Top 5 Things to do in Osaka on TripAdvisor

by GoWithGuide travel specialist

Crowds of people rushing from food stalls at one of Osaka's busiest and most famous shopping areas, an aquarium spreading over eight massive floors, home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and one of the Three Famous Castles of Japan. Start planning your Osaka trip here with the top five attractions from TripAdvisor:

1. Dotonbori

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Dotonbori refers to the district from the Nihon bridge to the Daikoku bridge; it is a bustling downtown area that spreads along the south bank of the Dotonbori river. At the streets that are perpetually crowded by people throughout the year, you will find a great variety of restaurants, diners and shops serving okonomiyaki (savory pancake), udon noodels, deep fried pork skewers, blowfish dishes and much more! It is also “the kitchen of Osaka” where Osaka gourmet shops cluster together. For those coming to Osaka for the first time, we recommend “sign watching.” The street is crowded with colorfully illuminating neon signs, three-dimensional objects appearing to jump out in front of you and many more unique, entertaining signs. Images that best represent the Osaka Minami (south) area, and often seen in guidebooks, all collect in Dotonbori: the kuidaore (eat till you drop!) doll, the crab of Kani Douraku restaurant, the blowfish of Tsuboraya restaurant and many more. Especially, the Glico sign of the snacks manufacturer Ezaki Glico has enjoyed the most fame as the symbol of Dotonbori ever since the first version was set up in 1935. The sixth version of the Glico sign newly featuring LED neon lights was introduced in the fall of 2014. One of the popular activities when touring Osaka is to stand on the Ebisu Bridge and take a picture with this huge neon sign in the background. This bridge is also called the “pick up bridge” and used to be known as a place for picking up girls in hopes to at least have a cup of coffee together.

We also recommend focusing on the Dotonbori River itself. With the improvement in the water quality compared to the conditions in the past, the path along the river is popular today as a walking route where you can fully enjoy the water metropolis, Osaka. You can also go on a boat ride on the Dotonbori River. The Tonbori River Cruise offers a ride that cruises around the Dotonbori area for about 20 minutes. While unfortunately no English explanations are given, the guide speaking in the Osaka dialect humorously explains the history and other information of Dotonbori. Because this area has always served as the frontline of the latest trends of Kamikata (Kyoto-Osaka region) culture, there are many shops and restaurants in Dotonbori that have been favored by actors, actresses, and cultural figures over many years. This cultural aspect that is not your typical image of Osaka makes Dotonbori even more attractive.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Dotonbori
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Dotonbori
Tours of Dotonbori

2. Osaka Aquarium

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Kaiyukan is an 8-floor aquarium with a large-scale indoor water tank. The entire building expresses itself as a Pacific Rim zone of life, and approximately 30,000 examples of sea life from 620 varieties can be seen. The regular route will first take you through the 3rd-floor tunnel-like “Fish Passage – Aqua Gate” and then on the escalator up to the 8th floor’s “Nihon no Mori” (Japan Forest). From here, you can view 14 aquaria as you descend a spiral slope. You can see the fish and expressions of the sea up close through the 10 regions of the Pacific Rim. Of particular note is the 9m-deep and 34m-long giant tank which holds 5,400 tonnes of water and resembles the Pacific Ocean. You can view migratory fish such as the popular whale shark (Yuu-chan), sharks, rays and horse mackerel swimming about calmly. The “Aleutian Islands” where you can see sea otters and the “Floating Jellyfish” tank where only jellyfish are placed are also popular. There are other various idea aquaria to interest visitors. If you visit after 5 p.m., we also recommend catching a glimpse of the fish in night mode.

You can’t miss the “New Interactive Area” which opened in 2013. You can see the animals up close and it’s possible to touch them. It’s also fun to experience the environment where the animals live including the smells and the cold. 3 zones are constructed in the “New Interactive Area”. In the Arctic Zone, you can see the sight of roundish ringed seals swimming from below through the world’s largest dome-shaped ceiling tank. You can also sense the cold of the Arctic Zone on your skin. In the Falkland Islands Zone, you can view rockhopper penguins in the open-air tank up close. Then, in the Maldives Zone, you can directly touch sharks and rays. The “New Interactive Area”, which overturns the image of existing aquaria, is extremely popular with both adults and children alike. You will want to strike a rapport with the animals.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 2,300 / Child: ¥ 1,200

Guidebook from Planetyze about Osaka Aquarium
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osaka Aquarium
Tours of Osaka Aquarium

