Compared to Kyoto’s tranquil temples, wooden teahouses, and historical charm, Osaka is a city full of contrasts.
In Osaka, you’ll find the best of both worlds–traditional temples sitting side-by-side with towering skyscrapers and neon lights leading to tranquil Japanese gardens.
Osaka is a great place to shop, with its myriad of malls and department stores. It’s also a food lover’s paradise, with its famous street food culture and Michelin-starred restaurants.
If you’re looking to fill your Osaka day trip itinerary up with goodies, there are plenty of options to choose from.
In this day trip itinerary of Osaka, I’ll share exactly where I went during my last visit to Japan. This itinerary was a part of a larger, epic 2-week trip to Japan!
Prior to our trip, I had done a ton of research spanning multiple weeks. Yes, you heard it right. A few weeks of constant research to learn as much as I could about this foreign country!
That means all the heavy lifting has been done for you, so discovering and deciding on all the things you want to do on your Osaka day trip will be a breeze.
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
Table of Contents
WHERE IS OSAKA, JAPAN?
Osaka is a city located in Japan’s Kansai region in the central part of the Japanese island of Honshu. It is about 30 miles (50 km) away from Kyoto and 310 miles (500 km) from Tokyo.
Osaka is a bustling metropolis and one of the largest cities in Japan. It’s often called the “heart” of the country because of its central location and lively atmosphere. If you’re looking to enjoy some food, nightlife, and shopping, this is the city you need to visit!
In addition to being a short train ride away from Kyoto, Osaka is located close to Nara and Kobe as well, making it the perfect base for exploring Japan’s Kansai region.
OSAKA ITINERARY OVERVIEW
This trip covers the highlights of Osaka (with a few off-the-beaten-path attractions sprinkled in) and is ideal for first-time visitors to Osaka, Japan.
This itinerary also works well for return visitors who want to revisit their favorite spots and discover some new activities.
You’ll be able to experience all of the following during your day trip to Osaka from Kyoto:
- Osaka Castle
- Dotonbori district
- Glico Running Man sign
- HEP FIVE Shopping Area
- Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade
- and so much more!
So let’s get right into it!
HOW TO GET TO OSAKA
Flying Into Osaka
If you’re traveling by plane, you can fly to either the Osaka Itami Airport (ITM) or Kansai International Airport (KIX). KIX is Osaka’s international airport and the one most travelers will be flying into. Itami is Osaka’s domestic airport.
The distances of these airports from Central Osaka are:
- Osaka International Airport (ITM) to Central Osaka = 8 miles (13 kilometers)
- Kansai International Airport (KIX) to Central Osaka = 31 miles (50 kilometers)
From KIX: Haruka Express (Recommended)
From KIX, take the JR Haruka Limited Express train to Osaka. Depending on where you need to go, can take a train from Kansai Airport to Osaka Station, Namba Station, Tennoji Station or Shin-Osaka Station.
The JR Haruka Express departs from Kansai Airport every 30 minutes and stops at Tennoji and Shin-Osaka stations. This is going to be the fastest way to make the journey into Osaka.
The earliest Haruka service from Kansai Airport is at 6:30 am (6:40 am on weekends and holidays) and the latest is at 10:16 pm.
This is the quickest train option and the method I use to get from the airport to the city of Osaka (and vice versa) every time I visit. The best part is that it’s covered by the Japan Rail Pass (both the Kansai Area regional pass and national pass).
For those without either of the passes, tickets cost 2,000 to 3,000 yen depending on which station you get off at in Osaka.
From KIX: Kansai Airport Rapid Train
The Kansai Airport Rapid train is a cheaper alternative to the Haruka Express. If you don’t have the JR Pass, this is a more budget-friendly option for you.
Tickets range from 1,000 to 1,200 yen depending on which stop you get off at in Osaka. This option takes 15 minutes longer than the Haruka Express as it makes more stops along the way.
JR Pass holders can access the line using their passes.
Coming From Kyoto
Osaka is just a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto. While there are buses that’ll get you there, the fastest, most efficient, and cheapest way is by train.
To get to Osaka Station: From Kyoto Station, take the Special Rapid service on the JR Kyoto Line. This is the most efficient way to get there from Kyoto Station. The Special Rapid Train will get you to Osaka Station in 28 minutes for 560 yen.
To get to Shin-Osaka Station: The high-speed shinkansen (bullet train) will get you from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station in 12 minutes for 1,420 yen. This is the fastest and most comfortable way to get into Osaka. While it does cost a bit more, might be worthwhile if you have a Japan Rail Pass to cover the cost.
Coming From Tokyo
Osaka is located 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Tokyo, which means that the journey to get to Osaka from Tokyo can take some time.
