On a dark night, Tokyo's grimier cousin looks like a scene out of Blade Runner - umbrella wielding pedestrians scurry head down through dark streets as the rain slants across neon signs. Japan's third largest city is also a foodie paradise, with numerous iconic and quirky dishes to try.
Our 10 must dos:
Eat everything - Osaka isn't called Japan's kitchen for nothing, it is food heaven. The birthplace of Ramen noodles and takoyaki, there is so much to try. You can find our recommendations for where to eat at the end of this blog.
Namba Yasaka shrine - Looking somewhat like the Cave of Wonders in Disney's Aladdin, this quirky temple has a huge 12 metre high lion head stage. Its gaping mouth is supposed to swallow your troubles, leaving you free and happy!
Rainbow Karaoke - A popular chain throughout Japan, we had a blast at the Dotonbori branch. For a mere 600 Yen you get your own room, 2 hours of singing and all you can drink soft drinks. Alcohol is also available for an additional price. So. Much. Fun!!!
Osaka Castle - Stroll around the grounds of Osaka Castle and admire the soaring building in front of you. The keep itself is a 1930s rebuild, further renovated in the 90s, but the enormous stone walls around the moat are original. In spring there are some beautiful cherry trees in the park.
Neon signs - One of Osaka's most iconic monuments is the Glica running man, a 1935 neon advertisement for a sweets brand located along Dotonbori canal. After dark, the whole area is ablaze with colourful signage - Time Square and Piccadilly Circus have nothing on Osaka's Dotonbori! You can take a short boat cruise along the canal or stroll along the walkways, but be sure not to miss one of the most atmospheric places we've ever visited.
Take a historic day trip to Kyoto or Nara - Only a short train journey away from Osaka are two ancient capitals of Japan, Kyoto and Nara. Nara has beautiful historic temples, bowing deer and a simply enormous Buddha, and Kyoto is home to the Geisha district of Gion, soaring bamboo forests, the iconic red gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha and Golden Kinkaku-ji. Plus more temples than you can count. While Nara can be done in a day, we'd recommend moving on to Kyoto after Osaka so that you have at least 2 days there. But if time is short, still definitely go even if it's just for a day.
Hit the arcades at Den Den Town - Spend some time (and spare change) in the arcades. We actually preferred DenDen Town to Tokyo's Akihabara, it felt much more friendly and accessible. Many of the games are only 100 yen (70p!) for a decent length go - We especially loved Mario Kart racing and Taiko No Tatsujin, a Japanese drumming game a bit like guitar hero or a dance mat. So addictive!
Enjoy the views from the Anebo Hurukas building - Head to Japan's tallest building where you can take the lift to the 16th floor to access a free garden observation deck with views over central Osaka. For 1500 Yen you can get another lift all the way to the 58th floor for an even higher view, but we found the 16th floor to be impressive enough.
Feel like 007 at Himeji Castle - While Osaka Castle is less than 100 years old, the sweeping white keep of Himeji Castle is one of the country's few original feudal castles. 400 year old Himeji-jo is both a National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and James Bond fans might also recognise the castle as Tiger Tanaka's ninja training school in You Only Live Twice. You can climb to the top of the 6 story main keep, and explore the gates and baileys that make up the castle grounds. Be aware that this place gets VERY busy in cherry blossom season. For about 35p more, you can get a combined entry ticket for the castle and nearby Kokoen Gardens, a really lovely stroll through nine separate gardens designed in traditional Japanese styles of the Edo Period, including a beautiful koi pond with a waterfall,a flower garden, a bamboo garden and a garden of pines.
Universal Studios - Often voted Japan's best theme park, and the second most visited after Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios is a brilliant day out from Osaka for families and big kids alike. Highlights include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Minion Park (based on the Despicable Me franchise) Jurassic Park, Spiderman and Jaws, with a new Super Nintendo World opening in 2021.
Where to eat
Dotonbori Street Spend an evening exploring the most famous street in Osaka and eating ALL the street food. Gyoza, kushikatsu (amazing fried things on sticks- everything from beef to squid to potato to garlic) and Osaka's speciality, Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) were all high on our list. You can also find desserts like sweet melon pan buns and quirky shaped gelato.
Kuromon Ichiba Market The best chefs in Osaka buy their ingredients from this long covered market, and you can buy lots of nibbles to try from the different stalls. We would recommend juicy snow crab sticks and tako tamago, a miniature octopus on a stick stuffed with a quail egg. It looks intimidating but it's so delicious.
Kushikatsu Horumon Asahi a no frills restaurant in quirky Shinsekai with cheap kushikatsu and huge bowls of ramen. Hearty and filling, this was a really good budget friendly option.
How to Get there:
Flights to Osaka land at Kansai International Airport, and bullet trains from Hiroshima (about 90 minutes), Kyoto (about 30 minutes) and Tokyo (just under 3 hours) arrive into Shin Osaka station.