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1 Day in Osaka – Must See Spots for Your Itinerary

the dotonbori district of Osaka

On our recent trip to Japan, we wanted to fit in as much as possible, which included a trip from Tokyo down to Osaka to visit family. Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and presents a fascinating tapestry where modernity and traditional culture convert, creating a vibrant urban landscape that is akin to Japan’s many cities.

Osaka is known for its dynamic food scene, architecture and historical heritage and has many things that will appeal to every type of traveller; from the lone backpacker to a family of 4 with small kids (like us!)

We were only visiting Osaka for 5 days (which also included a trip to Himeji and Hiroshima from the city), so in reality, we only had 2 full days to explore this wonderfully vibrant city.

1 Day in Osaka

Osaka Castle from the moat in Osaka

It is always challenging to do 1 day in any city, and Osaka is no exception. The city is home to the world’s busiest theme park, Universal Studios Japan, and after visiting Disneyland in Tokyo, we’d already had enough theme parks for one holiday. And anyway, if you are looking for an itinerary for 1 day in Osaka, you’re not going to include USJ, that’s a whole day in itself.

Maximizing a single day in a city as diverse and rich in attractions as Osaka necessitates careful planning and strategic decision-making. With its vast array of historical sites, modern landmarks, culinary delights, and unique neighbourhoods, the challenge lies in curating an itinerary that captures the essence of Osaka without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

a shrine in Osaka

Osaka, as with every city in Japan, has plenty of shrines and temples, but if you’re only spending one day in Osaka, I’m guessing you’ll be visiting other places nearby such as Kobe and Kyoto, so save the temple trips for those days. What we enjoyed the most was wandering around the streets of Osaka and you would encounter a few surprise shrines or temples on the way.

Osaka’s attractions are spread across the city, and without a plan, valuable time could be lost in transit or indecision. A well-thought-out itinerary ensures that you allocate sufficient time to each destination, including travel time between points of interest, allowing for a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

Start with Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium in Osaka Bay

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is the world’s largest aquarium, located in the Minato ward, near the picturesque Osaka Bay. Designed by the renowned architect Peter Chermayeff, Kaiyukan’s structure is a testament to modern architectural ingenuity.

The aquarium’s exterior, reminiscent of a colossal whale, sets the stage for the immersive underwater journey that awaits inside.

The layout is designed to mimic the natural flow of the Pacific Ocean, guiding visitors through various marine habitats in a spiral descent from the 8th floor to the depths of the ocean floor exhibits. Inside you will find the Japan Forest exhibit, the Aqua Gate which is a tunnel-like tank and the Pacific Ocean tank where a giant whale shark swims alongside matra rays and schools of fish.

a fish tank at Osaka aquarium

We went early on a Saturday morning and it was extremely busy. Although reading other blogs online, it would seem that the best time to go is later on a weekday. However, if you’re only spending one day in Osaka, personally I think it is better to head to Dotonbori as the day starts to get darker, to appreciate the lights and nightlife this area has to offer.

How to get there: Getting to Osaka Aquarium, also known as Kaiyukan, is quite straightforward given its popularity and the city’s efficient public transportation system. The aquarium is located in the Minato ward of Osaka, near Osaka Bay, and is one of the largest and most impressive aquariums in the world.

Osaka Station to Osaka Aquarium by Train:

  • Take the Osaka Loop Line from Osaka Station to Bentencho Station.
  • Transfer to the Chuo Line (Subway) towards Cosmo Square.
  • Get off at Osakako Station, which is about a 5-minute walk from the aquarium.

Namba Station to Osaka Aquarium:

  • From Namba Station, take the Sen-Nichimae Line to Awaza Station.
  • Transfer to the Chuo Line towards Cosmo Square.
  • Exit at Osakako Station.
a large crab at Osaka Aquarium

Tips for Visitors:

  • Check Timetables: Before your trip, it’s a good idea to check the latest train and bus schedules as they can vary, especially on weekends and holidays.
  • Day Passes: Consider purchasing a day pass for the subway if you plan to use it multiple times throughout the day. Osaka offers various day passes that can be cost-effective for tourists.
  • Kaiyukan Ticket Packages: Some ticket packages combine Kaiyukan entry with public transportation passes, offering a discount on both.