The best and most efficient way to get to Osaka from Tokyo is by the shinkansen bullet train, which can make the trip in as little as 2.5 hours, with no transfers required! This route on the Tokaido Shinkansen line is popular, served by multiple shinkansen every hour.
The fastest train class, the Nozomi, will get you from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station in just 2 hours 30 minutes.
If you’ve got the national Japan Rail Pass, good news! Some of the bullet train options will be covered with the pass!
Learning about Japan’s train systems took me hours and hours, so I’ve tried to drill down the info for you as easily as possible. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.
- Tokyo and Osaka are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen (the bullet train).
- There are different train classes, Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama.
- To reach Osaka from Tokyo: Nozomi trains = 140 minutes (fastest), Hikari trains = 160 minutes, Kodama trains = 4 hours (slowest).
- The Japan Rail Pass is valid on Hikari and Kodama trains, but not on Nozomi trains. Last time I visited, I took the Hikari train with my JR Pass.
- The regular one-way fare from Tokyo to Osaka is about 14,600 yen. A roundtrip ticket would be about 29,000 yen. A 7-day Japan Rail Pass costs about the same as a regular roundtrip ticket.
- The shinkansen arrives at Shin-Osaka Station which is different from Osaka Station. If you need to get to Osaka Station, simply transfer to the JR Tokaido Main Line. In just 4 minutes, you can get from one station to the other.
You can also fly from Tokyo to Osaka, but this is generally more expensive than taking the train.
What is the JR Pass? Is it right for you?
For those unfamiliar with the JR Pass, this is a powerful multi-day transportation pass that covers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local JR train services.
Now I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too when I was planning my trip to Japan. The JR pass is not cheap. Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but train fares in Japan are particularly expensive in comparison to other countries in the world. There’s no way around it!
Despite the high cost that travelers will have to pay for transportation, the JR Pass can actually save you money, especially if you plan on doing a lot of traveling throughout Japan.
For perspective, the cost of a 7-day Japan Rail Pass is roughly the same as a round-trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto. And yet, by paying just a little more for the JR Pass, you’ll unlock seven full days of unlimited train travel all over Japan, versus just that one round-trip ride.
Pro Tip: The best way to buy your pass is from an authorized vendor before leaving for Japan. While it’s possible to buy the pass when you get to Japan, it’s actually cheaper when bought from outside the country. Passes can only be purchased up to 6 months in advance of the date you plan to use them.
Not sure if the JR Pass is right for you and your travel needs? Check out the free fare calculator on the JR Pass website to map how much your trip would cost and determine if you’re actually going to save any money with it.
HOW TO GET AROUND OSAKA
Once you’re in Osaka, there are a number of ways to get around. Osaka is a huge city best explored on foot, but there are going to be times when you want to get from one district to another. In these cases, you can take the subway (train), the bus, rent a bike, or taxi.
If you have the JR Pass (either the one that allows for unlimited nationwide travel or even the Kansai Area pass), I recommend taking the train or subway when you can.
Even if you don’t have the JR Pass, I still recommend using the train if you can. It’s the easiest and most straightforward way of getting around town!
A prepaid Icoca card is the easiest and most efficient way to pay for transportation. (If you’ve just come from Tokyo, a Suica or Pasmo card will also work just fine.)
The city also has an extensive bus network–you can get almost anywhere by bus if you know where to board and which bus to board. However, most travelers find the train and subway systems to be faster and easier to use.
Getting around by bike is also a popular option, and if that’s your thing, bikes can be rented from many hotels and shops.
Taxis are easy to find and reasonably priced in Osaka. While taxi-ing around usually is the most expensive option, this option could be a good deal when you have three or four people in your group. Taxis also allow you to reach areas that aren’t well served by public transportation rather quickly.
OSAKA DAY TRIP: THINGS TO DO
Osaka is known for its food and lively atmosphere. It’s a very different feel compared to the nearby city of Kyoto!
If you’re starting your trip from Kyoto, take the first train of the day to Osaka Station. From there, let’s get to exploring Osaka!
Osaka Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Osaka and one of Japan’s most popular castles. Built in 1583, Osaka Castle was the largest castle at the time.
The castle complex has since been restored and now includes a museum, an observation deck, and a beautiful park. The castle itself is surrounded by a moat and has several floors, each of which is filled with artifacts and information about the castle’s history.
Due to its popularity, Osaka Castle can be quite crowded, so I recommend visiting earlier in the day to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
Shitennoji Flea Market
I love local activities, so naturally, I went out of my way to find an activity that only locals knew about– the Shitennoji Flea Market!
This flea market takes place on the 21st of every month in Shitennoji, allowing you to get in some shopping while also exploring one of the most impressive temples in Osaka. If you’re in town during these dates and enjoy treasure hunting, definitely check it out!
