You arrive in bustling, vibrant Osaka - one of Japan’s biggest and best cities - with 48 hours to see as much as you can. What should you do? Find out here!
This is the premise. You’re travelling across Japan using the Japan Rail Pass and arrive in bustling, vibrant, dazzling, Osaka - one of the country’s biggest and best cities. You have 48 hours to see as much as you can. What should you do? Where should you go? We’re here to tell you. Welcome to 48 hours in Osaka, the first in a series of new blog posts focussed on getting the best out of your time in Japan’s most special locations. First up, Osaka. We’ll give you our recommendations for the most unmissable things to see and do, the best activities and attractions, cultural highlights, and more, as well as how to get there with the JR Pass. Okay, let’s get started. We’ve got 48 hours so we better move quickly.
Top Ten Activities and Attractions in Osaka
1. Experience Dotonbori
Osaka’s neon-lit Dotonbori area is a feast for the senses and one of Japan’s most famous and iconic districts. If you’ve only got 48 hours in Osaka then you don’t want to miss out on this area! When you close your eyes and picture Japan, one of the images you might think of first is the neon-lit nightlife in the country’s glamorous metropolises. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the food! Dotonbori – Osaka’s historic entertainment district – is as famous for its neon lights as it is for its food. Dotonbori’s history as an entertainment district goes back hundreds of years to 1612. Today, Dotonbori is still famous for its entertainment as well as its food, nightlife, and more. Read our guide to The Best of Dotonbori for more keep reading for more recommendations for Osaka’s coolest neighbourhoods.
2. Climb Tsutenkaku Tower
Originally based on the famous Eiffel Tower, Osaka’s Tsutenkaku Tower may not be as well-known as its French cousin but has been an iconic landmark in Osaka and Japan for over 100 years. Tsutenkaku literally means ‘tower reaching heaven’ and was built in 1912 to emulate Paris’s Eiffel Tower. The original tower was taken down during the Second World War, but rebuilt in 1956 by Tachu Naito, the man behind the Tokyo Tower and Sapporo TV tower. Today, it remains an iconic landmark, not just in Shinsekai but in all of Osaka. It stands 103 metres tall and has an observation deck at 91 metres. In 2015, an outdoor viewing platform was added which offers stunning panoramic views of Shinsekai and wider Osaka. Tsutenkaku is open to the public and remains an iconic landmark and meeting place in the area. It’s also a stunning sight at night, as it is covered with LED lights which change colour with the seasons. With the addition of a new 60m-tall slide which opened in 2022, Tsutenkaku Tower has recently become an even bigger attraction for visitors to Osaka - another must-see in your 48 hours in the city.
3. Don’t Miss the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine of Osaka
Osaka’s ancient Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is one of the most important shrines in the city and the setting for the Hatsumode festival. Although Osaka isn’t as well known for its temples and shrines as Kyoto and Tokyo, it is home to the famous Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine. Found in the south of Osaka, this ancient shrine is Osaka’s most important due to its deep history, authentic architecture and connection to the busy Hatsumode festival. Also known as the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, this fascinating attraction is a treat for tourists interested in learning more about Shinto and seeing its pretty scenery. Being an important religious site, it’s little surprise that Sumiyoshi Taisha is tied to a Japanese festival. But the Hatsumode festival held from January 1st to 3rd each year is no ordinary festival. Hatsumode, when people make their shrine visit for the year, is a major part of celebrating the New Year in Japan. Over just three days, this shrine will see over 2 million visitors which is hard to fathom without experiencing it in person yourself. Read our guide to Why You Should Visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine of Osaka for more.
Another place to consider visiting during your 48 hours in Osaka is Tenmangu Shrine. The Tenmangu Shrine is home to the Tenjin festival every year on July 24 and 25, one of the top 3 most popular traditional festivals in Japan. With over 1.5 million visitors, the Tenjin Matsuri is one of the largest 3 seasonal festivals held in Japan, celebrated annually on July 24 and 25. The festival starts with a traditional procession at the temple, followed by parades through the city. On day two the celebration continues with a river procession. The festival concludes with a massive fireworks display. The temple is closely located to the station called JR Osaka Tenmangu station on the JR Tozai-Gakkentoshi Line. From Osaka station, the fastest way to get there is using the JR Osaka Loop Line to Kyobashi station, then transfer to the Tozai-line bound Tenmangu. The route is fully covered by the JR Pass.
