Does your Japan itinerary include a day trip to Nara? Then you are certainly in the right place because this detailed guide to the ancient Japanese city covers everything you need to know!
We’ve included a guide on how to travel from Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo to Nara, as well as the best things to do and see in the city once you’re there. From train tickets to a detailed day Nara itinerary, here are all the things to do and see on a Nara day trip!
Kyoto and Nara are some 35 kilometers away from one another, which is an easy day-trip distance. The best way to get from Kyoto to Nara is by train. There are railway lines for this route – the Kintetsu Line and the JR Nara Line.
Via JR Nara Line: Trains depart from JR Kyoto Station and arrive at the JR Nara Station. There are two types of trains on this route – Miyakoji rapid trains and local trains.
The Miyakoji trains are faster and take about 45 minutes to travel between the two cities, and there’s a new train every half an hour. The local trains also depart every 30 minutes, but they take about 75 minutes to complete the trip. The fare for either JR Nara Line train is 720 Yen.
Via Kintetsu Railways: Trains depart from Kyoto Station for the Kintetsu Nara Station. There are two types of trains – limited express trains that depart twice an hour and hourly direct express trains.
The Limited express trains take 35 minutes to complete the trip and the fare costs 1160 Yen – this is by far the quickest option. The direct express train takes you to Nara in 45 minutes and the fare costs 640 Yen.
Two things to note are that the prices indicated here are for one-way train tickets, plus the JR Pass does not cover the Kintetsu trains.
Traveling from Osaka to Nara is easily done via trains. The route is serviced by two railway operators – Japan Railways and Kintetsu Railways.
Via Japan Railways: Yamatoji rapid trains transport passengers between JR Osaka Station and JR Nara Station. The journey from one train station to another takes approximately 45 minutes and train tickets cost 810 Yen.
Additionally, it’s also possible to travel from the Osaka Tennoji Station, which is physically closer to Nara. This journey lasts for just 30 minutes and tickets cost 470 Yen.
Via Kintetsu Railways: Limited express trains run from the Osaka-Namba train station to Kintetsu Nara Station.
The journey takes about 30 minutes and tickets cost 1090 Yen. There are also express (kyuko) trains, which cost just some 570 Yen but take a few minutes longer to arrive in Nara.
To travel from Tokyo for a day trip to Nara you will need to go through Kyoto if you are traveling by train. It’s worth noting that there are night buses between the two Japanese cities, but the journey takes about 8 hours. It’s not a good option for a day trip, simply because you’d spend 16 hours on the bus.
Traveling by train is much quicker – it’s a little more than two hours from Tokyo to Kyoto, and then less than an hour from Kyoto to Nara. I’ve already written how you can travel from Kyoto to Nara for a day trip, so I’m going to focus on how to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto here.
Shinkansen trains are by far the best and quickest way of traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto, and they are covered by the JR Pass. The Nozomi trains take just some 140 minutes to get to Kyoto, while the Hikari trains are only 20 minutes slower. The Kodama trains require about 4 hours to travel between the two cities.
A one-way fare costs some 13,320 Yen and it is worth noting that a seven-day railway pass costs as much as return trip tickets, so it’s definitely worth getting that, especially since you also need to travel by train from Kyoto to Nara.
Now that I’ve covered all the most popular routes for a Nara day trip, here’s a quick overview of the best things to do and see when you’re visiting Nara, Japan!
Before we get into details of the one-day Nara itinerary, it’s worth noting that most of Nara’s popular tourist attractions are within walking distance of one another. A few are situated in more remote parts of the city, but they can easily be reached by the extensive bus lines or the Kintetsu Nara Line.
Kofuku-ji Temple is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan. Once upon a time, it belonged to the Seven Great Temples of Nara, and today it remains home to the Hossō school headquarters.
The temple was originally established back in 669 in present-day Kyoto. It was moved to Fujiwara-kyō in 672, and then dismantled and relocated again to its location in Nara today in 710.
The temple grounds complex boasts several Buddhist temple halls, multiple pagodas, and even an on-site national treasure museum. The Eastern Golden Hall of Kofuku-ji is particularly popular among visitors, thanks to its large collection of images that offer insight into the history of Japanese Buddhist art.
