Stay in Kyoto or Osaka? 9 Questions to Help You Decide

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Helen Foster
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If you’ve decided to visit both Kyoto and Osaka on your Japan trip but have to decide which to stay in and which to visit for a day trip or how to best split your time between the two, this is the post that can help. It explains the differences between Kyoto and Osaka – and helps you choose the perfect one for you.

Many people, on their first, or second, trip to Japan, decide to follow what’s known as the Golden Route. This means staying a few days in Tokyo and then taking the bullet train down the country to visit Kyoto and Osaka.

But, if you don’t have time to stay in both cities, where should you base yourself? Which is better – Kyoto or Osaka? And, if you do have time to visit both, should you spend more time in Kyoto or Osaka?

The hilltop Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto surrounded by red leaves

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Well, there’s no one right answer as it depends on your personality and what you want to get out of your trip – which is why we’ve come up with nine questions to ask yourself when considering Kyoto vs Osaka to find the best spot for you. But in a quick summary…

Differences Between Kyoto and Osaka

We’ll go over these in detail below, but, in a nutshell…

  • Kyoto is the traditional Japan of your dreams. Osaka is more modern.
  • Osaka is big on bars, restaurants, and partying. Kyoto is more refined.
  • Osaka feels less touristy, Kyoto can get crowded
  • Kyoto sights are more spread out, Osaka sights are compact
  • Osaka is kitsch and fun while Kyoto is beautiful, spiritual, and serious.

Ideally, Consider Both

If you have 5-7 days to spend in the Kyoto and Osaka areas, we’d firmly consider splitting your time between Kyoto and Osaka.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering it.

How Far is Kyoto from Osaka (and Vice Versa)?

The distance between Kyoto and Osaka is just under 60km. That means that the two cities are just 15 minutes away from each other by bullet train, or 50 minutes on the far cheaper local service, so it’s easy to swap between the two without wasting valuable time traveling or spending a lot of money.

The famous lights in Osaka at night including the brightly lit up running man and an advert for Asahi
Woman in Kimino stands in the Kyoto Bamboo forest

How Many Days in Kyoto and Osaka?

To see both, you need at least five days, ideally six or seven.

You can do a split trip in fewer than five days, but allowing for traveling to and from Tokyo and then getting to your hotel and settling in, I think five days is the minimum to do both places – and six or seven is better, especially if you want to add in a day trip to Nara or Hiroshima while you’re down there.

If you’d like a better idea of how long you should spend in each city, check out our guides that help you decide – and give a short itinerary.

Here’s where to find how long you should spend in Osaka, or, if you’re wondering about Kyoto, you can see how long to spend in Kyoto here.

Should I Spend More Time in Kyoto or Osaka?

The answer to this question, and how many days of a split trip you spend in each, will probably depend on your answers to the questions below, but I would say to see Kyoto properly, you need at least three days, ideally four, but you could do Osaka’s main sites in two days if you had to.

However, keep reading as the type of person you are will change whether Kyoto or Osaka is better for you.

View through the red wooden gate of Yasaka Koshindo in Kyoto. You can see the shrine covered in coloured fabric balls that the shrine is famous for.

Should You Stay in Kyoto or Osaka First?

Again, there’s no right answer – but, if you’ve already been to Tokyo, then Kyoto is a nice change of pace, so I’d probably stay there first and then go to Osaka.

If you’re planning on partying, then you might want to go to Osaka first and spend the time recovering in Kyoto! Although my karaoke night out in Osaka lasted until 4 am this time. It took me about three days to get the energy back to throw myself into sightseeing again!

The above assumes you have enough time in your itinerary to visit both Kyoto and Osaka, however, if you prefer to stay settled in one place, or need to decide whether to spend more time in Osaka or Kyoto as part of a split trip, here’s what you need to think about…

Questions To Help You Decide Between Kyoto and Osaka

Okay, I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible here, even though I do have a favorite from the two cities, which I’ll reveal at the end, but these are the questions I think you need to ask yourself to decide whether Osaka and Kyoto is the perfect base for you.

1. What Do You Want to Do During the Day?

Kyoto has the big ticket items that you’ve probably seen on Instagram or every list of Japanese must-see sights – it’s full of jaw-dropping temples like the golden temple of Kinkaju-ji or Fushimi Inari with its hundreds of scarlet tori gates.

