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Things to Do In Osaka with Kids – A 5-Day Family Visit

Dotonbori in Osaka
The top things to do in Osaka with kids

During our recent family trip to Japan, we decided to take the Shinkansen express train to Osaka to visit some family and have a good old nose around the third largest city in Japan (after Tokyo and Yokohama). If you’ve never been, firstly, you’re in for a right old treat, but secondly, I’ve handily written this blog, so you have a rough idea of what to expect when visiting.

Osaka itself has a fascinating history. Although the name Osaka roughly translates to “big hill”, try as I might, I did not spot any particularly big hills in the area. However, given the urban sprawl around every urban area in Japan, it’s very hard to spot anything that isn’t an enormous skyscraper.

Osaka town hall on a sunny day
The impressive Osaka Town Hall

It should rightly be called “big port”, because that’s what a lot of Osaka is, and the whole area is rightly regarded as the beating economic heart of Japan.  You can see why.

When you look at Osaka on a map, with the geography of Osaka Bay lending itself to becoming a natural harbour area for sea traffic, the ever-industrious Japanese have only built upon that natural advantage. This makes Osaka the world’s 19th leading city in terms of commerce.

That, mixed in with Osaka’s rich history and genuinely vibrant culture, makes it a truly exciting place to visit. For a family trip, there’s the excitement of things like Osaka Aquarium, the tourist area of Dōtonbori, Himeji Castle is nearby, and the Umeda Sky Building is a must-see attraction, as well as so much more! 

Affordable Hotels and Accommodation in Osaka

Hotel Monterery Osaka in Osaka Japan

Of course, the first thing you’re going to need in Osaka is somewhere to stay. Like Tokyo, there are plenty of options ranging from the super luxury to the super basic, depending on your tastes and budget, but again, Japanese customer service is excellent wherever you go.

We plumped for the mid-range DEL style Osaka Shin Umeda by Daiwa Roynet Hotel, about a ten-minute walk from Shin-Osaka railway station. It is right next to a convenient 7 – 11 store and opposite an amazing little noodle bar that did wonderfully tasty bowls of ramen, delicious crispy chicken and warming bowls of sticky white rice after a tough day of walking around pointing and looking at things.

From about 14,000 Yen (£77 GBP/$100 USD) per room per night (Seasonal – process vary), it was certainly good value for money. Breakfast, if you want it, is an additional 1,650 Yen (approx. £9 GBP or $11 USD) per person and worth the money.

There’s a buffet-style breakfast every morning with a mix of Japanese and European breakfast items laid out – with some fancy dish selection, you can get away with steak, eggs and hash browns with ketchup for breakfast a couple of times.

rice, salmon, soya and miso soup for breakfast in Osaka
A traditional Japanese breakfast

The service was excellent, however, due to probably some sort of miscommunication not only did we get several bottles of water delivered every day to our room, but also, several dozen towels each day. No matter how hard I tried to explain to the staff, without fail, we’d come back to our room at the end of the day to find 8 more crisp white towels in the hotel room.

While that sounds fairly amusing (and it was, to begin with), by the end of the week, our hotel room was 99% towel, and they were literally everywhere.

Every towel rail was triple parked with hotel towels, and we had to resort to putting most of them under the beds, folding them into amusing shapes and using them as extra blankets. I honestly don’t know what room service thought was going on; probably that we had some sort of terrible towel fetish.    

If drowning in towels isn’t quite your thing, Osaka has loads of other great options – the Ibis Osaka Umeda Hotel has rave reviews from others and was a strong contender for a while, as was the Rihga Royal Hotel Osaka, but like all bookings, whatever you end up going for, you won’t be disappointed. It’s all really good. TripAdvisor has some pretty solid recommendations here.

Getting Around Osaka

a girl posing under a floral bush in Osaka
We mainly walked and took the train whilst in Osaka. Walking is the best way to see the city!

Getting around Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, is quite convenient thanks to its efficient and comprehensive public transportation system. Here’s a quick and detailed guide to help you navigate the city with ease:

Railways

  • JR Osaka Loop Line: This train line encircles central Osaka and is a convenient way for visitors to access major tourist attractions, including Osaka Castle and Universal Studios Japan. It connects with other lines at key stations like Osaka Station and Tennoji Station.
  • Subway: Osaka’s subway system is extensive and user-friendly, with colour-coded and numbered lines that make navigation simple. Key lines include the Midosuji Line, which runs north-south through the city, connecting major districts such as Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba, and Tennoji. English signage and announcements are available.
  • Private Railways: Other private lines like the Hankyu, Hanshin, and Kintetsu railways provide access to suburbs and nearby cities like Kobe and Kyoto. The Nankai Railway is particularly useful for travelling to/from Kansai International Airport.

