Osaka is one of the largest metropolitan cities in Japan, second only to Tokyo. It’s a popular tourist destination due to its strategic location, which allows you to make multiple-day trips to interesting cities, like Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe.
I’ve visited this area three times now, and if you need help planning your itinerary to these cities, then I’ve got the perfect blog post for you! Read on 😉
- How many days should I spend in Osaka?
- When is the best time to visit Osaka?
- How do I get to Osaka?
- Where to stay in Osaka
- Osaka Itinerary for first-timers
- Tips for traveling in Kansai
- Getting into Osaka from the Kansai Airport
- Do I need a JR Pass for this trip?
- What to do in the Kansai region
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How many days should I spend in Osaka?
I recommend at least 5 days to see the must-see of the Kansai region, namely Osaka and Kyoto. But it would be better if you can stay for at least 8 days, which will allow you to visit all the best highlights of Kansai: Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Himeji, and Hiroshima.
When is the best time to visit Osaka / Kansai region?
Much like the rest of Japan, you can aim to visit during the Sakura season or during the Autumn foliage season. Click on the respective blog posts for predicted times as they change every year. Keep in mind these seasons would be peak tourism time, so it will be very crowded, but beautiful!
Try to avoid the hurricane or typhoon season from August – September. Also avoid Golden week in the first week of May, which is Japan’s biggest holiday and will drive a lot of domestic tourism.
How do I get to Osaka?
There are two popular ways to get to Osaka:
By Shinkansen train – If you’re visiting Tokyo first during your trip, most people get to Osaka by train from Tokyo via Shinkansen, Japan’s famous ultra-fast bullet train. You’ll most likely get off at Osaka Station, where you will have plenty of convenient local trains to switch to. If you haven’t bought an Unlimited JR Pass, then I would recommend it since the Tokyo – Osaka train is already included. Buying the shinkansen ticket separately would already cost almost as much as the JR pass, so it’s definitely worth it.
By Airplane – There is an international airport very close to Osaka, called the Kansai International Airport (KIX). If you are flying and landing in KIX and will be staying in Osaka, I recommend taking Haruka line by Japan Rail (JR). This line takes you straight from KIX to the city, stopping at major stations Tennoji and Shin-Osaka before going on to Kyoto. But if you have the unlimited JR Pass, this journey is already included so you do not need to purchase it separately. From there, you can resume with local trains using an IC card.
Where to stay in Osaka
In Osaka, it’s best to stay close to a major train station – anywhere near Umeda, Shin-Osaka, Namba, Tennoji and Umeda / Osaka station is a great option.
During my most recent trip, I stayed at PremiasA in Umeda which is a mid-range accommodation close to Umeda and Osaka station. I shared the room with 2 other people, we each paid US$42.50 per night per person and it’s worth every cent. I would highly suggest the apartment because it’s much more spacious than other accommodations I’ve gotten in Japan (they have 2 Queen beds!), the amenities are very new, and the location is amazing (~10 minutes walking from Osaka / Umeda station). One thing to note is that it’s a self-operating hotel which means there is no front desk to check you in or let you in if you lost your keys, and you cannot accept packages during your stay.
Osaka Itinerary for first-timers
Below I have provided two types of itineraries depending on what type of traveler you are. Some people prefer to squeeze in as much as they can, while others prefer to travel a bit slower.
