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Nara Day Trip from Kyoto or Osaka, Japan

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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. The city has some of Japan’s oldest and largest shrines and temples.

With many UNESCO World Heritage sites, friendly roaming 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, visiting Nara as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka is possible. 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 and learn all the things you can do in Nara in one day.

 

 

Why Nara is great for a solo female traveller

Like other parts of Japan, Nara is a great place for solo female travellers because of efficient transportation and Nara is a safe city.

For most travellers, it might be intimidating to take the Japan Rail System because many lines are intersecting with each other and too many options to choose when it comes to buying a ticket. But once you are familiar with the ticket system, like using an IC card for taking all your transportation, train travelling is a breeze.

As for safety, I never felt once I was in any danger in Nara, not even when I was in crowded places like Tōdai-ji. The only time I ever felt any fear was in Nara Park where there were a lot of wild deer! Ha! I’m a bit afraid of free-roaming animals, but that is another story. My fear has to do with another incident that involves a monkey stealing my purse in the Ubud Monkey Forest. Ha!

 

 

 

Before you go to Nara

Before you visit Nara, 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 Japan and other travel tips.

 

And if you want to be prepared for your trip to Japan, take a look at some of these resources:

 

 

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The grand entrance to Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

The grand entrance to Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

Nara Transportation

 

How to get to Nara from Kyoto

Travelling to Nara is super easy from Kyoto. And the most efficient transportation method is the train.

And it is even easier if you already have an IC card, a rechargeable card for public transportation (including train, subway and bus). You can get Icoca, which is the IC card for the Kansai region, at any JR train station.

 

From Kyoto to Nara

 

 

How to get to Nara from Osaka

And if you are travelling from Osaka to Nara as a day trip, it is pretty simple as well. There are two different railways that service Osaka to Nara: Kintetsu and West Japan Railway.

 

From Osaka to Nara

 

 

 

 

How to get around Nara

Everything is within walking distance of each other in Nara. But some might argue that certain temples are a bit too far, but it is worth the walk!

When you spend only 1 day in Nara, you want to see the best of Nara. So make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes as you will be walking most of the day. Take a look at the itinerary at the bottom of the post and see the route for visiting Nara in a day.

 

 

Hike up the hill to see Nigatsudo Hall where you can see an obstructed view of Nara Park

Hike up the hill to see Nigatsudo Hall where you can see an obstructed view of Nara Park

Things to do in Nara, Japan

If you have never heard of Nara and wonder what there is 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 things to do in Nara are pinned in the interactive map. You can find more information about each attraction by clicking on the individual pin.

 

Must-see attractions in Nara

 

Tōdai-ji Temple

Tōdaiji is one of the most important Buddhist temples in all of Japan. It has the largest bronze Daibutsu (Buddha statue) in Japan, standing at 16 meters tall, Daibutsu sits majestically in Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha) were visitors come to admire. Go early as this is one of the biggest attractions in Nara.

 

Nigatsudo Hall

Part of Tōdai-ji grounds, Nigatsudo Hall 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, come to Nigatsudo Hall before sunset as it gets really busy.

 

 

 

Kōfuku-ji Temple

Consisting of the three-story pagoda and the five-story pagoda, Kōfuku-ji Temple was established at the time when Nara was the capital city of Japan. They are considered to be the landmark of Nara. Also, you can visit the temple’s National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall.

 

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

As one of the most important Shinto shrine in Nara, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is famous for its hundreds of bronze lanterns and stone lanterns lining the periphery of the building. You can walk around the premise to see all sides of the shrine and also the surrounding area.

 

Nara Park

If you want a close-up encounter with wild deers, buy some crackers and feed them. The best part is they will bow when you offer the treat. So adorable! And make sure to follow some of the paths in Nara Park; you will discover other temples and more wild deer.  But please be gentle when you feed the deers.

 

Isuien Garden

The Isuien Garden looks meticulously manicured in every way. The view of the park looks like a well-balanced landscape painting. As you leave Sanjo Dori (the Main Street in Nara) and approach Nara Park, you will see the beautiful garden on the left. It is worth the ¥650 entrance fee.

 

Naramachi (Old Nara City)

Located just east of JR Nara Station and south of Kintetsu-Nara Station, you can easily reach Naramchi on foot. I loved walking through all the small streets and discovering shops and cafes around each corner. The area has traditional houses as residential homes, workshops, restaurants, and ryokans.

I particularly like the design aesthetics of the traditional houses that are made of wood and has minimalism feel to them. I even 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.

 

 

 

Other attractions in Nara

 

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. And it is an excellent spot to see beautiful flowers, especially during cherry blossom festival. The sakura is in full bloom between late-March to mid-April.

 

Higashimuki Shopping Street (Downtown Nara)

Nara’s Higashimuki Shopping Street is a covered shopping arcade with many souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. After a full day of visiting all the temples and shrines, visit the shopping arcade for some local treats and pick up some delicious souvenirs before going back to Kyoto or Osaka.

