Nara - A full day itinerary
Nara is known across the world for it’s free roaming, friendly deer, but, Nara is also an ancient city and it was once the capital of Japan between 710 to 794 AD. Below is a list of recommendations and a map of the city’s sights!
Nara is home to 1,200 Sika Deer that live within the city and some have adapted to human life; crossing roads at the Zebra crossings, opening doors, etc. Deers in Japan are considered messengers of the Gods and as such are well respected in the community. Dotted around Nara Park you’ll find stands selling crackers for the deer. Take a cracker in one hand, bow your head and they’ll bow back for a treat!
During our trip we decided not to purchase any crackers until we were in a quieter area and not until later in the day. We didn’t want to smell like food and invite unwanted attention. You don’t need to go looking for deer; they are everywhere, and they will come straight to you! They gave us a bow and a sniff and once they realised we didn’t have anything for them they became un-interested. For this reason I don’t suggest packing food in bags. They are a little cheeky! If you have food and you don’t share they’ll give you a little nip or head butt. Do not tease them unless you want to learn why Nara have had to place warning signs around the city! If you treat them with respect they are extremely lovely and tame creatures who don’t mind a photo or two.
Tom and I sat and watched one hilarious moment between a deer and a shop keeper. In Japan it’s common for automatic doors to have a long push to open button. One cheeky deer had learnt that if he pushed the button with his nose he could get into the store. Backwards and forwards this game of tag played out of this lovely older woman coaxing this deer out of her store only for him to loop back around and waltz in again.
Nara Park 奈良公園
A beautiful sprawling park dotted with temples, lakes, cherry blossoms and the Nara National Museum. It is absolutely stunning.
Higashimuki is an under covered shopping lane. You’ll find restaurants, fast food, shopping and souvenirs.
Just a short walk from Higashimuki is a famous Mochi store. Mochi is a pounded rice cake. It’s soft and gooey and takes many forms and flavours. Our favourite Mochi is freshly grilled Mitarashi Dango! Nakatanidou specialises in Yomogi Mochi. The store has been made famous by it’s display of traditional Mochi pounding technique. It is very impressive!
Up a little further is Kofukuji and it’s 5 storied Pagoda which is Japan’s second tallest wooden Pagoda. Kofukuji was first built in 730 and most recently rebuilt in 1426. Entrance is free to the public, however, some buildings cost a small fee to get into.
Isui-en Garden 依水園
Located a little North of Nara Park is Isui-en gardens. It’s a large garden that houses ponds, Sculptures, manicured hills, moss paths and tea houses. It’s especially beautiful during Autumn when all of it’s leaves turn orange and bright red.
This temple was once one of the seven Great Temples and opened in 752 CE. Inside you’ll find the biggest bronze Buddha in the world! It is almost 15 meters high and weighs over 500 tons!
Kasuga-Taisha located on the south end of Nara Park is a temple that’s home to 10,000 lanterns some of which are lit during the Mantoro festival (Feb 3rd and Aug 14th).
It was an unusually warm day during our visit so we indulged in some Ice cream (Melon & Vanilla and light Matcha yum yum). We also stumbled across a street vendor selling wood fire cooked sweet potatoes! We accidentally bought a whole sweet potato which was huge and couldn’t finish between the two of us!
Getting to Nara
From Kyoto: If you’re on the JR Pass then you can us one of JR Nara Line trains, ideally the rapid which only takes 45 minutes instead of 60 on the regular local line. If you’re using a JR Pass you can hop on the Kintetsu Kyoto Express which also takes 45 minutes but is closer to Nara Park.
From Osaka: JR passholders can take the Yamatoji Rapid from Osaka Station which takes 50 minutes. If you’re JR Pass-free and near a station on the loop line, you can change at Tsuruhashi and catch a Kintetsu Nara Line Rapid Express.