3 Days in Osaka Itinerary + Nara Day Trip | The Invisible Tourist

“Kuidaore (食い倒れ): To ruin oneself by extravagance in food” or to put it more simply, “eat ’til you drop!”

Why have a 3 Days in Osaka itinerary?

How long to spend in Osaka? Known for illuminated signboards, endless shopping arcades, its impressive castle and “the Kitchen of Japan,” spending 3 days in Osaka is the ideal amount of time to see most of the sights and eat most of the culinary delights this city has to offer.

Osaka has a completely different vibe to other cities in Japan. For starters, you may notice people stand on the right side of the escalator instead of left! Its quirky, sometimes rebellious humour and laid-back attitude meant I loved both my visits to this city and wanted to share my personal Osaka itinerary to help you make the most of your trip, too.

Despite being Japan’s third-largest city after Tokyo and Yokohama, like much of Japan it’s very easy to navigate around the neighbourhoods in a short timeframe. You’ll be able to cover a lot of ground on foot or by pushbike, and also take an easy day trip to Nara, Japan’s stunning ancient capital.

For my fellow book lovers, I created this itinerary with these Japan travel books so take a look. Wondering what to add to your packing list? My detailed guide to what to pack for Japan has you covered, too.

If you’re heading to Universal Studios and are wondering how to spend the rest of your time in Osaka, learn how to experience both the old and new neighbourhoods by reading on for more!

This post contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

3 Day Osaka Itinerary Overview
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These are the highlights of what you can expect my Osaka itinerary to cover:

3 Days in Osaka Itinerary Highlights | The Invisible Tourist
Osaka 3 Day Itinerary Highlights: 1) Namba Shrine ~ 2) Dotonbori ~ 3) Hozen-ji Temple ~ 4) Hozenji Yokocho ~ 5) Osaka Castle Grounds & Museum ~ 6) Shinsekai ~ 7) Osaka Castle Observatory ~ 8) Osaka Manholes

Why plan an Osaka itinerary on a mid range budget?

In order to truly be an Invisible Tourist for any trip, staying in a centrally located hotel is of utmost importance if you want to maximise your travel experience. In Osaka it means you’ll spend less time getting around and more time exploring the different neighbourhoods, wandering the energetic streets, sampling the delicious foods that make Osaka world-famous and enjoy an extended visit to Osaka Castle.

The hotels I’ve recommended below are for travellers with a mid range budget, in central locations (Dotonbori) and only a few moments walk to Namba train station.

TIP: If you’re hoping to visit during the cherry blossom season, my detailed guide to spring in Japan is packed with tips for more places to go, alternatives to popular spots, what to pack and how to avoid the huge crowds!

Also, make use of shinkansen – Japanese Bullet Trains. They are the most efficient way to get to and from Osaka. I’ll discuss these in more detail at the conclusion of this itinerary.

This dedicated Osaka guide is part of my full 14 day Japan Itinerary and 3 Weeks in Japan Itinerary. These are tailored especially for mid range travellers visiting Japan for the first time so be sure to take a look.

Are you ready to take notes? Make sure you’re nice and comfy for this!

Dotonbori by night, Osaka, Japan | The Invisible Tourist

 
 

3 Days in Osaka Itinerary + Nara Day Trip | The Invisible Tourist #osaka #japan #itinerary #nara #daytrip #thingstodo #osakacastle #dotonbori #invisibletourism

 

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Things to do in Osaka: What to add to a 3 day Osaka itinerary

Let’s break things up into a day-by-day guide by neighbourhood in this Osaka travel blog to make things easy!

Osaka Itinerary Day 1: Dotonbori

DAY 1: Dotonbori & Shinsekai

The Dotonbori area is Osaka’s beating heart and is loaded with kilometres (yes, you read that correctly!) of shopping arcades, food outlets and will reward you with a buzzing nightlife. Below is a list of things to do in Dotonbori in a day in Japan’s third-largest city.

