Drink: Shogun action
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Sit at the bar in front of a traditional gilded Rinpa-style mural to watch bartender Yukari Takayama, of The St Regis Bar, execute her impeccable hard-shake cocktail technique. And order a Shogun Mary – Osaka’s version of a Bloody Mary, which incorporates fresh, citrusy yuzu and wasabi for extra kick.
Drink: Arty party
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Cool basement gallery and bar The Buggy is filled with Pop Art by the owner, a local artist known only as Buggy. Set over two levels, it feels like a New York loft but the friendly staff, good food and reasonable prices are very Osaka.
Drink: Lazy river
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Right on the riverfront overlooking the noble stone lions of the Naniwa Bridge, Moto Coffee is peaceful spot to relax with a good coffee or pot of tea. Grab a seat on the deck in fine weather. Image credit: Chie Gondo_(CC BY-NC 2.0)
Eat: Secret eats
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The Ura-Namba, or “secret” Namba, area is a maze of tiny eateries and bars. Torame Yokocho (2-3-15 Sennichimae, Chuo-ku) is marked by a big red torii gate that leads to nine small restaurants serving Osakan specialties amid a nostalgic 1950s atmosphere. Grab a seat at any counter and peruse the English menu. It’s cheap, noisy fun.
Eat: Exquisite wagashi
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Try traditional sweets made from mochi rice at Mochishou Shizuku (1-17-17 Shinmachi, Nishi-ku; +81 6 6536 0805). The Zen concrete-and-wood space focuses all the attention on chef Yoshihiro Ishida’s- jewel-like creations. They make the perfect gift, or enjoy your selection in the shop with a cup of green tea.
Drink: The essentials
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For many of us, there are two essentials: wine and coffee. Takamura Wine & Coffee Roasters supplies both in an airy warehouse space. Get a coffee and snack while you peruse more than 2000 wines from around the world, along with locally made jams and sauces.
Eat: Creative hub
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In Nakazakicho, an old neighbourhood popular among creative types, you can meander narrow streets, visiting galleries and ateliers in converted homes. The best place to start is Salon de AManTO, a café where local artists meet and work.
Eat: Retro bites
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Virtually unchanged since it opened in 1946, the American (1-7-4 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku) is all chandeliers, sweeping staircase and booth seating trimmed in brass and mother-of-pearl. Staff in crisp uniforms could be movie extras but the real drama is in the enticing glass display cases loaded with cakes at this old-school café. Image credit: iwishmynamewasmarsha (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Eat: Traditional kaiseki
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It’s worth the 25-minute train trip to Mino Park to eat at the two-Michelin starred Ichijunisai Ueno Mino. Enjoy lunch in a private tatami room overlooking the garden as course after exquisite course arrives – a real feast for the senses. Afterwards, explore the surrounding parkland’s picturesque shrines and waterfalls.
Eat: Haute chicken
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Ishii (2-3-23 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku; +81 6 4797 1129) serves a stylish take on yakitori (grilled chicken) without the usual smoky atmosphere. Quality Kumano chicken and the best charcoal ensure succulent bites at this Michelin-starred restaurant. Order by the stick or, if you can’t decide, opt for a set course.
Shop: Local knowledge
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Designed to promote local food, the mixed-use space Shun Shoku Lounge (Umekita Plaza, 4-1 Ofukacho, Kita-ku) features a striking interior, created from layered panels of wood, by celebrated architect Kengo Kuma. You can buy fresh produce and use touch screens to navigate local restaurants. The on-site staff can also make reservations at restaurants that can be hard for tourists to access by themselves. Image credit: Keno Kuma and Associates
Drink: Tea time
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Savour a cup of green tea at the Omotenashi Cafe at Wad. The English menu explains the subtle differences between each tea blend. Pair your chosen brew with a delicate traditional sweet then peruse the gallery of local art and crafts upstairs.
Shop: Chic street
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Tachibana-dori, or Orange Street, is one of the city’s hippest shopping areas. Formerly a furniture district, it’s now dotted with small boutiques and cafés. Don’t miss the stylish fashion, homewares and plants at Biotop, which looks like a luxurious greenhouse. The rooftop café is a good lunch spot with fresh juices and organic pizzas.
Shop: Daily pleasures
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Elevate your daily meals with simple, timeless ceramics by Yumiko Iihoshi at Yumiko Iihoshi Porcelain. It’s worth a visit just to see the Art Deco Shibakawa building (1927) that houses the store, along with a selection of other craft ateliers and fashionable cafés. Image credit: Yoshiko Watanabe
Shop: Pure Zen
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Find a beautiful selection of crafts and Japanese household items at Hitofushi – from fine ceramics to simple pot scrubbers and organic-cotton cleaning cloths.
Explore: Grand entrance
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The imposing red-brick Osaka City Central Public Hall, inspired by New York’s Carnegie Hall, was built in the Taisho period by a wealthy stockbroker. You can tour the grand rooms and other spaces then try the elegant basement restaurant, a design collaboration with Brit Tom Dixon.
