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One of the must see sights when visiting Japan is Nara, the ancient former capital of Japan. Nara is a perfect day trip and can be easily done from either Kyoto or Osaka. Follow this perfect one day in Nara itinerary and discover how to get to Nara and what to do and see in this top tourist attraction!

How to Get to Nara from Kyoto (Day Trip to Nara from Kyoto)

Nara is a perfect destination on a day trip from Kyoto, and, there is nothing easier than to plan a day trip to Nara from Kyoto. You can do it! Here is how to get to Nara from Kyoto on a day trip: what you need to know is that there are two train lines that connect Kyoto with Nara, the JR Nara Line and the Kintetsu Kyoto Line.

  • JR Nara Line

If you have JR Pass, then you would want to take JR Nara Line. The cost of the trip will be covered by the pass. So, to start off, head to Kyoto Station and take the Miyakoji Rapid Train on the JR Nara Line. Miyakoji Rapid Train is the fastest connection between Kyoto and Nara. It only takes 45 minutes to reach JR Nara Station from Kyoto, if you take the rapid train.

I need to mention that there is Futsu local train which is covered by JR Pass as well, however it stops by several stations on the way to Nara and the journey takes about 70 minutes.

  • Kintetsu Kyoto Line

Kintetsu Kyoto Line is not covered by JR Pass, however it is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Nara. First of all, go to Kintetsu Kyoto Station and take the direct express (tokkyu) train on Kintetsu Kyoto Line. You will get to Kintetsu Nara Station in only 35 minutes.

By the way, JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station are within walking distance to each other and both stations are about the same distance from all the attractions.

How to Get to Nara from Osaka (Day Trip to Nara from Osaka)

If you are visiting Osaka, then, hands down, you should plan a day trip from Osaka to Nara. Tthere are two train lines connect Osaka with Nara: the JR Yamatoji Line, and the Kintetsu Nara Line.

  • JR Yamatoji Line

JR Yamatoji Line is covered by Japan Rail Pass. If you have the pass, then your trip to Nara is covered. First, head to Osaka Station and take the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service. It will get you to JR Nara Station in 50 minutes.

In addition, if you are traveling from Osaka JR Namba Station, then take the local train of the Yamatoji Line to Kyuhoji Station and then transfer to the Yamatoji Rapid Service. This will get you to JR Nara Station in about 50 minutes as well.

One Day in Nara

JR Yamatoji Line is covered by Japan Rail Pass. If you have the pass, then your trip to Nara is covered.

One Day in Nara 

  • Kintetsu Nara Line

Kintetsu Nara Line is not covered by JR Pass. If you decide to take Kintetsu Nara Line, then head to Osaka Kintetsu Namba Station and take a Rapid Express train on the Kintetsu Nara Line. It will get you to Kintetsu Nara Station in about 39 minutes.

How to Get from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station to Nara Park

As I mentioned before, JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station are located within walking distance from each other. And, both stations are within walking distance from Nara Park where major attractions are located.

  • If you are arriving at JR Nara Station than takes about 15 minutes on foot to reach Kohfukuji Temple and the 5-Story Pagoda. First, take East Exit from the station. Next, go north until you reach Sanjo Dori Street. It is a wide shopping street. Finally, turn right on Sanjo Dori Street (you will be walking east) and continue walking until you reach the park.
  • If you are arriving at Kintetsu Nara Station then it is going to take you no more than 10 minutes on foot to reach Kohfukuji Temple and the 5-Story Pagoda. When you exit the station, turn right and then, start walking east.
Nara Station

If you are arriving at JR Nara Station than takes about 15 minutes on foot to reach Kohfukuji Temple and the 5-Story Pagoda.

One Day in Nara 

Nara Station

The entire area around the stations is very well signed. So, do not worry, you will do great!

One Day in Nara

Intrepid’s Tip:

What you need to know is that there is an option is to take Loop Line Bus. It is super easy! The buses are colored bright yellow! Take number 2 service bus from bus stop number 2. This bus will take you to Nara Park in about 10 minutes for a fixed fare of 210 yen for adults and 110 yen for children.

How to Get Around in Nara

There are a couple of ways to get around in Nara, you can either walk or you can take Nara Loop Line Bus.

