Things to Do in Nara – Nara Temples, Nara Tours on a Day Trip to Nara

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Temples, tradition, and…deer. Many people take a day trip to Nara only to discover that there are too many things to do in Nara in 24 hours. Just a short train ride from Kyoto or Osaka, Nara temples are some of the best in the country. If you’re interested in traditional Japan, then a day trip to Nara will only whet your appetite. Here are some of our top recommendations for what to do in Nara Japan.

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Nara Temples, Nara Tours & Nara Day Trip Tips

When most people think of things to do in Nara Japan, the first thing they think of are the deer. Yes, the Nara deer and the Nara deer park are both great essential parts of a day trip to Nara, but they’re not the only things to do in Nara. Here are a few of the best Nara tours and other activities to get the most out of the city.

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Is a Day Trip to Nara Enough?

When most people plan out their Japan travel itinerary, they plan a day trip to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka and then move on. But is a day trip to Nara enough? The answer depends on your interests and your schedule. If this is your first time to Japan and you have a busy schedule of destinations to visit, then yes: a day trip to Nara is enough. Go see the Nara temples and Nara deer and move on.

On the other hand, there are many who would consider a quick Kyoto to Nara trip rushed. Ask yourself this: are you interested in the ancient side of Japan? Do you have a more flexible schedule? If so, then consider staying overnight or longer. Nara city and Nara prefecture have a lot to offer those with time and interest.

Where is Nara in Japan?

Nara is part of the Kansai region, the southwest segment of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Kansai is best known for cities like Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara. These cities are all relatively close to one another, as well (compared to Tokyo, anyway).

  • Osaka to Nara: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Kyoto to Nara: 90 minutes to 2 hours
  • Kobe to Nara: 60 to 90 minutes
  • Tokyo to Nara: 4+ hours if you take a Shinkansen
  • All times are approximate, of course. All depends on when you leave and where you’re leaving from/arriving to.

Where to Stay in Nara Japan

There are Nara hotels, ryokans, and guesthouses for most tastes and budgets. The city is relatively small, and there are many places to stay in Nara that are near all the places you want to visit. I’m talking about walking distance for most of them.

Read More: Where to Stay in Nara – Ryokan, Guesthouses & Best Hotels in Nara Japan

Things to Do in Nara Japan

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If you’re on a day trip to Nara, then it will be impossible to check off all the Nara activities I list below. That said, Nara is not a big town and you can see a surprising amount in an afternoon. Whether you stay for a day or much longer, here are the things to do in Nara Japan that we recommend.

Head to the Nara Visitor Center

More than a tourist information center. This is one of the best things to do in Nara thanks to enthusiastic staff and loads of fun and interesting activities. Many of them are free as well. Make sure to check the center’s calendar to see what events are happening during your day trip to Nara. Origami, tea ceremony and calligraphy are frequently scheduled.

Read More: Nara Visitor Center and Inn

Visit an Onsen

One of the best things to do in Nara or any Japanese town is to chill out in a traditional Japanese hot spring (aka an onsen). If you’re on a day trip to Nara, there may not be time for a soak. But stay overnight in one of Nara’s many Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and dinner and an onsen experience are usually included.

If you’re in Nara with kids, then one of the most family-friendly onsens for a Nara day trip is Nara Kenko Land. It’s more of a hot spring theme park, similar to Spa World in Osaka. It’s far from a traditional Japanese onsen, but there are plenty of traditional onsens in Nara as well. Most of the best Nara onsens are out in the prefecture.

Read More: How to Take a Japanese Bath

Have an Incredible Kaiseki Meal

Japan is second only to France in countries with the most Michelin-starred restaurants. Nara’s Onjaku is one of them and sits next to Nara Park. Booking lunch here is one of the best things to do in Nara for the culinary tourist. Put simply, kaiseki-style dining is a multi-course Japanese meal served in traditional settings. It changes with the seasons, and to my mind is a quintessential Japanese dining experience. A meal like this can easily be done on a day trip to Nara.

Book Now: Onjaku Michelin 2-Star Kaiseki Restaurant in Nara

Make a Meal: Cooking Classes in Nara

We say it all the time on this blog, but food is one of the best windows into a country or culture. That’s why we highly suggest taking a cooking class or any Nara tours that involve markets, kitchens or restaurants. If you’re only on a day trip to Nara, there may not be time to see the Nara temples, the deer park and take a cooking class. But if you stay overnight there should be plenty of time.

