Nara is well known for being a beautiful city that brings a sense of peace and harmony to its visitors. Also owing to its strategic location of just 42 km south of the popular Kyoto, it had become one of the top tourist attraction in Japan.
Nara was once a capital of Japan, cradling the finest arts, crafts and literature. Buddhism is also the main focus here, with the magnificent GREAT Buddha statue, also known as Daibutsu, being the main top attractions to see in Nara. Besides this, Nara boasts a lot of other well-known attractions and some secret spots and activities to satisfy any day tripper or a long term visitor to this place.
If you are only on a day trip to Nara, plan your day with our One Day Trip Itinerary in Nara here. If you are looking for more tips and ideas, read on for all the Top 10 Must See and Things to Do in Nara for your days here in this beautiful place.
Top Must See Tourist Attractions
This is one of the must-see temples which houses the aforementioned Great Buddha statue (Daibutsu), standing tall at 16.2m. The temple which was founded in the 8th century still remains as its original intent and architecture even though it had been burnt down and rebuilt twice. The present structure was rebuilt in 1709, with two-thirds of its original size but even with that it still remain as the largest wooden structure in the world. It is one of the most significant building to see in Japan on your visit here.
In the middle of Nara is the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site park called Nara Park. It is also known as the deer park because, in this vast green area, you will find 1200 free roaming deer. This park is the epitome of what Nara represents – a harmonious blend of history and nature. Legend has it that a mighty god once came to Nara riding on a white deer and since then the locals have respected and protected the deer as divine messengers.
Another must see in Nara in my personal opinion is the Horyuji Temple. Although not as popular as the Todaiji temple, it has its own charm, proven by UNESCO World Heritage sites badge. This temple is one of the first places to be designated so along with Himeji Castle in Japan. This massive temple complex houses a five storey pagoda, the main hall and some buildings that had remained intact from a long time ago. It was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku in the period of Empress Seiko and remains as one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, even after reconstructed in the 8th century due to lost in the fire.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Kasuga Taisha Shrine is also one of the musts see in Nara for its grand entrance with both the paths leading to it lined with 2000 stone lanterns, and at the eaves of the shrine itself, there are thousand of hanging bronze lanterns. This shrine is also linked to the legend of the gods riding the white deer thus making it an interesting addition to trip here.
Cosmos flowers in Hokiji Temple
Come to Hokiji Temple to catch the cosmos flowers in the Ikaruga town. The town had taken great effort to promote their flower, flora and greenery. Especially in autumn, you will find Hokiji temple in a riot of coloured and pretty cosmos flowers.
Top Things to Do
Take a walking route in Nara
Being such a beautiful and peaceful place, many tourists will just spend their day doing a leisurely stroll around Nara, discovering it slowly bit by bit. There is a popular walking route in Nara that is recommended by the tourism board. It will take around 5 hours of walking, and probably more if you linger at tourist attractions sites more, but this route will promise to bring you to most of the must sees in Nara.
Here is the 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
Free guided tour from Horyuji i center
Check out the Horyuji i-center when you are in the area, not only for the hiking courses but also to get yourself a free guided tour of the place including the Horyuji temple. The guide will provide you with information on the histories, legends and information about the area and Nara. This will make your visit here much more meaningful. If you are lucky, you may be able to catch the guide that will provide an English tour. Look our for a friendly old man, who is doing this free guided tour as one of his past times and contribution to the society.
Hiking around Horyuji area
The town here is called Ikaruga, which is named after the bird name Ikaru, and as true to Japan’s spirit, it also has a legend that Ikaruga is derived from the guardian deity enshrined in this locale. Nevertheless, this area is famous for hiking due to its spectacular nature and landscape. In the Horyuji i-center you may six main hiking routes to choose from to explore this place, like the Three Ancient Pagodas course, the Prince Shotoku course (historic sites connected to him), Tima peaceful course (connected to the legend of Ikaruga district) and Nature-watching course (through old villages and temples along the mountain paths), just to name a few.
Walk through Primeval forest
Extending behind the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, you may find this ancient forest that would give peace and quiet to hikers. Since 841, when hunting and logging were banned from this forest, it has been preserved in its primeval condition. Here you will find it as a sanctuary for various protected species. Walking through this forest is almost like walking back in time.
Hike up Wakakusa Hill
This is a lovely short hike or walk up the hill in the Nara park and is at its best in spring or autumn. The hike takes only around 30 minutes to the top. You may encounter many deer grazing up on the mountain. This is also a good place for cherry blossoms viewing, with the cherry trees lining up the mountain slope. Come here around early April for the highest chance to see them. During winter on the fourth Saturday of January, there will be a festival here called Wakakusa Yamayaki where they burn the slopes of the mountain. There will also be fireworks during the event.
Where to stay in Nara
Staying in Nara is a good idea as 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 *