In town, there are winding alleys lined with homes, restaurants, and teahouses from years ago, and there’s always the enticing thought that you might see a geisha or maiko popping out from behind a curtained doorway of one of the small wooden buildings.

A geisha stands under a bright red umbrella. She has the traditional white face make up and red lipstick of a geisha - both lips are painted showing that she is a geisha not a maiko. Her kimono is salmon pink with red flowers

Take a train for the short trip to Arashiyama and you’re spoilt for sights with the famous Bamboo Forest, the Stone Man temple (officially known as Otagi Nenbutsu-ji), and the pretty views from the Sagano Romance train.

And I haven’t even touched on the full list of Kyoto attractions here, there are hundreds more.

You’ll find our list of the top 10 Kyoto attractions here.

If you love temples, Kyoto is your happy place – there are 1600 of them from the majestic to the tiny or quirky.

If you get templed out in a day or two, though, you might want to look at Osaka instead.

Osaka doesn’t have so many ‘wow’ sites (unless you’re traveling with kids – but more on that later). It actually has more temples than Kyoto, but they are small and subtle – like Hozen-ji with its interesting moss-covered sculpture or Namba Yasaka with its lion’s head design.

shinsekai osaka with tsutenkaku tower in the background

The biggest ‘historical’ site in Osaka is Osaka Castle.

But even though it doesn’t have the big wow sights, wandering around Osaka is more varied than Kyoto.

Each distinct district carries its own vibe – one minute you’ll be wandering around kitsch Shinsekai (above) with its garish signs and cute Billiken statues then a short walk will lead you to Amerikamura and a few hours of wandering around vintage shops, checking out Japanese street fashion and maybe catching a live band or two.

Find our list of the Top 10 Sights in Osaka here.

Verdict: So, Which is Better in Daytime?

If you like your days jam-packed with noteworthy sights to tick off, then Kyoto is the place for you. You can’t possibly do it all in a day trip. It’s huge.

If you can’t get enough of big showy temples and shrines and want somewhere with a sense of history, staying in Kyoto is absolutely your best bet.

But, if you love to wander and just absorb the feeling of different areas, I think Osaka fits the bill more than Kyoto.

2. What Do You Want to Do in the Evening

Osaka comes alive at night. Not only are the bright lights of Dotonbori one of the most famous – and fun – sights in Japan, the backstreets of every area team with bars and restaurants. Shops open late, and there are people everywhere.

You can spend each evening of a week-long trip wandering around a different area of the city at night and find heaps of places to eat and drink.

Osaka also has a great live music scene – look for clubs called Livehouses if you want to find local bands

Osaka lit up at night. The famous Glico sign of a man in sports wear running is the centre of the picture

Kyoto is not a great nighttime town – at least in the central area where most tourists spend their time. And that’s also been my experience so far.

Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from, you won’t starve, but it’s hard to just wander around trying to find something you like. I’ve never just stumbled across anything great in the center, and it tends to feel a bit hard.

One reason for this, for me at least, is that many restaurants in Kyoto, particularly in Gion and the very pretty Pontocho Alley have closed-in fronts so it can be a bit hard to work out what’s going on inside and whether you’ll feel comfortable there – or that the bill isn’t going to come to hundreds of dollars.

One of the words I use to describe Kyoto quite often is impenetrable.

A quiet alley in Kyoto lined with bars. There's a ricksaw taking tourists on a tour in the distance.

The downtown area is a little more open, it’s where I usually end up finding somewhere to go on my budget – but nowhere that’s blown my socks off yet.

I did like the area of Karasuma behind my hotel, though. It’s not in the center, but you can wander looking in windows – and with no plan, we found some appealing bars and a good dumpling restaurant to visit.

In Osaka, though we didn’t just find places to go we found people to talk to and stories to tell when we got home.

Verdict: Which is Better at Night?

Osaka is the pick for those who want to party properly. I also think Osaka is a town for wanderers, for those who just want to see what takes their fancy as the night unfolds.

Kyoto at night is a town for planners – you need to do your research and find out where you want to go – although, considering how packed the days are that might not be a bad thing for your feet!

