The bright lights of Osaka are an obvious lure for travellers. But this city is so much more than a neon take on Tokyo. Its nightlife is legendary, while its food scene is arguably the best in the country. Head here to see how Japan kicks back and relaxes.
Served by Japan’s intercity shinkansen (bullet train) service, Osaka has a transport system to rival other major cities in the country. As well as an easy–to–navigate subway system, public buses ply the wide thoroughfares, while local train services serve the outskirts, making exploring beyond the centre easy.
Osaka Castle should be visited at the earliest opportunity. Playing a key role in Japan’s unification, the castle’s ramparts and towering walls make it one of the country’s most enduring sights.
Visitors should also make a beeline for Shitenno-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, dating back to 593. It marks a true counterpoint to the brash and brilliant streets of Dotombori, Osaka’s neon district where izakayas (Japanese-style pubs), karaoke booths and clubs pull in millions of tourists each year. Head here at night to see the lights in all their glory.
Art and culture buffs should be sure to check out the National Museum of Art, a subterranean feat of architecture which houses Japanese classics alongside big international names such as Picasso and Cézanne.
The spectacular Umeda Building, with its unique arch and roof garden, is the ideal place to see the sun go down and the lights come to life. The views from here towards the mountains and out to sea aren’t too shabby either. Escaping the relentless pace of the city is easily done in Tennoji Park, which is home to a pretty botanical garden and quiet walkways, perfect for taking stock after a day of sightseeing.
Osaka has some amazing spots for those after something different. Shinsekai, the city’s rough and ready district centred on the Tsutenkaku Tower, is the best place to eat with locals in stand-up bars and pick up tacky treats to take home. For something a touch more sedate, make for the ace Sennichimae Doguyasuji shopping street. Stores selling traditional Japanese kitchenware and knives make this the perfect draw for those who want to take home more than a fridge magnet. Some stalls even sell the plastic food restaurants use to promote their best dishes. Don Quijote’s 24-hour outlet in Dotombori is great for unique Japanese treats.
Osaka is Japan’s best city for food lovers. Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) is inescapable here, and Dotombori’s Fukuebisu serves the very best in town. Queues can get lengthy, so arrive early, sit back and watch as the staff cook the meal on a hot plate on your table. Takoyaki (octopus-filled dough balls) are a favourite on–the–go snack and are on sale on Dotombori’s street corners throughout the day. For sushi, the excellent Marine Polis serves up fresh plates of Sashimi and Nigiri on a conveyor belt. The chefs work in an open kitchen and will make your favourites to order.