Chinese free independent travelers exploring Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Switzerland Tourism
If you’re looking for an alternative Osaka travel guide, you’ve just landed on the right page. Japan expert, La Carmina, shares her best tips and advice for exploring the more underground side of Osaka.
Only three hours from Tokyo by bullet train, Osaka is a turbo-charged setting for a long weekend getaway. Although it’s worth seeing historic landmarks such as Osaka Castle, travelers shouldn’t miss out on exploring the underground culture for an alternative perspective of the city. For instance, Osaka is home to a gritty and raucous music scene that’s matched only by its drinking holes — where the staff has feathered and dyed hair, the speakers blast Def Leppard, and the walls are decorated with grinning skulls.
I’ve been writing about Japan and visiting Osaka for well over a decade on my La Carmina travel blog. Here are some of my favorite subculture hangouts in the city, which I hope you’ll get to check out on your next trip.
See also: A day in Osaka, Japan
Osaka shopping guide
Let’s start off this alternative Osaka travel guide with a few vintage, indie and unique shopping spots in Osaka.
Shinsaibashi’s Shopping Arcade is a bustling treasure hunt: look for indie and vintage boutiques, such as Dangerous Nude, amidst the mass retailers. Nearby Amerikamura is the cultural equivalent of Tokyo’s Harajuku, with Goths, punks and rockers hanging out in Triangle Park (here’s a map of the best stores). Poke your head through the beaded curtains for cyber fashion, tarot cards and 1980s toys.
A stone’s throw from Umeda Station, EST is a young women’s “shopping town with dream and excitement.” The boutiques lure you in with frantic J-pop music and the chic outfits seen in Cutie and ViVi magazines. If the hundred-plus indie and alternative shops aren’t enough, across the street is Hep Five, a shopping and entertainment megalopolis with a red Ferris wheel.
Sightseeing in Osaka
Here are a few more unique sights to visit in Osaka.
Believe it or not, the Pokemon Center is one of the top tourist attractions in all of Japan. The gargantuan Umeda, Osaka store is stocked with every character imaginable. Children in Pikachu hats will remind you that the brand’s motto is “gotta catch em all,” so bring your wallet.
Kaiyukan is one of the largest aquariums in the world and a family favorite. Young Osaka resident Takumi Tanaka reminisces on his childhood visits. “It’s always fun to see the penguins and dolphins playing, but my favorite thing to do is visit the Floating Jellyfish tanks. It’s so relaxing to watch the intertwining tendrils,” he says. “Also I love to watch the staff feed the sea otters, who play like children.”
Tanaka also encourages first-timers to visit the historic Osaka Castle, especially during the cherry blossom season. “There are always festivals and gatherings in the beautiful park, and little stalls that sell traditional foods like takoyaki. It’s fun to just sit on the benches and watch people go by,” says Tanaka.
Related tour: Guided Walking Tour around Osaka Castle
Bars and Nightlife in Osaka
What’s an Osaka travel guide without a list of the best bars and nightlife?
Related tour: Osaka: Nightlife Experience
Fans of Visual Kei/J-rockers Blood were heartbroken when the group disbanded. But like a Goth Elvis, vocalist Fu-ki is alive and ominously wielding an ice pick behind the counter of his Bar Midian.
The Umeda dive is near-impossible to find, so I suggest studying these detailed directions on my La Carmina Blog. Midian’s decor is a heavy metal wet-dream: a dripping candle sits in a Dracula wine bottle; an axe rests in the umbrella stand. That night, we sat with tattooed rockers who headbanged to Black Sabbath videos and scandalized us with their boy-on-boy antics.
Drinks are 500 yen and have names such as Black Rose and Satan. Fu-ki mixes a strong cocktail and will gladly make you a special one, or pour you a Belgian Satan Beer. He’s also known to pick up the tab for newcomers, especially if you bond over music — so don’t forget to ask him about his Motley Crue cover band.
When metal and rock bands tour Osaka, they frequently stop by Moonwalk, a bar that pumps Marilyn Manson and Japanese glam metal to a young, heavily-pierced crowd.