Itinerary 1: For fast travelers who want to do everything and visit multiple cities (7-9 days)
- Day 1: Arrive in Osaka and explore the city (stay overnight in Osaka)
- Day 2: Take the train to Kyoto (stay overnight in Kyoto / Osaka)
- Day 3: Explore Kyoto (stay overnight in Osaka)
- Day 4: Day trip to Nara (stay overnight in Osaka)
- Day 5: Kobe
- Day 6: Himeji
- Day 7: Hiroshima
- Day 8: Take the train back to Osaka and fly out
The itinerary above assumes you have at least 8 days in Kansai. But if you have fewer days, you can easily tailor this itinerary by omitting some cities. Out of all the cities I listed above, Osaka and Kyoto are definitely the two must-visit places. For other cities, you can choose whether you want to visit them on the same trip or leave it for later, so you have an excuse to come back 🙂
The advantage of this itinerary is of course you get to see a lot more than just the usual Osaka / Kyoto / Nara. On the other hand, the disadvantage is that you’ll need to get a JR Pass, which will cost more. On top of that, you need to be strategic about how to use the JR pass since they are only valid for 5 days maximum. See the “Do I need a JR Pass” section for more information. You’ll also need to move around quite a bit with this itinerary, which might be tiring for some people.
Itinerary 2: Slower and shorter itinerary, but still visit all the must-sees in Kansai (at least 5 days)
Another option is to stay put in Osaka, which makes for a more chilled-out itinerary, but you can still get out of Osaka on these day trips:
- Day 1: Arrive in Osaka, explore the city
- Day 2: Go to Kyoto
- Day 3: Go back to Kyoto again
- Day 4: Visit Nara or Kobe, or day trip to Akame 48
- Day 5: Explore Osaka and fly out
The advantage of this itinerary is likely you don’t need to get a JR Pass. All of the destinations above are reachable by local train. You also don’t need to move around much in terms of accommodation – you can choose to stay in Osaka for the entirety of this itinerary. Osaka is a big city so you won’t run out of things to do – I’ve written extensively about Osaka here if you need inspiration!
Below I have outlined each city and what you can expect to see, so you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth visiting or not.
Tips for traveling in Kansai
- If you are visiting Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, I recommend making Osaka your base instead of staying overnight in those cities. Accommodation options are better (cheaper) in Osaka, there is more to do at night, and the train back is only 15-30 minutes.
- If you really want to stay in Kyoto, you can do so for one night. Choose to stay at a Ryokan for that authentic Japanese experience. I don’t recommend staying overnight in Nara since it’s a quiet area. Please read my Kyoto guide for places to stay.
- If you are getting a JR Pass, make sure it will be valid for all of the days that you are traveling between cities, and make sure you also account for the last day when you are going back to Osaka.
- Flying out late but having to check out early from your accommodation? You can leave your luggage in a coin locker! Coin lockers are available everywhere in major stations. They are quite spacious and cheap to rent. I was able to fit my 45L backpack into a tiny 300 yen one at the bottom. There is English instruction on the machine. Be sure to come early if you are going from a popular station though. I tried to do this in Kyoto station around noon but could not find any unoccupied locker. In the end, I gave up and had to lug my backpack around all day.
Getting into Osaka from the Kansai Airport
If you don’t have a JR pass, or if you want to delay the validity of your JR pass, you can consider getting the Haruka Airport Express train ticket. This gives you the best price for the express train to town.
Make sure to check ahead if your accommodation is closer to Tennoji or Shin-Osaka as there is a slight fare difference. Tennoji is closer to the airport and it’s a little cheaper.
Do I need a JR Pass for this trip?
JR Pass basically gives you unlimited rides on JR trains for the duration of the pass validity. This includes the shinkansen bullet trains, which makes it easy to travel through Japan. However, it doesn’t mean that you always need a JR pass every time you go to Japan.
If you are only planning to visit Kyoto and Nara, you won’t need a JR pass since you can easily visit these places via the local trains. For going to Kyoto from Osaka, local trains are cheaper than taking the shinkansen with JR Pass, it just takes slightly longer. However, the difference isn’t that much – it’s only 15 mins by JR train vs 30 mins by local train.
But if you are going to more places than just Kyoto and Osaka, you likely should get a JR Pass. The JR pass you need to get depends on the cities you want to visit and how long you are planning to travel around. So I recommend setting your itinerary first and seeing which JR Pass suits your itinerary.