Passes and Tickets

  • ICOCA Card: A rechargeable smart card that can be used on trains, subways, and buses across Osaka and other major cities in Japan. It’s convenient and offers a slight discount on fares compared to single tickets.
  • Osaka Amazing Pass: Offers unlimited use of the subway, tramway, and bus network within the city for one or two days, and includes free entry to many tourist attractions.
  • JR West Rail Pass: Useful for visitors planning to travel extensively within the Kansai region, offering unlimited travel on JR trains for a set number of days.

Tips for Getting Around

  • Navigation Apps: Utilize apps like Google Maps or Hyperdia for real-time transit directions, schedules, and fare information.
  • Stay Connected: Consider renting a portable Wi-Fi device or purchasing a Japanese SIM card to stay connected and navigate the city easily.
  • Be Mindful of Rush Hours: Trains and subways can get extremely crowded during morning and evening rush hours, so plan accordingly.

Things to Do in Osaka With Kids

Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium

The Japanese, it has to be said, absolutely love a fish. Looking at them, tending to them, cultivating them, and yes, eating them, all feature highly on a Japanese person’s idea of a great time. This is no more apparent than when you take a trip to Osaka Aquarium where for the princely sum of 2,700 Yen (£14 GBP/$19 USD) for Adults, (Children are 1,400 Yen (£8 GBP/$10USD)) you can enter the well thought out Osaka Aquarium.

The design of the building is actually pretty neat; you enter, then go up a big escalator to the top of the building, then, once inside, gravity and momentum neatly carry you down through the building. 30,000 creatures encompassing 620 species live inside, including super cute otters, friendly sea lions, amusing penguins, beautiful dolphins, and captivating jellyfish.

a large spider crab in Osaka Aquarium

The theme of the Aquarium seems to be the sea life in and around the Pacific Rim, where creatures from the North Pole to the Equator and down again to the South Pole are on display. If you’re from the other side of the world, like we are, it’s quite an interesting perspective, although for some reason it also contains a display of life in the Falkland Islands, which they insisted on calling the Malvinas.

It’s enough to make any God-fearing Englishman summon his inner Margret Thatcher. Fish aside, it also hosts a pretty decent café that sells coffee, ice creams and hot dogs but it’s more snack food than full meals. For a kid-friendly day out on a rainy day, it’s definitely one for your list.      

The Tempozan Ferris wheel (near the Osaka Aquarium)

Tempozan Ferris wheel

Standing at a height of 112.5 metres (369 ft) and with a diameter of 100 metres (330 ft), the Tempozan Feris Wheel is another way of seeing a lot of Osaka from one space. It really is a testament to the Japanese belief in their incredible engineering skills that they insist on building these incredibly high attractions in an area well known for earthquakes, tsunamis and the occasional Godzilla attack. Christ.

I mean, if England had the same natural risks, we’d never have built anything beyond your Grandparent’s bungalow, but those crazy Japanese just keep building bigger and better. Fair play to them.

Having only just recovered from my reluctant trip skywards at the Umeda Sky Building, I sat this one out, but it has pretty much the same energy as the London Eye – a sedate ride of about 15 – 20 mins that gives you a great view of the Osaka Bay area.

Amusingly, the wheel has coloured lights that give you a very brief weather forecast for the next day – if the lights are showing orange, it means tomorrow is going to be sunny, green means cloudy and blue lights indicate it’ll rain tomorrow.

This immediately appealed to my English obsession with the weather but again, if I took this idea back to England, most of London would be bathed in such a constant blue glow, we might as well live under the sea.

Tickets are available at the door, or online in advance, with a general admission ticket for all ages costing you the princely sum of 900 Yen (£5GBP/$6USD), with under 3’s being free (and I should hope so too).

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka

Universal Studios in Japan

Like a good movie? Of course you do. Like a decent theme park? Doesn’t everyone? While you’re in the Osaka area, why not combine the two greatest things ever and spend a day at Universal Studios Japan, one of only six Universal Studios themed parks in the world?

I’m pretty sure the other five are all in America, so the fact the sixth is located here in humble Osaka really is a testament to the huge American influence on Japan. 

Located in the central region of Osaka by the sea (I know that’s not helpful; Osaka is a port city, and everything is by the sea) it has its own railway station, Universal City Station, which is part of the JR Yumesaki Line (also known as the Sakurajima Line), so it’s really easy to get to.

Once inside, if you can think of a massive Universal Studios film, there’s a ride or area dedicated to it. There’s the expected chaos that you’d find in the Minions themed park area, terrifyingly realistic dinosaurs roam the Jurassic Park area, and the mind-bogglingly realistic Harry Potter area is a must for all Hogwarts aficionados.

the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios in Japan

For those of you who prefer the third coolest thing to do with a spare day, there are a couple of areas dedicated to both the world of Super Mario and also, Donkey Kong Country is being added to the park and should be ready by Spring 24. I should definitely go back for that.

