Between Kyoto and Osaka lies Nara, a traditional Japanese town. Besides the usual temple complexes, there is one main attraction here: deer. And not exactly a small amount of them. The sika deer make up a large part of the charm of this historic city and attract thousands of visitors every year.
In this article, we’ll tell you where you can meet these charming little fellows and which other sights to add to your Nara Day Trip itinerary. This way, you can spend a wonderful day in Nara that you and your new deer friends will remember for a long time.
In addition, you’ll find some practical travel tips that you can use for your day trip to Nara or stay in the city. So let’s get started right away.
Nara, Japan Fun Facts
- Capital of the Nara Prefecture
- Bordering the Kyoto Prefecture
- Around 350.000 inhabitants
- Some of its temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage
- And still, the main attraction is the deer
Getting to Nara
Getting to Nara from Kyoto
From Kyoto Station, you can go by JR Nara Line directly to Nara Station. The duration is about 45 minutes and costs you 710 Yen (about $ 5). The way from the Nara station to the park where you can find the deer might take around 10-15 minutes. The deer will already be waiting for you.
Getting to Nara from Osaka
The city is located about 40 kilometers south of Osaka. Visitors can reach Nara from Osaka by train, bus, or car. The easiest and fastest way to get from Osaka to Nara is by train.
The train ride takes about 40-60 minutes, depending on the line you choose, and costs between 560 and 1,070 yen (about $ 4-7). You can choose between the JR Yamatoji Line (included in the JR Japan Railpass) and the Kintetsu Nara Line.
Our Nara Day Trip Itinerary for One Day in Nara
Nara Park – Visit the deer of Nara
Nara Park is a public park in the city of Nara, Japan. The park is home to many sika deer, considered sacred in the Shinto religion. The deer are pretty accustomed to humans. But this does not mean that they are not wild animals. Therefore, the animals should be treated accordingly.
But if you want to get closer to the deer, you can purchase a pack of deer cookies at one of the small stands at the park entrances for 200 yen (about $1.50). Here, it’s essential that you only feed the official rice crackers (shika senbei) to the animals. Other foods can harm the deer. According to records, the rice crackers, on the other hand, have been fed to the adorable animals here since the 17th century.
A portion of the proceeds goes back to the preservation of the park and the welfare of the animals. But beware, as soon as the animals see you leaving the stand with a pack of crackers, they’ll try anything to get their teeth into the food.
For me, one deer, in particular, got really pushy. He started pulling on my shirt, and when that didn’t work, he started ramming his antlers up my butt. In such moments you should not make the same mistake as I did and stop. It’s best to keep walking until only a smaller group of deer is following you. Then you can feed the animals calmly and, of course, take pictures with Bambi and his friends.
Der Tōdai-ji Temple
Todai-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple complex that includes several buildings, including the main hall Daibutsuden. The temple was founded as early as 752. Today, Todai-ji is considered one of the most important historical and cultural sites in Japan.
The temple is located directly in the park area of Nara so that it can be perfectly combined with a visit to the city’s sika deer.
Opening Hours Daibutsuden Hall: Apr.-Oct.: 07.30 am – 5.30 pm; Nov.-March: 08 am – 5 pm.
Entrance Fee Daibutsuden Halle: 600 Yen (ca. $ 4)
Daibutsuden Hall, also known as Great Buddha Hall, is the main hall of Todai-ji Temple. As a result, the vast hall, long considered the largest wooden building in Japan, is often mistakenly equated with Todai-ji Temple.
The hall houses a 15-meter-high bronze Buddha statue that was cast in 1252. Today, the figure is considered one of Japan’s national treasures. Daibutsuden Hall was built in 1203 and destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries.
The Todai-ji Museum
Opening hours Todai-ji Museum: Apr.-Oct.: 09:30 am-5:30 pm; Nov.-March: 09:30 am-5 pm.
Entrance Fee Todai-ji Museum: 600 Yen (ca. $ 4) or 1.000 Yen (ca. $ 7) as a combination ticket with Daibutsuden Hall
If you are interested in Buddhism and Japanese religious artifacts, the Todai-ji Museum in Nara is the place to be. In addition to various religious exhibits and Buddhist art objects, you can also learn more about the temple’s history, which spans several centuries and important historical periods.