3. Are You Planning Lots of Day Trips?

Osaka has slightly more direct transport routes to most of the major places you might want to see in this area than Kyoto. Here are some examples…

Getting from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima is a direct journey of about 90 minutes. If you travel from Kyoto, you’ll need to change at Shin-Osaka and it takes at least 15 minutes longer.

Getting to Nara from Kyoto is a simple 43-minute journey on the JR Nara Rapid Line. From Osaka, it takes 50 minutes from Osaka station (not Shin-Osaka) or 36 minutes from Osaka Namba to Kintestu Nara Station.

Getting to Kobe takes 25 minutes from Osaka station – and 55 minutes from Kyoto (via Osaka)

Getting to Himeji and its famous castle takes 30 minutes from Osaka station – and 56 minutes from Kyoto.

The famous bomb dome of Hiroshima. The building is half derelict after the nuclear blast that hit the city - the metal dome keeps its structure but has no roof left.

Verdict: Osaka is Slightly Better for Day-trippers

It’s not going to make much difference if you’re doing one trip, or if your trip can be taken directly from both Osaka and Kyoto, but if you’re going out and about a few days from Kyoto, it can get tiring to keep changing trains at Osaka.

Where to Stay in Osaka if You Are Day Tripping

Do pick your accommodation in Osaka carefully if you’re going to base your stay on this, though and decide if you’d prefer to be near the stations for early departures or the more fun areas to go out at night.

Shin-Osaka, where the Shinkansen departs, is about 20 minutes from the touristy Namba district.

Osaka station, which has the local JR Lines, is a bit nearer, and while that might sound okay while you’re reading this, it can seem eternal when you just want to get back to your hotel for a quick nap before going out exploring Osaka at night (as you can tell, I learned that the hard way).

If you’re staying in Namba, see if you can get to your destination via the lines from Namba station and book a hotel close to that.

4. What’s Your Hotel Budget?

I have always thought that Osaka was much cheaper than Kyoto for accommodation; every Japan group I belong to says the same thing – but on paper, at least, it seems I – and they – might be wrong!

If I directly compare the two hotels I had previously stayed in in each city (the Citadines Kyoto Karasuma Gojo in Kyoto or the Fraser Residence Nankai in Namba in Osaka) for the same night in November (five months after I’m typing this), the Fraser Residence is slightly cheaper.

Room at the Citadines Namba Osaka hotel. It has dark blue walls with a drawing of shopping and luggage on the wall. There are lots of bright cushions on the beds and sofa.

I also compared apples with apples and looked at the Citadines Namba (that’s the room above) where I stayed on my last Osaka trip and that too is slightly cheaper than the Citadines in Kyoto.

I also looked at the other hotel I stayed in on my last trip to Kyoto. Because I was traveling solo on this part of my trip, I didn’t need such a big room, so I picked to more budget, Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto Karasuma Gojo.

I checked that for the same date in November as the above and found that this was about AU$50 cheaper than the Osaka equivalent Sotetsu Fresa Inn in Shinsaibashi.

Oh, and BTW, after I mentioned I’d also stayed with the chain in Tokyo, they upgraded me at the Sotetsu Fresa in Kyoto to a nice big double room that would easily work for two, so you might want to look at this even if you aren’t traveling solo.

That’s the room below, and there’s also a desk and a chair out of shot!!

Room at the Sotetsu Inn Kyoto Karasuma Gojo. It has a large bed with a silvery duvet cover. Two pairs of pyjamas are folded on the bottom of the bed. The window overlooks Kyoto.

Because my opinion isn’t the only one that counts, I also checked out what Lonely Planet had to say about hotel prices and the Capsule Hotel they recommend in Osaka is more expensive than the one they recommend in Kyoto.

A general business hotel in Osaka was around 3000 yen more than a hotel in Kyoto from the same chain.

The 5-star Hyatt Regency Kyoto is also listed at about 8000 yen a night less for a double than the 4-star Hotel Nikko in Osaka.

While this might seem to make it a clear-cut decision on whether to stay in Osaka or Kyoto if budget matters, do watch out as Osaka is a business town, and prices can really vary if there’s a large conference in town.

Looking for some extra space in Osaka? Have a look at our guide to Osaka hotels with larger rooms.

