(CNN) – It took a while, but Osaka, gateway to the Japanese Kansai region, has emerged from Tokyo’s shadow.

Today, Japan’s third largest city is one of Asia’s premier city travel destinations, and rightly so – it’s a vibrant city filled with unique culinary, cultural, and eye-opening experiences you won’t find anywhere. share elsewhere in Japan.
Osaka will appear in the global spotlight this weekend, with the city hosting the G20 summit on June 28-29. Officials say the event is expected to draw more than 30,000 people to the city.

In honor of the diplomatic action, we’ve put together a quick list of some of the best things to do in Osaka if you’re a first-time visitor. (Keep in mind that many Osaka attractions will close or adjust their schedules during the summit.)

Embrace your inner tourist in Dotonbori

The busy streets along the Dontonbori Canal are some of Osaka’s most popular destinations.

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Yes, this place is incredibly touristy.

But it is also a beautiful assault on the senses and not to be missed.

Located in the Minami district of Osaka, the historic Dotonbori district is where you will find the famous Glico neon sign as well as other Osaka symbols like the giant crab, the Dotonbori Ferris wheel – also known as the name of Ebisu tower in reference to the figure of the god Ebisu on it.

Most of the action centers around the Dotonbori Canal, which is packed with restaurants and bars. Boat trips are also offered here.

Another nearby highlight is Hozenji-Yokocho – a quaint alleyway filled with dozens of small restaurants and bars as well as one of Osaka’s most revered Buddhist temples.

The Osaka Shochikuza Theater is also worth a visit. He presents a variety of traditional and modern performances, but is best known for his Kabuki acts.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention one of the coolest retro arcades in Japan – and maybe even the world. A few blocks from the Dotonbori Canal is Silver Ball Planet – an incredible space filled with dozens of retro and modern pinball machines (1 Chome-6-14 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo district, Osaka, 542-0086; +81 6-6258-5000).

Visit Tsutenkaku, the Eiffel Tower in Osaka

Osaka's colorful Shinsekai district is a great place to take photos of the illuminated Tsutenkaku Tower after dark.

Osaka’s colorful Shinsekai district is a great place to take photos of the illuminated Tsutenkaku Tower after dark.

Tourism in Osaka

Rising 103 meters, Osaka’s Tsutenkaku Tower is not the tallest building in Osaka. He’s not even in the top 10.

But it’s a symbolic slice of Osaka’s history offering fantastic views that stretch far beyond the urban skyline.

The original Tsutenkaku was built in 1912 and, at 64 meters tall, was at the time the tallest building in the region, which earns it comparison with the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged in a fire in 1943 and subsequently dismantled.

The current iteration was built in 1953 and includes several indoor observation decks, as well as an outdoor observation deck on the 5th floor, which is 94 meters high. The lower levels of the tower are also filled with fun entertainment, including a Glico display that looks back on the history of Pocky chocolates.

We also recommend that you visit the nearby Shinsekai district, which is full of restaurants and bars, including a few dedicated to fugu, the dreaded pufferfish. It is a great place to take photos of the illuminated Tsutenkaku Tower after dark.

Geek in Denden Town

Anime and manga fans will want to visit Denden Town.

Anime and manga fans will want to visit Denden Town.

Tourism in Osaka

Often compared to Tokyo’s famous Akihabara district, the smaller town of Denden is the place to go for all things anime and manga.

Located between Nipponbashi Station and Ebisucho Station, it is full of arcades, cafes, and shops selling figurines, toys, collectible cards, and electronics.

You will also find many gashapon capsule machines there.

Eat all day in “Japanese cuisine”

Among Osaka's multiple culinary claims to fame is okonomiyaki, a tasty pancake.

Among Osaka’s multiple culinary claims to fame is okonomiyaki, a tasty pancake.

Courtesy of David Pursehouse / Creative Commons / Flickr

Osaka’s nickname is “Tenka no Daidokori” which means “the nation’s cuisine”, and it’s not a nickname the Japanese take lightly.

The city is full of everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to delicious street food. You’ll find world-class beef from nearby Kobe and fresh sushi imported via Osaka Bay.

