Osaka may be a bustling city of 2.7 million, but you don’t need to navigate the subway system to indulge in the best it has to offer.
Osaka may be a bustling city of 2.7 million, but you don’t need to navigate the subway system to indulge in the best it has to offer. Most highlights are found walking distance (or a short cab ride) of each other in the city center, from exquisite fine dining and fine art to superb shopping and luxurious spas—and even a golden castle.
1. Rejuvenate with a soothing spa treatment
There’s no better way to recover from the long flight to Japan than a spa visit. Wellness spas have been at the heart of Japanese culture for more than 13 centuries. There are two main types—the onsen, a spa with hot springs-filled pools and tubs, and the contemporary spa.
The region's most luxurious onsens are in the mountains near Osaka, where hot springs naturally gurgle to the surface. In contrast, contemporary spas are most abundant in Central Osaka—such as the St. Regis Osaka’s luxe Iridium spa featuring Sothys products and exclusive European methods. It boasts volcanic decor inspired by Japan's beginnings.
2. Trek to a tranquil temple
Visiting a serene and meticulously crafted temple is the logical next stop after a spa. Many fly into Osaka International Airport primarily to visit the dozens of temples in the city and in nearby Kyoto and Nara.
Two of Osaka’s most storied temples are just blocks apart in the middle of the city. The 12th-century Isshinji Temple features a Buddha made from the cremated ashes of more than 200,000 people to honor them. It’s in Tennoji Park, where there’s also a botanical garden and the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts (mostly classical Buddhist art). Nearby is Shitennoji Temple, Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, dating to 593 A.D. We highly recommend paying the small fee to enter the inner precinct—the gardens are especially breathtaking.
3. Enter a golden castle
Osaka’s most popular historic site is not a temple, but a castle. Repeatedly damaged and rebuilt since a gold-obsessed prince, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, had it built in the 1500s, Osaka Castle now functions as a museum. It’s still golden, especially in the Golden Tea Room with its gold-plated furniture, weapons and tea set. Even the castle’s main tower is decorated in gold leaf.
While there, stroll like a prince or princess through the surrounding park, where you’ll encounter the ornate castle gates, moats and shrines, plus four gardens, four small-scale forests, the Osaka International Peace Center and the Osaka Museum of History.
4. Discover luxury brands and fashions
Make time between seeing the sights to shop in Osaka—which can be even more rewarding.
The best high-end merchandise is found along Mido-suji, the Champs-Elysees of Osaka. A parade of luxury-brand boutique shops line this street beneath leafy gingko trees. Also within walking distance are several other shopping districts. Items for every taste are found beneath the glass roof at Shinsaibashi-suji and at Dotonbori, a canal-straddling pedestrian walk where enormous neon signs are reflected in the water.
5. Buy sweets for your sweeties
While shopping, you will immediately notice that sweets are everywhere. Japan is home to some of the most creative desserts you can find—no wonder they rank among some of Osaka's most popular souvenirs. Look for rich roll cakes, matcha or green tea snacks, half-baked castelos (a variation on the Portuguese pastry), baumkuchen cakes (a variation on the German cake), Osaka no Koibitos (white-chocolate sandwich cookies), sweet rice cakes and fluffy cheesecake.
All are unique and special gifts for loved ones—if you can resist snacking on them during the long flight home.
6. Dive into delectable dining
Walking past all those sweets will tease your appetite. Osaka’s location on the bay ensures an abundance of fresh seafood on city menus.
Specialty fish dishes cooked in sauces tend to be lighter than in Tokyo, and include grilled eel and octopus, crab legs, boiled blowfish and Osaka-style sushi. But in this cosmopolitan city, you’ll also find countless gourmet restaurants representing every imaginable foreign cuisine—especially French fine-dining restaurants and upscale steakhouses. Many of the city’s splurge-worthy spots, such as La Veduta and the St. Regis Bar at The St. Regis Osaka, offer bird’s-eye views of the city as a bonus.
The St. Regis Osaka is a 2017 SPG Member Favorite Hotel & Resort—bidding for this Foodie Favorite ends April 10. Check out the auction details here, and good luck!