Discover Nara, Japan: A Perfect Day Trip Guide with Must-See Attractions

Nara is one of those destinations that make you smile as you remember your time there. This ancient former capital features a massive park hosting idyllic Buddhist temples and green lush gardens, filled by it’s number one top residents – the bowing deer of Nara!

In this article we uncover our day trip adventure to Nara and explore the top places to visit when you are in this fairly tale location.


Nara is a city that takes us on a journey through Japan’s ancient history while offering a serene escape from the bustling modernity of other major cities. Located in the Kansai region, Nara is renowned for its deep-rooted cultural heritage, dating back to the 8th century when it was Japan’s first permanent capital.

The meaning of the word Nara can translate to “good,” “excellent,” “oak tree,” “comfortable willow tree,” “flat,” “level,” and “peace,”.

What makes Nara truly distinctive is the way it seamlessly blends ancient tradition with natural beauty. As we wander through the city, we encounter a stunning collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including magnificent temples and shrines that stand as testaments to Japan’s early religious and architectural achievements.

Nara Park, at the heart of the city, is famous for its free-roaming deer, which add a touch of whimsical charm to the historic surroundings.

Nara’s landscape is adorned with picturesque gardens and serene forests, providing a tranquil backdrop to its cultural landmarks. Walking through the streets of Nara, we’re transported back in time, experiencing a sense of connection to the past while appreciating the simplicity and beauty of the present.

Travel to and Around Nara

Nara is conveniently located in the Kansai region, making it an easy day trip or extended visit from major cities like Kyoto and Osaka. We found that the transport connections to Nara are well-developed, offering a range of options to suit different preferences and budgets.

We travelled to Nara as part of our 2 week Japan trip in November 2023. We found that Osaka is a good travel base for some of these destinations and on this occasion we travelled from there only for the day.

Getting to Nara

  • From Kyoto: The quickest and most convenient way to reach Nara from Kyoto is by train. The Kintetsu Nara Line offers a rapid service that gets you there in about 35 minutes. Alternatively, the JR Nara Line takes about 45 minutes, but it’s covered by the Japan Rail Pass, making it an economical choice if you have one.
  • From Osaka: There are two main routes from Osaka to Nara. The Kintetsu Nara Line departs from Osaka-Namba Station and takes about 40 minutes on the express train. The JR Yamatoji Line, departing from JR Osaka Station, takes slightly longer, around 45 to 50 minutes, but is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Both routes offer a scenic journey, with the opportunity to glimpse the changing landscapes as you approach Nara. We recommend checking train schedules in advance and considering buying tickets for express services, which save time and make the journey more enjoyable.

If you prefer organised trips to Nara, here are two suggestions: Nara Half Day Bus Tour from Kyoto and Nara One Day Tour from Osaka.

Getting Around Nara

Once in Nara, getting around is straightforward, thanks to a compact layout and reliable public transport.

  • Walking: Nara is a city best explored on foot, especially in the central areas where many attractions are located. The historic sites are within walking distance of each other, allowing for leisurely strolls through parks and temple grounds.
  • Buses: For longer distances or to reach outlying attractions, the Nara Kotsu Bus network is a convenient option. There are bus stops near Nara Station and major tourist spots. Consider purchasing a day pass if you plan to use the buses extensively.
  • Cycling: For a more active way to explore, Nara has rental bicycles available at several locations. Cycling through Nara Park and along the quiet streets can be a pleasant experience.

Overall, the city’s transportation infrastructure is designed with tourists in mind, making it easy to navigate and enjoy the sights. Whether you prefer to walk, ride the bus, or cycle, you’ll find that getting around Nara is a breeze.

Best Time to Visit Nara

The best time to visit Nara depends on your preference for weather and events, but generally, spring and autumn are the most popular times due to their moderate temperatures and scenic beauty.

  • Spring is a delightful time to visit Nara, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. The weather is mild, and Nara Park’s deer roam amid pink petals, creating a picturesque scene. Key events like the Omizutori festival in March at Tōdai-ji draw crowds with its vibrant traditions and fire ceremonies. If you’re a fan of cherry blossoms, late March to early April is your best bet.
  • Summer in Nara can be hot and humid, with occasional rain from the monsoon season. Despite the heat, there’s a lively energy with various festivals and outdoor activities. If you don’t mind the weather, summer is a time for vibrant celebrations and longer daylight hours, allowing you to explore more of the city.
  • Autumn in Nara offers a palette of vibrant colours as the leaves change. The crisp air makes it perfect for exploring the city’s outdoor attractions, including the temples and shrines surrounded by lush foliage. This is also a great time for photography, as the landscapes become a canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows. The crowds tend to be a bit smaller than in spring, making it ideal for a more peaceful visit.
  • Winter is the least crowded season in Nara, offering a quieter experience. While it doesn’t often snow, the cool weather is conducive to visiting indoor attractions like museums. The New Year’s celebrations at the temples are worth experiencing if you’re there during this time, with traditional rituals and a festive atmosphere.

We chose to go in November when the place gets transformed due to the trees’ diverse autumn colours. The temperatures on the day were also very good and found that jeans and a t-shirt were more than enough to keep us warm throughout the day.

Things to do in Nara

Nara is a city steeped in history, with a rich tapestry of cultural sites and natural beauty.

None of the attractions below accept bank card payments so make sure you have plenty of cash available. If you don’t, there are a few convenience stores such as 7-Eleven that offer ATMs. We preferred 7-Eleven as there are no fees on the ATM side during day time operating hours.

We used our 0% fee cards throughout this trip to make sure we always got the better rates and don’t get charged when withdrawing cash. Read more here about managing your finances when travelling.

Here are some of the must-see Nara attractions and tips to make the most of your visit.