  • Walk – if the weather is good, then my recommendation is that you explore Nara Park on foot. Most of Nara’s major attractions are located within walking distance from each other. Conversely, the entire park is extremely well signed. So do not worry, follow the signs and you will get to all Nara’s attractions.
Nara

The entire Nara Park is extremely well signed. So do not worry, follow the signs and you will get to all Nara’s attractions.

One Day in Nara 

  • Take Loop Line Bus – Loop Line Bus is a great bus service running between the train stations and Nara Park

Number 1 Service Bus – runs an anti-clockwise loop

Number 2 Service Bus – follows the same loop in a clockwise direction

By the way, use the clockwise #2 route to visit the main sites, and the anti-clockwise #1 route to get back to the stations.

Moreover, you should board the Loop Bus from the front of the bus, and pay as soon as you get on. The Loop Bus has a fixed fare of 210 yen for adults, and 110 yen for children.

What You Need to Know About Nara Before You Go

A Quick Read:

  • Did you know that until the 7th century Japan had no permanent capital?

The capital was moved with the passing of each emperor so that his successor would not be ill-fated by the death. The practice ended under the influence of Buddhism and with the Taika reforms of 646. However, the true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court.

  • The official capital was finally established in 710 and Nara, which was then known as Heijōkyō, was chosen as the site.

Nara remained the capital city until 784. The period between 710 and 794 is referred as the Nara Period in Japanese history.

Interestingly enough, when a priest by the name of Dōkyō managed to seduce an empress and nearly usurp the throne, it was decided to move the court to a new location, out of reach of Nara’s increasingly powerful clergy. This led to the new capital being established in Kyoto, where it remained until 1868.

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Map fo One Day in Nara Itinerary

Map of One Day in Nara Itinerary

Map of One Day in Nara Itinerary. Image Credit: Google Maps 

One Day in Nara Itinerary

So, here we go! Following is one day in Nara itinerary that ticks off all the major attractions in Nara:

  1. Kofukuji Temple and Five-Story Pagoda
  2. Isuien Garden
  3. Todaiji Temple
  4. Nigatsudo
  5. Nara Deer Park
  6. Kasuga Taisha Temple

NUMBER 1

Kofukuji Temple and Five-Story Pagoda

Kofuku-ji Temple was founded in 669 by Emperor Tenji when Kagami-no-Okimi, the wife of Fujiwara-no-Kamatari, prayed for her husband’s recovery from illness.

This tradition of building temples for the consort’s recovery from illness was not uncommon during that time.

Eventually, Kofukuji Temple became a family temple of the powerful Fujiwara family. Yet, it not only served the religious purposes, but it also had a great political power over the government.

The temple was burnt down several times through the years but it was reconstructed for the most part. In 1998, Kofukuji Temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kofukuji Temple in Nara

In 1998, Kofukuji Temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One Day in Nara

The next building that will definitely capture your attention is the five story pagoda. The pagoda is said to have been built in 730 on the orders of Empress Komyo.

Today, Kofuku-ji Temple’s five-story pagoda is Japan’s second tallest pagoda and a symbol of Nara City.

The pagoda burnt down several times through the years. What you see today is the reconstruction from 1426.

Five-Story Pagoda in Nara

Kofuku-ji Temple’s five-story pagoda is Japan’s second tallest pagoda and a symbol of Nara City.

Five-Story Pagoda in Nara

The pagoda burnt down several times through the years. What you see today is the reconstruction from 1426.

Intrepid’s Tip: 

Kofukuji is regarded as the birthplace of Noh drama. It hosted Noh performances as far back as A.D. 869. Today the temple hosts two major Noh eventsTakigi O-noh in May and Toei-Noh in October. Both are held outdoors at night. So, if you are visiting either in May and October, then make sure to attend this classical Japanese dance-drama.

Finally, make your way to Nanendo Hall of Kofukuji Temple. It was constructed in 813 and served as the tutelary temple of the Fujiwara clan.

One Day in Nara

Nanendo Hall of Kofukuji Temple was constructed in 813 and served as the tutelary temple of the Fujiwara clan.

One Day in Nara

NUMBER 2

Isuien Garden in Nara

Map of Nara

Map of One Day in Nara Itinerary. Image Credit: Google Maps 

Isuien Garden has been preserved since its creation in the Meiji Era and if is known for its use of “borrowed scenery, such as Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon Gate and Mount Wakakusayama.

