city)?
If you’re on a budget and want a location near to Umeda Station, then the budget Ibis Osaka is the hotel for you. All hotel rooms are carpeted (always a nice touch), and have TVs, comfortable beds and ensuite bathrooms. There’s nothing fancy or exciting about the Ibis, but it’s the perfect base from which to explore the city, and is just a 10-minute walk from the famous Osaka castle.
For those wanting something a little more premium, then you might want to check out Hotel The Flag. This hotel sits just 500 meters from the Dotonburi River and the Ebisu Tower Ferriss Wheel, and only 600 meters from America Village shopping district. It’s a little further from popular train stations in the city, but not too far as to make it inaccessible. The hotel serves a traditional buffet breakfast, and some rooms even have a bathtub – a rare luxury.
If you’re looking for somewhere ultra-premium, then you’ll want to pay a visit to the Conrad Osaka. The Conrad Hotel resides in a giant, glass, and steel tower and provides penthouses overlooking the rest of the city. The indoor pool high above street level is nothing short of magical, again with stunning views of the surrounding cityscape. Expect to pay more than $500 per night.
What to see and do during your stay
The next thing is to figure out what you’ll do during your stay (assuming you’re visiting for pleasure, not work). Let’s take a look.
Head over to the Dotonbori Arcade
The great thing about the Dotonbori Arcade is that it is not geared towards tourists in the slightest. It’s just about as close as you can get to an authentic Japanese experience.
The Arcade is brimming with a variety of places to eat. You can try gyoza, teppanyaki, shabu-shabu and a variety of other delectable, local meals. There are snacks galore here too, and if you look hard enough, you can often find things that you’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s an excellent venue for people who are tired with standard fare.
Do you need a food guide? Well, you can get one. The Osaka Local Foodie Tour takes you around Dotonburi and Shinsekai and includes eight different Osaka specialties. The tour takes three hours, and you’ll explore hidden streets and temples while experience food with a genuine local.
Visit the covered Kuromon Market
If you arrive at Namba Station, you might want to head over to Kuromon Market. The market is yet another fabulous place to experience the food of the city and find out what makes Osaka different from other areas of Japan.
Make sure that you try the matcha ice cream with mochi and beans, grilled onigiri with tuna, and daifuku with strawberries. Just be aware that sometimes the seafood can be a little overpriced, so you may want to avoid this.
Check out Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle is arguably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city, attracting thousands of people to its gates every year. The castle is visually stunning, sitting atop a man-made knoll, surrounded by a retaining wall.
Osakans built the original castle in 1583 but what you see today is a 1930s reconstruction of the original. The castle stands like a mightly shining object, thanks to its brilliant white finish.
Getting to it is easy. Arrive at Osaka Station and then take the JR Loop Line to Osakajokoen Station. The castle is close by.
Getting into the castle is relatively cheap too. Prices are around 600 yen to go inside and 200 yen for the gardens. The venue opens daily between 9 am and 5 pm.
Aside from having a great name, the Shitennoji Temple is a Buddhist monument which dates back to the sixth century AD. What you see today isn’t the original. The temple at Shitennoji has burned down several times during its history. Instead, it’s a faithful reconstruction of the original design.
The Shitennoji temple is close to the Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the city’s Tanimachi Subway Line. If you want to stay on the Loop Line and don’t want to change, then get off at JR Tennoji Station and follow the signs. It’s about a ten-minute walk.
The Gokuraku-Jodo Garden
If you’re in the Shitennoji temple area, it’s worth paying a visit to the nearby Gokuraku-Jodo Garden. Designers created the garden to reflect descriptions of Western Paradise by Amida Buddha. During your visit, be sure to visit the treasure house which contains paintings, scriptures and other historical artifacts.
Universal Studios, Japan
History and culture might be fascinating to many people, but if you’d prefer a modern experience, then head over to Universal Studios Japan.
Universal Studios is one of the country’s premium amusement parks and chock full of attractions and rides.
Entry fees aren’t excessive, but they can be a little steep for some. Prices range between 5,100 yen and 7,600 yen, depending on the time of day and whether you qualify as a concession or not.
If you want to get there from Osaka Sation, it’s easy. Just hop on the JR Sakurajima Line (sometimes called the JR Yumesaki Line) and follow it to Universal City Station.
The theme park opens its doors at 9 am and closes at 7 pm.