My Ultimate Solo Travel Guide to Osaka, Japan
Louder, prettier, and grittier, Osaka is an anti-thesis to Japan’s capital Tokyo. The vibrant, modern, and yet historically important city was Japan’s capital before Tokyo. And surprisingly, there is still an underlying rivalry between the two! Historically the merchant society of Osaka has always contrasted that of the imperial capital city. Osakans pride themselves as being down to earth. They’re a little less formal and more open than people in Tokyo or Kyoto.
Located in the middle of the Kansai region, this economic powerhouse is Japan’s second-largest metropolitan center behind Tokyo. Known as the Kitchen of Japan, it has an unique culinary style, but that is not all to this amazing city. A major reason why Osaka is so popular among travellers is the sheer abundance of places to visit. So here I present to you the ultimate solo travel guide to Osaka so that you can make the most of this beautiful city on your solo trip to Japan. I have broken it up to make it easier for you to plan your solo trip to Osaka.
1. How to get here
You can directly fly into the Kansai International airport in Osaka, or you can first land in Tokyo and take a bullet train to Osaka. I’ve given tips, ideas and insights into train journeys for all you solo female travellers on my blog, 21 Tips for Taking the Train Alone in Japan.
2. Where to stay
The most popular places to stay are near famous areas like Umeda station and Tennoji. But I would also recommend the Nakanoshima area since it has got many historical buildings.
Where you stay depends on your budget, but if you are looking for some adventure, book a capsule hotel here. Check out my blog on top 13 things to do alone in Japan for more insights.
3. Exploring culture and history
While the city’s vibe is modern, Osaka has places that take you back in time. If you love to turn the pages of history on your travel, Osaka gives you the feel of old Japan.
The most important symbol of Osaka is hands down the best castle in Japan. Built-in 1583 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, one of Japan’s most unifying warlords, the castle represents the great history of the Azuchi-Momoyama period during the sixteenth century.
Take a full day to explore this treasure of Japan because there is so much to experience here. If you want to feel the breeze against your face as you go around the castle grounds, you can opt for the Osaka Bike Tour. If you want to take your own sweet time, do it on foot. But in my opinion, the best way to take in the beautiful castle on your first solo trip to Osaka is by taking the Gozabune, a luxury boat that takes you along the inner moat. The castle ground is the most beautiful during the cherry blossom season when the pink and white sakura adorns the palace.
The entry fees into the castle are a little expensive. But if you are like me, who loves wandering in museums, it will be worth it! I promise you.
Past meets present at Shinsekai
One of Osaka’s most unique and attractive districts, Shinsekai is the place where the past lives on. The nostalgic, post-war atmosphere hangs heavy in this downtown area.
In Japanese, Shinsekai means New World, and the place gives off a vintage Paris and New York vibe. In the center stands the Tsutenkaku Tower, which is the symbol of Shinsekai. The tower, which resembles the Eiffel Tower, is a great place to get the best city view. Also, be sure to try out kushikatsu, a skewered and battered deep-fried food that ranges from chicken and beef to vegetables. There are even dessert versions available!
Traditional performing arts at Bunraku Theatre
Puppet theatre can be seen in many parts of the world, but only few have refined it as much as Osaka. Bunraku is a classical form of puppet theatre which uses rhythmic chanting and traditional music. As the stories are told through a fusion of sounds and visuals, you do not need to understand the language to enjoy the experience.
You may think a puppet show is for kids, but hey, why would you listen? Where else can you see people operate full-size puppets? Nowhere I’ll tell you! On your first solo trip to Osaka, this puppet show will be therapeutic after a day of hectic sightseeing.
If you are tired of exploring cities in Japan and want a respite, plan a morning of hiking around Minoh falls. Located about half an hour north of Umeda, the gorgeous waterfall stands at the end of the Takimichi hiking trail.
It would help if you hiked around 3kms through a valley with the Minoh river running alongside. So do remember to wear your comfortable shoes here.
This fall is an absolute must-visit during the autumn when you can witness fall foliage here. At this time of the year, there will be temporary stalls along the trail selling local specialty – deep-fried maple leaf tempura. Sounds gross, doesn’t it? But this sweet, sesame flavoured snack might sound odd, but it will be a good surprise for you once you bite into it!
4. Museums and entertainment
Osaka is visually appealing and holds many experiences that stay a lifetime with you.
Less than 30 minutes from central Osaka stands one of the world’s best theme parks: the Universal Studios Japan or USJ. Along with Tokyo Disney Resort (Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea), this is a must-visit.
It features a great mix of exclusive attractions, spectacular entertainment, and crowd favourites. Because it’s so good, this place remains crowded throughout the year. So, plan, buy tickets and Express Passes well in advance to not get disappointed here.
As a female solo traveller, there are times when you want to bring the inner child in you alive and go all crazy. This place is just right for you! USJ offers several thrilling attractions with themes of popular movies like Spiderman, Jurassic Park, minions, and more. The park manages to have both Jaws and Harry Potter living together harmoniously!
There are nine different zones in the park: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland, Minion Park, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So, experience the thrills of zombie rides, adrenaline-inducing roller coaster rides.
Japan’s largest aquarium
Housing an impressive variety of marine life from all over the Pacific realm, the Osaka aquarium Kaiyukan is one of Japan’s premier aquariums. Each of the 15 tanks here represents a geographical region, with the largest tank representing the Pacific Ocean. The last tank is also where the main attraction of the aquarium lives. A fully grown male shark!
