Our second stay in Osaka lasted a month. Here’s what we did and what we skipped.
Is Osaka worth visiting with kids? The city is full of amazing food, safe neighborhoods, easy transportation, and a variety of activities. But I’m going to start with one little moment from our family of four’s time in a city people owe it to themselves to enjoy.
Where’s our daughter?
One afternoon at the townhouse we were renting for a month, Jodie and I had been in a business meeting for an hour and a half. Then we realized that it had been about that long since our 8yo daughter Aster had told us she was going to the playground around the corner.
I wandered over to see if she was okay. As the playground came into view, complete with March cherry trees covered in white blossoms, a bunch of kids were laughing and shouting. It turned out that Aster had joined a game of soccer with the neighborhood kids. I arrived just in time to see her give the ball a hearty kick.
Without her even seeing that I had been there, I turned around and went back to the house. About 20 minutes later, Aster came back, breathless, happy, and proving, yet again, that this city of 19 million is very much worth visiting with kids.
3 reasons why we went to Osaka with kids for a month
Our 2023 visit to Osaka was actually our second. Ten years prior, Jodie and I had visited here with our son, who at the time was 15 months old. Staying as couchsurfing guests in the Takarazuka neighborhood, we got our first tastes of takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and a city that was vibrant and bustling, but more chill and in a lower gear than Tokyo.
In 2023, we had the opportunity to be in Japan for about a month and a half. As Jodie examined areas we might consider, she happened upon a really good deal for a 28-day townhouse rental in Osaka, near Sumiyoshi Temple. We also learned that the Worldschool Pop-Up Hub was holding a week-long meetup in Osaka. And, to cap it all off, we’d be there during the cherry blossom season, or sakura, and we could join folks in Japan for hanami, or cherry blossom gazing (typically with a picnic).
When you get down to it, we came to Osaka for 3 reasons:
Food. Osaka’s nickname is “the kitchen of Japan.” Excellent everyday food abounds throughout the city. A few minutes walk from our townhouse could have us enjoying anything from bakery treats to savory udon noodle bowls.
Cherry blossoms. Springtime cherry blossom season is a special time in Japan. Our month-long stay in Osaka meant we could be there from before the buds opened until the last petals faded.
Laid back vibe. Major cities such as Paris, New York, and Tokyo take on a certain second urgency that comes not only with the business of life, but with the pressure of “being” that city. As much as we enjoy Tokyo, we find that Osaka has a little more laid back vibe, and we find that reflects our travel style.
Accommodation: Hotels, rentals, and where to stay in Osaka
We’re going to let you in on a wee secret: Japan has a reputation for being expensive, but Japan actually has a broad, broad range of costs. There’s no real upper limit to how much you can spend in Japan. However, day-to-day costs (including food and transportation) can be very reasonable for excellent quality.
The same ethos extends to where to stay in Osaka.
Where we stayed in Osaka
Since we were staying in Osaka for a month, we opted for a vacation rental. The 2-story, 900 sq. ft. townhouse Jodie found had an excellent kitchen (including a plugin takoyaki maker), an upstairs tatami room where the kids slept, and easy walkability to shops, the tram, bus stops, Sumiyoshi Temple, Sushiyomi Park, and more.
Personally, we enjoyed being in a more residential area. Since we were staying in Osaka for a month, being in a regular neighborhood helped us feel we could get to know the rhythm of day-to-day life better.
5 other places we would consider staying in Osaka
Attractions: What we did and what we skipped
While there are specific things we did (and skipped), the most important things we did in Osaka were actually the most ordinary: wandering neighborhoods, picking out something tasty from a bakery or eatery, and marveling at the change of the seasons as represented by the spring cherry blossoms.
There is enough to do in Osaka to keep a family occupied not only for one trip, but for a lifetime. Still, here are a few things we prioritized during our trip to Osaka, plus a few we skipped (and why we gave them a pass).
6 things we did in Osaka
Sumiyoshi Temple and Sumiyoshi Park
Our townhouse rental was about a 10 minutes walk from Sumiyoshi. Along with wandering the grounds of the temple, we crossed the street and passed under the rail lines to nearby Sumiyoshi Park. There, kids could romp on its expansive playground. A quiet corner of the park was also a wonderful spot for a reflective walk.
Let’s get the pun out of the way: No, it is not a crappy place to go.
Gaze-and-pace museums have their place, but we find they’re not a good fit for our kids, at least, not for long. Hands-on, interactive museums do a much better job of holding children’s interest. We get far more learning and perspective out of visits to museums where the kids can interact.
A port city such as Osaka has long contended with flooding, water quality, and managing water flow. Full of interactive exhibits, this free museum reveals the engineering and infrastructure brilliance that underlies this port city. We visited with two other families, and our children spent hours exploring the exhibits, including hands-on games and piloting exhibits.
We visited the glitzy, iconic Dotonbori area as part of a walking tour with our Worldschool Pop-Up Hub experience. The massive signs, the placid river, the delectable markets, and the buzzing energy throughout the district are reason enough to go.
Over-the-top artistic displays along every shopfront? Yes please. Every store and cafe becomes its own attraction (and selfie spot) when wandering this popular area. Best of all though? Shinsekai is also the location of our favorite Japanese sushi chain, Kuro.
Wandering through both Dotonbori and Shinsekai encapsulates how our guide explained the Osakan spirit: “warm, funny… and a little crazy.” We’d add lovers of good food, too.
Attend a local baseball game
Baseball is much loved in Japan. We find that attending local and regional-level ball games is a wonderful way to experience a slice of life that ordinary folks enjoy too. A visit to the covered Kyocera Dome gives you a chance for tasty food (including takoyaki!) and a fun game.
Tip: Japanese ball games also have different sections for cheering, versus a quiet section. We suggest sitting in the cheering section. It’s a chance to see people’s enthusiasm for the game, plus you can try to participate in the chants.
Speaking of interactive museums, our favorite type of hands-on museum pairs best with a pair of chopsticks. Not only do fun, whimsical hands-on and walk-through exhibits bring alive the history of the iconic cup noodle. It’s also worth the extra ¥500 per person to design your own Cup Noodle—including picking your own ingredients.
3 things we skipped (and why)
Osaka is full of amazing places to visit. Part of our time in the city, however, tied in with a Worldschool Pop-Up Hub that had a built-in itinerary. That drove many of our sightseeing and activity choices. However, there are some other attractions that we skipped. Some we might prioritize on a future trip. Others are just not our jam.
We’ve been to some pretty awesome aquariums, but Osaka’s was typically pretty crowded for our taste, and it wasn’t in the budget this time around. The next time we visit Osaka, we’d likely build in a visit here, since there are exhibitions and displays focused on the waters around Japan.
Universal would be a pretty awesome experience. However, on this trip we had planned and budgeted for Tokyo Disneyland Resort instead. At this point, we veer more toward Disney parks than Universal, as we tend to be more into the overall stories represented in Disney parks.
Prior to Japan, we spent a week at LEGOLAND Malaysia. During our next visit to Osaka though, we’d likely build in time to come here.
Osaka: Bustling and laidback, ancient and modern
When you make the effort to travel to Japan, it’s understandable to wonder, is Osaka worth visiting with kids? Twice now we have found Osaka to be enjoyable, safe, and affordable on our family budget. We have options to experience cool places and fun activities, but it’s also easy to snag tasty food and relax at our accommodation.
Osaka combines Tokyo’s bustle with a laid back vibe, and long history with modern convenience. Over and over, we found ourselves enjoying fun restaurants, affordable grocery stores, and a range of amazing places. Osaka is a city where people simply do what they do, and so can you.