A Customizable Nara Itinerary for Those Wanting to do a Nara Day Trip or Longer Stay!
Why Should I Consider Adding a Nara Itinerary or Day Trip While in Japan?
When most travelers visit Japan for the first time, they often plan the majority of their trip in
Sadly, during our time in Nara, the weather was pretty poor. It managed to rain during our 2 days in Nara to the point where no matter how much we tried, we were soaking wet. But that will go to show you that even in terrible weather conditions, our trip to Nara was still worth it! There is natural beauty to behold on every corner, sake and brewery spots, quaint cafes and restaurants, and so much more – let’s get started with this Nara itinerary and you’ll see exactly what we mean.
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Where is Nara Located?
Nara is a city in Japan that is located about 40-50 minutes from Kyoto or Osaka by train, which makes it great for both day trip or extended stay like we did (we’ll cover both in this Nara itinerary).
How to Get to Nara
There are a number of ways that you can get to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka. One easy way to find out the best route for your Nara itinerary is to utilize Google Maps or Hyperdia.
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Traveling by Train to Nara
There are two main train stations in Nara that are in close proximity to one another. The first being the Kintetsu Nara Station which covers the Kintetsu/Hanshin Railway. The other is JR Nara Station which covers the JR line of trains on the JR Yamatoji line and JR Nara line.
Osaka to Nara: Take the Kintetsu Nara Line Rapid Express to Kintetsu Nara Station (About 40 minutes from Osaka Station).
Kyoto to Nara: Take the Kintetsu Kyoto Line Express to Kintetsu Nara Station (about 45 minutes from Kyoto Station).
If you have a JR pass activated then this is the route you’ll want to take simply because it is no additional cost/covered by your rail pass.
Osaka to Nara: Take the JR Yamatoji Line, Yamatoji Rapid Express to JR Nara Station (Approx. 50 minutes from Osaka Station).
Kyoto to Nara: Take the JR Nara Line, Miyakoji Rapid Express to JR Nara Station (Approx. 45 minutes from Kyoto Station).
Traveling by Bus to Nara
Tokyo to Nara: If you are traveling to Nara from somewhere other than Kyoto or Osaka you can consider an overnight express bus or day bus. This option is available from Shinjuku (Tokyo), Chiba/Yokohama, or Nagoya (day bus). Each of these will take you directly to Kintetsu Nara/JR Nara station.
Transportation While in Nara
Since we were on our Japan road trip when we visited Nara we actually ended up driving. However, transportation in Nara is extremely efficient, inexpensive, and convenient so we decided to park our car at the hotel we were staying and get a Nara bus pass from the train station. The buses will take you to all of the major attractions in Nara.
One thing you should do prior to visiting Nara is to
Nara Bus Pass
Stop whatever you’re doing and GO BUY THIS BUS PASS. It’s super convenient, inexpensive, and will save you a lot of time on your Nara itinerary.
Reasons why you should get the Nara bus pass:
- You are given unlimited rides on all Nara Kotsu local buses within the allocated areas (see below in bus pass options).
- You get on and off the bus by simply showing your pass! No making change for bills or counting coins.
- You can show your pass at shops on the map you’ll get with your ticket and you can get discounts.
It’s honestly a no brainer for as little as it costs! There are two different options for the bus pass and each
Nara Park/Nishinokyo (1-day pass)
A few of the major destinations included in this pass: Nara Park, Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Kohfukuji Temple, Nara-machi, Toshodaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple
Cost: Adult 500 yen, Child 250 yen
Nara Park/Noshinokyo/Horyuji (1-day pass)
This pass covers ALL of the above locations but also adds in a few Japanese World Heritage Sites like Horyuji Temple, Chuguji Temple, and Jikoin Temple. If you plan to visit any of these (which we will outline in this Nara itinerary) you’ll want to buy this pass on the day you plan to visit.