My travel comrade and I had an instant crush on our eyeliner-smeared server Kouta, who plays bass in a new Visual Kei band. The fantasy faded a little when he went into the kitchen to cook our orders: tasty 315 yen plates of Korean fried rice and lotus pork cakes. There’s a 400 yen cover charge, but the drink menu — which has over 300 offerings for 200 yen each – more than makes up for it. Got a sweet tooth? Try the raspberry yogurt cocktail. More of a hardcore type? Go for the brandy ginger mixer. And don’t be surprised if the charming bartender brings over free shots.
Bar Rock Rock
Alice Cooper. Bad Religion. Motley Crue. Metallica. They are among the hundreds of famed faces who have raised hell at Rock Rock since the bar opened in 1995, leaving behind autographed photos and tales of destruction.
The atmosphere reminds me of a really chill jazz club, only with screamo vocals. The bar plays anything from punk to metal and has events throughout the year that bring in throngs of rock fans. These include special DJ nights such as Hell’s Bells (AC/DC), Emotion is Dead (emo) and the self-explanatory Loud & Heavy.
The menu is a typical selection of pizzas, pastas and salads (600-800 yen). The drinks are standards, plus a selection of fruity cocktails (500-800 yen). A little pricy, but worth it when they’re poured by celebrity bartender “Noxl Rose.”
Food in Osaka
Take your tastebuds on an adventure.
See also: Japanese Pork Chop in Downtown Osaka
Non-Japanese speakers, memorize the word “okonomiyaki.” It’s a tragedy if you leave without tasting the grilled savory pancake (usually with seafood, and topped with bonito flakes and brown sauce) that is Kansai’s soul food. Look for family restaurants such as Tengu, where recipes are passed down from several generations.
Takoyaki — grilled octopus balls made from pouring batter into molds — are another Osaka specialty. Every major street has a stand where you can buy a dozen for 500 yen. Twists on the original include egg or melted cheese toppings, and takoyaki stuffed in a crepe. But nothing beats mom-and-pop shops, such as Tako House at Umeda station, where a shy grandma oversees the cooking.
Yuzu (citrus fruit)
Yuzu is a divine mating between a lemon and a tangerine. In Osaka, you’ll find the flavor in seemingly every type of dish: sorbet, sake, shochu. The fruit is rarely found fresh outside of Japan, so don’t hesitate to gorge on it at every meal.
Day Trips from Osaka
If you want to escape from Osaka for a day, check out a few of these nearby places.
Take a jaunt to Kobe to explore its outstanding parks, zoo, and harbor. For a walk on the dark side, visit Gothic / fetish / occult / Satanic Bar Idea. The friendly ladies behind the nail-spiked bar will chat with you and perform dark rituals, including shibari or rope bondage demonstrations.
Get away from the grit with a day trip to Nara, only an hour away by subway. The cultural capital dazzles with six Buddhist temples, a Shinto shrine and the Imperial Place. But the biggest thrill, for tourists of all ages, is petting the sacred deer that roam in Nara Park.
Related tour: From Kyoto or Osaka: Private Walking Tour through Nara
Kyoto is located north of Osaka, and home to thousands of well-preserved places of worship such as Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). First built in the 14th century, the three-story gilded structure holds the Buddha’s ashes and is set in an exquisite garden with a mirror pond.
Related tour: From Osaka: Kyoto Top Highlights Day Trip
At the heart of walking holidays in Spain lies the Camino de Santiago – Pilgrimage of Compostela – known as the Way of St James in English. This is a network of pilgrim paths dating back to the 9th century, when the remains of the apostle Saint James the Great were discovered, in which different towns and villages across Europe all lead back to Santiago, Spain.
Although Camino de Santiago Frances begins in France, these routes all end in Spain. For this reason, Spain has become a very popular walking holiday destination, in which holidaymakers and hikers from around the world dive into a segmented route within one of the pilgrim paths.
This type of holiday has it all: physical activity, culture and history, and is a chance to explore different places. Whilst you may have driven from one town to the next in Spain, it’s not quite the same experience as walking, in which you have lots of time to take in your surroundings and see every inch of soil between two connected villages or towns.
Within Camino de Santiago, there are many routes with varying levels of difficulty. Sarria to Santiago is a popular one as it’s graded 2 out of 5, yet covers 111km, crossing various significant Spanish towns such as Sarria, Puertomarin, Palas de Rey, and Arzu.