It is divided into two sections, which were originally two separate gardens. The gardens cover roughly 145,000 square feet.

Isuien Garden in Nara

Isuien Garden has been preserved since its creation in the Meiji Era.

One Day in Nara

Isuien means “garden founded on water” and its ponds are fed by the  Yoshikigawa River. In the central pond of the gardens, there are two islands with sculptures of a crane and tortoise. In Japanese culture these animals represent longevity.

Isuien Garden in Nara

Isuien Garden is divided into two sections, which were originally two separate gardens. The gardens cover roughly 145,000 square feet (13,500 m2).

One Day in Nara

Intrepid’s Tip: 

Next to Isuien Garden, you will find Yoshikien Garden. If you have time, then make sure to stop by and check it out. Yoshikien Graden consists of three beautiful gardens: a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden.

NUMBER 3

Todaiji Temple in Nara

Nara Park is home to the 8th century Todai-ji Temple (Great East Temple), the most famous of the Seven Great Temples of Nara.

For one thing, Todai-ji is the most popular site in Nara. If you can only visit one place during your Nara day trip, then Todai-ji Temple is it!

Todaiji Temple in Nara

Todai-ji is the most popular site in Nara. If you can only visit one place during your Nara day trip, then Todai-ji Temple is it!

One Day in Nara

Leading to the temple is a splendid Nandaimon Gate. As you approach the gate, notice a unique plaque on top of it. It states that Todaiji is the main temple of the Kegonshu sect of Buddhism.

Next, step inside the gate. Subsequently, the gate houses two massive wooden statues. These are wrath-filled and muscular guardians of the Buddha known as Niō or Kongōrikishi. They are regarded as two of the finest wooden sculptures in Japan.

The statues were carved in the 13th century by the sculptors Unkei and Kaikei.. They are about 30 feet high and particularly impressive at night when they are beautifully illuminated.

Nara Day Trip

The gate houses two massive wooden statues. These are wrath-filled and muscular guardians of the Buddha known as Niō or Kongōrikishi. They are regarded as two of the finest wooden sculptures in Japan.

Nara Day Trip

The statues were carved in the 13th century by the sculptors Unkei and Kaikei.. They are about 30 feet high and particularly impressive at night when they are beautifully illuminated.

Next, you will be greeted by an immense Todaiji Daibutsuden – Great Buddha Hall.

It is hard to believe that the present structure is about one third smaller than the original temple which was built by the Emperor Shomu in 741.

Todai-ji Daibutsuden was destroyed several times, first in 1180 and then again in 1567. It was rebuilt in 1709. Todai-ji Daibutsuden is the world’s largest wooden structure. Notwithstanding, it is a masterpiece! Notably, many of the crisscrossing beams are positioned without any nails.

Todai-ji Daibutsuden houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha (Daibutsusan). The great Buddha of Nara was originally constructed between 735 and 749. It is 49.1 feet high and weighs over 550 tons. Apparently, the construction of the giant Buddha used up all the country’s reserves of bronze and precious metals.

Todaiji Temple in Nara

Todai-ji Daibutsuden houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha (Daibutsusan). The great Buddha of Nara was originally constructed between 735 and 749. It is 49.1 feet high and weighs over 550 tons.

One Day in Nara

The great Buddha of Nara is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

Todaiji Temple in Nara

The great Buddha of Nara is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

One Day in Nara

In addition to the Great Buddha of Nara, there are towering 30-foot high wooden statues of warriors.

Todaiji Temple in Nara

The great Buddha of Nara is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

One Day in Nara

Another popular attraction inside Todai-ji is a pillar with a hole in its base. Notably, the hole in the pillar is about the same size as Daibutsusan’s nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will receive enlightenment in their next life and also have all their prayers answered.

Todaiji Temple in Narra

Another popular attraction inside Todai-ji is a pillar with a hole in its base.

Todaiji Temple in Nara

It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will receive enlightenment in their next life and also have all their prayers answered.

Todaiji Temple is open daily from 7:30 am till 5:30 pm  (April to October) and 8 am to 5 pm (November to March). Admission is 600 yen.

Make sure to buy a combination pass, which is a better deal and includes the Great Buddha Hall and Todaiji Museum. It costs 1,000 yen.