Explore: Highway to the future
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The city’s urban landscape inspires sci-fi movies but one of the most bizarre sights is real. The Gate Tower Building (5-4-21 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku) has a highway running right through three floors: a compromise between the government that wanted to build the road and the landowners who refused to sell up. Snap great photos from below.
Explore: Lucky lion
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Among the flashing lights and ramen joints of the Namba entertainment district, you’ll find a Shinto shrine (2-9-19 Motomachi, Naniwa-ku) built inside a slightly gaudy, giant lion’s head. Locals believe the lion swallows evil spirits and attracts good luck, making Namba Yasaka Shrine popular around exam time. Image credit: Stephen Kelly (CC BY 2.0)
Explore: Neon jungle
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The pedestrian area that lines the Dotonbori canal is the heart of Osakan culture; it’s where fans gather after the local baseball team wins and many a big night gets started. Enjoy the show as neon arrays compete for attention with animatronic signs of giant crabs and blowfish. Try the piping-hot takoyaki (octopus balls) from an outdoor food stall. (Nearest station: Namba.)
Explore: Subterranean art
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The National Museum of Art is underground, with a dramatic steel-and-glass entrance wing, designed by César Pelli, rising from the earth. Inside, you’ll find collections of contemporary Japanese and Western art and a restaurant that serves food themed on the current exhibition.
Explore: Pinball parlour
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A visit to The Silver Ball Planet is a step back in time. It boasts the largest collection of working pinball machines outside the United States and you’ll find everything, from original 1970s models featuring Evel Knievel and Captain Fantastic to Star Wars and AC/DC.
Family favourites: Joy ride
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Perfect on a rainy day, the HEP Five shopping mall is easy to spot: just look for the giant red Ferris wheel protruding from the roof. Teens will enjoy the shopping options, while younger children will love the Ferris wheel, Sega game centre and the full-size red whales hanging from the lofty ceiling.
Family favourites: Oodles of noodles
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Ramen-lovers should not miss the CupNoodles Museum, a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant CupNoodles. The theme carries through the entire museum, with fun and interactive exhibits for kids. The best part is the chance to create your own CupNoodles; there are 5460 possible flavour combinations.
Family favourites: Rhythm of life
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In just one hour, you can learn to play the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum, with tuition in English. At the Taiko Center, children as young as three can join so it’s a great family activity to learn about Japanese culture and bang out some stress at the same time.
Family favourites: Wonderful wizard
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There’s a lot of family fun to be had at Universal Studios Japan but – let’s face it – you’re here for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Around Halloween, the theme park gets genuinely scary at night, when zombies roam the streets.
Beyond the city: Park life
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The site of the Japan World Exposition 1970 is now a beautiful park for picnics and strolling. While the original pavilions are long gone, sculptor Taro Okamoto’s 65-metre Tower of the Sun presides over the space like a relic of a retro sci-fi movie. There’s also Nifrel, an interactive aquarium.
Beyond the city: Harbour views
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Osaka’s urban sprawl blends seamlessly into the port city of Kobe, famous for its Wagyu beef. It’s an easy 30-minute train ride on the Limited Express Hankyu-Kobe Line or just 13 minutes by the Shinkansen bullet train. From Shin-Kobe Station, you can take a ropeway up to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens for spectacular views out to sea.
Beyond the city: Spiritual heart
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Kyoto, Japan’s former imperial capital, is quite close to Osaka. You can cover the 60-kilometre distance to the thousands of vermilion torii gates and the stoic fox statues of the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in under an hour.
Beyond the city: Strong stuff
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Tour Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery and sample the rare blends and single malts. If you’re not too tipsy, stroll through the forest to Shiio Shrine behind the distillery to see historic artefacts donated by Suntory in the hope of good production.
Beyond the city: Hot springs
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An hour from Osaka, Arima Onsen, a charming old hot-spring town in the hills above Kobe, makes a perfect daytrip or overnight stay. A small shopping area flanks the Arima River, spanned by red lacquer bridges. Traditional tea houses and sweet shops offer snack stops before you brave one of the public hot springs nearby.
Stay: The St Regis Osaka
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For old-world luxury and a location in the heart of the Midosuji shopping district, The St Regis brings a touch of Paris to Osaka. Rooms feature Nespresso machines, pillow menus and 24-hour butler service. The hotel caters well to families, with a range of special programs and extras for children, including museum visits, baby necessities and childminding services.
Stay: Rock Star Hotel
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Shunning natural light, this boutique hotel is a true rock star’s den, decorated with neon signs and oversize prints by photographer Daido Moriyama. The spacious rooms and terrace lounge will make you feel famous. And the reasonable tariff will leave money in your pocket for shopping. Don’t miss the healthy breakfasts, cooked to order.
Stay: Conrad Osaka
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This hotel is on Nakanoshima, an island that divides the Tosabori and Dojima rivers. While the Conrad is connected directly to subway stations, guests are surrounded by museums, notable architecture and gardens. Rooms are sleek and modern, with a touch of neo-Japanese style that matches the striking city views. Fast, free wi-fi, plus a swimming pool, spa, 24-hour gym and concierge app help you make the most of your stay.