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Stay in Osaka or Kyoto? Which Destination Should You Choose

Wondering if you should stay in Osaka or Kyoto for your upcoming Japanese adventure? You’re in the right place!

I get it – choosing the perfect destination can feel like picking between your favourite flavours of gelato. But don’t worry! As you read through this blog post, you’ll uncover all the insights you need to make that crucial decision. 

I’ve just returned from an amazing solo trip through Japan and let me tell you, it was two weeks of pure magic, all wrapped up in a three-week journey that included the incredible South Korea. But hey, we’re here to chat about Japan, specifically Osaka vs Kyoto. 

Now, this wasn’t my first rodeo in Japan – I’ve had the pleasure of visiting three other times, mostly for some epic skiing adventures. What have I learned from all these trips? 

Well, Japan is a breeze to navigate, it’s incredibly safe, the food is fantastic and the culture is lively. 

Whether you’re riding solo like I did or jet-setting with your family, besties, or significant other, no matter where you go in Japan you’re in for a stellar trip! 

But I get it, you’re short on time, have limited funds or simply want to travel at a slower pace which means ultimately having to make the tough choice between Osaka and Kyoto. 

So, let’s dive in and unravel the pros, cons, and all the juicy details to help you find your ideal Japanese haven! 

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Essentials for Travelling To Japan 

  • Now, staying connected is a must, right? Pick up a 4G SIM card with unlimited data at 1 of Japan’s airports. Reserve in advance to save time!
  • Grab your Suica card to make getting around Japan a breeze. Your Suica card is your ticket to Japan’s subways and buses. Easily top up your card at the subway station machines. 
  • Buy a discounted Japan Rail Pass (7, 14 or 21 Days) for unlimited high-speed train rides. It’ll whisk you from Kyoto to Tokyo in around 2 hours. Now, that’s the way to travel!
  • Book your Japan airport pickup in advance for a more cost-effective and efficient journey. 
  • Grab your Osaka e-Pass for free entry to more than 40 iconic Osaka tourist sites.
  • Google Maps & Rome 2 Rio will be your best friends for getting around Japan

Wondering whether to Stay in Kyoto or Osaka? This is the ultimate guide
Kiyomizu-dera Kyot0

Osaka or Kyoto – Overview

Osaka is a charming, energetic city in Japan. Think dazzling neon lights, street food that’ll make you want to come back for more, and a vibe that’s just as lively as its locals. 

On the flip side, Kyoto, oh, Kyoto! It’s a living museum, a place where ancient temples tell tales of a bygone era. The air is steeped in history, with each cobblestone street leading you to a centuries-old shrine or a perfectly manicured garden. 

So, are you drawn to the dynamic beat of Osaka or the timeless elegance of Kyoto? Don’t worry we’ll dissect the pros and cons next to help you find the ideal spot, but first here’s a good overview of Osaka and Kyoto.

KyotoOsaka
AmbianceHistorical charm, serene, traditional.Energetic, modern, vibrant street life.
AttractionsMore to see than Osaka. Think ancient temples, traditional tea houses and natural landscapes. Modern architecture, entertainment districts and street food.
CuisineElegant kaiseki, traditional tea sweets, typical Japanese food.Better food than Kyoto! Diverse street food, hearty local specialties. 
NightlifeQuieter and more traditional.Lively and vibrant nightlife districts.
Pace of LifeRelaxed, slower.Fast-paced, dynamic.
AccommodationRyokans, traditional inns.Modern hotels, varied options.
ShoppingShop for artisan crafts and traditional goods.Plenty of trendy shopping districts and modern boutiques.
TransportationWell-connected by buses and trains.Well-connected by buses and trains.
NatureStunning picturesque gardens and bamboo forests.A few urban parks and waterfront areas.
Overall VibeTranquil elegance meets cultural richness.Spirited dynamism fused with modern flair.

Should you Stay in Osaka or Kyoto?

So, the million-yen question: should you stay in Kyoto or Osaka? 

Let’s break it down.

If you’re after a scenic escape into Japan’s rich history, where each step feels authentic and traditional, then Kyoto is calling your name. 

