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Nara Day Trip from Kyoto or Osaka: 1-Day Nara Itinerary

If you have never heard of Nara and wonder what to do in Nara, you are not alone. The first time I knew of the city is from Instagram photos and videos of the wild deers in Nara bowing to people. How cute!

After a bit of research, I’m blown away by the number of things to see in Nara. The city was Japan’s capital city in 710. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples were built, which is why the city has some of Japan’s oldest and largest shrines and temples. Today, many of them are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Best of all, taking a Nara day trip from Kyoto or Osaka is super easy. All thanks to the efficient train systems where the train ride takes less than an hour from either city.

Keep reading and learn how you can see all the best things to do in Nara in one day and how to travel from Osaka or Kyoto to Nara.

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Nara day trip from Osaka and Kyoto: What you need to know

Before you take a day trip to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of information, including how to get around and other Japan travel tips.

Here are some additional travel tips that you may find useful for spending a day in Nara:

  • Arrive in Nara by 9am so you can comfortably see all the best attractions in this day trip itinerary.
  • Nara is a safe city for solo female travellers.
  • The best way to see Nara is on foot. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Carry cash with you, as many eateries accept cash only.
  • ICOCA is the prepaid IC card for Kansai Region. It is a rechargeable smartcard where you can take public transportation, including bus, train, etc. It is useful to have especially if you are taking the train from Kyoto to Nara or Osaka to Nara.
  • You can feed crackers to the wild deers in Nara. Before you feed crackers to the deers, bow to the deer and the deer will bow back.
  • Please read the signs about how to interact with deers. Be gentle to the deers and do not touch the fawns.

Best time to visit Nara, Japan

Many people visit Nara in spring for cherry blossom season and in the fall to see the different colours of fall foliage. Although these are some of the best times to visit Nara, the city can be quite busy.

Also consider the following festivals and events when planning your trip to Nara.

  • Omizutori (March 1-14) – the oldest annual Buddhist event (over 1250 years) held at Nigatsudo Hall where giant torches are carried up to the balcony and the burning embers that fall from the torches will bless the onlookers with a safe year ahead.
  • Cherry blossom viewing (late March to early April) – Nara Park and Saho-gawa River.
  • Himuro Shirayuki Matsuri (first weekend in May) – snow festival at Himuro Shrine, a special event dedicated to the deity of ice. 
  • Meet Baby Deer (June) – see little fawns at Rokuen in Kasuga Taisha Precincts.
  • Uneme Festival (mid-Autumn) – see a procession of people in ancient clothing with ceremonial flower fans in the kangensen boat ritual at Sarusawa-ike Pond.
  • Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri (December 15-18) – the annual festival for locals praying for bountiful harvests parade through Nara City and Kasuga Taisha.

How to travel from Kyoto to Nara

Taking a Kyoto to Nara day trip is super easy. Nara has two train stations serviced by two different railways: Japan Railway arrives at JR Nara Station, and Kintetsu Railway arrives at Kintetsu-Nara Station.

Both train stations are within walking distance of the Nara downtown area but Kintetsu-Nara Station is bit closer. Also, there is a slight difference in trip duration and cost.

Japan Railway

  • Kyoto Station to Nara Station (on JR Nara Line) – 44 minutes, ¥720 (covered by JR Pass)

Kintetsu Railway

  • Kyoto Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Kyoto Line) – 46 minutes, ¥760

How to travel from Osaka to Nara

Similarly, taking a Osaka to Nara day trip is pretty simple as well. Day-trippers from Osaka can take either railway. Travel time for both railways are relatively the same but JR Railway is slightly cheaper.

Japan Railway

  • JR Namba Station to Nara Station (on JR Yamatoji Line) – 42 minutes, ¥580 (covered by JR Pass)

Kintetsu Railway

  • Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Nara Line) – 40 minutes, ¥680

Nara Day Trip Itinerary Map

There are many things to do in Nara that it could take a couple of days to see everything. But if you are only spending one day in Nara, it is possible to see all the best highlights in the quaint town.

