Osaka is among the most frequently visited cities in Japan. The beat of Osaka pulses towards modernity when compared to Kyoto, which favors tradition. (Read how to spend three days in Kyoto). There truly is something for everyone, and it should be included on your Japan itinerary. In this guide, I have included budget-friendly recommendations, local cuisine, and more. Here’s how you can see the best of Osaka in two days.
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Day 1: Osaka Essentials
Start your day by visiting the iconic Osaka Castle. Spend the morning exploring its beautiful gardens and learning about the city’s samurai heritage. Afterward, get ready to start eating street food, which is one of the main draws of Osaka. Make your way to the Dotonbori district, the most famous part of Osaka, where you’ll be greeted by vibrant neon lights and mouthwatering treats. Make sure to try the renowned street food like takoyaki and mitarashi dango while soaking in the bustling atmosphere. For a unique twist, head to nearby Hozenji Yokocho, a hidden alley brimming with traditional teahouses and quaint shops.
It’s tough to spend the whole day eating, so consider breaking up your time at Dotonbori with a River Cruise. Buy tickets early in the day because the cruise tends to sell out. Tombori River Cruise is short at just 20 minutes and conducted fully in Japanese, but is still an enjoyable time with great views of the iconic huge billboards and animated neon signage. The ticket counter is outside of the notably large Don Quijote shop (a great cheap place to buy tons of Japanese stuff to take home). Shopping at Don Quijote is an experience all its own. Personally I skipped the Don Quijote ferris wheel but that would provide a nice view of the river and Osaka signage as well.
For dinner, find an okonomiyaki restaurant and try Osaka’s unofficial signature meal. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage-based pancake with green onions and endless options of protein ingredients and delicious toppings like okonomi sauce, special Japanese mayonnaise, and bonito flakes.
Day 2: Other Angles of Osaka
For day 2, a lot of guides recommend Universal Studios Japan, only 15 minutes by train from Osaka Station. Especially with Super Mario World open now, in the country of Mario’s creation, it can be a fun way to spend the day (especially with kids). The park looks to be different enough from the US parks to be worth a visit, if you are into theme parks. For the polar opposite experience, consider escaping the city’s hustle and bustle to visit the serene Mount Koya. Embark on a scenic train ride and immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty of nature. Discover ancient Buddhist temples, stroll through peaceful forests, and even experience a temple stay for a unique spiritual encounter.
If you’d prefer staying inside the city center for the day, check out shopping and street fashion in the Shinsaibashi District or on Orange Street. (I regret not making time for this). Afterwards, consider another round of street food at Dotonbori district for lunch – I know I couldn’t try a bite of everything the first time around and a second visit made a lot of sense to try the ones I had not tasted yet.
For your second afternoon or evening in Osaka, you could attend a Japanese baseball game if your visit is during baseball season. Osaka has two baseball teams so the likelihood of one of the teams being home is high. Read our post on what to expect at a baseball game in Japan for more information about how to buy a ticket.
If you don’t have much time to make an extended itinerary, one day in Osaka can be enough. If the essentials on Day 1 of this itinerary sound sufficient to you, skip down to the day trip which will surely be a highlight of your journey through Japan.
Day Trip: Himeji and Kobe
For an unforgettable day trip from Osaka, venture to Himeji and stop in Kobe for dinner on the way back. It’s really easy to DIY this day trip, but there are guided tours available if you are interested.
Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Japan’s most famous stunning feudal castles. It stands out from other Japanese castles due to its gleaming white color and intricate details. It’s also called the White Egret Castle. A combo ticket grants entry to the keep and the gardens. Climbing to the top of the keep provides amazing panoramic views, but be warned it is a lot of very steep stairs. Himeji Castle offers a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s feudal past and is a must-visit destination for anyone, especially history enthusiasts.
On your way back, stop for dinner in Kobe, a city renowned for its picturesque harbor and world-class Wagyu beef. Indulge with some delectable Kobe beef at one of the renowned restaurants in the city (check this site to get your taste buds enticed). If you have time, stroll along the waterfront and view the city skyline.
Don’t forget, to get the most out of your trip you should use a JR pass. You can get to Himeji in 30 minutes on the Shinkansen or 1 hour on the non-express train. On the way back, get off the train at Shin-Kobe and then catch another train from Shin-Kobe to return to Osaka at the end of the evening.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel THE FLAG Shinsaibashi, which features a chic modern-minimal interior and is in a wonderful location walkable to the Dotonbori district.
Two more hotels I looked at for our trip were:
- Oyado Nono Osaka Yodoyabashi (a little more expensive)
- Candeo Hotel Osaka Gamba (location close to Dotonbori)
- APA Hotel Namba-Shinsaibashi (an inexpensive hotel chain with a consistent product)
Fellow travelers, did I mention your favorite spot in Osaka? What did I miss? What’s your favorite street food from Japan or anywhere else? Please leave a comment! Looking forward to hearing from you and as always, thank you for reading.
Photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.