This post was last updated on February 1st, 2020 at 06:17 pm
Nara was one of the very first capitals of Japan. Just like Kyoto, your first thought when you see this city will not immediately go to the heyday of the empire. Yet the city is one of the best sights in Japan. It has lots of interesting historic buildings! In Nara, you will find beautiful ancient temples and shrines, some of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Our Experience in Nara
Nara had been on our list to visit for a long time. Unfortunately, we were unable to go to Nara the first time we were in Japan, so it had to happen the second time. And we did not regret it. It is one of the nicest cities in Japan.
Where cities like Kyoto and certainly Tokyo can be incredibly busy, the atmosphere in Nara is much more pleasant. It is a smaller city, but the city itself is more relaxed. You will find lots of greenery, open parks instead of skyscrapers, and beautiful temples. Especially the Kasuga Taisha is one of the most beautiful and relaxed places in Japan.
The city has eight sites that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We will not name them all but only the most important or the most beautiful. The most important highlight in Nara is undoubtedly the Daibutsu-den.
Another famous temple not directly in Nara, but nearby, is the Horyu-ji temple. Well worth a visit too.
TIP – Most temples are located around Nara-koen Area, a park in the east of the city.
1. Kofuku-ji Temple
This temple actually stood in Kyoto but was brought to Nara in 710. The original temple(s), a total of around 175, were damaged by fire and other disasters. There are two pagodas dating from 1143 and 1426.
Today you can find buildings of great historical value, including a five-story pagoda, the third largest pagoda in Japan. Only the To-ji in Kyoto is larger.
The Kofuku-ji pagoda is both a landmark and a symbol of Nara. The Kofuku-ji Temple is open 24 hours a day, but there are two areas that have an entry fee: Kofuku-ji’s National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall.
TIP – Kofuku-ji is a five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara station or a 20-minute walk from JR Nara station. Admission is 300 yen ($2.70) p.p.
Please note: Reconstruction work around the hall will take place until 2023.
2. Todai-ji & Daibutsu-den Hall
Nara’s most visited and famous landmark. The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is the center of this huge temple that rightly stands on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The temple dates from 728.
The giant Buddha statue in this temple is one of the largest bronze statues in the world and was originally cast in 746. The current statue is just over 16 meters high and consists of 437 tons of bronze and 130 kilos (!) of gold.
Todai-ji is the temple that houses the Daibutsuden, the largest wooden building in the world. Amazing is that the current construction, which was rebuilt in 1707, is only two-thirds of the original!
The Daibutsu is a statue of Dainichi Nyorai. Historians think that Emperor Shōmu had Buddha built as a sort of cure for smallpox that devastated Japan in previous years.
Over the centuries, the statue has suffered a considerable amount of damage from earthquakes and fires. Even the head has fallen off a few times.
How to Get to the Todai-ji Temple
The Todai-ji temple is located in Nara Park. It is about a 30-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or about a 45-minute walk from JR Nara Station. Of course, you can also take the bus. Get off at Todai-ji Daibutsuden. Admission is 500 yen ($4.55) p.p.
3. Kasuga Taisha
This is not the largest temple in the city, but we found it to be much more impressive than the famous Todai-ji. This is partly due to the beautiful location in the forest. Covered in trees from the forest and surrounded by hundreds of lanterns you will find the Kasuga Taisha temple.
The lanterns are only lit twice a year during the Mantoro festival.
In our opinion, this is the most beautiful temple in Nara.
It is more than justified that this shrine is on the Unesco World Heritage List. Immediately noticeable are the many deer that walk here. Just like with the Todai-ji temple, these deer can be found everywhere. You can also feed them with special food. According to the Shintō tradition, the temple was completely rebuilt every 20 years until the end of the 19th century.
TIP – Access to the main part is free, but there is a paid interior that gives a much better picture of the sanctuary. In addition, the paid part is a lot less busy.
How to Get to the Kasuga Taisha Temple
From the Todai-ji temple follow the signs to this shrine. It is approximately a 30 to 40-minute walk, depending on how many deer you want to pet on the way. It is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to September. From October to March it is open from 6:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
Entrance to the inner part is 500 ($4.55) yen.
How to Get to Nara
Transport in Japan is very well arranged. The city is therefore easy to reach. There are a number of options to get to the city. The easiest ones are;
To Nara By bus
You can travel from Tokyo to Nara with the night bus. Costs vary between ¥6,000 ($54.75) and ¥9,500 ($86.70) Japanese Yen.
To Nara By train
Another easy option is the train. The train connects all major cities in Japan. If you are coming from Kyoto, take the Kintetsu line. Cost: ¥1,130 ($10.30) for a 30-minute ride. Of course, you can also purchase the JR Pass. Then you can travel on the JR Nara line.
This will cost around ¥710 ($6.50) and the journey takes 45 minutes.
Best Time to Visit Nara
If you are going to visit temples for a day it is nice to have good weather. It is possible to visit the city throughout the whole year. But in the fall (October/November) and spring (March to May) nature is the most beautiful.
The rainy season runs from mid-June to July but it does not rain every day and traveling during this period is no problem.
Average temperature and rainfall in Nara