Located on the eastern coast of the Seto Inland Sea in the Kansai region of Honshu is the historic city of Osaka, Japan. As the second-largest metropolitan area in Japan and one of the largest in the entire world, the list of places to see and eat at in Osaka is as extensive as it is intimidating.
Osaka’s roots date back as far as the 5th and 6th centuries BC, which is the time period when human remains found buried at the Morinomiya ruins have been traced back to. Permanent human habitation grew between 300 BC and 300 AD during the Yayoi period as rice farming became popular, and by the Kofun period from 300 to 538 AD, the settlement now known as Osaka had grown into the beginnings of the hub port it is known as today.
The entire city, which is home to over 19 million residents, is a haven for tourists from around the world. With numerous lively and unique entertainment districts like Dōtonbori, Shinsekai, and Namba; beautiful temples and shrines; unbelievable street food markets serving some of the city’s most delicious fare; and even a historic castle within its limits, Osaka is an incredible mix of Japan’s traditional past and its modern, futuristic present-day.
Because there are so many things to do in Osaka, I wanted to give you a rundown of the best of the best this city has to offer so you can plan your own Osaka vacation accordingly. These are the top places to see and eat at in Osaka!
One of the top destinations in Osaka is the Dōtonbori area, which can be found along the canal of the same name between Dōtonboribashi Bridge and Nipponbashi Bridge.
Dōtonbori, which began with the expansion of the Umezi River to increase commerce in the area in 1612, was once a theater district. After interest in traditional theater declined and the last remaining theaters were destroyed in bombings during World War II, the area reinvented itself to become the thriving tourist- and nightlife-driven area it is today.
Dōtonbori couldn’t be further from its traditional roots than it is today. Walking the streets during the day, but especially at night, is a total assault on the senses, with flashing neon lights, enormous illuminated billboards, mechanical sea creatures advertising seafood restaurants, and more bars than you can count. It’s essentially the Times Square of Osaka!
I visited Dōtonbori with my mind (and stomach) set on having some delicious street food and that’s exactly what I found. I highly recommend trying the takoyaki, which are ball-shaped fritters that are filled with chunks of succulent octopus meat and have a creamy center.
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There are also varieties of takoyaki with bacon and cheese, which also made my taste buds go wild. Both of them alone make Dōtonbori one of the top places to see and eat at in Osaka!
I also suggest trying the okonomiyaki, which is essentially a cabbage pancake with batter and your choice of fillings. If you love seafood, I recommend the shrimp okonomiyaki, which is topped with a teriyaki-like sauce and bonito flakes. For an added kick of heat, try it with some habanero hot sauce like I did! It’s one of the best meals you can get in Dōtonbori.
If you’re not full by then, I also recommend buying a Chinese pork bun, which is one of my favorite foods on the planet, and some yakitori, which is grilled meat on a skewer. If you’re exploring with friends, round out your Dōtonbori experience with some sake or a stop at an izakaya for drinks. Just beware: a lot of Japanese drinks are deceptively strong, so pace yourself!
In the colorful and thriving Shinsekai area west of Tennoji Park is Tsūtenkaku Tower, the most prominent structure in this part of Osaka.
Originally built in 1912 so that its base resembled the Parisian Arc de Triomphe while its tower paid tribute to the Eiffel Tower, the original Tsūtenkaku Tower was nearly destroyed by a devastating fire in 1943 and torn down. The scrap metal from the tower was then used by the Japanese military in World War II.
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The current Tsūtenkaku Tower was built on the site of the original after the war by Tsūtenkaku Kanko Co. Ltd and opened to the public in 1956. Today, the 103-meter-high tower’s second floor features the Kinnikuman Museum, which is dedicated to a popular Japanese manga character, while its third contains a diorama of the original Tsūtenkaku Tower and nearby Luna Park.
However, the main reason to visit Tsūtenkaku Tower is its observation decks, which offer visitors gorgeous views of the entire city. The first of the two observation decks is indoors and costs 700 Yen/$6.29 to visit. It is situated 91 meters above the ground and is almost entirely gold and bronze. It’s pretty small as far as observation decks go, but the view is superb.
