Traveling to Japan and not sure if you should stay in Tokyo or Osaka? This detailed comparison of the two fascinating cities will help you make up your mind!
Tokyo and Osaka are two very different cities and they appeal to different types of travelers. One is a bustling metropolis with more than 37 million people, and the other is a smaller city featuring stunning nature, Shinto shrines, and gorgeous parks. But that’s just scratching the surface of what these Japanese cities have to offer, so read on to learn more about Tokyo and Osaka and see which seems like the better option for you!
If this is your first time traveling to Japan, then Tokyo is the better place to stay, without a doubt. It’s the capital city featuring the most famous attractions in the country, and you must experience it to see what the hype is all about.
On the other hand, if you’ve already visited Tokyo and now you want to explore Japan’s smaller cities, then Osaka is the better option for you. Its central location is perfect for exploring the country, and the calmer atmosphere in the city is great for people who aren’t a fan of the Tokyo crowds.
Tokyo is much more hectic than Osaka. It’s the capital city with a population of some 37 million in the Greater Tokyo Area, whereas Osaka has less than 3 million people. It’s also a much bigger city by area size, so there’s a lot more to explore.
But this also means that it’s much harder to get around Tokyo – traffic is a nightmare, and don’t even think about driving around the city. You can get around with public transport, just try to skip the trains during rush hour, since this experience can be a bit traumatizing for people who aren’t accustomed to Tokyo traffic.
If you’re not thrilled by the idea of visiting the busiest intersection in the world, you will likely enjoy Osaka more than Tokyo. It’s nowhere near as busy, but the city is still big enough that you could spend a week there and discover something new every day!
Tokyo is known for its tall skyscrapers, massive shopping malls, and colorful city streets. It’s a very busy city with lots of things to do and see, and it’s incredibly hard to be bored in Tokyo. Whether you want to explore the museums, see the Shinto shrines, or take in the views from one of the world’s tallest towers, Tokyo will not disappoint.
The nature of tourist attractions in Osaka is very different. It’s better known for beautiful gardens, shrines, and castles, and the general atmosphere in the city is much calmer. Traffic is also not as hectic as in Tokyo – the streets are wider and there are fewer cars overall driving on them.
Osaka is also the better place to stay if you’re going to be in Japan for a while and you want to explore more of the country. It’s more centrally located, and it’s close to Kyoto, Nagoya, Kobe, and Hiroshima, so traveling around Japan will be easier, quicker, and cheaper. In case you decide to stay in Japan for a couple of weeks, be sure to check out our detailed Japan itinerary – it has all the info you need on getting around the country and the best cities to visit!
Tokyo is much more expensive than Osaka, so you might want to stay in the smaller city if you’re on a tight budget. The prices in Tokyo are pretty much double those in Osaka, and that’s true for everything from public transportation to restaurant and bar prices. Also, the tickets for museums and other tourist attractions are more expensive in Tokyo, so you’ll need a bigger budget even for just sightseeing.
If you’re traveling on a tighter budget, you’ll get better value for money in Osaka. Accommodation, food, and transportation are all cheaper, and you can always travel to Tokyo for a couple of days if you still want to explore the Japanese capital.
Tokyo is a big city with a wide variety of things to see and do. There’s something for everyone in this city, whether you’re more into museums, shopping malls, shrines, or stunning public gardens! Read on to see just some of the most popular attractions in Tokyo!
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan, as well as the tallest freestanding tower in the world. It’s a broadcasting tower with a 360-degree observation deck that offers the best panoramic views in Tokyo, and it’s an absolute must if you want to be amazed. The views of the Tokyo skyline from this tower are out of this world, and on a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji! As long as you’re not afraid of heights, this is one of the first things you should do when you arrive in Tokyo, just to get a sense of how big this spectacular city really is.
Shibuya is a special ward in Tokyo, and one of the busiest districts in the world. It’s the major financial and commercial center, home to the two busiest railway stations in the world, as well as the busiest intersection on the planet – Shibuya Crossing. This is also where you’ll find most of Tokyo’s huge shopping malls, where you can shop for everything your heart desires.
This part of Tokyo is also home to great bars and restaurants, but also some of Tokyo’s best Shinto shrines. Meiji Jingu is a famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo, and it’s located in Shibuya City, surrounded by a forest, and features a stunning iris garden.
Shinjuku is the administrative and commercial center of Tokyo and home to both one of the busiest railway stations in the world and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The latter is a very popular tourist attraction with observation decks that offer spectacular panoramic views free of charge!
This Tokyo ward is also known for upscale hotels, excellent bars and restaurants, and the neon-lit streets of East Shinjuku. Young adults who enjoy going out should head to East Shinjuku and explore the karaoke rooms and busy clubs. This district is also very popular with students, thanks to the many art galleries, libraries, and some of Tokyo’s best theaters.
Yoyogi Park is a popular public park in Shibuya, featuring lakes, cherry blossoms, forested areas, and fountains. It takes a little under an hour to circle through the park, but that’s only if you walk on the main path and don’t take any detours. There are lots of other paths to explore in the park, and they all take you to different sections. Head to the bird sanctuary to do some birdwatching, spend some time in Flowerland, and explore the olive garden to really see the beauty of Yoyogi Park.
Sensō-ji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. It was built in 645, in honor of the goddess of mercy, Kannon. The colorful temple is truly a stunning sight, and it’s right next to the Asakusa Shinto shrine. The five-story pagoda is another must while you’re in this area, especially for tourists who are interested in exploring the more historically significant attractions in Tokyo.
