If travelling to Kyoto or Osaka, it’s hard not to squeeze a Nara day trip into your Japan itinerary. Six to eight hours is just enough to see the highlights of Nara, a city that was once the ancient capital of Japan before moving to Kyoto. It’s a wonderful location to visit traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, eight of which are deemed Historic Sites by the Japanese Government, and are also part of UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. Not to mention, it is also home to a well-known Nara Deer Park, where sacred deer roam around freely.
Our one day Nara itinerary has you covered, and includes everything you need to know and see whilst in town. It can even be condensed into a Nara half day itinerary if needed.
- A Day Trip to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka
- Getting Around in Nara
- What to Do in Nara – A Nara 1 Day Itinerary
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A Day Trip to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka
Travelling from Kyoto to Nara
A Nara day trip from Kyoto is common to see in Japan itineraries, just because it’s so easy! When planning your trip, make a note to collect a Japan Rail Pass from either Tokyo Narita Airport or Osaka Kansai International Airport – two locations where most travellers will likely stop before Nara. The JR Pass can (and likely will) be used throughout your trip to Japan, however it is particularly useful when travelling from Kyoto to Nara. Travellers can take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station straight into JR Nara Station, on a train ride that takes a mere 70 minutes.
Admittedly, there are a few train lines that take slightly less time (such as the Kintetsu-Limited Express), however for ease, comfort and convenience, we recommend catching the JR Nara Line in the morning. Aim to be in Nara no later than 9am to ensure a full day of exploring.
Travelling from Osaka to Nara
An Osaka to Nara day trip is equally as easy. The easiest way is to catch the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service from Osaka Station. The journey takes less than an 60 minutes, with train departures roughly three times an hour.
Getting Around in Nara
Unlike our Osaka and Kyoto itineraries, this Nara one day itinerary can be completed without having to master the train system. All attractions can be reached comfortably on foot or rental bicycle, with the exception of Mt. Yoshiro.
Alternatively, visitors to Nara can make use of the city loop buses, aimed at tourists wanting to see the main attractions. There are two main bus terminals in Nara: JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station. It’s worth looking up Nara Bus Routes ahead of your trip if this is your preferred transportation method.
What to Do in Nara – A Nara 1 Day Itinerary
Nara is definitely a city to visit if planning a holiday in Japan, but with so many things to see in different cities across the country, Nara is often allocated just a few hours. This 1 day Nara itinerary should give visitors a good feel of the place and highlight some of the best temples, shrines and site to see, but for those that want to be even more efficient, consider booking a Nara walking tour with an experienced travel guide. This Ancient Nara Day Tour by Klook covers all of the sites listed below and more!
Kofukuji Temple (Kōfuku-ji Temple)
Whether travelling to Nara via Nara Station or Kintetsu-Nara Station, it makes sense to begin your day out with Kofukuji Temple, as it is a brief 10 minute walk away. Kofukuji Temple is the first of the UNESCO Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara that visitors will see. This one is particularly interesting as it was one of the Seven Great Temples – the first of three on this list. The original site was once Kyoto, before being dismantled and re-assembled in Nara in 710AD.
Entrance to the grounds is free, however a ticket of 800 yen must be purchased to enter the National Treasure Hall and the Eastern Golden Hall.
Nara Deer Park
From Kofukuji Temple, it’s a short walk to the iconic Nara Park, a location that Nara and its local deer residents have become renowned for. The walk over from Kofukuji is incredibly beautiful – in fact, guests who prefer nature and gardens to shrines and temples might want to stop at either the Yoshikien Garden (250 yen entrance) or the Isuien Garden (900 yen entrance) and soak up the views of Mount Wakakusa, before wandering over to say hello to the deer!
Warning! The deer roam around freely and comfortably, so be sure to respect their environment – it is a crime to mistreat the deer, or to feed them anything other than the biscuits being sold by the authorised street vendors.
Todaiji Temple (Tōdai-ji Temple)
Located in the northern part of Nara Park, it’s impossible to miss Todaiji Temple. The avenue that leads there starts with the massive wooden gate known as the Great South Gate (Nandai-mon). This is an attraction in itself thanks to the 7-meter-tall statues of guardian gods at its sides. Once you pass the second gate, Naka-mon, and the surrounding walls, you will reach the main hall of Todaiji, called Daibutsu-den, which means The Great Buddha Hall. Even though it does not look as striking as a slender and shiny-red pagoda, it is in fact the world’s largest wooden building!
There in the centre of the hall, sitting on a lotus throne, is the phenomenal 15-meter-tall Great Buddha statue. It was damaged multiple times over the centuries, but always rebuilt to its original splendour. Emperor Shomu founded Todaiji Temple in 745 AD, in the short period when Nara was the capital of Japan and plenty of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were being built. It took 15 years to build the Temple, with the Great Buddha statue being unveiled in 752.
Walk around the hall and make sure you try to earn a corner of paradise by squeezing yourself through a hole at the base of one of the pillars. On your way out, remember to get your Goshuincho book stamped, and keep building this wonderful memory of your trip to Japan. A joint ticket for the Great Buddha Hall and the Todaiji Museum is 800 yen (or 500 yen just to enter the Great Buddha Hall) and both are open daily.