Verdict: Kyoto Can Be Cheaper Than Osaka

It does vary slightly depending on exactly which hotel you want to stay in, and, if you’re booking early, you could probably find something to suit your budget at any price.

Kyoto is also more tuned to tourist seasons as to when prices rise (check our guide on when to visit Kyoto for more details on what’s on when).

If you’re traveling in cherry blossom season, autumn leaf season, or Golden Week (end of April, beginning of May), you might find that it’s cheaper to stay in Osaka.

You may also find that the cheaper rooms in Kyoto sell out faster as tourists tend to book more in advance than business people.

Osaka, however has more hotel rooms than Kyoto – including this fun-looking one below!

outside of the Dotonbori Hotel in Osaka. It has four pillars outside each held up with the sculpture of a giant man's head resting on a pair of feet

So, unless cost really is a deciding factor, decide on Osaka vs Kyoto by determining how you are going to spend your time and which you think you’d enjoy most, and then try and find a hotel that fits your budget rather than picking where to stay on cost.

If cost is the main concern, then pick two comparable hotels and look at your dates, as it really will come down to where you’re staying, how long you’re there, when you’re staying, how many things are going on in town – and how far in advance you need to book.

Be Careful on a Budget in Osaka

Do watch the location of some of the very cheap hostels in Osaka. While Japan is generally very safe, an area called Nishinari (south of Dobutsuen-Mae metro) in Osaka is possibly not what you’re expecting to find there.

It has a high percentage of homeless and is a bit run down – but it is also where you’ll find some very cheap hotels. Admittedly, they are trying to gentrify this area a bit.

If you find somewhere you want to stay around here, just check the reviews and maybe ask around on some forums – especially if you’re a solo female.

5. Do You Like Old or Modern?

Osaka is modern – all shiny lights and big glass buildings. It’s brash and busy and fun.

Kyoto, on the other hand, reflects the more traditional side of Japan – it was one of the few cities in Japan not bombed in the war, so a lot of it is original and has a more elegant, sedate feel to the center.

If you’ve already been to Tokyo, you might love the change of feel and pace you get from staying in Kyoto.

The Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto. There's a brown pavement covered in leaves with towering bamboo on either side of the path.

It also has more natural sights than Osaka, so if you need some greenery to recharge after Tokyo, it’s the perfect choice – but if you love the buzz of cities, crowds, and nightlife, Kyoto is going to feel like staying in a small town.

Verdict: They both do what they do very well!

6. Are You a Foodie?

Then you’re going to be in your element, whichever you pick! However…

Osaka is said to be the foodie capital of Japan. If you want to nibble your way around a city, then Osaka is the one to pick.

Dishes you shouldn’t miss include takoyaki (octopus balls), and okonomiyaki (a pancake you cook yourself).

Also, try kushi-katsu, which is basically deep-fried food on sticks that you dip into sauce. Lastly, definitely visit Kuramon Market and just try whatever looks good from the stalls.

Go here next for the full list of the 9 foods you absolutely must try in Osaka, and where to try them.

A traditional Japanese meal. There's a selection of sushi include salmon, tuna, prawn and sea bream. There's also a small bowl of udon noodles in soup and some soy sauce for dipping

Kyoto is probably less renowned for specific dishes than Osaka, but you’ll still eat well there.

If you’re looking for high-end dishes – the Michelin Guide includes a few more restaurants in Kyoto than in Osaka – but it’s close.

The World’s 50 Best lists 10 bars and restaurants in Osaka. And has 12 listings for Kyoto.

You can also spend a very happy afternoon wandering around Nishiki Market in Kyoto and leave pretty full!

Verdict: Osaka is Foodie Central, Kyoto Comes Close

Neither will disappoint, but Osaka offers more specialty dishes and, from my experience, has better food at a lower budget. I also find it easier to find places to eat in Osaka.

7. Do You Have Kids With You?

All kids are different, but Osaka has more obvious child-friendly attractions than Kyoto, not least because it’s home to Universal Studios with its minions, Super Nintendo World, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

You’ll also find the Cup Noodle Museum, a huge aquarium, two skyscrapers with viewing decks, and the smaller but still cool Tsutenkaku Tower.

