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Nara is a city that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Japan. Famous for its hundreds of deer roaming around Nara deer park, its beautiful Japanese gardens and many ancient shrines that date back to when Nara was Japan’s first capital city. Nara is also home to eight UNESCO world heritage sites. Located close to both Kyoto and Osaka, Nara acts as a perfect day-trip for visitors. This Nara itinerary will help you plan the perfect day in this gorgeous little city.
Nara Itinerary | One Day in Nara
1. Arrive in Nara
This itinerary starts with arriving in the beautiful city of Nara. Whether you’re travelling from Kyoto, Osaka or some other city, I’d highly recommend to not arrive later than 10 AM. Because it’s only a day-trip, you want to make sure you have enough time to see everything.
Nara has two main train stations: JR Nara Station and Kintetsu-Nara station. If you arrive at JR Nara Station, you can start your day by visiting the Tourist Information Centre. It’s located right outside the station and you can pick up a free booklet filled with information about the deer park, the shrines and temples.
Kintetsu-Nara station is located a bit closer to the sights we’re going to explore today and if you do not have a JR Pass, it’s usually cheaper to get a train to this station instead. To find out how to get to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka, check out the details further down the post.
2. Visit Kofuku-ji temple (Kōfuku-ji)
Located only a few minutes from Kintetsu-Nara station, Kofuku-ji Temple can be found. It’s a little bit further from JR Nara Station, but this gives you a chance to walk through some of Nara’s iconic streets. Kofuku-ji Temple is one of the eight UNESCO world heritage sites that can be found in Nara.
Entrance Fee: Visiting the temple grounds of Kofuku-ji is free. There are, however, some entrance fees for entering some of the buildings: The Central Golden Hall (¥500), the Eastern Golden Hall (¥300) and the National Treasure Museum (¥700).
Opening hours: The temple grounds are open to visitors 24 hours a day. The temple halls and museum are open every day from 9 AM till 5 PM.
The original Central Golden Hall at Kofuku-ji Temple was destroyed in a fire almost 300 years ago. It has reconstructed it to its original size and opened to the public in October 2018. Inside, you can find the Yakushi Buddha.
Take some time to explore the temple grounds, as there are many shrines and temples to admire. 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.
3. Wander through Isuien Garden
Not far from the Kofuku-ji temple grounds, you will find Isuien Garden. Translated into English, the garden’s name means “garden founded on water”. The front garden dates back to the 17th century, while the back garden was built in 1899. Inside the garden, you will find several tea houses. This garden is a perfect example of what I imagined Japanese Zen Gardens to look like.
Entrance Fee: ¥900
Opening Hours: Open every day except Tuesday from 9:30 AM till 4:30 PM
4. Visit Todai-ji Temple: The world’s largest wooden structure
Todai-ji Temple is one of Nara’s prime buildings. Also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Todai-ji is the world’s largest wooden structure. It houses the world’s largest Daibutsu-san, or Bronze Buddha Statue in its Great Buddha Hall. The temple was established in 752.
It is almost impossible to grasp the size of Todai-ji. It’s crazy to know that this building is entirely made out of wood. At first, we thought the entrance of Todai-ji was the temple. We were already blown away at the sheer size of it, only to find the actual temple a bit further down the street. It blew our minds! Only to see this beautiful building, I’d recommend you to visit Nara.
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.
Entrance Fee: ¥600
Opening Hours: Open every day from 7:30 AM till 5:30 PM in April-October. Open every day from 8 AM till 5 PM in November-March.
5. Explore Nara Deer Park and Mt. Wakakusa
You have probably already encountered some deers by the time we get to visit Nara Deer Park. It is probably one of Nara’s most famous spots and something the city is definitely using to attract tourists. Shops are filled with stuffed animals of the deer and there are countless little stands selling deer crackers.
In the park, 1200 sika deer roam around freely. They are wild deer but have grown accustomed to the visitors. They pose for Instagram stories and beg for a few of the deer crackers. A pack will cost you ¥100- ¥150 and gives you a chance to feed the deer. Please make sure to not feed them anything else, you wouldn’t want them to get sick.
Entrance Fee: Nara Park is free to visit. Crackers to feed the deer are ¥100- ¥150 per pack.
Opening Hours: Nara Park is open 24 hours a day.
Bowing in Japanese culture is a form of showing respect. A fun fact to keep in mind while visiting Nara Park is that the deer have learned to bow back. Try bowing to them and see if they return the favour. We tried and they actually bowed back a few times!
Around Nara Park, you can find many shops and food stands. Whether you’re still looking for the perfect souvenir or just looking for a snack, these stands are really fun to nose around in. 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. Visit Kasuga-Taisha
Nara has indeed many shrines and temples to visit, but when you’re only in Nara for a day trip, you’ll have to pick and choose. That’s why I’d recommend visiting Kasuga-Taisha. It fits perfectly with the walking route of this one-day itinerary and gives you the chance to visit one of Nara’s most beautiful shrines.