4. Eat at Kuromon Market
Kuromon market (黒門市場), or Kuromon Ichiba, is the largest public market hall in Osaka, open daily for shopping and some of the best street food in Kansai. Located in the Namba area of Osaka, Kuromon market is loved by locals, professional buyers and visitors alike. Located in a 600 metre indoor market hall, Kuromon Ichiba is home to about 170 shops, selling a wide variety of fresh produce, fish, meat and local sweets. What makes the market so beloved is that its shops cater to both local restaurants, consumers, and visitors who wish to try the local street food right on the spot.
Using the JRailPass, the best way to get to Kuromon Market without any additional cost is to use local JR lines to JR-Namba station. From there Kuromon market is just two blocks west. Coming from Osaka station, take the JR Yamatoji line to Shin-Imamiya, there transfer for a local train bound to JR Namba station. The full route including transfer takes about 22 minutes.
5. Osaka Castle
If you love Japanese history and culture, no 48 hours in Osaka would be complete without a visit to the city’s castle. Osaka castle (大阪城), pronounced as Ōsakajō, was built around 1583. At the time of construction it was the largest and most prestigious castle in Japan. Meant as the new seat of power for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the then de-facto ruler of Japan. The castle saw a massive renovation in 1997 and has since become one of the most modern castles in Japan, complete with elevators, outside light show and Wi-Fi. The castle today is an experience where you learn about the castle’s history, the unification of Japan and its founder Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In addition, visitors can go up the castle tower for a magnificent view of the Osaka skyline. Around the castle complex is Osaka Castle Park (Osaka-jo-koen), it’s the largest city park of Osaka with lots of activities in the area and certainly worth exploring on its own. The park is especially beautiful during the Sakura period. Highlights include: Hokoku Shrine, Illusion Museum, castle gate and the Peach Grove. Many festivals are held year round in the castle park and you might find yourself partaking in one of the many festivities during your visit. Osaka Castle can be reached from Osakajou-koen station, on the JR Osaka Loop line. You’ll step right into the castle park from the station, from where it is about 10 minutes on foot to the castle itself. Read our visitors guide to Osaka Castle for everything you need to know.
6. Universal Studios
Love theme parks? Then you won’t want to miss Universal Studios during your 48 hours in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan (USJ), is the largest amusement park in the city. It has a number of themed sections, Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Minion Park, Universal Wonderland, Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, and the newest, Super Nintendo World. Universal Studios has its own JR translation called Universal city station, and is only a 20-minute train ride from Osaka station and fully covered by the JR Pass. To get the most out of your visit read our guide to Universal Studios Japan.
7. Enjoy a cold beer at Asahi Beer Suita Brewery
Japan loves beer. If you also enjoy a cold one then don’t miss a free tour of the Asahi Beer Suita Brewery during your 48 hours in Osaka. Asahi opened in 1889, originally known as the Osaka Beer Company. It was in Suita in northern Osaka that they built their first brewery in 1891. Today, Asahi is one of the four main beer producers in the country, alongside Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. The brand’s flagship beer Asahi Super Dry is sold and drunk around the world and was the first of the many dry beers to come out of Japan when it was released in 1987. The Asahi company offers free tours of its brewery in Osaka for visitors so this is a great budget-friendly activity during your time in the city, especially if you’re a beer lover. There’s more good news too - those travelling around Japan on a Japan Rail Pass. You can use your pass to visit the brewery with ease. Just travel from either Osaka or Kyoto station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Line (excluding the Nozomi and Mizuho services) and alight at the Suita Station. From there, the brewery is just a 10 minute walk.For more on the tour, read our guide to the Asahi Beer Suita Brewery in Osaka and for more on Japan’s love of beer generally read, Kanpai: A Craft Beer Tour of Japan.
8. Visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Found in the Tempozan Harbor Village near the Osaka Bay area, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of Japan’s most respected aquariums. Kaiyukan is one of the largest public aquariums in the world and is sure to captivate those who explore its exhibits, home to 30,000 marine animals from across the Pacific Ocean. More than just your local aquarium, the Osaka Aquarium is a state of the art complex dedicated to marine life from around the Pacific Rim. To properly showcase these creatures from around the Pacific, Kaiyukan recreates the natural environment of their different habitats. This theme revolves around the idea of the “Gaia Hypothesis”, suggesting that in some ways the Pacific Ocean region acts as one single ecosystem. This means you can see an incredibly diverse selection of marine animals here, with 620 species calling the aquarium home. Dolphins, penguins, otters, sea lions, whale sharks and jellyfish are among the many animals on display here. With so much to see, both children and adults are sure to be impressed by what they see at the Osaka Aquarium. No wonder it’s one of Osaka’s most popular tourist attractions - another strong contender for your 48 hours in the city.