For even better views, pay the extra 500 Yen/$4.49 U.S. to gain access to the tower’s highest observation deck, the Skywalk. This deck is outdoors and is 95 meters above the street. The unobstructed views there are glorious.
You can look out at Osaka and see all of the surrounding low-rises, residential buildings, and office buildings. Visiting observation decks is one of my favorite things to do when I travel and this one is definitely one of the top places to see and eat at in Osaka!
If the divine flavors and unique textures of authentic Japanese street food are calling your name during your time in Osaka, there’s no better place to experience them than Kuromon Ichiba Market.
This incredible, covered market in Osaka’s Chuo Ward was first established in 1902, though the area had been frequented by fresh fish traders since the 19th century. The market was initially named Enmyoji Ichiba after a nearby temple, but after that temple and its gate were destroyed by a fire in 1912, the name changed to Kuromon Ichiba.
Roughly 150 stores can be found in Kuromon Ichiba Market, which is affectionately known as “Osaka’s kitchen,” including a large number that sell fresh seafood. Other stores sell meat, dried fish, pickles, sweets, fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing, and more. There is also an increasing number of izakayas, cafes, and seafood restaurants opening in the market.
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No trip to Kuromon Ichiba Market is complete without eating takoyaki, round fritters that contain tender and succulent octopus meat. Here, you can buy eight for 500 Yen/$4.49. The centers of these fantastic fritters is incredibly creamy and reminiscent of a bechamel sauce, and the bonito flakes that are added on top add a nice contrasting texture.
If you happen to arrive in Osaka during the winter, be sure to try the fresh strawberries! They’re in season during the colder months of the year in Japan and are quite a bit sweeter than the ones I was used to!
Mochis are quite popular in Japan and you can find many different varieties almost everywhere, and Kuromon Ichiba Market is no exception. I highly recommend the matcha mochis, which have a nice green tea flavor. There is another variety of mochi that is topped with a thick, syrupy sauce that is cloyingly sweet, but outstanding at the same time.
I also suggest the oden, or Japanese hotpot, which consists of deep-fried tofu, fish cakes, konjac, tofu skin, and more, all of which is cooked in a flavorful broth. The tofu skin and fish cakes in particular were phenomenal!
One of the most bizarre-looking street foods you’ll find in Kuromon Ichiba Market is tako tamago, which is a small, grilled octopus that is stuffed with a quail egg. Don’t let its appearance turn you off; it’s incredibly tasty and a genius combination of flavors and textures. Just give it a chance!
I also suggest the scallops, which are tender and perfectly cooked and served in a magnificent soy butter sauce that is good enough to drink, and the tempura eel, which had a crispy and crunchy exterior and a nice, soft center that made for yet another wonderful seafood dish.
Kuromon Ichiba Market more than lives up to its hype as one of the best places in Osaka to try street food. Not only is it the best for street food, it’s also one of the best places to see and eat at in Osaka, period!
Easily one of Osaka’s most notable sites and one of the most well-known landmarks in all of Japan, Osaka Castle is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking to learn more about the history of the city and the country as a whole.
Originally built between 1583 and 1597 by a feudal lord, politician, samurai, warrior, and general named Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Osaka Castle was modeled after Azuchi Castle near Kyoto. The completed castle featured a five-story main tower that stood on a tall stone foundation. This massive foundation helped protect the people inside the castle from attackers.
There are also three additional stories underground and a double moat. The grounds surrounding the castle are situated in such a way that any hostile forces approaching could easily be picked off by snipers.
The castle played an important role in battles such as the Siege of Osaka in 1614, as well as the unification of Japan in the 16th century. Today, Osaka Castle is open to visitors and contains a wide variety of historical materials and artifacts. There are also dioramas, video screens, and exhibits that teach guests about the castle and its historical significance.
Highlights inside the castle include the figures and video screens on the fifth floor that depict the Summer War of Osaka, a diorama on the seventh floor that recreate 19 scenes from the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the observation deck on the top floor, where you can look out at Osaka from 50 meters above the ground. Note that filming is forbidden in the castle, so you won’t be allowed to enter with a camera.
