If we were allowed to visit just one country for the rest of our lives, then for me, that country would have to be Japan. It wouldn’t even be a difficult decision.
Like many people, I find Japan to be an endlessly fascinating country. It’s defined by cultural curiosities that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Sure, every country is unique in its own right, but Japan takes that uniqueness to a whole different level. From its samurai swords to its smart toilets to its maid cafes and love for anime and cosplay, I think it’s safe to say that there is no culture in the world quite like Japan.
We’ve both been to Japan many times before, mostly to Tokyo in our youth, but it wasn’t until our trip to the Kansai region in 2014 that we really fell in love with this country. And much of that had to do with Osaka.
Osaka has a great easygoing vibe and a fantastic food culture that really resonated with us, so much so that we’ve been here three times in five years – the most recent in November of 2018 – and every trip still feels like the first. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever grow tired of it.
I update this article after every visit so this is the third edition of our Osaka travel guide. If you’re visiting Osaka for the first time, then I hope this guide can help you plan your trip and make you fall in love with this city as much as we did.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
OSAKA AT A GLANCE
Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population and the central metropolis of the Kansai region. It’s a food lover’s paradise which is why it remains one of our favorite cities to visit in Japan.
If Tokyo is Japan’s most exciting city and Kyoto its center for culture and the arts, then Osaka is arguably its most delicious. It has a history of abundance, having played a vital role in the management of the nation’s economy and the distribution of its goods. During the Edo period, feudal lords throughout Japan would deliver rice, produce, and other goods to Osaka for later distribution to Edo or modern-day Tokyo.
This led to an abundance of resources, earning Osaka the nickname “the nation’s kitchen”. Today, that name has evolved to refer to the city’s reputation as a gourmand’s paradise.
BEST TIME TO VISIT OSAKA
We’ve been to Osaka in February, May, and November and they were all great times to go. The weather in Osaka is relatively temperate so there really isn’t a bad time to visit. Winters do get cold but not unbearably cold as it does in other cities like Sapporo.
If you’d like to experience the cherry blossoms, then late March to early April is an ideal time to go. If autumn foliage is what you’re after, then shoot for October to November.
DEC-FEB: This is winter in Osaka so it’s the coldest time of the year. If you want to experience snow, then this is the best time to go. From what I understand, it rarely snows in Osaka itself but you can go on side trips from the city if you’re determined to see snow. These are also the best months to have crab and fugu, both of which are considered winter dishes.
MAR-MAY: Spring is one of the most beautiful times to visit Osaka. The weather starts warming up, kicking off cherry blossom season which typically begins around the end of March. The blossoms will be in full bloom by the first week of April. As beautiful as Osaka is during this time, it’s also peak season so expect thicker crowds and higher than usual hotel prices. The same goes for the first week of May which is the Golden Week holiday for local Japanese.
JUN-AUG: This is summer in Osaka. If you don’t like too much heat and humidity, then you should probably avoid these months. It’s typically hottest in August and rainiest from June to July.
SEPT-NOV: October to November is an ideal time to visit Osaka. The weather is similar to spring and the autumn foliage is lovely, especially from around mid- to late-November. We were there in late November on our most recent trip and spent the day in beautiful Minoo to enjoy the colors of fall. November may be a great time to have crab and fugu as well as it’s the start of the winter season.
Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Osaka
Check out holiday-weather.com for more on the weather in Osaka. To help you understand it better, I’ve created the average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are colored in orange.
TRAVELING TO OSAKA
Most travelers to Osaka will be arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX). It’s the main access hub to the Kansai area. There are several ways to get from KIX to downtown Osaka.
BY TRAIN: For me, traveling by train is the best way to get from the airport to your hotel. However, multiple train lines service the KIX-Osaka route so it’s important to figure out which train line works best for you depending on where you’re staying. Check out this article from the Osaka Station website to learn the differences between these lines. If you go with the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, then you can purchase tickets in advance through KKday.