On the flip side, if you crave the lively pulse of a bustling city, where every corner promises a new adventure, then Osaka is your ticket to excitement. 

To help you decide whether you should stay in Osaka or Kyoto, I’ll now break down the accommodation options and where I recommend you stay. Then I’ll dive into the pros, cons, and everything in between!

Stay in Kyoto or Osaka? Osaka is known for it's street food in Dotonbori
Dotonbori Osaka

Where To Stay In Osaka

In the heart of the vibrant city that never sleeps, choosing where to lay your head is all part of the fun.

If you’re all about the nightlife and cutting-edge shopping, districts like Namba (Minami, southern part of the city centre)and Umeda (Kita, northern part of the city centre) are great options. 

Or for a taste of local life and including heavenly street food, consider the districts of Dotonbori or Kuromon Ichiba Market. 

From sleek hotels to cozy guesthouses, Osaka’s got it all – just pick what suits your budget and travel preferences! Moving onto my top 3 accommodation recommendations perfect for any budget. 

Best Budget Stay in Kyoto: Hotel Cargo Shinsaibashi

⭐ 8.9/10 (1009 reviews)

Hotel Cargo Shinsaibash is a budget-friendly hotel that’s not just easy on the wallet but also oozes comfort and convenience.

First off, let’s talk about connectivity. Hotel Cargo is a mere 8-minute walk from Shinsaibashi Station easily connecting you to the best sites in the city. 

The rooms at Hotel Cargo are essentially large pods with ample space for storing luggage. Plus each room comes with a TV perfect for when it’s time to wind down at the end of the day. And let’s not forget the thoughtful touches like towels and free toiletries, including toothbrushes. Because sometimes you forget to pack your toothpaste, it happens ok! 

But here’s the real kicker – a public bath and open-air bath available from 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM that will make you feel like you’re at a spa. 

Whilst you don’t get a private bathroom there is a high-tech toilet and shower room on each floor. 

Now, the tech-savvy side of me loves that free WiFi is sprinkled throughout the property. Need to update your Insta with those Osaka adventures? You’re covered. And there are some great shared spaces for working or meeting other travellers. 

➡️ Click here to book Hotel Cargo

“Spacious bedroom pod, great social/ work areas and the bonus of the baths on the top floor felt like staying at a spa. Nice quiet neighbourhood but walking distance to the craziness of Osaka.”

Rumia

Read more reviews here

Best Mid-Range Stay in Kyoto: Miyako City Osaka Hommachi

⭐ 9.1/10 (2149 reviews)

Miyako City Osaka Hommachi is a 4-star gem and I’m here to tell you why it’s my top pick if you’re seeking comfortable spacious rooms and great amenities. 

First things first, let’s talk about the breakfast – an American spread is available to add to the price of your room. This is a convenient yet delicious way to start the day.

The 24-hour front desk offers fantastic service no matter what hour of the day it is. Need assistance booking a taxi or insider tips on the best local restaurants? They’ve got you covered.

Now, let’s step into the rooms. The air-conditioned rooms are decked out with all the essentials. A flat-screen TV for your entertainment, a safety deposit box for peace of mind, and a private bathroom with a bidet because, let’s face it, that’s a game-changer.

Oh, did I mention the city views? Certain units come with fantastic city views, and some rooms even come with a balcony.

Miyako City Osaka Hommachi also has an on-site restaurant serving up a mix of Chinese, international, and European cuisine. And if you’re looking for a halal option, they’ve got that covered too. 

➡️ Book your stay at Miyako City Osaka Hommachi

“Loved this hotel! Modern, clean, big room, nice amenities, friendly and helpful staff, and a comfortable bed! A plus plus plus for the free drinks in the lobby (coffee, tea and sodas). They also had a laundry room that worked perfectly (we used it)!”

Nikolina

Read more reviews here.

Best Luxury Stay in Kyoto: InterContinental Hotel Osaka, an IHG Hotel

⭐ 9.1/10 (436 reviews)

InterContinental Hotel Osaka is a 5-star masterpiece perfect for luxury seekers.