Things to do in Dotonbori

  • Indulge in Osaka’s culinary delights: Japan is famous for food and Osaka is no exception, known locally as the “Kitchen of Japan.” The Japanese phrase kuidaore reflects this (meaning “eat ’til you drop” – more cool Japanese words here!) Some great places to start your foodie adventure are Shinsaibashi-suji Arcade and Kuromon Ichiba Market. Treat yourself to many of the local specialties or have a local show you what’s best on an Osaka foodie tour.
  • Souvenir Shop: Scout out some locally-made traditional souvenirs – check out my ultimate Japan souvenir guide for more info!
  • Ride the Dotonbori Ferris Wheel: After a 9 year hiatus the ferris wheel is up and running again. If you’re not afraid of heights, this ride towering 77 metres above the Dotonbori River is a must for you! Cost: JPY 600
  • Spot the Glico Man: Soaring high above Dontonbori since 1935, this character is a much-loved icon with Osakans.
  • Find Hozen-ji Yokocho: An Osaka hidden gem! This narrow stone-paved laneway positioned a few streets back from bustling Dotonbori seems to be frozen in time as it still holds her traditional charm from over the centuries. It’s lined with Japanese boutiques, small shops and cafes. Decorated with lanterns, Hozen-ji Temple is tucked away here and home to a moss-covered statue called Mizukake Fudo. While you’re here, meander around Hozen-ji Yokocho, the nearby alleyways lined with traditional eateries. 
  • Osaka Manholes: Don’t forget to look down! Keep your eyes peeled beneath your feet for these creative drain coverings while exploring Osaka’s streets.
  • Discover Dotonbori at night: Make sure to swing back by here at nigh to watch the Dotonbori River transform into a brightly illuminated hub of activity from the vibrant surrounding billboards in the area.

Colourful Dotonbori, Osaka

Hozen-ji Temple, Osaka

Osaka manhole cover art

Hozenji Yokocho, Osaka

Where to eat in Dotonbori

Anywhere and everywhere, haha! As an invisible tourist I always enjoy eating where locals do, so follow your nose and sample things that appeal to you.

Look out for the haneshita variety of wagyu beef you can cook yourself as it’s to die for. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try horumon (cow’s innards such as intestines). These are quite popular in Osaka, as are takoyaki (octopus balls fried in batter).

If you’re after a quick bite, I love and recommend Japanese konbini (convenience stores). My guide to snacks from Japan details the popular and traditional morsels to try, plus exactly where to find them!

Takoyaki on Dotonbori, Osaka

Things to do in Shinsekai

  • With its retro Showa-era vibes, the Shinsekai neighbourhood is so much fun to explore late in the afternoon. The storefronts begin to illuminate as the sun sets, making for some fantastic photo opportunities and a sort of theme-park like atmosphere as people spill out onto the streets from eateries.
  • Admire the beauty of Tsutenkaku Tower, first built in 1912. After fire, the tower was rebuilt in the 1950’s and at 82 metres high, it was the tallest tower in Asia at the time. Don’t forget to walk underneath and look up for a visual treat! TIP: Attached to the tower, you can also zip down a new rainbow slide at super fast speeds!
  • Get nostalgic by playing some of the many win-a-prize games like shooting objects with an air gun, or enjoy retro arcade games with original machines and games from the 80’s.  
  • A mythical icon of the area with his grinning face and bald head, see how many Biriken you can find and touch his feet for good luck (and even try to find one in his own little shrine).
  • Pick up some quirky fashion from the indie clothing stores such as T-shirts with humorous slogans, sukajan (trendy Japanese jackets), bags with kimono designs and more.
  • Try conveyer-belt sushi at an old favourite, Kura Sushi, or even have a go at catching your own fish for dinner at Jumbo-tsuribune Tsurikichi.

TIP: Read my detailed review of where to find the best Osaka street food in Shinsekai according to locals!