No matter which line you choose, you can check train timetables with Hyperdia. Hyperdia is by far the most useful site to navigate Japan’s highly efficient but often confusing rail system. It’ll give you all the information you need like train schedules, fares, and journey times. Jump down to the TRAVEL TIPS section of this guide for more information on Hyperdia.
There are transportation passes you can get that are valid for travel between KIX and Osaka. Jump to the HOW TO GET AROUND section of this guide for more information.
BY BUS: We’ve never done this but you can take a limousine bus from KIX as well. Unlike trains, they run on a 24-hr schedule so this may be the better option if you’re arriving at off-hours. The journey takes about an hour and the one-way fare from KIX to Osaka station is JPY 1,550 for adults and JPY 780 for children. You can refer to the Kansai Airport transportation website for a timetable. Tickets can be purchased at the airport but you can get them in advance through KKday as well.
BY TAXI: Going by taxi is the most convenient option, especially if you have a lot of luggage, but it’s also the most expensive. A taxi to Osaka station takes around 50 minutes and will run you around JPY 20,000.
BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: If you’d like to arrange for a private transfer before you land, then you can do so through KKday. Private transfer rates start at JPY 20,000.
From Other Parts of Japan
If you’re already in Japan, then you can take a train to Osaka from wherever you are. You can refer to hyperdia.com for train routes and schedules.
People on a multi-city tour of Japan may be interested in purchasing a JR Pass. It’ll give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan – including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, Shinkansen bullet trains, and the Narita Express – for a consecutive number of days. 7-, 14-, or 21-day JR Passes are available for purchase on Japan Rail Pass or Klook.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
The unit of currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Post offices and banks are the best places to exchange currency in Japan. I’ve exchanged currency at both. Transactions are faster at post offices because there’s less paperwork, but the exchange rates are pretty much the same. If you’re arriving in Osaka via Kansai International Airport, then you can exchange a small amount there, just enough to get you into the city, then change the rest at a post office or bank.
Another option is to withdraw JPY from an ATM. The rates are comparable but be sure to let your local bank know that you’ll be using your ATM card abroad so they don’t flag it or anything. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.
TIP: When withdrawing local currency from an ATM, it’ll sometimes ask you if you want to proceed “with or without conversion”. Always proceed WITHOUT conversion. Proceeding “with conversion” means that the foreign bank operating the ATM will do the conversion instead of your local bank. This almost always leads to horrible exchange rates. According to an article on Medium, the difference between rates can be 10% or more.
BEST AREA TO STAY
Osaka is divided into 24 wards, each with many interesting neighborhoods. These are the places we’ve stayed at so far.
I’ve created the color-coded map below to help you understand where all these recommended areas are: (Please note that marked areas are approximations only)
YELLOW – Shinsaibashi
GREEN – Namba
RED – Nipponbashi
BLUE – Umeda
ORANGE – Around Osaka Castle
SHINSAIBASHI & NAMBA: Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi
In my opinion, the Shinsaibashi and Namba neighborhoods are the best and most convenient places to stay in Osaka, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s main shopping district while Namba is home to Dotonbori canal and its myriad street food stalls and restaurants. These two areas are right next to each other and comprise Osaka’s entertainment hub.
We stayed at Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi (Yes, that Best Western) on our first trip to Osaka in 2014. If you can get a room here at a reasonable rate (around USD 70), then I suggest staying here. It’s a good business hotel located just a few minutes’ walk from Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade.
You can book a room here on Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal. You can also check these links for alternate listings in the Shinsaibashi/Namba areas: Booking.com | Agoda.
Approximate Room Rate: USD 72 per night (as of March 2019)
NIPPONBASHI: Yuki Hotel Nipponbashi
We stayed here on our last trip to Osaka and I might actually prefer this area over Shinsaibashi and Namba. It’s home to Den Den Town and its wealth of electronics and anime shops. Think of it as Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Akihabara.
