There are several reasons why I love Kyoto. Dozens of day trip options are one of them. A day trip to Nara from Kyoto has been one of the most memorable & exciting parts of our Japan trip.
This post shows you how and why you must make a day trip to Nara at its best and things you shouldn’t do in Nara.
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- Why visit Nara?
- How many days to spend here?
- How to get to Nara?
- Things to know about Nara before going.
- Best things to do here
- What not to do in Nara?
Is Nara worth a trip?
There are thousands of temples in and around Kyoto. And there is Nara – where beautiful temples are surrounded by mountains and deer!
Where else in the world can you feed wild deer by hand? In Nara, you can get up close and personal with these furry creatures and even feed them special deer crackers. It’s like having your own private petting zoo, but without the hassle of cleaning up after them. And it all happens in a beautiful small town set up with lots of historical buildings.
What is the historical significance of Nara?
Until we went there, all we knew about Nara were deer. But once we took the cutely printed brochure, we learnt it was one of the former capitals of Japan! Wow! We all know Tokyo. Later I visited Kamakura, which was Japan’s capital during the military shogunate. The whole point of Kyoto having so many shrines and old alleys was because it was a capital – But Nara, a small town, came as a surprise capital!
Formerly known as Heijo, Nara became the country’s seat of government from 710 until the 780s. Then Nagaoka became the capital, and finally, Kyoto, where the title “capital” stood for the next thousand-plus years.
If it was a former capital, how does it make Nara interesting?
When you realize it is a former capital, you assume it is a metropolitan city like Tokyo/Osaka or Nagoya. But it feels like Kyoto’s younger child. There may not be old alleys like Pontocho in Nara, but it still feels cosy enough.
Being a former capital comes with many perks- like historical buildings and a variety of food. Fortunately, Nara escaped from the destructions of World War 2. So what you see in Nara is pure, natural, blissful, and has a lot of furs! And got some UNESCO world heritage sites too.
How many days do you need in Nara?
Nara isn’t huge. Most things that tourists want to see are within walking distance. But, for something a little far away, easily accessible buses are there. So, Nara doesn’t need a week of your time.
Is 1 day in Nara enough?
Yes! We spent around 4 hours here and feel quite content with it. The main thing to experience in Nara is wild deer. It feels great to have history and deer together. But visiting similar temples can get quite monotonous here.
It is always good to stay overnight in any place. In our opinion, a day is enough for your Nara expedition. If you add a bit of mountain hiking, add one more day.
How to get to Nara?
Like I have said millions of times, taking a taxi or hiring a car is the most expensive way to get to any destination in Japan. And Nara is no exception. So, unless it is a free ride you are getting, never bother to take a taxi to get to Nara from any city.
Hardly any buses are there to; hence trains are the best way to get to Nara from any part of Japan and are super convenient.
What is the nearest station to Nara Park?
Nara has two train stations.
- JR Station – Located almost 2km from Nara Deer Park.
- Kintetsu Railway station – Located less than 0.5km from Nara Park.
Unless you have a JR pass, getting to Nara from the Kintetsu line, Kyoto, or Osaka is best.
Is it easier to go to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka?
Both are easy because it takes less than an hour to get to Nara by the Kintentsu line from Kyoto (46km from Nara) or Osaka (35 km from Nara). But you must know one most important things while taking the Kintensu line. There are two types in Kintensu – One is direct and expressway. Another needs a transfer at Yamato Saidajji station (which you must avoid)
Buying a Kintentsu EXPRESS ticket from Kyoto to Nara.
We saw many tourists struggling with not having the right ticket at Nara station after they take Kintentsu express line. Read ahead carefully to avoid the hassle.
Kintentsu station is located in the underground of Kyoto JR station. Once you get there, scan your IC card at the gate like you do anywhere else. But this isn’t enough when you take Kintentsu express train. Because, it requires you to buy an additional ticket for express lines.
You must buy an EXTRA express ticket for Nara from one of the kiosk screens on the Kintensu platform. If you get confused, ask the station master. They will help you buy the ticket. You can either use cash or your IC card to buy. Then board the old-school train and enjoy the view.
Once you arrive at Nara, you must first insert your express ticket at the ticket gateway and scan your IC Card. So you pay 640 yen using your IC card and the extra 520 at the Kiosk.
Things to know before making a day trip to Nara
What time should I visit Nara?
A day trip to Nara is great throughout the year except for the rainy season from June to August. The Foliage looks great from September to December. It does snow in Nara during peak winter, that is, February. Nara looks amazing in the snow if you are prepared well by wearing layers.
How do you travel around Nara?
The most famous places in Nara where tourists go are within walking distance. If you don’t want to walk, there is a bright yellow coloured loop bus that connects famous tourist spots. We saw a few people on bicycles. If you stay overnight, renting bikes from the accommodation is a good idea.
Do you need a guided tour in Nara?
Not really! When you arrive at the train station, visit the tourist information centre. Usually, they will have at least one English-speaking person at their counter. Typically being Japanee, he/she will explain things in detail and answers if you have any question patiently. And hands over a brochure to you, which is ultra-detailed, and you don’t have to hire a guide.
In Japan, normally, you see Japanese volunteering as guides in tourist places. They do it mostly to practice their English. However, even after reading the brochures, if you feel like knowing more historical facts about Nara, say yes to the volunteering guides.
What to do in Nara in one day?
There are at least 10 temples for you to visit in Nara. So you pick your thing after a bit of research. We chose the ones where you can find more deer in Nara. After all, Nara is a place where history collides with deer.
1. Walk around Nara city to find as many deers as possible
Nara Park is the centre where you see deer in the highest number. So the number of tourists trying to feed and pat deers are also high. Watching how each tourist cheer or scream when a deer nears them is fun.