1. Feed the Deer at Nara Park

Nara Park is a sprawling area filled with natural beauty and historical landmarks, making it an essential stop. The park is famous for its free-roaming deer, which have become a symbol of Nara.

You can buy special deer crackers to feed them, but be cautious—they’re eager and can be a bit assertive (as we found out ourselves!).

Tip: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds. The park is vast, so wear comfortable shoes for walking.

2. See Kofuku-ji Temple’s Pagoda

Kofuku-ji is a prominent temple complex that was once one of the “Four Great Temples” of Nara. It has an impressive five-story pagoda and a treasure hall with Buddhist art and relics.

Reconstructed in 2018, the Central Golden Hall is both Kohfuku-ji’s newest building and the most important structure in the temple complex.

3. Walk by the Many Lanterns of Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha is a grand Shinto shrine known for its lantern-lined paths and vibrant red architecture. The shrine is surrounded by lush greenery, creating a peaceful atmosphere.

Visit during the annual Lantern Festivals in February and August, when thousands of lanterns are lit, creating a magical ambiance.

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4. Check out the views at Todaiji Nigatsudo (February Hall)

Located east of Tōdai-ji Temple, Nigatsudo is a smaller temple within the Tōdai-ji complex that holds significant importance. It provides a breathtaking view of Nara, especially at sunset.

You can reach it from a path in front of Tōdai-ji, which involves ascending cobblestone steps bordered by ancient stone walls, or from the rear, where a covered wooden staircase leads upward.

Regardless of the route, the grand wooden main hall appears as you near the top. At dusk, when the lanterns are lit, the panoramic view of Nara from this vantage point is unparalleled.

5. Squese Through Buddha’s Nostril at Tōdai-ji

Tōdai-ji temple is one of Nara’s and also Japan’s top attractions. Housing the massive Great Buddha (Daibutsu); the sheer scale of the Buddha statue is awe-inspiring, and the temple complex offers various smaller shrines and gardens to explore.

Initially the original temple was 30% larger but after a fire broke out it had to be re-constructed. Nonetheless as we walked through the main entrance looking up to the temple you are simply stricken by the grandeur of this place.

Visit early to avoid crowds, and don’t miss the opportunity to crawl through the “Buddha’s Nostril,” a hole in a pillar said to bring good fortune if you can squeeze through. It’s a fun challenge for kids and adults alike. Needless to say, neither of us managed to go through the nostril, we blame it on the mochis.

Best Places to Eat in Nara

Nara’s culinary scene is a celebration of traditional Japanese flavours with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The city is renowned for its tofu dishes, owing to its historical connections with Buddhism, where tofu played a significant role as a vegetarian protein source. In addition to tofu, you’ll find other traditional delights that showcase Nara’s unique gastronomic identity.

Tofu Dishes

Tofu is a cornerstone of Nara’s cuisine, and you can find it in a variety of forms. Tofu-making has a long history in the region, with some restaurants specialising in handmade tofu crafted using age-old techniques.

  • Yudofu: A popular tofu dish in Nara, yudofu is made by simmering blocks of tofu in a light broth, often served with dipping sauces and vegetables. It’s a simple yet satisfying dish, perfect for a warm and comforting meal.
  • Gomadofu: This unique tofu is made with sesame seeds, giving it a distinct nutty flavour and a slightly firmer texture. It’s typically served cold and pairs well with soy sauce or other savoury toppings.
  • Agedashi Tofu: For a crispy tofu experience, try agedashi tofu, where tofu is lightly coated in flour and deep-fried until golden brown. It’s often served with a savoury sauce and garnishes like green onions or grated daikon radish.

Local Specialities

Beyond tofu, Nara offers a range of traditional dishes that highlight regional ingredients and flavours.

  • Kakinoha-zushi: This is a type of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves, a unique specialty from Nara. The leaves impart a subtle aroma to the sushi, typically made with salmon or mackerel.
  • Nara-zuke: A pickled dish, Nara-zuke is made from vegetables, often gourds, soaked in sake lees. It has a distinct flavour and is a common accompaniment to meals in Nara.

Restaurants to Try

1. Mizuya Chaya

Known for its traditional tea house ambiance, Mizuya Chaya offers a selection of tofu dishes and other local favourites. It’s a great place to experience the essence of Nara’s cuisine while enjoying a serene setting.

2. Nakatanidou

Famous for its mochi, Nakatanidou also serves a variety of traditional snacks and dishes. Watching the mochi-pounding process is an experience in itself.

The mochi-pounding process is every hour so be sure to get front row seats as the front of the shop gets packed and you might not be able to see the action.

We also tried the mochis and they are very gooey and warm as they are freshly made, the red bean crumb on the outside we found it a bit too dry, perhaps powder sugar would have been better.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on our time in Nara, we found it to be a place where history, spirituality, and natural beauty converge in the most captivating way.

The deer in Nara Park were a delightful highlight. Interacting with these gentle creatures brought a touch of whimsy to our visit. However, it’s important to remember that they’re wild animals, so be respectful and follow the guidelines for feeding and interacting with them.

Exploring Nara’s temples and shrines gave us a sense of awe and reverence. The grandeur of Tōdai-ji’s Great Buddha, the tranquil beauty of Kasuga Taisha, and the historic charm of Kofuku-ji left a lasting impression. We recommend taking your time at these sites to fully appreciate their significance.

Our final piece of advice for those planning a trip to Nara is to embrace the slower pace and take in the details. Visit the smaller temples and gardens, interact with the locals, and don’t rush through the experience.

Overall, Nara left us with a sense of tranquility and a deeper understanding of Japan’s cultural roots.

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:

  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide, Klook or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo or Nomad you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

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