Japan is one of those countries that you need to see to believe. Before visiting Japan this past March, my partner Russell and I did a lot of research. We researched everything from the currency to transport, shopping, food and general must-know information about Japan. Every single YouTube video we watched, was filled with beautiful footage and every vlogger saying that Japan is amazing. So after reading all of these incredible reviews that claimed Japan was the best place they had ever visited, we had high hopes.
We spent a lot of time narrowing down our itinerary, making sure we had a list of everything we wanted to see and do. Osaka was second on our trip around Japan, and we spent 7 days exploring the city! With over 8 million people, it’s Japan’s third most populated city.
There was quite a bit that we wanted to see in Osaka, and although we had 7 days, unfortunately we didn’t see everything. We did, however, cross a good amount of things off our list. So at least that’s better than not being able to explore Osaka at all!
Getting to Osaka, Japan
From within Japan: The Shinkansen Bullet Train travels to Osaka from most major cities throughout Japan. This is probably the coolest and most fun way to travel around the country!
From Australia: Virgin Airlines Australia can fly you direct from Melbourne to Osaka for a little under $1,000. For a cheaper option, fly to Tokyo for around $700, then catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka! Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll also see more of the country!
From everywhere else: Check your favourite airline for daily deals to Japan. The same applies here in regards to internal travel around the country. When in doubt – bullet train! Especially if you prefer to fly into Tokyo and travel by train to Osaka.
[bctt tweet=”Helpful tips on getting to #japan from #australia in particular, the rest of the world and within Japan!” username=”rhiannontravels”]
Here are 4 things I loved about Osaka
1. Universal Studios (more specifically, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!)
What is one of the best things to do in Osaka? Well if you’ve been on my blog before, you’ll know that I’m a full blown cat lady. Russell and I adopted a kitten last year, and named her Hermione after our (my) obsession with Harry Potter. So there’s that.
As soon as I knew Harry Potter World existed, I just had to go. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Universal Studios in California when WWHP opened. So when I discovered that there was one in Osaka’s Universal Studios, it was immediately added to my list. Right at the top, in the everything-on-this-list-is-happening-no-matter-what column.
Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, I definitely suggest visiting Universal Studios. There are lots of other things to see and do within the main park, if you don’t like Harry Potter. But for those who do, and have also named their pets after wizarding characters, you won’t want to miss it!
The decoration, detail and sets are spot on – I genuinely felt like I had walked through my TV and landed out the front of Hogwarts. It’s incredible. The park staff members are great too. They’re always in character, super friendly and will do anything they can to help you navigate the park.
My tips for Harry Potter World in Universal Studios:
- Make sure you try a Butterbeer – if you haven’t seen the movies or read any of the books, you won’t know what I’m talking about. But it’s is a well-known, delicious beverage within the wizarding world.
You can purchase Butterbeer a few ways: 1) from outdoor ‘carts’ around the HPW park, 2) from an indoor take away bar or 3) at a sit-down restaurant. We got ours from the indoor bar, because the restaurant was fully booked!
You can get your Butterbeer in either a regular throw-away cup, or a souvenir cup which will cost you less than 1,000 yen.
- Prepare to wait in lines – theme parks in general around Japan are super busy. Universal Studios is no exception. The lines for rides and food will probably be longer than you expected, so be prepared! Consider eating at non-meal times during the day, and bring your own snacks and water. As for rides, you can purchase an Express Pass** for the park to make your day less about waiting in line, and more about riding rollercoasters!
- Strategically purchase your Harry Potter themed souvenirs – gifts and souvenirs within Universal Studios are super expensive. Harry Potter merchandise in particular. They know people will buy the products regardless of the cost, so why not up the price? It’s annoying and definitely unnecessary, but that’s business. If you’re trying to stick to a budget, do some research before you visit and make a list of the souvenirs you know you definitely want to buy. For example, I knew I wanted a Gryffindor scarf and Hermione’s wand. Both of these were way overpriced, so I didn’t buy anything else!
Tip: there is Harry Potter merchandise in stores around the rest of Universal Studios park, so if you can’t decide what you want while in HPW, that’s okay! Think about it while you explore the rest of the park, then stop by later!
**An Express Pass is a type of ticket to Universal Studios. Instead of paying for just the general one-day ticket, an Express Pass gets you onto a certain amount of rides, almost straight away. There are a few different options to choose from when purchasing an Express Pass, which can become quite confusing. But it’s well worth it to get on the most popular rides, without having to wait hours and hours in line.
[bctt tweet=”Tips for exploring Harry Potter World in Universal Studios #japan! ” username=”rhiannontravels”]
2. Dotonbori Shopping District
I’m one of those people who thinks I have under packed (at the very least, packed less than my last trip), start shopping then realise that I have still packed way too much. The most ironic part about this whole situation, is I pretty much wear the same thing every day anyway. It’s totally unnecessary for me to pack more than a pair of leggings and handful of t-shirts.
