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This isn’t so much as an itinerary, but more of a guide to how my experience of my one day in Nara went, and also the key information needed for a day trip to Nara. I travelled with a friend for this trip and we were both happy that this was a day trip and not any longer. Although there are lots of things to see and do in Nara, we both felt a full day was enough to see the sights before returning to our base in Osaka.
The city of Nara is famous for its numerous temples and shrines. Many of these temples date back to the 8th century when Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital. An added bonus for some is that Nara has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
How to Get To Nara
Located in south-central Honshu, Nara is just a short trip East of Osaka and South of Kyoto. Both of these cities are close enough to make Nara a perfect day trip option. I personally travelled from Osaka, and it was really easy.
Kyoto to Nara
There are 2 options depending on if you have a JR Pass or not.
If you have a JR Pass, the JR Nara line takes around 45 minutes by express train or there are also slower local trains available. The line runs from Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station. This line is covered by the JR Pass but the price is ¥690 if you don’t have one.
If you don’t have a JR Pass, you can take the train from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station. This is the fastest way to get there and can take around 35 minutes.
If you have a JR Pass then the JR Nara line is the way to get to Nara from Kyoto without additional tickets. Otherwise, the JR Nara line works out slightly cheaper but takes slightly longer. So if you don’t have a JR Pass, you can weigh up which is more important to you.
Osaka to Nara
Similar to when travelling from Kyoto to Nara, there are 2 options depending on if you have a JR Pass or not. There are two lines which connect Osaka to Nara.
The JR Yamatoji Line is covered by the JR Pass. If you are travelling from Osaka Station, the Yamatoji Rapid Service will get you to JR Nara Station in 50 minutes for ¥800 (around £/€6). An alternative route is to go via. the JR Namba Station which is more centrally located in Osaka. You can take a local train on the Yamatoji Line to Kyuhoji Station (Osaka) and then transfer to the Yamatoji Rapid Service. This option also takes around 50 minutes.
The Kintetsu Nara Line is not covered by the JR Pass, but you will arrive closer to the main attractions in Nara. Starting at Osaka Namba Station, a Rapid Express train on this line will get you to Kintetsu Nara Station in 39 minutes for ¥560 (£/€4).
Things To Do In Nara
Once I arrived in Nara, it was about a 20-minute walk from the station to Nara Park, where I started my day. During this time, I stopped in at the Renchoji temple. This was the first of many Buddhist temples I saw in Nara and had a very appealing entrance up a hill, which perked my interest before I actually saw the temple itself.
After heading back to the main road and wandering along the road, I arrived at Nara Park. Again, I was welcomed with another Buddhist temple; the Kōfuku-ji temple. After admiring the temple’s three-story pagoda (Sanjū-no-tō) and South Octagonal Hall (Nan’endō), I made my way into the vast green park. The park is actually larger than I imagined. There are multiple roads that run through the park that split the green fields.
Without a doubt, my highlight of the day was Nara Park. And the best thing about Nara Park? Around 1,000 deer live freely in the park. Everywhere you look there are deer lying, sitting, playing and eating. Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you get a chance to feed deer as they wander freely amongst you.
It’s very common for the deer to approach visitors to the park, hoping to be treated with shika senbei. These are special crackers which are sold for around ¥150 (£/€1). If you are lucky, you will see the deer politely “bow” when it wants a cracker. It really is such a strange experience.
Another top attraction that helps Nara pull in its many visitors is Tōdai-ji. This is a massive Buddhist temple rich with history. Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple) is one of Japan’s most famous temples. If you have ever travelled to Japan, you will know there are impressive temples all over, however, this was one of my favourites during my trip.
Originally built in 752 C.E. as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan, this actually became one of the reasons that Japan’s capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 C.E. The government leaders at that time had feared that the temple had gained too much influence in their politics. The move was made in an attempt to lower the temple’s influence on government issues.
Todaiji also hosts the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in the Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha). The imposing 15-meter tall bronze sculpture is the centrepiece within the grand temple. Although this sculpture was originally placed in the temple in 752 C.E., the current version is actually a replacement that has been there since the 17th century.
The temple was pretty busy so I decided to head away from these top attractions to somewhere slightly quieter at the East side of the park. After wandering through the park – feeding any willing deer some crackers – I finally stumbled upon the next shrine; Todaiji Nigatsudo. This is a smaller temple, but also part of Todaiji. I approached from the front of the temple, along a path which leads up cobbled steps flanked by ancient stone walls.
The main hall of this magnificent wooden structure offers some amazing views over Nara. If you are lucky to be around this around at sunset, I imagine the view is quite incredible.
After all the wandering around in parks and temples, a big bowl of ramen was the only thing on my mind. I headed over to Higashimuki Shopping Street at the entrance to Nara Park, where I was met was an abundance of shops and restaurants. If you are heading home from Kintetsu-Nara station, this is the perfect place to end your day. The station is located a few minutes walk away.
My friend and I then decided to end our one day in Nara and head back to Osaka to the Ark Hostel where we stayed during our time in Osaka.
Have you been to Nara? Or, are you planning a trip to Nara?
Leave me a quick comment in the comment section below letting me know what you enjoyed (or are looking forward to) the most! Or head over to my destinations page for some more travel inspiration!