If Kyoto was the city of the courtly nobility and Tokyo the city of the samurai, then Osaka (大阪) was the city of the merchant class. Osakans take pride in shedding the conservatism found elsewhere in Japan, and this spirited city – Japan's third-largest – is a place where people are a bit brasher and interactions are peppered with playful jabs.

It's not a pretty city in the conventional sense – though it does have a lovely river cutting through the centre – but it packs more colour than most; its acres of concrete are cloaked in dazzling neon billboards. The best way to get under its skin is by chowing down on local cuisine and enjoying a drink at an izakaya (pub restaurant) alongside good-humoured locals. The city's unofficial slogan is kuidaore ('eat until you drop'), and it seems that everyone is always out for a good meal – and a good time.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Osaka.