Kasuga-Taisha is famous for its 3000 stone lanterns lining up the path towards the entrance. They are also known as “toro”. This shrine is another one of eight Nara UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was built in 768 and has been rebuilt every 20 years until 1863. This was done because of the Shinto concept of purity.
Entrance Fee: It’s free to visit the outer area. It costs ¥500 to visit the inner building.
Opening Hours: Kasuga-Taisha is open from 6:30 AM till 5:30 PM in April-September. During the months of October-March, the shrine is open from 7 AM till 5 PM.
7. Shop on Higashimuki Shopping Street & Mochiidono Shopping Arcade
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Nara, especially at the more touristy places like Nara Deer Park. But if you’re looking for some better places to shop, you should definitely check out Higashimuki Shopping Street and Mochiidone Shopping Arcade. Both are located within walking distance from each other and filled with unique shops and food stands. Products you can expect to find include kimono, ceramics, traditional Japanese sweets and handkerchiefs made from traditional Nara fabric.
8. Take the train back to Osaka/Kyoto
Because most tourist attracts 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. Check out the next section of this travel guide to find out how you can get to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka.
How To Get To Nara
Nara is located right close to both Kyoto and Osaka, making it a perfect destination for a day trip. By using the train, you can get to Nara within an hour from both cities.
Nara Day Trip From Kyoto (by train)
If you want to visit Nara while staying in Kyoto, you can use the JR Nara Line or the private Kintetsu Line.
If you are a Japan Rail Pass holder, you can use the JR Nara Line with your JR Pass. From Kyoto, it takes between 40-70 minutes to get to Nara pending on which train you use. You can either use the JR Nara Line Local or the JR Nara Line Rapid Service. If you can get the Rapid Service, I’d highly recommend it, as it is 25 minutes quicker. For those who do not hold a JR Pass, this trip will cost you ¥710.
If you don’t hold a JR Pass, you can also choose to use the private Kintetsu Line to get to Nara from Kyoto. This train journey will cost you ¥620 and will get you to Kintetsu-Nara station within 35 minutes. Reasons to pick this line over the JR line is because it’s much quicker, it’s cheaper (if you do not use a JR Pass) and Kintetsu-Nara is located more centrally compared to JR Nara Station.
For accurate times and prices for Kyoto – Nara trains, please check HyperDia.
Nara Day Trip From Osaka (by train)
Visiting Nara for a day trip from Osaka is also possible. Two train lines connect Osaka with Nara: The JR Yamatoji Line and the Kintetsu Nara Line.
If you are using a JR Pass to travel to Nara, you can use the JR Yamatoji Line. From Osaka Station, it takes about 50 minutes when using the JR Yamatoji Rapid Services. If you do not hold a JR Pass, this trip will cost ¥800. Are you travelling from JR-Namba Station in Osaka? Then you can get the local train to Shinimamiya Station for ¥150 and then continue your journey on the JR Yamatoji Line to Nara with your JR Pass.
If you are not using a JR Pass, you can use the Kintetsu-Nara Line to get to Nara. From Osaka-Namba Station, you can get the Kintetsu Line to Kintetsu-Nara for ¥560. This train will get you to Nara in 38 minutes. Reasons to pick the Kintetsu-Nara Line over the JR Pass (when you’re not using a JR Pass) is because it’s cheaper, quicker and will get you to a more central point in Nara. Kintetsu-Nara Station is located closer to the Deer Park compared to JR Nara Station.
For accurate times and prices for Osaka – Nara trains, please check HyperDia.
Where to stay when visiting Nara
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.
If you are planning on staying in Nara for longer than a day, I’d recommend getting a hotel near the train station. This way you’ll be able to get to the hotel with your suitcases without any hassle and are located close to any sights.
More than one day?
Even though Nara acts as a perfect day trip destination while visiting Japan, there is enough to do and see for more than one day. If you are planning to spend more time in Nara, I’d recommend checking out some of the following:
- Heijo Palace: Formerly known as Nara’s Imperial Palace, Heiji Palace now acts as a popular tourist attraction. The palace grounds are over a square kilometre big and is one of Nara’s World Heritage Sites.
- Yoshikien Garden: A beautiful garden that includes three different styles of Japanese garden scaping. Admission is free for tourists.
- Nara National Museum: Located inside Nara Deer Park, Nara National Museum is filled with statues, scrolls and other ceremonial objects telling the story of Nara’s and Japan’s history. Perfect for a rainy day.
Nara Travel Essentials
- 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.
Finish your Japan itinerary…
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! More Japan inspiration can be found in my two day Kyoto itinerary, my one day Osaka itinerary or my 6 day Tokyo itinerary.