Osaka or Kyoto as a base – which one should you pick?

Visiting Japan and immersing yourself in its rich history, culture, and modern amenities, and getting a chance to try traditional and local cuisine while in there is a dream come true! 

To immensely enjoy your grand vacation, you have to plan out your itinerary – where to go and what to do on which day, and of course which city will be your home base while in Japan.

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But which city should you select as your base while staying in Japan? 

If you are on a budget you’d want to skip Tokyo as it is an expensive city to stay in. Plus, if you have been to Japan before, you’d surely have seen all Tokyo has to offer.

This leaves you with two more great options – Osaka and Kyoto! But which one should you pick as your base?

Osaka or Kyoto as a base - which one should you pick? 1

What to consider when selecting your base

Selecting a base will allow you to create great memories instead of constantly worrying about finding accommodations and lodging, dragging your luggage wherever you go, and getting acclimated. 

When selecting a base you should consider these things:

  • What day trips you can sign up for
  • Nearby overnight trip destinations 
  • Which activities do you enjoy or want to explore
  • How long it would take you to go to your destination and get back to your lodging
  • How easy or complicated it is to travel around
  • Will communicating with locals be a problem
  • If on a budget, how much would it cost you to stay in that particular city

Osaka or Kyoto?

Osaka and Kyoto are both great cities in Japan use as base before going to other hot spots like Nikko and Kamakura. and they are just a short ride away from each other. 

Now while both are popular destination spots and offer various activities, tours, and scenic spots, the two offer an entirely different traveling experience when compared.

Depending on your budget, length of stay, activities you want to join, places you want to visit, and type of culture you want to experience Osaka and Kyoto have something in store for you that will fit your itinerary and personal preference.

To give you a general idea of how different Osaka is from Kyoto, we have prepared a table showing what kind of atmosphere, cuisine, attractions, nightlife, and prices both cities offer.

Osaka or Kyoto as a base - which one should you pick? 2
FeatureOsakaKyoto
Atmosphere Modern and tourist-friendly Traditional but frequented by tourists and a cultural melting pot
AttractionsRequire 2 days to see all the city attractionsTons of tourist spots and activities to do that require days to explore
FoodPopular for its amazing street foodsTraditional and local cuisine
NightlifeFull of life, many bars and street food stalls to choose fromDevoid of any 
PriceEconomical/CheapMore pricey

Pros and Cons of Staying in Osaka and Kyoto

To better help you decide which city to choose as your base while in Japan, let us enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of staying in these two beautiful cities.

Advantages of Staying in Osaka

  • Food and accommodations are cheaper in Osaka.
  • Osaka is a friendly, modern city that caters to tourists and adventurers and is very accommodating to solo travelers. Osaka locals are also more welcoming and sociable compared to other Japanese from other cities. 
  • You can find cute little red pandas in Osaka‘s Tennoji Zoo.
  • Osaka is a haven for foodies looking for great food and drinks to binge on at an affordable price. 
  • If you are a night person, Osaka is built for you! It has an awesomely vibrant night light and lights up nicely once the sun sets down. You can hit numerous bars, restaurants, and food stalls partying the night away.
  • When it comes to visiting castles, Osaka will give you the best bang for your buck. While in Osaka, you can tour Osaka Castle and the Kishiwada Castle Ruins, which were restored to their former glory with walls, moats, gardens, and interiors intact. 
Osaka or Kyoto as a base - which one should you pick? 3

Disadvantages of Staying in Osaka

  • It offers limited tourist attractions. You can complete touring the city in 2 days.
  • It can be quite loud at night. The city has a bustling nightlife. If you are staying in a hostel where the night action and activities take place, expect to hear noise and a night that is not that peaceful.

Advantages of Staying in Kyoto

  • Traditional Japan at its finest. From food to attractions, to accommodations, everything is steeped in tradition. The old Japanese culture is seeping thru everything in Kyoto. 
  • You won’t run out of things to do, places to explore, and tours to join. Imagine visiting thousands of torii gates; tons of shrines, temples, and historical places; the stunning Bamboo forest; endless shopping streets to buy food and souvenirs. 
  • You will be treated to the stunning view of geisha in the beautiful district of Gion.
  • Get to experience staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan during your stay. 
  • There are numerous temples in Kyoto. If you like visiting cultural and historical sites you can go to the declared World Heritage Site Kiyomizu Temple; Toji Temple which features a symbolic five-story pagoda; and Ryoanji Temple which is popular for its rock gardens. 
  • As for shrines where you can get blessings and find your inner peace, you can visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, Heian Shrine, and Yasaka Shrine. 
Osaka or Kyoto as a base - which one should you pick? 4

Disadvantages of Staying in Kyoto

  • Expect food and accommodation to be more expensive.
  • Nightlife is non-existent.
  • Streets and attractions are crowded during the daytime. 

If you think you’ve had enough of Kyoto and Osaka, you always have the option to visit Nikko or Hakone, and Hiroshima. Whichever destination you choose, you will surely be delighted!