NUMBER 4

Nigatsudo Temple in Nara

To the east of the Great Buddha Hall and up on the side of Mount Wakakusa overlooking the city of Nara, sits Nigatsu-do or the Hall of the Second Month.

Nigatsudo Temple in Nara

To the east of the Great Buddha Hall, you will find Nigatsudo Temple.

One Day in Nara

I think you will immediately notice that the atmosphere here differs from other temples in Nara. It may lack the grandeur of the Great Buddha Hall, but it has many intriguing elements and beautiful masterpieces.

Nigatsudo Temple in Nara

Nigatsudo Temple has many intriguing elements and beautiful masterpieces.

One Day in Nara

What caught my attention was the 18th century Pindola divinity wooden statue. It is a Buddha disciple master in occult powers. It is believed that if you rub some part of his body and then you rub the same part of your body, the sickness or illness will leave your body.

Nigatsudo Temple in Nara

18th century Pindola divinity wooden statue. It is a Buddha disciple master in occult powers.

One Day in Nara

By the way, the name Nigatsudo means the Hall of the Second Month, or February Hall. It is derived from the fact that the Shuni-e Ceremony is held here during the second month of the lunar calendar. The Shuni-e Ceremony is also known as the Omizutori Festival.

The Omizutori Festival is marked with an eye-catching display of massive torches (6-8 meters in size). The torches are carried up to Nigatsudo Hall’s balcony, and then held above the Nigatsudo courtyard. These blazing torches shower down embers over the audience. This showering of sparks is believed to bestow a safe and fruitful year upon the gathered crowd.

Intrepid’s Tip: 

What I liked about Nigatsudo Temple was the large front platform where you will get rewarded with the most spectacular view of Nara. My recommendation is to come back to Nigatsu-do Temple and catch a spectacular sunset!

Sunset at Nigatsudo Temple in Nara

My recommendation is to come back to Nigatsu-do Temple and catch a spectacular sunset!

One Day in Nara

NUMBER 5

Nara Deer Park

Nara is famous for its temples and shrines, however, on your Nara day trip you simply cannot skip the free roaming Nara deer. They are just as popular!

By the way, there are hundreds of deer wandering through the vast lawns of the Nara Park. Honestly, I thought that it would be rather hard to find them, when in fact, they are everywhere.

Nara Deer Park

By the way, there are hundreds of deer wandering through the vast lawns of the Nara Park.

One Day in Nara

I found them to be friendly, curious and show great interest in rice bran crackers called shika sembei – rice biscuit.

Nara Deer Park

They show great interest in rice bran crackers called shika sembei – rice biscuit.

One Day in Nara

Apparently, there are over 1,300 deer in the Nara Park. These deer are called sika, which is derived from the Japanese word for deer: shika.

Legend has it that in 768, when the Fujiwara family established the great Kasuga Shrine in the foothills of the Wakakusa Mountain, a Shinto deity descended from the mountain to the new sanctuary riding a sacred white deer. Since then, the deer became a revered animal, protected by the authorities, and a symbol of the city.

Interestingly enough, until 1637, killing a deer in Nara was considered a serious crime, even punishable by the death penalty. After WWII the divinity of deer was officially suspended, but they were declared a national treasure. Nowadays, they are protected and maintained in a semi-wild state which humans and deer use to mutual advantage.

Nara Deer Park

Apparently, there are over 1,300 deer in the Nara Park.

Nara Deer Park

These deer are called sika, which is derived from the Japanese word for deer: shika.

NUMBER 5

Kasuga-Taisha Temple

I have to honestly say thatI love Nara and all the beautiful places in Nara, but Kasuga Taisha Shrine is my favorite place in Nara. Kasuga Taisha Shrine is absolutely top notch!!!

The path leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine is absolutely stunning. It is lined with thousands of aged, moss-covered stone lanterns. The stone lanterns are known as “toro” and have been donated by worshipers as an expression of their faith. And, be on the look-out for the deer peeking in-between the lanterns.

Path leading to Kasuga Taisha Temple

The path leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine is absolutely stunning. It is lined with thousands of aged, moss-covered stone lanterns.

One Day in Nara

One Day in Nara

Be on the look-out for the deer peeking in-between the lanterns.

