15 Best Things to Do in Nara
Serving as the prefecture capital that shares its name, Nara in Japan is a city where history and traditions mix well with modern life.
Featuring many beautiful temples, awe-inspiring natural landscapes, and many interesting activities that will let you learn about the place, a visit to Nara is time well spent.
From nature walks to temple stays, when planning a trip to Japan, you should always add Nara to your itinerary.
Listed below are the 15 best ways to spend time in Nara, Japan.
Interact With the Deer at Nara Park
If you ask tourists who love to visit Nara about their favorite activity to do here, interacting with deer usually is usually the first on their list.
Nara Park is likely the most popular place to meet deer in the city.
Established in 1800, this park spans east from the city’s downtown area to Naramachi.
The said park serves as the home to hundreds of deer roaming the ground freely.
Apart from just watching the deer, you can also feed them.
Vendors around the park sell crackers that you can feed the deer.
While many tourists have done this activity while visiting Nara, it remains special when you experience it.
So, don’t miss out on this unique experience while in Nara.
Many consider the Todai-ji Buddhist temple complex as one of the most popular sites to see while visiting Nara.
Once known as one of the Seven Great Temples, Todai-ji has the distinction of housing one of the biggest bronze statues in the world.
Visit this fantastic site to witness the Daibutsu or Great Buddha statue located at a hall specifically made to house it since 752.
Over time, both the statue and the hall have suffered damages, but efforts to recast the Great Buddha pushed through in Japan's Edo period.
The Great Buddha, standing 16 meters high, contains 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kilograms of gold.
While the Great Buddha in itself will leave you awestruck, the structure that serves as its home also has impressive feats.
The Daibutsu-den is considered to be the largest wooden building in the world.
You may find this already impressive, but the current structure as it stands today (rebuilt in 1709) only measures two-thirds of the original hall.
While these two serve as the most popular attractions in Todai-ji, the complex itself is surrounded by many other destinations.
You can make it your starting point in your adventure in beautiful Nara, so don’t miss out on visiting this site.
Learn About Local History and Tradition at Kasuga Taisha
Nara once became the capital of Japan back in the 8th century.
At that time, the Kasuga Taisha shrine was built at the foot of Mt. Mikasa, hoping for the city’s protection.
In line with Shinto tradition, the people had to rebuild this shrine every two decades, and they followed through with it until the late 1800s.
While the people do not have to rebuild this shrine, its overseers still keep it in pristine condition.
It features buildings painted in vermillion, as well as roofs made of cedar.
Apart from its beauty, you can also witness several hundred lanterns illuminating the complex during the Mantoro Lantern Festival held twice a year — once at the beginning of spring and again at the start of fall.
Stroll Through Isui-en and Neiraku Art Museum
If you love art and beautiful gardens, check out Isui-en and Neiraku Art Museum.
This place consists of an elegant garden with two distinct areas — Isui-en.
One part of this complex was founded in the Edo era back in the 17th century, reflecting the style prevalent at the time.
The other part of the museum was built in the early 1900s.
The two parts of the gardens make use of borrowed scenery, incorporating nearby mountains into the way it’s designed.
Apart from the garden, you can also check out the Neiraku Art Museum found next door.
It displays artifacts, such as Chinese and Korean bronze and ceramic items.
Known as the oldest fully preserved Buddhist temple complex in the country, Horyu-ju needs to make your itinerary for visiting Nara.
It features a beautiful architectural style prevalent during the Asuka period (552 to 645 AD).
Additionally, this complex houses a lot of masterpieces made throughout Japan’s history.
The complex has two parts, with one area having 14 buildings while another housing 31 more.
Some of the main features you must check out here are the Great South Gate, Middle Gate, and the Main Hall.
Due to its size, you can easily spend a relaxing day wandering around this beautiful temple complex.
Admire and Get to Know Buddhist Artworks at the Nara National Museum
It seems Buddhism provided a lot of influence to the city of Nara.
If you are interested in some of the works to come out of this religious tradition, check out the Nara National Museum.
Founded back in 1889, you can find this museum at Nara Park, within a gorgeous French Renaissance-style building.
It houses an impressive Buddhist Art Library and an extensive collection of amazing statues, beautiful paintings, and majestic images of the Buddha.
Some interesting showcases at this museum include the Buddha Yakushi statue from the 9th century and the Hell Scroll from the 12th century, which depicts hell according to Buddhist tradition.
The city has many Buddhism-influenced sites.
Learn more about this religion and its traditions by visiting Nara National Museum.
Check Out the Nara Visitor Center
If you want to learn more about the traditions and culture that Nara offers, one of the best places that can help you experience this is the Nara Visitor Centre.
The center offers you and your companions the opportunity to partake in local traditions.
Experience the wonders of the Japanese tea ceremony by booking a session here.
You can also learn and try out the art of origami or calligraphy.
Apart from that, it also lets you try wearing traditional Japanese garb.
So, to have a fun experience while discovering local culture, check this place out.
Witness the Beauty of Kofuku-ji
The number of temples you can explore in Nara seems endless.
Another one worthy of checking out is Kofuku-ji.
Hailed as a "Natural Treasure," this temple complex stands as one of Nara’s Seven Great Temples.