Cost: Adult 1,000 yen, Child 500 yen
Nara Sightseeing Bus Tours
The first thing to know about the Nara Sightseeing Bus is that it is different from the public transportation buses. This bus will take you to specific sites in Nara some being those listed above in the Nara Bus Pass, but there are also additional stops that are not included in the regular bus pass. English & Chinese audio guides are available for free.
There are four different options for the Nara Sightseeing Bus and while we didn’t utilize it while we were in Nara, here is the information we received about it.
OPTION A: Nara Park Historic Monuments
This 3 hour tour will take you to Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Kohfukuji Temple.
Cost: 3,500 yen/adult, 1,900 yen/child
OPTION B: Nara Park Historic Monuments and Mt. Wakakusa
This four hour tour will take you to the sites listed above PLUS the top of Mt. Wakakusa.
Cost: 4,500 yen/adult, 2,500 yen/child
OPTION C: Horuiji Temple & Nishinokyo
This is the longest tour at 7 hours total but it will take you to Horyuji Temple, Chuguji Temple, Jikoin Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, and Suzakumon Gate with a stop for lunch in between.
Cost: 7,500 yen/adult, 3,530 yen/child (account for an additional 1,000 yen per person if you would prefer to have them arrange your lunch for you!)
OPTION D: Nishinokyo
This 3-hour tour will take you to Toshodaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, and by the Suzakumon Gate.
Cost: 3,000 yen/adult, 1,320 yen/child
Ultimately when looking at the Nara Bus Pass and Nara Sightseeing Bus it all depends on two things. The first being what kind of way you want to travel. With the Nara Bus Pass, you’ll have more freedom to visit places on your own for whatever amount of time, but you will have to plan accordingly with bus timetables.
With the Nara Sightseeing Bus, you’ll be able to hop on and go to places with a tour group which means less planning timewise, but you won’t have the freedom to visit places as long as you wish. You could also consider doing a Nara Sightseeing Bus and getting the Nara Bus Pass if you wish to visit additional places that your sightseeing tour didn’t take you.
Rental Bikes in Nara
Another option for your Nara itinerary is renting a bike! Had it not been raining the days we were visiting Nara we would have enjoyed riding bikes here. The awesome thing about renting a bike is that it is inexpensive and there are two options for your sightseeing.
First things first, an electric bicycle is NOT a motorcycle, moped, or scooter. Electric bikes look just like a regular bicycle but they have an electric charge on them to help you ride a little more smoothly. It’s especially useful when going up those high, stubborn hills too! While we didn’t rent an electric bicycle in Nara we did rent one in Matsumoto and LOVED it.
COST: 1,200 yen for the day or 800 yen for 3 hours
A local bicycle is a regular bicycle that you can rent out. While it is a bit cheaper than the electric bike we still recommend the electric because it’s so much easier!
COST: 800 yen for the day or 500 yen for 3 hours
Location: Kintetsu Nara Station (Right behind the exit 6 bus stop!)
Where to Stay for Your Nara Itinerary
If you are planning to stay the night in Nara we recommend staying close to Kintetsu Nara Station for ease of transportation. We stayed at the Smile Hotel Nara and while the location was great and the hotel itself was just okay. We found the room to be one of the smallest we stayed in during our three-month Japan trip which wouldn’t have been a huge issue for us normally. What topped it off was the lack of air conditioning (mind you it was summer) and the bed and pillows were very uncomfortable. Instead, we would recommend staying at one of the following options based on reviews.
Other Things to Know Before Visiting Nara
- Most of the restaurants and attractions in Nara are cash only. Make sure you have enough cash upon arrival by getting money at a 7Eleven ATM.
- Get your Nara Bus Pass prior to leaving the station so you can use it right away and maximize your day in Nara!
- If you are planning to spend only one day in Nara and have limited time, make sure to visit Nara Park to see the deer and temples in the park.
