Travelling to Osaka and not sure which city sights you must explore? Excellent, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about in this detailed itinerary!
We’ll tell you all about the city’s most iconic sights, from the famous streets lined with neon signs, to some of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan.
And we will also cover some other cities that are close by – if you have four days in Osaka, there’s no reason not to explore as much as you can of this stunning country. So, here’s our itinerary for four amazing days in Osaka!
If you’re staying in the country longer than these 4 days, we highly recommend getting the Japan Railway Pass. You will save a lot of money in the long run, especially if you plan on exploring larger cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima etc.
But, if you’re only in Osaka for 4 days, then it might not be worth it to get that JR pass. Busses are much cheaper than Shinkansen trains, but they are also much slower. They are the most economic means of travelling, as long as you don’t mind spending more time in transport.
If you’re thinking of renting a car, I have to advise you to give up on the idea. First, you would need to get an international driving permit, since foreigners are not allowed to drive in Japan without one. Second, the traffic is horrible, and you would spend more time behind the wheel than exploring this amazing country. And third, trains can reach speeds of more than 300 km/h, which is twice the speed you can reach in a car.
We’ll start off the day in Osaka’s most popular district, Dōtonbori. It is famous for the bright and colorful billboards, numerous restaurants and theatres. In fact, this is the most popular entertainment district in Osaka – even if you don’t feel like popping into a theatre and catching a play, it’s worth your time to see all the amazing buildings.
You will also notice all kinds of commercials – a huge lobster above a restaurant, a massive octopus and bright neon signs everywhere. And of course, don’t forget to cross the Ebisu bridge – the views from it are just amazing.
Very close to the bridge and this district in general is one of Osaka’s most popular Buddhist temples, Hozenji Temple. It is pretty small, but it is famous for the moss covered statue of the deity Fudomoyoo – one of the Five Bright Kings of Japanese Buddhism, thought to have been the protector of Buddhism and its true followers.
From there, head to Kuromon Ichiba Market in the Nipponbashi district. The huge market is popular for its many street food vendors, and it’s a great opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat. You can also shop all kinds of souvenirs here.
Next is the Nambayasaka Shrine in the Naniwa Ward. It is pretty far away from the market, so you will want to get on a train or bus. The shrine is small and not really that amazing, but there’s something else here that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. It’s the giant lion’s head with a ritualistic performance stage inside it. This is one of the most popular landmarks in Osaka, and you just can’t miss it.
Then head to Tsutenkaku – the popular tower, famous for the bright neon lights. It features an observation deck, and this is your best opportunity to get a breathtaking panoramic view of this stunning Japanese city.
From the tower, you can go see the Shitennoji temple in the Tennoji Ward – the final attraction of the day. The Buddhist temple was built in 593 A.D., and it is one of the oldest temples in the country. It has a beautiful 5-storey pagoda, numerous statues and a lovely pond with turtles.
That concludes your first day in Osaka – if you follow the order of these attractions, you will kind of circle around the city center. And that’s enough for day one.
Kyoto is about an hour away from Osaka by train, and you absolutely have to go visit it if you have the time. It is a magical city, and such a unique blend of the old and the new. And since we can’t cover the entire city in just one day, be sure to check out our more detailed Japan itinerary for more ideas on where to go in this amazing city.
But first, you should definitely head to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The former residence of the Imperial family is absolutely stunning and well worth your time. Plus, there is so much else to see on the palace ground – Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, Konoe’s Palace weeping cherry tree, the statues, the gates and all the Shinto shrines.
But don’t spend too much time there, otherwise you won’t have time to explore other parts of the city. And you definitely have to go check out Nijō Castle as well – it is famous for the vast gardens around it and the incredible architecture.
Then it’s time to go to Nishiki Market. This historic Kyoto market is over 400 years old, and it is an iconic part of the city. You can try out all kinds of Japanese foods here, as well as shop for souvenirs. And just minutes away from the market you will find the Samurai & Ninja Museum, another must-visit. You can see several swords and armours on display, and try your hand in sword fighting – how cool is that?!
From there, you should head east towards the Maruyama Park. But stop by the Yasaka Shrine first – the ancient Shinto shrine is famous for the bright colors, and it is home to one of Japan’s best known festivals, Gion Matsuri. The park is a much more serene place, with a pretty big pond, numerous cherry blossoms and several Buddhist temples.
If you made it to Kyoto early in the morning, you should have enough time to see a couple other things. I recommend you go to Rengeoin Sanjusangendo – this iconic Buddhist temple is famous for the 1001 life-sized statues of goddess Kannon. It is a pretty amazing place, and it would be a shame not to visit.
Our last spot is the Kyoto tower. It’s just west of the temple, and it is the perfect way to end a day in this amazing city. There’s an observation deck that offers enchanting views of the Kyoto skyline. And there’s also a food court here, so you can grab something to eat before you head back to Osaka.
How you want to spend day three is up to you. I recommend you go to either Nara or Hiroshima – both cities are worth visiting, and it’s your choice where you want to go.
Hiroshima is a historically famous city and an absolutely stunning one, but it’s not exactly close to Osaka. It’s about 2 hours away by train, so keep that in mind.
Nara is much closer, and it’s also a beautiful city. It is famous for the many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as some unique parks.
So, decide where you want to go and have fun on your third day in Japan!
