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Chloe’s Guide to Planning a Day Trip to Nara


Home to sacred deer and to some of the largest, and oldest, wooden temples on earth. Nara makes for a wonderful day trip if you’re hanging out in Kyoto or Osaka. Planning a day trip to Nara is easy and, spending half a day there, gives you a chance to find tranquility outside of the busier cities of Japan. Keep reading for a relaxing 1-day itinerary to Nara. 

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Know before you go! Check out some important information below before planning your day trip to Nara.

Language: Spoken language is Japanese but most businesses understand some English. It’s highly recommended that you have your hotel address available in Japanese to show to taxi drivers. We found asking our hotel concierge to help us book reservations for taxis and restaurants was an effective way to make sure we got the reservations we wanted. 

Currency: the Japanese Yen 

Voltage: 120V. See my post Essential Items to Pack in your Carry-on for sturdy international adapters to get for your next trip to Japan. 

Major Train Station: Nara Station (which is available on several JR lines depending on which city you’re departing from. See Nara Station Guide for a full list of JR line options.)

Major Airport: Best options are to fly into Osaka at Osaka Airport or Kansai International Airport. 

Getting There 

The Todai-ji Temple in Nara. An enormous wooden structure built in the 8th century.

We departed from Kyoto so we simply took the JR commuter rail line from Kyoto Station to Nara Station. The train ride took about an hour and the route passed through bamboo groves and, during cherry blossom season, you see some stunning parks and streams lined with Sakura trees. It’s a truly zen ride. The short train ride makes it easy to plan for a day trip to Nara. If coming from other parts of Japan, check out the Shinkansen (Japan high-speed rail lines) and make sure to buy from the customer counter if you get stuck with the ticket machines. The ticket machines are efficient but sometimes it’s better to talk to a person to make sure you’re heading to the right place and paying the right prices. 

How much time should you spend in Nara? 

When planning a day trip to Nara, plan to spend about a day there. We spent about a half day in Nara and mainly made it our goal to visit the Todai-ji temple and the sacred deer of Nara Park. There’s definitely a few more temples you could visit and you could even do some shopping! But we found spending half a day in Nara to be a nice day trip from Kyoto. 

What to See and Do 

Exploring Nara Deer Park 

Free range deer roam the park and they’re known to nip and bite for food if they sense you have food on you, so definitely stay alert. Other than that, the deer are quite photogenic. It’s also quite peaceful watching them roam and relax under cherry blossom trees. You can buy deer crackers to feed the deer with but, again, they will tail you if they know you’re providing food. 

Lucky deer! They’re being fed scrumptious crackers from a visitor.

Admire the Sprawling Todai-ji Temple 

A gargantuan wooden structure built in the 8th century which protects an enormous bronze Buddha from the elements. It’s a sprawling temple with door guardians to equal its size. As you approach the temple, you’ll see two giant wooden carved statues at the threshold of the enormous wooden doors. Their job is to guard the temple from any malevolence. Definitely get a glimpse of these towering protectors as you cross the threshold from the exterior courtyard. 

Todai-ji exterior courtyard framed by cherry blossoms.

Notice the beautiful sakura blossoms as you wander through the interior courtyard. Their colour adds to the overall serenity of the place. Then stride into the temple for the main event: the great bronze Buddha of Nara. 

Fully casted in bronze, the great Buddha took 3 years to make and the Emperor Shomu truly thought that constructing the Buddha would bring peace, prosperity, and good health to the nation. It did for a while until the capital was eventually relocated from Nara. 

The mammoth-sized great Buddha inside Todai-ji Temple.

Snack on Matcha-Vanilla Ice Cream 

And to close out the perfect 1 day itinerary in Nara, make sure to buy some matcha-vanilla soft serve ice cream from the vendors around the park. 

Check out some of my other travel guides, like to Italy or to Spain, to help plan your next bucket-list dream trips.


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