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Nara Itinerary: a guide for first time visitors

Nara Itinerary: a guide for first time visitors

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Nara is one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto. And for a good reason – this beautiful city is home to endless temples, shrines and the super adorable deer that roam about Nara, stealing maps and munching on deer snacks.

To help other travelers visit Nara, I’ve put together a Nara itinerary. So if you’re visiting Nara, read on my friends!


Why you should visit Nara

During the 8th century, Nara was the former capital of Japan before the capital was moved to Kyoto. It is home to well-preserved temples, shrines, and artwork. This makes it a great extension to visits to Kyoto, as you’ll get to experience more of Japan’s long history.

If you have an extra day or half day, I’d highly recommend spending 1 day in Nara, especially if you’re staying in nearby Kyoto or Osaka.


Things to know before you visit Nara

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes: the best way to explore Nara is on foot! There are public transport options to get around Nara (more on that later), but regardless of whether you walk between the attractions or take the bus, you will still be doing a lot of walking! Many of the temples or gardens will involve walking.


  • Organize your JR pass: make sure you order your JR pass before you leave your home country. If you have a JR pass, you can use your pass to take the train to Nara, regardless of whether you’re visiting from Osaka or Kyoto. Not planning on getting a JR pass? Don’t worry, there are budget-friendly options for you too, which we cover later in this post!


  • Bring your passport or photo ID: if you’d like to visit the Yoshiki-en Garden (see below for more details), they offer free entry for foreign visitors. All you need is to show your photo ID!


  • Try not to visit on a Tuesday: some of the gardens are not open on Tuesdays, so if your itinerary allows, visit on another day of the week!


What this itinerary will cover

  • 1 day in Nara: this is the itinerary for travelers who have 1 day to visit Nara from Kyoto or Osaka
  • Half a day in Nara: if you’re short on time, we make some suggestions on which highlights you should include during your time in Nara!


1 day in Nara

If you have a 1-day spare from either Osaka or Kyoto, this is the itinerary for you! We cover Nara’s highlights and provide advice on how to get between attractions.

Morning arrival: arrive either at the JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station

It doesn’t make that much difference to your itinerary whether you arrive at the JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station (later in the article we cover the best ways to get to Nara!) These train stations are an 11-minute walk from each other!


Walk up Nobori-oji Street: Make friends with deer

Ever see photos of Nara’s famous deer? This is your chance to make friends with the little guys who are super curious and friendly. Watch out if you have food in your bags or your pockets because they will sniff it out!

You can even purchase deer snacks from nearby vendors, though be prepared for some very enthusiastic deer if you do this!

Psst: traveling with kids? Be careful if you have young children, as the deer are known to get aggressive, especially if you’re carrying food or the deer snacks!

Nara itinerary - deer

Isuien Garden: go for a stroll in one of the most beautiful gardens in Nara

This garden is one of Nara’s most popular. There is always something in bloom here, regardless of what time of year you visit.

The garden uses the concept known as “shakkei” or “borrowed scenery,” where a scene from outside the garden is incorporated in the garden design. In this case, the roof of the Todai-ji Temple is incorporated in the garden’s design.

How to get here: Isuien Garden is a 25-minute walk from JR Nara Station or a 12-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station via Nobori-oji Street.

Address: 74 Suimoncho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8208, Japan

Opening hours: Wednesday – Monday 9:30 am – 4:30 pm (last admission 4 pm), CLOSED Tuesdays ( but open daily in Apr, May, Oct, and Nov)

Cost: 900 JPY entry for adults, with various student discounts available


Yoshiki-en Garden: have a quiet moment at one of Nara’s lesser-known gardens

Located right next to the Isuien garden, this small garden is not as busy. It has a thatched roof tea house on site, where you can sip some tea and enjoy the beautiful garden. By now, you’ve probably noticed Nara’s big tourist crowds! This is a great place to escape from the crowds of Nara and have a quiet moment.

How to get here: Yoshiki-en Garden is right next to the Isuien Garden (above) or a 25-minute walk from JR Nara Station or a 12-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station via Nobori-oji Street.

Address: 60-1 Noboriojicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8213, Japan

Opening hours: Wed-Mon 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, CLOSED Tues (these hours are seasonal so check before you go!)

Cost: Free entry for those with a foreign passport (so make sure you bring your passport!) or 250 JPY entry.

Todai-ji Temple: visit Nara’s most popular temple

Only a 10-minute walk from Yoshiki-en Garden, Todai-ji temple is Nara’s most popular temple. Make sure you walk through the Nandaimon Gate, which is at the entrance before Todai-ji temple.