You’ll also find cat cafes, dog cafes, and even reptile cafes in Osaka.

Picture of a statue in Minion World at Universal Studios Japan it is made up of bright yellow smiling minions.

This doesn’t mean Kyoto doesn’t have things for children – the Arashiyama Monkey Park is incredibly popular with children of all ages, the stone men at Otagi Netunbusi temple, will entertain kids, and Yokai Street, which is full of models of Japanese monsters can be fun, still Osaka has the big ticket items.

Nara is also a great place to take children because of its ‘friendly’ deer – but as it’s just as easy to get to from Osaka as Kyoto, either destination works there.

Verdict: Osaka is Great For Kids

Osaka has more obviously child-friendly attractions and, as they aren’t all right in the center of town, if you’re going to do more than one of them, you’re probably going to want to base yourself in Osaka to see them, or you’ll waste too much time traveling.

Oh, if you are going to Universal Studios, booking your tickets in advance is a good idea. Have a look at buying those here.

If you aren’t sure how the Universal ticketing and express pass system works, then you need to take a look at our guide to USJ tickets as it can get confusing.

8. Do You Hate Crowds?

You’re not going to get away from people in either city, but while the crowds in Kyoto tend to be speaking 15 different languages and peering at maps, the crowds in Osaka tend to feel more local. It doesn’t always feel as much like a tourist town as Kyoto does – I spent an afternoon in Spa World in Osaka and was the only foreigner there.

If you want to get to the Kyoto sights away from the crowds, you are better off staying in Kyoto and visiting first thing in the morning, or, after the day trippers have gone home.

On my second trip to Kyoto, my friend Kendall and I arrived at the Yasui Kompira-gu stone (through which you climb to bless your relationship) at dusk to find no one there, but someone we got talking to said the queue to pass through it during the day had been 5-6 deep.

Woman crawls through a small hole in a large stone covered with pieces of paper. The paper are prayers for good relationships

Compare that to my arriving at Kiyomizu-Dera (one of Kyoto’s must-see sights) at noon on my latest trip (I’d come in from Tokyo and had a lot to get through, so I was really not thinking).

The queues there were as long as some of the ones I’d stood in at Disneyland the day before – but Disney was more orderly. I literally wanted to get on the train back to Tokyo after an hour – I didn’t, I just used the dawn and dusk rule from then on!

You’ll also enjoy the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest much more if you can get there as close to 8 am (or earlier) as you can. Fushimi Inari is also best seen when crowds are thin.

Another view of the Kiyo mizu dera in Kyoto. In this picture, the trees are green and you can see crowds of people on the balcony of the temple that overlooks Kyoto.

Verdict: Stay in Kyoto to Beat the Crowds

Staying in Kyoto helps you see some of the biggest attractions before or after the day trippers arrive, but it can feel like there are no locals around in the center of town.

9. What Season Is It?

You might think this is weather-related, but the weather isn’t going to be a major factor in whether to stay in Osaka or Kyoto as the general temperatures in both cities are likely to be very similar on any given day, but if you’re still undecided about which place to stay in, I think which season it is might play a part in that final decision.

If you’re not sure when to travel, find our guide to the best time to Visit Kyoto here.

During busy times like the cherry blossom season of the peak of the autumn leaves, prices will rise in Kyoto.

Staying in Kyoto when these are on may be considerably more expensive than Osaka – but there again, you might want to be in town to beat the crowds.

The Golden Temple in Kyoto. It's a three storey pagoda shaped building on a lake. The gold covering makes it shine. There is a branch full of cherry blossoms in the forefront of the picture.

If you’re day-tripping to Kyoto and want to see as much as possible, it needs to be a long day so you can get to some of the big sights early in the morning or later in the evening.

That’s going to be easier if it’s light outside.

If the only daylight you have is between 7 am and 5 pm as it is in December, you’re not going to see as much as in the height of summer when the sun is up at 5am and out until 7pm.

In summer, it’s therefore easier to stay in Osaka and take one, or two, long day trips to Kyoto than it would be in winter.

Conversely, Osaka is more of a late-rising, late-night town, and you want it to be dark to see the lights, so if you’re traveling in winter, you might want to base yourself in Kyoto to catch as many sights as you can in daylight and head to Osaka later in the day.

