Nara Day Trip Itinerary from Osaka or Kyoto

If you are looking for a Nara Day Trip Itinerary from Osaka or Kyoto, then you have come to the right place!

Japan is so addicting. It’s a wonderful country I could return to every year and never get sick of it. How could you, when it boasts the iconic Mt. Fuji, countless parks and gardens, only-in-Japan theme parks like DisneySea, mouthwatering Japanese cuisine, ancient cities and samurai towns, and many more. That’s without even taking into account the locals’ exquisite politeness and hospitality. There are lots of beautiful places to go to, so if you are a first-time traveler, planning your trip may be a daunting task. This post will focus on one of my favorite cities 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 1 reason why visitors want to go to Nara. Home to hundreds of tame deer roaming freely around the city, Nara Deer Park holds a sacred status because according to local folklore, the wild deer were messengers of the gods.

If your travel date happens to be 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 an acorn. 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!

Todaiji Temple

One of the city’s major attractions is Todaiji Temple, which is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just a short walk from Nara Park, this Buddhist Temple was once the world’s largest wooden building until 1998.It is also home to the largest bronze status of Buddha known as Daibutsu. Aside from the main hall and the Buddha statue, another must-see in this area is the imposing Nandaimon or Great South Gate (dates back to the 13th century), which is guarded by two gigantic statues.

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

Kofukuji Temple

One of the “Big Three” of Nara, along with Todaiji Temple and  Horyuji Temple, Kofukuji Temple is another significant temple in the city and is also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site. It used to be a family temple of the most powerful aristocratic clan in Japan, the Fujiwara, Kofukuji is one of the two head temples of the Buddhist Sect, Hosso. The temple features the second largest wooden pagoda in Japan (second to Kyoto’s Toji Temple), the Central Golden Hall (500 yen admission fee), the Eastern Golden Hall (300 yen admission fee) and the National Treasure Museum (700 yen admission fee). 

Mochi pounding

Nakatanidou Mochi Shop

If you’re looking for a unique and exciting culinary experience, you won’t want to miss Nakatanidou! Mitsuo Nakatani, the current owner who has been running the store for about 25 years, is a master of the mochitsuki pounding method. It involves turning the glutinous sticky rice into a stretchy and smooth paste, which is then used to make the delicious yomogi mochi. Not only is the finished product delicious, but the process of how it’s made is truly unique and adds to the overall experience.

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.

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. 

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 500), which provides unlimited use of Nara Kotsu Buses around Nara. You may also get the 1-day Nara Bus Pass Wide (JPY 1,000) if you plan to include Horyuji Temple and its surrounding area in your itinerary.

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.

Kansai Thru Pass

If you’re planning to explore other cities like Kyoto and Kobe, the 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 Thru 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.

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

Nestled in the heart of Nara town, Asukasou Hotel offers a comfortable and authentic ryokan experience. With close proximity to Todaiji, Kasugataisha, and Nara Deer Park, guests can easily explore the city’s most famous landmarks. The hotel is conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, making it easily accessible for travelers.

Mikasa Ryokan

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 soothing bathhouses for guests to unwind in: Tempyo no Yu and Komyo no Yu. These artificial spas use the mineral “komeiseki”, which is known for its therapeutic and rejuvenating effects.

Kasuga Hotel

Kasuga Hotel is a charming property situated just a stone’s throw away from Kintetsu-Nara Station, offering easy access to the city’s major attractions. For those arriving by train, the JR Nara Train Station is just a short 5-minute taxi ride away. Kofuku-ji Temple is also within easy walking distance, just 5 minutes away. The hotel boasts a range of amenities such as beautiful hot 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.

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?

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