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Nara Day Trip Itinerary from Osaka or Kyoto

If you’re seeking a Nara day trip itinerary from Osaka or Kyoto, you’ve found the right spot!

Japan is a destination I could return to every year and never get sick of it. With Mt. Fuji, beautiful parks, unique theme parks, delicious cuisine, and more, it’s a country that never fails to impress. That’s without even taking into account the locals’ exquisite politeness and hospitality. If you’re a first-time traveler, planning your trip might seem overwhelming. To help you, let’s delve into one of my top picks in Japan – Nara!

Nara, the Ancient Capital of Japan

Nara is the ancient capital of Japan from the year 710 to 794 AD. Next only to Kyoto for having the most number of ancient historical treasures, Nara is also home to hundreds of wild deer roaming freely in the city. If you are planning a day trip in this city from either Osaka or Kyoto, then you would not be disappointed. 

Top Tourist Attractions in Nara

Nara Deer Park

This park is probably the number one reason why visitors want to go to Nara. Home to hundreds of deer roaming freely around the city, Nara Deer Park holds a sacred status. According to local folklore, the wild deer were messengers of the gods.

If you’re traveling in December, then you are lucky to witness the winter activity known as Shikayose. Held at around 10:00 AM, a French horn player summons the wild deer to be fed with acorns. Hundreds of wild deer gather around the man waiting to be fed. We weren’t able to see but I bet this would really be an amazing sight!

When feeding the deer in Nara, it’s important to follow proper etiquette to ensure a positive experience for both visitors and deer. Remember to purchase deer crackers sold by local vendors to feed the deer, as they are used to this and it’s part of their diet. Approach the deer calmly and avoid sudden movements to prevent startling them. Keep a safe distance from the deer and avoid feeding them outside designated areas to maintain their well-being and prevent aggressive behavior.

a child feeding a deer with deer biscuits

Todaiji Temple

One major attraction in Nara is Todaiji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near Nara Park. It boasts the world’s largest wooden building until 1998 and houses the largest bronze Buddha statue, Daibutsu. Don’t miss the impressive Nandaimon, dating back to the 13th century and guarded by two massive statues.

My friend, Zendy, and the wooden pagoda in the background

Kofukuji Temple

Kofukuji Temple, one of Nara’s “Big Three” alongside Todaiji Temple and Horyuji Temple, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once a family temple of the powerful Fujiwara clan, it is a head temple of the Hosso Buddhist Sect. The temple houses the second largest wooden pagoda in Japan, along with the Central and Eastern Golden Halls and the National Treasure Museum.

Mochi pounding

Nakatanidou Mochi Shop

For a unique culinary experience, visit Nakatanidou! Owner Mitsuo Nakatani, a master of the mochitsuki pounding method for 25 years, creates delicious yomogi mochi from sticky rice. The process is both unique and adds to the overall experience of enjoying this delectable treat.

This is an absolute must-try when visiting Nara, or Japan in general.

These Mochi were made with Japanese mugwort (gives the natural green color), filled with sweet red paste made from azuki beans, and sprinkled with roasted and sweetened soybean flour.

Nara Day Trip: How to get to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto

Option # 1 – JR Yamatoji Line from JR Osaka Station

The JR Yamatoji Line Regional Rapid Service from JR Osaka Station has direct trips to JR Nara Station in under 60 minutes for only 800 yen (covered by JR Pass). There are also JR Yamatoji Rapid trains with stops at either Tennoji or Shin-Imamiya going to JR Nara Station in about 70 minutes for only 800 yen (also covered by JR Pass).

*Please note JR Osaka Station is different from the Shin-Osaka Station. The former is one of the stops of Osaka Loop Line while the latter is a bullet train (shinkansen) stop.

at Osaka waiting for JR Yamatoji Rapid Service

Option # 2 – Kintetsu Railways from Osaka-Namba Station

If you are staying near the Osaka-Namba Station, then there are direct trains going to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is about 39 minutes and one-way train fare is 560 yen. There are also direct trains from JR Namba Station going to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is 44 minutes and one-way train fare is 560 yen (covered by Kintetsu Rail Pass).

Option # 3 – JR Miyakoji Line from Kyoto Station

If you choose Kyoto as your base in the Kansai region, then you may take a direct train from Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station. Travel time is about 71 minutes and one-way train fare is 710 yen (covered by JR Pass).