3. Universal Studios Japan

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The idea behind Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is to experience the world of movies through attractions and shows, which were made with the director Steven Spielberg as creative manager. USJ is divided into eight areas. After the entrance is the Hollywood Area, which is a town based on the image of Hollywood film studios. The atmosphere here will make you think you’ve stepped into Hollywood in America. Then there is the New York Area, where you will find attractions from Spiderman, which is a very popular USJ movie, as well as shows based on the Terminator movie. It’s fun just to walk down the streets, which are based on New York’s image. The San Francisco Area, which is furthest away, features Back to the Future attractions. In the other main attraction, you can experience the scene of the massive fire from the movie Backdraft. As the name suggests, the Jurassic Park Area features popular attractions on the theme of the Jurassic Park movies. These powerful and thrilling attractions are always popular with adults. Amity Village features the beach from the movie Jaws. Young children will enjoy the popular Universal Wonderland, where you will find countless characters from Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Sesame Street. The whole family can enjoy the Teacups and Merry-Go-Rounds.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which displays the world of Harry Potter as it really is, is currently getting the most attention at USJ. This new area has only just opened. Hogwarts Castle and the town are just as they appear in the movies. This area is a hot topic right now as the attractions make use of 4K imaging technology. 

Admission: Adult: ¥ 7,200 / Child: ¥ 4,980 

Guidebook from Planetyze about Universal Studios Japan
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Universal Studios Japan
Tours of Universal Studios Japan

4. Osaka Shinsaibashi 

The Shinsaibashi area is inserted in the south between Minami-Senba and Nagahori Street. In its center is Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street which lines up traditional shops, department stores and specialty brand outlets. This street has a long history going back to the middle of the 18th century.  From the Meiji Era, establishments such as small stores dealing in imported goods and fancy stores started increasing. During the Taisho and Showa Eras, there was a shift to dry-goods shops and department stores, and the street became a lively one for young people to enjoy shopping. Recently, seasonal events have been held to raise the profile of Shinsaibashi and the good old area has regained its luster. Traditional shops with several hundred years of history co-exist with stores dealing in the latest fashions, and a new charm is being felt.

On the west side of Shinsaibashi subway station, there is America-mura which is an area that spreads from Nagahori Street to Dotombori. It is the most active launching point in Osaka Minami for trends. Centering on the shopping building Big Step, starting from casual fashion, there are plenty of unique shops specializing in items such as old & used records, percussion instruments, and miscellaneous goods. You can feel the youth culture of the Kansai region there. In addition, you can discover “Peace on Earth”, a mural painted in 1983 by artist Seitaro Kuroda who hails from Osaka Minami. There are other original pieces of art and buildings where you can sense the pop culture everywhere. The center of America-mura is Triangle Park (Mitsu Park). It’s alive with young people performing and holding flea markets in the hopes of becoming artists or musicians.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Shinsaibashi 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shinsaibashi 
Tours of Shinsaibashi 

5. Osaka Castle

Although Osaka Castle has twice been destroyed by fire, Otemon and Sakuramon, which are Important Cultural Properties, still remain, as does the castle tower, which is a registered Tangible Cultural Property. The castle tower, which was rebuilt 266 years after being burned down, is a 55-meter high, five-story (outer), eight-floor (inner) building. This is one of the foremost of the many post-Showa era castle towers, and it boasts an elevator so that elderly people and disabled persons can enjoy it too. One of the features of Osaka Castle is the glittering golden ornamentation, including the golden carp on the roof. Osaka Castle is situated inside Osaka Castle Park. Osaka Castle Park is a huge site of roughly 106 square meters. In addition to Osaka Castle, this park abounds with nature, including Nishinomaru Garden, where there are approximately 300 cherry blossom trees, and the plum grove, which has approximately 1200 plum trees across 100 varieties. Concerts also take place at Osaka Castle Hall, and it is the ideal tourist location for slow walks.  

The museum in Osaka Castle Tower is where you can learn about the history of Osaka Castle. On the first floor, you can study the life of Toyotomi Hidetoshi and learn about the history of Osaka Castle in the theater room. On the second floor, you will be introduced to general information about the castle by means of panel displays and replicas of the carp and the tiger and other decorations. On the third and fourth floors, items and documents related to Toyotomi Hidetoshi are on display. On floor five, there is a display that includes a folding panel about the siege of Osaka and the situation at the time, which served as a model for the current Osaka Castle, all of which is available in English. On the seventh floor, there are miniature models that tell the story of Toyotomi Hidetoshi’s life, while the top floor is a viewing area that takes in all of Osaka. After taking in the history from the first to seventh floors, and deepening your understanding of the history of Osaka Castle and the man known as Toyotomi Hidetoshi, the streets of Osaka as viewed from the viewing area will depict a different scene.

Admission: ¥ 600

Guidebook from Planetyze about Osaka Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osaka Castle
Tours of Osaka Castle

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