Head to Umeda for Lunch

Umeda in Osaka and the Hotel Monterey in Osaka
Hotel Monterey Osaka

Umeda is a major commercial and business hub in Osaka that is renowned for its towering skyscrapers, huge underground shopping arcades and an abundance of restaurants, coffee shops and entertainment options.

We stayed at the Del style Osaka Shin Umeda hotel which was a stone’s throw away from the bustling area of Umeda and I highly recommend this location!

Osaka Station City is a complex that includes shopping, dining, and entertainment facilities, making it a destination in its own right. It was extremely busy (as is most of Japan’s cities), with people coming and going from the main station, but it is worth going just for the sheer amount of food options such as Tsurutontan Top Chefs, 24/7 Café Apartment Umeda and Ginpei.

under the Umeda Sky Building looking up to the observatory tower and escalator
Looking up towards the Floating Garden Observatory and Sky Walk

Once you have a belly full of food, head down to the Umeda Sky Building. Designed by the famed architect Hiroshi Hara, it is an architectural wonder that has become synonymous with Osaka’s skyline.

Comprising two 40-story towers that are connected at their uppermost floors by the “Floating Garden Observatory,” this structure offers one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Osaka.

the sky walk and observatory at Umeda sky building

We loved the Sky Walk. This is an escalator ride to the observatory and is an experience in itself. We went to the open-air deck for sunset and it was incredibly busy. It is definitely worth going for sunset, so depending on the time of the year, you could factor this into your day, by going to Osaka Castle first then heading to Umeda for dinner.

a sunset and Osaka
The sunset from Osaka Umeda Sky Building

How to get there: To get to Umeda from Osaka Aquarium, start at the Osakako Station and take the Chuo Line towards Cosmosquare. Alight at Bentencho Station and take the JR Osaka Loop Line towards Osaka Station/Umeda. The entire journey should take around 30 to 40 minutes, depending on transfer times and train schedules.

Osaka Castle

osaka castle

If you are only spending one day in Osaka, then you are probably visiting other areas of Japan. If you have other castles scheduled for your visit (Himeji Castle is highly recommended!), then maybe leave out Osaka Castle if you are short on time so you can spend more time in Umeda and head to Dotonbori. It is a fabulous castle, but very similar to Himeji and Hiroshima.

The grounds of Osaka Castle
The grounds of Osaka Castle

That being said, it is still worth a visit. Built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1583, this majestic castle played a pivotal role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. Today, it is not only a symbol of Osaka’s resilience and pride but also a popular attraction that draws visitors from around the globe, eager to explore its storied past and impressive grounds.

Osaka Castle is surrounded by expansive grounds and moats, making it an urban oasis amid Osaka’s bustling cityscape.

The park that encircles the castle spans approximately 106 hectares, featuring beautifully manicured gardens, towering trees, and serene waterways. During cherry blossom season, the park becomes a favoured spot for hanami (flower viewing) parties, with over 3,000 cherry trees adding a spectacular burst of colour to the scenery.

Tosahori River from Nakanoshima Park, walking towards Osaka Castle
Tosahori River from Nakanoshima Park, walking towards Osaka Castle

How to get there: We actually walked from our hotel in Umeda, to the Museum of Art in Nakanoshima and then up through Nakanoshima Park. It was a wonderful walk, even though the kids moaned throughout, but we got a real feel for Osaka city, coming across playgrounds, back alleys and people going about their daily business.

Cat statue outside the Museum of Art
Cat statue outside the Museum of Art

However, if you’re there for a day, take the Midosuji Line subway from Umeda towards Tennoji/Nakamozu. Transfer at Yodoyabashi Station to the Keihan Main line and head towards Temmabashi Station.

The entire subway journey takes about 10 to 15 minutes and Osaka Castle is a short walk away, providing a scenic route along the river and through the park to the castle.