NARA ITINERARY: DAY 1 (OR NARA DAY TRIP)
Now onto the good stuff! For day one of your Nara itinerary or Nara one day trip, we recommend getting to Nara as early as you can. If you are staying the night in Nara check with your hotel to see if they will hold your luggage while you explore. Most hotels in Japan offer this free of charge or you can store your luggage at Kintetsu Nara Station. Make sure you get your Nara bus pass before heading out to see all the things to do in Nara too!
Nara Park is one of the top attractions that you must include on your Nara itinerary which is why we’ve added it as the first thing to do! Here you can see over 1,200 deer roaming freely. These deer have resided here for over 1,000 years. They have become a symbol of the city and are considered sacred and in the Shinto religion, messengers of the gods. Although they are very social, they can still be a bit timid so it’s best to approach them with care.
Inside Nara Park, there are a number of stands selling special deer crackers which are only 150 yen a packet. These crackers are specialized for the deer so please don’t feed them anything else! Even the paper that is used to hold the bundle of crackers together is safe for the deer to eat! It’s made from 100% pulp and printed with soy ink.
When feeding the deer, you can carefully hand them a cracker at a time. You might also notice that some of the deer bow when receiving or “asking” for another cracker! When you are finished show your empty hands to them to signify that you have nothing left. 🙂
Guidelines for interacting with the deer in Nara:
- Keep in mind that while the deer are accustomed to people, they are still wild animals. This is their home and you are a guest. At times they may become aggressive so take caution around them.
- This should be a no brainer but just in case, it’s important that you do not hit, chase, or play with the deer. In addition, avoid touching or getting too close to fawns as their mothers may become aggressive. As we said, this is their home and they are considered sacred to the people of Nara.
- Do not feed ANYTHING to the deer beside the deer crackers that are for sale. Feeding them something other than the crackers could harm their health.
- If you do purchase deer crackers keep in mind that you may become immediately surrounded by deer. It’s best to feed them immediately. Do not torment them with the crackers or they may jump or become aggressive. If you wish to feed just a few deer try putting the deer crackers inside your day bag. Then show your hands to the deer so they see you do not have anything for them. After you can go to a less populated area to feed a few deer versus being surrounded by hundreds!
Cost: Free (150 yen for deer crackers)
While walking through Nara Park you’ll make your way to Todai-
The main hall, Daibutsuden, is the world’s largest wooden building and also houses a 15 meters tall Buddha, 1 of 3 great Buddha statues in Japan. This Buddha is absolutely magnificent to see but make sure you also take some time to walk around the temple grounds too!
Cost: 500 yen
If you’re like us you probably spent quite some time playing with the deer in Nara and are getting a little hungry. Cafe Chaka is the perfect spot to curb your appetite while you hold off for lunch. Cafe Chaka specializes in Japanese tea and elaborate desserts made from matcha or
Kasugataisha Shrine is another world heritage site that is located in Nara Park. The vivid vermillion lacquered building
Cost: 500 yen (for the inner shrine)
After a busy morning of shrines and temples, head on over to Parco for lunch! Okonomiyaki is best described as a Japanese savory pancake. It is a batter made up of cabbage, egg, and occasionally noodles too! It comes with a variety of mix-ins or toppings like pork, octopus, shrimp, or vegetables and topped with a rich, savory sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Parco has a few vegetarian options as well! We love okonomiyaki and were really impressed by the options Parco had to offer.
After lunch, you can easily walk to the old town of Nara known as Naramachi. Naramachi is a former merchant district with scenic narrow alleys. Today some of the old houses here have been converted into museums, traditional arts and crafts stores, restaurants, and cafes. It’s exactly what you picture when you think of “old Japan.”