Here is the summary of my Nara day trip itinerary:

  1. Mochi making demonstration at Nakatanidou
  2. Kofuku-ji Temple Complex
  3. Early lunch – Nara famous food
  4. Nandaimon Gate
  5. Daibutsu-den
  6. Todai-ji Temple Complex
  7. Mount Wakakusa
  8. Kasuga Taisha Shrine
  9. Naramachi Historic District
  10. Try Nihonshu, a Nara sake
  11. Higashimuki Shopping Street

Below is an interactive map with all the highlights for my Nara itinerary. Red numbered pins are all the must-see Nara attractions during the day trip, and blue pins are other things to do in Nara if you are staying longer, and green pins are day trip ideas from Nara and yellow pins are Nara accommodations.

Nara day trip from Kyoto or Osaka: Best Things to Do in One Day

1. Mochi making demonstration at Nakatanidou

Whether you arrive at Nara Station or Kintetsu-Nara Station, walk towards the centre of the city by walking across Sanjodori Street. This is the main avenue that cut across the centre from east to west.

Stop by Nakatanidou, a famous Japanese dessert place for making yomogi mochi, which is a glutinous rice ball with red bean and covered with soybean powder. They have a live mochi making demonstration that is active and entertaining. The manual pounding of the mochi creates a softly textured mochi. Try one – it’s so good!

2. Kōfuku-ji Temple Complex

The first attraction on your Nara itinerary is Kōfuku-ji Temple, one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples.

At its peak, the Kōfuku-ji had up to 175 buildings. Today, only a handful of buildings are left and some are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit each of the seven buildings (some require a small fee) and appreciate the architecture of each of these Buddhist temples.

If you have to pick and choose which ones to see, look for:

  • Nanen-do (Southern Round Hall) – see the three-eyed, eight-armed image of Fukukensaku Kannon in the octagonal hall that wa built initially as a memorial chapel.
  • Kōfuku-ji Chukondo (Central Golden Hall) – Kōfuku-ji main temple hall was burnt and rebuilt several times. Today, you can see several gilded Buddhist icons and large portraits of the patriarchs of the Hosso School of Buddhism.
  • Eastern Golden Hall – houses a large statue of Yakushi Nyorai aka the Medicine Buddha and other wooden images. (currently under renovation)
  • Kofuku-ji Gojunoto (Five Story Pagoda) – the second tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. (currently under renovation)

Address: 48 Noboriojicho, Nara City | Hours: 9am-5pm | Admission: ¥500 for Kōfuku-ji Chukondo

3, 4 or 5. Have an early lunch and try one of several famous Nara food

For this Nara itinerary, it is best to get some food before you continue to explore the highlights of Nara. Plus, many restaurants fill up quickly and a long queue during lunch peak hour so it’s better to eat early.

On the way to the next attraction, there are a few restaurants that serves yummy Nara famous food. Consider try one of these places:

  • Tengyokudo Nara Main Shop – a small little restaurant where you can try hot or cold kudzu udon noodles. And you can even try a kudzu-based Japanese desserts
  • Kamameshi Shizuka Kouen-ten – a popular restaurant serving kamameshi, which is a Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot. 
  • Izasa-Nakatani-hompo Yumekaze-hiroba – the set menu includes kakinoha-zushi (persimmon leaf sushi) and somen noodles (thin wheat flour noodles). 

6 & 7. Tōdai-ji Temple: Nandaimon Gate and Daibutsu-den

Next, visit Tōdai-ji Temple, one of Japan’s most important Buddhist temples and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

First, you’ll have to walk through Nandaimon Gate (Great South Gate), the largest temple entrance gate in Japan. Standing at 25.46m above the stone plinth, the giant entrance gate also houses the statues of guardian dieties.

Then continue on the path and enter Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha). Standing 48m tall, the temple is made entirely of wood and is the world’s largest wooden building. Walk around the perimeter of Daibutsu (Buddha statue), the largest bronze statue in Japan, and see other statues within the wooden temple.