Here are your JR Pass options for exploring Osaka and Kansai. Normally, you need to buy JR Pass from outside of Japan and have them mailed to your address, but with Klook you can pick them up at the airport:
- JR West Kansai Pass (1, 2, 3, or 4-day pass)
- 5 Day JR Kansai Wide Pass (if 4 days is not enough for you)
- JR Kansai – Hiroshima Area Pass (5-day validity)
What to do in the Kansai region
As I’ve said before, Osaka is one of the largest Japanese metropolitan cities, not just in Kansai but in the entire of Japan. I believe they are the second largest city after Tokyo. As with other big cities, you’ll find it very accessible and well-connected, which is why it’s a good idea to base yourself in Osaka while visiting nearby cities like Kyoto, Nara, or even Kobe.
I’ve written extensively about Osaka here, so please check out that blog post if you want to get an idea of what you can do, see and eat in Osaka. I’ve also included general tips on exploring the city and where to stay in Osaka.
2. Kyoto (2 days)
Kyoto needs no introduction – it is definitely a must-visit when you’re in Osaka. The city is an easy 30-minutes on the rapid local train or 15-minutes on the Shinkansen from Osaka. When visiting Kyoto, I would still recommend staying in Osaka because accommodations are cheaper.
I’ve written a dedicated blog post for Kyoto here: Kyoto Travel Guide, so please check that post on all my recommendations for Kyoto.
3. Nara (1 day / Day trip)
Nara is another popular trip to take from Osaka due to its proximity – only 30 minutes by local train. The city is quite small, but they have a huge park where you can walk and interact with the free-roaming wild Sika deer population. The Sika deer are considered a national treasure of Japan. They are very used to humans and not scared of us.
You can purchase some Shika-senbei (Deer rice crackers) to feed them. Once you have this, the deer would just come running to you – in fact, the hungry ones would chase you down if they know you have some Senbei, and eat them straight off your hands.
Nara is easily doable on your own if you just want to see the deer, but if you prefer to go with a guide and learn a bit more history, I recommend trying this Nara Tour from Osaka.
4. Akame 48 Waterfalls (1 day / Day trip)
Akame 48 Waterfall is about an hour out of Osaka by train. It’s a short, easy trail following the main river which forms many small waterfalls. There are actually less than 48 waterfalls, but they used 48 in the name to signify endless waterfalls.
Though it’s probably good to visit all year round, I highly recommend visiting during the Momijigari season, which tends to be mid to end of November. Momijigari is the term Japanese use for admiring autumn foliage, and this place has plenty of them! You can read my post about Momijigari for more information on Akame 48.
5. Kobe (1 day)
Kobe is yet another city that you can easily visit from Osaka. It’s only 30 minutes away from Osaka by train. Kobe is well-known for… well, the delicious Kobe beef. Aside from the beef, Kobe is known for the Chinatown area, the Kobe ropeway, and the Nunobiki waterfall. I think one day will be enough for Kobe.
6. Himeji (1 day)
Himeji is mostly known for the Himeji castle, which is famous for its brilliant white color. Most Japanese castles have white walls and dark roofs, but the Himeji castle’s roofs are light gray, which helps to give it that clean minimalistic all-white look.
This castle is on the way to Hiroshima, so it’s a good stop if you’re heading that way!
7. Hiroshima (1-2 days)
Hiroshima should be a name familiar to those who studied world history in school… which should be all of us. Yes, it is one of the sites of the infamous atomic bomb. At Hiroshima, you can learn about the history of what happened during the world war and how badly it affected the residents. I have to warn you that it could get pretty bleak – not for the faint of heart especially if you’re American, regardless of what your political stance is.
However, aside from its grim past, Hiroshima is also famous for quite a few interesting things: don’t miss out on Miyajima, a shrine that is half submerged in water during high tide. You can visit the shrine during sunset for optimal views. Hiroshima is also famous for Okonomiyaki, so make sure to have some while you’re in the city.
That’s all I have on the Osaka itinerary! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. I usually answer pretty fast and to the best knowledge.
