Osaka is a cultural capital of Japan, a hub of historical and modern experiences waiting to be discovered. Just one day won’t seem like enough in this vast metropolitan city, but there’s certainly plenty you can do in that amount of time.
If you’re going to spend one day in Osaka, be sure to see the Osaka Castle, where you can soak in the rich history of Japan, as well as modern sights like the Dotonbori district and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel. Combine both with a visit to the modern-but-classic National Bunraku Theater.
Although you may be able to get around Osaka by walking or by rental car, it’s important to know what your public transportation options are. The best way to get around Osaka is to take public transportation to one area or neighbourhood, walk to get around, then take public transportation to your next destination.
The subway is the most popular public transportation option in Osaka, particularly the JR West Loop line, which encircles the city. Google Maps can direct you to the fastest route according to your location and destination.
The subways have an unlimited day pass available for ¥800 per day, or ¥600 on a Friday, available for purchase at any subway location. Note that Osaka subways stop running around midnight, so if you’re planning to stay out late, be sure to arrange for alternate transportation.
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Start off with some breakfast from one of the small stores, a local fast-food restaurant or even in your hotel if it’s something they offer.
Breakfast isn’t a common meal in Japan so you may struggle to find breakfast style options. If you are stuck for ideas just grab something from 7/11 or FamilyMart.
The Osaka Castle is a must-see and a great first destination for your day in Osaka. The castle was built nearly 500 years ago in 1583 and required 100,000 workers to get the job done.
The castle was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, and though the current version was built in 1931, the style and structure of the castle still stand as a monument to Japanese history.
The castle is surrounded by turrets, gates, and a moat that surrounds the castle grounds, as well as gardens and a park. There are many sights to see in the castle and on the castle grounds, and private tours are available. However, the walk around the castle grounds makes for a pleasant few hours of exploration.
- Take a walk through the Osaka Castle grounds and the museum in the castle itself, and see these landmarks along the way:
- Enter the castle grounds through the Otemon Gate, positioned in the southwest corner of the grounds between the Sengan-yagura Turret and the Rokuban-yagura Turret.
- Visit the historic Shinto Hokoku Shrine, built in the 1800s to honor Japanese leader and Chief Advisor to the Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
- Visit the historic Shinto Wakanaga Shrine.
- You’ll find the Shuseki Tei Garden surrounding these shrines as you move counterclockwise around the castle grounds.
- The Site of Tamatsukuriguchi will be your next stop, with impressive stone walls and a view of the moat.
- The Anh Quang Truong is next on your walk, a beautiful park filled with cherry blossoms and hedges.
- The Gangi Slope will take you toward your next destination and past a convenience store to meet your practical needs.
- Cross the Shinshigino Bridge to find the Omoideno Mori park.
- Continue to the Peach Grove, an arboretum home to 165 peach trees. The trees bloom in mid-March and last through the end of April.
- Cross the first moat towards the Kyobashi-guch Entrance.
- See the Osakajo Gozabune Pier along the inner moat.
- The Gokuraku-bashi Bridge will take you across a moat, closer to the castle itself.
- At the Site of Yamazato-maru, you can read more about the castle’s history amidst manicured, blossoming hedges and trees.
- Kokuinseki-hiroba is a beautiful park right next to the castle museum and makes for a nice resting spot if you need one.
- The Osaka Castle and museum opens at 9 am and has eight floors, offering panoramic views of the castle grounds and the broader city, as well as collections of artwork and weaponry available to view. The exhibits inside include 3D technologies and holograms that explain the castle’s history and what Japan was like when it was built.
- The Nishinomaru Garden is the largest park on the castle grounds and is filled with topiaries and cherry blossoms.
In addition to these sights, you’ll see beautiful turrets, gates, and stone structures along your walk through the grounds.
The Osaka Castle and grounds are best experienced in good weather, but the grounds are beautiful in rain, snow, and shine.
However, be reassured that the Osaka Castle and its museum make for a beautiful destination even if you do not want to walk the grounds and that the Osaka Museum of History is also nearby.
Osaka Museum of History
Depending on how much time you spend at Osaka Castle, you may or may not have time to visit the Osaka Museum of History.