It’s known as the center of geek culture in Osaka so if you’re into anime, cosplay, toys, or video games, then you’ll probably enjoy it here. Plus, it’s only about a 15-minute walk to the Shinsaibashi/Namba areas and about 7 minutes from Kuromon Ichiba Market. You can book a room here on Booking.com or Agoda.
Approximate Room Rate: USD 88 per night (as of March 2019)
We haven’t stayed in Umeda but this is probably the second most convenient place to be in Osaka, after the Shinsaibashi and Namba areas. It’s the city’s main business and transportation district and features many malls, shops, restaurants, and hotels. You can check these links for listings in Umeda: Booking.com | Agoda.
AROUND OSAKA CASTLE: Hotel Mystays Otemae
Osaka Castle is the city’s most famous historical attraction. It’s surrounded by a massive garden that’s home to 600 cherry trees, making it a great place to be during cherry blossom season. If you’re in Osaka specifically for that, then this is a great place to stay.
Hotel Mystays Otemae is about a 20-minute walk to Osaka Castle. We were put up here on a press trip and given a spacious one-bedroom apartment. Most accommodations in Japan are tiny so it was great to have so much room for a change. You can book a room here through Booking.com or Agoda.
Approximate Room Rate: USD 65 per night (as of March 2019)
AROUND OSAKA CASTLE: Hotel New Otani Osaka
Hotel New Otani Osaka is a 5-star hotel less than 20-minutes’ walk from Osaka Castle. I was put up here on a previous press trip to Osaka.
It’s by far the most expensive hotel on this list, but it’s also the nicest with the biggest room. If you want to be near Osaka Castle and willing to spend more on accommodations, then Hotel New Otani Osaka is an excellent choice. You can book a room here through Booking.com or Agoda.
Approximate Room Rate: USD 174 per night (as of March 2019)
PLACES TO VISIT
1. Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan needs little introduction. It’s one of Osaka’s most visited attractions, and with good reason. It’s fun no matter what age you are.
Favorites include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Minions, Transformers, and Jurassic Park themed rides. A 1-day pass to Universal Studios typically costs JPY 7,400 for adults and JPY 5,100 for kids, but you can sometimes get a discount if you purchase advanced tickets through KKday. They offer many types of combo passes as well, so be sure to check all the Universal Studios Japan deals on their website.
Check out my post on Universal Studios Japan for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: Full day / Admission: JPY 7,400 for adults, JPY 5,100 for children
Nearest MRT Station: Universal City station
2. Cup Noodles Museum
If you’re a fan of instant noodles, then you need to visit the Cup Noodles Museum. It’s a free museum dedicated to instant noodles and serves as a tribute to its creator and founder, Momofuku Ando. They have a branch in Yokohama as well.
The exhibits are amusing but the best part about the museum is the instant noodle factory. For JPY 300, you can design and create your own custom cup of instant noodles to take home as a souvenir.
Visit the Cup Noodles Museum website for more information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: FREE
Nearest MRT Station: Ikeda station
3. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Holding nearly 11,000 tons of water, Kaiyukan is one of the world’s largest aquariums. It’s so big in fact, that it’s main tank measures 34 meters long by 9 meters deep and houses two juvenile whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the biggest fish in the world! The aquarium is home to many interesting smaller exhibits as well, each one mimicking different ecosystems from around the world like the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica, and Japan’s forests.
Admission to the aquarium is JPY 2,300 for adults and JPY 1,200 for kids ages 7-15. Tickets are available at the gate though you can purchase them in advance through KKday.
Check out my psot on Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: JPY 2,300 for adults, JPY 1,200 for kids ages 7-15
Nearest MRT Station: Osakako station
4. Umeda Sky Building
There’s no better place to get a bird’s eye view of Osaka than the Floating Garden Observatory. Situated 173 meters above ground on top of the ultramodern Umeda Sky Building, it gives viewers a 360° panoramic vista of the entire city.