NOTE: Alas, the store sporting the popular puffer fish lantern was a casualty of Japan’s borders being closed to tourists for 2.5 years, and is no longer there sadly. 

Shinsekai, Osaka at dusk

 

 

Speaking of food, did you know you can also take authentic Japanese cooking classes in Osaka? If you’re a real foodie, they’re a great idea to learn more about Japanese culture and cuisine! There’s nothing better than learning about Japanese food from locals and the best part is getting to enjoy devouring your creation at the end of the class.

Click here to learn more about available Osaka cooking classes
Click here to read about my ramen cooking class experience in Kyoto!

 

Indulge yourself at a haneshita beef BBQ on Dotonbori
Indulge yourself at a haneshita beef BBQ on Dotonbori

Osaka Itinerary Day 2: Osaka Castle and Museum

DAY 2: Namba, Osaka Castle & Museum (Osaka-jo)

Namba Yasaka Shrine

Start off the morning in Namba with one of its most interesting shrines, Namba Yasaka-jinja (Namba Yakasa Shrine). Featuring a 12 metre-high lion’s head bearing its sharp teeth, its believed his open mouth will swallow any evil sprits following you.

Locals come here to wish for success in business or students with their studies. As I had missed this shrine on my first trip to Osaka and had since wanted to see it in person for several years, I made sure to pick up an ema (wooden wishing plaque) to commemorate my visit. 

TIP: Don’t forget to take a closer look inside the lion, the roof of his mouth is a coffered ceiling decorated with gold patterns. 

Namba Yasaka Shrine Entrance

Namba Yasaka Shrine, Osaka

Ema at Namba Shrine, Osaka

 

Osaka Castle

From Namba Yasaka Shrine, make your way over to Osaka Castle by train, 30mins from Shinsaibashi Station to Morinomiya Station on the Osaka Metro Nagahoritsurumiryokuchi Line (lime green).

One of Japan’s best reconstructed castles and museum, Osaka-jo is well worth spending the majority of your day to visit. Many people take photos and selfies out the front of this iconic structure and around the grounds but not nearly as many pay the small fee to explore inside!

I missed two things during my first visit to Osaka Castle, as there was some kind of festival and marquees blocked some of the scenery:

  • Keep your eye out for the Time Capsule out front of the castle. Placed there in 1970, the plan is to open it in the year 6970 (5,000 years from the time of burial). Personally I think that is quite ambitious the way the world is heading, but interesting nonetheless!
  • The small Japanese garden and pond to the left as you first walk into the castle grounds. Its position allows for the perfect photo opportunity of the castle reflecting into the water below amongst leafy surrounds.  

TIP: You can also take a sightseeing cruise around the castle in a traditional boat around the castle’s moat. Buy advance tickets here.

Time Capsule at Osaka Castle

Stunning Osaka Castle
Stunning Osaka Castle

If you’re keen to learn about Osaka’s history in more detail, the Osaka Castle Museum is home to a remarkable collection of over 10,000 artefacts that range from swords and weaponry to portraits and dioramas to help you gain a clearer understanding.
Cost: Adult JPY 600

Fact: The largest stone used in Osaka Castle has a surface area of almost 60m2!

Figurines that were painstakingly hand-painted are on show to demonstrate wars and battles that shaped the city today, particularly the Summer War of Osaka in the 17th century. Keep an eye out for the accompanying TV screens playing re-enactments of these battles – the best thing is the subtitles are in English so they’re easy to follow.

One of the many dioramas at the Osaka Castle Museum

Osaka Castle Detail

You don’t need to be an architecture buff to appreciate the high level of attention to detail and pride that was put into building the castle in the late 16th century.

Osaka Castle itself is an immaculate example of traditional Japanese architecture and was chosen to be built here by Toyotomi Hidetoshi (one of the great unifiers of Japan) when the city was a thriving hub for trade at the time.

