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Nara Day Trip from Kyoto or Osaka - Perfect 1 Day Itinerary
One of the must see sights when visiting Japan is Nara, the ancient former capital of Japan.
Nara is a perfect day trip and can be easily done from either Kyoto or Osaka.
Follow this perfect one day itinerary and discover how to get to Nara and what to do and see in this top tourist attraction.
Nara Day Trip – How to Get to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka
Nara day trip can be easily done from either Kyoto or Osaka! Following are some of the best ways to get to Nara from either Kyoto or Osaka.
How to Get to Nara from Kyoto
1. JR Nara Line – if you have JR Pass, then you would want to take JR Nara Line. The cost of the trip will be covered by the pass. To start off, head to Kyoto Station and take the Miyakoji Rapid Train on the JR Nara Line. Miyakoji Rapid Train is the fastest connection between Kyoto and Nara. It only takes 45 minutes to reach JR Nara Station from Kyoto, if you take the rapid train.
I need to mention that there is Futsu local train which is covered by JR Pass as well, however it stops by several stations on the way to Nara and the journey takes about 70 minutes.
2. Kintetsu Kyoto Line – Kintetsu LIne is no covered by JR Pass, however it is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Nara. First of all, go to Kintetsu Kyoto Station and take the direst express (tokkyu) train on Kintetsu Kyoto Line. You will get to Kintetsu Nara Station in only 35 minutes.
By the way, JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station are within walking distance to each other. Both stations are about the same distance from all the attractions.
How to Get to Nara from Osaka
1. JR Yamatoji Line – JR Yamatoji Line is covered by Japan Rail Pass. If you have the pass, then your trip to Nara is covered. First, head to Osaka Station and take the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service. It will get you to JR Nara Station in 50 minutes.
In addition, if you are traveling from Osaka JR Namba Station, then take the local train of the Yamatoji Line to Kyuhoji Station and then transfer to the Yamatoji Rapid Service. This will get you to JR Nara Station in about 50 minutes as well.
2. Kintetsu Nara Line – Kintetsu Nara Line is not covered by JR Pass. If you decide to take Kintetsu Nara Line, then head to Osaka Kintetsu Namba Station and take a Rapid Express train on the Kintetsu Nara Line. It will get you to Kintetsu Nara Station in 39 minutes.
How to Get from Nara Station to Nara Park
By the way, there are two stations in Nara: JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station. Both stations are within walking distance from each other. And, both of the stations are within walking distance from Nara Park where major attractions are located.
- Kintetsu Nara Station is located right next to Kohfukuji Temple and the 5-Story Pagoda. It is no more than a 10-minute walk. When you exit the station, turn right and then, start walking east.
- It takes about 15 minutes to reach Kohfukuji Temple and the 5-Story Pagoda from JR Nara Station on foot. First, take East Exit from the station. Next, go north until you reach Sanjo Dori Street. It is a wide shopping street. Finally, turn right on Sanjo Dori Street (you will be walking east) and continue walking until you reach the park.
Another option is to take Loop Line Bus. Specifically, take JR Nara Station’s East Exit. Once you exit, locate Loop Line Bus Terminal. It is super easy! The buses are colored bright yellow! Next, take number 2 service bus from bus stop number 2. This bus will take you to Nara Park in about 10 minutes for a fixed fare of 210 yen for adults and 110 yen for children.
How to Get Around in Nara
1. Walk – most of Nara’s major attractions are located around Nara Park and can easily be reached by foot. Conversely, the entire park is extremely well signed.
2. Take Loop Line Bus – Loop Line Bus is a great bus service running between the train stations and Nara Park
- Number 1 Service Bus – runs an anti-clockwise loop
- Number 2 Service Bus – follows the same loop in a clockwise direction
By the way, use the clockwise #2 route to visit the main sites, and the anti-clockwise #1 route to get back to the stations.
Moreover, you should board the Loop Bus from the front of the bus, and pay as soon as you get on. The Loop Bus has a fixed fare of 210 yen for adults, and 110 yen for children.
Interesting Facts About Nara
Did you know that until the 7th century Japan had no permanent capital?
The capital was moved with the passing of each emperor so that his successor would not be ill-fated by the death. The practice ended under the influence of Buddhism and with the Taika reforms of 646. However, the true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court.
The official capital was finally established in 710 and Nara, which was then known as Heijōkyō, was chosen as the site.
Interestingly enough, when a priest by the name of Dōkyō managed to seduce an empress and nearly usurp the throne, it was decided to move the court to a new location, out of reach of Nara’s increasingly powerful clergy. This led to the new capital being established in Kyoto, where it remained until 1868.