This particular route takes 7 days to complete, in which there are many great hotels along the way. Of course, because most of the day is spent walking, which is free, and the hotels include half board or breakfast (up to you), these walking trips have very few unexpected costs.
Another popular route to Santiago is from St Jean Pied de Port. if you’re thinking that doesn’t sound very Spanish then you’re right, because this route begins in southern France and ends in, you guessed it, Santiago. The ‘French Way’ is one of the most culturally rich walks in the world. St Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque region is a 12th-century town. Soon, you head to Pamplona, which is world-famous for its bull-running, before you eventually pass through northern Spain. This walk is extremely diverse, allowing you to see both the differences and similarities in Spanish-French architecture, culture, and terrain.
Socialising and Culture
Of course, meeting other pilgrims along the way is also a key part of these routes – this is the benefit of sticking to the historical trails. Other like-minded folks will undoubtedly be crossing the same paths that are experiencing the same challenges.
Because these are historical routes, the towns they cross are culturally significant too. Almost any route you choose will have a plethora of cathedrals, architecture, and authentic cuisine. Rustic villages and forests are plentiful in northern Spain too.
What Time of Year is Best?
Southern France and northern Spain are both fairly mild climates all year round, with average summer temperatures of 25 degrees celsius (80F) and average winter temperatures of 12 degrees celsius (54 F). For this reason, no time of year is too challenging to make these walks, although between June and September is recommended if you want as little rain as possible.
It’s not a surprise that I often think back to my recent trip to Jamaica.
Whether it’s the flashes of white sand and perfect water, the local food, the wanders through downtown Montego Bay, the day trips into the jungle-covered interior and, of course, the infectious vibe of the people, the trip was beyond memorable.
I had been to Jamaica many times when I worked on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager, way back in the early 2000s. But this time was different. Instead of visiting for a mere few hours at a time, on this occasion, it was a full 10 days on the island. Naturally, this gifted me the opportunity to do more, meet more people, eat more food and simply visit far more places.
A vacation to Jamaica should be high up, very high up, on any traveler’s list, especially if that traveler is fond of tropical destinations, a combination of relaxation and culturally-focused excursions, endless natural wonders and, to be honest, feeling happy from the moment you arrive. From that first smile and all the positive energy you’ll soak up from your first few conversations, by the time you reach your accommodation you will already know that you’ve made the right choice for your trip.
And the good news is that traveling to Jamaica right now is quite easy, with a simple set of Covid guidelines to follow:
As for my personal recommendations of places to visit:
- Beaches (Negril Seven Mile Beach is gorgeous!)
- Dunn’s River Falls
- Bob Marley Museum
- Wandering around downtown Montego Bay
- Appleton Rum Tour
- Food tasting (find out where the locals eat and try jerk chicken, codfish and meat patties)
- Hire a driver for a day trip through the interior (stop in villages along the way and meet great people!)
Jamaica is also a short flight from much of the US, making it an even more ideal destination for that well-deserved island vacation.
I’ll be back again myself, for sure. And it will absolutely be for another 10 day stay (at least!) as I still have plenty more of this welcoming, laid-back island to explore!
The Caribbean is the holy grail of boating holidays. With over 5,000 islands, incredible weather and endless tropical marine life, setting sail with a catamaran rental through Nautal offers up an endless world of possibilities. Here is a guide to the many adventures you can get up to when sailing around the Caribbean at your own pace.
Island hopping is undoubtedly the first thing that comes to mind when traveling around the Caribbean on a boat. Catamaran rental in the Bahamas, for example, is a fantastic way to pass the time, being home to 700 islands and 2,400 cays alone. When factoring in the Caribbean as a whole, you’re undoubtedly going to stumble on some hidden gems and potentially uninhabited islands.
For example, Salt Cay, a gorgeous island that is home to a quiet village and a sleepy atmosphere, is one you most likely haven’t heard of. With only one bar and one restaurant, you’re getting a unique experience of serene isolation, but with some locals nonetheless. There are countless other islands just like this, but also some more vibrant and populated ones too, like Staniel Cay in the Bahamas.
Beaches and Coves
Almost any one of the 5,000+ Caribbean islands is bound to have a white sand beach with crystal clear water, so it’s almost redundant to name some of the “best”. However, there certainly are some noteworthy names that are highly acclaimed, and it gives you somewhere to start in your search.
