Most people visit Nara on a day trip from Kyoto, but I decided to take it slow and spend a couple of nights there.
Nara is most famous for its park where deer spend the days lounging about by the temples and being fed by tourists.
Nara Park is the city’s main draw, and where you can spot and feed deer. They are literally everywhere and get very friendly with the tourists – they even know to bow to ask for deer cookies. If you go early you can avoid the crowds and make friends with the deer all by yourself.
Inside the park there are also some really cool temples and shrines. Kasugataisha (tickets Y500) is filled with lanterns in all colours and shapes, and Todai-ji (tickets Y500) is the world’s largest wooden structure and home to an amazing and huge Buddha statue.
Nara’s centre is full of narrow streets with little shops and cafes, and it looks picture-perfect. There are tons of deer-themed souvenirs (as Japan really knows how to market everything) as well as a disproportionate amount of cat-related stuff (Nara has its own ‘cat district’).
A bit far from the town centre there are a few other temples to visit in Nara.
Yakushi-ji (tickets Y1100) is an impressive complex with lots of different buildings and a colourful pagoda (there are two, but one was being restored when I visited). Nearby is Toshodori-ji (tickets Y600), another large temple with a nice garden.
A bit further is Horyuji (tickets Y1500, depending on what you visit), another large temple complex with lots to explore.
The best thing about these is that the distance from Nara’s centre means that there’s hardly anyone else there.
You can reach these temples by bus (a map with all the details is available at the Information Centre, Google Maps is not there yet), so it’s not difficult to get to them.
HOW TO DO IT:
- GO: Nara can be easily reached by train from Kyoto (45min on the JR line, 30 on the Kintetsu line – although the latter is not included in the JR pass). You can definitely see the main highlights in a day, but if you have more time you get to explore with ease and escape the crowds.
- STAY: I stayed at Route 53 Guest House which was a good budget option at a great location. Nara is cheaper than Kyoto and quite small, so it’s not very difficult to find good accommodation.