As previously mentioned, the Umeda area is also home to many malls, shops, restaurants, and cafes, so you may want to spend an entire day exploring the area. This is where you’ll find some of the city’s best depachikas as well.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-1.5 hrs / Admission: FREE until the 38th floor, JPY 1,500 to the Floating Garden Observatory
Nearest MRT Station: Osaka station
5. Osaka Castle
As described, Osaka Castle is the city’s most popular historical attraction. It’s considered one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, set in a beautiful spacious park and surrounded by 600 cherry trees.
It’s beautiful any time of the year but it’s especially picturesque in spring. If you’re visiting Osaka in late March to early April, then this is a terrific place to see (and take selfies with) the cherry blossoms. Don’t forget to pack that #ootd.
Osaka Castle is easy enough to visit on your own, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this fun bike tour from Magical Trip.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: JPY 600 (Castle Tower), JPY 200 (Nishinomaru Garden)
Nearest MRT Station: Tanimachiyonchome or Osakajokoen station
THINGS TO DO
1. Shop in Shinsaibashi, Eat in Dotonbori
This is the heart of Osaka. If Shinsaibashi is the city’s premier shopping district, then Dotonbori in Namba is its kitchen. Visiting Osaka without making a stop here would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It’s a gastronomical sin!
If it’s your first time in Osaka, then we highly recommend staying in the Shinsaibashi or Namba areas because this is exactly where you want to be.
Check out my post on Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Nearest MRT Station: Shinsaibashi or Namba station
2. Eat like a Local
Needless to say, local knowledge is king, especially when it comes to food. Some of the best things we’ve eaten on trips have come from local tips. One of my good friends is from the Kansai region so many of the places we’ve visited were recommended by him.
If you don’t have a friend to show you around, then there’s always Magical Trip. Magical Trip is a fun tour company that offers small group tours led by locals in several Japanese cities, including Osaka. They do offer non-food tours as well but what interests us the most of course, are the food tours. Ren and I enjoy good food and drink so we’d love to try this Namba bar hopping food tour or this Dotonbori street food crawl on our next trip to Osaka. Oishi!
Photo borrowed from magical-trip.com
3. Eat the Best Street Food at Kuromon Ichiba Market
Nicknamed “Osaka’s Kitchen”, many of the city’s chefs purchase their ingredients here. It’s home to some of the best and freshest seafood in Osaka. Delicacies like uni, diver scallops, otoro, oysters, octopus, and unagi can be enjoyed here as street food. And for cheap too! Kuromon Ichiba Market is one of our favorite places in Osaka and one we try to visit on every return trip to the city.
Check out my post on Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka for more pictures and information. It’s easy enough to explore the market on your own, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour with a local, then you can check out this Kuromon Ichiba walking tour with Magical Trip.
Nearest MRT Station: Nippombashi station
4. See What Designer Fruit Looks like at a Depachika
I had heard of those USD 200 designer melons before but I had never actually seen one until we visited a depachika. A portmanteau of depato meaning “department store” and chika meaning “basement”, a depachika is a super high-end food hall located at the basement of luxury department stores. There you’ll find a wide range of decadent food products, often with exorbitant price tags to match.
There are a few depachikas you can check out, but we suggest visiting the one in the Hankyu department store in Umeda.
Nearest MRT Station: Umeda station
5. Eat Maple Leaf Tempura in Minoo
I’ve been wanting to visit this place ever since I saw this video from Great Big Story. Minoo (or Minoh) is a city in Osaka prefecture about 15 km north of Osaka city. It’s home to a national park with picturesque hiking trails, a waterfall, and maple leaf tempura. Known locally as momiji, it’s said to be the only place in the world where you can have this unusual crunchy sweet treat.
I read momiji is available pre-packaged throughout the year but if you want it fresh, then you’ll need to go in the fall. We visited in late November and we were treated to freshly fried momiji and a fireworks display of autumn foliage.
Nearest MRT Station: Minoo station
6. Go Bargain Hunting at Don Quijote
If you like bargains, then you’re going to love this place. Shopping in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive and Don Quijote is proof of that. Like Daiso shops, Don Quijoute is a discount chain store with over 160 branches throughout Japan. There are several in Osaka, including a big one in Dotonbori.
