Our 1-day Osaka, Japan itinerary offers a step-by-step touring plan for visiting Dotonbori (and eating!), Osaka Castle, and other highlights. We cover the must-see museums and other points of interest, all of which are easily accessible via walking and Osaka’s public transportation.
If you’re looking for an Osaka itinerary that offers as many experiences as possible so you “complete” as much in the city as possible, checklist style, you might want to look elsewhere. This itinerary instead focuses on a few highlights, and ignores a lot of stuff that, in our experience, is subpar.
First, the itinerary has zero temples and shrines. If you’re visiting Osaka, there’s at least a 75% chance that you’re also visiting Kyoto (and if you aren’t, you should). The absolute best temple in Osaka is Shitennoji Temple, which wouldn’t crack the top 50 in Kyoto. Skip the shrines and temples in Osaka and see them in Kyoto instead.
Second, this Osaka touring plan ignores a few of the city’s higher profile districts. I really don’t know why other Osaka itineraries take a Pokemon style ‘gotta visit ’em all‘ approach to Osaka’s districts, but that’s severely misguided. Of all the city’s we’ve visited in Japan, Osaka has the roughest areas, and Shinsekai epitomizes this. Its “New World” moniker is a serious misnomer, and why anyone would want to visit this run-down, oddly dystopian area is beyond me.
When it comes to must-see districts in Osaka, there’s Dotonbori and…well…that’s it. Kita/Umeda is also a fine area, but this is more like Osaka’s downtown business district. Plenty of good restaurants here and less of a touristy vibe than Dotonbori, but there’s good reason everyone goes to Dotonbori.
Another thing this itinerary does not include, but that we love, is Universal Studios Japan. The reason for that is simple: USJ is an all-day affair. It’s imperative that you arrive before the park opens, have an efficient plan of attack, and stay until closing (read our Ultimate Guide to Universal Studios Japan for strategy). Universal Studios Japan is the busiest theme park in the world, with wait times for popular rides usually in the triple digits. The notion that you can “drop in” for a few hours in the middle of the day is nonsense…unless you don’t plan on doing any rides.
If you have 2 days in Osaka, we’d recommend Universal Studios Japan, CityWalk, and a late-night return to Dotonbori for your second day. As for the first day, here goes…
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan – Located outside the city-center at Osaka Bay, Kaiyukan is the world’s largest aquarium and a Japan must-do. The giant whale shark is the unequivocal highlight, but there are dozens of exhibits here that are all compelling, and you’ll want to spend at least 2 hours here.
You might recall that in our full post about Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, we recommended going later in the day on a weekday if at all possible, as school groups tend to go on weekdays. That’s still true, but with a single day in Osaka, you’re just going to have to roll the dice on school groups, and arrive right as the aquarium opens to beat the crowds.
Kita/Umeda – We’re recommending going from Osaka Aquarium to Umeda Station as this area is rich with lunch options, but you can also feel free to do other local attractions. The space age Umeda Sky Building is a highlight, and its observation deck is popular.
Other points of interest in this area include the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (a good museum, but you’ll get your Osaka history fix later in the day), the National Museum of Art (a nice option with a focus on modern art from the post-war era), and the Osaka Science Museum (a dated option with limited English). We would probably skip all of these with only a single day (or even two) in Osaka, but they’re options to consider if you’re staying in the Umeda area and have a few days.
Osaka Castle – From Umeda, you’ll take the JR Osaka Loop Line to Osaka Castle. This is our second-favorite castle in the Kansai region, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to Himeji Castle, we recommend both.
Spring sakura season at Osaka Castle is beautiful, but the park around the castle is lovely year-round. The interior of the castle might not be what you expect, but as we wrote in our full Osaka Castle Info, Tips & Review post, it’s an unexpected highlight that’s well worth your time.
Osaka Museum of History & NHK Broadcasting Center – Located in the same skyscraper as one another and only a 10 minute walk from Osaka Castle, the Osaka Museum of History and NHK Broadcasting Center are highly recommended. The latter is totally free, offers a bunch of hands-on demonstrations, green-screen opportunities, interactive tech, and the chance to (potentially) observe live broadcasts.
The Osaka Museum of History is also a highlight, containing several large walk-through models and dioramas of the city from ancient through post-war times. While the focus is on Osaka, this museum offers broad insights into Japan’s history, and is one of the best history museums in Japan. The icing on the cake here is the views of Osaka Castle and the city’s skyline from the top floor of the building. (Meaning you get museum, broadcast center, and observation deck all out of this one stop.)
Minami (Dotonbori) – From the museum, go to the tongue-twisting Tanimachiyonchome Station and take the Metro to Shinsaibashi Station (there’s one transfer) where you’ll start your evening adventure. Every other location on this Osaka touring plan, we are strategically visiting at its least-busy time to avoid crowds. Not the case with Minami/Dotonbori, which is unquestionably busiest at night.
Nevertheless, that’s the time to do Dotonbori. At night, the area is awash with neon, alive with people, and just plain fun. During the day, it’s drab and dreary, with every blemish of the well worn facades, giant crabs, and ‘other stuff’ all looking rather plain. I’d liken Dotonbori during the day to Bourbon Street during the day (minus the raucous atmosphere).
Dotonbori is Osaka’s biggest hotspot for eating, drinking, shopping and general merriment. By starting at Shinsaibashi Station, you’ll walk south through the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade, over Ebisu-bashi Bridge across the iconic Dotonbori Canal, and through Dotonbori arcade. You could legitimately spend the entire day doing a food crawl through this small area. Even though you won’t have that much time to spend in Dotonbori if you’re doing a single day in Osaka, we’d recommend going slow, trying street food, and spending a few hours here.
With the itinerary done, two things to note. First, revisit Minami/Dotonbori every evening of your stay in Osaka. If you get your fill of the nighttime crowds, consider a food crawl (we’re not even kidding about that) earlier in the day. Second, You can do the stops before Dotonbori in reverse order, starting at Osaka Castle/Museum of History and finishing at Osaka Aquarium before taking the Osaka Metro to Shinsaibashi Station.
Ultimately, it’s a pretty simple itinerary for a pretty simple place to visit. Even more so than with Tokyo, we think Osaka is more about being there, wandering, and eating rather than making an effort of seeing as many points of interest as possible. It’s just not that kind of city. However, it’s a city that can be very fun if you approach it the right way, and we hope with this itinerary you have a good day in Osaka!
If you’re considering some time in Osaka during your trip to Japan, start by reading our Osaka, Japan City Guideand our comprehensive Universal Studios Japan Planning Guide. We also have hundreds of other Japan planning posts you can peruse for more ideas of fun things to do during your trip!
Have you ever visited Osaka, Japan? What do you think of it? Where did you eat? Which points of interest did you visit? Other suggestions to add/remove from this Osaka itinerary? Any questions or other comments? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!