No visit would be complete without seeing the impressive 360° view over the city from the castle’s observation deck. One of the most memorable experiences on my visit was taking in the panoramic view over Osaka from here. In Japan, it’s interesting to see how the past and present buildings blend together so effortlessly and the view from 50 metres up reinforced that thought for me. 

Be sure to also stroll around the scenic grounds – especially if you’re visiting during the cherry blossom season where the numerous trees surrounding the castle burst into bloom!

Osaka Castle Museum Opening Hours

9:00am – 5:00pm daily (last admission 4:30pm). Note that hours may be extended during certain times throughout spring and summer.

View from Osaka Castle Observation Deck
View from Osaka Castle Observation Deck

TIP: Here’s something I also wasn’t aware of during my first visit. Behind the castle is a sprawling peach and plum blossom grove. As I share in my guide to visiting Japan in spring, plum blossoms bloom before cherries, from around mid-February to early March. They are beautiful and fragrant, and you may also catch daffodils in flower during this time. Don’t miss it for a chance to see these lovely blooms with the castle as a backdrop!

Plum Blossoms at Osaka Castle Grounds

Osaka Castle grounds

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Ideas for alternative things to do in Osaka

Here are some extra things to do to add to your Osaka itinerary if you need a few more ideas:

  • Amerika-Mura: Some stores in this area began to sell Americana items after World War II, resulting in its interesting name. These days you could regard Amerika-Mura as a “hipster” area with its offbeat bars, pre-loved fashion boutiques and cafes.
  • Visit the shiny Umeda Sky Building in the Kita neighbourhood, one of Osaka’s most recognisable landmarks. Buy advance tickets here.
  • Marvel at Osaka from 58 storeys above ground at the popular HARUKAS 300 rooftop observatory and enjoy a meal at the Sky Garden Restaurant. Buy advance tickets here
  • Feel like a giant amongst miniature Lego buildings, landscapes and more at LegoLand Discovery Centre Osaka. Buy advance tickets here.
  • Spend an afternoon relaxing in a traditional Japanese hot spring resort at Solaniwa Onsen. Buy advance tickets here.
  • The Osaka Museum of Housing & Living features a life-sized replica neighbourhood of 19th century Osaka. Cost: Adult JPY 600
  • Visit the nearby Osaka Museum of History for artefacts from Osaka’s ancient history until today. It has excellent views of Osaka Castle from the top floors as an added bonus! Buy advance tickets here. Opt for an audio guide as not all explanations have an English translation.

TIP: Most of the above attractions are part of the Osaka Fun Pass where you can save up to 42% on entry rather than purchasing individually.


Osaka Itinerary Day 3: Day Trip to Nara

DAY 3: Optional: Osaka to Nara DAY TRIP Itinerary

Nara is the perfect day trip from Osaka as it’s easily accessible by train, only about 35 minutes away. As Japan’s first permanent capital in the 8th century, the city is relatively small and most of the main sights can be covered on foot in one day.

Buddhism heavily influences most of the architecture and if you like exploring UNESCO World Heritage locations, Nara is home to eight of them!

I’ve written a detailed itinerary for a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto that covers the below locations and more in further detail, plus it  includes plenty of travel tips.

TIP: Prefer to skip Nara for another nearby destination? My detailed guide to day trips from Osaka covers some lesser-known alternatives to popular spots to enrich your visit.

Here are some highlights of what you can expect to see in Nara:

Osaka to Nara Day Trip Highlights
NARA DAY TRIP HIGHLIGHTS: 1 & 4: Yoshikien Gardens ~ 2: Tōdai-ji Temple, home of the bronze Buddha ~ 3: Some of the 3,000 tōrō (stone lanterns) at Kasuga-Taisha ~ 5: One of Buddha’s Nio Guardian Kings at Tōdai-ji ~ 6: Bronze Buddha ~ 7: Kōfuku-ji pagoda, first built in 730 AD (rebuilt 1426) ~ 8: Meet the sacred deer

How to get from Osaka to Nara

The Kintetsu Limited Express trains are the fastest way to travel from Osaka to Nara, but JR can also be used if you prefer.