Address: 406-1 Zoshicho, Nara City | Hours: 7:30am-5:30pm | Admission: ¥600

8. Tōdai-ji Temple Complex

There are many buildings that make up the Tōdai-ji Temple complex. When you leave Daibutsu-den, walk towards the eastern hills and see these attractions in this order. It will take you in a loop and return back to Daibutsu-den.

  • Todai-ji Hokkedo (Sangatsudo, March Hall) – see the statue of Fukukensaku Kannon, other statues and worship hall in the oldest structure in Todai-ji.
  • Todai-ji Nigatsudo (February Hall) – a UNESCO building perched on a hill and the best spot to see a view of Nara City. This is where Omizutori, the oldest annual Buddhist event, is held.
  • Todai-ji Shoro (Bell Tower) – see the 26.3 ton bell, one of the three famous bells of Japan.

Address: Tōdai-ji, Nara City | Hours: 24hours | Admission: ¥600 for Todai-ji Hokkedo

9. Mount Wakakusa

Walk over to Mount Wakakusa base North Gate (or South Gate) and pay ¥150 to enter the protected area. The sloped lawn area is a nice spot to interact with wild deers and also see an unobstructed view of Nara. 

If you have the energy, hike 350m by following the flight of stairs to the top of the first peak to see an aerial view of Nara. The hike takes 20 minutes.

If you keep following the trail for 35 minutes, you can hike up to Wakakusayama Hill. There is a historical landmark called Uguisuzuka Tumulus and an observatory platform to see 360 degree panoramic view of the area. 

Address: Zoshicho, Nara City | Hours: 9am-4:30pm | Admission: ¥150

10. Kasuga Taisha Shrine

As one of Nara’s most important Shinto shrines, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is known for its numerous suspended bronze lanterns at the Main Sanctuary and mossy stone lanterns on the main path. Plus, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The shrine was founded in 786 and has been rebuilt over time. As you wander around the shrine complex, see many bright vermillion-coloured buildings, giant Japanese cedar tree that is over 1,000 years old, all the deities enshrined at Kasuga Taisha, and Kasuga-Man-Tourou-View, a dim room with lit lanterns.

And if you are in Nara during Spring, see wonderful wisteria in full bloom in Manyo Botanical Garden. Definitely Instagram-worthy!

Address: 160 Kasuganocho, Nara City | Hours: 6:30am-5:30pm | Admission: ¥500 for the Main Sanctuary

Protip: If you want to save time and energy, take the blue Gurutto bus from Kasuga Taisha Shrine to Kintetsu-Nara Station, then walk over to Naramachi (the next spot on the itinerary). The bus stop is in front of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine Museum. It costs ¥100. Otherwise, the walk can take up to half an hour.

11. Naramachi Historic District

And finally, take a stroll through the small streets of Naramachi Historic District. This is the old town area that has many local shops, restaurants, cafes, and merchant homes. Many buildings were built in the late 18th to 19th century and are Registered Cultural Properties, which gives Naramachi it’s unique look and feel.

There are many things to see in Naramachi, but if you are short on time, here is a short list:

  • Mochiidono Shopping Street – enter the district via the main shopping street
  • Gango-ji Temple (9am-5pm; ¥500) – the first Buddhist temple in Japan, a UNESCO site and a designated National Treasure. It was relocated to Nara when the city became the new capital.
  • Naramachi Museum (10am-4pm; closed Tuesday to Thursday; free) – the only place where you can buy an authentic Migawari-zaru dolls (red stuffed monkey dolls for good luck). 
  • Naramachi Koshi-no-le (Lattice House) (9am-5pm; free) – tour inside a machiya, an old urban townhouse that is both a home and workplace for local merchants.
  • Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten – a retail store selling household goods and souvenirs of Nara, like Hana Fukin, a cloth made for kitchen use.

12 or 13. Try Japanese sake from Nara

Want a break and enjoy local Japanese sake? Why not take a break and try nihonshu, a Japanese sake or rice wine made with rice grown around Nara and water sourced from local mountain range.

There are 29 sake breweries in Nara Prefecture and you can sample a few at Nara Izumi Yusai, a small liquor store in Naramachi. Or visit Ogawa Matebe, a casual alcohol shop serving local sake and Japanese craft beers. 