However, it’s worth noting that both the temple and shrine are some of the most popular attractions in this city and they tend to be very crowded. The temple gets more than 30 million visitors annually, so get there early in the morning if you want to avoid huge crowds.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a 144-acre park in Shinjuku City. It features gardens, traditional Japanese tea houses, ponds, and just spectacular views wherever you look. This is a great place to escape the hordes of people on Tokyo streets, especially if you want to spend some time in nature. There are several formal gardens in this park that feature varied flowers and plants, as well as a small greenhouse with a vast selection of (mostly) exotic plants.
The Samurai Museum is one of the best-known and most visited museums in Tokyo. If you are at all interested in Samurai history, you will have the time of your life in this museum. Visitors can also wear Samurai costumes, and you can even observe a sword fight. It’s also possible for visitors to volunteer to be part of the sword-fighting demonstration, which could be a dream-come-true for some people.
Tokyo Tower is one of the most famous landmarks in the city. It’s very similar to the Eiffel Tower, which is one of the main reasons for its huge popularity. Head to the top of the tower for some stunning views of the Tokyo skyline, and grab the portable device with earphones if you want to know exactly which buildings you are looking at from the top of the Tokyo Tower.
It’s worth noting that this amazing landmark is situated in Shibakoen, very close to a public park that features several Buddhist temples worth checking out.
Ueno Park is one of the most popular public parks in Tokyo. It features a lake with boat rentals, walking paths, Buddhist temples, museums, and cherry blossoms everywhere. The park is home to both the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Museum of Western Art, so all my fellow art lovers will absolutely love it in Ueno Park.
There’s also a zoo on the park grounds. It’s the oldest zoo in Japan with more than 2600 animals, so head there if you want to see a panda and some stunning shrines and pagodas.
If you are interested in the history of Tokyo, head to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It features exhibits on the city during the Edo period, which really showcase how the city developed from the early 17th century until today. The museum also offers limited-time exhibits on a variety of different topics, so if there happens to be one while you’re there, you certainly won’t regret taking the time to check it out!
Hamarikyu Gardens is a waterfront public park decorated in Edo-period style. It features ponds, bridges, tea houses, and spectacular views everywhere you look. It’s one of the best places in Tokyo to escape the city crowds, especially on hot summer days.
Osaka is a beautiful city featuring shrines, an ancient castle, and stunning public gardens among other things. Although it’s much smaller than Tokyo, it’s still a pretty big city with lots of things to do and see (even in winter), so read on to see all the top sights in Osaka!
The 16th-century Osaka Castle is one of the most famous attractions in this city. It’s situated in Osaka Castle Park, which also features Shinto shrines, spectacular gardens, and open-air theaters. The park is full of cherry blossoms, so if you happen to visit in the spring you can really enjoy some spectacular views. There’s also a museum with varied exhibits in Osaka Castle, and it’s a great way to learn a bit more about its history.
Shitennoji is Osaka’s most famous Buddhist temple. It was built in 593 AD, and it features a turtle pond, statues, and a stunning five-story pagoda. Although it’s the best-known and most popular temple in the city, it’s nowhere near as crowded as the temples of Tokyo, so you should be able to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
Tennoji Park is a landscaped city park very close to Shitennoji temple. It features fountains, lawns, stunning flowers, and lots of cafes where you can just relax and take in the views. The sprawling park is also home to the Osaka City Museum of Fine Art, which is an absolute must for all art lovers who happen to visit the park. The Osaka Tennoji Zoo is also here, and it boasts around 200 species of animals living in varied habitats, including everything from rainforests to savannahs.
Universal Studios Japan is a huge theme park dedicated to American movies. It’s one of the best places in Osaka for travelers with children because it features a lot of rides and entertaining shows. Here you can see everything from Minions to Hogwarts, so it’s going to be a lot of fun for both kids and adults.
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel is a popular tourist attraction in Osaka. It’s 112.5 meters tall, and it offers spectacular panoramic views of the city. The Ferris wheel is also popular for illumination shows since all of its different parts light up at night in various colors. Go on a ride in the Ferris wheel during the day to experience scenic vistas and visit it at night to get a glimpse of all the different colors against the dark night sky.
Umeda Sky Building consists of two skyscrapers that are connected. The building is architecturally fascinating, and it features some of the best views in Osaka you can experience. There’s an observatory in the rooftop garden, as well as a lounge with fabulous panoramic views. Visit the Umeda Sky Building in the evening and observe the sunset from the rooftop, for the most magical views of Osaka.
Although Tokyo is better known as the ideal shopping destination in Japan, you can still do some great shopping in Osaka. Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street is lined with some 600 stores, and it’s one of the longest shopping streets in all of Japan. You can also find some excellent restaurants and fast food locales here, and they’re generally cheaper than similar establishments in Tokyo.
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living features exhibits on the city during the Edo period, and it’s the best place to visit if you are genuinely interested in the city’s history. The museum features a recreation of Osaka streets during the Edo period and being here really feels like you’ve traveled back in time. Also, they have a projector that helps simulate different weather conditions, so you can walk through ancient Osaka streets during blizzards and thunderstorms, which is pretty fascinating.
Nakanoshima Rose Garden was founded in the late 19th-century as the city’s first public park. It features a rose garden, a library, and a ceramics museum, all situated on an island on the O River. The entrance to the rose garden is entirely free, so everyone can enjoy the gorgeous sight and delicious scents without spending a dime!
Namba Yasaka Shrine is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Osaka. It’s not a very big shrine, but it is shaped like a lion’s head, which is the main reason why it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The shrine also features a stage for ritualistic performances, and it’s such a fascinating sight that you certainly won’t regret taking the time to visit it while you are in Osaka!
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.