Nara Day Trip Map
Following is the map of Nara Park and the surrounding area:
- JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station are marked in red
- Top things to do and see in Nara are marked in black
My recommendation is to read about each attraction first and decide what interests you the most. Next, decide the route of your visit. You can do it clockwise or counterclockwise.
So, read on! I ranked each attraction from 1 to 6 based on its popularity.
Things to Do in Nara
Nara has a wealth of historical buildings and art treasures. It attracts more than a million visitors every year!
Notably, it is not possible to see all of Nara’s sights in just one day, however the following list will help you discover the best places to visit and make Nara day trip an unforgettable experience.
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Nara Park is home to the eighth-century-AD Todai-ji (Great East Temple), the most famous of the Seven Great Temples of Nara.
For one thing, Todai-ji is the most popular site in Nara. If you can only visit one place during your Nara day trip, then Todai-ji Temple is it!
Leading to the temple is a splendid Nandaimon Gate.
As you approach the gate, notice a unique plaque on top of it. It states that Todaiji is the main temple of the Kegonshu sect of Buddhism.
Next, step inside the gate. Subsequently, the gate houses two massive wooden statues. These are wrath-filled and muscular guardians of the Buddha known as Niō or Kongōrikishi.
They are regarded as two of the finest wooden sculptures in Japan.
Todai-ji Daibutsuden – Great Buddha Hall
Next, you will be greeted by an immense Todaiji Daibutsuden – Great Buddha Hall.
It is hard to believe that the present structure is about one third smaller than the original temple which was built by the Emperor Shomu in 741.
Todai-ji Daibutsuden was destroyed several times, first in 1180 and then again in 1567. It was rebuilt in 1709.
Todai-ji Daibutsuden is the world’s largest wooden structure.
Notwithstanding, it is a masterpiece! Notably, many of the crisscrossing beams are positioned without any nails.
Daibutsusan – Great Buddha of Nara
Todai-ji Daibutsuden houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha (Daibutsusan).
The great Buddha of Nara was originally constructed between 735 and 749. It is 49.1 feet high and weighs over 550 tons. Apparently, the construction of the giant Buddha used up all the country’s reserves of bronze and precious metals.
In addition to the Great Buddha of Nara, there are towering 30-foot-high wooden statues of warriors and gods
Another popular attraction Inside Todai-ji is a pillar with a hole in its base.
Notably, the hole in the pillar is about the same size as Daibutsusan’s nostril.
It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will receive enlightenment in their next life and also have all their prayers answered.
Daibutsuden is open daily from 7:30 am till 5:30 pm (April to October) and 8 am to 5 pm (November to March). Admission is 600 yen.
Nara Deer Park
Nara is famous for its temples and shrines, however, on your Nara day trip you simply cannot skip the free roaming Nara deer. They are just as popular!
By the way, there are hundreds of deer wandering through the vast lawns of the Nara Park. Honestly, I thought that it would be rather hard to find them, when in fact, they are everywhere.
I found them to be friendly, curious and show great interest in rice bran crackers called shika sembei – rice biscuit.
Apparently, there are over 1,300 deer in the Nara Park. These deer are called sika, which is derived from the Japanese word for deer: shika.
Legend has it that in 768, when the Fujiwara family established the great Kasuga Shrine in the foothills of the Wakakusa Mountain, a Shinto deity descended from the mountain to the new sanctuary riding a sacred white deer. Since then, the deer became a revered animal, protected by the authorities, and a symbol of the city.
Interestingly enough, until 1637, killing a deer in Nara was considered a serious crime, even punishable by the death penalty. After WWII the divinity of deer was officially suspended, but they were declared a national treasure. Nowadays, they are protected and maintained in a semi-wild state which humans and deer use to mutual advantage.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
I have to honestly say that visiting Kasuga Taisha Shrine was my favorite part of Nara day trip.
The path leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine is absolutely stunning. It is lined with thousands of aged, moss-covered stone lanterns.
The stone lanterns are known as “toro” and have been donated by worshipers as an expression of their faith.
Be on the look-out for the deer peeking in-between the lanterns.
The path will eventually lead you to vermilion colored Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
The eves of the shrine are decorated with thousands of hanging brass and bronze lanterns; some new and brightly polished, some old and tarnished by time.
Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine.
The origins of Kasuga Taisha Shrine date back to the year 768, when four deities: Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, Futsunushi-no-mikoto, Amenokoyane-no-mikoto and his consort Himegami were enshrined here for the prosperity and protection of the nation and the happiness of the citizens. These four deities are also known as Kasuga-sume-ookami or Kasuga-Daimyojin (the Great Deities of Kasuga).
It is believed that the original designation of the site as a place of Shinto worship dates back to 710.
