Only have one day in your busy Japan itinerary to visit Nara? Well you’re in luck because this post includes everything you need to know to see as much as you can of the city in a single day.
When we went to Nara, it was our 4th day in Japan and we were staying in Osaka. Traveling from Osaka was very convenient and took us only about 50 minutes from the hotel to Nara station. We did cheat a little, however, by taking a taxi from our hotel in Namba to Tennoji station to save on walking time, but you could easily get to Nara within an hour from any main district in Osaka. The JR system runs on the Yamatoji Line (from Shin-Imamiya) or Osaka Loop Line (from Tennoji) to Nara Station.
Arriving at Nara station, we needed to figure out how to avoid a 40 minute walk to Nara Park, and luckily, there was a ton of accessible information. We walked to the Information Desk and the lady proceeded to tell us our options.
Adult: 500¥; Child: 250¥
The 1-day bus pass is best for those who only want to see the major touristy spots that are within the urban area. This would include Nara Park, Kohfukuji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Hokkeji Temple, Heijo Palace Site, Toshodaiji Temple, and still many more!*
Adult: 1000¥; Child: 500¥
The 1-day wide pass is great for those who want the option of doing even further sightseeing. It includes all the sites in the 1-day pass, plus places like Horyuji Temple, Yatadera Temple, and Jikoin Temple.*
Adult: 1500¥; Child: 750¥
The 2-day pass includes all the 1-day wide areas as well as many others such as Muroji Temple, Asuka Historical Museum and Okadera Temple.*
Jason and I went with the 1-day pass for 500¥ each. This bus pass definitely gave us an extensive range of places to see and we in no way felt limited. Of course, if you already plan to see the other places included in the 1-day wide pass, by all means, go for it! It may be more worth it for you. If you’re thinking, why not just pay for the transit tickets outright? Well, my friend, you sure can, but they cost 220¥ every time you ride the bus. You’d already be paying 440¥ for a single round trip if you decided to only hit up one area of the city.
The following map is what we got at the Information/Ticket office. It may be confusing at first but it shows you all the bus routes you’re able to take with your pass. Now remember, the colour of the route line does not correspond to the colour of the bus. You can only hop on/off the the yellow and green buses, or if the bus route number is shown listed on the map. Also, note that most buses here are rear-door boarding, which means you get on the back and get off the front. At first, Jason and I would get on at the front (mostly to ask the bus driver questions) and would flash our bus passes at him and he would say “after, after” and we looked like idiots, standing there in confusion. You can read the big “EXIT” and “ENTRANCE” signs on the bus before you know which side to get on.
As you can see on the map, the routes are quite easy to understand, and there are indicators as to where the main attractions are situated. When you’re on the bus and wondering when to get off, take a look at the digital board at the front of the bus to see the upcoming stop name and number to help guide you.
All right, so you’ve picked up your passes and figured out what buses to take. Now where to go first? You probably want to go straight to Nara Park before it starts to get crowded (around 8 am when school kids arrive for field trips). If you have time before to hit up Kohfukuji Temple before entering the park, that’s also a good idea since Nara Park takes up a couple hours of your day. In the Kohfukuji area, you’ll start to see many deer roaming the area of the temple but Nara Park is concentrated with them.
Nara Park is probably the reason why you’re coming to see the city. We spent about 2-3 hours here, stopping to see Todaji Temple (from the outside as it requires payment to go in), climbing steps to get to different lookouts from other shrines, and finishing at Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
If you’re thinking of feeding the deer to get their attention, get to a more secluded area where the deer aren’t accustomed to having people feed them. Guys, I bought deer cookies (200¥ per pack) right at the entrance so I could get a photo in front of the gate, and they all came at me like they hadn’t eaten in weeks! I was terrified. The males started biting at my dress and at the papers I had in my hand. There are certain tricks to getting the deer to calm down but I was kind of frozen in place and just kept feeding them all the cookies so they would eventually stop butting me. Pictured below is me backing away from the herd and hiding the papers that were thankfully not caught in the tug of war I had earlier. Not pictured is the look of terror on my face or the aggressive males biting at my clothes.
So lesson learned, take your time and walk through the park before buying some cookies. There are other stalls and other deer to feed.
After finishing our walk through the park and through Kasuga Taisha Shrine, we caught one of the buses and headed back towards Kohfukuji. We grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby 7-Eleven and walked through the Kohfukuji site. Gangoji Temple and Nara-machi are just a 10 minute walk south so be sure to check that out as well! There’s an underground pedestrian walkway under the main intersection near Noborioji Park, with signs pointing to the different sites and landmarks. This made it easy for us to navigate by foot and know where we could go next if we wanted to see more in the area.
If you’d prefer something other than 7-Eleven for lunch, we spotted a lineup at this ramen place when we were on the bus around stop N-6 (see map), across from Nara National Museum. This is right by Isui-en and the Yoshikien Garden, which you should definitely considering going to if you have the time!
After spending most of our day in this part of town, we got on a bus #98 going east to head to Heijo Palace Site. The palace was currently under construction but we stopped at the gate for some photos. The place still had lots of kids on their field trips, but because the area is so vast, it didn’t feel crowded whatsoever.
If you’re still not tired after this, hop back on the #78 or #98 bus for Toshodaiji Temple and Yakushiji Temple with your 1-day pass! Once you’re ready to head back, you can easily hop back on the #77 or #97 (going west) for Nara station.
Have you been to Nara? Where else would you recommend seeing for a day’s trip? Let me know in the comments below what hidden gems you came across during your time in Nara!
All photos of me are taken by Jason (@jasonmengvisuals) and edited by moi!