  • Osaka Namba Station Kintestu Limited Express to Kinetsu Nara – 35mins, cost 1,090 yen or covered by the Kintetsu Rail Line Pass.
  • JR Osaka Station Yamatoji Rapid Service to JR Nara Station – 60mins, cost 810 yen or covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
 

If you prefer to purchase a 1, 2 or 5 day Kinestsu Line Rail Pass, click here.

 

Kasuga Taisha Stone Lanterns
Some of the thousands of moss-covered stone lanterns at Kasuga Taisha

Things to do in Nara

There are quite a few must-sees in ancient Nara, here’s a list of what I recommend, most of which are free:

  • Relax in Yoshiki-en Gardens 吉城園– while the more popular Isui-en gardens are next door, I preferred these gardens (and entry was free for foreign tourists!) With mossy lawns and stone footpaths, it’s a very tranquil place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
  • Nandaimon Gate – The large wooden gate on the approach to Todai-ji (below). It houses two giant statues of Nio Guardian Kings who have been protecting Todai-ji since the 13th century. The gate and statues are considered national treasures and the gate itself is the largest temple entrance in Japan!
  • Marvel at Todai-ji 東大寺 – Meaning “Eastern Great Temple,” this jewel in Nara’s crown was the world’s tallest wooden structure until recently and is a popular UNESCO World Heritage site. The large bronze Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is the star of the show as its origins date back to 746 AD. Standing 16 metres tall, made up of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold, it’s easy to see why the Daibutsu attracts many tour groups and children on school excursions.

TIP: If you can fit through the hole in the pillar behind Daibutsu, (the same size as one of Daibutsu’s nostrils) it is said you’re sure to reach enlightenment!

Deer Warning Sign in Nara

  • Meet the sacred deer – Deer were considered sacred in Nara during ancient times as they were thought to be messengers of the gods, which allows them to roam freely throughout Nara Koen. Be sure to buy some deer food from a vendor (JPY 150) but don’t be one of those annoying Instatourists who taunt the deer with food so you can get your selfie. If aggravated the deer are known to kick and ram tourists. Well, you can’t really blame them as they are wild animals after all so please take heed of the warning signs and treat them with respect!
  • Explore Nigatsu-do 二月堂 – This hall is part of the Todai-ji complex and will spoil you with incredible views over Nara city from its verandah, especially at sunset. Omizutori Matsuri is held here annually in early March, a tradition that dates back to 752 AD. That’s a long time to keep something going.
  • Visit Kofuku-ji 興福寺 – Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this Buddhist temple is the only 5 storey pagoda left in Japan and dates back to 8th century (rebuilt in the 15th century). The treasure hall next door is also worth a look and strolling the surrounding grounds is quite relaxing. Cost: Treasure Hall JPY 600.
  • Discover Kasuga Taisha 春日大社 – This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site is a Shinto shrine founded in the 8th century by the powerful Fujiwara family clan and is the most celebrated shrine in all of Nara. Over 3,000 ornate lanterns decorate its interior buildings, all donated by worshippers throughout the centuries. Hundreds of stone lanterns covered in moss can also be found in the surrounding ancient woods and are lit twice a year for lantern festivals in February and August. Don’t forget your camera!

 

Where to stay in Nara 
If you prefer to spend a night instead of day-tripping it, be sure to compare Nara hotels and reviews here.       

 

Nara Deer

 

Uncover more of Nara with a local guide

Prefer to have a friendly local guide show you around Nara? This Nara Half Day Walking Tour combines the best of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as the chance to enjoy an authentic lunch with fresh local ingredients from Nara. You can’t get much better than that!

 

Kasuga Taisha Lanterns
Donated lanterns at Kasuga Taisha

 

Love this Osaka itinerary? Get it with NO ADS!

Buy my Osaka & Nara itinerary PDF here, or head on over to my shop for more!