The Kōfuku-ji National Treasure Hall museum showcases the many national treasures of Japan, including statues that are more than a thousand years old. It’s truly a fascinating place to visit and offers a lot of insight into the culture and history of this spectacular city in Japan.
Isuien Garden is a beautiful Japanese Garden and a popular tourist attraction in the city of Nara. It is situated northeast of Kofuku-ji Temple, and it’s separated from the equally famous Yoshikien Garden by the Yoshikigawa River.
The Isuien Garden is divided into two main sections – the front garden and the rear garden. Each section has multiple tea houses, but the front garden has a longer and richer history. It dates back to the mid-17th century, while the rear garden was built more recently in the late 19th century.
The scenery in the garden is absolutely stunning. Its name translates to “garden founded on water”, which is more than appropriate considering the proximity of the river and the many ponds that can be seen inside the garden.
Additionally, it’s important to mention that Isuien Garden is also home to the Isui-en & Neiraku Art Museum, which features a large collection of various Chinese bronze wares, as well as Korean pottery. It’s a relatively small museum, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you are interested in Asian art and culture.
Todai-ji is another famous Buddhist temple in Nara. It was one of the Seven Great Temples of the city, which still remain the most famous and popular attractions for all tourists who visit Nara, whether they’re there on a day trip or longer.
Todaiji Temple is just north of the Isuien Garden and museum, so you can easily walk from one attraction to the other. The famous temple is a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is listed as one of the several Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.
The Great Buddha Hall is one of the most famous attractions in the popular temple, mostly because of the huge Buddha statue that’s one of the largest in the country. Also, Todai-ji is the largest Buddhist temple in Japan, with many things to explore on the vast temple grounds.
In addition to the temple halls and pagodas, visitors should also explore the stunning gardens, the Tōdai-ji Culture Center, and the many smaller temples that can be found scattered around the Tōdai-ji Temple grounds.
Kasuka Grand Shrine is one of Japan’s best Shinto shrines. It belongs to the Fujiwara family of shrines, and it was originally established back in 768 CE. The shrine was built and rebuilt several times over the years, which is the main reason why it manages to retain such a pristine exterior centuries after its founding.
Kasuga-taisha is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, and it’s certainly an attraction that offers insight into the city’s rich history. The shrine is situated in the southeastern area of the popular Nara Park, and it’s any of the many famous attractions you can visit in the vast park.
The famous Shinto shrine complex is best known for the bright vermilion columns that support the roof of its main hall. Visitors can also observe multiple smaller shrines that are dedicated to different deities, beautiful gardens full of cherry blossoms, and numerous lanterns. It’s also possible that you’ll be accompanied by the friendly deer from Nara Park, so keep an eye out for them and you won’t get startled.
Nara Park is one of the best locations in the city. It’s a huge park east of the urban city area, and it’s home to countless Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. The lovely Nara Park is also home to a vast population of deer, who are surprisingly friendly.
This popular park is a place you cannot skip, and anyone who has visited Nara will tell you the same thing. Too many of the city’s iconic landmarks are situated on the park grounds, and they are all within walking distance of one another.
Nara Park is also a great place to just sit down and take in the views, especially if you’re visiting during cherry blossom season.
Additionally, the park blends into the Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest, which is a nature preserve full of ancient cedar and maple trees. The preserve is popular for the many mountain trails that feature waterfalls and Buddhist statues, making this the perfect place for all outdoor adventurers on a day trip in Nara.
Mt. Wakakusa is a hiking area north of Nara Park, and it’s most popular for panoramic views. The trails are not very difficult so the hike to the scenic viewpoint is suitable even for newbies, as long as they bring enough water and wear appropriate hiking shoes. Also, don’t be surprised to encounter deer along the trail – they’re not just common in Nara Park, but everywhere around it as well!
Horyu-ji Temple is a popular Buddhist temple in Nara, situated in the southwestern part of the city. It’s serviced by the Horyuji JR Railway station of the Yamatoji Line, and it’s worth noting that all trains on this line are covered by the JR Rail Pass.