The Todai-ji temple was built in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan, making it a temple of great significance in Japan’s history.

It is also home to the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), which is the world’s largest wooden building. You can also see the Daibutsu, which is a 16m high Buddha!

If you have time, make sure you check out the other complexes on the Todai-ji temple grounds. I’d highly recommend you check out this article here if you want to know more information about what to visit on the Todai-ji Temple grounds.

How to get here: Todai-ji Temple is only a 10- 15-minute walk from Yoshiki-en Garden

Address: 406-1 Zoshicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8211, Japan

Opening hours: November – March 8 am – 5 pm daily, April – October 7:30 am – 5:30 pm daily

Cost: 600 JPY adults, 300 JPY primary school students

Nara itinerary - Todai-ji

Kasuga-taisha Shrine: visit one of Nara’s most unique shrines

A 20-minute walk from Todai-ji Temple is one of Nara’s most significant and popular shrines. The Kasuga-taisha Shrine was established at the same time Nara became the capital of Japan.

This shrine is famous for its lanterns which have been donated by worshippers. There are bronze lanterns and also stone ones. You can also spot many deer which roam throughout the grounds!

You can visit the offering hall for free, but if you would like to visit the inner buildings (highly recommended) you will have to pay a small entry fee

How to get here: Kasuga-taisha Shrine is a 20-minute walk from Todai-ji Temple

Address: 160 Kasuganochō, Nara-shi, Nara-ken 630-8212, Japan

Opening hours: April – September 6 am – 6 pm, October – March 6:30 am – 5 pm (hours can vary due to seasons and festivals so double check!)

Cost: 500 JPY for the Kasugataisha Museum and 500 JPY for the Man’yo Botanical Garden


Kofuku-ji Temple: spot Japan’s second tallest pagoda

When you walk back towards the direction of the train stations, the Kofuku-ji Temple is only a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.

You’ll be able to easily spot it by the 5-storied or 3-storied pagoda! The 5-storied pagoda is 50 meters tall and is the 2nd tallest pagoda in Japan. Tall, right?!

Psst: the pagodas aren’t open for visitors, but they’re beautiful enough to visit the Kofuku-ji temple for!

The Kofuku-ji temple was established around the same time Nara was made the capital of Japan. It was the family temple of Fujiwara, who was the most powerful aristocratic clan during much of the Nara and Heian Periods

The temple grounds are free to enter, but the Central Golden Hall, the Eastern Golden Hall, and Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum require an entry fee.

How to get here: Kofuku-ji Temple is a 20-minute walk from Kasuga-taisha Shrine.

Address: 48 Noboriōjichō, Nara-shi, Nara-ken 630-8213, Japan

Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm daily

Cost: 800 JPY to visit both the Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall & Eastern Golden Hall or 600 JPY for the Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall or 300 JPY for the Eastern Golden Hall


Naramachi: grab something to eat or go for a wander through this historic district

While not a specific attraction, the Naramachi area is an area filled with traditional style buildings. Here you can go shopping, get something to eat or find somewhere to rest your head (there are ryokan here!)

This is a great place to end your day at Nara before you hop on a train back to Kyoto or Osaka.

How to get here: Naramachi is about a 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or a 20-minute walk from JR Nara Station.

Location: Naramachi is south of Kintetsu Nara Station and west of JR Nara Station.


Half a day in Nara

If you’re short on time, we make some suggestions on which highlights you should include during your time in Nara! This itinerary is a shortened version of the 1-day itinerary above.

  • Visit one of Isuien Garden or Yoshiki-en Garden (they are both beautiful, I’d suggest visiting the Yoshiki-en Garden if you’re on a budget and not a fan of crowds. The Isuien Garden is more popular and larger)
  • Then visit the Todai-ji Temple, which is a 15-minute walk from the Isuien Garden or Yoshiki-en Garden.
  • Then visit the Kasuga-taisha Shrine, which is a 20-minute walk from the Toadi-ji Temple.
  • And if after the above you have some time before you hop on a train, make sure to visit the Kofuku-ji Temple or the streets of Naramachi!


Getting around in Nara:

Most of the places in Nara are accessible via foot. However, if you’re visiting during the summer or you don’t like walking, you can take public transport!

There are two public transport options in Nara:

1. The Nara Bus Pass

A one-day pass costs 500 JPY and gives you unlimited use of the Nara Kotsu buses around Nara. This covers central Nara and the Toshodaiji/Yakushiji area. If you’re staying for longer than one day, there are additional passes that cover other areas.

You can purchase your bus pass at the ticket office across the street from Kintetsu Nara Station and inside JR Nara Station.

2. Kintetsu Rail Pass

This is only available for foreign tourists and is a 1-day or 2-day Kintetsu Rail Pass. The pass covers unlimited train trips on local, rapid and express trains between Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. You can also use your pass for buses around Nara. This is especially a great option if you don’t have a JR pass (see below!) The 1-day pass costs 1500 JPY, and the 2-day pass costs 2500 JPY.


How to get to Nara (from Kyoto)

The most popular way to get to Nara is from Kyoto, via the train

If you have a JR pass: take the JR Nara Line from JR Kyoto Station to the JR Nara Station in Nara. You can take the express train or the local service (which takes a bit longer).

If you don’t have a JR pass: take the Kintetsu Nara Line from Kintetsu Kyoto Station (on the south side of JR Kyoto Station) in Kyoto. This arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station in Nara. If you’re planning on using the train around Nara, it may also be worth purchasing the Kintetsu Rail Pass (see above section about getting around Nara!)


How to get to Nara from (Osaka)

If you have a JR pass: take the JR Kanjo-Yamatoji Line from JR Osaka Station, which arrives at JR Nara Station

If you don’t have a JR pass: take the Kintetsu Nara Line from the Kintetsu Namba Station in Osaka, which arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station in Nara.  If you’re planning on using the train around Nara, it may also be worth purchasing the Kintetsu Rail Pass (see above section about getting around Nara!)

Nara itinerary - deer2


Where to stay in Nara

If you are planning on staying the night in Nara, we’ve put together a guide of places to stay in Nara.

If you’re on a backpacker: Guesthouse Nara Backpackers

Perfect for backpackers who are after a more traditional experience, this guesthouse offers backpacker and budget friendly accommodation in a traditional Japanese style.

Here, you’ll find a beautiful Japanese garden, sliding doors and other small traditional touches that you’re more likely to find in a traditional Ryokan.
They have a female only dormitory, a mixed dormitory and also private rooms (with traditional Japanese bedding like a futon and tatami flooring).

Location: Guesthouse Nara Backpackers is centrally located. It’s only a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Kyoto Station and a 5-minute walk from the Isuien Garden and Yoshiki-en Garden.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor

Book on Booking.com | Book on Expedia


If you’re on a budget: Guesthouse Nara Komachi

This is a great option if you are on a budget, but prefer a private room. All the rooms here come with their own private bathroom, and you can choose between Japanese-style rooms (where there is tatami flooring, and you sleep on a futon) or Western-style rooms with beds.

Location: Guesthouse Nara Komachi is centrally located, and only a 5-minute walk from JR Nara Station.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor

Book on Booking.com | Book on Expedia


If you’re on a mid-range budget: Onyado Nono Nara

If you’re after something nice without breaking your budget, Onyado Nono Nara is a great option! This ryokan has both Western-style rooms with beds and Japanese-style rooms with tatami flooring and futons. Regardless of which option you choose, the rooms are beautifully decorated in a minimalist Japanese style.

Since this is a ryokan, they also have an onsen available for guests! They have both indoor and outdoor baths available, separated by sex. This is a great way to end your day after lots of walking 😉

If you get hungry before you go to bed, they also offer a free bowl of noodle soup from 9 pm onwards (yesss!)

Psst: you will need to remove your shoes when walking around the hotel (slippers will be provided) as the flooring is all tatami. If you’re not used to this, we think this adds to the experience – after all, Japanese people never wear shoes inside their own homes!

Location: Onyado Nono Nara is only a 3-minute walk from JR Nara Station. This is a great option if you are traveling with suitcases or plan to do some shopping when in Japan 😉

Read reviews on TripAdvisor

Book on Booking.com | Book on Expedia


If you want to treat yo’ self: Noborioji Hotel Nara

If you’re visiting Japan for a special occasion or like to stay in nice hotels, Noborioji Hotel Nara is a great option.

This luxurious hotel thinks of all the little details – like a fresh fruit platter in your room, western sized beds (if you’re tall this will probably be the biggest bed you see in Japan!) and toiletries worthy of a spa. You’ll be pampered here, making it a great hotel if you want to really relax after all that sightseeing you’ll be doing.

Location: located a 15-minute walk from JR Nara station or a 2-minute walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor

Book on Booking.com | Book on Expedia

Nara itinerary - PINTEREST

Nara is a great day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, and a great addition to your itinerary, especially if it’s your first time visiting Japan!

I’d love to know: are you planning on visiting Nara when you’re in Japan?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

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