Perfect Day Trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto

deer sitting on a ledge in Nara, Japan

One good thing about staying in Kyoto or Osaka when visiting Japan is how easily accessible they are to other cities for a day trip. You could easily visit Hiroshima, Kobe, Kinosaki, Nagoya, and Nara.

Cecilio and I took a day trip to Nara from Osaka through the train, and it was only 40 minutes away. We had our sights set on the famous sika deer that roam around the town. Millions of tourists visit Nara per year to see, feed, and play with the deer (and there are over 1,200 of them too!). While the deer mostly hang out in Nara Park, you’ll see them scattered across town roaming the streets and temples.

street in Nara, Japan with deer crossing sign
See that crossing sign? That’s the proof that deer rule the streets of Nara.

Nara is also deeply rooted in history, as it was the first permanent capital of Japan from 710-794 before it moved to Kyoto, and then ultimately, Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration.

Luckily, you can easily take a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto through the train. Nara is an hour away from both cities by train, and roughly 45 minutes through driving.

This post will guide you on how to make the most of your day in Nara within just a few hours!

Disclaimer: This post uses affiliate links, which means I make a commission if you book through this post. If you do decide to book using my links, thank you so much for your support!

Day Trip to Nara Guide

Higashimuri Shopping Street

This shopping area filled with gift shops, cafes, and eateries is around the corner from the Kintetsu Nara Station. Most people taking a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto end up at the Kintetsu Nara Station, and it’s only across the street from Nara Park!

Cecilio and I bought some iced coffee in Higashimuri Shopping Street before we walked to Nara Park because I was exhausted and falling asleep on the train (and as much as I loved our hotel in Osaka, the buffet coffee was weak AF).

Once we were done for the way and before going back to Osaka, we had lunch at Haginoya, a Japanese sit-down restaurant where I ordered a small plate of sushi and Cecilio had a bento box. We then went to Grancha to get some soft-serve ice cream. Grancha is known for its scrumptious matcha-flavored Japanese treats like mochi, pudding, and chocolate.

sushi in Haginoya in Nara, Japan
2 soft-serve ice creams in Grancha, a dessert spot in Nara, Japan

Don’t forget to stop by a gift shop; they will sell cute deer-themed gifts like plushies, magnets, shirts, candy, and more!

Nara Park

Nara Park is the most popular attraction in the city, and where most of the deer congregate. It’s not just tourists who come to see them; flocks of teenagers walk to Nara Park after school to hang out and tease them (in a playful way). It’s free to enter Nara Park and it is open 24/7.

deer wedged between two bicycles in Nara Park

In front of Nara Park (and everywhere around Nara in general), there are booths with senior citizens cooking senbei (rice crackers) for people to sell and feed the deer. You can purchase a pack of 10 crackers for 150 yen (approximately $1.06).

crowd of people feeding deer in Nara Park

Once you have your stack of crackers, be prepared for hordes of deer to follow you around; they are HUNGRY! Also, some of them will outright harass you. They can get pretty aggressive. There was a big-boned deer (with long, curled, thick horns) who kept following me, even when I was trying to run and hide behind Cecilio. It even kept bumping into me to make sure I fed them a cracker. I had to throw the cracker at them so it would leave me alone. It was bullying all the other deer too.

Woman feeding deer in Nara Park

Oh, did I mention that one of the deer ate my keychain that Cecilio got me from a machine? It was a mochi plush keychain dangling from my bag 🤦🏻‍♀️

Fun fact: Japanese people greet each other by bowing instead of shaking hands. The deer have learned this and actually bow to the people to feed them, as another way of begging! It’s super cute!

Himuro Jinja Shrine

While it may not be as grand as other shrines and temples in Nara, Himuro Jinja Shrine has a rich history, with it being built in 710 and relocated to Nara in 1217. It is dedicated to Himuro Myojin, the god of ice (Himuro means ice house, ice room, or cold room). This explains why there are freezers and ice blocks around the shrine. Pre-COVID era, the shrine hosted the annual Himuro Shirayuki Festival, where there would be dozens of stalls selling kakigori, Japanese shave ice.

Emporer Nintoku, the 16th Emperor of Japan, was enshrined here. Not much is known about him other than that his body may be in the Mozu Kofun Tombs, the largest cemetery in Japan near Osaka.

Himuro Jinja Shrine in Nara

Todai-ji Temple

Nara is home to the Seven Great Temples (Nanto Shichi Daiji), with Todai-ji being the most well-known one. These temples were built under Emperor Shomu’s rule to influence Japan with Buddhism as the answer to political unrest and riots. Todai-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a few blocks away from Nara Park. You’ll see more deer relaxing on the side or roaming around the temple. It’s just so funny how they blend in with the humans no matter where you go!

Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Deer in Todaiji Temple
2 deers in Todaiji Temple
deer chilling in Todaiji temple

Todai-ji Temple houses the largest Daibutsu (large bronze Great Buddha statue) in the world, at 15 meters (49 feet) tall.

While you can walk around the temple grounds for free, admission to see the Daibutsu is 600 yen (USD 4.25) for ages 13 and up. You can also purchase a pass to see the Daibutsu and the Todaiji Museum for 1000 yen (USD 7.09). While Cecilio and I walked around the temple, we didn’t go to see the Buddha, and I low-key regretted it. I’m not even Buddhist but I still would’ve wanted to see it. So if you’re thinking about buying the ticket, do it!

daibutsu buddha statue in todaiji temple
Photo Credit: sompao stock.adobe.com

If you decide to not visit Todai-ji Temple for your day trip to Nara, here are other six of the Seven Great Temples to go to:

  • Daian-ji
  • Gango-ji
  • Horyu-ji
  • Kofuku-ji
  • Saidai-ji
  • Yakushi-ji

Nara National Museum

Dig deeper into Japan’s Buddhist culture in the Nara National Museum. Established in 1899, the museum is filled with Buddhist sculptures, paintings, and objects from various shrines and temples in Nara. There is also a collection of bronze objects from China dating as early as the Erligang Era in 1600-1400 BC.

nara national museum
Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz flickr.com

Alternative Things to do in Nara

If neither of these attractions in Nara is in your interest (if you have to go to one, let it at least be Nara Park), here are some alternatives you can swap out or add to your Nara itinerary:

  • Kasuga Taisha Shrine
  • Isuien Gardens
  • Yoshiki-en Garden
  • Naramachi (Nara’s Old District)
  • Mount Wakakusa
  • Nara Prefectural Art Museum

You can also visit these attractions if you decide that you want to stay overnight in Nara and experience all that the town has to offer.

How to get to Nara

From Osaka

The best way to go on a day trip to Nara from Osaka is through the train. You can either take the JR Yamatoji Line or the Kintetsu Nara Line.

The JR Yamatoji Line is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. You can purchase the pass in 7, 14, or 21-day increments depending on how long you stay. If you are exploring different parts of Japan and not sticking to one area I highly recommend it. You need the pass to take the Shinkansen (bullet train). The Japan Rail Pass allows you to ride any of the JR network trains, including local and express trains.

🚅 Get your Japan Rail Pass today!

The Kintetsu Nara Line is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass because they are operated by Kintetsu Railway, a private company. I suggest you get the Suica card, and reload it as needed. If you have an iPhone, you can link the Suica card to Apple Pay, and you can scan your phone at the train entrances. You can use the Suica card for transportation (except for the Shinkansen) and shopping.

From Kyoto

If you’re coming from the Kyoto Station for your day trip to Nara, you can take the Miyakoji Rapid train on the JR Nara Line, which is only a 45-minute ride.

Or you can take the Kinetsu Kyoto Line, which leads you to the Kinetsu Nara Line.

No matter where you are coming from, I recommend taking the routes that lead you to Kinetsu Nara Line. It is much closer to all the attractions. It’s a corner away from Higashimuri Shopping Street, and a few yards away from Nara Park.

Kintetsu Nara Station
Me posing with this deer sculpture in Kintetsu Nara Station

Tours to Nara from Osaka and Kyoto

If you’d rather have the convenience of going on a private or group tour or need guidance with using the train, I’ve compiled a list of possible tours you can book depending on your budget!

Tours under $100

Tours from $100-$200

Private Tours over $200

Frequently Asked Questions

How much time is needed in Nara?

While Cecilio and I spent around 4-5 hours in Nara, you can spend all day there. It’s completely up to you. If I were to do things differently, I would’ve spent more time there to scope out more of the temples and go to one of the museums.

Should I do a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto?

Both Kyoto and Osaka are equidistant to Nara, so it’s completely up to you! I suggest doing your day trip to Nara based on where you’re staying longer. Since we spent only 2 nights in Kyoto and 4 nights in Osaka, we decided to go to Nara from Osaka.

Millions of tourists flock to Nara every year to see the deer roam freely and to pet and feed them. Todai-ji Temple is also Nara’s most famous temple, as it houses the largest Buddha statue in the world.

Last but not least, it’s close and easily accessible from Kyoto and Osaka.

Wrapping up your day trip to Nara itinerary

If you’re spending an extended time in Japan, especially in either Kyoto or Osaka (or both), I can’t recommend taking a day trip to Nara enough! From surrounding yourself with thousands of deer throughout the streets to strolling to Todai-ji Temple, Nara deserves a spot in your Japan itinerary!

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Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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