In this article, I want to share our Osaka Itinerary and then show you some of the amazing things to do in this fascinating Japanese city. Of course, as a port city, Osaka is a great gateway for exploring Japan. Take advantage of fantastic public transport options to get around and see as much as possible.
I’ll look at how to get to Osaka, where to stay, how to get around and then, of course, all the top attractions to see. Afterwards, I’ll suggest some places a bit further away which make excellent day trips.
Top Things to do in Osaka
Osaka Itinerary: Index
Getting to Osaka
Arriving by Ferry
Of course, if you’ve been reading my articles you’ll know that we visited Japan as part of our around the world without flying trip. So we arrived started our Osaka itinerary on the ferry from Shanghai. Indeed, it’s a great way to arrive in the city. You can take the metro from right at the port so it’s very easy to get right into the centre even with luggage. In fact, we found the metro uncrowded and with plenty of room for our backpacks.
Arriving by Air
Of course, most visitors arrive in Japan by air. Osaka has two airports. Visitors arriving from overseas will firstly arrive at Kansai International Airport (KIX). Despite the name, Osaka International Airport or Itami is actually the domestic airport. You can then get from the airport to the city centre by train or you can opt for a taxi or limo service.
Getting around Osaka
We used the metro to get around Osaka and also walked. The metro system is excellent, clean and well signposted so it’s the ideal way to get around. One thing you will find in this part of Japan is that public transport is fantastic, extensive and also very efficient.
You will find there are a lot of different ticket types available for the Osaka subway system. Many of them are only available to tourists and some also need to be bought outside Japan or at the airport. We found that the best value ticket for us was the normal 1-day subway pass, also called the Enjoy Eco Pass. This costs 800 Yen (approx £6) or 600 Yen on weekends. This allows you unlimited rides on the metro and also on buses for that day. You can buy the ticket at machines or at the ticket kiosk at any subway station in Osaka.
Firstly, just a quick tip. You have to put your money into the machine before you select your ticket type. This confused me to start with. Fortunately, the stations usually have someone who speaks English but even if they don’t they will help you out. The machines do have English instructions on them but I expected to choose my ticket then be told how much. So, instead, put your money in, choose your ticket and it will give you change if necessary.
Once you have your ticket you just put it into the slot at the entry gates as you go into the metro or into the machine on the bus. The first time you use it the machine will stamp a date on it and then you can use it for that day only. Remember that you also need to insert it into the machine when you exit a bus.
Where to stay in Osaka
As I have said before, I only recommend hotels and accommodation where we have actually stayed ourselves. Before we booked our hotel in Osaka, I considered the best location to stay. A lot of people recommended the Dotonbori area as it is close to shopping and restaurants and also with good public transport links. After reading a lot of reviews I decided on the Dotonbori hotel. It is ideally located just a few minutes walk from the nearest metro station and you can’t miss it. As you can see in the photo, there are huge statues outside which make it very distinctive.
Our room was ready at 10 am when we arrived which was a huge bonus. I never expect to be able to access my room when we arrive early but I’m always delighted when we can. Although the room was very small we knew that beforehand. We booked a semi-double room due to availability but you can get a slightly bigger room by booking a standard double. However, Japanese hotels seem to have very small rooms so you shouldn’t expect loads of space.
Why I recommend the Dotonbori Hotel
So, why did I choose the Dotonbori Hotel and why would I recommend it if you’re in Osaka? Firstly, customer service. This is one of those hotels where they can’t do enough for you. Remember, this isn’t a high-end, very expensive hotel where you expect to get your money’s worth. This is a mid-range, even towards the budget end of accommodation. We paid under £100 a night including breakfast. However, their customer service is legendary. Read the reviews. They are simply excellent.
Fabulous free services
This is reflected in the number of facilities and services you get for your money. Free wifi internet access in your room. You do expect that these days although some high-end hotel chains are not as accommodating. However, the Dotonbori Hotel also has computers available to use and even a mobile 4G pocket wifi to use. You can use their telephone to make a free international call of up to 5 minutes which we didn’t use but I think is a really useful perk for some people.
Free Drinks and laundry
Drinks are available in the lobby area all day free of charge. So you can help yourself to a coffee, green tea or water at any time. You’ll also find some soft drinks in the fridge in your room and you can take them free of charge.
Another huge bonus for us was that we were able to do all our laundry for free in the guest machines. After several weeks of travelling across Russia and China, we had plenty of laundry to do. It is self-service but there are laundry facilities dotted around the hotel so they’ll be one close to your room. However, if you don’t want to do it yourself then just drop your laundry at reception in the bag provided. Of course, there is a charge for this but they do return it the same day.
Dotonbori Hotel also supplies fabulous toiletries. They even gave us a folding brush, stretchy hairband and loofah. I still have the hair-band which I use all the time when I’m putting my make-up on. Moreover, the folding brush is permanently in my travel bag as it’s so useful for travelling. Great freebies.
Free bicycle rental
If you want to explore Osaka by bicycle then you can also arrange free hire at reception. Although I always think we’ll try this we rarely cycle on holiday or otherwise. I suppose we just prefer walking but it’s a great option if you want it.
