This is a place consistently ranked as one of the best things to do in Osaka, so I decided to visit it twice to figure out the answer to the question ‘Is Osaka Castle worth visiting?’ Spoiler alert: I don’t think it is, sort of…
While the outside areas of Osaka Castle make this one of the best free things to do in Osaka, the interior was a major letdown and leads me to the conclusion that visiting the castle itself is not worth it. However, make sure you do visit the surrounding grounds, they’re beautiful!
There will be situations in which visiting Osaka Castle is worth it, and we’ll discuss them in due course, but the majority of those reasons won’t typically apply to the average visitor. That said, you’ve found my website, so you may not be the average visitor to Osaka!
Getting to Osaka Castle
I never really know whether to write these bits on articles anymore because we all just use google maps! In any case, Osaka Castle is incredibly central and very easy to get to if you’re staying in Osaka. As you can see from the map below, there are a number of entrances and many more train stations to walk from.
How much does it cost to get into Osaka Castle?
It costs ¥600 to get into the castle itself, but the grounds can be explored for free. You can pay an extra ¥200 to get into Nishinomaru Garden (pictures later in the article), and if you need somewhere to rest and the weather is nice, I highly recommend doing so.
History of Osaka Castle
I can’t really talk about why I do or don’t think Osaka Castle is worth visiting without at least briefly mentioning its fairly important role in the unification of Japan. The castle itself was originally constructed in 1586 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to mark his triumph of accomplishing the unification of Japan he dreamed of.
Believe it or not, the whole building was completed in just 3 years. That probably has something to do with the 100,000 workers that dedicated their time to it. To be honest, the exterior of the building is quite remarkable to see for the first time.
While the castle was certainly a formidable barrier to any attackers, Tokugawa Leyasu was successful on his second attempt in 1615. This marked the start of the 250-year-long rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
After that siege, the castle was destroyed, rebuilt in a new spot, struck by lightning and destroyed again, rebuilt, and burned down during the Meiji restoration. Now we have a reconstruction of what the castle would have looked like that was completed in 1931. Obviously, it can’t be helped, but it was a little bit of a disappointment when I found that out.
Anyway, moving on!
To figure out the question ‘Is it worth visiting Osaka Castle’, you’ll need to answer the following two questions, which also come with a few sub-questions.
1. When do you plan on visiting?
I’ve been to Osaka Castle on two separate occasions, once in the Autumn and once in the Spring. Both of these visits have prompted me to ask a second part to this question which is ‘is Osaka Castle too busy?’. So as you can imagine, the time you visit Osaka Castle is incredibly important to determine whether or not it’s worth visiting. Both times I took a trip over there, the castle was severely overcrowded and far too ‘touristy’ to be enjoyable.
More so in Spring for obvious reasons, but as an ‘attraction’ that’s constantly ranked in the top 5 things to do in Osaka on pretty much every travel website, it’s never going to be empty. Just be aware that you’re likely never going to have the Castle to yourself unless you’re visiting during the off-season. In this case, that’s likely to be the wet months of Summer, and perhaps the cold months of winter. Though, it’s worth remembering that New Year’s is incredibly busy.
2. What are you expecting to find?
One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself before wondering if Osaka Castle is worth visiting is ‘What are you expecting to find’. Obviously ‘A Castle’ is probably going to be your answer, but let’s dig into that a little more.
As we’ve previously discussed, the Osaka Castle you’ll see is just a reconstruction that was finished in the 1930s. For some that will mean it’s not worth visiting, though it’s hardly something that can be helped.
To make things a little easier and to really answer the question of whether Osaka Castle is worth visiting, let’s split it into two separate sections:
Osaka Castle grounds
While I’ve slightly spoiled the conclusion to this article in the introduction, I can safely say that Osaka Castle grounds are well worth a visit in their own right. The sheer expanse of the moat, the exceptional cherry blossom (you’ll have to visit in spring for those, but it’s still beautiful year-round), and the wonderful gardens dotted all around make it one of the best free things to do in Osaka.
