Last Updated on November 27, 2020 by queenie mak
Nara is a small quaint town in Nara Prefecture which is part of the Kansai region of Japan. When Nara was the capital city of Japan 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.
With many UNESCO World Heritage sites, friendly wild deer in the park and delicious cuisine unique to the region, Nara attracts many visitors from all over the world.
And because of the proximity between Nara and Kyoto and Osaka, taking a Nara day trip from Kyoto or Osaka is very easy. The train takes you directly to Nara from either city in 50 minutes or less. And if you have a JR Pass, you can travel to Nara for free!
Keep reading my blog post and learn all the things you can do in Nara in one day.
Related Post – One month in Japan: from Tokyo to Hiroshima
What you need to know before taking a day trip to Nara
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 additional travel tips that you may find useful for spending one day in Nara:
- ICOCA is the prepaid IC card for Kansai Region. It is a rechargeable smartcard where you can take public transportation including bus, train and etc. It is useful to have especially if you are taking the train from Kyoto to Nara or Osaka to Nara.
- You can see all the best Nara attractions in one day
- Walking is the best way to see Nara so make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes or sneakers
And if you want to be prepared for your trip to Japan, take a look at some of these resources:
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Kyoto to Nara day trip
Taking a day trip from Kyoto to Nara is really easy. Nara has two train stations serviced by different railway: Japan Railway arrives at Nara Station and Kintetsu Railway arrives at Kintetsu-Nara Station.
Both train stations are within walking distance to the Nara downtown area. The only difference is the trip duration and the cost. Check Hyperdia for train schedules and fares for both railways.
From Kyoto to Nara by train
- Japan Railway: from Kyoto Station to Nara Station (on JR Nara Line)
- Time: 57 minutes
- Cost: ¥720 (covered by JR Pass)
- Kintetsu Railway: from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Kyoto Line)
- Time: 35 – 44 minutes
- Cost: ¥1,160
Osaka to Nara day trip
Similarly, taking a day trip from Osaka to Nara is pretty simple as well. Day-trippers from Osaka can take either railway. Take the Kintetsu Railway as it is cheaper and is a direct train (does not require changing trains) unless you have a JR Pass which will cover the cost for Japan Railway.
From Osaka to Nara by train
- Japan Railway: from Namba (Nankai) Station to Nara Station (on JR Yamatoji Line, transfer at Shin-Imamiya Station)
- Time: 44 – 49 minutes
- Cost: ¥730 (covered by JR Pass)
- Kintetsu Railway: from Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Nara Line)
- Time: 37 – 43 minutes
- Cost: ¥570
Where to stay in Nara
Nara is a relatively small city but is very charming. It would be lovely to stay overnight if you have the opportunity or if you want to explore Uji or Mount Yoshino.
If you want to spend more than one day in Nara, consider checking out one of these accommodations below.
- Oak Hostel Nara ($) – Dorm beds have privacy curtains and clean bathrooms. Located on the north end of Nara Downtown area
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Hotel Pagoda ($) – Various types of dorm beds available. Just at the south edge of Nara Park
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Haruya Naramachi ($) – Compact dorm beds are well-designed and set in a traditional Japanese house. Private Japanese rooms are also available. Close to Nara Downtown
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring ($$$) – A new hotel with a well-designed Japanese interior. The hotel has a hot spring bath, laundry facilities, and more. It is located right beside Nara Station
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
What to eat in Nara
When Nara was the capital city of Japan, it was a central place for political and historical events. A lot of essential influences shaped Nara as a city and it even shaped the culinary scene.
There are a few types of food that are unique to Nara, like the ones mentioned below. Some of these dishes can be found in the suggested restaurant list.
- Miwa somen – wheat flour, hand-stretched noodles made with wheat served in ice water and eat it with dashi soy sauce
- Asuka Nabe – hot pot dish of chicken, vegetables, tofu cooked in goat’s milk and chicken broth and white miso paste
- Chagayu – rice porridge made in roasted green tea
- Narazuke – pickled vegetables like daikon radish, cucumber pickled in sake, gourd, etc.