While in Naramachi make sure you stop by Naramachi Koshinoie Machiya Museum, which is a reproduction of a 19th-century
While heading back towards the next few destinations on your Nara itinerary you might think about stopping at a few, lesser known shrines and temples like we did. These typically don’t take long to visit, but are less crowded than the bigger shrines and temples in the area, and have their own kind of beauty. If you’re pressed for time then you can pass the next two stops, but if you do happen to have extra time, we encourage you to visit Goryo Shrine and Gango-
We’ll admit it, Goryo Shrine isn’t like all the other big famous shrines in Japan. But that’s what caught our eye as we walked by. There were no other visitors there and while it could probably be due to the massive amount of rain we were dealing with during our two days in Nara, we loved seeing this quaint spot for a few minutes.
A short walk away from Naramachi and Goryo Shrine is Gango-
Higashimuki Shopping Street
After visiting a few smaller attractions you’ll make the short, 10-minute walk to Higashimuki Shopping Street, a bustling area of Nara restaurants, cafes, shopping, and more. If you’re looking for some inexpensive souvenirs you can pop in DAISO. But we recommend finding some small street food items like Nakatanidou, your next stop!
Nakatanidou (Pounding Mochi)
While shopping in Higashimuki make sure you stop by Nakatanidou and get some of their freshly made, delicious mochi. Nakatanidou is also known as the pounding mochi shop because if you’re lucky you’ll be able to see the mochi being made in a rather unique, fast-paced way! Even though we walked by Nakatanidou a number of times, we never go to see the pounding mochi display, but here’s a video of it in case you’re wondering what it’s like. The mochi is pounded then placed in a machine that fills each piece with sweet red bean paste. They are then coated with
DINNER: Tonkatsu Ganko
After doing a bit of shopping (and a lot of mochi eating) we stopped for dinner at Tonkatsu Ganko, a restaurant that specializes in panko fried pork cutlets but also has a variety of other menu items to choose from such as chicken and shrimp. As an added bonus you can get free refills on miso soup, rice, and cabbage. When we first arrived we were seated almost immediately but when we left the line was out the door and around the corner! I’d say if you don’t want to wait too long try to arrive for an earlier dinner (before
NARA ITINERARY: DAY 2
If you have decided to do more than just one day in Nara then we have some additional recommendations for you. Personally, we feel like having two days in Nara allowed us to see and do things in Nara at a slower pace so we could enjoy them more. It also helped us venture to some of the temples and shrines further away from the city center of Nara. Feel free to add anything from day one if you weren’t able to cover it all!
Toshodaiji Temple was established in 759 by Ganjin, a Chinese monk as a seminary for Buddhist training. Something extremely unique about this temple is the Buddha statues inside the Kondo Hall which, along with the building, have been there since the 8th century. Make sure after you visit the main halls you take a stroll to the moss garden in the back! We spent a few hours here because there were so many things to see and do.
Cost: 600 yen (show your Nara Bus Pass and guide for an admission discount!)
In my opinion, Yakushiji Temple is one of the most interesting temples architecturally in Nara. It was built in the late 7th century by Emperor Tenmu in dedicated for his sick wife’s recovery. Sadly the main hall of the temple was destroyed by a fire but was rebuilt in the 1970s. Among the exhibits here, you’ll find two different pagodas, the one in the east dates back to 730!
Cost: 1100 yen
Heijo Palace Site
Heijo Palace Site is the former location of Nara’s Imperial Palace. Sadly most of the original buildings were lost except for a hall that has been moved to Toshodaiji Temple. In the past few years, the government has been in the process of rebuilding some of the structures to show their significance. One recent addition was completed in 2010. This reconstruction was the former audience hall which has since opened to the public to visit.
While it might seem strange that we’ve added an Italian restaurant to our Nara itinerary, let us explain. For starters, we traveled all over Japan for three months and though we weren’t tired of Japanese food, we had an itch to scratch and that craving was PIZZA. We found Nino because we saw it right outside of Kintetsu Nara Station and were immediately enticed by the smells of Italian herbs coming from the restaurant.