Dotonbori

Dotonbori from the Ebisu Bridge
Dotonbori from the Ebisu Bridge

Finally, head to Dotonbori for dinner. Dotonbori is a dynamic and bustling entertainment district, renowned for its dazzling neon lights, extravagant signage and an endless array of dining options.

Situated along the Dotonbori Canal in the Namba area, this lively neighbourhood embodies the spirited essence of Osaka, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the city’s dynamic atmosphere and legendary street food culture.

Again, it was incredibly busy whilst we were there, and we left before the evening crowds arrived, because, kids. However, it is best to see Dotonbori at night, so it might be a good idea to book ahead for dinner or expect to wait a while for food.

spiderman at Dotonbori

Dotonbori comes alive at night when its neon lights and iconic signages, such as the famous Glico Running Man and the Kani Doraku crab, light up the waterfront, creating a vibrant tapestry of colours and energy.

The area’s bustling streets and narrow alleyways are lined with a myriad of eateries, ranging from street food stalls and casual izakayas to upscale restaurants, offering a comprehensive taste of Osaka’s culinary delights.

Osaka is sometimes referred to as “Japan’s Kitchen”, and here you will find places that serve:

  • Takoyaki: These piping hot, doughy balls filled with octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion, topped with mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, and bonito flakes, are quintessential Osaka snacks.
  • Okonomiyaki: A savoury Japanese pancake made with a batter mixed with cabbage, green onion, meat or seafood, and topped with a variety of condiments.
  • Kushikatsu: Skewered and breaded meats, vegetables, or seafood, deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce.

We took the kids to Cafe Mog Namba for some amazing pancakes and even though the restaurant is small, we were seated in 25 mins. We then headed down to The Ebisu Bridge, which spans the Dotonbori Canal and is a popular rendezvous point. It is a great spot for people watching and soaking up the lively atmosphere.

The area boasts a variety of theatres, including traditional puppet theatres and modern cinemas, as well as shops selling everything from high-end fashion to local souvenirs and snacks. The Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, a covered shopping street that runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal, is a prime destination for those looking to indulge in some retail therapy.

I think the best way to enjoy Dotonbor is by leisurely strolling along the canal, eating a bit of street food and embracing the atmosphere. We pretty much got picked up by the crowds and carried through the streets, but around an hour was enough for the kids.

How to get there: From Osaka Castle, walk to Tanimachi 4-chome Station and board the Tanimachi Subway line (T23) heading towards Tennoji. Get off at Higashi-Umeda Station (T20) and transfer to the Midosuji Subway Line (M16). Finally, take the Midosuji Subway Line (M16) towards Nakamozu and alight at Namba Station (M20).

From Namba Station, Dotonbori is just a short walk away. The area is well-signposted, and the walk will take you through some of Namba’s bustling shopping and entertainment districts.

These were our favourite parts of Osaka on our visit. From the historical ambience and calm nature of Osaka Castle to the lively, neon-lit streets of Dotonbori, Osaka is diverse, vibrant, and has something for everyone.

Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel at Osaka Bay
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel at Osaka Bay

Other areas of Osaka worth noting are;

  • Osaka Bay and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
  • Sumiyoshi Taisha
  • Shinsekai
  • Shitennoji Temple
  • Tsūtenkaku

I would recommend staying in Osaka for more than one day, as the Aquarium and Osaka Castle alone will probably take you several hours. However, if you want to squeeze in as much as possible whilst you are there, the above itinerary should help you pack it all in.

What’s the best way to get around Osaka for a day?

The subway and train systems are efficient and cover most tourist destinations. Consider purchasing a one-day pass for unlimited travel.

Where should I eat in Osaka for authentic local cuisine?

Dotonbori is renowned for street food, offering local specialities like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushikatsu.

Is one day enough to see Osaka?

One day is enough to see the highlights, but more time allows for a deeper exploration of the city’s diverse attractions and neighbourhoods.

How early should I start my day in Osaka?

Starting early, around 8 or 9 AM, will help you maximize your day, especially if you plan to visit popular spots like Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky Building.

Are there luggage storage options in Osaka?

Yes, you can find coin lockers at most major train stations and some tourist spots for convenient luggage storage.

1 day in osaka japan Pinterest pin

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