Tempozan Ferris wheel
One of the tallest Ferris wheel in Japan, the Tempozan Ferris wheel is located just next to the Kaiyukan Aquarium. So, after you have spent the day looking at water animals, go over to the Ferris wheel, which is spectacular, especially after sundown. In the morning, if the visibility is good, you can gaze at Osaka city and might also chance upon some major attractions like Mount Ikoma. But in the evening, when the Ferris wheel is lit up with LED lights, it looks like a fairytale!
Umeda sky building
A 10-minute walk from the Osaka station is a 173 m skyscraper called Umeda sky building, known for its floating observatory. If you are afraid of heights, you may want to think twice before visiting this, but trust me when I tell you that the view from the top is worth overcoming a little fear.
With its unique shape reminiscent of a triumphal arch, the Umeda Sky building was chosen as one of the top 20 buildings worldwide by The Times magazine. The observatory on the 40th floor gives you a panoramic 360-degree view of Osaka. While it is a beautiful sight to behold during the day, there is a different charm to it all together at night.
Cup noodle museum
Instant noodles have been a part of all our lives. As a female solo traveller, how many times have we turned to them when we were too tired to walk down to dinner? It only fits that we pay homage to the almighty cup noodles while in Ikeda, Osaka. Just get off at Ikeda station and walk a few blocks south to reach the museum.
Momofuku Ando is the inventor of the world’s first instant ramen. He gave the world his chicken ramen on 25th August 1958 after trying to perfect it for almost a year. No wonder why he is rightly called The Father of Instant Ramen! In 1971, he created the Cup noodles, which, as you can see, revolutionised instant food culture around the world.
There is a giant statue of Momofuku Ando standing on an instant noodle cup right outside the museum. Just when you enter, you will see a wall filled with hundreds of instant ramen cups. And walking through the hallway is like going back in time! You can learn all about instant noodles in this museum, but to pay the perfect respect, do sign up for the Make Your Own Fresh Noodle workshop. If you don’t do that, do not fret. I wasn’t aware of this before visiting the museum, but I don’t think I missed out much. And the next best thing is making your own cup noodles from scratch, well, except the noodles. You can design your cup, choose your ingredients, and truly make it your own.
A journey to Osaka is incomplete without a visit to Dotonbori, and for that very reason, I have not put it under any category. The city is divided into two main city centers, with Umeda in the north and Minamo down south, where Dontonbori is situated. The area is known for its flashy neon lights, extravagant signs, many restaurants and bars, jumbo crab with moving limbs, and the Glico sign featuring a man with both arms raised.
Dotonbori refers to both the Dotonbori canal and the Dotonbori street, which runs parallel to the canal’s southern bank. Talking from experience, the shops here are the best where you can buy your souvenirs for friends and family back home, and places to eat are too many and affordable!
6. Food in Osaka
Saving the best for the last, let’s now talk about Osaka’s food. If you think Tokyo is the place where you can have the best Japanese food, you’re wrong! Tell you what, Osaka is Japan’s food capital because of its deliciously affordable food! If you are a foodie, you are going to love what Osaka has to offer on its platter. The food is guaranteed to tickle the tastebuds of even the pickiest eaters.
Osaka’s obsession with food is often summed up with the expression “kuidaore,” and it is interpreted as ‘eat till you drop.’ While the following is a list of my favourites in Osaka, feel free to add more to it in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to read my blog on 10 must-try food in Japan.
The word okonomiyaki means ‘cook how you like it,’ and this dish is just that. A cross between a savoury pancake and a pizza, okonomiyaki is made from eggs, shredded cabbage (lots of it), flour, and yams. To this, a variety of toppings and sauces can be added. While broadly made in two styles, Hiroshima and Osaka, the latter is more popular.
Best place to eat: Kiji in Umeda and Mizuno in Dotonbori. Here you have the cooks prepare your order on a large iron griddle right in front of you while you drool!
Though not a dish hailing from this city, I have put it here because I have had some of the best udon in this city. The noodles here are somewhat smoother. They are neither too chewy nor too soft. In short, it is near perfection! The broth, used in the Kansai region, is also overall lighter and with the noodles, it forms the perfect dish!
Best place to eat: Tokumasa Udon. Located in the Osaka castle’s south-east corner, this restaurant serves a delicious bowl of curry udon that is a tad spicy and filling. After a hectic day of sightseeing around the castle, this dish was god-sent.
A classic Osaka snack, takoyaki is a ball-shaped dumpling, and you find spiced octopus when you bite into it. Also, it is fascinating to see the cook turn the takoyaki in the pan with a pair of chopsticks at Flash speed. It is just like you see in Anime movies! The golf-sized dish is creamy, salty, and savoury all at once. If you think there is heaven on earth, it is here!
Best place to eat: Abeno Takoyaki Yamachan. Located in the Tennoji and Abeno districts, this is one of the highest-rated takoyaki places in the city. Once you taste their takoyaki, you will agree too!
What can you expect from your solo trip to Osaka?
There are too many things to do in Osaka to cover in a short trip. But even within a few days, you will enjoy what you taste of this city. Even after visiting this city over and over again, somehow, you still yearn for more. That’s the magical beauty of Osaka!
Happy travelling solo across Japan!
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.