But strolling around the town gives you more privacy! Don’t call me a pervert – We watched a live sex show where two deers mated in a corner, isolated from humans.
Strolling around Nara is a great way to see how the small town is “Deer-ified”.
From the road signboards to signages that say “wear a mask.”, everything in Nara has some or the other deer element added to it. So in our opinion wandering without any checklist is a best thing to do during your day trip to Nara.
Why are there so many deer in Nara?
The bustling metropolitan town of Osaka is just 35km from Nara. Yet there is no similarity between the two. How can just one town get so many deers? This is a common question among any inquisitive tourist who goes on a trip to Nara. Here is your answer as I learnt.
The legend says that the Kasuga shrine (the one with lots of lanterns) was built in the 8th century as a family temple for one of the aristocrats in the town. When they invited the god from another shrine, he came to Nara riding a white deer. Since then, Nara people have respected and protected deers as the messenger of gods.
Why do the deer in Nara bow?
If you have read our other posts, you know how much we adore Japanese people’s culture and behaviour. But now, I am talking about deer bowing!
The deer in this area are famous for their unique quirk of bowing to visitors, especially if you bow your head to them first. This is apparently a learned behaviour. The deer know that they’re more likely to get food if they do so.
2. Meet deers at Kohfukuji temple.
When you pet deer near Kintentsu statin, a tall pagoda makes a peek-a-boo on the horizon. Lined with bright orange foliage, the mud path to the shrine is ought to invite everyone.
Once you go near, you will see a large complex of temples. The highlight is a 4-storey pagoda built in 1300, which was burned down 6 times! Then when you wander around, you come across palatial buildings whose external wood works blow your mind.
Though the architectural similarity between these and the palace of Disney’s Mulan, for a while, I thought Mulan would come out any time from that door swaying her sword.
3. Visit the Great Buddha in Todai Ji Temple.
A trip to Nara is incomplete without visiting the beautiful Todaji temple. Other than the expected fact that you find deer here, Todaji temple stands out from the rest.
It is one of Japan’s most impressive and popular temples, and for a good reason. This temple is home to one of the world’s largest bronze statues of Buddha. But great fame comes with great crowds, and Todaiji Temple is no exception. So, what can you expect when you visit this famous temple?
What statues are in Todaiji Temple?
The Great Buddha Hall is home to the Daibutsu, a giant bronze Buddha statue standing over 15 meters tall. The figure is truly awe-inspiring, and it’s hard not to feel a sense of reverence when you stand before it. The giant Buddha isn’t alone. There are some colossal statues of some angry kings also here.
Apart from the statues, the hall consists of super-realistic models of the old Todaji temple, which was burnt in the 1180s.
Unlike other temple souvenir shops, Todaji temple’s shops are classy, and you find many things related to Japan and Nara.
4 Go to Kasuga Grand Shrine for lanterns.
It is a shrine that is lit.
Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara, Japan, is known for its hundreds of lanterns that adorn the shrine’s buildings and pathways. In fact, the shrine is sometimes called the “Shrine of 10,000 Lanterns” (although in reality, there are more than 3,000 lanterns on the grounds). But what’s the story behind all these lanterns?
And what makes Kasuga Grand Shrine worth a visit?
Nara people believe that the deity enshrined at Kasuga Grand Shrine, a god appeared before a member of the Fujiwara clan in the form of a deer. The clan member built a small shrine to honour the deity; over time, the shrine grew in size and importance. As the shrine became more prominent, lanterns were added as a way to light the way for the deity and guide him to the shrine.
Of course, no visit to Kasuga Grand Shrine would be complete without saying hello to the shrine’s other famous residents – the deer. Like the deer at Todaiji Temple, the deer at Kasuga Grand Shrine are friendly and unafraid of humans (probably because they know that humans often come bearing snacks).
5. Taste some delicacies of Nara.
Nara is famous for deer and their snacks. But there is plenty of food for us too. Mind that these come with a cost. Nara isn’t that cheap for tourists. So, pick what comes in your range.
What is Nara famous for?
- Kakinoha-sushi – This shishi differs from its taste because it is wrapped with a fruit called “persimmon” leaf. Ashrith says it was tasty, but he loves what he got in Tokyo.
- Nakitanidou Mochi – The glutinous jelly kind of rice is beaten to make it most elastic and filled with red bean paste.
Other things to do in Nara
If you aren’t on a day trip in Nara and spending more time, we recommend you to go hiking in Mount Wakasuka. Then there is the Nara National museum for museum lovers.
What not to do in Nara, Japan?
Is there anything scary or dangerous in Nara that you shouldn’t do? Yes!
A common creature that exists throughout the planet misbehaving with furry deer! I am talking about humans.
It is obvious that any of us get excited about touching wild deer for the first time. Ashrith was scared and hesitant in the beginning. While I was eager to hug and cuddle! Thank god I stopped it right there.
Because I saw very few tourists trying to pull/push deer. In return, the deers charged them! Luckily the deers were hornless. So other than a big punch on the bums, tourists didn’t get hurt. But, you must know, they are wild deer used to human intervention. It doesn’t mean humans can behave with them the way they want.
Can you feed the deer in Nara park?
Yes! Like any other species of deer, the ones in Nara eat grass, bamboo and buds. But what they love most is Shika senbei, AKA deer crackers which you can buy at many stalls all over Nara. ( The stalls are lesser near temples. So believe in advance at the open grounds.).
Unfortunately, only some irresponsible tourists tend to feed biscuits, icecreams and even mochi! There have been incidents where humans died choking on sticky mochi. Now how do you expect deers to chew mochi! So a thing not to do in Nara is not to feed them with anything other than deer crackers.
Would you make a day trip to Nara or spend more days here? Let us know in the comment section below.