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Itinerary of Nara in 1 day

Nara is a spectacular place full of history and Japanese culture, perfect to add to your route if you are in Kyoto, as it is very close and can be reached in a moment. Today I am going to tell you how you can spend a day in Nara, leaving from Kyoto. It is a great plan, especially if you have never visited and want to know all its charms in this itinerary of Nara in 1 day. Ah! Do not forget to wear comfortable shoes because you have to walk a lot. We are going to visit historical places and some streets that are a real charm.

🚩 How to get from Kyoto to Nara

Before starting this Nara day trip itinerary, head to Kintetsu Nara Station (which will be our start). To start our day trip to Nara, the first thing as I said is to head to Kintetsu Nara Station. From Kyoto Station, board the Kintetsu Kyoto Line Express train in the direction of Kintetsu-Nara (近鉄京都線). A train departs approximately every hour and the trip takes a little over 40 minutes. The first train leaves Kyoto at about 6:50 am, but it’s a good idea to check the schedules before you leave to make sure there have been no changes.

From Nara Station to Nara Park

nara in 1 day

From Kintetsu Nara Station, head east and in just a few minutes you will arrive at Nara Park. You will soon realize that you are not alone in this adventure, as the “friendly” deer of the area will start to appear around you as you head towards your first destination. As you will see I put friendly in quotes, because although on my other 3 trips to Nara in other years they have been very nice and respectful, on our 2023 trip I got quite a few bites (I don’t know if this time I was 7 months pregnant and smelled different), and I didn’t have senbei (the deer crackers) with me as I hadn’t bought them yet. There was only one doe that accompanied me from the middle of the road and prevented her friends from biting me more, besides giving me licks on my belly, she was very affectionate. So if you are pregnant be careful just in case.

Why not go from Kyoto to Nara by JR train?

The answer is simple: If you don’t want to walk any further it is better to get on the Kintetsu line train at Kyoto station, because although there is also a train station called “JR Nara Station”, which is covered with the JR PASS, for this Nara itinerary in 1 day, we will use the other station as it is closer to the places we visit this day. And unless you already plan to buy your JRPASS and use it to go from Kyoto to Nara, I recommend getting on the Kinsetsu line.

🌅 Nara itinerary in one day: Morning (9.00am)

Nara Park (奈良公園) is famous for being home to wild deer, which are considered national natural treasures. Throughout the park, you’ll find several stores where you can buy Shika-senbei (deer crackers) to feed these animals. Although you will be doing quite a bit of walking today on this one-day Nara itinerary, it is sure to be an entertaining day as you will have the company of these charming deer for most of your visit.

Important note: Please note that although deer are usually calm, they are still wild animals and should be treated with respect (remember what I said above, not all of them are so friendly). Also please try not to chase them (I’ve seen this from many heavy tourists who want their damn picture and won’t leave you alone), avoid disturbing them or joking with them. Also, make sure to feed them only the specific deer crackers sold for them for 200 yen . This helps keep you as well as the deer safe.

Kofukuji Temple (30 minutes)

Inside Nara Park and just a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, you will quickly reach your first stop inside the park. Here awaits the Kōfuku-ji Temple (興福寺), which with its more than 1300 years of history, being a center of culture and religion in Nara.

nara in 1 day

The temple has several national treasures and valuable cultural properties, most notably the Central Golden Hall (中金堂) and its famous Five-Story Pagoda (五重塔). Don’t miss the National Treasure Museum inside the temple, which displays a collection of Buddhist statues, including the renowned Ashura statue (阿修羅像), plus other treasures dating from the Nara period to the Kamakura.

As the head temple of the Hosso Buddhist sect, Kofukuji Temple is part of the “Historical Monuments of Ancient Nara“, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The price of the Kofukuji temple is 500 yen.

Todaiji Temple (60-90 minutes) From 10:00am to 11:30am

From Kofukuji Temple, walk about 20 minutes into Nara Park to Todaiji Temple (東大寺). Recognized as part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple has a very special place in Japanese history.

nara in 1 day

Founded in 752, Todaiji is famous for having the Great Buddha, a monumental statue of the Vairocana Buddha. This impressive statue is approximately 15 meters high and 12 meters wide, and its imposing presence is simply astounding. Throughout its history, the temple has survived and been rebuilt after being destroyed by fire on two occasions, preserving wooden structures dating from the Nara to Edo periods. Eight of these structures are listed as National Treasures.

The Great Buddha Hall, also a National Treasure, is among the largest wooden structures in the world, with its impressive height of almost 49 meters. The grandeur and majesty of Todaiji make it a must-see for anyone exploring Nara. This temple is priced at 600 yen.

🌇 Nara Itinerary in one day: Afternoon (11.45am)

We begin the other half of the day on the Nara Itinerary on a day that will consist of going to lunch, visiting Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Gangoji Temple and exploring Naramachi.

Lunch in the Nara Park area (60 minutes) 11:45am to 12:45pm

It’s better to have lunch already if you don’t bring a Tupper with your own food, since you won’t have stops until very far ahead. So my advice is to eat something light already. Either here at this point just after Todaiji temple or just after Kasuga Taisha (it all depends on your lunch schedule).

nara in 1 day

Although in the farthest parts of Nara Park you won’t find many places to eat, near Kofukuji Temple you have several options. In this area any gastronomic choice will be a hit, but if you feel like trying something typical of Nara, I recommend looking for Kakinoha Zushi (柿の葉寿司). This traditional dish from the region consists of sushi rice and fillings such as mackerel or salmon, all pressed into a compact shape and wrapped in an aromatic persimmon leaf. It is also ideal to buy and take with you back to Kyoto if you prefer to eat later (or eat it mid-afternoon or strolling through the park, that is away from the deer).

