Day Trip to Nara: Itinerary + Travel Tips
One of the best things about the Kansai region in Japan is how much there is to do and see in such close proximity. Nara, a smaller but popular city, makes for a fantastic day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka. Check out this Nara Day Trip Itinerary to find all the best things to do and how to get there!
- Day Trip to Nara Itinerary
- Getting There
Day Trip to Nara Itinerary
Say Hi to the Deer
If you forget for a second that Nara is second only to Kyoto when it comes to rich cultural sites in Japan, then you’ll find that Nara is also quite famous for their deer. Within Nara Park, you’ll find countless deer whom are completely unafraid of humans. You can literally walk right up to them and they won’t even flinch. For the most part, they’ll either ignore you, or come looking for food.
The deer are also sometimes referred to as the bowing deer of Nara, as they’ll often bow in expectation of receiving a treat as a reward. If you visit Nara Park, you can try purchasing some of the deer snacks or “deer crackers” from nearby shops to see if you can get the deer to bow for you.
NOTE: For the most part, the deer are friendly, well natured, and non-aggressive, but never forget that they are wild animals. It’s not uncommon for the deer to try and get your attention, especially if they think you have food. I watched one of the deer tug a visitor pamphlet right out of a tourists hands (despite the persons best efforts to hold onto it) because the deer thought she had food. I’ve seen other deer somewhat gently tap their head on people’s legs or nip on people’s clothing for food as well.
Check out the below video to learn more about the deer of Nara Park and get a sneak preview of some of the other activities in this itinerary
This is one of the smaller shrines in Nara, but is still quite beautiful, especially during cherry blossom season. The entrance is marked by a beautiful, red torii gate, and the pathway to the shrine is lined with several cherry blossom trees.
Probably the most famous attraction in Nara is Todaiji. Not only is it the one of the largest wooden buildings in the world (in the terms of size, not necessarily height), but it also houses the Japan’s largest, bronze Buddha statue. It was constructed in 752 as the head Buddhist temple and has since been named a UNESCO World Heritigate Site. It’s definitely the highlight of a visit to Nara.
Nara Park and Other Shrines
Todaiji is the main attraction within Nara Park, however there are several other smaller shrines and temples located within the park that are worth a visit.
Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do
Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do are actually sub-complexes of Todaiji, but can be easy to miss if you don’t realize that they’re within the grounds of Todaiji Temple. Nigatsu-do in particular offers a beautiful view of the nearby city.
A little bit south of Sangatsu-do is Tamukeyama Hachimangu. You’ll find that the area around this shrine is much more quiet and peaceful than the popular attractions in the surrounding area, which makes it a great place to take a stroll and relax. When I was at the shrine, their happened to be a performance in honor of those who had been victim of a recent earthquake.
Kasuga Taisha is hard to miss with its bright orange pillars. Probably one of the coolest parts of this shrine is the corridor filled with nothing but lanterns. It definitely makes for a cool sight.
Kofukuji Temple is located a bit further from some of the other temples in Nara Park, but if you’re heading back towards the train station, you’ll likely pass it. Unfortunately, it was under construction when I was there, but was still able to see the five story pagoda. It’s the second tallest wooden tower in Japan (the first being in Kyoto).
Like many other Japanese gardens, Isuien did a spectacular job of blending the use of trees and shrubbery with stones and water. Probably my favorite part of the park was the designers use of stone bridges. In one case, you literally have to step on several large stones if you want to make your way across to the other side of the garden. Personally, I like this approach much better because I feel like the stones add to the aesthetics of the gardens whereas bridges sometimes tend to take away from it.
From Kyoto to Nara
The fastest way to get to Nara from Kyoto is on the Kintetsu Limited Express train. With the Limited Express, it only takes about 35 minutes to arrive in Nara. However, this train is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. If you are looking to utilize your JR Pass, the JR Nara Line will get you there in about 1 hour.
From Osaka to Nara
There are two main ways to get between Osaka and Nara: the JR Osaka Loop Line and the Yamatoji Rapid Service. The good thing is, both take about the same amount of time (about 50 minutes to an hour) and both are covered by the Japan Rail Pass. I would simply choose whichever line has a train leaving closest to the time you wish to depart.