This museum covers a wide breadth of Osaka history from ancient times to the present day via graphical displays, and is open between 9:30 am and 5 pm, and is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is ¥600 for adults, ¥400 for students, free for children.
At the entrance of the museum, you’ll find a spherical, glass atrium, connecting to the first floor where you can find a lobby, restaurant, and shop.
From there, you can take the elevator to the tenth floor of the museum, where you can begin a journey through time that continues down floor by floor until you arrive back where you started.
- The tenth floor will take you through Osaka’s ancient past, with a breathtaking view of the city and the remains of the Naniwa Palace, where the Japanese government was rooted from the years 645 to 793.
- The museum includes sketches of what the building would have looked like at the time, as well as a gorgeous palace hallway replica.
- The ninth floor covers the middle ages in Osaka when the city’s harbour was a centre of trading.
- The eighth floor takes visitors into the process of archaeology and shows how artefacts are recovered and prepared for museums. This includes hands-on experiences with museum staff.
- The seventh floor covers the early 20th century, complete with life-size scenes of city streets and houses as they would have looked then.
- The sixth, fifth, fourth, and third floors are reserved for special exhibitions and include a reference library. These floors are not always available to the public.
- The first floor has a lobby, shop, and restaurant where you can rest, find souvenirs or have a snack.
- Outside the museum, you’ll find a reproduction of a 5th-century warehouse.
Southwest of the Osaka Museum of History is the Dotonbori district, Osaka’s most famous tourist destination, and a major centre for entertainment, with neon lights, billboards, shopping, and many restaurants, bars, and theatres.
Take a walk and enjoy the sights and sounds, including the beautiful Ebisubashi Bridge, which crosses the Dotonbori River.
The district includes the Dotonbori Canal and Dotonbori Street, which run parallel to each other. It is one of the most colourful places in the region.
The area was named after Yasui Doton in 1612, when Yasui invested everything he had into the canal area, hoping to improve the network of waterways.
He died before he could see the project to completion, but the area continued to grow as his cousins finished his work, and they named the place after him. Dotonbori translates to “Doton Canal”.
By 1626, trade had poured into the region, and the area started flourishing as a centre for entertainment and theatre. However, the theatre culture of Dotonbori has declined since its destruction during World War II.
Though there are some theatres remaining in the area, Dotonbori is now mostly known for its restaurants, street food, and bars.
Also, consider heading slightly south of Dotonbori to the Brand Lobo thrift store. You never know what treasures you might find, or what hidden stories of the city you’ll find in the aisles of a secondhand shop. For fresh foods, clothes, and souvenirs, you have to head southeast to find the Kuromon Market.
The Kuromon Market is home to traditional Japanese food and goods, and even though you may not want to carry fresh seafood around with you for the rest of the day, you will enjoy taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, and can stop for other traditional ingredients or clothes.
You’ll be charmed by the lanterns, lighting, and overall atmosphere of the market.
Dotonbori is a hub for food of all kinds in Osaka and a great place to find a good lunch. And, it’s not far from the centre of the city, where you can also find a wide range of restaurants, including fine dining.
Eating in Dotonbori
You may also wish to stay in Dotonbori for one of the many restaurant and street food options within this bustling shopping district. You can find a wide range of both classic and unique dishes here.
- Visit Torikizoku Dotombori for high quality classic Japanese food.
- Visit Dotombori Imai honten for warm, wholesome bowls of udon noodles with broth. Quiet, tucked away, simple decor.
- Head to Dotonbori-sakaba Jonetsuhorumon for an ambient atmosphere and Yakiniku, traditional Japanese barbeque.
- Hariju is an excellent choice for prime Japanese beef shabu-shabu and sukiyaki and has been open since 1948.
- Zubora-ya is a speciality location where you can find pufferfish, called fugu.
- At Kukuru, you can find dumplings, including takoyaki octopus dumplings.
- Kushikatsu Daruma serves deep-fried skewers of fish, meat, and vegetables, and has been open since 1929.
- Kani Douraku is a popular destination for crab, recognizable by its giant grab decor at the storefront. Waiting time can be up to three hours, so make sure to make a reservation in advance!