One Day in Nara

Be on the look-out for the deer peeking in-between the lanterns.

The path will eventually lead you to vermilion colored Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

The eves of the shrine are decorated with thousands of hanging brass and bronze lanterns; some new and brightly polished, some old and tarnished by time.

One Day in Nara

The eves of Kasuga Taisha Shrine are decorated with thousands of hanging brass and bronze lanterns.

One Day in Nara

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

The origins of Kasuga Taisha Shrine date back to the year 768, when four deities: Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, Futsunushi-no-mikoto, Amenokoyane-no-mikoto and his consort Himegami were enshrined here for the prosperity and protection of the nation and the happiness of the citizens. These four deities are also known as Kasuga-sume-ookami or Kasuga-Daimyojin (the Great Deities of Kasuga).

It is believed that the original designation of the site as a place of Shinto worship dates back to 710. Moreover, Kasuga Taisha Shrine was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

One Day in Nara

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

One Day in Nara

The complex is open every day. Entrance to the grounds is free of charge except for a paid inner area (500 yen) which allows a closer view of several buildings with bronze lanterns and to the Main Worship Hall.

Intrepid’s Tip: 

If possible, comeback to Kasuga Taisha Shrine in the evening. Notwithstanding, the entire place is absolutely stunning in the evening. 

Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

One Day in Nara

Where and What to Eat in Nara

There is an abundance of street food vendors selling all kinds of local delicacies.  If you walk along Sanjodori, Higashimuki and Mochiidono Streets you will have plenty of choices.

During your Nara day trip, you need to try some local specialties. Here are my top two recommendations, you simply can’t miss:

  • Kakinoha-zushi

Kakinoha-zushi is sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. However, it is not the fresh fish that is being used, but rather one that has been cured. The typical types of fish that is used are salmon, mackerel and trout.

Once the fish is cured, it is pressed into molded sushi rice (which has usually been mixed with vinegar.) and then, wrapped securely in a persimmon leaf. The little sushi bundles are usually packaged in wooden boxes and left for a few days to ferment.

My recommendation is to get a box ‘to go’ at Hiraso and have a picnic in the park if the weather is nice. Otherwise, you can dine-in. Hiraso is a restaurant and a shop specializing in kakinoha-zushi. It has three locations in Nara. The one that is the easiest to find is located just outside the JR Nara Station.

Nara Day Trip

Kakinoha-zushi is sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. However, it is not the fresh fish that is being used, but rather one that has been cured.

One Day in Nara

  • Mochi

I need to admit that mochi in Nara was the best one I have ever had. First of all, you need to head to Nakatanidou. It is located on Hashimoto-cho Street, no more than a  5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. You will not miss it, because the mochi-pounding process takes place outside the shop and draws quite a crowd.

The high-speed mochi pounding, known as mochitsuki produces mochi that is soft and chewy.

Nakatanidou’s specialty is yomogi mochi. By the way, yomogi is a Japanese wild plant also known as mugwort. It gives mochi its natural green color and adds a refreshing taste. Once the gooey mochi mixture is produced, it is formed into oval cakes, filled with red bean paste and lightly dusted with with kinako (roasted soybean flour) before being served to customers. Each piece sells for 130 yen.

Nara Day Trip

The high-speed mochi pounding, known as mochitsuki produces mochi that is soft and chewy.

Nara Day Trip

Once the gooey mochi mixture is produced, it is formed into oval cakes, filled with red bean paste and lightly dusted with with kinako (roasted soybean flour) before being served to customers.

Intrepid Scout's Tips for One Day in Nara

  • Nara is a perfect destination for a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. And, it can  be easily done!
  • The best time to visit Nara is during spring. It looks absolutely spectacular with cherry blossoms. However, fall is just as stunning in Nara.

If you feel like it might be too difficult to navigate through Nara and get to all the attractions, then look into attending one of the half-day tours in Nara. My recommendation is to check out: The Essence of Nara Cultural Tour: Bid Buddha, Bambi, and Backstreets. You will get to visit temples, shrines, traditional houses and feed the divine deer. Plus, the tour takes you through the backstreets and alleys of the merchants district, and try authentic street food (snacks included).

Another great place that I am recommending that you visit is Arashiyama. Make sure to check out my post: 14 Unmissable Things to Do in Arashiyama, Kyoto

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