9. Shop until you drop at
Just because you’ve only got 48 hours doesn’t mean you don’t have time for some shopping! Alongside its famous neighbourhoods such as Umeda, Namba, Denden Town, and more (keep reading below for more on those), Osaka has a wealth of shopping destinations if you need a little retail therapy. The massive Grand Front Osaka complex in the Umeda area is a great one-stop shop (well, hundreds of shops to be precise) if you want to go on a shopping spree without going back and forth across the city. With more than 266 shops, 95 restaurants, entertainment, roof terraces, and more, this is a mega complex designed to provide visitors with every kind of shopping and retail experience in one place. Another, perhaps more unusual shopping destination, is Osaka Expo ’70 Commemorative Park. Once the site of a World’s Fair held in Osaka, Expo '70 Park is an interesting place to visit in the city due to the variety it has on offer. Expo '70 Park, officially known as Expo Commemoration Park, is a large complex in the north of Osaka that combines beautiful gardens with informative museums and great shops, particularly in the three-storey Expo ‘70 shopping complex. You’ll find over 300 stores covering Japanese and international brands, as well as restaurants, food court and IMAX cinema.
Finally, for more old-school shopping, try Shinsaibashi. This is the city’s biggest shopping area with hundreds of big name stores. It’s been a massive part of Osaka’s culture and history for 400 years and features every big name brand you could wish for – all under one 600-metre long covered street. It is the place to go if you want to shop until you drop. When it comes to shopping, make sure you also try Southroad Sennichimae – known as Ura-Namba or Back Namba – which is a smaller covered shopping arcade and strip of restaurants near Namba Grand Kagetsu. Finally, Sennichimae Kitchenware Street is a unique area, found close to Namba Station, that sells exclusively (you guessed it), kitchenware including the finest Japanese kitchen knives.
10. Visit the coolest neighbourhoods in Osaka
We mentioned the famous Dotonbori above, but Osaka is packed full of super cool neighbourhoods for you to visit during your 48 hours in the city. Here are other parts of the city you might want to explore.
Shinsekai is a time capsule of old-school Osaka street life, filled with arcade machines, neon lights, quirky shops, hidden bars, delicious street food, and more. This famous district offered a vision of the future back in the early 1900s and now provides a nostalgic blast from the past.
Denden Town is the Akihabara of Osaka. Here you’ll find everything related to anime, electronics, gadgets, music and Otaku culture. Part of the Nipponbashi city ward, Denden Town is a great way to experience Japanese Otaku culture (most known for anime, manga and video games), or to shop for electronics and parts.
Namba is a popular entertainment and shopping district in the south of Osaka. In many ways, it’s like a microcosm of Osaka itself – a dazzling, sensory experience packed with the fun and excitement of 21st Century Japan as well as plenty of history and culture to be found just under the flashing, neon surface. Namba is also home to Shinsaibashi and Kuromon market, which you’ll find elsewhere on our list.
Futuristic and glamorous, Osaka’s Umeda district features some of the city’s most spectacular landmarks and is packed with places to shop, eat and explore. From Osaka’s tallest skyscrapers to its most spectacular landmarks, plus the very best in high-end shopping, cuisine and entertainment – it’s easy to see why Umeda is such a popular attraction. This futuristic and glamorous part of Osaka is a famous business and shopping district with iconic landmarks such as the Umeda Sky Tower (with its spectacular views of the city) and the giant Hep Five Ferris Wheel. It’s also a major transport hub for the city and the biggest business district in the Kansai region. In our opinion, this put Umeda high on the list for any 48 hour trip to Osaka.
Osaka is a big bustling city and with a limited time frame, you’ll need to be organised. Here are a few additional tips and recommendations:
- Once in Osaka, the easiest way to get around the city is using public transportation, so you’ll want to invest in a prepaid travel card such as an ICOCA, PASMO or Suica card, as well as a Japan Rail Pass for getting around the rest of the country. Check out our Top 30 Tips for Using Japan’s Metros for advice and guidance on using the city’s subway network.
- Osaka is also huge so you may also want to invest in PocketWifi to stay connected and avoid any unwanted data charges if you happen to need directions or language advice while you’re on the move during your 48 hours in the city.