The cradle of modern Japanese civilization might have more deer than human inhabitants, but the rich history of the region is mesmerizing; and the quaint landscape will leave you feeling completely Zen. Nara has some of the best temples, shrines, and other historical sites, including neighborhoods comprised of traditional wooden buildings. Whether you head to Nara alone or with a group, there is more than enough activities to keep you entertained for however long you visit.
Here are our top picks for the best things to do in Nara, Japan
1. Todaiji Temple
The colossal Todaiji Temple is one of the most inspiring and invigorating sites Nara has to offer. First, there is a the Todaiji Daibutsu, a massive structure that is not solely the Great Buddha statue itself but the decorative hall it is situated in. The 16-meter-high Buddha exudes a tremendous spiritual energy that will stay with you during your visit to Nara. There is also a museum where you can receive an audio guide in a number of languages, a serene lake, and plenty of deer to cozy up with and feed rice crackers.
Farther from Nara station, past Nara Park (mentioned below), is the fabulous and mystical Kasuga-Taisha shrine. The shrine grounds are a labyrinth of lanterns, wandering deer, towering trees, and red pillars. Wandering around this place almost feels as if you are slipping into a much more spiritual realm—and you might even catch a kitsune spirit peering at you through the ethereal mist amongst the trees. Be sure to take your time visiting this beautiful shrine, especially if you are looking for reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city.
3. Nara Park
In the center of Nara is the rolling green space known as Nara-koen. The park actually encompasses the two previously noted sites as well as Isuien Garden, another popular destination that can be combined with a visit to this park. However, while the park itself is relatively devoid of amusements, there is something special you can do here. You can buy a pack or two of shika senbei crackers and get yourself a harem of deer. Just be careful if you plan on attracting more than two, as the deer can get competitive and started headbutting you—and everyone around you.
4. Nara National Museum
Just east of Kofuku-ji Temple, another grand attraction, is the Nara National Museum. The museum is divided into two buildings: the Nara Butsuzo-kan (Hall of Buddhist Images) and a newer building on the east end. In the Hall of Buddhist Images, you will find a permanent collection of Buddhist images. For those with an interest in the Buddhist elements of Japanese culture, this museum is a hidden gem. The newer hall is where the special exhibitions pertaining to a plethora of subjects are held.
5. Heijo Palace (Heijo-kyo)
Nara has a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, but the most majestic one would be Heijo Palace, the location of the ancient capital that was built in year 710. The palace itself is a standalone structure that has become a pivotal point of archaeological digs in present times. Visitors are often surprised by the rural setting of this important treasure, but don’t let the lack of buildings dissuade you from visiting the palace, since the grounds have been under reconstruction. Be sure to stop by the mirror-like East Palace Garden (Toin Teien) on a cloudless day for breathtaking photographs.