- Kakinoha-zushi – a type of sushi native to Nara, where mackerel fish sushi is wrapped in a persimmon leaf
- Kuzu mochi – a dessert made with starch from kuzu (Japanese arrowroot)
- Yomogi mochi – a glutinous rice ball with azuki beans (red bean), covered with soybean powder
Where to eat in Nara
- Nakatanidou ($) – a famous place for making yomogi mochi, they have a live demonstration that is active and entertaining. The manual pounding of the mochi creates a softly textured mochi (see photo above)
- Mentouan ($) – delicious udon noodles inside a tofu package in broth. They also have curry udon and tempura bowl. An excellent (and busy) lunch spot.
- You No Cha-Ya (塔の茶屋) ($$) – set of Japanese izakaya dishes in a bowl, served with chagayu
- Tengyokudo Nara Head Shop ($$) – a restaurant that also serves dessert including kuzu mochi
Nara day trip from Kyoto or Osaka
If you have never heard of Nara and wonder what to do in Nara, you are not alone.
Initially, I wanted to visit Nara because I wanted to see the wild deer in Nara Park. After a bit of research, I’m blown away by how many famous historical shrines and temples are located in such close vicinity to each other. You can visit many important Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Nara in one day.
All the top Nara attractions are pinned in the interactive map. You can find more information about each attraction by clicking on the individual pin.
1. Kōfuku-ji Temple
Start your day early. Take the train from Kyoto to Nara or Osaka to Nara and try to arrive in Nara by 9:00 am. And when you arrive in Nara, take a short walk to Kōfuku-ji Temple, one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples.
Kōfuku-ji Temple was moved from Yamashinadera, near Kyoto, to Nara at the time when Nara was the capital city of Japan. At its peak, the temple had up to 175 buildings before but only a handful of buildings are left. Including the Five-story Pagoda, Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall), Three-story Pagoda, Hokuendo (Northern Octagonal Hall), Nanendo (Southern Octagonal Hall), Chu-kondo (Central Golden Hall) and National Treasure Hall.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be the landmark of Nara. You can each visit each of the seven buildings (some require a small fee) and appreciate the architecture of each of these Buddhist temples.
2. Tōdai-ji Temple
Next, visit Tōdai-ji, one of the most important Buddhist temples in all of Japan.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a complex of buildings including Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha). Standing at 48m tall, the temple is made entirely out of wood and it is the world’s largest wooden building. And sitting majestically in the wooden temple is Daibutsu (Buddha statue), the largest bronze statue in Japan.
There is also the Toada-ji Museum, a modern building showcasing Buddhist art and other treasures from the temple. The museum is close to Nandaimon Gate (Great South Gate).
By visiting Todai-ji early in the day, you can avoid the busy crowd as the wooden temple and bronze statue are the biggest attractions in Nara.
3. Nigatsudo Hall
Part of Tōdai-ji grounds, Nigatsudo Hall (Hall of the Second Month) is located on a hill overlooking Nara Park. The staircase approaching Nigatsudo Hall is particularly beautiful and picturesque.
Between March 1 to 14, Omizutori, the oldest annual Buddhist event is held at Nigatsudo Hall. Giant torches are carried up to the Nigatsudo’s balcony during the famous event. It is believed that the burning embers that fall from the torches will bless the onlookers a safe year ahead. If you want to experience a tradition that has been around for over 1250 years, visit Nigatsudo Hall before sunset as it gets really busy.
4. Naramachi (Old Nara City)
By now you should be famished! This is a good time to grab some lunch. Why not try one of Nara’s specialities at either You No Cha-Ya or Mentouan? They are both in Naramachi.
After a good lunch, stroll through the small streets of Naramachi. There are many shops, restaurants, cafes, residential homes, workshops, and ryokans. The best part about Naramachi is getting lost in the small streets and finding gems along the way. Don’t worry – it is safe to walk around!
I particularly like the design aesthetics of traditional wooden houses and minimalist design. While I was meandering the small streets, I found an interior design company (I guess I’ll always be an interior designer at heart), a bathhouse, and boutique shops that sell unique hand-made souvenirs.
5. Isuien Garden
If you like Japanese gardens, make sure to visit Isuien Garden in Nara. It was especially worthwhile to visit the manicured garden during autumn as the fall folliage is absolutely gorgeous!
