11 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Osaka

Jul 22, 2021

A unique blend of ancient Zen Buddhism and bustling modern commerce, the city of Osaka, Japan is revered as a grand metropolis of contrast. Traditional temples, modern skyscrapers, and high-tech transport all share the elegant urban skyline with magnificent views of the lush Osaka bay.

The well-preserved urban architecture, complete with minarets, temples, and old-fashioned pagodas, is offset by underground urban renewal projects, exciting entertainment, and world-class cuisine. Osaka is a truly unique destination, and a superb place for experiencing the best that Japan has to offer.

Explore Osaka with our list of the top places to visit, things to do, and tourist attractions in Osaka.

Osaka Castle

Photo of Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle: en.wikipedia.org

At the center of Osaka, Osaka Castle is a grand Edo-style fortress built by the legendary Toyotomi clan in 1586. Even today, this fortress dominates the skyline, as it has for over four hundred years. A visitor center housed in the main tower provides free English-language explanations of the castle's history and points out famous spots throughout the premises. After your tour, stroll down nearby Koinobori Street, where colorful stalls in front of the fortress sell local crafts and souvenirs. Koinobori is also home to many restaurants serving local specialties, including Oji-Ichi, known for its thin sesame-fried tempura and gratin, and Omoide no Hana, specializing in sashimi and seafood.

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) was built in 1397 by the warlord Minamoto Yoritomo in homage to his defeated rival, the great warrior and poet-emperor Shōgun Ashikaga Takauji. Considered one of Japan's most revered Buddhist temples, the palace was built in a double-eaved style with golden eaves. After the temple's 1673 destruction by fire, it was restored and remains one of the most ornate and impressive buildings in Osaka. Today visitors to Kinkaku-ji can enjoy stunning views of the palace, but can only enter the lower part of the temple as it is divided into separate precincts for monks, seculars, and commoners. Visitors are greeted by traditional "Sankin-kaimon" (100-Year Vow) banners as they pass the barrier, and the temple is therefore famous for its many photography opportunities.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Photo of Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan: en.wikipedia.org

Many people find the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan to be one of the most impressive in the world. Located in the Akihabara entertainment district of the city, the aquarium has six floors with over 3000 tanks. The five main attraction areas are the Whale Sperm Cave (Wasei no Kaya), Dolphin Haven (Dokonaki no Kaya), Dolphin Land (Katagi-no-koku), Human Land (Hirato no Koku) and Deep Sea World (Daijin-koku). It also houses over 20 small indoor aquariums and a breathtaking aquarium restaurant.

Horyu-ji Temple

Photo of Hōryū-ji
Hōryū-ji: en.wikipedia.org

The architecture of Horyu-ji is distinguished by its "kamidana", a small garden in front of each hall. Kamidana are home to statues of Guanyin (known in Japanese as Bonten) or Bodhisattva, a male Buddhist being who attempts to save people's bad lives. The notion of the bodhisattva came from China in the third century and this is one of the three temples (out of the more than 100 in Kyoto) that hold the original wooden statue of Guanyin, which is said to have been created during the Tang dynasty of China. Perhaps the most significant thing about Horyu-ji is that it is one of the few temples in Japan to have survived World War II. Even after the war, a visitor to Kyoto might find that the temple itself was a mess and that the main altar, main hall and the statue of Bodhisattva remained closed to the public. Yet, to the contrary, Horyu-ji has been meticulously maintained and has enjoyed visitors and offerings from tourists again for over 150 years. Today, Horyu-ji is a short walk from the east exit of Kyoto Station, and is open every day from 9am to 5pm.

Kobe Castle

Completed in 1587, Kobe Castle is renowned as one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. Situated on a plateau overlooking the river, the castle was at the heart of the city at a time when the city was known for its international trade. In more recent times, it became a royal residence and official residence of the future emperor. In 1957, with the passing of the Taishō Emperor, who had been visiting the castle daily, the building was used as the Imperial Museum of the History of Art and Craft. This served to preserve the construction as the people of the city could visit the castle daily as part of their culture. The large square building is similar to a small version of the Palace of Versailles.

Todaiji Temple

Photo of Nara (city)
Nara (city): en.wikipedia.org

The massive and enigmatic temple, or "Kondo" as it is known locally, towers high above the ancient city of Nara. Built in 1054 on the site of an earlier wooden structure, Todaiji is the oldest surviving temple in Japan and is considered to be one of the world's most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Nara's historic buildings are worth checking out, but the temple is the real draw. The official name of the complex is Seikyo-ji, but to understand the immense size and power of the building it's best to refer to it as "Todaiji". Entry is free, but the main pilgrimage season is from November to March.

Kyoto

Photo of Keihanshin
Keihanshin: en.wikipedia.org

The inland districts of both Kyoto and Osaka offer a taste of Japan's classical past, with temples, shrines, and city walls from the eighth century. The Imperial Palace in Kyoto is perhaps the most famous example of this period and is a must-see, with numerous rare wooden gates, portraits of the Imperial family, and exquisite gardens. Hiroshima offers another look at Imperial Japanese architecture, with the ruins of the ancient Castle and its Museum, along with many beautiful buildings from the Meiji and Taisho periods. Along with these historic ruins, the cities are also home to numerous temples and shrines, making Kyoto and Osaka the cultural centers of the area.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Kyoto

National Museum of Modern Art

Photo of National Museum of Art, Osaka
National Museum of Art, Osaka: en.wikipedia.org

Located on the Tsuruhashi business district in Namba-ku, Osaka's business district, the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MODERN ART houses a permanent collection of modern art and regularly hosts special exhibitions. Here you can enjoy and purchase a wide selection of modern and contemporary art from the period spanning modernism, abstraction, the expressionist movement, pop culture, and the contemporary art world. Be sure to visit the pop-culture exhibit for its photo collection, and don't miss the collection of Beatles memorabilia.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine, at the heart of one of Osaka's most colorful neighborhoods, is a favorite of couples preparing to marry. Its striking and unusual architecture stands in stark contrast to the surrounding home-like streetscape. Meant to represent the combination of good fortune and cultural strength of the area, the building is an important local symbol. The Shrine itself is one of the best-preserved buildings in Japan from the period of the Nineteenth Century, having been constructed from a combination of previous structures, notably three wooden buildings from the Edo Period (1603-1867). It's closed during the hot summer months and Mondays.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Photo of Hiroshima
Hiroshima: en.wikipedia.org

Established in 1959, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum commemorates the nuclear attack that killed an estimated 140,000 people and left over 700,000 more physically or mentally damaged. At the museum you'll find exhibitions, videos, written accounts, photographs, models, and a bomb chamber that allows visitors to feel the power of an atomic bomb explosion. Osaka's extensive archaeological park preserves the site of ancient Kani, one of the area's most important regional capitals. Archaeological finds here include remains of ritual stone head sculptures, an elaborate Bronze Age tomb, and several fine exhibits demonstrating more than a thousand years of cultural and artistic history.

Nara Park

Photo of Nara Dreamland
Nara Dreamland: en.wikipedia.org

Situated on the eastern edge of the city, Nara Park (Nara Tosho-en) dates from the 13th century. The two most famous temples in the park are Nara National Museum and Nara National Museum of Writing. Nara National Museum is the oldest national museum in Japan, founded in 1868. The museum has a vast collection of Japan's pre-history, including fossils from ancient plants and animals. After seeing these sights, head to Nara National Museum of Writing for a hands-on demonstration of paper production as well as paper folding techniques that dates back to AD 722.