This was particularly a problem when we arrived in Osaka. Dotonbori was another place on our itinerary that we made sure to visit. If you’re not sure what Dotonbori is, it’s essentially a giant shopping district with a ton of different sections, streets and undercover outdoor malls.
You’ll find the big chains like Forever 21, Gap and H&M. Fast food and coffee pit stops like McDonalds and Starbucks. But the best thing about the Dotonbori shopping district, is all the side streets and unique stores. There’s something for everyone, no matter your price range or taste.
It’s not only unique stores, either. Japan is renowned for its cuisine, so if you’re a foodie, Osaka (and Dotonbori in particular) will be a totally different experience. I’m not a foodie. I’m very basic and boring when it comes to food, so I tend to stick to Western options. But just walk down any street, and there’ll be an endless amount of new, delicious smells.
Tips for Dotonbori Shopping District:
- Don’t leave Dotonbori without exploring its huge Daiso store – Daiso is a chain dollar store in Japan, with locations absolutely everywhere. Russell and I went on a Daiso shopping spree during our last week in Japan. We bought everything from souvenirs, a cat toy for Hermione, travel-friendly toiletry bags, chop sticks (oh, ALL the chopsticks), key rings, Hello Kitty tissues and so much more. An entire bag full of goodies, for less than $20. Bargain if you ask me. We won’t call it being stingy, let’s call it smart shopping due to being broke.
- The famous Japanese cheesecake can be found in Dotonbori – I’ll be honest. Russell and I spent a lot of time trying to find this so called oh-so-amazing Japanese cheesecake. We walked up and down the main street of Dotonbori so many times, searching to find the this place. Eventually we saw a long line of people, and figured we had finally made it. It cost us 600 yen for a regular cheesecake size. We excitedly walked the cheesecake 20 minutes back to our hotel, got comfy and sat down with a slice. Let me just tell you, it wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe we got a dud cheesecake, or maybe we’re just not used to Japanese desserts. But it tasted like egg to me. I felt like I was eating scrambled eggs.
- It’s always going to be busy – I think the only time that we explored Dotonbori and it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder busy, was our first full day in Osaka. We walked to Dotonbori way too early, nothing was open, and therefore the place was empty. But apart from that, you’ll struggle to manoeuvre your way through the crowds. So if you want a less painful shopping experience, try to arrive when stores open at around 11am. There will be less people, and you won’t want to scream after being hit on the ankle by yet another Japanese person’s shopping suitcase. Yes, I’m being serious. People use suitcases when they go shopping.
- Hit up Gap for some cheap warm clothes. I’ve visited the US multiple times, so I know how awesome Gap can be for sale items. I’m a sucker for a warm and cosy hoodie, so when we walked into Dotonbori’s Gap store and saw that they were on sale, I was prepared for some spending.
Here’s a little lesser known fact about me: I prefer men’s hoodies over women’s. I’m sorry but I don’t see how women enjoy wearing such tight jumpers. It would drive me mad, I like to be able to move! #butthatsjustme
3. Kyoto is super close to Osaka, and is a day trip (or two) you won’t regret
Kyoto isn’t really talked about as much as a tourist destination. There aren’t any theme parks or huge shopping malls. For the most part, it’s still a very historic area.
There are a few things to see and do in Kyoto, and you’ll be amazed by each of them. For this extremely beautiful and photogenic city in Japan, make sure to set aside at least a day to explore. It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of big city Japan, and you’ll find yourself enjoying the serenity.
Here are 3 things you should definitely do while in Kyoto:
- Bamboo Forest – this is amazing to see in person. No matter which direction you look, you’re greeted with an endless amount of impressive tall bamboo trees.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – this shrine is the most popular in Japan. There are thousands of bright orange torii gates forming the amazing pathway that are spectacular to see.
Tip: be patient when it comes to taking photos. Unless you visit Fushimi Inari early in the morning, be prepared to share the shrine with a lot of other travelers and tourists (and of course, local Japanese people). When we wanted photos standing in amongst the torii gates without anyone else in the shot, all we had to do was wait 30 seconds or so! There will be a gap in the crowd of people, so eventually you’ll get a good, clear photo. If someone sees you taking a photo, they will also tend to wait for you to finish before walking past anyway!
- Arashiyama – a beautiful, scenic and historic area of Kyoto which was where I saw my very first Japanese cherry blossom tree! We had originally planned to visit the monkey park in Arashiyama, but given the location, it was difficult to find on Google Maps. We decided to walk across to the town side, do a bit of shopping and eventually stumbled upon the bamboo forest! Arashiyama is a beautiful little town, and the perfect place to admire the relaxing side of Japan that isn’t often talked about.
There are dozens of awesome things to do in Osaka. Although it’s not as big and bustling as Tokyo, it’s still filled with awesome theme parks, beautiful scenery, and plenty of historic towns to really get a feel for what Japan used to look like. I genuinely think that no matter which part of Japan you visit, whether you stay in the city or head north for some beautiful landscapes and snowy mountains, you’ll fall in love with the whole country.
What were your favourite things to do in Osaka? Tell me in the comments below!
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