Searching for your next great adventure? This Sweet July series taps top travel enthusiasts to share first-hand insight into their ventures across the country and world, so you know exactly what to expect and how to prepare once you book your ticket. Wishing you safe—and sweet—travels!

Today: Andrea Bossi shares her top tips for vacationing in Osaka, Japan with day trips to nearby cities.

I have dreamt of seeing Japan since I was a young girl. It was the country I saw in films and museums. I explored Tokyo, Japan’s capital, in video games like “Tomb Raider,” and, lately, I’ve watched my friends visit via Instagram. It was time for me to experience it myself, in person. So I bought tickets on a whim—why not now? And it was the best thing.

Adventure began in the airport, where I almost missed my connecting flight from Tokyo to Osaka, my final destination. I made it, thanks to friendly staff and strangers helping me change terminals and navigate signs (while following my gut the rest of the way). Rather than it becoming a rough start to my trip, it made me hungrier for adventure. In the following days, I walked for miles, climbed castles, peered into shrines and delighted in street food. Newness was everywhere: cars driving on the left, restaurants with plastic versions of their food displayed in windows to entice patrons, pin-drop silent trains in the city, obeyed crosswalk signs, and neon lights. 

If Japan is on your travel list, I highly recommend considering a week (or more!) in Osaka and its neighbors, Kyoto and Nara. Tokyo might be the most obvious destination, but “second cities,” or traveling to the slightly less popular cities instead of capitals, is increasing in popularity because it helps avoid overpopulated and overwhelming areas. Going to Osaka let me experience some of Japan without feeling that everything was catered to me as a tourist. It also allowed me time to explore Kyoto and Nara via day trips. Check out these recommendations to maximize your experience.

Taiyaki in Kyoto
A ten-yen cheese coin in Osaka's Dotonbori area



My first culinary concern in any new place is coffee. For an elevated experience, try Bear Paw Cafe, Saki Moto, and Fooscape. In the afternoon, grab a cheese coin from the foodie-friendly district of Dotonbori. The viral snack is a hefty hunk of mozzarella covered in pancake batter shaped like a ten-yen coin. Explore the vendors in Kuromon Market, which will offer everything from daifuku mochi to wagyu skewers and taro chips. Be sure to try Kushikatsu Daruma nearby, which is a popular chain serving skewered eats (like tempura but with panko coating instead). Coco Ichibanya is a fast-casual curry stop with various modifications and filling servings. You’ll see little shops selling matcha soft serve. Get it where you can.

Obviously, you have to try ramen when in Japan. There are chains like Ichi-ran and Hanamaruken. Conveyor belt sushi is a must. Head to Genrokuzushi, credited as the original spot for the moving bites. Takoyaki is easy to find in Dotonbori: check out Kukuru to try the fried and battered balls, which have octopus in the middle and bonito flakes atop. Visit A Happy Pancake, which serves fluffy hot cakes.

Taro (and taro chips) at a food market in Osaka


FOR A splurge:

Try Restaurant Inaya (included in the Michelin guide) for artfully presented plates with fun twists on traditional Japanese cuisine. At the two-star Michelin restaurant La Cine, French techniques get applied to regional foods for a multi-course dining experience. For sweets, Gokan is a required stop: The pastry shop offers a beautiful and vibrant array of high-quality desserts like airy cheesecake slices, fruit tarts and various cakes. Grenier is another must-try for the sugar-lover.

Speakeasies are a fun thing to see at night. Bar Nayuta is a cozy spot with custom cocktails, made to your taste. If you’re not spooked easily and enjoy a strong drink, try KinGuu. The speakeasy is tucked into a rather unassuming building across from a youthful club. After going through its red door, you’re transported into an otherworldly goth dream of a bar, where you’ll be served mead or absinthe in a chalice.


*I’d recommend staying in Osaka’s city center, near or north of Dotonbori. Whatever you do, be near a stop on the Midosuji or Sakaisuji train lines, as these are central to getting around the city.


The great thing about hotels in Japan is that most are safe and clean. Affordable stays in Japan just mean no major frills. Options that fit this bill are the Best Western Plus, the Shinsaibashi Grand or an APA Hotel & Resort, the regional chain of hotels with various locations across the city. If you’re really comfortable with little space, there’s also the option to stay in a pod like Acro.


If you want something luxurious, head to W Osaka, the Royal Park Hotel Iconic Midosuji, Conrad Osaka, and, of course, the city’s Ritz-Carlton. These don’t just offer great service and amenities, but are usually attached to enviable bars and restaurants worthy of a visit.

Osaka castle's main tower



The Osaka Castle is a monument to behold with historic exhibits on each floor, leading up to panoramic views of the city. Dotonbori is a bustling district full of shopping, theaters, a riverwalk, the Ebisu ferris wheel mounted onto Don Quixote, and various eateries. It’s cool during the day, but even cooler to see lit up at night. Denden town is the destination for any lover of anime and manga: You can buy collectibles while also shopping tech and marveling at people’s cosplay. Shitennoji Temple has an expansive campus of spaces for prayer, Buddhist learnings, and coy ponds. Walk around the color district of Shinsekai to see if any restaurants pique your interest while gazing at the Tsūtenkaku tower (and maybe going to the top, though the line is seldom worth the wait). See the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan if you have extra time, and then ride the Tempozan Ferris Wheel right next to it.

For shopping, wander through Amerikamura for a host of vintage American shops and streetwear storefronts. Just around the corner is Mido-suji, an avenue lined with luxury fashion boutiques like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. They thin out the further north you go, but don’t stop before stepping into Comme des Garçons, which has a multi-brand selection within. There are also great options to shop near the Umeda Sky Building, including a massive Muji store and department stores like Hankyu, which carry famous Japanese designers like CDG, Issey Miyake, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and Yohji Yamamoto. Remember, tax-free shopping is a thing in Japan!

A street in Osaka at dusk


Pro tip: Make sure to buy and load a Suica or IC Card (the cards do the same things, just with different names) upon arrival. Your phone may ask if you want to add the pass to your wallet upon connecting to the internet. Otherwise, pick up a physical card from train stations. Taxis are available, but trains are the best way to get around.

Osaka is also a short trip from some very cool cities, which you can access by bullet train (officially called the Shinkansen) or regional lines. I recommend a day trip to Kyoto: See the Fushimi Inari Shrine (with its picturesque thousands of red gates) and the towering Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Nara is another great day trip. It’s the city of free-roaming deer (who get a little feisty if you don’t feed them), the Tōdai-ji temple, and the TikTok-famous red bean mochi shop, Nakatanidou.

The Tōdai-ji temple in Nara

What To Pack

Style in Osaka can be pretty minimalistic, which makes it reasonable to use a carry-on bag for a week-long stay. I packed a capsule wardrobe—a set of neutral basics I could mix and match—and didn’t need to check a bag.

I went to Osaka in late fall, when temperatures hovered around mid to low 50s, with minimal rain. To make sure I was warm, I focused on packing basics that I could layer. What I can’t recommend enough is Uniqlo’s Heattech shirt, which does the work of a shirt and sweater in one, also saving space in luggage. I also brought Quince’s $50 cashmere sweater and a wool coat. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, especially if you love walking. The city’s transit system is well-connected, but there’s lots of exploring to do on foot, especially at temples and parks. I switched between my Nike Huaraches and M.Gemi boots (because one pair of cute shoes is always worth it). Crucially, don’t forget to bring an outlet converter

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