Many of their branches are like mini department stores with several stories of products ranging from groceries to electronics to clothing to dildos. Yes, dildos. And not just any old dildos, but tax-free dildos!
Visit the Don Quijote website to find the blue penguin nearest you.
7. Take a Cooking Class
Ever since we took this awesome cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam, Ren and I have been searching for cooking classes wherever we go. It’s just a fun, hands-on way of getting to know the local cuisine.
There are many websites that offer cooking classes, but I suggest searching for one on airKitchen or Cookly. Both are booking platforms that offer cooking classes – airKitchen focuses on Japan while Cookly offers classes in multiple cities around the world. Follow the links to search for cooking classes in Osaka on airKitchen and Cookly.
Photo borrowed from cookly.me
If you’re interested in more unconventional things to do in Osaka, then check out this interesting list of off-the-beaten path attractions in Osaka and Kyoto. I like unusual places myself so I’ll surely be visiting some of those places on out next trip to the Kansai region.
SIDE TRIPS FROM OSAKA
I went on a press trip to Western Japan in 2017 that opened my eyes to this part of the country. There’s so much more to the Kansai region than Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara! If you have enough time and want to do side trips from Osaka, then here are a few places to consider.
Every list of side trips from Osaka should begin with Kyoto. It’s beloved by the Japanese and has long been considered one of the country’s most innovative centers for arts and culture. So important is Kyoto to the Japanese experience that not many travelers visit Osaka without spending a few days here as well. It’s less than half an hour away and can even be visited on daily trips from Osaka.
Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 1,210 each way / Travel Time: Around 30 mins
Like Kyoto, many travelers visit Nara from Osaka. It’s second only to Kyoto in its wealth of temples, shrines, and traditional gardens in Japan. Apart from its cultural sites, Nara is best known for its parks with tame Sika deer. There are an estimated 1,200 Sika deer in Nara which visitors can feed with these sika senbei or “deer crackers”. Nara is less than an hour from Osaka making it an ideal place for a day or overnight trip.
You can check out our day tripper’s travel guide to Nara to help you plan your trip. If you’d prefer to visit Nara on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this Kyoto / Nara day tour on KKday.
Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 800 each way / Travel Time: Around 50 mins
3. Kinosaki Onsen
Kinosaki Onsen is a lovely onsen town about two and a half hours from Osaka. It’s an atmospheric place known for its seven public hot springs or soto-yu. Many people visit Kinosaki Onsen to go onsen hopping in Winter. You feel SO GOOD afterwards. No wonder it’s so popular among the Japanese! You can go to hot spring baths in many places but I suggest going to an onsen town like this one. The experience is completely different.
Check out my post on Kinosaki Onsen for more pictures and information.
Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 5,080 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 40 mins
4. Kannabe Highlands
Many travelers want to experience snow in winter and you can do so here at Kannabe Highlands. About three hours from Osaka, the area is home to a few boutique ski resorts where you can go skiing or snowboarding. I went here on a press trip and they took us snowshoe hiking up to the crater of a volcano.
Check out my post on Kannabe Highlands for more pictures and information.
Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 4,750 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 20 mins
Amanohashidate is a narrow sandbar that’s considered one of the three most scenic views in Japan, the other two being the pine-clad islands of Matsushima and the torii at Itsukushima Shrine. Amanohashidate is just a little over two hours away by train so you can easily go on a day trip from Osaka.
Check out my post on Amanohashidate for more pictures and information. If you’d prefer to visit Amanohashidate on a guided tour, then you may want to check out this Kyoto Seaside Day Tour on KKday. It’ll take you to Amanohashidate and a couple of other spots.
Fare from Osaka: At least JPY 4,760 each way / Travel Time: Around 2 hrs 20 mins
THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE FOOD GUIDE
We adore Japanese food. If I had to eat just one cuisine for the rest of my life, then it would definitely be Japanese. If you enjoy Japanese food as much as we do, then our Japanese Food Guide may be of interest to you. It lists some of the most popular dishes in Japan as well as regional specialties by prefecture, including Osaka.