Let’s start with the location – a mere skip and a jump from JR Osaka Train Station located in the newly developed Grand Front Osaka. Umeda Station on the Midosuji Line? Just a 7-minute stroll away.

The hotel is more than just its rooms it offers a 24-hour fitness centre for the fitness enthusiasts, an indoor swimming pool for those who prefer a more aquatic workout, and free WiFi for streaming Netflix. And for the ultimate indulgence, massages are at your beck and call. Because, let’s face it, luxury is all about the finer details.

Head up to Pierre restaurant on the 20th floor for some fine dining. With panoramic views of Osaka City, this stunning restaurant serves up exquisite contemporary French dishes. And if a buffet with various international delights is more your speed, the All Day Dining is a great option. Cap off your evenings at Adee Bar and Lounge, where drinks flow like poetry.

➡️ Click here to book your stay at InterContinental Hotel Osaka

“You get what you pay for! A beautiful, luxury hotel experience with all the amenities and attentive staff. Lots of staff speak English and will help with booking restaurants, taxis, etc.”

Stephanie

Read more reviews here

Pros and Cons of Staying in Osaka

Now that we’ve covered where to stay, let’s unravel the pros and cons of staying in Osaka. Nothing is off limits, this is my honest opinion!

And remember, your pros and cons ultimately come down to what you’re looking for, some of my pros might be cons for you and vice versa, and that’s ok!

ProsCons
Less Traditional Atmosphere: If you’re craving a traditional Japanese ambience, Osaka’s modernity may not align with your expectations.Busy Atmosphere: The energetic pace of the city might be overwhelming if you’re looking for a more relaxed environment.
Less Traditional Atmosphere: If you’re craving a traditional Japanese ambience, Osaka’s modernity may not align with your expectations.Limited Historical Sites: Compared to Kyoto, Osaka has fewer historical landmarks, which might disappoint you if you’re seeking rich cultural experiences.
Modern Amenities: Osaka boasts modern infrastructure, excellent public transportation, and a wide range of accommodation options.Less Traditional Atmosphere: If you’re craving traditional Japanese ambiance, Osaka’s modernity may not align with your expectations.
Thriving Nightlife: From vibrant nightlife districts to neon-lit streets, Osaka comes alive after dark, offering loads of entertainment for night owls.Less Green Spaces: The city has fewer parks and green spaces for outdoor activities compared to Kyoto and other Japanese cities.
Accessibility: Centrally located, Osaka serves as an excellent base for exploring nearby cities and attractions, making day trips super convenient.Crowded Tourist Spots: Popular attractions can get pretty crowded, impacting the overall experience, especially during peak tourist seasons.

Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto is one of the most beautiful temples in Japan
Kinkaku-ji temple Kyoto

Where To Stay In Kyoto

Now, let’s step into the beautiful world of Kyoto. The city of geishas, tea ceremonies, and centuries-old temples has accommodations that mirror its timeless charm. 

If you’re interested in the historic district of Higashiyama, where narrow lanes lead to hidden gems and traditional tea houses, consider staying in Gion or Higashiyama itself. 

But if you’re craving the pulse of downtown life like I was, Downtown Kawaramachi is a fantastic hub, offering a mix of modern conveniences such as restaurants and public transport and a historic and local allure for a more authentic experience. 

From quaint ryokans to elegant (and affordable) hotels, these districts embody the essence of Kyoto’s timeless elegance. Let’s cover my top 3 recommended stays in Kyoto, perfect for any budget. 

Best Budget Stay in Kyoto: Ryokan Hostel Gion

⭐ 8.8/10 (853 reviews)

For those travellers looking for an authentic Kyoto experience without breaking the bank, the Ryokan Hostel Gion is the perfect pick. 

This hostel offers a taste of traditional Japan with its cozy ryokan-style rooms, giving you a unique cultural immersion. 

Its prime location in the historic Gion district ensures you’re at the heart of Kyoto’s rich heritage, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious adventurers.

➡️ Book your stay at Ryokan Hostel Gion here

“Loved the privacy of the little pods. The rooms so so clean and comfortable. Showers were well stocked and clean. I really enjoyed my stay here.”