If I’ve convinced you that this is the place to stay then you can check availability at the Dotonbori Hotel by clicking on this link. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you stay here.
Top Attractions for your Osaka Itinerary
Castles in Japan are quite different from anything I’ve seen before. More a cross between a house and a temple in appearance. It is beautiful though. Also, Osaka castle is set in lovely parkland surrounded by a vast wall and moat. So it’s a wonderful place to explore and soak up the atmosphere of Osaka. Of course, many tourists flock to Japan in the Spring to see the Cherry Blossom. When we visited, the Cherry blossom was just going past its best but still pretty spectacular.
You can wander through much of the park surrounding the castle without paying a fee. However, if you want to see the Nishinomaru Garden which is where most of the Cherry Blossom trees are located then you will need to pay. You can see Cherry Blossom throughout the park but this garden has hundreds of them. Indeed, it’s well worth the small admission charge to see it.
Osaka Castle: Practical Information
Castle Buildings and Garden: 9 am until 5 pm
Castle Building: 600 Yen (£4.50)
Gardens: 200 Yen (£1.50) except during the Cherry Blossom when it increases to 350 Yen (£2.50).
Tanimachi 4-chome Station on the Tanimachi and Chuo Lines (either exit 9 or 2)
Osaka Museum of History
We then wandered into the Osaka museum on the way back to the subway as it is just opposite the castle. It is a lovely modern building and has some interesting displays on the history of the area. You also get some amazing views of the castle and the surrounding city from the 10th floor.
When you enter the museum building, pay your entry fee at the admissions desk and then take the elevator to the 10th floor. Make sure to admire the fabulous views of the castle and the city before following the visitor route around the museum. You can choose between either the ‘Highlights’ route which takes about an hour or follow the ‘Complete’ route and thus see all the exhibits.
The permanent exhibition begins on the 10th floor with the history of Naniwa Palace. You then work your way down through the floors to continue your visit. The museum also has a featured exhibition hall which hosts different displays throughout the year. This is a really well laid out museum and I found it extremely interesting. I loved seeing the various clothing displays showing what people at court wore during different periods.
Osaka Museum of History: Practical Information
9.30 am to 5 pm (until 8pm on Fridays)
Closed on Tuesdays
600 Yen (£4.50)
Tanimachi 4-chome Station on the Tanimachi and Chuo Lines (exit 9 or 2)
The very impressive Shitennoji Temple is one of the oldest in Japan although the buildings you see today are not actually the originals but a renovation following a fire. You can walk around the grounds surrounding the temple for free but if you want to enter the inner courtyard you must pay a small fee.
At the centre of the inner courtyard is the impressive pagoda. You can go inside and even climb it if you’re feeling energetic. There are several other buildings to explore and look out for the rather fierce and imposing statues that guard the gates to the temple. You can’t take photos inside Buddhist temples, unfortunately, but the figures and paintings were very impressive.
Also in the temple grounds is the Treasure House. It’s a small exhibition of painting and other objects related to the temple. You have to pay an extra fee to enter, unfortunately.
Nearby you can visit Gokuraku-Jodo Garden which is a beautiful area with ponds, rock gardens and bridges and of course, Cherry Blossom trees. It’s a lovely place to wander. As with all Japanese gardens, it seems to inspire a sense of tranquillity.
Shitennoji Temple : Practical Information
8.30 am to 4.30 pm (until 8pm on Fridays)
Closed on Tuesdays
Inner Courtyard and Temple: 300 Yen (£2.50)
Gokuraku-jodo Garden: 300 Yen (£2.50)
Treasure House: 500 Yen (£4)
Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi Line
Umeda Sky Tower
This striking contemporary building consists of two towers connected with an open-air platform. Feel the wind in your hair as you enjoy uninterrupted views across Osaka. Relax with a drink in the Sky Lounge Stardust bar as you take in the vista or enjoy a Chinese meal in Sangu. Alternatively, when you’ve finished admiring the view there’s an excellent food street in the basement. Here you’ll find foods from many different cuisines and it’s worth a visit even if you’ve already eaten as it’s quite fascinating.
Umeda Sky Tower : Practical Information
9.30 am until 10.30 pm
1500 Yen (£11)
Umeda Station on the Tanimachi, Yotsubashi and Midōsuji Lines.
Dotonburi – shopping, restaurants, canal
Day Trips from Osaka
As I hope I’ve shown you, there’s plenty to see and do in Osaka but it’s also the perfect base to explore Japan. Hop on a bullet train to Hiroshima, head to Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto or get a glimpse of Mount Fuji. I’m going to write a series of articles on making the most of your time in Osaka so look out for these coming soon.
If you’ve got 2 days in Osaka then make the most of it with our detailed step-by-step 2-day Osaka itinerary. Take in the sights of Osaka before heading outside the city on a day trip to Miyajima Island and Hiroshima. Complete with practical information on how to get everywhere by public transport.
Of course, there’s so much to do in this area you can easily add another day. Take a look at my 3 day Osaka itinerary to see how you can add a day trip to Kyoto to your schedule.