 

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⬇️ Download your FREE Japanese for tourists CHEAT SHEET!

 Worried about the language barrier in Japan? Don’t be! Head over to my guide on Japanese for Tourists to download your FREE PDF of 20+ useful phrases, created specifically for visitors to Japan. Simply print out this super handy cheat sheet to take with you, or store it on your phone for offline use when you’re adventuring around Japan! 

Japanese for travelers pdf

 

 


How to get to Osaka

Situated in central Honshu, Osaka is easily accessible from many cities throughout Japan. The times and prices below are via train to Shin-Osaka station and based on travel using the Nozomi shinkansen, which is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass the journeys will be covered:

How to get to Osaka from:

  • Tokyo (Shinagawa): 3 hours / Cost Adult JPY 14,450 ea, 545 kilometres
  • Hiroshima: 1.5 hours / Cost Adult JPY 10,440 ea 341 kilometres
  • Kyoto: 15 mins / Cost Adult JPY 3,020 ea, 39 kilometres
  • Kansai International Airport: 50 minutes on Haruka Limited Express train / Cost Adult JPY 2,850, 50 kilometres

From Australia, there are now even more direct flights to Osaka so take advantage of that if you’re a fellow Aussie!

Tsuko-tegata (wooden passports) from Miyajima Island (left) and Nara (right)
The tsuko-tegata on the right is one of my souvenirs from Nara

Concluding my 3 days in Osaka Itinerary & Nara Day Trip

That wraps up this Osaka itinerary! Osaka is an incredibly vibrant, bustling city in which you could spend even a few more days exploring the different neighbourhoods. Personally, I felt the two full days and 3 nights were enough for me to get a good feel for the city and allowed me to spend a whole day in Nara.

As I allowed an entire day in Nara instead of cramming what I could into half a day, I can honestly say my travel buddy and I never felt rushed.

Because we were prepared and knew what we wanted to see beforehand it meant we could  enjoy a leisurely pace to uncover the different shrines and temples that make Nara so unique. Travelling The Invisible Tourist way is about being efficient and making the best use of your travel time.

What about the language barrier?

If you’re worried about the language barrier, don’t be! You can simply use my phrases in Japanese for tourists cheat sheet!  And, if you’re adventurous I’ve written about how I learnt Japanese fast specifically for my trip to Japan. You’ll be saying “こんにちは” (konnichiwa) before you know it!

I hope I’ve inspired you to make a trip to Osaka! Why not give in to your curiosity and get your Osaka itinerary started by searching for hotels in Dotonbori hereOr, why not read reviews and compare different Osaka hotel prices here? 

If you’d like more itinerary inspiration and ideas view my complete Japan travel blog, or for advice and more tips on how to be an invisible tourist, check out my complete “Be Invisible” archive here!

Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book!

I’d LOVE to hear if you use this Osaka itinerary when you visit Japan, is there anything you would add to this? Let me know in the comments below! If you found this itinerary helpful, please share it or come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram for more Japan inspiration!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist

Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat Review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here!


 

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3 Days in Osaka Itinerary + Nara Day Trip | The Invisible Tourist

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10 Comments

  1. Nara was mind-blowing! Deer walking up to you and begging for food,the Mochi pulling by the shopping mall, and all the beautiful temples. It rained during our visit but I still have great photos and memories of the visit.

    1. So glad to hear you enjoyed Nara, Michael! It really is a special destination, even in the rain 🙂

  2. Searching for the best things to do in Osaka as I will visit there one day. This was helpful, thanks for your recommendations.

  3. Love this!! It’s going to come in so handy for planning my trip to Japan! And the beautiful photos are getting me so excited to see Japan!! 🙂

    1. So glad to hear that, Frances! I hope you have a fabulous trip, Japan is like no where else 🙂

  4. This is great! I didn’t get to Osaka during my last trip as we opted for Kyoto instead. It’s definitely on my list for next time.

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