There are also some local specialties. Osaka’s quintessential street snack is takoyaki. A crispy exterior surrounds a gooey center of octopus, pickled ginger and green onions. These are then brushed with a sweet sauce and sprinkled with nori.

The city is also famous for okonomiyaki, commonly defined as a tasty Japanese pancake. You can choose your own ingredients such as meat, seafood, and even noodles.

For a nice sample of Osaka’s culinary treasures, consider a local food tour. Arigato Food Tours offers a variety of Osaka dining experiences that cover various neighborhoods and the famous Kuromon Ichiba Market.

Immerse yourself in history at Osaka Castle

For views like this, head to Osaka Castle during cherry blossom season in the spring.

For views like this, head to Osaka Castle during cherry blossom season in the spring.

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Another historical symbol of the city, Osaka Castle was built in the late 1500s by Hideyoshi Toyotomi – the “Napoleon of Japan” – a mighty warrior and feudal lord during the Sengoku period in Japan.

A five-story building surrounded by a large moat, the castle has been rebuilt several times thanks to the numerous battles and fires that have left its various structures in ruins – the most recent being American air raids during World War II.

Inside, visitors can explore a museum filled with artifacts showcasing both the castle and the history of Osaka.

The surrounding park is also beautiful, especially during the sakura (cherry blossom) season in the spring and then again in the fall, when the leaves change color.

Shopping in Namba

Namba Parks is a multi-story pasture that hides a horde of glittering shops.

Namba Parks is a multi-story pasture that hides a horde of glittering shops.

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Not far from Dotonbori and Denden Town, Namba is both Osaka’s transportation hub and an extremely popular shopping destination.

We recommend that you start in the huge covered arcade of Shinsaibashi. Other high-end brands can be found one block west of tree-lined Midosuji Avenue. Keep walking west and you will come to Amerika-Mura (“American Village”), known for its vintage shops.

You will also want to visit the Namba parks. It is a shopping center with a multi-story outdoor garden in which visitors can walk a path that gradually ascends, past pretty foliage and waterfalls.

Designed by American architect Jon Jerde and completed in 2003, the mall is connected to the huge Namba station, which is connected to the Takashimaya department store. Getting lost is pretty much guaranteed.

“Float” on top of the Umeda Sky Building

Osaka's Umeda Sky Building has a floating garden observatory.

Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building has a floating garden observatory.

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Designed by architect Hiroshi Hara, Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building is mostly filled with offices.

But the roof of these 40-story twin towers has something special to offer: a “floating garden” observatory, which sits inside a glass dome suspended between the structures.

Underground there’s a food aisle filled with markets and restaurants designed to transport you to a 1920s Japanese city.

Face the crowds at Universal Studios Japan

Inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Witchcraft, visitors will find Universal Studios Japan's signature

Inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, visitors will find Universal Studios Japan’s “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride.

Universal Studios Japan

Although you have to travel to Tokyo to experience Japan’s Disney theme parks, Universal Studios Japan is located in Osaka.

The bad news is that this attraction is crowded all year round, regardless of the season. Which means you’ll want to shell out cash for an Express Pass – it’ll save you hours of queuing up your day.

Like its American counterparts, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the real star here. Opened in 2014, it features many of the same attractions, including the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where visitors will find the ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride.

At Hogsmeade, a recreation of the village that Hogwarts students visited to stock up on butter beer, there are a few shops that appear in the books / movies.

Other attractions include the classic Jaws ride, which disappeared from Florida in 2012, as well as a Hello Kitty area, Minions and Jurassic Park themed rides, and Sesame Street Fun World.

Take a day trip

Nara, with its famous deer park, is less than an hour from Osaka by train.

Nara, with its famous deer park, is less than an hour from Osaka by train.

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Osaka is a great base for exploring the many attractions of the surrounding Kansai region.

The historic city of Kyoto is just 15 minutes away by high-speed train. The ancient city of Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about 45 minutes by train. It is famous for its 1,000 sacred deer, which have learned to bow for treats.

Kobe, with its famous Chinatown and world-famous beef, is just a 30-minute train ride from Namba Station.

Ambitious travelers who don’t mind starting early or arriving late can even make it to Hiroshima for the day – it only takes 2.5 hours by bullet train.

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