Exploring Nara on a day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka is a must for many travelers, as it offers a wealth of cultural and historical experiences, along with the charming Nara Deer Park. Here’s a concise free and easy itinerary for your one-day Nara adventure:
Getting to Nara:
Nara is easily accessible by train from both Kyoto and Osaka. There are two main train stations in Nara: JR Nara Station and Kintetsu-Nara Station. If you arrive at JR Nara Station, make a pit stop at the Tourist Information Centre to grab a free booklet with essential information about the city’s attractions.
From Kyoto: You have two options. Use the JR Nara Line (covered by the Japan Rail Pass) for a 40–70-minute journey or opt for the private Kintetsu Line, which takes about 35 minutes and is slightly cheaper.
From Osaka: You can take the JR Yamatoji Line (50 minutes) if you’re using a Japan Rail Pass. Alternatively, take a local train to Shinimamiya Station and then continue to take the JR Yamatoji Line to Nara. Or, from Osaka-Namba Station, take the Kintetsu Line to Kintetsu-Nara, which gets you to Nara in just 38 minutes.
TIPS: Google Maps is your friend for navigating these routes and it provides accurate estimate time arrival and departure.
Things to Do in Nara:
1. Kofuku-ji Temple (Kofuku-ji): This temple is within walking distance of Kintetsu-Nara Station and a bit further from JR Nara Station. You can explore the temple grounds for free, but there’s an admission fee to enter the Central Golden Hall, Eastern Golden Hall, and National Treasure Museum.
2. Explore Nara Deer Park and Mt. Wakakusa: Nara’s iconic Deer Park is a must-visit. You can buy deer crackers priced at 200 Yen to feed the friendly deer. Don’t forget that the deer have a charming habit of bowing to visitors.
Mount Wakakusayama (若草山) is the grass covered mountain behind Nara Park, located between Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shrine. The mountain is about 350 meters tall and affords unobstructed views over Nara City. Tourists are allowed to climb Mount Wakakusayama all year round except during winter. A small entrance fee is charged.
The base of Wakakusayama is located about a 10-15 minute walk from both Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha. The mountain can also be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station in about 35 minutes or from JR Nara Station in about 50 minutes. Buses run from either station as far as Kasuga Taisha (220 yen).
3. Todai-ji Temple: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Todai-ji Temple is famous for its colossal Bronze Buddha Statue.Todaiji (東大寺, Tōdaiji, “Great Eastern Temple”) is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. The Great Buddha Hall, one of the world’s largest wooden structures and there is an entrance fee required when you want to explore the temple.
4. Isuien Garden: Located near Kofuku-ji, this garden is a serene place to explore. It features tea houses and offers great opportunities for photography. Isuien (依水園) is an attractive Japanese garden with a variety of features, such as the use of Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon Gate and Mount Wakakusayama as “borrowed scenery”. Isuien means “garden founded on water”, and the garden’s name is derived from the fact that its ponds are fed by the small adjacent Yoshikigawa River.
5. Kasuga-Taisha: Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) is Nara’s most celebrated shrine. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. This shrine, with its 3,000 stone lanterns (known as “toro”), is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s been rebuilt every 20 years due to the Shinto concept of purity.
6. Shop on Higashimuki Shopping Street & Mochiidono Shopping Arcade: Explore these adjacent shopping areas for souvenirs and traditional Japanese products like kimonos, ceramics, and sweets. Higashimuki shopping street runs between Kintetsu Nara Station and Sanjo Dori Street. You can literally see it once you exit the Kintetsu Nara Station.
As for Mochiidono Arcade, it is one of Nara’s oldest shopping streets. It is believed that the name ‘Mochiidono’ originates from the 1,100 year old Orochi Taiji legend where priests slayed a giant serpent. According to the myth, the priests offered “mochi” (Japanese rice cakes) to locals who were affected during the serpent fight. You can read more here. Modiidono Arcade has over 70 shops ranging from restaurants, cafes, and food stalls to Japanese craft items.
Nara is a city steeped in history and beauty, and this itinerary will help you make the most of your one-day visit. Enjoy your trip!
Alternatively, you can pre-book your tour here based on their package:
1. Kyoto and Nara Day Tour from Osaka/Kyoto
2. Todaiji, Nara Park, & Kasuga Taisha Shrine Half Day Tour from Osaka
3. 7 Great Temples of Ancient Nara Day Tour if you love to explore temples.