Opening Hours Nigatsudo Halle: 24 hours
Entrance Fee Nigatsudo Halle: free of charge
Nigatsudo Hall is another picturesque temple of the Todai-ji temple complex. Besides its architectural beauty, the temple hall is also known as a great vantage point over the temple complex. Especially during sunset, it attracts many visitors to the temple hall.
Already the ascent to the Nigatsudo Hall is worth a visit. Because the idyllic temple complex and the buildings invite you to daydream and lead you into the traditional world of Japanese culture and architecture.
The hall is especially popular for its water and fire festival, which has been held here every year on March 12 since the 8th century. The spectacle draws visitors from all over the world to Todai-ji Temple every year to experience the traditional festival together.
The Nandaimon Gate, the Great South Gate, is the main entrance to Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara. The gate is framed by two large statues of the Nio guardian kings, each over eight meters high. The kings are said to guard Buddhism and its followers.
The gate itself is a national treasure of Japan. As one of the largest gates in Japan, this is hardly surprising. Much like many other structures in the temple complex, the impressive gate has lasted several centuries. However, we should mention at this point that the South Gate has undergone several renovations and reconstructions over the centuries.
Opening hours Kofuku-ji Temple: temple complex: 24 hours; temples: 09 am – 5 pm.
Entrance fee Kofuku-ji Temple: Temple complex: free of charge; Temples: depending on the temple, between 300 – 900 Yen
Important note for the Kofuku-ji Temple: From 2023 to presumably 2030, construction work on the temple is planned. During this time, the pagoda may be partially or entirely covered.
Let’s move on to another historic temple complex of the city of Nara. At the peak of the era of the temple, in the 8th century, this impressive temple housed about 150 magnificent buildings and structures. And even today, the temple is a truly magnificent example of Japanese architecture and religion.
The wooden pagoda, which is almost 50 meters high and has five floors, stands out in particular. As the second largest wooden pagoda in the country, it is a real highlight not only for religious visitors.
Another impressive building of the Kofuku temple complex is the Central Golden Hall, which was finally reopened and made accessible to the public only a few years ago after many years of construction.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Opening hours Kasuga Taisha Shrine: Temple complex: Mar.-Oct.: 06:30 am-5:30 pm; Nov.-Feb.: 07 am-5 pm; temple: 09 am-5 pm.
Entrance fee Kasuga Taisha Shrine: Temple complex: free of charge; temple: 500 yen (approx. $ 3.50)
As the former capital of Japan, Nara definitely doesn’t have to hide when it comes to its splendid buildings. Another notable example of this is the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Popular with visitors and residents alike, the temple is most visited for its vast array of lanterns.
Many bronze lanterns in the temple were donated by religious figures from all over the country. However, they are lit only twice a year. And that is during the lantern festivals, which are held in February and August each year.
Besides the main shrine, you can also discover a lot of smaller auxiliary shrines in the peaceful temple complex. Therefore, planning a little time for a walk through the large complex is worthwhile.
FAQ for your Day Trip to Nara
Nara is a great place for a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto. If you want to explore more of the historical temples, you should plan 2-3 days in Nara.
A trip to Nara is worthwhile at any time of the year. Spring and fall are probably ideal when it’s not too hot or cold. For some, Sakura, the Japanese cherry blossom season, is the most beautiful time to visit Nara. However, it can get very crowded at this time of year.
The deer in the Japanese city of Nara can move freely. Nevertheless, many of them live in Nara Park because many visitors feed them. But there are also great corners to live and sleep in the greenery here.
Although Nara is of crucial historical interest as a former capital, most people know Nara as the capital of deer. This is because sika deer, sacred in Japan, live and move freely throughout the city.
Nara is located in neither Osaka nor Kyoto but is an independent city. However, it can be reached by train from either Japanese town in less than an hour, making it a great day trip from both Osaka and Kyoto.
Where to next?
Make sure to check out our 7 days Tokyo itinerary here.
If you are traveling with kids, read about all the great things you can do in Osaka with kids.