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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.
  • Plan your visit with the following festivals and events in 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 where the special event is 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 fan in the kangensen boat ritual at Sarusawa-ike Pond.
    • Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri (December 15-18) – the annual festival for locals praying for bountiful harvests parades 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. The only difference is the trip duration and the cost. Check Hyperdia for train schedules and fares for both railways.

Japan Railways

  • Kyoto Station to Nara Station (on JR Nara Line) – 46 minutes, ¥720 (covered by JR Pass)

Kintetsu Railway

  • Kyoto Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Kyoto Line) – 46 minutes, ¥640

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. Take the Kintetsu Railway as it is a direct train and is cheaper. Unless you have a JR Pass, then take Japan Railways.

Japan Railways

  • Namba (Nankai) Station to Nara Station (on JR Yamatoji Line, transfer at Shin-Imamiya Station) – 51 minutes, ¥730 (covered by JR Pass)

Kintetsu Railway

  • Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (on Kintetsu-Nara Line) – 36 minutes, ¥570

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.

I pinned all the top things to do in Nara on the interactive map below. 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. Sanjodori Street

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.

And on the way, stop by Nakatanidou, a famous Japanese dessert place for making yomogi mochi. They have a live mochi making demonstration that is active and entertaining. The manual pounding of the mochi creates a softly textured mochi.

2-5. 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

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

8-10. 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

11. Nara Park

Most visitors (like me) travel to Nara because they want to see wild deer. And there are hundreds of deers are roaming around Nara Park or in the streets as they are free to roam.

If you want a close-up encounter with wild deer, you can buy some crackers and feed the deer. The best part is they will bow when you offer the treat. So adorable!

Just make sure to be gentle when you feed the deer. Many signs in Nara Park tell visitors that the deer will bite and kick. If you are nice to the deer, they will behave.

12 & 13. Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Manyo Botanical Gardens

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 Manyou Botanical Garden. Definitely Instagram-worthy!

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

14-17. Naramachi Historic District

And finally, take a stroll through the small streets of Naramachi Historic District. This is the part of town that has many local shops, restaurants, cafes, and residential homes. Many buildings were built in the late 18th to 19th century and are Registered Cultural Property, 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:

  • 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.
  • Goryo Shrine (8am-4:30pm; free) – a shrine founded during the Enryaku Era (around 800 AD).
  • 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.

18. 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 (not far away) 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. Isuien Garden and Neiraku Museum (9:30am-4:30pm; closed Tuesdays; ¥650) – see Edo Period inspired Japanese garden in the front and the back garden that was designed in the Meiji Era. Also see the 2,000 plus items that survived the 1945 Kobe air raid in the museum.
  2. 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.
  3. Nara Prefectural Museum of Art (9am-5pm; closed Mondays; ¥400) – see over 4,100 pieces of artwork by artists who worked in Nara Prefecture.
  4. Mount Wakakusa – hike 350m and see wild deers, sunset and an unobstructed view of Nara. During spring, it is the best place to see cherry blossom.
  5. 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.

If you are spending more than 1 day in Nara

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

1. Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail

Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail is an ancient road in Nara Prefecture and it is also 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 and tenri ramen in Tenri.

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, definitely make your way to 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 take it to 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 city but is very charming. It would be lovely to stay overnight if you have the opportunity or if you want to hike Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail or Mount Yoshino.

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 room is 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.

What to eat in Nara Japan

During your day in Nara, you can smaple many of these yummy Nara famous food for lunch and dinner. Many restaurants open during lunch hour and a few are open near the central part of the city.

  • Kakinoha-zushi – a type of sushi native to Nara, where mackerel fish sushi is wrapped in a persimmon leaf
  • Chagayu – roasted green tea rice porridge
  • Narazuke – pickled vegetables like daikon radish, cucumber pickled in sake, gourd, etc.
  • Somen noodle – wheat flour, hand-stretched noodles served in ice water and eaten with dashi soy sauce
  • Yomogi mochi – a glutinous rice ball with red bean and covered with soybean powder

Looking for tours around Nara? Check out these experiences:

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

Honestly, it really depends on your own travel itinerary because the travel time between Nara and Kyoto and Osaka is relatively the same. The efficient train systems can take you to Nara easily 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 to make it better.

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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