Roughly one hour south of Kyoto is the magical wonderland of Nara. As the capital of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, this little city is like a breath of fresh air. Unlike its bustling neighbors, Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is whimsical, quaint, compact and easily explored on foot in a day.
Established in 710, Nara boasts with some pretty remarkable temples, unique architecture and gorgeous stretched-out gardens. Moreover, Nara is home to hundreds of free-roaming tame deer.
Read all about the top spots not to miss, here in Nara: Stunning sights to explore in one day.
1. Nara Deer Park
Many of the top attractions lie close to Nara Deer Park. Which is why, most of your exploring will start right here. Apart from it’s great location, the park is the perfect spot to have a picnic whilst admiring the surroundings and of course, the deer. Witness these cute animals huddling around the Deer Cookie stalls waiting for hand-outs. The cookies can be bought from any of the shopkeepers. Packs contain 5 cookies and go for ¥150.
I highly recommend visiting Nara Deer Park during autumn. The entire park (and city) turns into a wonderland bursting with colors.
2. Todai-ji temple
Nara’s most iconic temple is Todai-ji. This remarkable temple is an absolute must-see. It’s home to the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha); a 15m towering statue housed in the Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha). The statue is the second largest Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The Hall itself, is the biggest wooden building in the world and a UNESCO World heritage site. In addition to the impressive Daibutsu, the Hall houses four other giant statues, a few old tiles and leftover relics.
After admiring the statues, head towards the wooden column with a small hole carved through the bottom. If you can squeeze through the hole, ‘enlightenment’ is reportedly promised! Don’t forget to stop and touch the Yakushi Nyorai Buddha on your way out too! Which, according to rumor, has healing powers.
Apr – Oct: 7:30 – 17:30
Nov – Mar: 8:00 – 16:30
Entrance fee: ¥500
Apart from the temple, the grounds are almost just as spectacular. Be sure to explore the beautiful surroundings and many pathways.
3. Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
A short walk from the Deer Park is Nara’s most important Shinto shrine, Kasuga-Taisha. Dating back to 768 AD, the shrine has a main hall and a worshippers hall. Although I loved the bright architecture of the shrine, the grounds left me in utter awe. With towering forests, pathways lined with more than 3000 stone lanterns and wandering deer, Kasuga-Taisha is mesmerizing and breathtaking!
Apr – Sep: 6:00 – 18:00
Oct – Mar: 6:30 – 17:00
Entrance fee: ¥500
4. Kofuku-ji temple
Kofuku-ji Temple is home to a five-story pagoda making it hard to miss as you make your way to Nara Deer Park. Apart from it’s towering pagoda, there is also a treasure museum containing some interesting Buddhist images and the legendary three-faced Ashura. The main hall, the Central Golden Hall, initially constructed between 710-714, is currently under construction. The hall is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00
Entrance fee: Entry to the grounds are free. Eastern Golden Hall ¥300. National Treasure Museum ¥600.
Getting to Nara
Nara is easily reached by car or train from Kyoto. Although, both Kintetsu Railways and JR West have frequent trains to Nara, I’d suggest taking Kintetsu Railways to reach the city. The Kintetsu Nara Station is just a stone’s throw from Nara Park, making the top attractions easily accessed. Kintetsu Direct Express trains run hourly and will set you back ¥620 for a single ride.
Alternatively, if you have already purchased a Japan Rail Pass, take the JR West line to Nara. The JR station is a 15-20 minute walk to most of the main attractions. JR West trains run every thirty minutes from Kyoto station and costs ¥720 for a one way trip.
For the most accurate prices and time schedules, be sure to visit the respective sites.
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