A beautiful, traditional Japanese city with many temples and shrines, Nara is Japan's first permanent capital for most of the 8th century A.D. and the starting place of Buddhism in Japan. Nara is a city steeped in history and tradition, including the art of calligraphy (shuji). Unlike other cities, visitors can feed the deer that roam freely around Nara Park, as well as leave love letters at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
When To Visit Nara And How Long To Stay
Nara is an hour by train from Kyoto. While visiting Kyoto, a day-trip out to Nara is a good idea. The best seasons to visit are autumn and spring.
Transportation To And Within Nara
Nara does not have its own airport, so people visiting Nara may choose to do so by getting a train from Kyoto to Nara. Alternatively, travellers can also take a train or limousine bus from the Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay to Nara.
A one way train trip from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station takes 45 minutes and costs about 710 yen for an adult. Other trains making the same journey in 35 minutes cost 1,130 yen for a one-way trip from Kyoto to Nara.
From Kansai Airport, airport limousine buses go from Kansai International Airport to Kintetsu Nara Station for about 2,000 yen, taking an hour and a half.
If you're visiting Nara together with Kyoto and Osaka, the Kansai thru-pass allows unlimited travel for 2 or 3 days between the cities by private railway, bus, and subway in Kansai and may be purchased by tourists.
Walking is the most popular option for getting around the different sites in Nara. The Nara Kotsu Bus Service is also convenient. An adult day pass for the bus may be purchased for 500 yen or 210 yen for one ticket.
Nara’s Must-See Sights
This is one of Japan’s most famous temples, as well as one of the most historically significant. In the heart of the temple, you’ll find the bronze, 15-meters tall Great Buddha Statue, along with two Bodhisattvas.
This large park in central Nara was established back in 1880. Today, it is where you’ll find several main attractions including Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and the Nara National Museum. It’s also home to hundreds of deer who roam the park freely.
Located not too far from the center of Nara, the Kofukuji Temple is among the city’s most stunning and historic temples, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Buddhist temple dates from the 8th century A.D.
Considered by many to be Nara’s most celebrated shrine, the Kasuga Taisha is over 1,300 years old. The shrine’s offering hall is free to the public, while the inner area requires an entrance ticket.
Founded by Prince Shotoku in 607, the Horyuji Temple is the world's oldest wooden building. Only about 20% of the original wood remains, but that is still impressive considering that construction began nearly 1,400 years ago.
Meaning ‘garden founded on water,’ the Isuien Garden is another of Nara’s very beautiful and relaxing parks. It has two parts: a front garden and a rear garden. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple.
Top Local Delicacies To Try
A breakfast dish of rice porridge with roasted green tea leaves. This is an especially good meal choice for travelers following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
A jelly-like food made by mixing a natural starch called kuzu with warm water. While the two are slightly different, they are both treated as desserts.
Translating to ‘persimmon leaf sushi,’ Kakinoha Zushi is a mackerel or salmon and rice wrapped in a persimmon leaf. It’s a popular local food, so definitely give this one a try!
Not to be confused with other well-known Japanese noodles like Udon, Soba, and Ramen, Miwa Somen is a thin noodle eaten cold or in broth with vegetables.
Nara’s Best Restaurants & Sweet Treats
This popular udon restaurant features a contemporary interior and come lunchtime, a line out the door. Noodles and stocks served at Kamaiki are made fresh daily on-site. In colder weather, indulge in a hearty curry udon and come spring and summer, cool off with a bukkake udon dish.
Don’t be fool by this Tuna House’s small size; dishes pack a punch. The entire menu is tuna-centric, including Ootoro, which is a pink fatty tuna. It’s hard to go wrong, but we advice being a little adventurous and going outside your food comfort zone here.
Consider this your go-to spot for soba noodles and Japanese “tapas.” Since plates are easy to share, it’s a good way to try different local dishes, such as tofu, mackerel sashimi, and potato salad. You can also opt for the chef to decide what to serve you; just alert them of any allergies.
One of Japan’s classic meals is an Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with different ingredients. At Okonomiyaki Parco, there are plenty of options to choose from, including oysters and other seafoods. It’s affordable and well-located to Nara’s main tourist attractions.
This local favorite will become your best friend on a hot spring or summer day. Specializing in shaved ice (and at an affordable price) Ochanoko is the perfect place to sit back, relax, and satisfy your sweet tooth.
Wherever you dine, make sure to save room for Japan’s most beloved dessert—the mochi. The Japanese rice cake is famous, especially at Nakatanidou, where you can watch the high-speed process of mocha-pounding (aka see how it’s made). Watching the process from start to finish will make you appreciate your mochi all the more.
Beer and wine lovers will fine common ground at LBK Craft. The bar and restaurant boasts a large selection international craft beers along with more than 2 dozen wines and sake. Of course, there are always Japanese teas available, as well as juice and soft drinks.
Harushika Sake Brewery
When in Japan—and especially in Nara, as it’s the first place where sake was produced—trying sake is a must. Harushika Sake Brewery gives visitors the chance to learn a bit about the processes before sampling a selection of traditional sake.
Headed up by owner and bartender, Michito Kaneko, this cozy bar serves speakeasy cocktails and has a classy, intimate atmosphere. Kaneko, who was named a World Class Bartender in 2015, can whip anything up, so feel free to get creative.
Shin-Omiya Rokuchome Yokocho
This lively venue is a great start to your evening. Designed to look like a street from the Edo period, the space features food stalls and a common seating area. Grab your food, and a couple of drinks, and settle in for a laid-back night out in Nara.
An area filled to the brim with Japanese culture and retaining an old feel to it with its old homes, trendy boutiques, and restaurants.
A lesser-travelled region in Nara, but home to the Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji Temples and vastly important in Japanese history.
This village located in Yoshino District is most appreciated for its stunning nature, hiking trails, the Tanize Suspension Bridge, and the hot springs.
Ideal for shopping, dining out, and meeting friends at a bar. It’s a bit built-up compared to other neighborhoods but in close proximity to the city’s two major train stations.