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top five guide: osaka, japan

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Busy, neon-lit Dotonburi street at night in Osaka, Japan

While Tokyo tends to get most of the attention, Osaka is a massive and vibrant city that is a must-add to any Japan itinerary. Just a three-hour bullet train from Tokyo or a one-hour slow train from Kyoto, Japan's third largest city is particularly famous for its food and nightlife. We spent a majority of our two days in this modern metropolis wandering from cafe to restaurant to bar, which I wholly recommend. Hopefully all that walking shed some of the extra weight that I undoubtedly gained along the way (no regrets).

Here are my top five tips for visiting OSAKA:

Shinsaibashi neighborhood street in Osaka, Japan

1: where to stay

Given Osaka doesn't have a large number of "must-see" tourist sights, many people opt to explore the city over just one or two days. With such little time, it's best to stay close to the action. The Shinsaibashi neighborhood is a busy shopping district that is centrally located and nearby to many attractions. I suggest looking at the W Osaka or other hotels in that area. We used Bonvoy points to stay about a 25 minute walk northeast of this area at the Moxy Honmachi. This was an excellent budget option in a slightly quieter, more business-oriented part of town, though I would have preferred Shinsaibashi.

Dotonburi street during the day in Osaka, Japan

2: dotonburi

If there is one thing that you HAVE to do in Osaka, it's take an overstimulating walk down Dotonburi. This is the most popular attraction in town, so be prepared to wade through some potentially thick crowds. It will be worth it, because this neon-lit, pedestrianized boulevard is like a foodie's amusement park. Giant crabs and skewers and sushi chef heads adorn the front of the eateries lining the street, giving you a not-so-subtle idea of what delicacies can be found inside. Whether or not you actually eat here isn't even the point - you just have to experience the food frenzy for yourself.

2023 Japanese corner bar with lanterns in Nishi ward, Osaka, Japan

3: nishi ward

If you're looking for a break from the intensity of Dotonburi, venture west towards the Nishi ward (specifically around Shimmachi, Kitahorie, and Minamisemba). You'll leave the suffocating throngs of tourists behind and enter a more tranquil set of picturesque streets that are somewhat sparsely dotted with trendy boutiques, vintage shops, cafes, and bars. It's the perfect area to explore without a specific destination in mind, and includes some of the most photogenic parts of the city as well.

2023 Chicken soba ramen bowl from Torisoba Zagin in Osaka, Japan

4: favorite eats

As I alluded to in the intro, our time in Osaka was all about eating. This city is famously home to some specific foods that you shouldn't miss, like takoyaki (octopus dough balls), okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancake), kushikatsu (deep fried skewers), and fugu (pufferfish), to name a few. Ironically, our favorite meals did not include any of those dishes. We particularly loved the deliciously complex chicken soba ramen (pictured) at Torisoba Zagin Honten, the spicy katsu curry at the tiny and tucked-away Kusaka Curry, and the fluffy soufflé pancakes at COLONY by EQI.

Milk Bar Japanese audiophile listening bar in Osaka, Japan 2023

5: milk bar

Look, at this point I think it's fair to say that I have a downright obsession with Japan's vinyl listening bars. These intimate, dimly lit establishments can be found in many cities across the country, are often run by one music-loving owner/bartender, and boast impressive vinyl collections that double as chic decor. Simply put, bars like this are my happy place and I would gladly fly back to Japan just to spend more time in them. Milk Bar in Osaka is one such bar that is nestled in a nondescript building. Don't let that deter you: if you're lucky enough to find an open seat, order a highball, sit back, and enjoy the impeccable vibes.

You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

Go on a food tour. With all the eating, you might be surprised to hear that the one thing I wish we had done more. With such a rich food culture in Osaka, it can be a bit difficult to track down and eat all the local delicacies while also avoiding inauthentic tourist traps in the process. Taking a food tour would be an excellent way to try a lot of the city's best foods in a fun, efficient, and informative way.

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.


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