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Nara is probably the most famous day-trip in Japan and definitely worth visiting when in Kyoto or Osaka. Especially if you’re on your first trip to Japan, I wouldn’t recommend going more than a day. Even though Nara is gorgeous and I loved visiting it, on a tight time schedule I think Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo have a little bit more to offer. But hey, that’s just my opinion 😉 I’ve put together a one day itinerary on what to do in Nara to help you out with your travel planning!
10:00 AM Arrive in Nara
Because Nara is perfect for a one-day trip, I’d recommend going while staying in either Kyoto or Osaka. From Kyoto, it takes about 45 minutes to get to Nara by train. From Osaka, this journey takes around 50 minutes. For those who are using the JR Pass to travel around Japan – you can use this for both journeys. Otherwise, it will cost you between ¥500-¥800.
We stocked up on some meals, snacks and drinks from the supermarket near our hotel before we got on the train.
Note: Do not eat on the train in Japan, it’s seen as rude. We just got these snacks to eat and drink during the day.
10:30 AM Pick up a map at Nara Tourist Information Centre
Once arrived in Nara, walk over to the Tourist Information Centre. It’s located just outside the the main train station in Nara and you can pick up a little booklet with information about the deer park and the buildings. Grab a coffee and you’re ready to start exploring Nara!
11:00 AM Visit Kohfukuji Temple
After walking through some beautiful little streets that really make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time, you will arrive at Kohfukuji Temple.
The temple features multiple buildings, all with their own history and stories. The five-storied pagoda is one that stands out from the crowd immediately.
Then there is the main temple, Central Golden Hall. 300 years ago, a fire destroyed most of this temple, but it has been reconstructed it to its original size. It opened to the public in October 2018.
Moving towards the side, you can find the Southern Octagonal Halls. These buildings date back to over a thousand years. I could barely grasp the age of these incredible temples and other buildings. It is so amazing that we got to stand next to them in person.
12:30 PM Explore Nara Deer Park
Nara Deer Park is probably what Nara is most famous for. 1200 deer roam around freely throughout the park, posing for tourist’s Instagram stories and begging them for some sweet deer crackers. Yes, you can buy a pack of crackers for ¥100- ¥150. Make sure to not feed them anything else – you wouldn’t want them to get sick!
You might be aware of how bowing in Japan is a form of showing respect. A funny fact to keep in mind while visiting Nara Park is that the deer actually bow back when you bow for them. We tried it a few times, and indeed! The deer bowed back!
3:00 PM Visit Todai-ji Temple
We then moved on to Nara’s prime, Todai-ji Temple. It is one of Japan’s most famous temples according to Japan-Guide.Com. And with good reason. The Todai-ji Temple was build back in 752 and its main hall (the Daibutsuden) is the world’s largest wooden building.
It is almost impossible to grasp the size of the Daibutsuden. This building is massive, and to know that it is fully made out of wood is incredibly. At first, we thought the entrance of Todai-ji was the largest wooden structure in the world and we were already impressed by its size. Only to realise that the actual Daibutsuden was located a little further – it blew our minds!
To enter the building, you pay an entree fee of ¥600 for the museum or ¥1000 for the museum and the hall. Inside the hall, you can witness Japan’s largest Buddha statue in bronze.
4:30 PM Walk back towards the station, visiting shops along the way
After visiting Todai-ji, we slowly started making our way back to the entrance of the park. There are many shops to nose around in and get a few souvenirs from. I find it so important to support the local communities while travelling, especially the lovely people who own their shops in places like Nara.
6:00 PM Dinner
When arriving back onto Noborioji street, on which we entered the deer park earlier that day, we had a look around for a place to have dinner. There are tons of restaurants to choose from, and we ended up going to the CoCo Curry Ichibanya. We were kinda obsessed with that place when we travelled through Japan. Best Japanese curry I’ve ever had!
7:00 PM Take the train back to Osaka/Kyoto
Because most sights close quite early in Nara, we took the train back to Osaka after dinner. We then still had time to either go to an arcade for the evening or grab a couple of drinks in a bar near the hotel.
Nara Travel Essentials
- Hotel in Kyoto / Osaka: Because Nara is quite close to both Osaka and Kyoto, it’s a good idea to make a day-trip to Nara while staying in either Osaka or Kyoto. This way you’ll avoid having to carry your suitcases to Nara for a short stay, having to wait for the check-in time for the hotel and waste a lot of time. It’s much easier to get on a train in the morning and get a train back in the evening. Especially if you have a JR pass. In Osaka, we stayed at the Sonezaki Luxe Hotel and in Kyoto we stayed at the Kyoto Urban Hotel.
- JR rail pass: If you are planning to travel around Japan during your trip, getting a JR rail pass is the perfect way to save a lot of money. Especially if you want to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto (or Osaka), I’d 100% recommend you to get a pass! To find out if a JR Pass if worth the money for your itinerary, please check my JR Pass blog. If you buy yours through this link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (I’d very much appreciate it if you enjoyed reading this blog!). Get your JR pass here.
- Pocket WiFi: This ain’t just handy for Nara, but for your entire Japan trip. Pocket WiFi is a must. This little device connects you to the internet wherever you are and barely takes up any space.
We got ours from Japan Wireless (16 full days for just over £60).
- Cash: You might have read it in other Japan guides, but here’s your daily reminder: Japan is a very cash-based country! Even though many shops do accept credit and debit cards, you want some cash in Nara. This is because the entree fee for temples and shrines usually has to be paid in cash and so are the deer crackers.
For more information about this trip, you can check out our entire two week Japan itinerary and our Japan budget post which breaks down all costs of this trip!