Book Now: Learn How to Make Sushi! – Nara School

Try on Kimono: Nara Kimono Tours & Photo Shoots

For many people, one of the most interesting things to do in Nara is to wear a traditional Japanese Yukata. Some people do it for the photos, while others also want to learn more about the garment itself and how it is worn. This is a very popular activity for Asian tourists on their day trip to Nara (think Korea, Singapore, etc), but they’re not the only ones who enjoy it.

Book Now: Nara Kimono Experience

Kimono Lesson in English in Nara

Enjoy Walking in Nara in Kimono with a Certified Local Guide

A Complete Kimono Experience in Nara

The Nara National Museum

This is one of the best things to do in Nara for anyone interested in Buddhism or religious art. And unlike many great museums in Japan, the Nara National Museum actually has a lot of English signage. Not as much as they should have perhaps, but enough. Beautiful gardens in the back as well. An excellent thing to do in Nara for getting a better understanding of Japanese history. And possibly one of the best things to do in Nara on a rainy day.

Nara Temples: Best Things to Do in Nara

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Whether you’re on a day trip to Nara or visiting for a few days, the Nara temples are easily one of the best things to do in Nara. Many Nara temples rival those in Kyoto in age, beauty and historical significance. And thanks to the city layout, it’s easier to see more Nara temples in a day than it is in Kyoto.

Below I’ll explain a little about some of the best Nara temples to see for yourself. I list the Nara temples here more or less from west to east, since most people will arrive by train via Nara Station or Kintetsu-Nara Station. You’ll walk east from the station.

Kofuku-Ji Temple Complex: Nara Temples

This is the first complex of Nara temples you’ll see if you’re walking into Nara Park from the station. They are beautiful and free to wander about (aside from the Treasure Hall, which costs ¥600). However, you have a lot of ground to cover, and time is limited if you’re on a day trip to Nara, so move on soon unless with a guide.

Walk east deeper into the park. You’ll pass the Yaichi Aizu monument and the Nara Museum. You can visit the Nara Museum (and you should) now or later, but if you want a full day of Nara temples and outdoor spaces, then move on.

Isuien & Yoshikien Gardens: Nara Temples

Just north of the Himuro Shrine are two gardens. Isuien is spectacular and charges admission. Nearby is Yoshikien, a smaller Japanese garden that has free entrance. Both have opportunities for tea and traditional Japanese sweets.

Nandaimon Gate: Nara Temples

This massive structure is the south gate of the Todaiji, where the massive Nara Buddha sits. You’ll likely start to see deer by now, and this is a great spot for photographing them.

Todaiji: Nara Temples

Sure, the Nara deer and other Nara temples are great, but this should be one of the main reasons for your day trip to Nara. Here is where you see Daibutsu-den: the Hall of the Great Buddha. And great he is. At around 50 feet/15 meters tall, the Great Buddha weighs around 500 tons. The building surrounding him is the largest wooden structure in the world. It is truly awe-inspiring. Seeing it with your own eyes is truly what to do in Nara. All other Nara temples (and arguably all other Kyoto temples too) are hard to compare.

Nigatsudo: Nara Temples

Built on a hill, Nigatsudo is one of the most atmospheric Nara temples thanks to its vantage point at sunset. There are steps and an incline to reach this Nara temple, but the views are worth it.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine: Nara Temples

I’ve saves one of the best Nara temples for last. Rather than Buddhist, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is Shinto, the indigenous Japanese religion. The paths are lined by stone lanterns and what seems like an old-growth forest. It’s magical. Whether you’re on a day trip to Nara or visiting for several days, give yourself time to wander the grounds here.

More Nara Tours

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Not everyone can stay overnight in Nara — for most travelers, a Nara day trip itinerary is the most they have time for. For those of you looking for Nara tours from Kyoto or Nara tours from Osaka, here are a few we recommend.

Nara Tours from Kyoto

Nara Afternoon Tour of Todaiji Temple, Deer Park and Kasuga Shrine from Kyoto

Todaiji Temple, Nara Park, Kofukuji Temple Half Day Tour from Kyoto

Nara Kimono and Deer Experience Day Trip from Kyoto (with One Way Transfer)

Nara Tours from Osaka

Afternoon Nara Tour from Osaka

Day Trip to Nara from Osaka

Nara Afternoon Tour of Todaiji Temple, Deer Park and Kasuga Shrine from Osaka

Read Beyond Nara Temples & Tours:

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book Nara tours using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you find the best things to do in Nara Japan. Whether you’re on a day trip to Nara or taking Nara tours and exploring Nara temples for weeks, we hope that you find plenty of what to do in Nara in this post.

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