Ultimate Travel Guide to Your First Time in Osaka

Table of Contents

So you’ve booked your tickets, and you’re ready to visit Osaka for the first time.

This friendly city is like a breath of fresh air, welcoming you with mouthwatering cuisine and rich history.

With so much to see, where should you start?

This guide will break down Osaka and give you a few helpful tips on making your trip unforgettable, including top places to eat and things to do.

Read on to learn all you need to know for your first time in Osaka.

When’s the Best Time to Visit Osaka?

cherry blossoms at osaka castle

Frankly, there is no bad time to visit Osaka. Japan cycles through all four seasons to refresh the sights and weather patterns, meaning you can choose your preferred seasonal charms.

Tourist numbers peak during the summer holidays and the Golden Week (usually around the first week of May), so avoid those months if you don’t like crowds.

Summer is true to Osaka’s hot-blooded character, temperatures running from low 20s to 30s ⁰C (68 to 86⁰F).

July welcomes torrents of rain, followed by hot and humid August.

Still, one of Japan’s most fabulous and meaningful festivals take place mid-summer – the Tenjin Matsuri is worth the sweat.

September through November is some of the best time to visit thanks to low tourism, bargain deals, cooling weather and stunning foliage.

Snow doesn’t stick around even in the depths of winter; January drops to an average low of 3⁰C with some rain.

Generally, winter is a great time to visit if you prefer clear and crisp weather. The city is also relatively uncrowded.

Hoping to catch the fabled cherry blossoms? Plums blossom from mid-March while the cherries peak during the first week of April.

You’ll have to fend off other tourists for the most popular hanabi spots, but it’s worth the effort.

How to Get There & Getting Around

Nankai Train, Osaka Station

Travelers hailing from overseas will most likely land at Kansai International Airport.

You might wonder about the alternative Osaka International Airport; it has long been rebranded into Itami Airport and now caters only to domestic flights.

Others zip in on the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and other big cities, or endure a long bus ride.

Clean, well-organized and delivering you to every nook and cranny, Osaka’s public transport are top class.

Depending on how keen you are to navigate Japanese signage, challenge bus routes or stick to the handy train network.

Train

Private railway operators banded together to form a comprehensive train network.

From the elevated Osaka Monorail which cuts across the city from North to East, to the JR Osaka Loop and grid-like Osaka Metro – you’re free to explore.

Other train services by Hankyu, Keihan, Kintetsu, Hanshin and Nankai link Osaka to the cities of Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Nagoya and more.

Definitely the most budget-friendly and English-friendly option.

Bus

The train system is definitely easier to navigate than buses, but here’s an alternative for gutsy travelers.

Most buses charge a flat fee of Y210 for adults; simply tap on with a prepaid card. You can also pay by cash, but you may be charged higher.

To get off the bus, simply push the alert button on the side or ceiling. Buses are Japanese only, so take at your linguistic level.

Taxi

Of Osaka’s public transport, taxis most fit the ‘excellent but expensive’ trope.

Flag down a taxi off the street; available ones have illuminated lights on the roof. The driver will open the door for you and will help put any luggage in the trunk.

While most know enough English to understand your destination, it’s best to have your destination written in Japanese.

All taxis are registered and meters will be turned on – don’t fear being ripped off.

Note that taxis start at Y660 for the first 2km; each additional 296 meters cost Y80. They generally take cash, so make sure to have some on you.

Bicycle

You could do as the locals do and cycle your way around town. While not the most efficient way to commute, it’s a unique experience.

Expert Tip

Get a prepaid ICOCA card! You can purchase these travel cards at any train station; simply top up at ticketing machines at increments of 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 5,000 yen or 10,000 yen.

The card itself costs Y2500 (Y500 is a deposit) and has no expiration date.

It'll get you through all public transport plus vending machines – think of it as both a time-saver and emergency cash supply.

tip

Where to Stay in Osaka

Skyview Deluxe Room (Photo by ritz-carlton)

Embrace Osaka by finding accommodation smackdab downtown or right by a top attraction.

With convenient and well-developed public transport, you can also opt for quieter residences with specialty features – onsen-attached hotels sure sound tempting!

Conrad Osaka

Best Hotel For Couples

Floor to ceiling glass reveals Osaka in all its glimmering, metropolitan glory; if that’s not romance, maybe Conrad Osaka’s convenient location will seal the deal.

The spacious and modern rooms are ideal for couples, decked out with a minibar for late-night wining.

Indulge in your love cocoon with its 4 onsite dining options; Atmos Dining for fusion cuisine, KURA for authentic Japanese bites, C:Grill for fresh seafood and sleek 40 Sky Bar and Lounge to toast your getaway.

Fraser Residence Nankai Osaka

Best Hotel For Groups

Usher your family or friends into this airy condo and gawk at the generous space.

Hosting up to 7 people, the two-room apartment lets you live like a local – crash onto the couch or cook up a storm in the kitchen.

Best of all, there’s no need to wander like you’re lost. Namba Station is just minutes away, as are 2 Osaka Metro stations.

Walk out of the residential bubble and straight into Osaka’s trendsetting arena.

