While Osaka is known for buzzing epicurean havens after dark, it's no slouch by day either, boasting plenty of family-friendly entertainment options. To help you make the most of this friendly city as a family, here are our top recommendations for both big and little kids exploring Osaka.
Spiral down Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Located in the Tempozan Harbor Village area of Osaka Bay, Kaiyukan is Japan’s most impressive aquarium and one of the largest in the world. Visitors head to the eighth floor to start the tour and gradually spiral downward floor by floor around the central tank. There are around 15 other tanks, each representing a specific region of the Pacific Rim. Some tanks stretch across several levels, allowing guests to observe creatures from different depths and perspectives. The route through Kaiyukan ends at the touch pool where it's possible to touch rays and small sharks in shallow water.
Getting there: Osaka Metro Chuo line, Osakako Stn, 5-min walk
Build new worlds in Legoland Discovery Center
Also in the Tempozan area by Osaka Bay, Legoland Discovery Center is full of fun for the whole family with Lego racing, model-building workshops, Lego-themed rides like Kingdom Quest where guests hop aboard a chariot to rescue a princess, and a Duplo farm for smaller children. There is even a VR experience called the Great Lego Race, where you strap in and enter a virtual world venturing over rocky mountains, through flowing rivers, and past glowing hot lava streams in a nail-biting race against pirates, wizards, and pharaohs. Tip: save money on the entry fee with the Osaka Amazing Pass, which gets you into several of the city’s attractions, including Legoland, over a one or two-day period.
Getting there: Osaka Metro Chuo line, Osakako Stn, 5-min walk
Explore the zones of Universal Studios Japan
Whether you’ve got an adrenaline-junkie rollercoaster-loving kid, a Harry Potter devotee, or a diehard Minions fan on your hands, USJ will be a definite highlight on a family trip to Osaka. Universal Studios is divided into nine zones: Hollywood; Universal Wonderland; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Amity Village; Waterworld; Jurassic Park; San Francisco; Minion Park; and New York.
It’s impossible to visit all nine zones in one day, but timing your trip to USJ on a weekday rather than a weekend will help to reduce the crowd factor. Pre-booking your ticket online is also a good idea to avoid having to line up at the front gate, and if you don’t mind spending the extra cash, it can be well worth buying a USJ Express Pass to avoid having to queue up for every ride. An alternative is the USJ VIP Wristband Pass, a cheaper option than the express pass whereby instead of gaining priority access to selected rides, you are allowed to enter USJ 30 minutes to one hour earlier than the regular crowd. This means you get to jump on at least two rides without waiting before the masses rush in.
Getting there: JR line, Universal City Stn, 1-min walk
Get hands-on at Kids Plaza Osaka
An educational museum for kids with an emphasis on hands-on learning and workshops, Kids Plaza Osaka’s floors are divided by theme. The fifth floor is the 'discovery floor' featuring a TV studio where kids can operate the cameras and have a turn at presenting. Floor four is the 'adventure floor' where children can role-play in shops, at the hairdresser and the post office. There is also a playroom for babies and toddlers. The third floor is the 'creativity floor' with a computer studio featuring a large interactive touchscreen and art workshops. Last but not least, the outdoor playground features a huge climbing wall, a sandpit, and fun selection of colorful slides.
Getting there: Osaka Metro Sakaisuji line, Ogimachi Stn, 6-min walk
Visit the animals at Tennoji Zoo
First opened in 1915, Tennoji Zoo is the third-oldest zoo in Japan and home to more than a thousand animals across its 11 hectares. Despite its location in Tennoji Park, which is right in the middle of Osaka City, the zoo strives to create habitats for the animals that are as close to their natural environments as possible. The lions roam in a large area alongside other animals in the 'African Savanna' section, while the cranes and flamingos preen themselves in a nearby pond. The hippo enclosure is Japan’s first see-through pool enclosure where visitors can watch the hippos swimming with the fish through the transparent panel.
Getting there: JR and Osaka Metro lines, Tennoji Stn
Have a ball at Hirakata Park
One of the few popular independent theme parks left in Japan, Hirakata Park has roller coasters, Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and more as well as four separate pools and water slides. Opened in 1910, this nostalgic retro theme park claims to be the oldest in Japan with over 40 different attractions spread out across 160,000 sq metres of hilly terrain.
Guests to the park can choose to pay for entrance and an All Access Pass, which includes unlimited access to all of the rides. Or it’s possible to pay the entrance fee only and then pay individually for rides once inside the park.
Getting there: Keihan line, Hirakatakoen Stn, 3-min walk
Make your way around Expo City
There’s probably no other area in Osaka where you could pack more into one family day out than at Expo City. Located in Suita in the north of Osaka, this is a multi-venue complex home to a state-of-the-art aquarium and animal sanctuary known as Nifrel, where you can see crocodiles, tigers, monkeys, penguins and tropical fish. The Redhorse Osaka Wheel soars 120m above Expo City, making it the tallest Ferris wheel in the country. The renowned Bampaku Koen, also known as Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, is an expansive green area covering 60 hectares and includes the bizarre Tower of the Sun structure. The Lalaport shopping centre has entertainment, food, and shopping options galore, including a hi-tech IMAX theatre where you can have 3D or even 4D immersive movie experiences involving smoke, water, and other realistic special effects.
Getting there: Osaka Monorail, Bampaku-kinen-koen Stn, 2-min walk
Discover the world at the Osaka Science Museum
Osaka’s educational Science Museum based on Nakanoshima Island boasts four floors of more than 200 interactive exhibits and displays designed to help children learn about chemistry, electricity, energy, and the universe. The planetarium’s main dome has a radius of almost 27m, making it the largest in Japan and the seventh-largest in the world. Although English brochures are available, there is a limited amount of English information for each exhibit. Nevertheless, the hands-on nature of the exhibits, particularly in the second-floor 'Enjoy Science' area, makes this a worthwhile venue for families with children.
Getting there: Keihan line, Watanabebashi Stn, 10-min walk; Osaka Metro Yotsubashi line, Higobashi Stn, 10-min walk
Looking for more inspiration in Japan? Check out these day trip ideas from Kyoto. Subscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase.