We’d decided it was essential to block out a day for visiting Nara from Osaka as we knew we wouldn’t have enough to occupy us in the city for the 3 days we had booked there. Not to mention we were desperate to see the thousands of adorable deer that roam free around huge areas of the city! Luckily we weren’t disappointed and had an amazing day exploring one of Japan’s ancient capitals – one of our first glimpses into this history after spending the initial few days of our two weeks in Japan in Tokyo and Osaka.
Nara is an easy day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto – although in our experience there’s so much to do in Kyoto you probably don’t need to add a day trip on top of everything else. Visiting Nara from Osaka is particularly easy and best of all, travel there and back is available using JR lines so is a super cheap day trip if you have a JR pass. From ancient temples and shrines to cherry blossom viewing spots and the amazingly cute deer I mentioned, there’s plenty to do to fill a whole day so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to explore!
Getting to Nara from Osaka
Getting there is very simple and the information desk in Osaka station is full of leaflets, maps and travel advice that will help you organise a visit that fits in everything you want to see. As of March 2017 you can simply hop on the JR Yamatoji Line from Osaka Station to Nara from track 1. It takes around 40 minutes to get there and all signs and announcements are in English as well as Japanese so you’ll know exactly where to get off.
Once you’re there, Nara Station is around 10 minutes walk from the start of the historic monuments that are dotted around the city. There is a shuttle bus that will take you around these, but we opted to walk which is around 3-4 hours of walking around the main points of interest, leaving plenty of time to explore them all as well as enjoying lunch before heading back to Osaka.
Things to See in Nara
When visiting Nara from Osaka you’ll be spoilt for choice with things to do. Here’s our top list of things that you really shouldn’t miss in Nara and I’ve followed it up with a walking route that will allow you to take all of them in.
I’ll start with the most important which is obviously the deer. Don’t worry about missing them as it’s pretty much impossible and the historic area of Nara is full of them. They’re unbelievably cute although they can get a little feisty with tourists and will eagerly demand food from you. You can buy biscuits to feed the deer with for 100¥ per pack and I don’t know if they put crack in them or what, but you will be surrounded by deer in no time if you buy a packet! Some deer may head butt you whilst others will politely nod their heads in some sort of strange learned behaviour to try and get you to feed them snacks. Whatever method they use, these critters are amazingly cute and feeding the deer is an essential part of any day trip to Nara from Osaka.
We’d suggest that you start your time spent visiting Nara from Osaka with a trip to Todai-ji Temple, which is a famous world heritage site and a beautiful area to explore. Entering via the enormous wooden date you’ll start your journey through one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Japan. The building that houses the Buddha statues is the largest wooden building in the world and needs to be seen to be believed. It’s an incredible sight and there’s even a wooden pillar that you can climb through which is said to help you reach enlightenment. There’s also a museum with some additional religious art and artefacts in the complex.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
From here you can make your way to the famous Kasuga Taisha Shrine, where you can visit the offering hall and also pay to explore more of the inner complex. This Shrine is one of the most beautiful and is decorated with thousands of lanterns, from delicately patterned metal hanging lanterns to stone carved standing lanterns. It’s an amazing place to wander round and you can also catch a glimpse of the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, a sacred and very ancient forest that covers the nearby mountain.
Nara National Museum
If you’re a Museum fan the next place to visit is the Nara National Museum. Located in the park where many thousands of Nara deer reside, it houses a significant collection of Japanese art.
Kofukuji Temple & Pagodas
Finally on your way back to Nara Station if you can tear yourself away from the deer, the last stop to take in when visiting Nara from Osaka is Kofukuji Temple and the 3-Story and 5-Story Pagodas. These are some of the most historically significant buildings in Nara and really in the whole of Japan. Impressive wooden buildings, the 5-Story Pagoda is the second tallest in Japan. It’s a twenty minute or so walk from here back to Nara Station and there’s lots of cafes and restaurants to stop off at along the way as you’ll probably need a break by now!
A Walking Route For Your Visit to Nara
As you’ve seen, when we were visiting Nara from Osaka we did a lot of walking, which we felt was the best way to see the city. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in Japan and the Kasuga Taisha Shrine is particularly well preserved and atmospheric with its forest surroundings and amazing lanterns.
If you do decide to visit Nara, below is the walking route we took: