Blossoming beauty and urban delights: Experience the magic of Kyoto and Osaka during cherry blossom season with our top 10 picks!
Whether it’s cherry blossom season or not, Japan’s historic cities of Kyoto and Osaka are a must-visit for any traveller. Offering tourists a perfect blend of traditional and modern Japanese culture, these two destinations never disappoint. With that being said, as we mesh together the cultural capital Kyoto together with the culinary capital Osaka, here are the best things to do (and food to eat) in both areas as you plan out your itinerary to Japan!
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1. Visit The Fushimi Inari Shrine
Image credits: Rakso Travel
As an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermillion Torii Gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. Dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari, the shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794. During the cherry blossom season, the trees around the gates bloom with white and pink flowers, creating a beautiful contrast against the bright orange gates. Take a stroll through as you enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this sacred site, and don’t forget to leave a small offering for Inari at the main hall!
Opening Hours: Open 24/7
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about the Fushimi Inari Shrine here
2. Experience Ancient Royalty At The Osaka Castle
Image credits: Japan Guide
A must-visit destination in Osaka, the Osaka Castle is a reconstruction of the original castle on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple and was said to be the largest castle at the time. Sadly, the original castle was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa troops. While this site might have been a modern reconstruction, it houses an informative museum about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi — the de facto leader of Japan during the mid-1580s. Visitors can also walk through Nishinomaru Garden, a large lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house, and the former Osaka Guest House. The garden is one of Osaka’s most popular hanami spots during the cherry blossom season so be sure to visit early to grab a good angle!
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan
Price: 600 yen for admission
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — For more info on the Osaka Castle click here
3. Fill Your Belly With Some Osaka-style Ramen At Kinryu Ramen Dotonbori
Image credits: Maido Osaka Bob
Known for its delicious ramen dishes, each city has its own unique style of ramen — and you definitely can’t do any better than Osaka for the best ramen in the country. After all, it’s not known as the culinary hub for nothing! Head to Kinryu Ramen Dotonbori, the 24-hour veteran chain that revolutionised the ramen scene in Osaka by introducing their famous Tonkatsu Pork Bone Broth, a rarity at the time. Made with pork bone and chicken bone broth, the Chashu Ramen is prepared to entice international guests as it has a lighter flavour compared to traditional Osaka Ramen. To recreate the atmosphere, the chain features tatami mats where diners can kick off their shoes and relax as they savour some of the most delicious ramen in peace.
Opening Hours: Open 24/7
Address: 1-7-26 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Price: ~600 yen per pax
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Kinryu Ramen Dotonbori here
4. Watch The Geisha Dance At Minamiza Theatre
Image credits: Maikoya
Meeting one of Kyoto’s geishas is a magical and memorable experience for all. As highly skilled entertainers who have trained for years in the traditional Japanese arts, these geishas entertain at high-end dinners, private parties, and special events. As the heart of Japan’s geisha world, it makes sense to watch a public geisha performance in Kyoto — with the best at one of the capital’s five annual dances. Typically held in the spring and fall, visitors travelling to view the cherry blossoms can consider booking tickets to the biggest dance, Miyako Odori, in April. Including the famous geisha and maiko of Kyoto, get ready to be entranced by over 60 performers as they go through eight scenes representing all of the seasons.
Dates: 1 April – 30 April 2023
Timings: 12 PM, 2:20 PM, 4:40 PM
Address: Minamiza Theatre, Japan, 〒605-0075 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Nakanocho, 198 四条大橋東詰
Price: ~7,000 yen per pax for first-class seats and tea ceremony
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Miyako Odori here
5. Observe Marine Life At The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Image credits: Out of Town Blog
Aside from experiencing the greatness of the ocean by chowing down on fresh seafood, visitors should take the chance to visit Japan’s most spectacular aquarium to learn about the animals of the Pacific Rim at their most vibrant angles. World-renowned for its innovative presentation, Kaiyukan recreates the natural environment of multiple habitats throughout the Rim and takes visitors on a virtual tour through the Pacific Ocean. The centrepiece of the aquarium, “Pacific Ocean”, stands a nine-metre-deep and 34-metre-long tank serving the home of whale sharks — the largest fish species in the world. You can even get up close and personal with the sharks, petting them through one of the aquarium’s newest exhibits.
Opening Hours: 9:30 AM – 8 PM
Address: 1-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato-ku, Osaka City 552-0022, Japan
Price: ~ 2,700 yen per pax
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan here
6. Enjoy Takoyaki At Its Best In Abeno Takoyaki Yamachan
Image credits: Inside Osaka
Did you know that Osaka is the birthplace of Takoyaki? That’s right, inspired by Akashiyaki —a small round dumpling from Akashi made of egg-rich batter and octopus — street vendor Tomekichi Endo invented Takoyaki in 1935. Ever since then, Osaka has been credited as the capital to popularise the golf ball-sized balls of gooey batter with octopus bits. And what better way to enjoy this dish than at Abeno Takoyaki Yamachan?
