“Should I go to Osaka or Kyoto when I visit Japan?”
We hear this question a lot. Being in Osaka ourselves, we want to recommend the city we’ve made our home. But Kyoto’s less than an hour away by train and has plenty of attractions and appeal.
There’s no reason why you can’t visit both – stay in one city and make day trips to the other. But if your Japan schedule’s only got room for one of them, weigh up what’s waiting for you in each place.
Osaka sightseeing vs. Kyoto sightseeing
Kyoto has all the temples and shrines you need (Fushimi-Inari, Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera, just for starters). Along with the Kanji Museum and International Manga Museum, the bamboo forest at Arashiyama, and Nishiki Market.
Osaka’s tourist spots are just as varied: Tenpozan’s aquarium and giant ferris wheel, the Cup Noodles Museum, Osaka Tower, the Museum of Housing and Living, and the Dotonbori area.
Osaka things to do vs. Kyoto things to do
We’d try and describe a fun day out in Osaka, but we’re convinced you’ll need more than a day. Wander around Den Den Town, take advantage of Japan’s tax-free shopping, visit some parks, or play an escape room game. Make sure to leave time for trying on a kimono at our photo studio!
Kyoto has the Pontocho area, Arashiyama Monkey Park, and numerous walking and hiking routes. It’s also a great place to just sit and people-watch, when the weather’s nice. Time your visit right, and you can catch the plum blossoms, sakura, or autumn leaf viewing seasons.
Osaka food vs. Kyoto food
To many people, Osaka = food. It’s the home of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and other foods that end in ‘fried’ (-yaki). If you get homesick for your own local cuisine, rest assured that a restaurant isn’t far away. You won’t go hungry in this city.
Kyoto also has a lot to offer for every meal: think Uji matcha, fire ramen, kaiseki dinners, and tofu dishes. You’ve got the chance to try a more traditionally Japanese foodie experience, like dining at a ryokan or joining a tea ceremony with a geisha.
Osaka nightlife vs. Kyoto nightlife
Kyoto isn’t well known for bars and clubs, but it does have them. Osaka, on the other hand, is a night owl. The city comes alive when it gets dark and stays awake until morning. Many bars are run by foreigners, so no worries about the language barrier.
Please remember that the legal drinking age here in Japan’s 20 years old. If you’re still in your teens, you can stay out late at a game arcade, bowling, or karaoke.
The real winner here is the Kansai area
Whether you visit Osaka, or Kyoto, or both, you’re giving Kansai tourism a welcome boost. Staying in either city puts you within daytrip distance of places like Nara, Kobe, Minoh, and Takarazuka.
On your next trip to Japan, we recommend you try and experience as much as possible!