Lots of love from Germany! Im planning on going to Japan for around 3 Weeks in July. I’ve been therw many years ago in 2006 with my mom and brother and this year i will go with my boyfriend. Its really difficult to decide how long to stay. We have lots of free time, due to university breaks. But staying too long will be too expensive. Its really great that u recommended the amount of times spend in each place! I’ll definitely recommend your blog to my friends and read a lot more here myself.
i’m glad to hear that Lisa!
Very valuable information you shared here Melissa! My wife and I visited Tokyo in Autumn and planning to visit Kansai during cherry blossoms!
I’m going to Osaka, Kyoto & Nara for 10 days in spring, I’ve read up a lot about the commute in Kansai but I’m still very lost… I’m just going around these three places but I’m not sure if I should get the ICOCA, JR pass, or the Kansai Travel Pass?
Hi Melissa, we are planning to visit Kansai around mid April 2023. Am thinking of the following:
Day 1 – Arrive at night at Kansai airport. Overnight in Osaka
Day 2 – Osaka
Day 3 – Osaka
Day 4 – Osaka to Kyoto (overnight in Kyoto)
Day 5 – Kyoto
Day 6 – Kyoto to Nara deer park & Todaij temple, then Nara back to Osaka
Day 7 – Osaka to Kobe Mt Rokko, waterfall, herb garden, then Kobe back to Osaka
Day 8 – depart Kansai airport
1. Should we get the 2days Osaka Amazing Pass? (Is it consecutive days basis?)
2. Which type/s of train pass should we get?
3. Which is the best train option for day 4, 6 & 7?
4. Is half a day sufficient in Kobe if we only visit Mt Rokko area?
Like to ask for your advice on the train pass.
I will be staying in Osaka for 7days, if i only plan to go Kyoto, Nara, Kobe
Which is the most economical train pass to get
Thank you in advance
We’re planning to visit Osaka and Kyoto this spring of 2023. Probably a 2 nights and 3 days itinerary. Plan to go to universal studio the first day and 2nd day is a day trip to kyoto. Would you recommend a hotel in osaka that also makes us easier to go to USJ and the nearest stations? Also, what place in Kyoto would you recommend for a day trip? To see Sakura. Your reply is much appreciated! Thank you!
Hi, I’ve booked a 12 days trip to Japan – both days fly in and out all full days. I’m wondering whether to do both Osaka and Tokyo or just Osaka alone. What do you suggest?
Thanks for sharing the information.
I will be arriving Kansai Airport and spending my 10days in Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Akame and maybe Himeji. Which JR pass should I get. JR west pass or JR wide area pass? A bit confusing on the Japan trains route. Or should I just go by the day pass?
The main difference between the JR Kansai Wide pass and the JR west kansai pass is that the west pass does not include shinkansen (bullet train) aside of the airport express.
JR west kansai pass could be enough for you if you dont mind the slightly longer travel time (For example Himeji is 30 mins from Osaka on bullet train vs 1.5 hours on local train).
Another thing to consider for whether you want to take the day pass or not depends on your plan. If you’re planning to move around in consecutive days, it might be cheaper to get the 4 day pass.
I personally think it’s only worth it for the Himeji portion of your itinerary, since the local trains to Kyoto/Nara/Kobe is pretty cheap on its own.
Thanks for asking this question! you have inspired me to add more details on which JR pass to get on my post 🙂
Hi, really useful thanks. We want to visit the Hokudanshinsai Memorial Park in Awaji. Will I be able to do this on public transport from Kobe? Thanks
It’s possible to take the local train from Kobe to Maiko station, and then you’ll have to resume via a bus from Maiko station to Hokudanshinsai Memorial Park
I was going through your itinerary and found it to be quite useful for planning a trip. I wanted your suggestion if I am planning to incorporate Mt. Koya into this trip. Should I keep 2 days for Mt. Koya? Can I club any other site during my visit to Mt Koya?
Any adv on how I can spend 16 nights in Japan, arriving abd departing from Kansai airport?
