Planning a trip to Osaka? This is the place to start. I’ll take you through all the big questions: When, where, why and how. And, of course, how much.
Osaka Castle in evening.
Why Osaka? What Is Special About Osaka?
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city. In many ways it's the soul of Japan. While Tokyo is polished and pricey, Osaka is laid back and down-to-earth. It’s a great place to experience a large, modern Japanese city in all its glory, but on a more human scale than Tokyo – and for significantly less money. The city is all about great food (and lots of it) and shopping, especially bargain shopping. Best of all, Osaka is packed with friendly and easygoing citizens who are at ease with foreign visitors. Indeed, it’s probably easier to have a good time in Osaka than any other city in Japan. So, if you’re coming to Japan, you owe it to yourself to spend some time in Osaka. It’s always a pleasant surprise!
How Much Time Should I Spend In Osaka?
You could easily spend a week in Osaka without feeling bored. But, for most people with limited time, a few days in Osaka would be good. For example, if you’re coming to Japan for 10 days, it would make sense to spend a night and parts of two days in Osaka (and spend the rest of the time in Kyoto and Tokyo). See my 10 day Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo itinerary for a complete breakdown of the practicalities.
Of course, if you want to skip Tokyo entirely, you could easily fly into Kansai International Airport and do a Kansai-only itinerary, including just Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. For some specific Osaka-Kyoto itineraries, see my Osaka Itineraries page, which has itineraries that include both cities.
Should I Visit Osaka or Tokyo?
Both Osaka and Tokyo are great examples of a large, modern Japanese city. If you have time, you should visit them both. However, if you want to do a Kansai-only trip, it would be perfectly possible to visit only Kyoto and Osaka (and, possibly, Nara). This would allow you to see both sides of the Japanese experience: the modern and the traditional. Osaka is big enough and modern enough to give you a glimpse of Japan’s futuristic and hi-tech face, and Kyoto is all about Japan’s ancient traditions. One advantage of doing a Kansai-only trip is that it would involve less travel and would save you a lot of money (especially if you were to fly via Kansai International Airport).
What Should I See In Osaka? What Are Osaka’s Must-See Attractions?
Osaka is not really about specific attractions. Rather, it’s a place that you experience in its entirety. You should just wander almost aimless and plunk down for coffee when you feel like it and let the experience of the city wash over you. That said, every visitor to the city should check out the Kita and Minami districts, as well as the Osaka Castle Area. For some more ideas of things to see and do in Osaka, check out my Things to Do in Osaka page. And, for specific itineraries based on number of days or specific interests, see my Osaka Itineraries page.
If you're travelling with children, a must-see destination might be the Universal Studios Japan theme park in the Osaka Bay Area. There's also Legoland Japan and the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, which are a 50 minute train ride away in Nagoya.
Is Osaka Expensive? What Is A Reasonable Osaka Budget?
Japan is probably the cheapest country in the developed world. The only comparable countries are Portugal and Taiwan. Check out the actual numbers on the Japan: It’s Cheaper Than You Think page. And, best of all, Osaka is significantly cheaper than Tokyo. Prices for hotels and restaurants in Osaka tend to be at least 30% cheaper than those in Tokyo, sometimes more.
Sample Daily Osaka Budgets (Per Person/Exchange Rates for Oct 2016)
Budget Osaka Trip Pricing
- Guesthouse accommodation (per person): Y3500
- Two simple restaurant meals: Y2000
- Public transport: Y1500
- One average museum admission: Y800
- Sundry purchases: Y1000
- Total: Y8800 (about US$87, €77)
Mid-Range Osaka Trip Pricing
- Moderate hotel accommodation (per person/twin occupancy): Y11,000
- Two moderate restaurant meals: Y4000
- Public transport plus one taxi ride: Y2500
- Two average museum admissions: Y1600
- Sundry purchases: Y2000
- Total: Y21,100 (about US$208, €186)
Where Should I Stay In Osaka?
Unlike Kyoto, which has plenty of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), Osaka is all about hotels. There are hotels all across the city, but Osaka is a big place, so you should definitely stay in one of the city’s main urban hubs like Kita, Minami, Central Osaka (Honmachi) or the Osaka Castle Area. For details, see my Where to Stay in Osaka page. If you want recommendations for specific hotels in particular budget ranges, see my advice on the best Osaka Budget Hotels, Mid-Range Hotels, Boutique Hotels and Luxury Hotels.