After leaving, you can rent samurai gear, a kimono, or a ninja outfit and take photos in front of the castle for 500 Yen/$4.53 per person, per time. The castle grounds are also littered with street food vendors during the warmer months. There may not be many if you visit in the winter like I did, but there are still delicious options available.
I could not get enough of the karaage, or Japanese fried chicken (500 Yen/$4.53 for a cup), I tried at a nearby stand. The batter is very unique and crunchy, while the chicken inside is fresh, juicy, and of a really high quality.
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There is also a nearby indoor market, where you can visit a restaurant called Konamon Bar Rikyu, where you can buy some mouthwatering assorted deep-fried skewers for 860 Yen/$7.82 U.S. and wash them down with a beer for 600 Yen/$5.45. This fantastic assortment includes tempura quail eggs, fish cakes, fish skewers, shrimp, and a minced fish patty with a few different dipping sauces, including an outstanding roe sauce.
Finish up your meal with a creamy and earthy matcha soft serve ice cream cone (450 Yen/$4.17 U.S.), which you can find at a shop dedicated to everything matcha, also in the indoor market. You have to try matcha ice cream when you go to Japan. Even if it’s cold outside, the unique flavor is worth it!
Between the gorgeous castle and the amazing food you can find near it, Osaka Castle is, without a doubt, one of the top places to see and eat at in Osaka.
Foodie travelers on a budget can sometimes have trouble finding delicious, affordable food that won’t break the bank when they’re in another country, but if you’re in Japan and need a tasty, wallet-friendly option, look no further than Torikizokou.
Torikizokou is a popular, casual, izakaya-style chain of restaurants that serves Japanese grilled meat skewers called yakitori. The chain started in Osaka but has since expanded to locations throughout Japan.
The food at Torikizokou is known for its fantastic flavor and high quality owing to their use of timers to ensure that every food item is cooked for a specific amount of time that never changes and leaves each piece of meat tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked. The fact that they only use locally raised chicken bolsters the quality of the food they put out.
Not only is the food outstanding, it’s also reasonably priced, with each yakitori only costing less than 300 Yen. Adding to the experience is the warm and inviting atmosphere. The décor is all wood and unlike many other yakitori spots in Japan, there are proper tables in addition to counter seats.
Torikizokou’s menu is massive and there’s really no way to go wrong with a selection. If you’re a cheese lover, I recommend starting with the cheese korokke, which is essentially a croquette filled with hot, gooey cheese. Open it up and let it cool off before you eat it, and then enjoy. It reminded me a lot of the arepas I eat back home in Miami!
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The chicken balls with cheese are phenomenal, as is the savory mochi with cheese, which is topped with seaweed and a wonderful sauce.
You should try karaage in Japan every chance you get, and the kind at Torikizokou was made with a delightful batter that reminded me of honey fried chicken. I also suggest the fatty, grilled pork belly, which wasn’t too tender and had just the right amount of chew to it.
There is also a saucy beef skewer that was so high quality that it could have been wagyu beef. And no yakitori adventure is complete without having the original yakitori, a super moist grilled chicken with crunchy spring onions that had my mouth watering for more.
If you like trying more exotic foods and are a fan of organ meat, I also recommend the grilled chicken hearts, which are small but dense and lightly salted. They may not be for everyone, but I couldn’t get enough of them!
Have your meal with a beer or a great-tasting spirit and you’re all set! My drink of choice was a barley-based spirit called shochu, which is like Japan’s version of vodka. It was delicious and, combined with the out-of-this-world food, makes Torikizokou one of the top places to see and eat at in Osaka!
The city of Osaka is a sprawling, sophisticated city with a unique energy and feel. In many ways, it combines the modernity of Tokyo with some of the tradition of Kyoto and fuses it all into a city that is an absolute blast to explore. Between its fascinating sites and its variety of sensational flavors, Osaka should be near the top of every traveler’s bucket list. Book a trip to Osaka now to see for yourself!
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The Merchant Travellersays:
Very cool post. Wish I’d read this before my most recent trip to Japan. Will definitely be trying some Torikizokou the next time I’m in Osaka.