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Kasuga Grand Shrine (Kasuga taisha Shrine)
The lead up to Kasuga Taisha shrine is as much of the experience as the shrine itself. The stone lantern lined walkways will have you in awe, as the local deer flit about and relax between them, the dappled sunlight shining through the trees.
Kasuga Taisha itself stands out from the surrounding nature, a bright red and white Shinto shrine standing tall and draped with thousands of lanterns hanging both inside and outside the shrine’s buildings. The 3000 bronze lanterns, all of which were donated by worshippers, are fascinating to view down the expansive hallways, creating surreal scenes along the narrow walkways.
Before you leave, be sure to stop at the back steps by the thousand year old Japanese cedar tree known as Honsha Osugi. The trunk is huge and the tree itself reaches over 20 metres in height. It’s definitely a sight to behold, with many people coming to worship the tree as much as the shrine. Kasuga Taisha is free to enter and open every day of the year. We recommend allowing an hour to take in the shrine and surrounding buildings, parks and walkways. Kasuga Taisha is in the east of Nara Park, Nara, Japan and takes around 30 minutes to walk from JR Nara Station.
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Watch the Traditional Art of Mochi Making
Mochi is a traditional Japanese dessert made from whole rice. It is beaten with a wooden mallet until it becomes a paste, and is then formed into small balls. It is truly delicious and something you should definitely try when visiting Nara and other locations in Japan.
In Nara, there is a very famous mochi shop called Nakatanidu on the main street leading from Nara Station, just prior to the entrance to Nara Park. It is definitely a must see when you visit Nara, and what better time than to stop for a quick snack after roaming the park. You will spot it when you see crowds outside the window watching two workers make green mochi the traditional way.
Once you have watched the show you can then try the mochi which was just made – and it is definitely delicious. It is green and filled with red bean paste. If that was not enough, visitors can also purchase more mochi to take home with them. We have tried many other mochi options over time but none of them match up to the mochi tasted in Nara.
Nakatanidu is located at 29 Hashimotocho, Nara 630-8217, and it is open from 10am to 7pm daily. If keen on learning about other traditional Japanese arts and rituals, be sure to check out a traditional matcha tea ceremony.
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Horyuji Temple (Hōryū-ji Temple)
To get to the next attraction, Horyuji Temple, take a JR train from the main Nara station. This will take only 12 minutes. If you prefer to walk, then it is a 30 minutes walk through beautiful Nara from the main station to the temple. Alternatively, there is also a bus to the temple that takes only 8 minutes ride.
Horyuji Temple is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nara and an ancient temple not to miss during a visit to Nara! Horyuji Temple is one of the lesser-known attractions to international tourists, however a popular site for locals whilst visiting Nara. It is also one of the first places in Japan to be designated by UNESCO, along with the Himeji Castle, which is also good to visit on a one day trip. This massive temple complex consists of a five-storey pagoda, the main hall and a few other buildings that remained intact from long ago.
Prince Shotoku founded this temple in 607 during the period of Empress Seiko. Horyuji Temple remains as one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. This still holds true even after the reconstruction in the 8th century after being lost to fire. All the buildings in this temple are registered as National Treasures of Japan, which demonstrates how much the Japanese treasure this ancient wooden temple.
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By this point, you may have stopped for a late lunch or have just wrapped up your half day itinerary in Nara. For those that have a little more time to spare, we highly recommend visiting Mt. Yoshino. As one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan, Mt. Yoshino is decorated with over 30,000 cherry blossom trees! In fact, the mountain was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 because of its sacred religious sites and pilgrimage routes.
Yoshino Station is the closest station to the mountain, but if you’re feeling more adventurous, visitors can get to Mt. Yoshino by bus, car or taxi; however, the fastest way to get around is, of course, by local trains and shinkansen. From Nara Station, you can take the Sakurai and the Kintetsu-Yoshino Lines and reach Yoshino Station in under two hours. If Mt. Yoshino is high up on your bucket list, you may want to spend less time on the other attractions listed here to ensure ample time exploring the mountain.
Mt. Yoshino is split into three areas that ascend as you climb the mountain. The shimo senbon or “lower” area, is the best for viewing cherry blossoms because you can see up the whole mountain onto a horizon full of fluffy pink trees. Visitors can take the ropeway or hike up the mountain from the lower region to reach the naka senbon and kami senbon, or “middle” and “upper” areas.
As you go up the mountain, you should check out Kinpusen-ji Temple and Yoshimizu Shrine because they are not only great examples of Japan’s traditional religious heritage, but they are also great places for an unobstructed view of the mountain. However, the best place to see a full view of the mountain and its colourful foliage is in the kami senbon (upper area) at the Hanayagura picnic area. Another big plus to this top spot is that the trees are lit up at night in the spring season, so you can take both spectacular daylight and night-time photos in this spot!
Before heading back to Yoshino Station, the small town at the base is filled with cute little cafes and shops that serve traditional Japanese foods and items.
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