Japan's second-largest city and the economic center of the Kansai region, Osaka is an eclectic mix of historic and modern Japan. The bustling metropolis is dotted with age-old temples and beautiful castles that offer a glimpse into Japan's past. Vibrant entertainment and shopping opportunities mingle with serene parks, and Osaka's distinct character is made apparent in every aspect of the city, from the lively dialect of its outgoing people to the neon glow of its streets. Whether you're visiting for the delicious food that makes Osaka the "nation's kitchen" or looking to discover Japanese traditions, Osaka is full of amazing things to do and see.
Osaka is a sprawling city of 19 million people, and its many neighborhoods cater to all walks of life, ranging from upscale shopping districts to pockets of sub-culture fashion and nostalgic nooks.
Also known as Umeda, the Kita ("North" in Japanese) district is one of Osaka's main city centers. The area is abundant with underground shopping arcades and high-end department stores, including the Grand Front Osaka shopping and dining complex. Visit Umeda Sky Building for views 567 feet (173 m) above the ground, and spend the evening in the Kitashinchi area, which is packed with bars and nightclubs.
The Minami ("South" in Japanese) area is one of Osaka's city centers and acts as the tourist hub of the city. Here you can find Dotonbori, a popular street lined with hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs advertising delicious restaurants. Nearby are the Amerikamura shopping district, where you can find the latest trends in Japanese street fashion, and Nipponbashi, a buzzing area also known as Den Den Town that's full of electronics and otaku-oriented merchandise.
The relatively young Bay Area is home to popular attractions for international visitors and domestic travelers alike. In addition to the Universal Studios Japan theme park and spectacular Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, the area features in the tasty Naniwa Food Theme Park and Mount Tempozan, the smallest mountain in Japan.
This unique neighborhood was mostly developed before World War II, giving it a distinctly nostalgic feel. It's marked by Tsutenkaku Tower, which was originally modeled after the Eiffel Tower, and the Spa World complex, where you can enjoy both baths fed by natural hot springs on European- and Asian-themed floors. Shinsekai's most sumptuous attraction is its kushikatsu, deep-fried skewers of both savory and sweet foods.
Osaka's sights range from the ancient to the contemporary. The National Bunraku Theater acts as a gateway to the traditional performing arts of Japan, staging bunraku (puppet theater) shows throughout the year. For a look at the extent of Osaka's metropolis, visit the observation deck of Abeno Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan at 984 feet (300 m). Ancient Osaka Castle, which dates back to 1583, is a beautifully preserved remnant of Japan's past, and is surrounded by a popular park where residents flock to view cherry blossoms in the spring.
In such a vibrant city, there's no shortage of experiences and adventures to be had. Plan for a day of fun with a visit to Universal Studios Japan, which is packed with thrilling roller coasters and child-friendly attractions themed after favorite films. For an educational experience, visit the interactive Osaka Science Museum, which also houses a planetarium, or the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which features 15 exhibits representing different regions of the Pacific Rim. Immerse yourself in Japan's rich history with a visit to Shitennoji Temple, one of the oldest temples in Japan that dates back to 593, or by touring Osaka Castle and its sloping stone walls. Nature flourishes in the city as well—in the spring, visit Kema Sakuranomiya Park and stroll a riverside path lined with nearly 5,000 cherry trees, or head to the forested valley of Minoo Park in autumn to see the brilliant colors of fall away from the city's buzz. Treat your tastebuds while in Osaka, which is famous for its regional foods such as takoyaki octopus balls and savory okonomiyaki pancakes. Explore Dotonbori, whose main thoroughfare and side streets are packed with eateries, or find something delicious without going far in Osaka Station City.