The Dotonbori canal in Osaka taken from the front of the Riverside Grill. You see the water and bright coloured buildings opposite.

Verdict: Differs for Staying vs Day Trips

My Choice of Kyoto Vs. Osaka…

I’ve traveled to both Osaka and Kyoto three times each, and I have to admit, I have a favorite. Personally, I love Osaka and haven’t quite found my happy place in Kyoto yet so, right now, Osaka would win for me. Why?

I’m a wanderer. I don’t really like to tick off big sights but instead find small details.

I love photographing old Japanese buildings and not knowing what I’m going to find around the corner and despite all the history in Kyoto, I prefer the neighborhoods of Osaka.

And I also love anything kitsch and garish – so while I like Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, it was Osaka’s Kuramon Market with its giant prawns hanging from the ceiling that stole my heart.

The sight of the giant waving crab and the bright lights of Dotonbori make my heart sing and I’m a big fan of wandering around Shinsekai.

Restaurant in Osaka with a huge plastic model of a chef's head. He has an angry expression on his face. Underneath is a picture of a skewer of food dipping into some sauce - the restaurants sells kushi katsu which is served this way.

Osaka also has Den Den town – its equivalent of Tokyo’s Akihabara. While it’s not at the same scale, it’s also somewhere I can send my partner, who loves all things electronic, while I go and indulge my love of aimless meandering.

Don’t get me wrong, the temples in Kyoto are beautiful – but I can only do two or three a day before temple fatigue sets in – and I really dislike the crowds.

I don’t quite get Kyoto. So far, I’ve not really found anywhere that feels comfortable there for me. It’s either too touristy or too high-end. The closest I’ve come to enjoying Kyoto at night was Karasuma.

I have also never had a truly memorable night out in Kyoto (although I did spend an evening in a bar run by a monk that was interesting, if eye-wateringly expensive).

In Osaka, though, I ended up going to a karaoke bar where we got talking to an English teacher, who invited us to an underground bar where we stayed until the sun came up.

She then invited us to an S&M bar the next night where she was performing (we sadly had to decline as I had nothing to wear for that little outing in my holiday capsule packing).

I do intend to keep visiting Kyoto, though in an attempt to develop the same love for it as I have for Osaka (well that’s my excuse anyway).

Day trips to Osaka or Kyoto

One of the nicest things about the Kyoto va Osaka question is that even if you do pick one city to base yourself in, you don’t need to completely ignore the other city entirely.

Trains between Kyoto and Osaka are very regular, and as I said, they are only 14 minutes apart by Shinkansen, and that’s covered by your JR Pass if you have one, and if you don’t, the local trains take less than 50 minutes for just 410 yen one way.

You can find a list of all the routes from Osaka to Kyoto here – and we’ve even pinpointed which might be best depending on where you want to end up in the city (or what pass you’re using).

Exterior view of the Kyo Train Garaku between Osaka and Kyoto. It has an oxblood coloured carriage exterior with a black and gold fan drawing spanning the carriage.

If you’re taking your day trip at the weekend, you might also want to travel on the very pretty Kyo Train Garaku, which even has a zen garden in it – and only costs 820 yen for a return ticket between Kyoto and Osaka – see more about the train with a zen garden here.

It’s therefore totally possible to base yourself in one city and visit the other one for a day. And here are some tips if you do…

Visiting Kyoto for a Day

If you do try to do Kyoto in a day, you’ll need to be organized and plan a very long day to see even just a fraction of the main sights as they are very, very spread out.

My advice would be to pick no more than 3-4 of the big sites to see and plan how you’re going to get from A-B carefully.

You may need to get some taxis and the odd bus as trying to get around the big sites in Kyoto solely by train is going to chew up a lot of time – and unless you’re just focusing on the center itself, it’s impossible to do it by walking.

Another option would be to hire a bike if you don’t mind cycling.

Or, look at the Hop on Hop Bus, which goes to most of the big sites and can save you walking – but you will have to time your visits to the sights carefully.