Swissotel Nankai
photo by swissotel nankai osaka

Swissotel Nankai Osaka

Best Hotel In City Center

Set up base in the city center by booking a stay at Swissotel Nankai Osaka.

Right above Namba Station, it’s just 35 minutes away from Kansai International Airport; 5 minutes from Namba Parks Shopping Center and Takashimaya Department Store.

Shop a brand new wardrobe at nearby Shinsaibashi, or eat your way through Dotonbori.

Want to start your day luxuriously? Treat yourself to the breakfast buffet with panoramic city views.

Wrap up the night with kaiseki meals or a relaxing hot tub soak.

Dormy Inn Premium Osaka Kitahama

Best Hotel With Onsen

The charm is strong with this one because the traditional onsen feature will have you bathing in steaming waters.

Located near Nakanoshima Park for much-needed serenity, Dormy Inn is the perfect retreat after wandering the city.

It’s not too far from the sights either, with the Glico Man Sign just 3 kilometers away.

The Japanese-Western breakfast mix will have you ready for your day out; the sauna your pre-bedtime routine.

Hotel Keihan Universal Tower

Walking Distance to Universal Studios

Universal Studios Japan is a classic stop for any Osaka itinerary but not the easiest to get to.

So why not park yourself within walking distance?

Just 300 meters from Universal Studios, Hotel Keihan is a whopping package of entertainment, jet baths, city views and comfortable rooms.

The on-site restaurant serves course meals with the Osaka skyline as garnish, offering a unique perspective of the city without its bustle.

Ritz Carlton Osaka Luxury Retreat overlooking osaka
Luxury Retreat overlooking osaka(photo by ritz-carlton)

Ritz-Carlton Osaka

Best Hotel for Luxury

The Ritz-Carlton is associated with peak luxury for good reason – the Osaka edition is no different.

From the doormen at its polished wooden front doors to its soft linens and classic European-style décor, the hotel pampers you with quality.

Rooms begin on the 24th floor and feature stunning views; there’s also an exclusive Club Lounge for VIP guests.

Access the city easily; it’s just a few minutes’ walk from JR Osaka Station and Nishi-Umeda Subway Station.

For more samples of the luxe life, treat yourself to the Michelin-starred French restaurant, La Baie.

Things to Do in Osaka

Hogwarts Express in Osaka

Osaka has lots to offer visitors, including world-class shopping, incredible food (Osaka is one of the top culinary cities in Japan!), and great entertainment.

The city is also famous for its energetic nightlife scene, with a number of nightclubs to suit every taste.

With its laid-back atmosphere and welcoming people, you’ll be able to enjoy Osaka’s attractions to the fullest.

If you’re looking for something different from Tokyo or Kyoto, some top things to do in Osaka include:

  • Head to Universal Studios Japan – The largest and most popular amusement park in Japan
  • Empty your wallet at Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street – A large shopping complex that features over 250 shops
  • Enjoy the incredible nightlife – The atmosphere is youthful and lively, perfect for party-goers.

Osaka is a city with plenty of attractions, so if your time is limited to explore the area, you’ll have to choose wisely.

Where to Eat in Osaka

japanese sushi platter

Osaka is definitely made for eating! Serving up rice bowls to grilled skewers to savory pancakes and quick bites:

  • Mizuno – to fulfill your okonomiyaki cravings, the menu is a scramble of ingredients.
  • Kushikatsu Daruma – be careful not to double-dip those delicious deep-fried skewers; the sauce is for sharing!
  • Kin no Toriaka – for all your fried chicken demands.
  • Kyabetuyaki – you’ve never had grilled cabbage like this; fried with batter, topped with egg and served folded over.
  • Jiyuken – Japanese curry might be mild but this specialty curry is a treat to the taste buds. The curry, rice and egg mix is century-perfect.
  • Sakamachi no Ten-don – for an unassuming space with scrumptious rice bowls and tempura.
  • Kura Sushi – the ultimate conveyor belt sushi experience, Kura Sushi sends each dish out for just Y100. It’s a local classic.
  • Jinen Shimizucho – for a more traditional, quality sushi experience. Highly recommended: unagi (eel), chuo toro (fatty tuna) and aburi shake (blow-torched salmon).
  • Takoyaki Juhachiban – the ideal takoyaki; crunchy at first bite but gooey on the inside.
  • Niboshi Ramen Tamagoro Kuromon – the intensely flavored niboshi fish broth makes this shop’s tsukemen a must-try.

Osaka Travel Tips

Dotombori gawa river, Osaka

Japanese culture is hard to pinpoint sometimes, so here are some cultural know-hows to keep in mind.

  • Don’t make or take calls on public transport; you don’t want to disturb tired commuters on a cramped train car.
  • You might notice how clean the streets in Japan are. Do your part by not eating while you walk; stick around the food stalls or at a discreet corner.
  • You’ll also notice the lack of rubbish bins – this is meant to discourage people from creating trash in the first place. Keep your disposables with you until you come across a public bathroom or convenience store.
  • Tipping isn’t required! In fact, it could be considered rude in some places. Show appreciation with a simple thank you.
  • Abide by the rules. Before entering any space, check if you need to take shoes off or if photos are allowed.
  • The one golden rule: respect order and be polite.
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