Built in 669 AD, this temple housed up to 175 buildings during its peak.
Here, you can find many majestic and interesting statues, some of which depict the four celestial guardians of the sect of Buddhism practiced here.
When you visit, check out the Kobo-daishi, a three-story pagoda, the Northern Hall, and the statue depicting Miroku-bosatsu.
Hike Mt. Yoshino
Apart from gorgeous temples, Nara is also blessed to be surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes.
Popular to locals and tourists alike for being a breathtaking cherry blossom viewing spot, Mt. Yoshino should make it to your itinerary.
Here, approximately 30,000 cherry trees blossom on its slopes, so it has become a must-visit spot during spring.
Outside of spring, you can hike up this mountain and witness majestic views.
When you’re in the area, don’t forget to try and hike one of the trails on this mountain and be rewarded with an awesome view.
Check Out Mt. Wakasuka and Nigatsudo Temple
Mt. Wakasuka is not a tall mountain, but it has a lot to offer.
Standing at only 350 meters tall, this mountain provides its visitors with the best awe-inspiring views of Nara.
You can find this mountain just behind the popular Nara Park, and it has some cherry trees that bloom in spring dotted along its facade.
You can reach the top pretty easily, as you can get there in just an hour.
While you can reach its peak with ease, most tourists like to stop by a plateau around halfway up the mountain.
The said area features one of the city's most majestic views down below.
Apart from the breathtaking scenery you can witness from here, you might get to experience the Wakakusa Yamayaki festival in January.
During the event, the grassy slopes of this mountain are set on fire, making for a fantastic sight from the city.
Don’t miss out on coming to see this amazing mountain.
Experience an Overnight Stay at Gyokuzoin
You can find many traditional inns in Nara, but staying at a Buddhist temple overnight is one thing not a lot of people know is an option.
You can experience this at Gyokuzoin, where priests will help you with your needs.
Here, you will likely stay in a simple room, but beyond its balcony door, you will witness one of the most outstanding room views that you can find in the area.
Apart from that, the temple will provide you delicious vegetarian food that will tickle the fancy of all your senses.
While here, you can also attend their morning prayers and learn about Buddhism and the rituals that come with it.
With the tranquility that envelops this place, Gyokuzoin is also a great place to unwind and relax.
Bathe in Nature’s Beauty at the Kasugayama Primeval Forest
A lot of people use the term “forest bathing” to spend time in and appreciate nature's magnificence.
Did you know that you can do this in Nara?
Just a few minutes' walk from Nara Park, you can find the Kasugayama Primeval Forest.
Here, you can soak in the beauty that mother nature has blessed this part of the world.
However, forest bathing is done a bit differently here.
Instead of just relaxing within a forest while basking in the beauty that the flora and fauna provide, you can also learn more about the forest itself.
Here, you can opt to book an expert guide who will accompany you on a three-to-four-hour hike in the forest.
Along with teaching you the benefits of forest bathing, the guide can also tell you about the plants and insects that you may observe up close while you’re in the forest.
After experiencing the wonderful scenery, you can enjoy a sumptuous meal from a local bakery at the end of the hike prior to going back to the city.
It’s an experience you shouldn’t miss.
Take a Walk Through the Manyo Botanical Gardens
You can find a lot of amazing gardens in Japan, especially in Nara.
One place you should check out is the Manyo Botanical Garden.
Situated right next to Kasuga Shrine, this botanical garden houses an ancient collection of poems called "Manyo-shu."
Apart from this, it also has over 150 different types of flowering plants that you can enjoy viewing.
From Japanese andromeda flowers to wisteria, one can only describe the plants featured here as sublime.
Multiple special stone statues serve as a contrast and add to the allure of this botanical garden.
Each stone monument carries a reference to the Manyo-shu poems connected to each of the plants featured in the garden.
Strolling through here makes for a relaxing and peaceful experience, so make sure not to miss it.
Shop for the Best Finds at Higashimuki
You can't complete a trip to a Japanese city without shopping.
Luckily, Nara has a bustling shopping district that has an atmosphere anyone can enjoy.
Higashimuki features many unique shops only found here, all of which sell some interesting knickknacks.
You can also find cafes and shops for traditional sweets in this district, should you wish to take home some treats.
Some of them even let you try your hand at making some of these delicacies.
So, for all your shopping needs, or even just for a lazy afternoon in Nara, consider checking out Higashimuki.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Stroll Through Naramachi
Nara is known to be a significant city in Japanese history.
Being a former capital, the people of Nara take importance in preserving as many of the old buildings as they can here.
If you want to discover some of those buildings, check out Naramachi.
Here, you can find structures constructed all the way from the Edo period.
You can also find many cafes, restaurants, and shops here, as well as traditional houses and warehouses that let you see a glimpse of Japanese life back in the Edo Period.
A nice stroll through this district is definitely an awesome way to spend your afternoon in Nara.
Nara's historical significance, rich culture, and breathtaking landscapes show that the old and new can coexist in harmony.
While popular with many tourists, Nara provides a sense of tranquility with most of its attractions.
Take time to meditate while visiting Nara and experience the unique and special traditions this region offers.