Hannah

Read more reviews here. 

Kyoto’s Mid-Range Hotel: Hearton Hotel Kyoto (Where I stayed)

⭐ 8.3/10 (510 reviews)

Personally, I stayed at the Hearton Hotel Kyoto during my own Kyoto adventures and found it to be a comfortable and convenient choice. I stayed in a single private room which was excellent value for a solo traveller.

Located in the heart of the city, it offers easy access to public transport, an abundance of fantastic restaurants, and all the amenities you could need. Plus I loved the provided PJs!

If you’re seeking a well-priced stay with modern comforts, this is an excellent option for your Kyoto visit.

➡️ Click here to book where I stayed – Hearton Hotel Kyoto

“Location, location, location. Super close to multiple supermarkets, a few eating spots and a subway station that was less than 5mins walk. Super convenient. The area was quiet and less crowded compared to other places, but didn’t feel far away with most places only a few stations away. Staff service was great too.”

Nabil

Read more reviews here.

Best Luxury Hotel In Kyoto: Good Nature Hotel Kyoto

⭐ 9.1/10 (1,890 reviews)

For the utmost luxury and indulgence in Kyoto, the Good Nature Hotel Kyoto would be my top pick!

With its opulent design, impeccable service, and high-end amenities, it’s a haven of sophistication. 

This luxury hotel offers an unforgettable experience, making it my top recommendation for travellers who want to savour Kyoto in style.

➡️ Book a luxury stay at Good Nature Hotel Kyoto

“We were blown away by the size of the room and the quality of the room. The hotel reception was so helpful, helping us send out luggage. You are just a stone’s throw away from the Nishki market and across the river from Gion. The bed is massive and very comfortable.”

Bonnie

Read more reviews here.

Pros and Cons of Staying in Kyoto

We’ve covered Osaka’s pros and cons so it’s only fair to put Kyoto under the same microscope! Here are my pros and cons of staying in Kyoto. 

ProsCons
Historical Richness: Kyoto is full of historical sites, including ancient temples, shrines, and traditional tea houses.Less Vibrant Nightlife: While Kyoto has its historical charms, its nightlife scene is quieter compared to the energy of Osaka.
Cultural Experiences: Immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture with tea ceremonies, geisha districts like Gion, and the unique atmosphere of ancient streets.Limited Modern Entertainment: If you’re seeking modern entertainment and shopping, Kyoto may not offer you the same variety as larger cities such as Osaka.
Picturesque Landscapes: Kyoto is surrounded by gorgeous natural scenery, including bamboo groves, cherry blossom spots, and peaceful gardens.Fewer Accommodation Choices: Compared to Osaka, Kyoto tends to have fewer accommodation options, and popular places can get booked quickly.
Tranquil Atmosphere: Enjoy a more relaxed pace of life, perfect if you prefer a more peaceful environment.Crowded Tourist Spots: Like Osaka, some famous attractions in Kyoto can get very crowded, particularly during peak tourist seasons.
Traditional Architecture: Experience the beauty of traditional Japanese architecture in well-preserved temples and historic districts.Limited City Excitement: If you’re looking for a bustling city experience, Kyoto may feel less lively compared to larger cities like Osaka.

Gion District in Kyoto is in the top 5 best things to do
Gion District Kyoto

Best Things To Do: Osaka Vs Kyoto

Ready for the lowdown on the best things to do in Osaka and Kyoto? 

These cities both offer unique experiences that’ll make your Japanese trip unforgettable, ultimately it comes down to which city you are most drawn to. 

5 Best Things to Do in Osaka

In Osaka, the options for adventure are as endless as the neon lights you’ll see strolling the streets. Let’s cover the top 5 things you can’t miss doing in Osaka!

1. Explore Dotonbori for street food galore.

Get ready for a culinary journey like no other as you dive into the wonderland of Dotonbori. It’s here that you’ll discover Japan’s street food heaven. 

Make sure to try takoyaki (those delightful octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), Dotonbori. Trust me you’ll thank me later!

Consider taking a tour to learn more about Japanese cuisine and discover local favourite dishes you wouldn’t normally try!