I saw so many gorgeous kimonos for sale, as well as wooden sculpture antiques, porcelain, and many other goods splayed out on tables (many that wouldn’t have fit in my luggage, sadly).
It was a lot of fun to peruse the isles of treasures and you can find things there for bargain prices!
Be sure to head to the food stalls when you get hungry. Now’s your chance to get your first taste of regional specialties such as takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).
HEP FIVE Shopping Center
HEP FIVE is a quirky, whimsical shopping mall aimed at teenagers and younger adults that is located in the Umeda district of Osaka. The mall is home to over 200 shops, as well as restaurants, cafes, and attractions like an indoor climbing wall and bungee jumping.
Even if you don’t end up shopping or eating, it’s great for a quick visit to see the enormous red whales hanging in the atrium area! There is also a Ferris wheel on the roof that you can ride.
Nakanoshima Park and Rose Garden
Osaka is a city full of contrasts, where traditional temples sit side-by-side with towering skyscrapers, and busy streets lead to serene parks. Nakanoshima Park is one of Osaka’s hidden gems, featuring a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.
Nakanoshima Park is located on an island in Osaka’s harbor, surrounded by Tosabori and Dojima Rivers. When you’re there, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the city skyline.
In addition, the park is home to a number of historic landmarks, including the Osaka City Hall and the Osaka Museum of History.
Visitors can stroll along tree-lined pathways, relax in the Japanese garden, enjoy the 4,000 or so roses decorating the park, or even take a paddleboat out on the river!
Amemura, or the American Village, is another lively and youthful area in Osaka. It’s full of Japan’s take on American culture and therefore makes for great people watching and window shopping.
Here, you will find dozens of shops catering to fans of urban apparel, hip-hop wear, as well as lolita, goth, and punk clothing. There are lots of cafes, bars, and restaurants in the area too.
If you’re missing “international” food, you’re in luck, because you’ll find a high density of pancakes, burgers, pizza, and artisan coffee here!
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and the surrounding Shinsaibashi area is Osaka’s premier shopping area.
Spanning 600 meters long, the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade is the quintessential shotengai (covered shopping arcade). This huge shopping area combines chain retail stores and trendy boutiques with expensive department stores and designer fashion labels.
While the main arcade can be quite overwhelming (you better have some shopping stamina), it is worth taking a peek to see what’s on sale. If you have more in you, wander off to the side streets to explore the smaller, quieter mom-and-pop shops!
Nipponbashi (Denden Town)
Osaka’s Nipponbashi area, also known as “Denden Town,” is a lively district known for its many affordable electronics shops. It’s the perfect place to pick up any gadget or electronic you might want, from cameras and phones to computer parts and appliances.
But that’s not all that’s here. Denden Town is also a paradise for otaku, with dozens of shops specializing in anime, manga, and games. It’s the perfect place to find that elusive action figure or limited edition anime item.
Even if you’re not an otaku yourself, it’s worth spending an afternoon browsing the shops and people-watching!
Explore the Shinsekai district
Osaka’s Shinsekai district is a must-visit for any traveler to Japan. This unique neighborhood was modeled after Paris and New York City, and its art deco architecture is truly a sight to behold.
Once a thriving entertainment hub, Shinsekai fell into disrepair following World War II. Today, it is undergoing a revival, with new bars and restaurants popping up alongside its old-school attractions.
When you first arrive in Shinsekai, you’ll be greeted by the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower, also known as the Eiffel Tower of Osaka. Originally built in 1958, the tower has become one of Osaka’s most recognizable landmarks.
Once you’ve admired the architecture of the neighborhood, head up the Tsutenkaku Tower for some breathtaking views of the city. This was once the tallest building in Asia, and today it houses an observation deck and a small museum dedicated to its history.
After working up an appetite from all that exploring, enjoy some Osaka-style street food at one of the many food stalls in the area.
After you’re done shopping and taking in the sights for the day, head to the Dotonburi District for dinner and a stroll.
Dotonburi is an explosion of color, neon, entertainment, and food. One of Osaka’s most popular tourist destinations, this street runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal. It’s what people picture when you talk about the city of Osaka.
At night, it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign.
And while there are plenty of restaurants along Dotonbori to choose from, street food is the real highlight!
If you haven’t had it yet, don’t miss trying local specialties like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
After the food and neon light overload, train back to Kyoto for a good night’s rest before you continue with the rest of your Japan travel itinerary!
Considering an overnight stay? Here are the best neighborhoods and hotels to choose from in Osaka!
OTHER OSAKA ACTIVITIES
To truly experience Osaka, you’ll need at least a few days to even scratch the surface.
