A boat on Dōtonbori Canal at night

Eat your heart out in the lively streets of Osaka. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

3 Days in Osaka: The Larger-Than-Life City of Street Eats and Endless Entertainment

Osaka is hailed as Japan’s “Nation’s Kitchen,” and you’ll understand why once you’ve sampled its endless culinary gems.

There are two must-tries while you’re here: takoyaki (octopus-filled balls with sauce) and okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes). The city’s famous street food meets whimsical sculptures and vibrant nightlife in neon-lit entertainment districts like Dotonbori and Namba. And amid this lively town, you’ll encounter the friendly and hospitable residents of Osaka, who are always eager to extend a warm welcome to you with a joke or two.

Three days of exploration will take you through the highlights of Osaka — theme parks, Ferris wheels, shopping, museums, cityscapes and lots of mouthwatering food.

As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore the Heart of Osaka

Dontonbori, Osaka at night.
Get lost in Osaka’s most vibrant entertainment district. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kick-start your day with a champion’s breakfast at Oh.lala…. Known for its extensive international dining offerings throughout the day, this contemporary restaurant adds a Japanese twist to classic French ingredients.

After a satisfying breakfast, it’s time to dive straight into the shopping haven of Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, conveniently situated nearby. Stock up on Osaka-special souvenirs and score a great deal at vintage stores where you’ll find luxury items at a fraction of their retail prices.

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, take a leisurely walk over to Amerika-Mura, often referred to as “America Village.” Since the 1970s, this lively district has been the epicenter of youth culture in Osaka. The eclectic neighborhood is filled with boutiques, vintage shops, trendy cafés and striking street art.

As the afternoon progresses into the late evening, head back to the heart of Dotonbori and explore its street food scene. Don’t leave without sampling local delicacies like takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes filled with cabbage and toppings of your choice) and other tempting treats from the various food stalls that populate the area.

As the sun sets, soak in the lively atmosphere of the one and only Dotonbori Entertainment District — the most vibrant hub in the city. Snap a mandatory photo with the Glico Running Man and marvel at the dazzling neon lights, bustling crowds and street performances that make this district come alive after dark.

For dinner, indulge in kushikatsu, a beloved dish consisting of skewered and deep-fried delicacies, at Kushikatsu Daruma, a renowned establishment in Osaka. Round out your day by taking a peaceful stroll along the Dotonbori River Walk, a serene area offering a tranquil contrast to the busy streets.

Saturday: Take in the Cityscape

Aerial view of Umeda in Osaka, Japan
Overlooking Osaka’s beautiful cityscape. (Photo: Getty Images)

Breakfast awaits at Tempozan Marketplace. Here, choose from all sorts of Japanese-style meals — think curry, takoyaki, kaiseki (multicourse) meals and more. Once you’re satisfied, it’s time to make your way to the Osaka Bay Area for some waterfront adventures.

Begin with a visit to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the world’s largest. Don’t forget to check out the awe-inspiring Pacific Ocean tank and marvel at the diverse range of marine life, including Pacific bluefin tuna, manta rays, hammerhead sharks and even two whale sharks.

Following your aquarium visit, take a leisurely stroll along the Tempozan Harbor Village waterfront, enjoying the sea breeze and scenic views of Osaka Bay. Take a ride on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel for breathtaking views of the bay and the city.

The fun doesn’t end there — Universal Studios Japan is located a mere 30 minutes away by train. The world-class theme park, the first to be built in Asia, offers immersive experiences, such as all-time-favorite “Harry Potter” and “Despicable Me” attractions. Alternatively, visit the Legoland Discovery Center for a family-friendly adventure filled with Lego-themed attractions and activities.

After all that heart-racing action, it’s time to sate your appetite with a delicious dinner. Head to Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho, a culinary theme park that mimics Osaka’s shopping streets in the 1960s. Here, there are about 20 different stalls serving up an array of Japanese dishes and authentic local specialties.

If you still have energy to spare, then visit the Cosmo Tower Observatory. This towering structure provides stunning nighttime views of the cityscape as it lights up. The illuminated bridges and buildings across Osaka Bay create a breathtaking spectacle, a perfect way to conclude your day by the bay.

Sunday: Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

Aerial view of the Osaka Castle in Japan
The enchanting Osaka Castle set against the city’s skyline. (Photo: Getty Images)

Begin your day with a hearty breakfast at the conveniently located Jo-Terrace Osaka, which is just a short walk away from the enchanting Osaka Castle Park, your next stop after brekkie. Ensure you’re sufficiently fueled up, as you’re about to embark on an adventure to one of the city’s most popular attractions. Meander along the park’s serene pathways, and you’ll be treated to stunning views of Osaka Castle, especially during cherry blossom season, when it’s a favorite spot for hanami (flower viewing). It’s also the perfect escape from the city’s urban hustle and bustle.

For lunch, head to Shuhari Dojima to slurp down some handmade soba noodles while taking in the views of a peaceful Japanese garden. After, delve into Osaka’s rich history and cultural heritage with a visit to the Osaka Museum of History. Located just 20 minutes away by train, this captivating museum offers a journey through the city’s past, complete with informative exhibits and panoramic views from its observation deck.

Continue your exploration by visiting the distinctive Morinomiya Piloti Hall. Here, you’ll encounter a fascinating collection of preserved remains and relics that provide a unique window into Osaka’s historical heritage. This architectural gem provides an immersive experience that connects you with the city’s architectural heritage and showcases the resilience of its buildings.

Consider attending a concert or play, as well, as the Morinomiya Piloti Hall is one of Osaka’s most renowned performance venues. Check the schedule for cultural events that pique your interest, and add an extra layer of cultural entertainment to your day.

As night falls, jazz things up and conclude your day of culture and beauty with a dining experience at exquisite izakaya restaurant, Dynamic Kitchen & Bar San-SUN-Osaka. Perched on the 38th floor, this establishment not only offers delectable izakaya dishes, but also presents a breathtaking night view of Osaka. As you savor your meal, take in the illuminated Osaka Castle in all its splendor from this elevated vantage point.

This article was created in partnership with Time Out.