The entrance fee of ¥650 includes a visit to both front and rear gardens, many tea houses and the small museum where it showcases pottery and other ancient artifacts collected by the owner of the garden.
6. Nara National Museum (Narakokuritsu Museum)
For a fee of ¥700, you can see the permanent collection of Buddhist art at Nara National Museum. The collection includes artworks, hand-scroll paintings, sculptures, and other art related to the teachings of Buddhism. Check the museum’s website for the latest unique and feature exhibition.
7. Kasuga Taisha Shrine
As one of the most important Shinto shrine in Nara, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is definitely worth the visit. The complex has many buildings and shrines but it is known for its hundreds of bronze lanterns lining Naoraiden Hall, East Cloister and Fujinami-no-ya Hall.
Walk around the premise to see the bronze lanterns as well as the bright vermillion-coloured columns, torii gate, and other architectural details.
Hopefully, you are able to visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine before 3:00 pm or so because some of the areas closes at 4:30 pm.
As for admission, it costs ¥500 for the main sanctuary, ¥500 for Kasugataisha Museum and another ¥500 for Manyou Botanical Garden.
7. Nara Park
Most visitors (like me) go to Nara because they want to see wild deers. And there are hundreds of deers roaming around Nara Park or in the streets as they are free to roam.
If you want a close-up encounter with wild deers, you can buy some crackers and feed the deers. The best part is they will bow when you offer the treat. So adorable!
Just make sure to be gentle when you feed the deers. There are many signs in Nara Park telling visitors that the deers will bite and kick. If you are nice to the deers, they will behave.
9. Mount Wakakusa (Wakakusayama)
Mount Wakakusa is behind Nara Park and it is 350m tall with an unobstructed view of Nara at the top of the hill. It is worth walking up the hill for the view, sunset and more wild deers!
And it is an excellent spot to see beautiful pink flowers, especially during cherry blossom festival. The sakura is in full bloom between late-March to mid-April and Mount Wakakusa is one of the best spots for seeing cherry blossom in Nara!
10. Higashimuki Shopping Street (Downtown Nara)
After a full day of temples, shrines, and deers, visit 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 going back to Kyoto or Osaka.
If you like, you can even have dinner in Nara before you head home.
And when you are ready to finish your day trip in Nara, walk to either train station (which is not far away) and make your way home. There are trains going from Nara to Kyoto and Osaka until midnight and the journey to both cities takes one hour.
If you want to see Nara with a tour, check out some of these tours:
If you have more than 1 day in Nara
If you find yourself spending more than one day in Nara and want to venture out to see something else, visit Uji and Mount Yoshino.
Uji is a quaint town known for the production of Uji-cha (Uji green tea). Visit the famous temple, Byōdō, which is the same temple on the ¥10 coin. Hike up the hill to Daikichiyama Observation Deck and see several temples on the mountain. And on the way back to the main street, try some of the local specialties like matcha green tea desserts.
Travelling from Nara to Uji is very simple. Hop on Japan Railway at JR Nara Station on the Nara Line and go all the way to JR Uji Station (34 – 43 minutes, ¥510). Then follow the signs to the city centre.
Mount Yoshino (Yoshinoyama)
If you are travelling through the Kansai region during the cherry blossom season (late-March to mid-April), you should definitely check out Mount Yoshino.
As Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spot, it has over 30,000 cherry trees at different elevations of the mountain. You can enjoy seeing the many species of cherry trees while visiting the touristy town and temples in the area. And when you hike up to the top, the view of all the cherry blossom in full bloom is just simply breathtaking!
The easiest way to travel from Nara to Yoshino is by taking the Kintetsu Railway at Kintetsu-Nara Station to Yamato-Saidaiji Station. Then transfer trains and take it to Kashiharajingu-Mae Station then transfer again and take the train to Yoshino Station. The entire journey takes 96 minutes and costs ¥870. Once you are there, you can take the Yoshino Ropeway and follow the signs to see all the sites and cherry blossom.
Are you including a day trip to Nara in your itinerary?
When you are visiting Kyoto or Osaka, make sure to include Nara on your Japan trip itinerary. Even if you only have enough time to spend a day in Nara, it will be well worth the trip.
Let me know if you like my itinerary or have tried it out. Leave your comments below.