Even though it’s a bit far away from Osaka, it is more than worth it to make the trip to Hiroshima. The city is absolutely stunning, and famous for the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate. But that’s pretty far away from city center, which is where I would focus our day in Hiroshima.
Let’s go to Hiroshima Castle first. The reconstructed 16th century castle is an absolutely iconic part of the city, and it features a history museum inside. Oh, and you can climb to the top, for some epic views of the city.
Most other famous attractions are pretty close by. The next one is the Atomic Bomb Dome – a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is part of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. There’s also a guide with books next to the building, and you can learn more about the extent of damages that Hiroshima suffered after the bombing.
Then cross the bridge to the center of the Peace Memorial Park, and go visit the Children’s Peace Monument, the Peace Memorial Museum and the Victims Memorial Cenotaph. They are absolutely amazing, and really illustrate how far this city has come.
If you’re craving some absolutely enchanting sights, make your way to Itsukushima – the tiny island in Hiroshima Bay. It’s not exactly on the way and you will need to get on a boat, but the views of the Great Torii Gate will make the trip worth it. You can also see the ancient temples and the beautiful forest on the island. The Miyajima Public Aquarium is also worth visiting – you can see penguins, sea lions, whales and lots of other marine animals.
Get back on the mainland when you’re ready to go back home. It will take some three hours to get back to Osaka from this part of the city, but luckily most of that is just sitting on the trains.
The most famous city attractions are all in or around Nara Park, so that’s where we’re spending the better part of the day.
But before you get to the park, head to Yoshiki-en. It is a gorgeous garden, with a teahouse – the perfect place to sit down and enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The place is very serene, and much less crowded than the larger park.
Nara Park is a huge public park, featuring the National Museum of Art, lots of ancient temples and deer! Yes, you can go for a walk in the park and be surrounded by adorable tame deer – a unique experience you can’t really have anywhere.
That’s where you will also find the Nandaimon Gate of Tōdaiji – the massive gate of Tōdai-ji temple. And from there you can start walking towards the actually Tōdai-ji temple. It features the largest Buddha statue in entire Japan, and it is one Nara’s most iconic sights.
East of the temple you will also find Tamukeyamahachimangu Shrine – a lovely Shinto shrine in a very quiet part of Nara Park. And southwest of Tōda-iji is Kōfuku-ji – a complex of Buddhist temple halls built in 710 A.D., with lots of pagodas and a museum that showcases national treasures.
From there, you’re just minutes away from Nara’s most popular shopping street, Higashimuki. You can buy pretty much anything you think of here, including souvenirs, clothes and all kinds of delicious foods.
And then go south to Gangoji – another iconic Buddhist temple with an ornate pagoda and sloping tiled roof. You’re going to love this temple if you find the more popular ones too crowded, since this one is in a pretty serene area. And there’s rarely a huge crowd of people here, so you can really enjoy some peace and quiet.
If you have more time, I would recommend you check out the Harushika Sake Brewery store. You can try various different kinds of sake, and even take the cup home as a souvenir. After that, make your way back to Osaka – we’re staying there the next day, and exploring some other popular city sights!
Since Osaka is a pretty huge city, there’s no way you can cover all the popular sights in one day. But two just might be enough – this day we’re heading to the northern part of the town, which we didn’t get a chance to explore on day one.
First thing’s first – head to Osaka’s most famous tourist attraction, the Osaka Castle. The famous building lies on a tiny island in the middle of the city, surrounded by a moat. The castle ground feature a gorgeous garden, with cherry blossoms, open-air theatres and manicured lawns. And there’s also a museum inside a castle, so feel free to tour it if you like.
After you’ve explored the entire castle grounds (including the charming Hōkoku Shrine), head to Osaka Museum of History. It is a couple minutes away from the southwestern part of the castle grounds, and it features a permanent exhibition on Osaka’s history, from ancient times until today. If you want to learn more about this amazing city, it’s definitely worth your time.
From there, you can go to Nakanoshima Rose Garden. This is Osaka’s first public park, which was founded in 1891. It features a stunning rose garden, a library and a ceramics museum. But you can just walk around the park and enjoy the greenery in the middle of this busy town.
Next is Kuchu Teien Observatory, for a breathtaking view of this part of the city. The observation deck is pretty tall, and you will have a unique opportunity to enjoy the Osaka skyline.
From there, I would suggest you hit Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. It is lined with more than 600 shops, and it is one of Japan’s longest shopping streets. If you wanted to buy any souvenirs but forgot, this is the absolute perfect place to make up for that.
If you have it in you to visit another museum, I recommend stopping by Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. It is right at the beginning of this shopping street, and it’s a great opportunity to gain some insight into the past lives of people of Osaka. The museum features recreations of older streets and buildings, and it is a really educational place.
And then you can go back to your hotel and start packing for your trip home. I truly hoped you enjoyed this itinerary, and that you got to see everything you wanted in this remarkable Japanese city!
I thought about this, and I don’t think it would be worth your time to make the trip to Tokyo. For one thing, it takes about 3 hours to reach Japan’s capital even on the fastest train. And another reason is because Tokyo is such a vast city – if you only got several hours to spend, you’d be overwhelmed.
There are way too many districts to discover, temples to visit and streets to explore. Several hours in this amazing city are definitely not going to be enough, and I think it’s better to explore one city thoroughly than to just scratch the surface on another one.
If you plan to spend more time in Japan, you can check out our detailed 10-day itinerary – it includes several days in Tokyo, and really covers all bases.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.