Located in the Tennoji and Abeno districts, Takoyaki purveyor Yamachan is one of the most highly rated in its genre, with customers citing their store to be a must-visit for Takoyaki lovers. Enjoy a tray of Osaka’s tastiest Takoyaki made from a batter filled with all manner of vegetables from onions to celery and fruit like pineapples, bananas, and apples. Top them all off with some soy sauce and mayonnaise or Goma-Shio for an addictive kick!
Opening Hours: 11 AM – 11 PM
Address: 1-2-34 Abenosuji, Abeno-ku, Osaka-shi, 545-0052
Price: ~800 yen per pax
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Abeno Takoyaki Yamachan here
7. Shop At Shinsaibashi
Image credits: Culture Trip
With a long history as a regional centre of commerce, Shinsaibashi is a popular Osaka shopping district named after the former Shinsaibashi Bridge built in 1622. The bridge was a popular local landmark until 1964 when it was removed after the canal it crossed over was filled in. Today, the name Shinsaibashi remains and has become closely associated with high fashion retailers and chic brand goods.
One of the biggest stores to visit is the main branch of the Daimaru department store chain where you can find local souvenirs and snacks to bring home to your loved ones. Running north from Dotonbori to Nagahori Dori Street, you can find the Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade containing around 180 stores. This includes major department stores, brand retailers, independent fashion boutiques, teashops, cafes and many more! It’ll be a shame not to spend a day or two hunting a few local pieces to bring home!
Opening Hours: 11 AM – 8 PM
Address: 2 Chome-2-22 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0085, Japan
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Shinsaibashi here
8. Cruise Along The Hozugawa River
Image credits: TripAdvisor
For those who prefer a more relaxing activity, try a Hozugawa River cruise. Meant initially to transport logs to build many of Kyoto and Osaka’s famous temples and castles, these sightseeing boat rides take you down the Hozugawwa River from Kameoka to Arashiyama on a traditional flat-bottomed boat piloted by boatmen with oars and bamboo poles. Melt your worries away as you take in the scenic views of the largely undeveloped ravine.
Some cruises even allow you to ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway, a leisurely 25-minute route to Kameoka Torokko station. Enjoy the scenic beauty of the ravine from a different angle as you can see cherry blossoms in spring, lush greens in summer, Japanese maple in fall, and a dusting of snow in winter.
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 3 PM (March to December), 10 AM – 2:30 PM (December to March)
Address: Japan, 〒621-0005 Kyoto, Kameoka, Hozuchō, Shimonakajima−２
Price: 4,100 yen per pax
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about the Hozugawa River here
9. View The Cherry Blossoms At Osaka Mint Bureau
Image credits: Flickr
While I know that this guide has multiple prime cherry blossom viewing locations, trust me when I say that it cannot get better than at the Osaka Mint Bureau. The Mint Bureau is the head office of the Japan Mint, a governmental agency responsible for the supply of coins and medals, as well as the analysis, testing, and certification of metals in the country. During the cherry blossom season, the Bureau opens its gates to the public, allowing visitors to stroll through the gardens containing over 300 different varieties of cherry blossoms.
The special thing about this destination is that it houses the later-blooming yae-zakura trees, ensuring that viewers will still be able to view the pink and white landscape in later months. Unlike most public viewing spots, the Osaka Mint Bureau releases advance reservations in April for the year, making it one of the more exclusive sakura-viewing events in Japan.
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 4:45 PM
Address: Japan, 〒530-0043 Osaka, Kita Ward, Tenma, 1-chōme−1−79 造幣博物館
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Osaka Mint Bureau here
10. Wrap Things Up With A Short Trip To Nara
Image credits: LIVE Japan Perfect Guide
Located less than an hour away from Kyoto, we just had to include Nara — Japan’s first permanent capital established in 710 CE. Prior to this, Japan would move their capital to a new location whenever a new emperor ascended the throne. Due to its historical importance, the city remains full of cultural treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples and a central city park with wild deer (yes, we’re talking about the Instagram-famous deer park!). Join in on annual festivals such as the Omizutori at Todaji Temple, a collection of repentance rituals held in March. Or the Wakakusa Yamayaki, a January festival in which an entire mountain is set on fire.
YouTrip’s Japan Bucket List: Best Things To Do In Kyoto & Osaka 2023 — Find out more about Nara Park here
Japan, You Have Our Hearts
And there you have it — a bucket list to Kyoto and Osaka that will have you saying “やった！” (yatta!) a.k.a yay! But before you grab your bags and cameras, start planning with your best travel companion, and Singapore’s favourite multi-currency wallet, YouTrip! Not only does YouTrip offer favourable foreign exchange rates, including SGD to Yen and vice versa, but it also has discounts on air tickets, hotel or lodging and travel insurance.
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