Japan is a wonderful country to visit and it was almost impossible to decide which cities to visit. As much as I loved the idea of going to Tokyo, I wanted a more cultural experience and figured I could go to Tokyo another time. I managed to visit Kyoto and Osaka, but I’m not here to tell you to visit both. I’m trying to show you the differences and the similarities to help you choose between Kyoto or Osaka if you happen to be on a tight timeline.
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Kyoto or Osaka: Which one should you visit?
There are a ton of similarities between Kyoto and Osaka. They both are popular destinations in Japan making them full of tourists but offer 2 different vibes. I wanted to take the time to break each location down also you can make the decision yourself between Osaka or Kyoto.
Major Differences between Kyoto and Osaka
- A lot more to see and explore
- A more cultural experience
- Lots of traditional Japanese architecture
- Smaller town life
- Friendly and welcoming people
- Big city life
- Lots of cafes and restaurants
- A lot of tourists from different areas
- Plenty of areas to shop
- Friendly and welcoming people
Pros and Cons of Kyoto
If I go back to Japan again, I would definitely prefer to go back to Kyoto over Osaka. Although I did make more friends while in Osaka than in Kyoto, I found Kyoto to be more relaxing. What can I say, I’m not much of a city girl (haha says the girl living in Seoul). I prefer a more laid-back atmosphere and I feel I was able to get that in Kyoto. It’s more similar to that California vibe I grew up with.
You can easily get more of a cultural experience in Kyoto. Not to say that tourists don’t come here, a lot do, but they have more history in my opinion compared to Osaka. Osaka has less of that tradition and more modern in style.
Some cons with Kyoto I would say is less public transportation and things can be quite far apart. It was easier getting around Osaka and getting around Kyoto although the transportation was good, was just a tad more difficult. I wanted to take a taxi but the cost of taking a taxi prevented me from doing so. I think I’m just spoiled with the affordability of taxis in Korea.
Pros and Cons of Osaka
What I loved about Osaka was the busy nightlife. City life is great especially to visit and to go out and enjoy yourself every once in a while, but for me, I’m not much of a night owl. So it was good because I had a small taste but was able to move on. If you love being out late, Osaka I felt had more of that kind of atmosphere.
Osaka is a bigger city and fairly close to Kyoto which makes it easy to visit between the two. Osaka is also more centrally located between Kobe and Nara which are two popular touristy areas to visit. Nara for the deers and Kobe for the wagyu beef. Osaka also has a better International Airport as well, making it an easier location regarding travel.
I feel Osaka is a bit noisier, louder, and felt more expensive. It was more for Instagram, but there were a ton of great and popular restaurants in the area. It just felt like you had a lack of space, not that Japan has a lot of space, to begin with.
Kyoto vs Osaka for Nightlife
Hands down I would say Osaka for nightlife, but that’s not to discredit Kyoto for their nightlife. Kyoto just feels more like a local or neighborhood vibe in my opinion. It’s still a big city, but fewer skyscrapers and bright city night lights compared to Osaka. There were quite a few kawaii places and food stalls that were opened late along with quite a few restaurants opened late as well.
Which has better food, Kyoto or Osaka?
This one is tough, but I think I’d have to say Osaka. Osaka is known for more food in comparison to Kyoto. Kyoto has a ton of amazing food, but I definitely had more memorable dishes in Osaka, from Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki (famous here), ramen, sushi, shabushabu, udon, curry, and more.
Which has a better vibe, Kyoto or Osaka?
This truly depends on the person. To me, Kyoto had a better vibe, mostly because of its rich cultural history, beautiful architecture, and laid-back vibe. I’m not much of a partier or city life goer, so Osaka wasn’t the place for me. I still absolutely loved it, don’t get me wrong I’d love to go back. It’s just another big city to me, which I don’t vibe with. Big cities to me are places to visit but not places to live in. If you are young and you haven’t had that city life before, I’d say definitely try it out if you can. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Is Kyoto or Osaka more expensive?
I felt like they were both fairly comparable but I would probably say Osaka was more expensive especially when it came to food or maybe I just wanted to eat more food there haha. Taxis will be expensive all over the country, so try to avoid riding in them if you can. The public transportation I feel was more expensive in Osaka compared to Kyoto, but there were more passes available for tourists for things to do in Kyoto than in Osaka.
When it comes to living, the bigger city life will definitely become more expensive because that is where the jobs are. So finding an affordable apartment in Osaka may be difficult to find. Housing in Japan and Korea are quite different than in the states or any western country for that matter.
Kyoto or Osaka for Study Abroad
Osaka has way more options when it comes to studying abroad while Kyoto only has 2 universities. You can study more subjects in Osaka compared to Kyoto. If you are a student, nightlife might be your thing to do as well so Osaka maybe your favorite pick. I think both locations are great for practicing your Japanese since there aren’t that many Japanese who speak English.
Kyoto vs Osaka for Expats
Most expats live in Tokyo and not many think of moving to stay in Kyoto or Osaka. A lot want that big city life with lots of things to do and Tokyo is definitely the place to do it. However, Kyoto and Osaka are both beautiful places to live in and more authentic than the crazy city life.
- Kyoto – Laidback, traditional, authentic, less noisy, a lot of things to see and do, and more affordable.
- Osaka – Big city life, lots of tourists, expensive, great food, and better nightlife, etc.
Should I go to Kyoto or Osaka?
This decision is completely yours. There is a lot in both cities and it ultimately depends on who you are as a traveler. You can easily spend time in both Kyoto and Osaka during vacation time. You can read my 2 days in Kyoto and my 2 Days in Osaka post to help see what you can do within a short time frame. This ultimately depends on the amount of time you have to travel in Japan. Are you trying to visit more places within the country like Tokyo, Okinawa, etc. or are you planning to just visit this area? Take the time to read this Kyoto Osaka Itinerary if you plan to stay solely in the area.
If I had to make a choice between Osaka or Kyoto, I would definitely choose Kyoto. I felt I didn’t have enough time in the 2 days that I spent there. I would want to spend more time and move a bit slower to take everything in.