When we went inside we were immediately welcomed in and ordered two lunch Margherita pizzas which were mind-blowing good. We also ordered two of their specialty Sudachi sodas which had flavors of what we believed to be Yuzu lemon and orange, it was very refreshing and if you happen to be visiting Nara during the summer, you’ll want one of these to sip on!
At the end of our dining experience, we were given a complimentary dessert and two paintings with our names in Japanese and the meaning behind it courtesy of our server (like how cool is that!?). The owner of Nino personally came to our table a number of times and upon leaving gave us each a five-yen coin for good fortune and luck. He told us that he spent a number of years in Italy as a chef and wanted to bring Italian cooking to Japan (I’d say he was rather successful in this mission). After reading reviews from other guests it’s clear that our experience was typical of Nino and we were so glad to see it.
Kofukuji Temple is a short 5-7 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station which makes it an easy stop this afternoon before heading to your next destination. Kofukuji is home to one of Naras most distinctive landmarks, a five-story pagoda. Inside you can also see a number of Buddhist art pieces and sculptures. We didn’t spend a lot of time here because it was raining so hard! But be sure to stop by Sarusawa Ike pond for a beautiful view too.
Cost: 300 yen (golden hall), 800 yen (both halls)
Isuien Garden is a stunning picture-worthy garden that spans over 11,000 square meters. It is composed of two different gardens from different time periods. The first was created during the late 1600s and the rear garden in the early 20th century. Both areas have rich natural beauty where you can escape in the scenery.
Cost: 900 yen
DINNER: Kakinoha-zushi Restaurant
In Nara, there is specialty sushi called Kakinoha-
Cafe Etranger Narad
Cafe Etranger Narad is a quaint cafe right outside of Higashimuki Shopping Street. One reason it caught our attention was the matcha ice cream with the adorable deer biscuit on top. We stopped in here before we grabbed dinner on our last night in Nara and shared this adorable treat! Cafe Etranger Narad serves a variety of food choices but we didn’t end up eating anything else there besides the ice cream
READ MORE: 5 Days in Kyoto, Japan
OTHER THINGS TO ADD TO YOUR NARA ITINERARY
Horyuji Temple is a bit off-the-beaten-path and more easily accessible by car which is why we didn’t include it in the main portion of our Nara day trip. It was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who was responsible for the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan. But the significance of this temple is its historic nature. It is said to be one of the oldest temples still standing in Japan, but also one of the oldest wooden structures. Which, if you know anything about Japan and its history with fires, this fact is pretty impressive. There are multiple structures to see once you arrive which makes it more worth the heftier admission cost.
Cost: 1500 yen/person (parking is 500 yen)
Wazuka Tea Plantations
If you love Japanese tea and matcha you’ll definitely want to add Wazuka to your Nara itinerary! Wazuka is a small town with a population of roughly 5,000 so it might seem like not much is going on here when you first arrive in this sleepy town. But this town is also the home to Uji green tea and holds nearly half of the green tea production in Kyoto. Some of the tea plantations that you’ll see in Wazuka have been in production for over 800 years. They’re absolutely beautiful to look at and even give the illusion that they can “reach the sky!” If you have time you should also consider taking a guided tour, tea ceremony lesson, or simply enjoy some homemade green tea ice cream!
If you’re wanting to see an outdoor panoramic view of Nara, Mt. Wakakusa is your answer. Mt. Wakakusa is located in Nara Park between Todaiji and Kasuga Shrine. Those who wish to hike up Mt. Wakakusa are able to all year (minus winter) which is only approximately 45 minutes one-way. Although, if you’d rather not hike it all you can reach a good viewing point from the plateau in approximately 15-20 minutes.
Cost: 150 yen/person
We can’t wait to return to this magical city again sometime in the near future as it was one of our favorite places we visited during our three months in Japan. This time we’ll be crossing our fingers for better weather in Nara, but as you noticed, even when the weather isn’t ideal you can still enjoy a day trip to Nara.
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