 

Art & Culture in Nara

 

Nara National Museum (Narakokuritsu Museum)

For a fee of ¥520, you can see the permanent collection of Buddhist art in the Nara National MuseumThe collection includes artworks, hand-scroll paintings, sculptures, and other art relating to the teachings of Buddhism. Also, check out the website for the latest unique and feature exhibition.

 

If you want to see Nara with a tour, check out some of these tour ideas:

 

 

Day Trips from Nara

If you find yourself spending a few more days in Nara and want to venture out to see something else, visit Uji and Mount Yoshino.

 

Uji

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 the Japan Railway train at JR Nara Station on the Nara Line and go all the way to JR Uji Station (31 minutes, ¥500). Then follow the signs to city centre and other sites.

 

 

 

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!

From Nara, take the train at Nara Station on the JR Sakurai Line to Takada Station. Change trains and hop on the JR Wakayama Line bound for Yoshinoguchi Station. Then take the Kintetsu-Yoshino Line for Yoshino Station. The whole journey takes 1 hour 45 minutes and costs ¥1,140.  Once you are there, you can take the Yoshino Ropeway and follow the signs to see all the sites and cherry blossom.

 

Panoramic view of Nara Park from Nigatsudo Hall

Panoramic view of Nara Park from Nigatsudo Hall

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 even 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)

 

 

 

Where to eat in Nara

Below are some budget and mid-range restaurant suggestions. You can find more information about each location in the attached google map by clicking on the individual pin (see interactive map above).

 

Budget restaurants

  • Nakatanidou – 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, a glutinous rice ball with azuki beans (red bean), and roasted soy flour
  • Mentouan – delicious udon noodles inside a tofu package in broth. They also have curry udon and tempura bowl

 

Mid-range restaurants

  • 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

 

Other food options

  • 7-Eleven / Family Mart / Lawson – Japanese convenience stores are great options for picking up a quick snack or an entire meal

 

 

Beautiful details of traditional Japanese temples in Nara, Japan

Beautiful details of traditional Japanese temples in Nara, Japan

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. So if you want to spend more than a day in Nara, consider checking out one of these accommodations below.

 

Budget accommodation

  • Cost: up to ¥5,000 per day
  • 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

 

 

 

High-end accommodation

  • Cost: over ¥10,000 per day
  • 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

 

Long-term accommodation

  • Cost: up to¥4,000 per day
  • There are many private rooms and entire apartments near both train stations, Nara Downtown and Naramachi
  • I considered staying in Nara for a while because of the quaintness of the city. The pace is much slower than in Kyoto and Osaka.
  • If you want to explore the area further, like Mount Yoshino, consider staying in an Airbnb in Nara
  • And if you are not part of Airbnb yet, please use this code to claim your $35 Airbnb discount.

 

 

 

 

Nara 1-day Itinerary from Kyoto or Osaka, Japan

 

What to do in Nara in 1 Day

If you want to see the top attractions in Nara in one day, start your day early and take the fastest train from Kyoto or Osaka to Nara.

 

In the morning:

  • Have breakfast at Kyoto or Osaka Station
  • Take the train to Nara early in the morning, aim to be there around 9:00 am
  • When you arrive, follow the crowd where you will be on the main road, Sanjo Dori, where you can explore a bit of Downtown Nara
  • Watch the live demonstration at Nakatanidou. The mochi making process is very lively and is all over Youtube
  • Continue on the main road and visit Kōfuku-ji Temple
  • Visit the glorious Isuien Garden
  • While you are in Nara Park, you can see deer either sleeping, eating or interacting with other people. Buy some crackers and feed the hungry deer. Just watch for the signs and make sure to get gentle with these creatures
  • By now you might be a bit hungry. Make your way to Naramchi and have lunch at You No Cha-Ya or Mentouan

 

 

 

In the afternoon:

  • With a stomach full of yummy food, walk back to Nara Park towards Tōdai-ji
  • Then walk east and visit Nigatsudo Hall where you can see beautiful temples and a view of Nara from above
  • Take a break and have dessert at Tengyokudo Nara Head Shop
  • Walk back to Nara Park and visit Kasuga-Taisha 
  • You can visit Nara National Museum, other temples in Nara Park or hike up Mount Wakakusa
  • Pick up some unique Nara treats on Higashimuki Shopping Street before heading back to your home base
  • After a long day in Nara, walk back to JR Nara Station and take the train bound for Kyoto or Osaka. Have a late dinner in the city.

 

 

When you are in the Kansai region of Japan, make sure to include Nara on your Japan trip itinerary. Even if you only have time to spend a day in Nara, it will be well worth the trip.

 

 

 

 

For more travel planning resources, check out my Amazon picks:

 

 

Where to go in Japan

Check out my guides to the best cities to visit in Japan, including:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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last update: April 12, 2019

About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 18+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

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