Nara is one of the top cities to visit when travelling to Japan. A simple Google search is enough proof of that. This city is even older than its neighbour counterpart, Kyoto, which is the country’s ancient capital city. You already can guess the historical value of this city.
Nara is rather small. You can explore the entire city centre on foot, discovering temple after temple, shrine after shrine. That makes the city a perfect day trip if you’re staying in Osaka. From local eateries to roaming friendly animals, it’s a city you definitely want to include in your Japan itinerary. Here are some activities you’d want to consider when planning your Nara itinerary.
1. Say hi to the deers in Nara Park
You can’t visit Nara and not say hi to the friendly and adorable deers at Nara Park. It’s like a rite of passage to the Nara experience. There are more than 1,500 wild deers roaming around the city. The locals see them as natural treasures, and rightly so. There are tons of stalls that sell deer crackers for you to feed these cute animals.
Here’s something you should try: bow to a deer before feeding them. They might just bow back! Stay alert, though. These deers are mostly friendly, but they do have their days. Never run away from them. Just be stern and show your hands with no food in them to the deers.
2. Explore Kasugayama Primeval Forest
If you’re a big fan of nature, you might want to pop by Kasugayama Primeval Forest. It’s not far from Nara Park at all. There’s a “forest bathing” experience that you can sign up for. In the duration of three to four hours, you’ll be guided through the woods with a qualified guide. Lay down on the carpet-like, soft moss and observe the forest insects as the guide explains them all to you. There are benefits to this forest bathing experience, and you have to go through this once-in-a-lifetime experience to know what they are.
3. Visit Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
While at Nara, you have to stop by Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. This is one of the biggest sightseeing attractions in the city. The story is that the deity enshrined there, called Takemi Kajichi no Mikono, rode a mystical white deer to this city from Ibaraki prefecture. This legend is the reason why deers are so dearly protected. At this shrine, you definitely can’t miss the rows of bronze lanterns that decorate the grounds. Worshippers donated them over the years. If you have time, pop by the museum there as well.
4. Stay in a temple
One of the most authentic experiences you can have in Japan is staying in a temple. You can do that in Nara. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is definitely not to be missed, regardless of whether you’re a religious person or not. The most popular temples to stay at are Gyukuzoin Temple and Koyasan. You’ll be able to stay in a tatami-style room with futons and sliding doors. Your stay will include a Japanese-style dinner, too. Wake yourself up in the morning to join the morning prayers and ceremonies that they have every day.
5. Go on a shopping spree in Higashimuki
Cities in Japan always has their own shopping street. Nara is no different. Shopaholics, you’ll be glad to know that Nara’s Higashimuki Shopping Street will satisfy your shopping cravings. It’s like the city’s very own Takeshita Street of Tokyo! You’ll never see this area empty. It’s always full of energy. The best part about going to these shopping streets in Japanese cities is that you might be able to find goods that are exclusive to the city. Everything from basic souvenirs to handmade crafts is there for your choosing.
6. Wander Naramachi streets
Nothing beats a good wander. Japan’s perfect for that. Nara is a former merchant district. That explains the exquisite buildings. Take a stroll without checking Google Maps every five minutes and let yourself get lost. The streets of Nara still hold the charm of the old days. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.
Alternatively, you can go on a guided tour by one of the locals. If you see a man standing next to a rickshaw, approach him. He’ll pull you down the streets while giving you some explanation along the way. Grab this photo opportunity!
7. Slide Down Buddha’s Nostrils at Todaiji Temple
What’s a sightseeing trip in Japan without a visit to a temple? The Todaiji Temple is the home to a few record-winning structures. The buildings themselves have been burned down twice, but the one we see today was rebuilt during the Edo Era. This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also the headquarters of Kegon School of Buddhism.
At this temple, there’s the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. It’s of Vairocana Buddha, the Buddha of Light. It’s said that if you slither through the nostrils of this 14.8 meters tall statue, you’ll be granted a life full of happiness.
8. Explore Dorogawa Onsen
Who wants a bit of adventure? Not too far from the city centre of Nara is Dorogawara Onsen, a hot springs town with a peaceful ambiance. Exploring the area can take up a day or even two, but you wouldn’t want to miss the lantern-decorated streets and nature.
Nearby, you can hike to the suspension bridge which is one of the largest in all of the country. It crosses Mitarai Valley. The view is breathtaking. Whether it’s a summer outdoor adventure or a winter soak in a hot springs bath, Dorogawa Onsen town is a must-visit.
9. Stroll Around Isui-en Garden
Before you stop by Todaiji Temple, stroll through the conveniently located Isui-en Garden. This spacious and peaceful gardens is one of the highlights of the entire Kansai region. There are various types of flowers blooming all year round. Ponds and pathways run throughout the grounds.
10. Try the Asuka Nabe
The Japanese travel around the island nation for food. Nara is famous for its asuka nabe dish. This is similar to hot put, but with an abundance amount of chicken or any meat of your choosing! This kind of dish is usually eaten during winter, but don’t let that stop you if you’re visiting during other times of the year.
The historical status is pretty clear in Nara. You can feel it in the air. With so many things to do and places to see, a day-trip might be too short to explore this beautiful city. Take that into consideration when planning your Japan trip!