➡️ Osaka Local Foodie Walking Tour in Dotonbori

2. Experience the magic of Universal Studios Japan.

For those craving a different kind of thrill, Universal Studios Japan is your fantastic day out. Movie buffs, brace yourselves! From heart-pounding rides to meeting your favourite characters, the movie magic really comes alive in Osaka. 

Whether you’re a roller coaster enthusiast or just want to stroll down Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Japan is a playground for the young at heart.

➡️ Grab your Universal Studios Japan Studio Pass

3. Visit Osaka Castle for a dose of history and panoramic views.

Now, let’s add a touch of history to your Osaka adventure with a visit to Osaka Castle. 

This architectural gem not only transports you back in time but also offers stunning panoramic views of the city. 

Wander through its historic halls, soak in the stories of the past, and don’t forget to capture the breathtaking skyline from the castle grounds. 

4. Dive into the vibrant nightlife of Namba and Umeda.

Calling all night owls! When the sun sets, Osaka’s vibrant nightlife districts of Namba and Umeda come alive.

From trendy bars to lively clubs, the city pulsates with energy after dark. Join the locals in a karaoke session, try unique cocktails, or why not go for a boogie and dance the night away – Namba and Umeda are all about memorable nights out.

➡️ Book a Osaka Pub Crawl and Nightlife Tour

5. Take a stroll in Osaka’s tranquil parks, like Kema Sakuranomiya Park.

Take a breather from the crazy city energy by visiting Kema Sakuranomiya Park. Picture-perfect cherry blossoms (in Spring that is), serene walking paths, and the Okawa River – it’s a haven for those seeking a peaceful escape. 

Whether you’re enjoying a walk, having a picnic, or just getting some fresh air this park is a great contrast to Osaka’s dynamic city life.

5 Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Now, let’s hop on the train to Kyoto, where time seems to stand still amidst the ancient temples and gorgeous gardens. 

1. Wander through the historic streets of Gion.

Begin your Kyoto journey by stepping into the historic streets of Gion, the iconic geisha district. Wander past traditional wooden machiya houses and soak in the old-world elegance. Keep your eyes peeled – you might catch a glimpse of a geisha gracefully making her way through the district. 

Or why not rent your own kimono and truly immerse yourself in the culture? 

2. Explore the Fushimi Inari Taisha and its mesmerizing torii gates.

No trip to Kyoto is complete with a visit to the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha, where thousands of vermilion torii gates create an otherworldly tunnel. 

As you ascend the sacred Mount Inari, each gate becomes a symbol of devotion, and the panoramic views of Kyoto below are nothing short of breathtaking. 

Whether you’re seeking spiritual moments or Instagram-worthy pics, Fushimi Inari Taisha is an absolute must-visit.

3. Visit Kinkaku-ji, the stunning Golden Pavilion.

Prepare for your jaw to drop when you visit Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. Hidden amidst lush greenery and reflected in the still waters of its surrounding pond, this Zen Buddhist temple is a true masterpiece.

Take your time to absorb the intricate details of the Golden Temple and explore the surrounding Zen gardens.

4. Visit Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park

Step into a realm of natural wonder as you stroll through the bamboo groves of Arashiyama.

Towering bamboo shoots create a unique yet stunning forest that you definitely don’t see every day.

And of course, don’t forget to visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park, where you can see loads of playful monkeys roaming around.

5. Experience a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto

Immerse yourself in the art of Japanese tea culture with a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto. It’s not just tea; it’s a ritual that embodies grace and mindfulness. 

Experience the calming ambience of a tea house, savour matcha’s nuanced flavours, and learn about the precise choreography of the tea-making process. A tea ceremony in Kyoto will give you a good glimpse into the city’s profound connection to tradition.

Osaka Castle is a major drawcard for visiting Osaka over Kyoto
Osaka Castle

Safety Considerations: Kyoto Vs Osaka

Alright, let’s now talk safety. Your well-being is a top priority, whether you’re wandering through the historic streets of Kyoto or diving into the vibrant chaos of Osaka.

I travelled to Japan as a young solo female so I did loads of research before visiting to ensure that I had a safe trip. 

Here are the safety tips I gathered for both cities. 

Is Osaka Safe? 

First up, Osaka. Now, you might be wondering, is it safe to stroll around Dotonbori and go dancing in Namba at night? Absolutely! Osaka is widely recognized as one of Japan’s safest cities. 

The locals are friendly and the crime rates are impressively low. 

Of course, keep your wits about you in crowded areas, like any big city, and you’ll be good to go. 

Whether you’re exploring the lively districts or hopping on public transport, rest assured that Osaka’s safety standards have your back. 

Is Kyoto Safe? 

Now, let’s swing over to Kyoto. This city, too, boasts a stellar safety record. 

Kyoto is known for its serene atmosphere and friendly locals. The historic districts are not just charming; they’re safe to wander, even after the sun sets.

Like anywhere, it’s wise to stay vigilant, especially in crowded areas, but Kyoto’s commitment to safety ensures your journey through its timeless streets is nothing short of secure.

So, whether you’re savouring street food in Osaka or exploring the zen gardens of Kyoto, both cities are pretty much on par with each other in terms of safety.

Both cities prioritize the well-being of their visitors, so you can focus on soaking in the magic of Japan. 

Street food in Dotonbori is some of the best in Japan
Dotonbori Osaka

FAQs: Stay in Osaka or Kyoto

Moving onto the commonly asked questions about staying in Osaka vs Kyoto. 

How many days in Osaka and Kyoto is enough?

Alright, let’s talk time frames. For a taste of the Osaka buzz, a solid 2 to 3 days should let you hit the must-see spots. 

Now, Kyoto, being a treasure trove of historical wonders, deserves a bit more time.

Aim for at least 4 to 5 days to truly immerse yourself in the culture, history and landscapes.

If you’ve got the luxury of time, a week split between both cities allows for a more in-depth exploration. Quality over quantity, right?

Is it worth staying in Osaka?

Absolutely! Osaka is a gem in its own right. 

From the mouthwatering street food of Dotonbori to the thrilling rides at Universal Studios, there’s an adventure waiting around every corner. 

The city’s modern conveniences, fantastic nightlife, and welcoming locals make it a fantastic base for exploring the Kansai region. 

So, yes, staying in Osaka is absolutely worth it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! 

The Wrap-Up: Stay in Osaka or Kyoto

And there you have it– the grand showdown between Osaka and Kyoto! Whether you’re drawn to the energy of Osaka’s streets or enchanted by Kyoto’s temples, Japan’s got a treat waiting just for you.

So, where to stay? In Osaka, you’ll find bustling districts like Namba, Umeda, and Dotonbori – each offering a unique flavour, literally and figuratively, the food in Osaka is some of Japan’s best.

In Kyoto, immerse yourself in history by staying in the charming districts of Gion, Southern Higashiyama, or the bustling Downtown Kawaramachi for a blend of tradition and modernity.

Now, the best things to do! In Osaka, it’s all about street food in Dotonbori, fun at Universal Studios, and the beauty of Osaka Castle. Kyoto, on the other hand, invites you to stroll through the historic streets of Gion, wander under the torii gates of Fushimi Inari, and find peace in the gardens of Kinkaku-ji. Each city is a unique adventure.

And let’s not forget safety – Osaka and Kyoto are both very safe destinations for solo female travellers, families and couples. 

Personally, I opted for Kyoto as the list of things to do is a little more extensive and I was drawn to the gorgeous temples that you simply don’t see every day. Plus I was visiting Tokyo and thought Kyoto would be a nice change of pace from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle.

But in the end, whichever city you choose, both offer incredible culture, cuisine, history and welcoming locals. 

Leave a comment below about which city you would choose if you had to pick one!

Safe travels!

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Read more about Japan travel:

4 Weeks in Japan Itinerary: For First Time Visitors
Is Okinawa Worth Visiting? 10+ Reasons To Add It To Your Bucket List!
Seoul or Tokyo: Which City Should You Visit?
7 Best Countries Near Japan to Visit: Extend Your Japan Travels!
Safest Places to Stay in Tokyo: Honest Advice 2024

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