I started writing my Japan travel series about a year after I was there. It makes me incredibly glad that I took a lot of photos and have those memories to show and tell.
Nara is the perfect day trip from Kyoto (or Osaka). There are temples everywhere you look, great food options and most importantly, the place is overrun by friendly deer. The deer, admitably, is the main reason we went to Nara. I was fascinated by the idea of deer everywhere and overrunning the town. This is somewhat true… there are roads where deer stop traffic and chill in the middle of the road… however its only really close to Nara Park.
Nara is a great place to go if you need a bit of a break from the big cities. We decided to stay overnight here before heading back to Tokyo however I probably would recommend just going for the day.
One reason to stay overnight it is to stay in a traditional Ryokan Hotel with an Onsen which are all over the place in this town and much cheaper than in the bigger cities. We staying in the Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring which was great. Very central, lots of different room options and there is an onsen in the hotel which is an amazing bonus!
Nara is easily explored on foot or bike, no need to take trains or buses as you can wander around the whole town very easily.
How to get to Nara
Kyoto to Nara
The Train from Kyoto to Nara is only just under an hour long so getting up semi early and taking the train is a good idea. If you can go earlier I would suggest doing so to beat the morning traffic. The JR rail pass does cover this trip if you take the JR Nara Line (there is also the Kintetsu Nara Line which isn’t covered by the pass and costs around 690 Yen).
What to do
Head up the main street & Grab a snack
You will see a lot of little food places on your way up the hill through the main street (Nobori – oji) in town. I would recommend grabbing a Nakatanidou (a famous Mochi) and snacking on this whilst you start to explore the town and spot the odd deer.
Kofuku-ji Temple & Pagoda
It is quite easy to get Temple and Shrine fatigue in Japan. You see so many of them that they all really start to look the same, however there are a few in Nara I would recommend. Kofuku-ji can be found by trying to spot the five story Pagoda, as one of the tallest wooden pagoda’s in Japan, the temple is hard to miss and both are very beautiful. It is on the way to Nara Park so definitely worth a stop.
Nara Park – Lets go and see the Deer
Hands down the best thing about Nara is the deer. They are cute, they bow and they love the crackers you can buy from the vendors to feed them.
Fair warning that the deer will sniff out those crackers whether you stuff them in your pockets or hide them in your bag, so once you have them in hand, prepare for a herd of deer to approach. They are also pretty good about bowing – We bowed in front of them a few times and they started bowing back – but as tame as they are, they can be quite persistent and will nip you if you’re not feeding them fast enough.
Along the main street you will see so many street vendor’s, sushi shops, snack options and Izakaya’s. If you are after a nice lunch I would recommend stopping in at a Izakaya. The one we visited had the most incredible food and a good range of beverages too.
After lunch head to the other side of Nara Park and visit the Todaiji Temple along with a range of gardens and other temples.
This temple has a really interesting history and is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. It was constructed in 752 as the Head Temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital (Nara used to be the Capital of Japan) was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.
There are a lot of things to do in Nara, more than you would think given the size of the town. Do a quick google search and you will find more than enough things to do within a day.
Nara is one of those places that I am so glad we went to when we were in Japan. Experiencing the town, the deer and the friendly locals was well worth the little day trip out of the way before heading back to the big cities.
Once all of the craziness in the world is over, do yourself a favour and book a trip to Japan and go to Nara to see the deer for yourself!