Osaka is Japans second largest city. Famous for its down-to-earth citizens and hearty cuisine, Osaka combines historical and cultural attractions with all the delights of a Japanese urban phenomenon. Often maligned by visitors as 'ugly' and still best viewed under the neon light of night, Osaka is currently undergoing a facelift to woo daytime visitors to its concrete and pachinko city grid. Waterfront developments are restoring Osaka's image as a port town and creating new attractions for tourists

Summers in Osaka are hot and sticky, which can make travelling quite uncomfortable. In winter, although snow is rare, it does get quite cold and you will need to pack plenty of warm clothes. The best time to visit Osaka, if you want to catch some hanami (cherry blossom) action, is April through to May or, if you would like to see the leaves change colour, October and November. Both shoulder seasons offer mild temperatures and not too much rain. However, hanami season is also when most Japanese take their holidays; many popular destinations get very busy and you will need to book accommodation well in advance.

Osaka does have its share of attractions, but the city has more to offer than its specific sights. Like Tokyo, Osaka is a city to be experienced in its totality, and casual strolls are likely to be just as rewarding as structured sightseeing tours. Osakans proudly put into practice what they call the philosophy of kuidaore, or 'eat until you drop'. With literally thousands of restaurants packed away in its alleys, malls and streets, Osaka is a place of perpetual feeding, from gourmet dining rooms to rowdy street stalls.

Osaka loves to party and with a premium on space and high rentals, most bars and clubs are pretty cramped. They can also be hard to find, but the rewards are worth it. Whether you prefer a pint of lager or a shot of sake, Osaka offers everything from the warm and cosy to the loud and lively.

There are plenty of places to stay in and around the two centres of Kita and Minami. It's possible to base yourself in Kyoto (40 minutes away by train) but if you plan to sample some Osaka nightlife, it's best to stay in town - unless you enjoy riding the first train at dawn with a hangover.

What to see

D?tombori is Osaka's liveliest nightlife area.

Museum of Oriental Ceramics
With more than 2700 pieces in its permanent collection, this museum has one of the finest collections of Chinese and Korean ceramics in the world.

National Bunraku Theatre
Bunraku (puppet theatre) did not originate in Osaka, but was popularised here. Bunraku became a favourite art form and this theatre seeks to revive its popularity.

Osaka- Jo Osaka Castle
Osaka's most popular attraction is a 1931 reconstruction of the original 1583 castle. Although it's a copy, it's a very good one, and both the castle and the heritage museum inside are very popular.

Osaka Rekishi Hakubutsukan Osaka Museum of History
Just southwest of Osaka-j?, the new Osaka Museum of History is housed in a fantastic new building adjoining the Osaka NHK Broadcast Center.

Umeda Sky Building
This building is Osaka's most conspicuous piece of modern architecture: its towers look like two enormous piles of children's blocks covered in glass. Osakans are sharply divided: some love it, others think it looks unfinished and ugly. Whatever you think, it's worth taking the elevator to the top and looking over Osaka as if you were its alien conqueror.

Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios is a major theme park: fluorescent, noisy, and strenuously cute. It has many rides, most of them based on particular Universal movies, all of them with trademarked or copyright-protected names.

Where to eat

Caf Org
Caf Org is an open-plan, casual caf with uncomplicated menu. The food is good, filling and very attractively priced.

Gataro is a cosy little spot that does creative twists on standard izakaya or pub-style restaurant themes.

Umeda Hagakure
Locals line up outside this Kitashinchi noodle house for their fantastic udon noodles.

Ume No Hana
This is part of an upscale chain that serves a variety of tofu-based dishes.

Where to party

Karma is a long-standing club popular with Japanese and foreigners alike.

Murphy's is one of the oldest Irish-style pubs in Japan.

Osaka Nogaku Hall
This hall holds n? (classical Japanese dance-drama) shows about twice a month, most of which are reasonably priced. Unfortunately, neither place has regularly scheduled shows

Windows on The World
Windows on the World is an unbeatable spot for drinks with a view. Great views come at a cost, however, and there is a hefty charge per person per table and drinks aren't easy on the wallet either.

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