Culture, friendly locals, atmosphere, shopping and food. It’s what Osaka is known for and I LOVE IT! Whichever corner you are on, you are bound to find small food joints or little bars that barely hold more than a few people inside and with such a buzz around the city, 3 days to fill my belly and to see all the sights, Osaka definitely lived up to expectation.
Whenever I speak to people about Japan, I love to talk about Osaka. I get weird looks when I tell them I prefer it over Tokyo. It’s a lot more relaxed (for a city), people are friendly, everyone dresses nicely and the locals seem so proud of their city and culture. Food is cheap and delicious, the streets are crowded yet entertaining and the different districts of the city are culturally unique and interesting.
So here is the plan. 7 activities, 3 days and 1 guaranteed amazing time*.
*note – I cannot guarantee your level of enjoyment
Osaka Castle, One of Japan’s Most Famous Landmarks
There may not be a more famous castle in Japan than Osaka Castle. With a history that you may not believe, construction was first started in 1583, however it was attacked and destroyed by Tokugawa troops in 1615. It was then rebuilt in the 1620s but again was destroyed, this time by a strike of lightning in 1665 which burnt it down. Finally in 1931 it was rebuilt and although war hit the cities of Japan, it survived. In 1997, Osaka Castle had renovation works and is now one of the top tourist destinations in the city.
The castle sits in the centre of Osaka Castle Park so reserving a few hours of the day to walk around this majestic urban oasis will be an enjoyable experience for all.
Eat Your Heart Out In Dōtonbori
If you don’t like food, then you probably won’t like Japan. Food is probably my second favourite activity after relaxing by the pool and the area of Dōtonbori is going to put all other cities to shame. This is the exciting, lively entertainment district and I would have to say Osaka’s most famous destination. Bright neon lights, the largest signs you will ever see and 100s of restaurants where you can try all the famous flavours of the city.
Dōtonbori is an area that runs along the Dōtonbori Canal and Dōtonbori Street which runs parallel. No tourist comes to Osaka without visiting this area and coming down at night is the best time to walk the area. Be prepared for streets filled with people as far as the eye can see but don’t let that overwhelm you as locals are polite and are there to enjoy the vibe.
Make sure sure you bring your cash to spend as your belly will be full by the end of the night. The famous ball shaped takoyaki octopus is a must from Kukuru and is one of Japan’s best known street foods, but remember to save some room for Kushikatsu, Japanese deep fried skewered meats and vegetables, and finally some fugu, better known as puffer fish.
You aren’t going to have enough time to eat your way through Dōtonbori in one night so on night two, head right back for the 100s of other choices of food.
A Day Trip To Nara
Even though Nara isn’t in Osaka, it’s a very short train journey of around an hour from the city and I would 100% recommend you to visit. I was in two minds whether to go or not but after a bit of convincing from the hotel concierge, I am so glad I listened to her recommendation as it was nice to get out of the city and explore somewhere unlike anywhere else I had been before.
Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital back in the year 710 and includes some of Japan’s oldest and most importantly, largest temples. It is an absolutely beautiful, picturesque city and as we only had one day in the city, we focused on Nara Park, which is where most of the famous deer, temples and shrines are.
The park is home to hundreds of deer that roam free and these cute animals are what bring many tourists to Nara. They are extremely tame and around the park, deer crackers are for sale so you can get up close to feed them. Some of the deer have learnt to bow when asking to be fed. I can only think this is as a sign of respect and politeness.
Tōdaiji Temple is one of Japan’s most famous temples and is a landmark of Nara. The main hall of the temple, Daibutsuden is the world’s largest wooden building but the interesting part of it all is that it is only two thirds of the size of the original hall since the reconstruction in 1692.
Nara Park is well worth the day, so make sure you get a good chance to walk around the different areas as you will discover local traditional villages, beautiful greenery and some cute little eateries serving warm udon.
Head Up 60 Floors at Abeno Harukas 300
After a day of sightseeing, it’s time to head up to the 60th floor of Abeno Harukas 300. Take the speedy elevator on the 16th floor that will rocket you to the 60th floor in 50 seconds. The moment the elevator opens your breath will be taken away as you enter into a glass room giving you a 360 view of Osaka.
Every where you turn you see Osaka at 300m above ground making this Japan’s highest building. Part of the floor is also made of glass for those who want to float in space and on the 58th floor there is a large wooden deck for you to relax with some food and drink. I would also highly recommended to stay for sunset so you understand the meaning of the Red Sun on the Japanese flag.
The Colourful and Unique Shinsekai
Shinsekai is an old neighbourhood in near the Minami area that was created in 1912 before the war and was inspired by the cities of Paris for the northern half and New York as a model for the southern half. After World War II Shinsekai became one of Japan’s poorest areas and still holds the reputation of Osaka’s most dangerous area (it is safer here than most other cities safest areas).
The Tsutenkaku Tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and is the centrepiece of the city. It can be seen from most streets. Walking around the back streets you feel like you have gone back in time. Small local restaurants, noisy pachinko parlours and cinemas fill the packed streets. Locals and tourists try food from little takoyaki and okonomiyaki vendors, while seedy men look at us like they know something we don’t. It’s all part of the fascination.
Enjoy a Drink Above The City
Now I may be bias as I stayed at the Conrad Osaka, but the 40 Sky Bar & Lounge is definitely the place to have a cocktail or drink 40 floors above the city. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, you are going to get unobstructed views of the Osaka skyline. It’s an elegant space where smart casual is what you want to wear and the stunning views makes this a great place to relax with live music playing in the background.
Catch A Bullet Train
Want an experience like no other? You don’t have to travel all the way to Tokyo to take a ride on the famous bullet train, known as Shinkansen. Speeds on these trains can reach up to 320km/hr which when you think about it, is absolutely insane. When we arrived in Osaka, we had no plans of catching a bullet train but we heard that we could catch it to Kyoto in around 12 minutes (as opposed to 45-50 on the local train), and thought it was a no brainer.
Unfortunately the trip was too short and another hour would have been nice but in a short 12 minute ride, passengers are offered hot meals, drinks including beer and a great way to see the countryside in a very short amount of time.