Japan’s first imperial capital, Nara retains an astonishing collection of some of the country’s most important buildings, temples, and treasures. Combine it with a trip to nearby Kyoto to get a comprehensive view of Japanese history.
When To Visit Nara And How Long To Stay
As with its neighboring cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is best visited in the spring or autumn, when temperatures are warm but comfortable.
Nara is an hour by train from Kyoto, which makes for an ideal day trip. Most visitors find that one or two days in the city is sufficient.
Transportation To And Within Nara
Nara does not have its own airport, so the best way to get there is from Kansai International Airport via Kyoto or Osaka. 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 railway, bus, and subway. A one-way trip from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station takes 45 minutes and costs 710 yen one-way. Other trains making the same journey in 35 minutes cost 1,130 yen.
You can also reach Nara directly from Kansai Airport. Airport limousine buses depart to Kintetsu Nara Station; the 1.5-hour trip costs 2,000 yen.
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; a single-ride ticket costs 210 yen.
Nara’s Must-See Sights
In a country of superlatives, Todaiji Temple stands out: the main hall is the largest wooden building in the world. Don’t miss the Great Buddha Statue that sits in the heart of the temple.
If only one park in the world could masquerade as an open petting zoo, Nara Park would be it. The 1,200-odd deer that roam throughout the grounds are tame and, unless provoked, quite friendly. Buy some snacks at one of the many stands to feed to your new furry friend.
Nara’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
Hirasou Yoshino Honten
The perfect place for a quick bite in a traditional setting, Hirasou is one of the best places to try kakinohazushi, mackerel or salmon and rice wrapped in a persimmon leaf. A meal here will cost you less than $10.
This traditional cafe focuses on handmade Japanese sweets. You'll find mochi, jellies, shaved ice, and cold soups all made with seasonal ingredients.
Nara’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
The city’s traditional district, Naramachi is where you go when you want to be immersed in Nara’s ancient roots. Filled to the brim with old homes, cozy cafes, and quaint boutiques, the neighborhood harkens to simpler times.
Despite its heritage, Nara is still a city of 350,000, and its residents are keen to enjoy the accoutrements of modern urban living. Downtown Nara is where they hang out; it’s ideal for shopping, dining out, and meeting friends at a bar.