For my next trip to Japan, I’m going to dedicate at least 3 days to Osaka. I found that one day was simply not enough. There’s too much I want to eat there–it’s really a foodie’s paradise!
If you’re lucky enough to have a day or two extra, I would recommend spending more time in Osaka. Here are a few other fun activities to do in Osaka:
- Universal Studios Japan – you can’t miss Super Nintendo World!
- Nightlife Osaka Food Tour
- Deep Backstreet Osaka Tour
- Kuromon Ichiba Market
- Cup Noodles Museum
- Street Go-Kart Group Tour in Osaka
- The Pokemon Center
- KFC All-You-Can-Eat Restaurant
- Bar hopping at night
THINGS TO EAT IN OSAKA
Takoyaki – street food snack made of octopus, ginger and green onions mixed into a batter and fried into bite-sized balls. You’ll find takoyaki stalls almost everywhere in Osaka.
Okonomiyaki – a savory pancake with cabbage, slices of meat and whatever else you want to add, drizzled with various sauces. Okonomiyaki quite literally means ‘whatever you want, grilled’.
Kitsune Udon – udon made with hot dashi stock and topped with deep-fried tofu. Though famous all over Japan, this dish actually originated in Osaka!
Fugu – blowfish served sashimi style. Fugu is a special delicacy in Japan, usually eaten raw. You don’t need to worry about its reputation for being dangerous, because all fugu chefs are specially trained in its preparation for three years before they can qualify for a license to serve.
Kushikatsu – skewered kebabs of meat, seafood, or vegetables deep-fried and served with a variety of dipping sauces.
GOT AN EXTRA DAY TO SPARE? KYOTO VS OSAKA
If you’ve got an extra day or two to spend in Japan’s Kansai region and are deciding where to spend that extra time, it’ll likely come down to choosing between Osaka or Kyoto.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each city.
- Osaka is more modern, while Kyoto is traditional.
- Osaka has a more youthful and down-to-earth vibe, while Kyoto has more history and old-world charm.
- Osaka has a much better drinking and food scene, while Kyoto has better attractions and landmarks (temples, shrines, and teahouses).
- As Kyoto is more touristy, prices will be more expensive than in Osaka. There will also likely be more crowds in Kyoto compared to Osaka.
Bottom line: If you prefer bustling city life, neon lights, food, and nightlife, spend your extra day in Osaka. If you’re more interested in temples, shrines, gardens, geisha culture, and nature, spend your extra day in Kyoto.
JAPAN: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
- Japan Rail Pass | If you’re staying within the Kansai region, the Kansai Area regional pass makes sense. If you’re traveling across Japan (like to/from Tokyo), the national pass can be worth the money.
- Icoca (IC) Card | Super-convenient rechargeable cards that can be used on all major trains, subways, and buses throughout Japan. You can even use them to pay for stuff at the konbini (convenience stores)! Cards can be purchased from train station ticket vending machines or ticket offices.
- Pocket WiFi | If your phone carrier does not provide free international data, you’ll probably want to avoid those exorbitant roaming fees. Get around that by renting a pocket WiFi. Many hotels offer this as part of your stay, but in the case that they don’t, you can rent your own.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great landmarks of Japan. The last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling internationally from somewhere that doesn’t have USA-style outlet prongs (which are the same as Japan’s), you’re going to need one. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
- Jet Lag Prevention | Chances are you will be jetlagged during your first few days in Japan. Don’t let the long flight and time change weigh you down! Here are a few preventative options that’ll help:
- Comfortable Walking Shoes | You will be doing a lot of walking in Japan. Find all my favorite travel shoes here!
- Cash and credit cards
- Important travel documents | Passports, visas, flight tickets, medical cards
- Lastly, be sure to save space in your luggage for souvenirs and snacks to bring home!
JAPAN TRAVEL INSURANCE
This is a no-brainer. When traveling internationally, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance.
I’ve heard of too many unfortunate experiences where friends and family have had baggage lost/stolen, hotels canceled, or have had unexpected medical emergencies while traveling where they’ve had to cut their trips short. My partner even had his shoulder dislocated while surfing in Mexico, resulting in a huuuge emergency room bill!
Without travel insurance, you would have to pay out of pocket for these mishaps. This is why I get travel insurance for all my international trips now!
One of the best budget-friendly travel insurances for those traveling outside their home country is SafetyWing.
SafetyWing Insurance provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. This means that if you get ill or injured, they will cover the medical expenses.
In addition, it provides emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation (much needed if you like to go hiking / trekking in the wild), travel delay, and lost checked luggage.
I hope this Osaka day trip itinerary has helped you plan out what you want to do with your time in the vibrant city of Osaka. Safe travels abroad!