Tickets are available online or at the gate with prices from 8,600 Yen (£45GBP/$58USD) for adults, and 5,091 Yen (£27GBP/$34USD) for children (aged 4 – 11) for a one-day pass. Other ticketing options are available, such as a twilight pass if you have the energy to go in the evening or multi-day passes if you want to make a couple of days of it. The official website is here.

Osaka Castle

Osaka castle

For those of you with a historical bent, or if like me, you just think samurais are cool, then a day trip to Osaka Castle is one of those things you must see while you’re in this part of the world. All things samurai have seen a huge surge in interest lately thanks to the release of Shōgun on Disney+, an epic TV series adapted from James Clavell’s novel set in Japan in 1600, at the dawn of a pretty nasty-sounding civil war.

Osaka Castle scratches any historical itch you might have while visiting Osaka. What I find particularly fascinating about Japanese Castles is just how … very pointy they are.

Look, I’m no architecture student (… not clever enough, by a long chalk) but I do find it curious how, say, an English Castle like Arundel Castle is quite round, with a circular moat, circular turrets and sweeping, round walls. They’re almost pleasing to the eye.

Osaka castle moat

Japanese Castles, however, like Osaka, are so much more aggressively pointy, with huge squares and angry-looking spikes jutting out at every angle, presumably for unfortunate samurai to impale themselves on when storming the rigidly square castle walls. They’re almost brutal looking in comparison, but quite delicate and beautiful inside.

Anyway, geometry aside, like almost everything else in Japan, Osaka Castle is exquisitely beautiful. Beautiful white castle walls adorned with golden decoration support a stunning green roof that carves an impressive shape on the Japanese skyline.

It radiates a sense of unassailable power and wealth that must have absolutely terrified ancient invaders and you’d certainly have needed balls of steel to even think about invading it.

It was certainly hard to imagine that was the case several centuries ago when you stroll through the meticulously kept castle grounds and gardens. Once inside, there are displays from periods of Japanese history, from the Honganji era (1496 – 1580) through to the Showa period (1931 – onwards) showcasing everything from brutal-looking weaponry to the sublimely beautiful delicate fans and clothes of the time.

It’s a richly informative day out, and at just 600 Yen (£3GBP/$4USD) it’s one you can’t afford to miss out on. The Osaka Castle website sells tickets and you can find it here.

Umeda Sky Building

the Umeda sky building looking from the ground upwards

I’ll just come right out and say it, the Umeda Sky Building is terrifyingly high. I never, ever, used to have a problem with height – in the past I’ve happily hung over the edge of places like the Empire State Building in New York as well as the Skybridge over the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh without even a tremor of fear.

However, there must be a correlation between getting old and realising your own impending mortality. The Sky Building itself consists of two 40-storey towers that connect at the top via a series of terrifying-looking glass bridges with escalators and elevators crisscrossing the atrium space.

the view of Osaka from the

You get on a very rapid lift at the bottom and then you see the ground suddenly zoom away from you from inside the glass. As it takes you 39 stories up, you’re spat out into a very pleasant reception area where you start to get a sense of how very high up you are. You’re 170 metres (557 feet) high, to be exact.

Clouds float away beneath your feet and you’re pretty sure you’ve just seen an aeroplane fly beneath you. Incredibly, it’s not even the highest building in the Osaka area – it’s only the 15th tallest if you can believe that.

the view from the top of the umeda sky building in Osaka

It doesn’t feel like that. It feels like you’re on top of Mount Everest by this point. My children, unbothered by thoughts of mortality, and blissfully unaware that Japan is an earthquake hotspot, danced happily around the huge open space near the inevitable gift shop. All the while I stared hard at the windows and hoped they were rather more securely fitted than my new downstairs kitchen window at home. God bless Japanese engineering.

My daydreams of lovely ground-level kitchen windows were rudely disrupted by The Wife bringing excited news that this floor wasn’t even the highest part of the tower. Oh no. There was a further bowel-loosening set of stairs in the corner that took you up one more floor, and worse, to the outside where the wind freshly blew and stood a good chance of sending me literally and metaphorically over the edge.

Still, it’s pointless flying halfway around the world to see Japan and then not see Japan, so tightening every part of my body, we took the stairs up to see the view of Osaka – and what a view it turned out to be! My innate cowardice was immediately rewarded with a stunning sunset over Osaka and uninterrupted views in every direction.