When’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit Osaka?
You can visit Osaka all year round – it’s never too hot, too rainy or too cold to visit. The summers (from late June to early September) are hot and humid, but not so hot that you cannot enjoy yourself. The winters (from early December to late March) are usually cold, but not freezing. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, with warm to cool temps and generally sunny skies.
The late March/early April cherry blossom season is very popular for tourism to all parts of Japan including Osaka, but it can be hard to get hotel rooms (book well in advance!). For more details on the best seasons to visit, check out my Best Time to Go to Osaka page.
Is It Easy To Get Around Osaka?
Osaka is a large and sprawling city. But because the subways and trains are so good in Osaka, it’s actually pretty easy to get around. For more details, see my Getting Around Osaka page. And here’s a priceless tip: Prepaid cards like Icoca (or Suica or Pasmo) make getting around Osaka by public transport a breeze. See my Prepaid Cards – Icoca (or Suica and Pasmo) page for details.
Is It Easy To Travel Around Osaka With Kids?
I have two small children and we live in Kyoto but I often take my kids to Osaka because there’s so much for them to do there. My kids absolutely love Osaka. It’s a GREAT place to travel with children. As with the rest of Japan, you don’t have to worry about food safety or crime. And, Osaka has some of the best kid-friendly attractions in all of Japan. For more tips on traveling in Osaka with your kids, check out my Osaka With Children page.
Is It Easy To Get Money Out Of ATMs In Osaka?
ATMs that work with international bank and credit cards are not as common in Japan as they are in many other countries. But, you can get money out of postal ATMs and ATMs at convenience stores like 7-11. For more on getting money in Japan, see my Getting Money in Kyoto page (yes, it’s about Kyoto but most of the information holds true for Osaka).
Can I Meet A Geisha In Osaka?
It’s not possible to meet a geisha in Osaka, but Kyoto is only 11 minutes away by shinkansen (bullet train). Kyoto is the heart of the geisha world. Read more about Kyoto geisha on my companion site InsideKyoto.com and to meet geisha themselves, please visit my guided tours site ChrisRowthorn.com
Can I See Sumo Wrestling In Osaka?
While Tokyo is the best place in Japan to see sumo wrestling, it’s also possible to see sumo in Osaka. A basho (sumo tournament) is held every March in Osaka, usually from around 12 March to 26 March. For more details on purchasing tickets, see my How To See Sumo Wrestling in Osaka Or Kyoto page.
Is Osaka Safe For Travellers?
Japan is one of the world’s safest countries. The crime rate is extremely low. People are honest. And, there is no political instability. Of course, you should use normal common sense and female travelers should take the usual precautions (ie, don’t hitchhike alone and don’t walk alone at night in an area that seems dodgy).
OK, I Want To Visit! So How Do I Get To Osaka?
Osaka is served by two main airports: Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Osaka International Airport (better known as Itami; ITM). Kansai International is Osaka’s (and Kyoto’s) main international airport. Itami is primarily a domestic airport and if you’re flying to/from another city in Japan, you’ll probably use Itami (note, however, that some domestic flights go via Kansai).
You can check and compare Osaka flight prices and times between multiple airlines on a flight comparison site.
Kansai is about 45 minutes from Osaka by train or bus, while Itami is only about 25 minutes from Osaka by bus, taxi or train/subway. For full details on these two airports and airport transport see my Osaka Airport Transport page.
Visiting Tokyo and Kyoto?
If you're visiting Tokyo and Kyoto as well as Osaka, be sure to check out my First Time In Tokyo and First Time In Kyoto guides on Inside Osaka's companion websites, TrulyTokyo.com and InsideKyoto.com
Where Are These Places Located?See these places on the Inside Osaka Google map:
- Open the Osaka map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels / Ryokan / Guesthouses | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | GREEN: Shops | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
Osaka Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Osaka guide
- Check Osaka accommodation availability and pricing on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Osaka
- You can buy a Japan SIM card online for collection on arrival at Osaka's Kansai International Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- View my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare flight prices and timings to find the best Japan flight deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with the Japan Rail Pass – here's why it's worth it
- Get a prepaid Icoca card to make travelling around Osaka easy – here's how
- Find out why travel insurance for Japan is essential – World Nomads is well-regarded