The first name that comes to mind is Grace Bay, which is on one of the Turks and Caicos islands. There is a coral reef just off the shore of its 8 kilometer long white sand beach. Being a highly regarded beach, there are also some famous exclusive resorts and hotels too if you’re looking to take a night off from the catamaran.
Seven Mile Beach located in Grand Cayman is another name you may have heard of – and for good reason. Laden with coconut palm trees, Seven Mile Beach is a very swimmable and tourist friendly beach that has plenty of hammocks, clear water and amenities for you to enjoy.
Before exploring the possible water sports that you can indulge in, it’s worth noting that the marine life in the Caribbeans is buzzing and rich in its beauty. Stingrays, turtles, tropical fish, and dolphins are just some of the many exotic marine life you may come across. This makes scuba diving a thrilling activity, and being on your own boat, you can stop off whenever and wherever you like.
Some local islands may offer boating tours, which would be redundant, but they may be worth trailing if you see one as they may know the exact spots for spotting certain species.
If you head to a more populated island, such as the Dominican Republic, you will find many merchants selling or renting gear for some water sports – like windsurfing and jet skis. In fact, Exumas in the Bahamas also has swimming pigs which is a once in a lifetime kind of thing to see.
Ultimately, renting your own boat at Nautal changes the entire dynamic of the vacation. Suddenly, you can see and do everything you want to but can do so at your own pace and with privacy. It allows you to improvise – perhaps you have stumbled on an incredible sunset or great snorkeling spot – and can avoid the crowds whenever you wish.
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Before the mountain biking season starts up again, it’s a good idea to consider which mountain biking destinations you want to head to this year.
You might already be imagining yourself riding through scenic trails, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, and a light breeze cooling down your sweat. However, before you pull your bike out of storage and dust it off, spend a few moments thinking about where you’re going to go for this year’s mountain bike trips.
Top mountain biking destinations in North America
Here’s where to go for some of the best mountain biking in the US and Canada.
1. Moab, Utah
Moab is the place to go for all US mountain bikers. Bikers come from miles around to experience the truly unique red rock destination in southeastern Utah. If you’re aiming to hit multiple hot spots in one road trip, Moab is easily accessible from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
You’ll find plenty of historic mountain biking trails in Moab, such as the popular Whole Enchilada. But what makes this location different is that the trails are always changing and expanding. On average, 30 miles of new trails are created each year. Two of the most recent are North Klondike and Klonzo.
2. Sedona, Arizona
The best mountain bike rides in Sedona are all within a short ride of the town, so you won’t need to stress about driving anywhere. If you’re looking for a proper challenge, head for the Highline/Templeton/Baldwin loop of the aptly named Hangover Trail.
Intermediate riders will undoubtedly enjoy the Chuckwagon/Mescal/Aerie network. While beginners can get in on the action on the Big Park Loop and the Bell Rock Path.
3. Bend, Oregon
Bend’s classic “moon dust” conditions don’t suit everyone, however, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the top US mountain biking destinations. Singletracks are continually being added to Bend’s hundreds of miles of trails and mountain bike infrastructure.
Another attraction that makes Bend stand out is the recent opening of the Mount Bachelor downhill mountain bike park, which already boasts a wide array of trails.
4. Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler is a true mecca for all things mountain biking. It’s best known for its world-class downhill mountain bike park, but the area is covered in excellent cross country and all-mountain singletrack trails.
There are countless other locales in British Columbia, such as Squamish, Fernie, Nelson, Golden, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Revelstoke, and many more.
5. Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte is a Rocky Mountain town for skiers and mountain bikers alike. Located midway between Denver and Grand Junction, it is even closer to Colorado Springs. You’ll have no problems enjoying a relaxing and scenic road trip from either of these major cities.
When you get there, you’ll find over 700 miles of alpine singletrack trails. Not only is Crested Butte home to one of the oldest mountain bike festivals, it also features a legendary 13,000-foot climb and is one of the destinations that started the mountain biking craze back in the 1970s.
6. Downieville, California
Downieville is another location that’s tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains. You have to travel over an hour up into the mountains on winding two-lane highways but once you’re there, you get to experience the Downieville Downhill, a marquee ride that everyone’s heard of. Surrounding the town is a gigantic network of 500 or more miles of mountain bike trails.
7. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
For many mountain bikers, The Tahoe Rim Trail is a bucket list adventure but you should also consider adding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Flume Trail to your list. The newest trails are in the Southlake area, while the best downhill trailers are in the Northstar Resort. For the best views, you’ll need to head higher up.
8. Wydaho, Wyoming and Idaho
The Wydaho region covers Jackson, Jackson Hole Resort, Victor, Idaho, Driggs, and Grand Targhee Resort. Mountain biking has really blown up in Wydaho over the last few years. There has been significant trail development close to the town of Jackson. Historically-illegal trails on Teton Pass have also been adopted into the trail system.
Jackson Hole has improved its bike park, but the most notable improvements have been at the Grand Targhee Resort. There is now an incredible array of downhill mountain bike trails, cross country trails, winter fat biking trails, and other two-wheeled singletrack routes.
9. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and it’s a city known for its mountain beauty, historic architecture, and vibrant art scene.
Asheville is surrounded by some awesome trails, including the Bailey Mountain Bike Park and the 500,000-acre Pisgain National Forest. Kisuma, Dupont, and Tsali are also close to Asheville and offer more of North Carolina’s most treasured mountain biking trails.
10. East Burke, Vermont
Close to the Canadian border, East Burke is a secluded mountain town that is challenging to get to, but well worth the effort. If you live on the East Coast, East Burke is a three-hour drive from Boston and an hour and a half from Burlington.
East Burke is a great place to ride your mountain bike. It includes The Kingdom Trails network which has something for all ability levels. There are well-groomed doubletracks for beginners and tight, fast, flowing singletracks for more experienced cyclists.
Other areas you want to check out include Burke Mountain, Dead Moose Alley, and Darling Hill. The area is best experienced between May and October.
I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You’re in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.
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If you want to travel the world for a year with your partner and children, here are some things to know about getting it right:
Make Sure It’s the Right Decision
The reality of long term travel is that it isn’t always fun or easy. While there are plenty of adventures to look forward to, you should also prepare yourself for boredom, disrupted travel plans, poor weather, uncomfortable situations, and more.
This is not meant to put you off your gap year. Rather, it is meant to offer a more balanced perspective of what your year of travel may look like. This way, you can ensure that you and your family are better prepared for the experience.
Create a Plan for Homeschooling
If you are traveling with younger children, education may not be a pressing issue. However, with older children, the situation can be more complicated, especially since each state and country has its own laws on homeschooling. Check what the requirements are and make sure to abide by them to prevent your kids from falling behind. To make the job easier, try to register your children in homeschooling courses or systems. They will be able to follow professionally constructed lessons, assignments, and more.
Match the Destinations to Your Children’s Age
When traveling with children, you may not always get to be as adventurous as you like. This is especially true when moving around with infants and toddlers.
When it comes to babies, look for places with creature comforts and good healthcare in case of emergencies. You should also have constant access to safe water and food. Primary school-aged kids are a bit tougher, but you should still look for areas with proper accommodation and basic comfort.
When your kids enter their teenage years, you can head out to more remote areas or even into the wilderness. You can choose to live in RVs, and tents or travel to countries where you will find yourself off-the-beaten-path on a regular basis.
Travel With the Necessities
It’s only once you begin traveling that you realize how vastly different countries are, especially when it comes to supplies for your children. You might not be able to get the kind of baby formula or top quality car seats that you’re used to at home. Stock up on items that you can’t do without. If your children are quite young, take a car seat and stroller wherever you go as well.
Plan Activities Around Your Kids
When planning activities, it is important to balance out museum visits with fun activities for your kids. Otherwise, they will get bored and that’s not going to make a family gap year any easier. This doesn’t mean that you only have to hit up theme parks or play centers though.
Instead, focus trips around nature, animals, and activities that actively engage your kids. These trips keep them occupied but also broaden their minds and horizons. You may also want to do plenty of research before visiting larger cities. It won’t take long to see how kid-friendly a certain city might be and whether or not they have sufficient activities that would appeal to kids and a family.
A family gap year can be a great experience for everyone as long as you are prepared for what to expect. With the tips above, you can proceed knowing that you have properly thought out your decision and now understand how to move forward in the best interests of your entire family.