Nara Travel Guide

Nara Travel Guide

By CarolUpdated Oct. 22, 2021

Nara is a small town just 45 minutes from Kyoto and, during the 8th century, it was the capital of Japan. It is the perfect location for those who love exploring a town by foot, admire its temples and relax, surrounded by nature.

Of all the attractions of the city, we think that two are the most representative ones: Todaiji Temple, a unique structure that is famous inside and outside Japan; and Nara Park, where you and your family will have the unique opportunity to walk among thousands of deer.

Keep reading our short guide and learn everything you need to know about Nara!

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Highlights

  • Nara is a lovely town, not far away from Kyoto, characterized by famous temples and relaxing parks.
  • Todaiji Temple is one of the most famous temples of the country. It includes the world’s biggest wooden structure.
  • Ganjin, whose influence on the Japanese development of Buddhism has been immense, is buried there, on the grounds of Toshodaiji Temple.
  • Visit Nara Park, home to more than 1,000 deer.
  • Choose between a half-day tour and a full-day tour and explore the beautiful Nara.

Exploring the Temples of Nara

Temples of Nara Temples of Nara

Nara is home to some of the most famous temples of Japan, as for example Todaiji Temple, with its gigantic Buddha statues; or Horyuji, where you will find the oldest wooden structure still existing.

Todaiji Temple

A unique landmark in Nara, Todaiji Temple is one of the most famous temples in all of Japan. It was constructed during the 8th century and it was the head temple of all the Buddhist temples of the country.

The main hall, called Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, and it houses a 15 meter tall statue of Buddha. Before getting to Todaiji, you will see the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden structure, guarded by the statue of two Nio Guardian Kings, designated as national treasures.

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Horyuji Temple

The temple was built in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is believed to be the first to promote Buddhism in Japan. It is one of the oldest temples in Japan, and also one of the oldest wooden structures in the world. The structure is separated into the Western Precinct and the Eastern Precinct.

The oldest wooden structures of the world are found inside the Western Precinct. They were built during the 7th or the 8th century and have never been destructed. Inside the Eastern Precinct you will find Yumedono, a hall shaped as an octagon. Between the two precincts there is the Gallery of Temple Treasures, which exhibits a part of a huge art collection of the temple.

Toshodaiji Temple

Founded during the 8th century by a Chinese priest, Ganjin, who was training Japanese priests. The temple is characterized by a main hall (called “kondo”), renovated in the span of 10 years; and the temple lecture hall (“kodo”), that used to be an administrative building of the former Nara Imperial Palace, that doesn’t exist anymore.

A famous statue of Ganjin is shown to the public once a year in June, on the anniversary of his death. There is a replica, created in 2013, that is on permanent display to the public. Around the temple, there is thick foliage cut by numerous paths. Exploring this area, you will find Ganjin’s tomb.

Parks and Gardens in Nara

Parks and Gardens in Nara Parks and Gardens in Nara

For nature lovers, we strongly recommend visiting one of the many gardens and parks of Nara, especially the Deer Park, home to thousands of deer, and Yoshikien Garden, that encompasses three variations of the Japanese garden in one single place.

Nara Park

The park was established by the end of the 19th century. You will find some of the most famous attractions of Nara there (including the Todaiji temple and the Nara National Museum). The main feature of the park are thousands of deer wandering around without restrictions. They are seen by Shinto to be messengers of the gods.

Yoshikien Garden

In the heart of Nara you will find this beautiful garden, named after the river that runs beside it. Within the area, there are three gardens: a pond garden, a moss garden, and a garden dedicated to tea ceremonies. Visit Yoshikien, and you will have the unique opportunity to visit three different garden styles in just one place.

Isuien Garden

This garden is divided into a front and a rear garden. There are many teahouses all over the area, and just outside the garden there is a nice museum with a display of pottery, seals, mirrors, and other ancient artifacts.

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Guided Nara Tour and Full-Day Excursion with Kyoto and Fushimi

If you wish, you can do a full-day tour, starting with Kyoto and Fushimi. After visiting some of the best attractions of both cities, you will transfer to Nara and visit the three most famous places of the city: Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and the Deer Park.

Half-Day Nara Highlights

You will be picked up from your hotel at 8 a.m. and reach Nara (it takes just 45 min), along with your local guide. You will be able to visit Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to the biggest Buddha statue of all Japan.

Next you will visit the famous Kasuga Taisha, a shrine established during the 8th century, with hundreds and hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns.

At the end of the day you will have the opportunity to stroll around the deer park, home to more than 1,000 tame deer. The overall tour lasts about 5 hours.

Full-Day Kyoto and Nara Highlights from Kyoto

The tour will start at 9 a.m. in Kyoto, where you will visit the Golden Pavilion, originally built as a villa for the Shogun. It then became a Buddhist Temple, and nowadays it is one of the most famous temples of the city.

After visiting the Nijo Castle, you will transfer to Nara. There you will visit Todaiji Temple and then the city’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha. Finally, you will have time to wander around Nara Park, called by the locals the Deer Park. The overall tour lasts 8 hours, and it is available every day.

Full-Day Nara and Fushimi Excursion from Kyoto

You will reach Nara by train, accompanied by your local guide. You will visit Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and then Nara Park. Before leaving the town, you can stop at a local brewery for a glass of sake.

On the way back, you will stop at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous also for being used in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. The shrine is home to more than 10,000 red tori gates, forming a path that goes up to the mountain behind the temple.

The tour starts at 9 a.m., it lasts 8 hours and is available every day.

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How to Get to Nara and Explore the Town

To get from Kyoto to Nara, you can choose from two railway companies: Japan Railway and Kintetsu Railway.

With JR, there is a train every 30 minutes. The trip lasts 45 minutes and costs 710 yen (covered by the Japan Rail Pass).  It takes about 10 minutes by bus from JR Nara Station to Nara Park. With Kintetsu Railway, you can take a Limited Express that gets to Nara in 35 minutes and costs 1130 yen. Kintetsu Station is just a few minutes away from Nara Park.

Once you get to the park, you can reach most of the attractions on foot. However, temples like Toshodaiji and Yakushiji are outside the city center, and you must take a bus or a train to reach them.

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