Although this vibrant city is mostly known for its foodie paradise and night life at Dotonbori, there are really a lot more things to do and places to explore in Osaka. The list below is my selections of places to visit that will help you discover the rich history and culture of the city, as well as a few exciting attractions that will make your visit the most memorable ever.
Most Recognizable Symbol of the City
A trip to the Osaka Castle is one of the best things to do while visiting the city. Not only is the castle a major landmark of Japan, but it also offers a spectacular view of the city from the observation deck at the top. There are several levels of galleries and exhibits which feature the history of the castle. Many historical artifacts, armory and weaponry are also on display.
You can enjoy the view of this iconic symbol of Osaka from the Osaka Castle Park. The park is also a popular destination during the cherry blossom season in April. Admissions to the castle requires an admission fee. Please visit their website for details.
Umeda Sky Building
Osaka’s Iconic Building
The Umeda Sky Building is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Osaka and you can see it from various parts of the city. For the most part it is an office building located near the Osaka/Umeda train stations.
The interesting part is that the building consists of two separate towers that are joined by a pair of stunning escalators that lead to a spectacular observation deck called the “Floating Garden Observatory”. At night, the building and the garden are gorgeous, while the view of the city from high above is enchanting. It costs 1,500 yen just to go up there, but I think it is absolutely worth it.
Kaiyukan is one of the most spectacular aquariums not only in Osaka, but probably in all of Japan. The aquarium focuses on marine life in the Pacific Ocean. It features over a dozen huge and dynamic tanks that simulate some of the natural habitats of exotic fishes and marine animals. One of the centerpieces is an almost 5,500-ton tank which serves as the home to the whale sharks.
Another highlight of Kaiyukan is the Antarctica exhibit which features layers of ice and flocks of penguins. This area is always a children’s favorite. The Great Barrier Reef and Monterey Bay are my two other favorites. There are about 15 major areas so plan to spend most of the day there.
Renowned Shrine in Gorgeous Grounds
Sumiyoshi Taisha, the head shrine of all Sumiyoshi Shrines in Japan, is one of the country’s oldest and most renowned Shinto shrines. The entire ground is gorgeous with landscapes that exude a feeling of peace and serenity. There are a total of four worship halls, called sanctuaries. As you enter the main ground, you will cross over the iconic Sorihashi Bridge and approach the third and fourth sanctuaries.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is located in South Osaka, so if you are in the Osaka/Umeda station area, you’ll need to first get to Namba Station. From Namba Station take the Nankai local line (not the express) to Sumiyoshi Taisha station.
Osaka’s Cultural Dining Destination
You don’t need to be a foodie to enjoy Osaka’s most vibrant and lively dining district. But if you are seeking the most adventurous street foods and cultural dining experience, Dotonbori is like paradise to you.
Takoyaki (octopus balls) is one of the most popular street foods, as well as many variations of skewers and gyozas (fried potstickers). At night, this place is bustling with crowds of locals and tourists alike seeking out yummy destinations amidst a maze of bright lights and neon signs. It is a sight to behold, and a scene that you cannot experience anywhere else in the World.
Shinsaibashi Suji is Osaka’s famous shopping street which is an enclosed arcade. The path is strictly linear and there are separate shopping streets connected to it. The entire stretch is about a mile long This shopper’s paradise is to the north of Dotonbori and the entrance (pictured above) is near the Ebisu Bridge, just opposite the famous Glico sign.
There are a large variety of stores, but the majority of them sell fashion and apparels, shoes and accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, and electronics. One of Daiso’s largest stores is also located in this arcade. If you are hungry or just need a break, there are Starbucks, MacDonald’s, as well as several local bakeries and cafes along the way.
Japan’s Longest Shopping Street
If shopping is your thing to do in Osaka, then be sure to visit Tenjinbashi-suji, the city’s other famous shopping street, and is also the longest in Japan. The entire linear arcade stretches from 1-chome to 7-chome and covers a distance of over 1.6 miles. There are over 600 stores.
Compared to Shinsaibashi-suji, this area is less touristy and is frequented mostly by locals. In addition to the usual fashion, apparel, and cosmetic stores, you will be able to see the more traditional offerings at Tenjinbashi-suji. Here you will find kimono stores as well as shops selling Japanese collectibles such as swords or antiques.
Whatever it is that you are looking for, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the way to satisfy your hunger with authentic local flavors.
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
A One of Its Kind Experience
The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living re-creates towns, streets, and houses dating back to the Edo Period in Osaka. It is a one of its kind experience where you can actually place yourself inside an exhibit. You will travel back in time and walk through actual streets of the past and enter traditional Japanese houses of the Edo era.
Every re-creation and model that was built are real-life sizes and it is amazing how they reconstructed an entire ancient town. The attention to details is absolutely meticulous. To make your experience even more authentic, you can rent a kimono there and tour the museum in traditional Japanese attire.
The museum’s entrance is located on the 8th floor of the Housing Information Center Building. It is just steps away from exit #3 of the Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome Station. From central Osaka, take the Tanimachi or Sakaisuji metro lines.
Osaka Museum of History
Historical Perspective of Osaka
The Osaka Museum of History is located near the Osaka Castle, and in fact, offer a stunning view of the castle and its surrounding areas from the top floor. The main focus of the museum is the rich history of Osaka and the Kansei region, mostly from the Edo Period to modern days.
Exhibits are informational and educational. Some are interactive. In a museum environment where history buffs reside, this place is surprisingly kids friendly. An audio guided tour in multiple languages is available (for a small fee).
Universal Studio Japan
Meet Harry and Elmo
Universal Studio Japan is definitely worth a day trip if you are in Osaka, even if you have been to the theme park’s US locations. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the centerpiece of the park, and it is very well-built and extensive. It is even larger than its US counterparts. The roller coaster ride there is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
But if you are seeking the scariest ride, nothing in the World beats the Flying Dinosaur in Jurassic Park. Not only will you drop like free fall and twist and turn in midair for full 360 degrees, you will also fly face down at exhilarating speeds.
There are also many more moderate rides, as well as plenty of shows and activities for kids. Children and adults alike will love Sesame Street’s 4D Movie Magic and Dance with Elmo No Limit. There are so many attractions within this theme park that will guarantee you and your family a fun-filled adventure.