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The small Japanese city of Nara is just as magical as it sounds. Nara is one of Japan’s most historically and culturally significant locations. It was Japan’s first permanent capital (from 710-784) and its ancient history remains well preserved throughout the city. Its abundance of ancient temples, neighborhoods of traditional arts, and beautiful gardens make it one of Japan’s top destinations for both tourists and locals. Oh, and you can’t forget its world-famous Deer Park.
Nara is commonly referred to as the “City of Deer” because of its large population of somewhat tame deer that gather in Nara Park during the day. Nara is a must-do on your Japan itinerary. It’s located in the Kansai region and is just south of Kyoto and east of Osaka. Its closeness to these cities makes a day trip to Nara a popular way to see the city.
How to Get to Nara
Nara is 35 km (22 mi) south of Kyoto and about 28 km (17 mi) east of Osaka. Nara is often and easily done as a day trip from either of these cities, but if your itinerary allows for it, I recommend spending a night there. It doesn’t make much difference which city you travel from as they are both relatively close.
How to Get to Nara From Kyoto:
The best way to get to Nara from Kyoto is by train. There are two rail lines that run between Nara and Kyoto: JR and the Kintetsu Line. The Kintetsu Line is the fastest but you may want to opt for JR if you have purchased a Japan Rail Pass. Train schedules for JR can be found here and Kintetsu can be found here.
JR Line: Depart from JR Kyoto Station and arrive at JR Nara Station. The fastest train will be the Miyakoji Kaisoku Express. This express reaches Nara in about 45 minutes, whereas the local train takes about 70 minutes. The cost of an express ticket is 720 JPY.
Kintetsu Line: Depart from Kintetsu Kyoto Station and arrive at Kintetsu Nara Station. This station is slightly closer to Nara Park than the JR station is. Your best option is going t be the Tokkyu Direct Express. It takes about 35 minutes to reach Nara and costs 1130 JPY.
How to Get to Nara From Osaka:
The train is also the best way to get from Osaka to Nara and once again, you can choose from either the JR Line or the Kintetsu Line.
JR Line: Depart from JR Osaka Station and arrive at JR Nara Station. The best option is the Yamatoji Kaisoku Express which takes about 50 minutes and costs 800 JPY.
Kintetsu Line: Depart from Kintetsu Namba Station and arrive at Kintetsu Nara Station. There are multiple trains that run throughout the day, but try to get on on the express. The Kintetsu is once again the fastest of the two trains and takes about 40 minutes to reach Nara. The express train costs 1070 JPY.
How to Get to Nara From Kansai International Airport (KIX):
If you are arriving at Kansai International Airport in Osaka and wish to travel directly to Nara, then you have a couple of options. You can either take the train or a limousine bus. If you have purchased a JR Pass, I recommend taking the train to save yourself some money. Otherwise, the limo bus is the easiest.
The limousine bus takes a little longer than the train but it’s more comfortable and makes travel with luggage easier. The bus takes about 80 minutes to reach Nara and can drop you off at either the JR or the Kintetsu station. The cost of a one-way ticket is 2,100 JPY and the bus schedule can be found here.
Depart from JR Haruka Airport Express, switch to JR Yamatoji Kaisoku Express at Tennoji Station, and arrive at JR Nara Station. Travel time on the train is around one hour, not including any wait time you might have at Tennoji. The cost is about 2300 JPY.
If you are coming from Tokyo, Hiroshima, or any other part of Japan, I recommend taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto and then taking one of the previously mentioned trains from there.
Top Things to Do on a Day Trip to Nara
Feed the Deer in Nara Park
Nara Park is an enormous park in the middle of the city and is home to Nara’s world-famous deer. It is the number one reason why most visitors plan a day trip to Nara. Over one thousand wild deer roam freely throughout the park. The Japanese deer are considered sacred and up until 1637, killing one was a capital offense and punishable by death. The deer were later designated national treasures and are now protected within certain limits around the park.
The deer park is one of my favorite things to do on a day trip to Nara and I happily spent a large portion of my morning here. The deer are surprisingly tame and will allow you to approach them, pet them, and take their photo. Over the years, the deer have even been taught to bow for deer “crackers”. The crackers are sold throughout the park for 100 JPY and are animal-safe (made of flour and bran).
The deer will politely lower their heads in exchange for food. The deer are gentle for the most part but can become food-aggressive. Put all loose belongings away and don’t tease them. Be prepared; they may fight amongst themselves, gently head-butt you, or pull on your clothing.
Visit Todaiji Temple
Todaiji Temple is one of Japan’s most well-known temples. The grounds are expansive and cover a large part of northern Nara Park. The main hall, Daibutsuden Hall, was completed in 752 and is the world’s largest wooden building. It also houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha, which is 15-meters tall. The temple hours change depending on the season.
During the months of April to October, the hours are 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and from the months of November to March, the hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The temple can be extremely crowded, especially during the high season. I suggest visiting on a weekday and arriving as soon as it opens. Admission is 600 JPY for the museum only and 1000 JPY for both the museum and Daibutsuden Hall.
Explore Kofukuji Temple
Kofukuji Temple was established in 710, the same year Nara became Japan’s capital. The temple grounds are large and comprised of several buildings. These are the Five-storied Pagoda, Three-storied Pagoda, Central Golden Hall, Northern Round Hall, and Southern Round Hall. Five-storied Pagoda stands at 50 m (164 ft) tall and is Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda.
Kofukuji is located off the main road, near the city center. The entrance is rather modest and I just happened to stumble upon it while out exploring. The grounds are free to enter and are open to the public 24/7. However, Kofukuji National Treasure Hall & Eastern Golden Hall do have an admission fee and have official visiting hours. A ticket for both costs 900 JPY. I recommend visiting either in the early morning or dusk.