Option # 4 – Kintetsu Railways from Kyoto Station

You may also take direct Kintetsu Ltd. Exp. From Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is approximately 35 minutes and one-way train fare is 1,130 yen (covered by Kintetsu Rail Pass). 

Nara Day Trip: How to get around Nara

Nara is a compact city which can be easily explored on foot or by bicycle. If you want to save time or if you are on a day-trip, you may get around easily using the city’s public transportation system.

Nara Bus Pass

Nara Kotsu buses take you to Nara’s major sightseeing locations. To save money, you may purchase a 1-day Nara Bus Pass (JPY 600), which provides unlimited use of Nara Kotsu Buses around Nara. You may also get the 1-day Nara Bus Pass Wide (JPY 1,100) if you plan to include Horyuji Temple and its surrounding area in your itinerary.

Where to purchase Nara Bus Pass: JR Nara Bus Information Center, Kintetsu Nara Bus Information Center and the Kansai Tourist Information Center at Kansai International Airport

Kintetsu Rail Pass

If you don’t have a JR Pass, one of the budget-friendly options is the 1-day (JPY 1,500) or 2-day (JPY 2,500) Kintetsu Rail Pass. This pass provides unlimited use of Kintetsu trains between Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. It also provides unlimited use of Nara Kotsu Buses around Nara including the Horyuji area.

Where to purchase Kintetsu Rail Pass: Third party tour providers like Klook, BicCamera Namba Store, Kyoto Station and the Kansai Tourist Information Center at Kansai International Airport, Osaka-Namba Station, and many more!

Kansai Railway Pass

If you’re planning to explore other cities like Kyoto and Kobe, the Kansai Railway Pass (formerly known as Kansai Thru Pass) is a great option to consider. It offers unlimited train and bus rides between cities, and it also covers most city buses and subways within the cities. Kansai Railway Pass is similar to the JR West Kansai Pass; However, I think the Kansai Thru Pass offers better value overall due to its extensive coverage of the region’s most popular cities.

Where to purchase Kansai Railway Pass: Third party tour providers like Klook, BicCamera Namba Store, Kyoto Station Bus Information Center and the Kansai Tourist Information Center at Kansai International Airport, Tourist Information Namba, and many more!

Japanese middle school students on an educational trip to Nara

Where to Stay in Nara

While most tourists, my friends and I included, made a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto, staying overnight is the best way to explore all of Nara’s major attractions. The city is quite big. I did not realize that a day trip wasn’t enough until I got there myself. There are so much to see and do that a day trip barely scratched the surface. If I ever find myself in the Kansai area again, I would definitely stay overnight in Nara! 

Here are some of the best accommodation options in Nara (based on TripAdvisor reviews):

  • Asukasou Hotel – located in the heart of Nara town, this hotel offers a comfortable and authentic ryokan experience. It also is conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, making it easily accessible for travelers.
  • Mikasa Ryokan – located just a short 10-minute drive from Kintetsu Nara Train Station, offers a complimentary shuttle service for its guests. This traditional Japanese inn features not one but two artificial spas for guests to unwind in.
  • Kasuga Hotel – located just a stone’s throw away from Kintetsu-Nara Station, offering easy access to the city’s major attractions. The hotel boasts a range of amenities such as beautiful public baths and traditional Japanese cuisine.
In Japanese culture, it is customary to wash your hands and mouth before entering a shrine or temple. This practice is done to purify oneself before approaching the sacred space.

Nara Guided Tour from Osaka or Kyoto

If you can’t do a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto to Nara on your own, consider taking a guided tour. Guided tours provide a convenient and organized way to explore Nara’s top attractions, learn about its history and culture, and make the most of your visit without the hassle of planning. You can choose from various guided tour options that cater to different interests and preferences.

If you’re planning a 7-day Japan trip, including Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, a day trip to Nara is still doable.

Have you visited Nara? Which of the city’s major attractions is your favorite? Let’s chat down below?

By Project Gora

Hey there! My name is Milet Miranda, and I'm a full-time corporate employee during weekdays and a traveler during weekends (and get the picture). I'm a foodie at heart and I love joining food tours. When I'm not traveling, you'll find me walking my dogs or biking around my neighborhood.

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