Downtown Osaka includes many dining options, from the quick and easy to the gourmet.
- Daiki Suisan Kaiten Zushi Dotombori offers a conveyor belt system where dishes (sushi and other seafood) rotate around the restaurant, and guests are free to choose what looks best. Plates are color-coded according to price.
- Nikuhoshi is a small restaurant with a great reputation and serves high-end barbeque, sushi, and other traditional Japanese food, as well as pub food at a more reasonable price. Head here for lunch or drinks.
- Takagisuisan offers classic sushi at a reasonable price.
- Ichiran Ramen is a low cost, cash-only restaurant serving quick and delicious classic Japanese ramen dishes.
- Kasuya Hozenji is a moderately priced, highly rated udon noodle restaurant in the area.
To start your afternoon, take a trip southeast of Dotonbori to the Tennoji area, home to several must-see landmarks and one-of-a-kind destinations.
Tsutenkaku Observation Tower
The Tsutenkaku Observation Tower is just a ten-minute train ride from the Kuromon Market and offers an observation deck where you can see the whole city and the mountains beyond it. The surrounding area is known for its neon lights and many shops.
If you grow tired of the neon lights and shopping scene, head to Tennoji Park for a bit of respite in the city and multiple options for museums and sightseeing.
Here you’ll find flowerbeds, lawns and topiaries, the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts, and the Tennoji Zoo. You’ll also find small, charming cafes and fountains to bring peace to your day.
Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts
The Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts is also located within Tennoji Park and is home to a permanent collection of over 8,000 items. Inside you will find a great variety in collections because the items have mostly been donated by a range of private benefactors. These include the following:
- Asian Buddhist Art
- Ancient Mediterranian Art
- Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy
- Japanese Metalworks and Ceramics
- Japanese Paintings from the Edo Period and the Meiji Period
- Shrine and Temple Items from the Kansai Region
This museum is on land that used to be a family estate, until 1926 when the land was donated to the city to become an art museum. The family donated both the land for the museum and the landscaped garden that still stands behind the museum. Although financial hardship delayed the progress of the museum’s construction, it was finally opened in 1936.
The army took over the building during World War II to use for anti-aircraft guns until American forces took over from 1945 through 1947. The museum ultimately survived the war and was renovated extensively in 1979.
Admission is ¥300 for adults, ¥200 for students, and free for children and senior citizens.
The Tennoji Zoo is home to 1,000 animals of 230 species, in habitats from the savanna to the rainforest. Visit the Asian Tropical Rainforest for species that can only be found in Japan, like the kiwi, or the black-faced drill at the Monkey Baboon House.
Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥200 for students, and free for children. The zoo is closed on Mondays. For a preview, visit the Tennoji Zoo website, where you can see a video and 360-degree photography from the park.
Keitakuen Garden is also within Tennoji Park and is home to a beautiful pond with stepping stones, bridges, and topiaries.
The garden was designed by a famous landscape architect, Jihei Ogawa, and was donated to the city in 1926. Admission is ¥150 for adults, ¥80 for students. The garden is closed on Mondays.
If you need more respite or just want to try the traditional bathing pools of Japan, visit Spa World. Here you’ll find classic spa treatments like the hot stone massage and the sauna, as well as gorgeous, ornately decorated bathing pools both indoors and outdoors.
Spa World is a hotel and makes for a beautiful stay close to the centre of the city. Spa World is also kid-friendly, complete with waterparks in addition to the traditional bathing pools and relaxing adult areas.
Closeby is the Isshinji Temple, a classic 12th-century Buddhist temple featuring sculptures of Buddha made from crushed bones and human ashes, meant to honour the deceased and provide a space to recognize their sacredness.
For a look into Japanese Shintoism, visit the nearby Yasui shrine and stone statue built to honour an ancient warrior.
For dinner, visit one of the many options near your afternoon destinations, or continue on to your next stop if you don’t mind waiting until after some travel time to eat.
- Ten’no-den is a classic, upscale Kaiseki restaurant, offering multi-course meals with an ambient, colorful atmosphere.
- Rokusen is a less expensive option, offering sushi and pretty decor in the bustling Tsutenkaku tower area. The sushi is also available for pick-up if you’d like to take your food with you to a destination for something different.