Hōryū-ji was also one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara, and it was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan to be registered as one of the Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji Area.
The temple complex features several historic buildings, but the Hōryū-ji Main Hall and five-story pagoda remain the most popular attractions on the complex. It’s worth noting that there’s an admission fee to visit this temple, but it includes access to all the facilities on the complex.
One of those is the Hōryū-ji Gallery of Temple Treasures, which is a museum-like building that displays Japan’s various national treasures and other important cultural properties.
The northern part of the temple complex stretched into the Hōryū-ji Pocket Park, where you can admire some beautiful scenery and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.
Nara is a historic city best-known for its many temples and shrines, but there are also a few modern attractions that are popular with visitors. The Higashimuki Shopping Street is one of those – this roofed shopping arcade is the best place in Nara if you get the itch to spend a few extra Yens.
It’s also where you’ll find the most souvenir shops that sell all sorts of Japanese souvenirs you can imagine. Higashimuki Shopping Street is also home to many casual eateries and other retail shops, including supermarkets, kiosks, jewelry stores, electronics shops, and so much more.
Venture a little outside the covered arcade onto the Higashimuki-Kita and you’ll find a wide array of clothing stores and even more eateries. It’s worth noting that the roofed shopping arcade can be entered from many side-alleys in the area and it’s very easy to find.
The closest train station to the shopping street is Kintetsu-Nara, which is literally just a few steps away from the entrance into the covered arcade. If you’re trying to stick to train lines covered by the JR Pass, you just need to get to Nara Station, and from there it’s only a 15-minute walk to the popular attraction.
Heijō Palace Remains is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nara. It is situated in the northwestern part of the city, which is serviced by the Nara-Kintetsu Line. The closest train station covered by the JR Pass is the Narayama Station, which is a 30-minute walk away from the Imperial Palace remains.
The site of the Heijō Palace Remains features a reconstruction of the imperial palace that stood on these grounds in the 8th century. It’s one of the key Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara and an astounding site for anyone who is interested in the various historical landmarks of this incredible city.
The Nara Palace Site Museum is also situated in the area. This archaeological museum features cultural and historical exhibits with various artifacts from the area of Nara and Heijo-kyu, its historic capital.
Near the palace, visitors can also observe multiple Buddhist temples and palace gardens, making the site of the Heijō Palace Remains a must during any thorough tour of the city.
Yakushi-ji Temple is a famous Buddhist temple and one of the historic Seven Great Temples of Nanto. It is situated in the western part of the city, and it’s less than a 10-minute walk away from the Tōshōdai-ji Temple – another historic Buddhist temple that you should definitely visit if you venture into this part of the city.
Both temples are serviced by the Kintetsu-Kashihara Line, and if you have a JR Pass, it’s worth noting that the closest JR train station (Kōriyama Station) is a 30-minute walk away.
Yakushi-ji Temple is famous for its East Pagoda, which is the only original structure from the 8th-century on the temple grounds. It is 34 meters tall, and it’s widely known as one of the finest pagodas in all of Japan.
Tōshōdai-ji Temple is best known for its fascinating Classic Golden Hall, which is famous for its hipped tile roof that boasts a seven-bay wide facade. The Golden Hall is also considered a National Treasure of Japan, and as such is definitely a worthy stop while you are exploring Nara.
Nara National Museum is the best place in the city for all art lovers. The museum was founded in 1889, and it’s home to a huge collection of Japanese Buddhist art. The vast art collection of the museum includes sculptures, images, and various altar articles all relating to Buddhist art, and they’re fascinating to discover.
Additionally, this museum is also home to many works of art that belong to the various temples and shrines throughout Nara, so it’s best to visit it after you’ve discovered the popular shrines and temples.
The museum’s collection even includes the Hell Scroll from the 12th century, the seated Buddha Yakushi sculpture from the 9th century, and the Jōdo Mandara-Zu mandala from the 11th or 12th centuries. It’s without a doubt one of the best museums in Japan, and easily a great attraction for anyone interesting in discovering more about the culture and art of Nara.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.