Crowds of excited tourists hung over every barrier jostling to get a good view of the sunset and I, disguising my cowardice as gallantry, willingly made space for The Wife to get busy with her camera to grab some happy snaps. After a good old nose around in every direction, we thankfully moved back down the stairs for another look at the bottom floor.

a boy looking out over Osaka as the sun sets

It contained a decent-looking bar area, so if you’re travelling as a couple and are after something romantic to do, I guess that’s a good place to sit while the sun goes down. There’s also the gift shop which allows you to buy mostly accurate scale models of the tower. I say mostly accurate – they’re missing the fainthearted-looking tourists like me who don’t enjoy heights. Their little model tourists are all smiling.

Lest you think it’s not all that great, given my slightly negative and cowardly tone, it really, really isn’t. If you’re ok with height, it’s a spectacular way to see Osaka and both The Wife and The Children really enjoyed it. It’s a genuine marvel of civil engineering and having survived to write this blog, I can testify to how well-built it is. Unlike my nerves.

Visting Dōtonbori – the Entertainment District of Osaka

the running man of Dotonbori
The famous man of Dotonbori. Trying to get all the family to look in the same direction at once, impossible.

If you have a spare half day in Osaka, a good way to spend it, is to have a good old nose around Dōtonbori – the entertainment district of Osaka. The character of the Dōtonbori became defined in 1621 when the serious-sounding Tokugawa Shogunate instituted some rather serious-sounding urban planning rules, presumably on pain of being stabbed by a samurai, and designated Dōtonbori as the entertainment district of Osaka.

I suppose it feels a bit like Soho in London in that respect – a little bit cheeky, a place to have a bit of fun, which, as somewhere as serious and industrious as Osaka, is indeed a lovely feeling. It’s crisscrossed by some long disused, but still clean, industrial canals and there’s a feeling of general chaos and enjoyment in the air as tourists, locals, street entertainers and incredibly bright neon signs jostle along happily.

spiderman fist bumping a boy

It’s like a real-life section of an anime film has come to life and there are shops and restaurants of every description to wander around and simply drink in the dazzling sights. Weirdly, there were a large number of chemists dotted around with queues of Chinese tourists buying medication by the suitcase.

My trusty local guide, otherwise known as Mother B, explained this was a really popular (and profitable) pastime for Chinese tourists – apparently the Chinese have tired of herbal remedies and tiger balm and there’s now a huge desire for good quality medicines.

the canal of Dotonbori

Enterprising Chinese, propelled by some very un-Chinese, non-communist thinking, have swooped in to meet that need. Funnily enough, I had a headache that day and having tried a mouthful of Japanese quality cold remedy, I thought I could temporarily fly, so they might well be onto something there.  

You’ve Got to Eat at Mog’s Pancakes

Mog's pancakes

If, like me, you suffer from having an Instagram-obsessed wife and daughter, one of the things you’ll undoubtedly be looking out for is Instagram-able food. Step forward Mogs Pancakes (officially, Pancake Cafe Mog Namba) in the Naba district of Osaka.

Now, if you’ve never been to a Japanese pancake café before (and why would you have), it’s important to point out these are not like the crepe-style pancakes that British people stuff down our faces on Shrove Tuesday. Oh no. A Japanese-style pancake is a thing of beauty, a thick, filling, at least an inch thick layer of sweet batter topped with a suitably delicious topping.

You can tell that Mog’s pancakes are good because when we arrived for a quick sugar top-up after a long morning of sightseeing, the queue was out the door with locals and most of them were not even there to take Instagram photos.

mogs pancakes with marshmallows and ice cream

Once inside the joyfully chaotic café, we were given menus with pictures of what was available on the menu.

There’s a breakfast-specific menu that is crammed with healthy-looking fruit and veg, or later in the day, there’s more of an all-day menu that comes with everything from simple maple syrup through to lashings of berries and strawberry sauce that should please even the pickets of children. 

With decent hot coffee available as well as the normal array of soft drinks, Mogs makes a perfect place to recharge after a busy morning of sightseeing if you’re in the area. Their website is available here and TripAdvisor reviews can be read here. Advanced booking is strongly recommended!

Impressions of Osaka

the cat statue outside the museum of art in Osaka

Osaka, like all of Japan, is achingly cool and funky. Like every other city in Japan, it’s spotlessly clean, the locals are unfailingly polite and like Tokyo, there’s a vending machine and spotless toilet on pretty much every corner.

But what sets Osaka apart is that relentlessly industrial port energy. It feels closer to the sea than Tokyo, both physically and mentally, even though they’re both on the coast. It’s the difference between going to see a Guns N Roses concert and a Nine Inch Nails concert. It’s Birmingham in comparison to Oxford.  

You can feel it in your ears that there’s something deeply vibrant going on and you sort of get carried away with the vibe. Like everywhere else, relax into it, enjoy the journey, and – as always – make sure you have your boarding pass ready.    

the top things to do in Osaka with kids

 

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