- Gifukya offers deep-fried kushiage and kushikatsu, made with chicken, port, seafood, and vegetables, and often served with a tonkatsu sauce.
- Yakitori Daikichi offers an ambient atmosphere and the classic yakitori, a kind of charcoal-grilled chicken skewered with bamboo.
- Try Yaoke for an upscale sushi destination, complete with drinks and a pleasant, stylish atmosphere.
- Try Senryo Sushi for an authentic but affordable sushi experience.
- For dessert, try Yukihananosato Osaka for delicious soft-serve ice cream.
There are many theatres and shows that you can only see in Japan in and near the Dotonbori district, or you can head thirty minutes west to see another part of the city.
National Bunraku Theater
The National Bunraku Theatre, near the Dotonbori area, combines modern technology with traditional architecture from the Edo Period to provide engaging and beautiful puppet shows, lasting approximately two to three hours. The shows involve an operatic history of Japan, performed by talented singers.
For a local music experience, visit the performing space of local pop group NM48, where they offer live concerts and events periodically just south of Dotonbori.
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
For an astonishing site, visit the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel, which stands 112.5 m (369 ft) tall along the Aji River. The massive wheel holds 480 passengers and offers unmatched views of the city, as well as light shows if you visit at night.
Visit the nearby Tempozan Park for views of the giant Ferris wheel and a pleasant walk around the harbour. The park offers space to play and a historical monument, as well as many blossoming trees and flowers.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is very close to Tempozan Park and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel and is the largest aquarium in the world. It houses the Arctic to tropical marine wildlife, interactive exhibits, and a mystical “Kaiyukan Night Aquarium” from 5pm to 7pm, when the aquarium closes.
The Kaiyukan Night Aquarium features a romantic display of light and sound, where the fish swim amidst a light like moonlight, and the music changes. Here you’ll see the following creatures, and more:
- Asian small-clawed otter
- California sea lion
- Ringed seal
- King penguin
- Pacific white-sided dolphin
- Whale shark
In the interactive exhibits, you can feel the water temperature, hear the noises, and smell the smells of underwater creatures to immerse yourself in their experiences. The exhibits tell stories from three regions:
1. The Arctic region, where you can interact with ringed seals amidst the ice.
2. The Falkland Islands region of Malvinas, where you can interact with rockhopper penguins up close.
3. The Maldives Islands region, where you can feel pitted stingrays and sharks.
The permanent museum displays include the following;
- The Aqua Gate, which allows you to walk through a tunnel surrounded by water, truly feeling like a part of the marine environment.
- The Japan Forest is where you can see river fish and other water creatures.
- The Aleutian Islands is a cold environment home to the Tufted Puffin and many fish.
- Monterey Bay is home to many species of aquatic mammals.
- The Gulf of Panama is home to tropical rainforest and tropical fish that are now only present in a few wild areas of Panama.
- The Ecuador Rainforest is where the rivers and their surrounding areas are home to the most diverse animal populations in the world.
- Antarctica is a harsh environment of rocks and ice home to many penguins.
- The Tasman Sea is a small sea around New Zealand with both very hot and very cold areas, home to the Pacific white-sided dolphins.
- The Great Barrier Reef is home to many brightly colored fish and a reproduction of the 2,000-kilometer-long reef, which is actually a collection of 5,000 interconnected reefs.
- The Pacific Ocean is represented by an aquarium tank 9 meters deep and 34 meters long.
- The Seto Inland Sea is an area where many fish are carried to.
- Seasonal Exhibits change according to what creatures need extra attention.
- The Coast of Chile has cool waters full of nutrients, home to huge amounts of sardines and plankton.
- The Cook Strait lies between the North and South Islands of New Zealand and often has strong winds in addition to constant water currents. Here you’ll find sea turtles and many species of fish.
- The Japan Deeps exhibit represents the ocean floor underneath the Sea of Japan, about 200-400 meters deep. This is home to the Japanese spider crab, the largest variety of crab in the world.
- Lastly, you’ll find the Jellyfish display, built to emphasize their extraordinary movement patterns and transparency.