WHERE TO EAT
1. Kura Sushi
Kura Sushi is one of the most popular kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) chains in Japan. It’s my Japanese friend’s go-to place for sushi whenever he wants something good but inexpensive. Every plate of sushi at Kura Sushi – from kani, to sake, to tamago, to ika – goes for just JPY 100. That’s equivalent to about one US dollar. This place rocks! Visit the Kura Sushi website for a list of branches in Osaka.
Expect to Pay: Around JPY 1,000-1,500 per person with drinks
2. Rai Rai Tei
Like sushi, ramen is one of the best dishes you can have in Japan. There are more popular chains like Ippudo and Ichiran but for us, Rai Rai Tei is the best. Our Japanese friend Tsutomu calls it his favorite ramen restaurant and we agree. It’s absolutely delicious, with a depth of flavor that exceeds any bowl of ramen we’ve had so far in Japan. Visit the Rai Rai Tei website for a list of branches in Osaka.
Expect to Pay: At least JPY 620 per bowl of ramen
3. Okonomiyaki Mizuno
Okonomiyaki and takoyaki are two core Osaka dishes so they’re something you need to have, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Okonomiyaki is a savory-sweet pancake made with wheat flour batter and other ingredients like green onion, seafood, pork belly, vegetables, and cheese.
There are many okonomiyaki restaurants throughout Osaka but Mizuno has a reputation for being one of the best. Located in Namba, they’re a Michelin-recommended restaurant long known for serving some of the most delicious okonomiyaki in Osaka.
Expect to Pay: At least JPY 970 per okonomiyaki
4. Takoyaki Tamaya
As described, takoyaki is one of Osaka’s most important dishes so it’s something you need to try. Similar to okonomiyaki, takoyaki is made with wheat four batter and filled with octopus (tako), tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. There are countless takoyaki stands all over Osaka but you may want to try it at Takoyaki Tamaya. They make their takoyaki with lobster broth.
Expect to Pay: JPY 290 for 5 pcs
5. Tempura Tentomi
Like sushi, tempura is one of my favorite Japanese dishes. We wanted to eat at a really good tempura restaurant in Osaka but the problem was, many were expensive. Thankfully, we found Tempura Tentomi. Not only do they offer great tempura at a reasonable price, but they serve Kanto-style tempura which isn’t as common in Osaka. Our Japanese friend Tsutomu loved it here as well.
Expect to Pay: JPY 1,000 for a tendon bowl (lunch)
This place is all about Kobe beef. We wanted to try this legendary brand of beef but we were afraid of its exorbitant prices. Luckily, we had insider knowledge.
Tsutomu used to work at a 5-star resort and this place was recommended to him by his meat supplier. According to him, Tsurugyu serves genuine Kobe Beef minus the certification, why is why it’s so much cheaper. Take that for what it’s worth but for us, it remains the best beef we’ve ever had in our lives.
Check out my post on Tsurugyu in Osaka for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: Around JPY 7,000 per person with drinks
These six restaurants are our favorites but if you’re looking for more recommendations, then you can check out our list of 25 Must-try restaurants in Osaka.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN OSAKA
This was the itinerary map we used on our most recent trip to the Kansai region. It includes most of the attractions and restaurants in this Osaka guide, including a few others in Kyoto and Nara.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The subway system in Osaka is very efficient. It’s probably the only mode of transportation you’ll need. However, it’s comprised of several lines and often requires multiple transfers, so it can be a little confusing. But if you rent a pocket wifi device and bookmark hyperdia.com on your smartphone, then you should be fine.
Like the rail system, the sheer number and variety of transportation cards in Japan can be confusing. I’ve narrowed it down to the most pertinent ones below to make it less intimidating. For more information, you can check out this article on Osaka travel passes.