Kasuga Taisha Shrine (60-120 minutes) 13:00pm to 15:00pm

In this case instead of 40 to 60 minutes which is what it takes instead of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine I have added 1 hour more, since I imagine that like all tourists (including me) we like to take pictures with the deer. So I have set aside an hour to be with them, while we head to the shrine.

nara in 1 day

After exploring Todaiji Temple, we continued on into Nara Park until we reached our next point of interest. We headed to Kasuga Taisha Shrine (春日大社), another site that, as part of the “Historical Monuments of Ancient Nara,” is recognized as a World Heritage Site. This shrine is famous for having over 2,200 festivals each year (yes as you read, that’s a lot), all with the wish to bring peace and prosperity to the nation and its people.

Kasuga Taisha is revered as the main shrine among some 3,000 Kasuga shrines scattered throughout the country and is known for its bright vermilion-colored structures. One of the major attractions are the nearly 2,000 stone lanterns that light the way to the shrine and the 1,000 bronze lanterns that hang around the main buildings and corridors, making for a truly impressive sight, especially during festivals when all the lanterns are lit.

This shrine also has a special connection with deer, considered sacred messengers, which is why the deer that roam Nara Park are protected. The “Shiroshika-mori” talisman, depicting a white deer, is a popular souvenir among tourists.

Gangoji Temple (15-30 minutes) 15:30 pm to 4:00 pm

After leaving Kasuga Taisha Shrine behind and walking west, you will leave Nara Park and enter the Naramachi area. In about 25 minutes on foot, you will find yourself in front of Gangoji Temple. This temple is one of the so-called “Nanto Shichi Daiji” or the Seven Great Temples of Nanto, and is part of the Nara World Heritage Site.

Gangoji Temple was originally founded in 718 AD and has its roots in Asukadera, the first Buddhist temple in Japan built during the Asuka period, which runs from the late 6th century to the early 8th century. When the capital was moved to Heijo-kyo (present-day Nara), the temple was also moved and received its present name.

With a history of about 1300 years, Gangoji Temple is famous for the Gokurakudo Hall, which stands out for its Asuka-era wooden structures. The most curious thing is that some of the original tiles, which were installed before the temple was moved, are still in use today, being some of the oldest in Japan. The entrance fee is 500 yen (it is your choice to enter or not, many tourists skip it because it is not as famous as the other 2, but if you like Japanese culture and you feel rooted and want to feel it in your own flesh, choose to enter).

🧭 Explore Naramachi (total time is up to you).

In our Nara itinerary in 1 day we will enter Naramachi (ならまち), around the former grounds of the World Heritage Site Gangoji Temple, is a corner of Nara that stands out for its historic feel. This neighborhood is famous for its narrow streets flanked by machiya, which are traditional wooden houses from the Edo period. Today, many of these houses have been transformed into museums, unique gift stores, guesthouses and small restaurants.

nara in 1 day

Strolling through its alleys and paths you will find a different atmosphere to the usual. Naramachi not only preserves old houses from the Edo to Meiji periods, but has also adapted to modern times with places like the “Shika Saru kitsune building (鹿猿猿狐ビルヂング)”, which combines dining and shopping options, or the famous “Naramachi lattice house (ならまち格子の家)”, highly rated on Tripadvisor.

If you stay in this area, you will enjoy trendy cafes, several gift stores (with very very friendly older people) and a variety of dining options. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon before looking for a good place to have dinner. Here we had the super famous Nara ice cream inside the place (which is a place that in addition to offering something to drink is also a gift store, ie a 2×1).

Dining in Naramachi

While in Naramachi, you will find plenty of dining options, there is a little bit of everything in this area. You have from places to eat good ramen or sushi to more traditional kaiseki style restaurants. However, if you have in mind to go to a restaurant that is particularly famous, I would recommend you to make a reservation in advance to make sure you have a place.

🚉 Return to Kintetsu Nara Station (End of Nara itinerary in 1 day).

As we say in Spain “Se acabó lo que se daba😢” (if you don’t know what it means, it’s something like saying that the good things are over). After a good dinner, it will be time to go back to Kintetsu Nara station to catch the train back to Kyoto.

Remember that although the trains run until about 22:00 or 23:00, many of the gift stores close earlier, around 19:00 or 20:00. Therefore, I suggest you have an earlier dinner if you want to take advantage of this time to buy some souvenirs at the station, or be sure to look for those souvenirs during your visit to Naramachi.

nara in 1 day

In Nara, you will find a lot of unique souvenirs, so it is definitely worth spending some time exploring these stores. In addition to typical souvenirs, we bought a beautiful fridge magnet (with big letters and a full color photo in animation mode that says NARA) for only 550 yen. And since in Spain there are still people who collect fridge magnets, (including my mother) we thought it was a good idea to buy a magnet in Japan, since no one talks about where to buy them.

To return to Kyoto, you will take the Kintetsu Kyoto Line Express (近鉄奈良線特急). Depending on the time, you may need to transfer at Yamato-Saidaiji Station (大和西大寺駅), which will take just under an hour in total. If you don’t need to change trains, the trip will take about 35 minutes – a perfect end to a day in Nara!