Nara was somewhere I have been wanting to visit for a long time, as I’m always seeing Nara Park pop up on Facebook and Instagram with all the cute deer roaming around the park, and I’m obsessed with animals so knew it would be right up my street.
The airline I work for launched a new route to Osaka in Japan, and when I saw one on my roster I was absolutely buzzing, I love japan and even better the layover was 3 full days in Osaka, so I decided to bring along my husband Sean on the trip, and we decided to pack in Osaka, Kyoto and a trip to Nara. My husband and I had been to Tokyo and Kamakura in the past and fell in love with Japan then, so we were so excited to get back to this exciting country.
As we only had a short amount of time, we decided to head over to Nara on the last day early in the morning and made our way straight to Nara Park. We spent about 3 hours or so exploring Nara Park which is more than enough if your on limited time, you can spend longer if you wanted to get around and go in to all the temples and shrines, however there is a lot, and most people we spoke to seemed to spending a morning or afternoon there, but you could spend a full day in Nara Park alone if you went to see everything!
I would love to go back to Nara in the future and see more of the city itself, however on this trip we spent the majority of our time sightseeing around Kyoto, even if your on a trip to Kyoto try and get out to Nara Park for a few hours.
Sights & Activities
Nara Park is a huge popular tourist attraction and is in the centre of Nara and home to many of Nara’s top shrines and Shinto temples. The park was established back in 1880 and is most known for its 1200 free roaming deer. The deer are sacred to the park and considered to be messengers of the gods in Shinto.
The deer are very tame however can sometimes be aggressive and a little pushy as they are so used to being fed by tourists. You can purchase deer biscuits all around Nara, and it’s one of the highlights when visiting, we went around all the temples and saved feeding the deers until last which is just as well as my Sean’s T-shirt got slobbered on by one of the deers. Some of the deer have learnt to bow their heads for their food if you bow your head some of the deer will do it back in return for some deer treats.
Nara Park is full to the brim with many temples and shrines, some of the temples do charge entrance so we chose a few to go in but didn’t go in all of them as there are so many it can start getting quite expensive.
The main temple which is also one of Japan’s most famous and historical temples is the Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple) it was established in the early Nara Period, when Nara was Japan’s capital city. It’s main hall was completed in 752, Todaiji served as the head temple of a nationwide network of Buddhist Temples and became so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government duties.
The main hall called Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, although the reconstruction in 1709 is only two thirds of the original temple size. It houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha. The grand entrance to the temple is called Nandaimon Gate and really spectacular. Entrance into the temple is 600yen per person which is just over £4 per person, I would suggest that if you pay to go in any of the temples in this area make sure this is definitely one you enter as it holds such historical significance in Japan.
Nigatsu-Do temple is part of the Todaiji complex but is also a small temple complex within itself as it houses several temples and shrines. It is located to the side of the Big Buddha Hall and on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa. There are stone steps leading up to the temple and from up there you can get some gorgeous views over Nara.
We also went to visit the Kofukuji Temple, however we did not go inside all of them we viewed them from the outside as it has a really impressive 5 storey pagoda and the Octagonal Halls. We did pay the 500yen entrance fee to enter into the Central Golden Hall.
We really enjoyed our morning in Nara some areas of the park and temples can get very busy so try and head there as early as you can to try and beat the crowds, although some areas of the park were pretty tranquil, Nara Park is an absolute must if your staying in either Kyoto or Osaka as it’s so easy to reach!
Food & Beverage
Kitchen Mamejica is a cafe and restaurant located in Nara Park and is a great pit stop, and a good place to escape the crowds and the over confident deer. It was a really hot day when we visited Nara so we stopped in Kitchen Mamejica for a drink and a cute deer themed ice cream. They also serve hot savoury dishes there too, and we did notice they cook up a vegan katsu curry but unfortunately they had sold out when we were there, so if you are vegan or vegetarian go there, as finding vegetarian food in Japan is extremely difficult!
Transport & Getting Around
Nara is easily accessible from both Osaka and Kyoto and takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour by train from both these cities, and Nara Park is just a short 5 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. When you reach Nara Park the best way to get around is by foot although if you did want to break up the walking there are lots rickshaws around the park.
I would recommend if you aren’t strapped for time to spend a day or 2 exploring Nara, however if you don’t have much time or are visiting on a layover head over to Nara in the morning for a few hours and visit Nara Park as it is one of the main tourist attractions in this area.