48 hours and 50 attractions in Osaka
I landed in Osaka, excited and terrified, on a mushiatsui (hot and humid) day of June 2011: after dreaming about it for a long time, my dream of visiting Japan was finally coming true. After 3 years of Japanese studies, that country looked very familiar and very exotic and enigmatic at the same time.
Before moving to Kyoto, where I was going to spend the 3 months of my stay, I planned a few days for myself in Osaka. I wanted to see everything there was to see in town and even more. So I bought a 2-day Osaka pass and started my Osaka marathon!
2-day Osaka Pass
The Osaka Pass is one of the most convenient tourist passes I’ve ever seen. For 3300 yen (30ish US dollars), you get free access to 35 attractions and great discounts for other 15. Plus, unlimited rides on trains and buses completely free.
Seeing everything in 2 days is impossible, but the pass still pays for itself really quickly.
You can buy the pass at any tourism office. If you ask for information at your hotel they’ll be able to show you where the closest one is. You’ll receive your pass and a map + a small booklet with the list of museums, places, events, restaurants, shops included in the deal. Double-check the dates on the pass at the time of purchase and you’re set! Just show your pass and get free entrance to a lot of awesome places 🙂
Here is a list of all the things I’ve tried, grouped by area so that you already have a possible itinerary.
Nanba – Dotonbori
Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum. It’s a small intimate museum on two floors in a traditional house. You can barely see it from the outside, but the exhibition of Ukiyoe paintings is very interesting. It doesn’t take more than 30 minutes to visit.
Save: 500 yen
Tombori River Cruise. Nice cruise of a good 30 minutes on the river with a guide in Japanese and English. Gets busy in the evening, during the day it’s usually fine.
Save: 900 yen
Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory. Great quiet place with a really nice view over the city. The endless escalator taking you up is pretty cool, you can’t see the end point for a long time! Go in the evening if you’d rather see the city lights from above.
Save: 1000 yen
HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel. I’m a big fan of ferris wheels and this bright red one is great. It’s huge, the cabins are closed so you don’t freeze to death and can enjoy the view.
Save: 900 yen
Osaka Science Museum. It’s a great museum for the whole family. It has a lot of practical and interactive experiments that you can try as you go along, even for people not very well-versed in science.
Save: 400 yen
Natural Hot Spring Naniwa no Yu. Don’t miss the chance to try the Japanese hot springs for the first time in your life! Naniwa no Yu is an onsen on the roof of a building, so there are both indoor and outdoor pools.
It was my first time there, but the girl at the reception was really kind and helpful, she explained to me how it worked and lent me some towels (see this article for more info about onsen). Don’t think too much about it and go, you won’t regret it 🙂
Save: 800 yen
Ebisucho – Tennoji
Tsutenkaku Tower. Famous tower beside the Shinsekai area. Free only on weekdays, it’s “home” to the good luck god Billiken. It’s quite unique and fun to explore. The area is really lively, I recommend getting street food over there.
Save: 700 yen
Osaka Tennoji Zoo. Quite big, nice zoo. It can be a fun activity for the family, but it’s not a must.
Save: 500 yen
Spa World. Spa World is amazing! I went multiple times over the years, because it’s relaxing and fun. It’s divided in two parts: Western spa and Eastern spa, one for men only and one for women only. Every month the two sections are inverted, so for example if in January the Western one is open to women and the Eastern one to men, in February it will be the opposite. Each part boasts a lot of different pools and ambiances. You can easily spend a half-day there or more. There is also a swimming pool for everyone (where you have to wear your bathing suit), a snack area and more.
200 yen off
Shitennoji temple. Big Buddhist complex with the main temple and a few annexes. It can be a good introduction to the temple architecture, as it’s never too crowded and you can take your time wandering around (be always respectful!).
Osaka Castle + Museum. If I had to pick one thing, I’d pick the castle. Wandering around the castle grounds is free and it’s already worth it. If you’re interested in Japanese history, especially the shogunate era and the wars from Nobunaga to the unification of the country, you’ll want to take a look inside.
Save: 600 yen
Osaka Museum of History. Very well-organized, gives a good idea of how daily life in Japan was over the centuries.
Osakako – Harbor area
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel. Not as good as the other one, but the view on the water is pretty. Rarely crowded. Popular with teenage couples on dates.
Save: 800 yen
Cruise Ship Santa Maria Day Cruise. A nice cruise in the harbor area (doesn’t go very far) on board of a sailboat. Feel a bit like a pirate, while the guide explain and the story of the Santa Maria and what you can see from the boat.
Save: 1600 yen
Kaiyukan. One of the biggest aquariums in the world. It takes time to see everything properly, but it’s worth the visit.
100 yen off
Other things to do
Eat takoyaki and okonomiyaki and kushikatsu. In Osaka they are simply the best. Pick a stand on the street or a traditional small restaurant and enjoy these dishes that will change the way you see Japanese cuisine.
Walk around Dotonbori, take a picture with the famous Glico Man, visit Lego land or the Universal Studios Japan, go on a shopping spree in Namba or get completely lost in Umeda. Go see a soccer game at the Nagai stadium. The options are endless!
Truth is you probably won’t be interested in all the attractions and that’s okay. Highlight all the things you want to do on the list, find them on the map and group them by area, so that you can optimize your movements around the city. Check hours and closing days, to avoid disappointment. You’re ready to go and explore!