The former capital city of Japan, Nara is filled with top attractions and friendly deer. It's the perfect day trip from Kyoto and Osaka.
I didn't know much about Nara before we visited, but I had heard of their infamous friendly locals, the sacred deer. Nara is one of the former capitals of Japan, the ancient city has become a tourist hotspot, and makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. Read on to discover the top things to do in Nara and how to spend the perfect day trip from Kyoto to Nara.
GETTING TO NARA
Whether you're visiting from Kyoto or Osaka, Nara is the perfect day trip, simply hop on a shinkansen bullet train and you'll be there in no time! There are two stations, the JR Nara Station, and the Kintetsu Nara Station. The JR line can be used for free with those with the Japan Rail Pass, whereas the Kintetsu line is not covered. The Kintetsu Nara Station is slightly better located in terms of attractions, but either one will do just fine!
From Kyoto, you have two options, the JR Nara Line (Y690), for those with the JR Pass you'll want to make sure you're on this train. The Miyakoji Kaisoku Express is the best option for JR pass holders, taking 45 minutes to the JR Nara Station. The second option is the Kintetsu Line (Y1110), the Kintetsu line will only take you 35 minutes and will take you to the Kintetsu Nara station which is closer to Nara Park, the main attraction, but unfortunately, you can't use the JR pass. However, both stations are pretty central, so I wouldn't worry too much about which one you're going to.
Similiarly to getting to Nara from Kyoto, getting to Nara from Osaka you have to options. You have the JR Kanjo-Yamatoji Line (Y780) for JR pass holders or the Kintersu Nara Line (Y540). Kintetsu Line is faster and arrives as the slightly more convenient of the two stations.
MEETING THE SACRED DEERS
My favourite thing to do in Nara was, of course, meeting the friendly locals. You'll find the sacred deer all over Nara, but the main place you'll find them is at Nara Park. The park is only a five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and around twenty minutes from JR Nara Station. Nara park was created in 1880, and you'll also find many of the main sites in the park.
Most of the deer are extremely tame but be careful not to wave any food around, they'll snatch an ice-cream right out of your hand. They may even enjoy nibbling on your clothes - my orange skirt was a big hit! You can also buy crackers from the street vendors which the deer love, they'll even bow before you give it to them. If you're after the perfect picture - be sure to buy some!
You won't see many fawns (baby deer) roaming around the park, as pregnant deer and babies are kept in the Roku-en deer center until they are old enough to roam free. We were lucky enough to see a gorgeous baby and its mother in one of the more quieter areas of the park. But be sure not to touch the babies, as human smells can make the mother reject its baby.
Things to do and see
Of course, the Nara Deer aren't the only attraction, Nara is filled with rich history and facinating temples that you can't miss!
The Todaiji temple is one of Japan's most famous temples and a must do on your list of things to do in Nara. The temple was built in 752 AD, and reconstructed 30% smaller than its original size in 1692, and the main (Daibutsden) hall is the world largest wooden building. Inside the Daibutsden hall, you'll find a 15 meter tall bronze Buddha statue, as well as many other fascinating exhibits. There is an entry fee of ¥500, but it's totally worth it.
The Kofukuji temple is home to the second tallest pagoda in Japan, standing at 50 meters high. The original structure was built in 730 but was reconstructed in 1436. At the Kofukuji temple, you'll also find the National Treasure museum, filled with Buddist art and the Eastern Golden Hall with the wooden Yakushi Buddha statue. The Central Golden Hall, the main building of Kofukuji is currently undergoing reconstruction works, it was destroyed in 1717 and it was only recently that they decided to rebuild.
The Isui-en garden is the perfect spot to relax, why not stop in one of the tea houses to unwind. The gardens are beautiful, particularly during autumn and cherry blossom season, where the colours will take your breath away. There is an entry fee, so if you're on a budget, why not visit one of the free smaller gardens in the surrounding area.
Famed for its lanterns, Kasuga-Taisha is one of Nara's most celebrated shrines. It has 3000 stone lanterns lining the walkway to the shrine, and hundreds of bronze lanterns cover the shrine. Each one donated to show thanks and support to the shrine. It's free to visit the shrine, but there is a paid area if you want to get up close. If you're lucky enough to visit during one of the festivals, you'll witness the beauty of the lanterns all lit up.
Pick up some souvenirs at the Higashimuki Shopping District
The perfect mix of modern and traditional, you'll have a great time strolling along Nara's shopping arcade. It's the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs or grab a traditional Japanese bite to eat.
Have you visited Nara? Let me know in the comments below!
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