The garden above was taken in Autumn last year. I visited again in Spring and both times this little hidden gem was almost completely empty (save for a photo spot around the back). The castle has a few of these secret gardens scattered around, so it pays to have enough time over here (if you do decide to visit) to make sure you can explore every little nook and cranny outside. To be honest, secret gardens in Osaka are a lot more frequent than you might think!
Because the perimeter of Osaka Castle is so huge, you’ll more than likely get the impression that there aren’t too many people around, even in peak season. If you make it into the middle, that thought will quickly fade away. It’s still a nice place to come and see the castle up close, but that’s where my joy of the entire area stops.
To get into the castle you’ll have to queue up on the right-hand side (you can just about make it out in the photo above) for a ticket, and that can be a fairly lengthy process depending on when you visit. But hey, what good attractions don’t have queues in Spring? Right?…
The interior of Osaka Castle
After ‘excitedly’ waiting to get into the castle, we were met with what I can only describe as the most uninspiring lobby I’ve ever been into. It’s grey and dull, has a somewhat tacky gift shop, and is stocked with gachapon. Now I love gacha as much as the next person, but this isn’t the place for it. Anyway, let’s climb up those perfectly recreated wooden staircases, shall we?
I understand we need to think about accessibility with an attraction like this, as well as the practicality of having thousands of people trample up and down every day, but this wasn’t something I was expecting to find. If you’re looking for an industrial-looking staircase with glaring metal handrails, your money has been well spent.
For some, the biggest reason to go inside Osaka Castle is to look at the view, and to some degree, this was the best part of it. You’ll get panoramic views around the entire castle and you can see out for miles depending on the conditions.
Call me oblivious, but I didn’t even realize Nishinomaru Garden, pictured below, was attached to the castle. I’ve written an article about the most relaxing places to go in Tokyo, and if I was to do one in Osaka then Nishinomaru garden would absolutely feature. The picture below is taken when I visited in Spring (hence the cherry blossom!) and while the castle grounds were fairly busy, the park is practically empty. A great spot to rest and relax in Osaka!
Unfortunately, the top viewing platform in Osaka Castle isn’t as great as the viewing deck in Tokyo I found, and it’s certainly not this attraction’s saving grace, at least not in peak season.
This picture really doesn’t do any justice to just how busy the top part of the castle was. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with people for pretty much the entire time I could bare to stay out there. The views were great, but in late March – early April, it was just too busy for me to enjoy.
After heading back down the busy and boring, yet practical staircase, I was left feeling like I’d wasted the (admittedly very small) admission payment to get inside.
How long should I spend at Osaka Castle?
That greatly depends on what you want to achieve. If you want enough time to see the inside and outside of Osaka Castle, 3 hours is probably enough so you aren’t rushing. If you only want to visit the outside gardens, 2 hours might be enough. However, if it’s a nice day and you want to take your time, enjoy the weather, and perhaps have a picnic somewhere, you could easily enjoy nature for an entire day. Remember though, these things often take a little longer than you’ve first planned. That’s just part of traveling!
Is it worth visiting Osaka Castle?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth visiting the grounds of Osaka Castle, but only worth going inside unless you’re really interested in Japanese history. For the ‘normal’ tourist, I think there are a number of other places that are better given a place on your itinerary than the inside of Osaka Castle. Hiroshima Castle as part of my 2 day Hiroshima Itinerary is one such place!
Flat out I would consider the interior to be the biggest letdown. The museum was nice, but I would rather they housed that in a separate building and allowed us to wander around only specific parts of the castle, or not at all. The grounds, however, were a lovely respite from the hectic nature of Osaka City, and I highly recommend visiting if you like that kind of thing!
If you’re looking for somewhere nearby that I would recommend, Nara is worth visiting even if you only have a morning or an afternoon free. Is there anything better than getting chased by ravenous deer for hours on end?…