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Nara, Japan: Experience The Ultimate Day Trip (Deer, Temples, More)

Nara, Japan is the location of the country’s first permanent capital and is now home to three World Heritage sites, ancient temples, stunning natural landscapes, and of course, the iconic Nara deer.

Nara is one of the most popular day trip destinations to add on to a longer trip to Osaka or Kyoto since it is less than an hour away from both cities. In contrast to Osaka and Kyoto, Nara offers a quieter escape into nature and traditional Japanese architecture.

As the original permanent capital of the country, Nara has incredible, historically significant temples and shrines that reflect the long and complex history of Japan. My favorite temple in Japan, Hasedera Temple, is in the south part of the greater Nara area. It takes a bit of a drive to reach, but the temple’s magical and remote setting is absolutely worth it.

Nara’s famous deer also offer an endless amount of delight. Imagine yourself surrounded by hundreds of deer milling all around you as you walk through ancient temples and stunning parks and gardens – that’s Nara.

In this guide, I’ll share my recommendations about how to have an unforgettable visit to Nara.

What is the best Nara, Japan itinerary?

How To Get There

Generally, I recommend adding Nara as a day trip from your longer visit to Osaka or Kyoto.

From Osaka Station, it takes about 50 minutes by train, including one transfer, to reach Kintetsu-Nara Station. Kintetsu-Nara Station is the closest exit to Nara Park and the main sightseeing locations.

From Kyoto Station, it takes about 35 minutes on a direct train (Kintetsu Limited Express) to reach Kintetsu-Nara Station.

Pro Tip: Leave Your Baggage At Kyoto Station If you head to Nara directly from Kyoto, leave any large baggage in one of the many coin lockers at Kyoto Station. The route back to Tokyo from Nara involves a transfer at Kyoto Station, so you can save yourself the hassle and leave any extra luggage in a locker for about ¥500-¥700 (~USD $5).

You don’t need a car to explore the main downtown area of Nara and you can see the vast majority of the main attractions on foot. However, if you’d like to explore the surrounding area (like the stunning Hasadera Temple I cover later in this article), then I suggest renting a car.

Where To Stay

Most of the highlights of Nara can be explored within a day, but if you’d like to extend your stay in this beautiful city, I recommend staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn) or hotel.

Take a look at some of my suggestions:

What To Do

Prefer a guided tour to make logistics easier? This one on Klook visits most of the sights recommended in this guide.

See the deer

Deer standing in front of bright red leaves in Nara, Japan

During autumn, Tobihino Park and Asajigahara Enchi Park have stunning displays of colorful leaves.

Deer crossing the pathway in front of a temple road in Nara, Japan

A deer standing ahead of Nandaimon Gate

You don’t really need to schedule “seeing the deer” in Nara as a separate itinerary item because it is basically a given. The moment you exit Kintetsu-Nara Station, you will be greeted by a number of deer strolling around the road.

However, many first-time visitors to Nara get overly excited by the initial wave of deer and congregate near the station exit. The best places to see the deer are actually further down the road toward Tobihino Park and in front of Nandaimon Gate. So, resist the strong temptation to take a million photos of the first few deer that you see and venture deeper into the city.

A deer in Nara. Japan staring into the camera

The deer look friendly…

A warning sign about what not to do with the deer in Nara, Japan

… but stay alert!

The deer in Nara are incredibly adorable, but they can be aggressive, particularly if they believe you have food. You can purchase special wafers in Nara to feed the deer, but if you show the deer the food, give it to them! I once saw a young girl get head-butted by a deer over a low fence because she kept some wafers in her hand as she walked away.


The exterior of Tōdai-ji on a brisk winter day

The exterior of Tōdai-ji

Tōdai-ji is one of the oldest and most historically important Buddhist temples in Japan. The original temple was constructed in 752 AD and had such a powerful influence on Japan’s Buddhism and governmental affairs that its existence led to the country’s capital shifting away from Nara in 784 AD to reduce the temple’s sway.

The interior of the Daibutsuden main hall of Todaiji Temple in Nara

The interior of Daibutsuden

Today, the main hall (Daibutsuden) is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and houses a 15 meter tall Daibutsu (Buddha statue) flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

This temple complex is one of the most popular attractions in Nara and is a must-see on your itinerary. Tōdai-ji also offers a quality audio guide for a small fee so that you can better understand what you are seeing.


Kōfuku-ji has a rich, storied history as one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. The temple complex has several halls and pagodas that you can explore. One of the pagodas is 50 meters tall and is Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda.

You can wander around the temple grounds for free, but there is a small entrance fee to view The Central Golden Hall, the Eastern Golden Hall and Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum.

If you visit this temple, be sure to check out the neighboring Yoshikien Garden.

Yoshikien Garden

A narrow wooden bridge in a Japanese garden surrounded by leaves changing color

Yoshikien Garden is a lovely garden in the heart of Nara that was built on the former site of Kofukuji Temple’s priest residences. There are three distinct garden areas that will allow you to get a taste of the different styles of Japanese gardens (you’ll see a pond garden, a moss garden, and a Japanese tea garden).

Yoshikien Garden really comes alive in the late autumn when its many Japanese maple leaves take on a vibrant red or golden hue. I took my photos above in late November, which is my favorite time of year to visit Nara.

Hasedera Temple

Interior stairs leading to Hasadera Temple in Nara, Japan

Hasedera Temple is an awe-inspiring temple about a 50 minute drive south of Nara Park and the other attractions listed in this guide. You need a car in order to easily access this relatively remote temple.

I visited this temple on a rainy, late November day and was blown away by how majestic and mystical it felt. The halls were almost entirely empty of visitors and the brightly colored foliage framed the architecture beautifully. Without a doubt, my favorite temple in Japan is Hasedera Temple.

Hase-dera Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) in the distance and surrounded by colorful autumn leaves

View from the main hall’s balcony of Hase-dera Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda)

Close up of Buddhist statue on a rainy day

Hasedera Temple was founded in 686 AD and sits near the top of a mountain. The temple halls are characterized by stone lanterns and long staircases.

The main hall has a fantastic viewing balcony where you can see a magnificent view of the rolling hillsides and Hase-dera Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) in the distance.

There is a small village area with some shops and restaurants near the base of the temple complex where you can buy some treats or do some souvenir shopping.

What To Eat

A close-up photo of a crepe with strawberries and drizzled chocolate

A berries and chocolate crepe from Cafe Wakakusa

Matcha ice cream in Nara

“Premium” matcha ice cream from a stand in Nara

Nara, Japan is a relatively large city and has a great selection of restaurants. If you’re short on time or just want a snack, many small vendors sell traditional Japanese treats on the road between Tobihino Park and Asajigahara Enchi Park.

If you’re able to have a seated meal, I suggest visiting:

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