14. Higashimuki Shopping Street

After a full day of temples, shrines, and deers, stop by Higashimuki Shopping Street, a covered shopping arcade with many souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. You can find local treats here and pick up some delicious food souvenirs before returning to Kyoto or Osaka.

If you like, you can have dinner around this area before heading home.

When you are ready to finish your day trip in Nara, walk to either train station and make your way home. Trains from Nara to Kyoto and Osaka run until midnight, and the journey to both cities takes about an hour.

Other things to do for your Nara day trip itinerary

There are so many things to do in Nara that choosing what to do in just one day is difficult. But if you are staying longer or want to change up the 1-day Nara itinerary, here are some suggestions:

  1. Nara National Museum (9:30am-5pm; closed Mondays; ¥700) – see the permanent collection of Buddhist art, which includes artworks, hand-scroll paintings, sculptures, and other art related to the teachings of Buddhism.
  2. Isuien Garden and Neiraku Museum (9:30am-4:30pm; closed Tuesdays; ¥650) – see Edo Period-inspired Japanese garden in the front and the back. Also, see the 2,000-plus items that survived the 1945 Kobe air raid in the museum.
  3. Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest – hike 9.4km trail in the sacred mountain behind Kasuga Taisha Shrine and see over 175 types of trees, waterfall, caves and wild life. The forest is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  4. Yakushiji Temple – visit other temples west side of Nara city.

If you are spending more than 1 day in Nara

If you spend more than one day in Nara and want to visit and see other places in Nara Prefecture, check out the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail or Mount Yoshino.

1. Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail

Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail is an ancient road in Nara Prefecture and Japan’s oldest mountain trail. The 11km hiking trail starts from Omiwa Shrine in Sakurai City and ends at Isonokami Shrine in Tenri City.

When you hike the 1,000-year-old trail, you can see historic temples and ancient tombs through present-day farmland and quaint towns. Plus, you can try somen noodles in Miwa.

How to get to Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail: hop on Japan Railways at JR Nara Station on the Sakurai Line and go to Miwa Station (27 minutes; ¥330). Then, follow the signs for the trail.

2. Mount Yoshino

If you are in the Kansai region from late March to mid-April, visit Mount Yoshino, one of Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spots. There are over 30,000 cherry trees in the mountain range!

But even if you are not there during peak season, you can still visit the quaint towns and hike the trails.

How to get to Mount Yoshino: Take the Kintetsu Railway from Kintetsu-Nara Station to Yamato-Saidaiji Station. Then, transfer trains and alight at Kashiharajingu-Mae Station. Transfer again and take the train to Yoshino Station (1 hour 23 minutes;¥1,030). Once there, take the Yoshino Ropeway and follow the signs.

Where to stay in Nara as a solo traveller

Nara is a small but charming city. If you have the opportunity or want to hike the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail or Mount Yoshino, it would be lovely to stay overnight.

If you want to spend more than one day in Nara, consider one of the accommodations below:

  • Iroha Grand Hotel Kintetsu Nara Ekimae ($) – I really enjoyed staying at this new hotel in Nara. The rooms are clean and comfortable. And it is very central to many things in the city.
  • Miroku Nara by The Share Hotels ($$) – I also really like this hotel because of the modern guest room and the overall design aesthetics. It’s a bit tucked away but still pretty central to most places in Nara.

Looking for tours around Nara? Check out these experiences:

Is it better to go to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto?

Honestly, it depends on your travel itinerary because the travel time between Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka is relatively the same. The efficient train systems can easily take you to Nara from either city, so it depends if you have an extra day in Osaka or Kyoto.

But either way, I would definitely include a day trip to Nara from either city. There is so much to see in Nara, but if you only have one day, follow my efficient itinerary so you can make the most of your Nara day trip.

Let me know in the comments below if you have tried my Nara itinerary or have any suggestions for improving it.

Thank you for reading my Nara day trip itinerary

You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan:

Introduction to Japan

Kansai region

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

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