Osaka Amazing Pass
One highly recommended option is the Osaka Amazing Pass. Available in 1- or 2-day variants, this tourist pass will not only give you unlimited use of the subway and bus system in Osaka, but it’ll give you free access to 35 of the city’s key attractions as well like Osaka Castle and the Floating Garden Observatory at Umeda Sky Building. Please note that the 2-day version must be used on consecutive days.
JR Kansai Area Pass / Kansai Thru Pass
If you’ll be riding the train a lot to get around the Kansai region, then you may consider getting a JR Kansai Area Pass or a Kansai Thru Pass. They’re both unlimited use passes, the main differences being that JR Kansai Area Passes are for JR trains and need to be used on consecutive days (1-4 day variants), while Kansai Thru Passes are for non-JR trains and can be used on non-consecutive days (2- or 3-day variants). Though they’re for use on different train lines, both can get you to Osaka from KIX.
On our last trip to Osaka, which was partly a press trip to Universal Studios Japan, our friends at KKday provided us with these 4-day JR Kansai Area Passes. They entitled us to unlimited travel on JR trains within the Kansai region for four consecutive days. We made day trips to Kyoto and Nara so they were super convenient.
ICOCA IC Card
Another option is to get an ICOCA IC Card. It isn’t an unlimited use pass like the JR Kansai Area Pass but it’ll give you discounts on JR trains (including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka), the subway, private railways, and buses. Think of it as a stored value card similar to Seoul’s T-Money Card.
Lastly, if Osaka is just one of many stops on a countrywide tour of Japan, then a JR Pass may be a good investment. As described, it’ll give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan – including the Kansai Airport Express Haruka, Shinkansen bullet trains, and the Narita Express – for a consecutive number of days. You can purchase a JR Pass in 7-, 14-, or 21-day variants from Japan Rail Pass or Klook.
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY
Assuming you’re spending time only in Osaka, then 3 days should be enough. But hardly anyone who visits the Kansai region spends time just in Osaka so 4-5 days would be better. This will give you enough time to visit all the major attractions in Osaka and make day trips to Kyoto and/or Nara. Here’s a sample 5D/4N Osaka itinerary to help you plan your trip.
| DAY ONE|
• Kuromon Ichiba Market
• Namba (Dotonbori)
| DAY TWO|
• Universal Studios Japan
| DAY THREE|
• Osaka Castle
• Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
• Cup Noodles Museum
| DAY FOUR|
| DAY FIVE|
• Kyoto or Nara
BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES
Osaka may not be as expensive as Tokyo, but it’s still in Japan. It’s still an expensive destination relative to most of Asia. There are ways to cut costs but expect nonetheless to spend more here compared to destinations like Bangkok or Taipei.
The unit of currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Assuming you’ll be staying in Osaka for 3 full days and sharing mid-level accommodations with one other person, then a daily budget of around JPY 9,000-9,500 per person should be plenty. This takes into account your accommodations, transportation, meals, drinks, pocket wifi rental, and entrance fees to Universal Studios Japan and the aquarium. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:
This depends on multiple factors like hotel preference and number of travel companions. You can get a decent room at a business hotel for around JPY 7,500 a night. Expect to pay much less if you’re staying at a hostel or capsule hotel.
Osaka is all about good food so this is probably one thing you shouldn’t scrimp too much on. If you stick to moderately priced meals like ramen or okonomiyaki, then I’d say around JPY 1,500-2,000 a day per person is enough. If you want to spend considerably less, then cheap but good meals can be had at convenience stores like Family Mart, Lawson, or 7-Eleven.
| ENTRANCE FEES|
Entrance to Universal Studios Japan is expensive so a big chunk of your budget will go there. If you plan on going to USJ and the aquarium, then the total cost of admission to those two places will be JPY 9,700.
| POCKET WIFI RENTAL|
If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll each be paying JPY 195 per day.
Assuming you’re staying only in Osaka, then a transportation budget of around JPY 500 a day per person should be enough.
