If you have time for a day trip, I would recommend going to a few spots which are listed below.
Osaka Castle Park - It's pretty cool to just walk through the park and around the surrounding area - you'll feel a very medieval vibe. If you want to go inside the actual castle and climb all the way to the top, it costs some money but I didn't have the chance to do it!
Dotonbori - This places has so much food to eat it's not even funny - I would recommend just walking up and down the street and looking at what strikes your eye. I would definitely come with an empty stomach! I ended up eating at a revolving sushi place which was pretty tourist-y but I was starving. It was really good and they price by plate, which would still be cheaper than anything you get in the US!
SIDE TRIP: TOKYO DISNEY SEA
If you have the time, I would definitely recommend visiting the Disney Resort in Tokyo. I only had time to go to DisneySea but it was way different from the Disneyland in CA and DisneySea is supposedly a very unique Disney park compared to HK, Paris, etc. (if you had to make a choice, go to DisneySea – I LOVED it)! I would recommend a whole day at each park, and the whole resort is somewhat pretty small – you’re most likely going to get off at the JR Maihama station, and then there’s a Disney Resort Line that takes you to the parks and the hotels in a circular fashion but you could always walk (the Resort Line costs money).
When you're visiting the park, consider these tips:
When you visit, definitely spend some time and just appreciate the architecture/buildings/etc of the park – the detail is impeccable and it’s what makes the park really pretty and special (it's personally my favorite part)! On the day, I would get there at least an hour beforehand because Japanese people are insane and wait in line a few hours before the park opens to be the first one inside. If you go too late in the day, the lines are supposedly very, very long (think Disneyland CA on a weekend during the summer).
When the park finally opens, there is a very orderly stampede rushing towards Toy Story Mania, which is the park’s most popular ride but you’ll want to go get a Fastpass for Toy Story/Tower of Terror and then head to the second tier of most popular rides (10000 Leagues Under the Sea, Finding Nemo, etc). If you do some research online, you can really maximize your day in the part. There’s a lot of articles out there that show you how you can do your visit. Toy Story Mania is supposedly very similar to the Toy Story ride in Disney California Adventure, so if you’ve been on that you can pass on Toy Story.
The food is really good (try the different flavored popcorns, I had the curry one and it was surprisingly tasty)! Take advantage of the Fastpass system – if you’ve been to Disneyland before you probably know this, but read more about this online to maximize your visit.
Lodging at the Disney Resort
If you can find a good deal on one of the official/Disney-affiliated hotels, snatch those up. I got a really good deal on hotels.com at the Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel Club Resort for around $70-$80 USD for one night. The hotel itself is REALLY nice for the price I got,
My room had two beds, a hot water boiler, pajamas, slippers, a nicely stocked bathroom, outlets near my bed, a heater/AC, and a nice view of the parking lot with the volcano at DisneySea in the distance. The staff was really helpful, I was able to drop off my bags in the morning, go into Tokyo for the day, and then come back at night to pick up my bags and check in. At check in, the guy could clearly see I was struggling with not knowing Japanese so he was super helpful in terms of checking in! In my opinion, the hotel was way nicer than anything I’ve stayed in the US. I cannot recommend this hotel highly enough!
side trip: universal studios japan
I had such a good time here and wasn’t expecting to have such a great time, so I would highly recommend that you go too! I would recommend planning out your day a little more than I did, but everything ended up working out. Before you go to the park, make sure you download the app (to check wait times, etc.) and buy some snacks at a convenience store! There’s food in the park but it’s more expensive – you’ll want to trust me on this. You’ll want to do the following:
Quick guide (Super Nintendo World):
This area is probably the coolest area I’ve been to any theme park, hands down. Everything is super cute and decorated so tastefully. You’ll really feel like you’ve traveled back in time to your childhood. There’s a lot to digest, so I’ll split it up below:
Other day trips (more further out)
Fushimi Inari Taisha – This is the famous red pillars that you may have seen on Instagram. It’s super picturesque and you can make a hike out of it (it goes up to a mountain peak) but there’s no need to hike that far. Definitely try to come early to avoid the crowds, but the further up you walk the less people there will be.
Nishiki Market – This market has all the Japanese food you want to try! I’m guilty of stopping and buying something from at least like 4 different stalls.
Kiyomizu-dera – Walking to this temple requires you to walk through Nineizaka / Sanneizaka, which is a really cute area where you could take nice pictures and admire the architecture/stalls. Overall it’s incredibly pretty and has a lot of history to it!
Other spots worthy of seeing: Gion / Hanamikoji Street, Yasaka Shrine, Kodai-ji, Higashiyama Jisho-ji, Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Kofuku-ji & Todai-ji – Two of the most notable temples to see while you're in Nara. No need to spend money on admission here since I personally think just seeing it from the outside is amazing enough.
Maguro Koya – The cutest old couple serve these fantastic tuna bowls at an amazing price. Super hole in the wall and everything was so hearty. I would come back in a heartbeat!
Nakatanidou – This place sells this chewy mochi-type thing (wasn’t sure what it entirely was but it was fantastic, I would recommend!
Todai-ji Nandaimon Gate + Nara Park – All the deer kind of hang around here and it’s really amusing to see people try to feed the deer. And then, they’re all surprised when the deer start to follow them for food! The deer aren’t joking around though – definitely be careful but they are used to people taking pictures of them.
Kasaga-taisha – This temple/shrine is much further out but it’s beautiful – I would definitely recommend making the trek here. There’s a lot to see besides the shrine.
Other spots worthy of seeing: Higashimuki Shopping Street, Noborioji Park,
Ashoka Pillar, Todai-ji Nigatsudo