Nara, a beautiful little city, just 42 km south of Kyoto, is a popular day trip option. It was the old capital of Japan, cradled with Japan’s finest arts, crafts and literature. Buddhism was also the main aspect here in Nara. Therefore, the main attraction in Nara is the Todaiji Temple, famous for its massive Great Buddha statue, commonly known as Daibutsu. Besides that, Nara is itself a huge beautiful park, with free-ranging deer all around and trees everywhere that would display any season in its full glory.
Although small in size, relative to Kyoto, it may also be quite a feat to fully explore Nara in one day. Here is our recommended itinerary for your one day trip from Kyoto to Nara, so that you will not miss out the best tourist attractions of Nara.
First of all, make your way to Todaiji temple, to behold the grandeur of the Great Buddha statue (Daibutsu), standing at 16.2m tall. The temple, while was founded in the 8th century, has a Daibutsuden Hall that houses the great statue. It was burnt down twice and the present structure was rebuilt in 1709 (two-thirds of its original size) and still remains as one of the largest wooden structure in the world. It is one of the wonders of Japan that is not to be missed. Admission to Todaiji temple is 500 yen (as of 2015).
Next, after marvelling at the temple and Daibutsu, head down to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Nara Park. The park is located in the centre of the city and features a vast green area with 1200 free roaming deer. That is why it is also popularly known as the deer park. The park represents the spirit of Nara, where history and nature blend in harmony. Legend has it that the Fujiwara clan (who founded the Kasuga Kaisha Shrine) has invited a mighty god, who came to Nara riding on a white deer. Since then, all deer have been respected and protected as divine messengers by the locals. Many of the historical relics of Nara is located in or around the park, making it a good base to explore the rest of Nara.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
After the hearing about the legend of Nara, one should head on to Kasuga Taisha Shrine to see where it all begins. Both the paths to the shrine are lined with 2000 stone lanterns and the eaves of the shrine are decorated with thousand hanging bronze lanterns. It is no wonder that it is one of the most famous shrine in Japan and again corresponding with the Nara spirit, it stands in harmony with nature.
Take a walking route in Nara
Being a place of harmony between history and nature, you will find peace of mind and spiritual contentment while strolling around. Here is the recommended walking route in Nara that will bring you through some of the important tourist attractions in Nara as well as encounters with the deer. If you walk the whole course it would take roughly around 5 hours, you may just linger and not do the entire route if you prefer, to take more time in the places mentioned above.
Nara recommended walking route:
JR Nara Station —> Kintetsu-Nara Station —> Sarusawa-ike Pond —> Kofuku-ji Temple —> Isuien Garden —> Yoshikien Garden, Nara National Museum —> Todai-ji Temple —> Nigatsudo Hall —> Kasuga Taisha Shrine —> Shinyakushi-ji Temple —> Naramachi
If you decided not to roam around so much like the deer in Nara and is interested in exploring more of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nara, I personally recommend visiting the Horyuji Temple, one of the first places to be designated by UNESCO along with Himeji Castle. It was built by Prince Shotoku in the period of Empress Seiko and it is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world (founded in 607, reconstructed in the 8th century after lost to a fire). Horyuji temple has a five-storey pagoda, one main hall and some buildings that had remained intact from long ago. It takes only 12 mins by the JR train from Nara station and then 30 minutes walk or 8 minutes bus to get here. All the buildings here are registered as National Treasures of Japan and rightly so.
If you are lucky enough to stay more than a day here in Nara, do check out our Top 10 Must See and Things to Do in Nara, as there are more tourist attractions to see and things to do in the beautiful and peaceful Nara.
Where to stay in Nara
If you decide to stay overnight in Nara, you will not regret it. This quaint little town turns into a magical place at night. There are mainly guesthouses around but you will find a gem of a hotel here with Super Hotel Lohas * that are well rated. For guesthouses, the favourites are Oak Hostel Nara, Yuzan Guesthouse Annex * and Guesthouse Nara Backpackers *
Where to stay in Kyoto
For daytrippers from Kyoto, it would be convenient to stay near Kyoto Station * such as the famous Piece Hostel Kyoto *. If you want a more private affair, then Schmied Nishinotoin * is for you with studio rooms. Another good for value luxury is Karatachi Nanajo Ainomachi *.