This comes out to about JPY 9,180 a day per person. Keep in mind that this baseline estimate doesn’t include shopping or day trip costs to Kyoto or Nara. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget is a good baseline for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel habits.
1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel or ViaHero
SYGIC TRAVEL: If you enjoy travel planning, then you’re going to find Sygic Travel useful. I’ve been using this free trip planning app for several years now. It allows me to pin all points of interest on a map – like our hotel, restaurants, metro stops, and tourist attractions – then grouping them together by location so I can create as efficient an itinerary as possible. It’s available for free on iOS and Android.
VIAHERO: If you don’t enjoy trip planning as much and would rather have a destination expert do it for you, then you can try ViaHero. ViaHero is a travel planning service that links travelers with local experts to create custom itineraries to different cities around the world, including Osaka and the Kansai region. If you’d like to try them out, then you can get a 5% discount on their services if you use our link.
2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
A constant wifi connection is a must when traveling these days, especially in Japan. There are few free wifi zones in this country so you’ll need it to navigate the subways, convert currencies, and learn how to say “where is the nearest Kura Sushi” in Japanese. Having access to Hyperdia alone justifies the cost. We never go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.
You can stay connected to the internet in Japan by renting a pocket wifi device or buying a sim card. We always rent pocket wifi devices but sim cards are fine too. You can arrange for either through KKday (4G pocket wifi | 4G sim card) or Klook (4G pocket wifi | 4G sim card).
3. Bookmark Hyperdia or Get the App on your Mobile Device
As I’ve mentioned often in this guide, Hyperdia will be invaluable to your Japan trip. You’ll be riding the subway a lot, frequently changing lines and services, and this website will tell you exactly how to get from one station to the next. It’s very detailed and I can’t stress enough how handy it is. It’s a lifesaver for non-Japanese-speaking commuters in Japan.
4. Check for Discount Passes
I’ve purchased discount vouchers from several e-commerce travel platforms but one of the sites I use the most, especially in Asia, is KKday. They offer deals in many cities around the world, including Osaka. If you want to find deals on tours, airport transfers, activities, etc, then you can search through these lists of Osaka attractions on KKday. As described above, they even offer deals and bundles to Universal Studios. Here’s a list of some of KKday’s most popular deals in Osaka: (pictures borrowed from kkday.com)
5. Get Travel Insurance
Whether or not to get travel insurance is something we consider before every trip. Though we do get it more often now, we don’t always buy travel insurance. It depends on the trip. If we’re just going to a city like Osaka to eat for a few days, then we probably won’t get it since our credit cards come with basic travel insurance anyway. But if we plan on doing anything physical like wrestling with alligators or rolling boulders uphill, then we’ll definitely pick up a policy.
We get insurance from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both reliable travel medical insurance providers used by many digital nomads. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for a breakdown of the two. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.
6. Bring the Right Power Adapter
7. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette
Japan is unlike any country we’ve ever visited. It’s quirky in many ways and has a lot of unwritten rules. You don’t want to unknowingly offend anyone, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the rules. Here’s a good overview on Japanese etiquette for tourists.
VISA INFORMATION (for Filipinos)
If you’re a Filipino citizen, then you’ll need to be granted a tourist visa to visit Japan. You’ll need to apply at one of the travel agencies accredited by the Embassy of Japan. Personally, I applied through Reli Tours and Travel in 2016 and was granted a 5-year multiple entry visa. The entire process took about 5-7 days.
Check out my post on how to apply for a Japan tourist visa for more information.
I’ve been to Osaka three times in the last five years but by no means am I an expert. With that said, I do hope that you find this guide useful as I’m only sharing some of the things I’ve learned from my trips. If you have any questions or suggestions, then please feel free to ask us in the comment section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.
Thanks for stopping by and have fun eating your way through Osaka!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Osaka. If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
The 2019 version of this Osaka travel guide was written based on what we learned from three previous trips to Osaka. Our last visit was a partially sponsored press trip to Universal Studios Japan in partnership with our friends at KKday. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.
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