Moreover, Kasuga Taisha Shrine was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
The complex is open every day. Entrance to the grounds is free of charge except for a paid inner area (500 yen) which allows a closer view of several buildings with bronze lanterns and to the Main Worship Hall.
Notwithstanding, the entire place is absolutely stunning in the evening.
This tradition of building temples for the consort’s recovery from illness was not uncommon during that time.
Eventually, Kofukuji Temple became a family temple of the powerful Fujiwara family. Yet, it not only served the religious purposes, but it also had a great political power over the government.
The temple was burnt down several times through the years but it was reconstructed for the most part.
The next building that will definitely capture your attention is the five story pagoda.
The pagoda is said to have been built in 730 on the orders of Empress Komyo.
Today Kofuku-ji Temple’s five story pagoda is Japan’s second tallest pagoda and a symbol of Nara City,
The pagoda burnt down several times through the years. What you see today is the reconstruction from 1426.
Kofukuji is regarded as the birthplace of Noh drama. It hosted Noh performances as far back as A.D. 869. Today the temple hosts two major Noh events—Takigi O-noh in May and Toei-Noh in October. Both are held outdoors at night.
In 1998, Kofukuji Temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gangoji Temple is one of the most ancient temples in Japan. It was founded in 588.
When the capital of Japan was moved to Heijōkyō (Nara) in 710, the temple was rebuilt at a new location and its name was changed from Hokoji to Gangoji.
The design of the temple was influenced by architectural styles from mainland Asia. Many of the priests who first served at Hokoji were from Korea and China. In addition, the King of Paekche in Korea is believed to have sent artists, carpenters, metal workers and potters to help produce the temple’s paintings and distinctive round tiles.
Gangoji Temple is open from 9 am till 5 pm. Admission is 500 yen for adults which includes entrance to the Treasure House.
To the east of the Great Buddha Hall and up on the side of Mount Wakakusa overlooking the city of Nara, sits Nigatsu-do or the Hall of the Second Month.
The footpath and many stairs leading to Nigatsudo Hall are not easy to climb. However, when you finally make your way up to the large front platform of the hall, you will get rewarded with the most spectacular view of Nara.
I think you will immediately notice that the atmosphere here differs from other temples in Nara. It may lack the grandeur of the Great Buddha Hall, but it has many intriguing elements and beautiful masterpieces.
By the way, the name Nigatsudo means the Hall of the Second Month, or February Hall. It is derived from the fact that the Shuni-e Ceremony is held here during the second month of the lunar calendar. The Shuni-e Ceremony is also known as the Omizutori Festival.
The Omizutori Festival is marked with an eye-catching display of massive torches (6-8 meters in size). The torches are carried up to Nigatsudo Hall’s balcony, and then held above the Nigatsudo courtyard. These blazing torches shower down embers over the audience. This showering of sparks is believed to bestow a safe and fruitful year upon the gathered crowd.
Where and What to Eat in Nara
There is an abundance of street food vendors selling all kinds of local delicacies. If you walk along Sanjodori, Higashimuki and Mochiidono Streets you will have plenty of choices.
During your Nara day trip, you need to try some local specialties. Here are my top two recommendations, you simply can’t miss:
Kakinoha-zushi is sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. However, it is not the fresh fish that is being used, but rather one that has been cured. The typical types of fish that is used are salmon, mackerel and trout.
Once the fish is cured, it is pressed into molded sushi rice (which has usually been mixed with vinegar.) and then, wrapped securely in a persimmon leaf.
The little sushi bundles are usually packaged in wooden boxes and left for a few days to ferment.
My recommendation is to get a box ‘to go’ at Hiraso and have a picnic in the park if the weather is nice. Otherwise, you can dine-in. Hiraso is a restaurant and a shop specializing in kakinoha-zushi. It has three locations in Nara. The one that is the easiest to find is located just outside the JR Nara Station.
I need to admit that mochi in Nara was the best one I have ever had. First of all, you need to head to Nakatanidou. It is located on Hashimoto-cho Street, no more than a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. You will not miss it, because the mochi-pounding process takes place outside the shop and draws quite a crowd.
The high-speed mochi pounding, known as mochitsuki produces mochi that is soft and chewy.
Nakatanidou’s specialty is yomogi mochi. By the way, yomogi is a Japanese wild plant also known as mugwort. It gives mochi its natural green color and adds a refreshing taste.
Once the gooey mochi mixture is produced, it is formed into oval cakes, filled with red bean paste and lightly dusted with with kinako (roasted soybean flour) before being served to customers.
Each piece sells for 130 yen.
Now, let me know if you are planning a trip to Nara, or maybe you have just visited Nara and would like to share your experiences. Leave a comment right below!
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