In the Kansai region, which city do I make my base for 6-8 day, of which one night in Hiroshima and two nights in Kyoto?
We also plan to visit and stay in Tokyo for 6-7 days, what places to visits?
Late night in Osaka before departing from Kansai.
Question, do we complete our Tokyo trip 1st for 6-7 day and than spend the 8 days in Kansai region?
Also adv, which are the most suitable different train passes ( for 3 adults) to get for our16 days stay and which train pass to buy and when to start using to safe cost?
I understand the JR train pass will be good for us for 7days when going and coming back from Tokyo
Hey Gill, I would base myself in Osaka for Kansai. Hiroshima might be a bit far (1.5 hours by train) but Kyoto will be very close especially if you have a JR pass.
Whether you want to do Tokyo first or not, it’s up to you but definitely group the Tokyo trips together as it takes 3 hours by train to go from Osaka to Tokyo. You could explore Kansai first upon landing, then go to Tokyo, or you could go to Tokyo straight.
Since you’re going to Tokyo, the only suitable JR Pass option is the unlimited JR pass as it covers the regions you want to go to. You can use JR pass for some local trains too as long as they are run by JR rail. You don’t really need JR pass during your time in Tokyo, but you would need it for the train going from Osaka to Tokyo, so I would see the difference of the cost of Single ticket vs JR pass.
What area of Osaka should I stay, planning day trips to Kyoto, Nara, etc.
Hi Liz, I have an Osaka recommendation post here: https://girleatworld.net/things-to-do-in-osaka/ You can find where to stay in that blog post
Where do you recommend to stay in Osaka with young children? Easily accessible to their train station and food. Thank you!
Hi Hazel, I have written about Osaka on a separate blog post here: https://girleatworld.net/things-to-do-in-osaka/
Thansk for sharing tips, After this pandemic I’m planning to go on vacation to Japan
Hi, great blog.
It helps so much.
I will be traveling to : hadena to Shibuya to hakone to osaka to kyoto.
I know I need the IC card ( suisa)
Do i need the jr pass too?
I don’t mind if it takes longer by trains than the JR.
Thank u for your input
Hey marilyn, SUICA card is only good for local trains. I would still take the JR Pass for the trains from Tokyo to Odawara (you need to go to this station to reach Hakone, then take odakyu line) and Odawara to Osaka / Kyoto. The cost of trains from these destinations would already cover the cost of JR Pass.
Thank u . That helps a lot.
Can u tell me if i shoukd take the local train or the jr rail from the airport to shibuya?
Are they both heading that way?
Make sure not to miss the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Here in the Philippines, super sentai shows, animés and several other Japanese shows like Takeshi’s Castle are very popular here. Two of my favorite movies related to Japan are the Seven Samurai and The Last Samurai. You can enjoy a wonderful exhibit of those in Toei Kyoto Studio Park.
I also remember how we almost missed our tour to the Golden Pavillion because it closes at 5PM.
Among all the countries that we visited, our tour in Japan is our favorite. It’s followed by our tour in India. 🙂
Loved this so much, Thanks for sharing such an useful Information
Hi Melissa you’re blog is so useful for 1sttimers going around Japan specifically in. Osaka. Tho we we’re there last mid 2019 we depend our itinerary to our daughter who is techi enough to use her fone looking for our daily DIY tour. Now my problem is my husband who’s going back this coming June together with his 2 siblngs who are in their prime age(.meaning all the 3 are seniors).Iam worried that it will hard for them to get around without help from tour guide.They will be staying there for a week. Maybe can you(with your kind permission) help us design their tour in these beautiful place. I tried checking their local tour guides but their rates are too much expensive hahaha BTW you might think of my daughter who accompanied us before we can no longer bring her since she got married and have a kid and work to get busied with.
I hope I get a useful tip from you before these people get to touch down Osaka. Godspeed and TIA ❤️
Great information. Interesting and valuable read.
Any information on Okinawa or other parts of Japan that you had been.