Nara

First-time visitors to Japan may have never heard of Nara, but they have likely seen footage of this historical marvel. In almost every Japanese-based documentary and tourist program, you’ll see the free-roaming deer of Nara beside its towering wooden temples. Those wanting to (slightly) escape the tourist trail and get away from the crowds, should look no further than this stately city.

History

the city of Nara

Despite only lasting 84 years (from 710-794), the time that Nara served as Japan’s capital has had a profound impact ever since. It was the first real capital city, and as the population boomed, thousands of jobs were created and several temples were constructed. During the ‘Nara period’, Japan fully embraced Buddhism for the first time. It was around this time that the first historical records of the country were written, giving birth to many of the myths surrounding Japan’s birth.

Nara’s legacy endures because so many of the great temples built during this period have lasted. These give tourists incredible insights into life in the 8th Century. The Japanese god of thunder, Takemikazuchi, is believed to have arrived in Nara on a white deer to protect the city. Since then, deer have enjoyed a sacred status within the city limits, still roaming free around the area today.

In terms of historical significance for ancient Japan, Nara should be right up alongside Kyoto on any trip itinerary. It may lack some of Kyoto’s mystery, elegance, and otherworldly natural attractions, but it is just as important and its temples are just as impressive. Not to mention that it’s much less touristy than Kyoto. Nara is most famous for two things: deer and temples, and it does these two things rather well.

What To Do in Nara

Many of Nara’s best sights, including its famous deer, are situated within Nara Park, making it the ideal starting location. Besides feeding the deer, check out the Horyuji Temple which contains the world’s oldest wooden buildings.

Undoubtedly Nara’s main attraction is the Todai-ji Temple. Its stunning main hall, which is the largest wooden building in the world, houses a giant ‘Daibutsu’ (Buddha) bronze statue. Here, the spectacular Omizutori Festival occurs every year involving large torches. Atop nearby Mount Wakakusa, the Yamayaki festival takes place which involves setting fire to the mountain’s grass.

Todai-ji Temple

How To Visit Nara

The best way to visit Nara is through a guided tour. If you’re staying nearby, join our Nara Half-Day Walking Tour or our Highlights Bike Tour. Either of these options will ensure you see the city’s highlights and gain unique insights about them. If you’re less into history and more into local cuisine, the Nara Craft Beer, Sake & Food Tour is the one for you.

Due to its convenient location within Kansai, Nara is easily accessible from many destinations. Unless you’re really interested in this period of Japanese history, don’t plan on spending more than a day or two in the vicinity. It’s a peaceful and pleasant escape from Honshu’s more dazzling highlights like Tokyo but it’s a fairly small city. For those hoping to visit on a day trip from elsewhere, opt for either the Nara Half-Day Tour from Kyoto, the Kyoto & Nara Day Tour From Osaka, or the Kyoto & Nara Day Tour from Kyoto.

Multi-Day Japan Tour Packages are a great way to visit Nara and other iconic Japan destinations, with intercity transport, accommodation, and expert guides all taken care of. Add Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Nikko, Kyoto, and Osaka by choosing our 11 Day Ultimate Japan Tour Package. Or, if you have less time, see also Kyoto and Osaka on our 5-day Japan package.

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