Or choose one area like Arashiyama or Higashiyama and see as much as you can – you can always come back another day if you decide that you wish you’d had more time – for this reason, I’d suggest visiting Kyoto early in your Osaka stay just in case.

couple in kimino stand between the tori gates at fushimi inari shrine

Head to either Arashiyama Bamboo Forest or Fushimi Inari first or last in your day – both are open 24 hours and so if you can get there at first light or a little before dusk, you can spread out your day that bit further.

If I’m being very honest, the Bamboo Forest is not quite as impressive in the flesh (leaves) as it is in photos.

If your day is jammed and you have to cut something (and you don’t need the Instagram likes), you might want to cut that.

Saying that though, if you’re in Kyoto for a while, do visit it and the rest of Arashiyama as the surrounding area has lots and lots to do.

As mentioned above, you might want to have a plan for where you want to visit for lunch or dinner so that you’re not wasting precious time wandering around trying to find somewhere that looks good.

Osaka in One Day

You can get a lot done in Osaka as a day trip from Kyoto, as generally, once you get into the main tourist areas, the distances between the sites aren’t as great.

You can easily walk between them if you don’t mind racking up some steps, or Osaka does have a pretty good metro system (and the Enjoy Eco card gets you free travel for a day, so you can make the most of it).

Couple stand praying in from the giant lion's head that holds the altar of the Namba Osaka shrine

If you like to wander, then you could start at the Namba Yasaka shrine (easily accessed from Shin Osaka on the Midsuji line), which opens early, then jump back on the Midsuji line to Abeno Harkus, Japan’s tallest building, arriving for when it opens at 10 am.

After admiring the view, walk to Shinsekai to admire the decorations and grab lunch. Wander up through Den Den town, head to Kuramon Market to see what’s on offer, or head straight to shop and see what’s going on in Amerikamura, hitting Dotombori once it gets dark.

If you want to see Osaka Castle, go here first as it opens at 9 am. Then, pick your other favourite sights from the list above.

View of Osaka Castle set against a bright blue sky. The castle is white with a green pointed roof with gold details. There are bright pink blossoms blooming in front of it.

It is harder to combine all of the more child-friendly activities into one day trip as they are more spread out – plus, Universal Studios will take pretty much a whole day on its own unless you get very lucky with the crowds.

If you’re coming to town with children, you might have to decide between the Cup Museum and the Aquarium so that you’re not spending lots of time on trains.

So, there you have it – my guide on choosing whether to stay in Kyoto or Osaka. Did it help? Or do you have any more questions? Then, join our Facebook group and ask them there. I’ll do my best to help you out.

Who Writes This Blog?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a journalist and author. My travel articles have appeared in publications including The Australian, RAC Horizons, Jetstar Magazine, Sainsbury’s Magazine, and more.

I’ve traveled to Japan five times before- solo and with my partner – and I’ve just returned from trip six in June 2023. So, everything here is pretty up to date.

2 thoughts on “Stay in Kyoto or Osaka? 9 Questions to Help You Decide”

  1. Thanks for great descriptions and advice.
    Third time in Japan so we have done Mount Fuji, Hiroshima and Kyoto.
    This time we plan to base in Osaka for a week, explore the city specifically for 2/3 days and travel around the area during the other days. Hotel booked.
    I can’t find a guide to tell me day trips, just ones including overnights.
    I love what you describe about Osaka but is there something more specific to what we want to do anywhere?

    • I haven’t done a specific Osaka day trips post (yet), but here’s a list of possible things to do in Osaka itself –
      As for possible day trips. Kyoto and Hiroshima are the obvious choices but you’ve done those, so other suggestions include Nara and Kobe (I will be doing posts on both of those when I get back from my next trip) and Himeji to see the castle.
      I’m going on a day trip to Wakayama on my next trip – I’m going to see the cat stationmaster at Kishi, but it might be worth you seeing if there’s anything interesting for you around the town. Nachi Falls is the big attraction but it is probably a bit far in a day.
      If you’re interested in Ninja history, then look at Iga – which I now want to add to my own itinerary!
      Going a bit further afield,
      If you like art, then you can do Naoshima as a (long) day trip from Osaka – this is from my other blog
      If you like animals, you might want to try Bunny Island – Again it’s doable as a day trip but slightly long.
      That might help to be getting on with. If nothing appeals from that lot though, tell me a bit more about what interests you and I’ll see what comes to mind.

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