Welcome to Nara, Japan – a place where ancient history and adorable deer meet modern charm! Nestled just a short train ride away from the bustling cities of Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is the perfect day trip destination or a delightful spot for an extended stay. Get ready to explore its rich cultural heritage, mingle with friendly locals, and of course, make some furry, four-legged friends along the way. Join me as we embark on a journey to discover the enchanting beauty of Nara in this complete Nara travel guide.
Table of Contents
The Complete Nara Japan Travel Guide
Why Visit Nara
Nara, a gem of a city in Japan, is an absolute must-visit! Nara is the old capital of Japan. It served as the capital from 710 AD to 794 AD, a period known as the Nara period. Steeped in history, it’s home to stunning temples and shrines as well as one particular famous animal.
What truly sets Nara apart is its resident deer population, regarded as sacred and roaming freely throughout the city’s parks. These gentle creatures add an enchanting touch to your explorations. Plus, Nara’s compact size makes it perfect for a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, or you can linger a while longer in its warm, welcoming atmosphere. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or just looking for a memorable experience, Nara has it all. I enjoyed my day trip here even more than I had expected and highly recommend a visit.
Best Things to Do in Nara
1. Wander through Nara Park
Nara’s most famous residents, the free-roaming deer, call Nara Park their home. Buy some deer crackers (shika senbei) to feed these friendly creatures. The interaction is not only adorable but also deeply symbolic, as the deer are considered sacred in Japanese culture.
The park is much bigger than I had anticipated. You could easily spend half a day here just wandering through the park. The deer typically are located all throughout the park, but tend to congregate around the large park square in the hundreds. This is where there are lots of vendors for buying crackers for the deer, so they like to hangout here. But if you want a more magical experience, I suggest wandering to a more secluded spot to have one on one time with some of the deer.
2. Visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine
This striking Shinto shrine is renowned for its enchanting lantern-lined paths. Visit during the Setsubun Mantoro Festival in February or August, when thousands of lanterns are lit, casting a mesmerizing glow over the shrine grounds.
This shrine was absolutely stunning, with lantern-lined paths going as far as you can see. As times, there are even deer in the shrine which makes it feel even more magical. You can buy souvenirs in this shrine as well. Overall, highly recommend a visit to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
3. Visit Todai-ji Temple
You can’t visit Nara without paying homage to the colossal Great Buddha (Daibutsu) housed in the Todai-ji Temple. This monumental bronze statue, along with the awe-inspiring temple architecture, offers a glimpse into Japan’s ancient Buddhist heritage.
4. Walk Around Town
The town of Nara is very beautiful in itself, even without the deer. It seemed to be a much younger town, with lots of students and universities. I suggest taking some time to simply wander around Nara and get lost exploring all the streets, parks, and more. There are lots of restaurants and cafes as well for you to enjoy in Nara.
Where to Stay in Nara
When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in Nara, you’ll be spoiled for choice! This charming city offers a range of accommodation options to suit all preferences. While I only came on a day trip, I could easily see myself staying a night or two in Nara.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the historical heart of Nara, consider staying in the Naramachi district, where traditional ryokans and guesthouses offer an authentic Japanese experience. For easy access to Nara Park and its resident deer, accommodations around the park area are a fantastic choice.
Alternatively, if you prefer a quieter atmosphere, the Yagyu district and its tranquil surroundings provide a serene escape. No matter where you choose to lay your head, Nara’s warm hospitality and unique blend of old-world charm and modern comfort ensure a memorable stay in this historic Japanese city.
How to Get to Nara/Getting Around Nara
Getting to and around Nara is a breeze, making it an accessible and convenient destination for your Japanese adventure. Whether you’re coming from Kyoto or Osaka, the train is your trusty friend. I came from Kyoto and it was a very short and easy train ride. From the train station in Nara, it was a simple walk to everything I’ve listed above.
Nara is just a short train ride away from both cities, with frequent connections that whisk you into Nara’s welcoming embrace. Upon arrival at Nara Station, you’re in for a treat as the enchanting Nara Park, home to those friendly deer, is within easy walking distance.
But if you’re looking to explore a bit farther, Nara’s compact size makes it highly pedestrian-friendly, and wandering the city’s quaint streets on foot is a delightful experience. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle for an eco-friendly exploration or hop on a local bus to reach specific destinations within Nara. Whatever mode of transport you choose, Nara’s accessibility ensures that you won’t miss a moment of its captivating charm.
Tips for Visiting Nara
Here are some general tips for visiting Nara
- Interaction with the Deer-Nara is famous for its free-roaming deer. While they are friendly, be respectful and avoid feeding them anything other than designated deer crackers (shika senbei). Bowing to the deer before and after feeding is a local custom.
- Come Early-I recommend coming early in the morning. The crowds in Nara can get quick large and when the crowd is large, the deer get overwhelmed. If you come early, you’ll be able to interact with the deer while they are more relaxed.
- Cash-Bring lots of cash because many things, such as buying snacks for the deer and shrine entry’s, are all cash only.
- Respect-Always be respectful of the local traditions and customs. If it is customary to remove your shoes at a shrine, just do it. Don’t be that tourist that is oblivious to the local customs.
Nara Travel Guide Conclusion
As we bid farewell to the enchanting city of Nara, it’s hard not to feel a sense of nostalgia for the charming streets, the graceful temples, and, of course, those adorable deer who’ve captured our hearts. Nara’s unique blend of history, culture, and nature creates a travel experience like no other.
From feeding deer in Nara Park to exploring ancient temples and savoring local delicacies, every moment in this captivating city is a delightful memory in the making. So, whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a taste of authentic Japan, Nara welcomes you with open arms and a warm, friendly smile. Here’s to your future Nara adventures—may they be filled with wonder, laughter, and a touch of magic!