Visit Nara, Japan: 5 Great Things To Do And Reasons To Visit

Visit Nara, Japan: 5 Great Things To Do And Reasons To Visit
| 3 min read

If you’re traveling to Japan, you’ll find no shortage of amazing places to visit. It can be pretty overwhelming to plan since there’s so much to see. Allow me to recommend a visit to the town of Nara, and tell you about a few things you should check out if you can make it there.

Nara was actually the first permanent capital of Japan, from AD 710 to 794, so you can expect a lot of historic sights. If you want to explore some of Japan’s history, Nara is a great place to start.

1. Meet the friendly deer of Nara!

One of the local deer

The deer of Nara are well known, and a big reason that Nara draws so many tourists. According to local legend, the deer in Nara are all descendants of the deer that was ridden by a local deity when he arrived in Nara. As such, the deer have long been considered sacred and are afforded freedom to roam through most of the town as they see fit. The deer in Nara are very used to humans, and make themselves at home through much of the town.

Many stores and food stalls sell treats that you can buy to feed the deer. Most shops keep these treats in wire-frame boxes outside the shop; anytime one is opened you can expect a crowd of deer to gather before it’s closed. You’ll see signs throughout the town that warn you about the deer, they can be somewhat aggressive when treats are involved and they sometimes harass people when they run out of treats. The deer will usually take the treats gently, however, and will sometimes bow to you if you bow to them.

Watching the deer casually wander through shrines, down streets, and through parks is a cool experience, and it adds a lot of charm to Nara. One other thing to note is that the deer make a very surprising screaming sound during mating season; it was very startling at first.

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2. Visit Todaiji temple and see the giant Buddha

A good shot of Daibutsuden for scale

Todaiji Temple is a gorgeous Buddhist temple in Nara that is well worth a visit. The main hall of the temple, Daibutsuden, will be the easiest place to start. It is the world’s largest wooden building, and houses an enormous bronze Buddha statue. Pictures don’t do it justice; both the hall and the statue are impressively large. It’s worth the small 500 JPY (4.13 USD) entry fee to experience the size and scale of the place. The current building was rebuilt in 1692, and is actually considerably smaller than the original hall which was lost to fire.

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3. Wander the beautiful side streets around Todaiji temple

The streets near the temple

Apart from the Daibutsuden itself, the area around Todaiji and the smaller structures are a wonderful look at old Japan. The streets are old cobblestone, and are surrounded by low walls with tile roofs. Walking these streets really feels like stepping back a hundred years or so. As a bonus, you’ll also get a really lovely view of Nara from the Nigatsu-do hall. Take some time to wander around the area and enjoy the beautiful architecture. There is an old Japan feeling here that feels miles and centuries away from where you arrive in Nara.

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4. Walk the path to visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine

The lanterns on the way to Kasuga Taisha

Near the parks of Nara, you’ll find the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The shrine itself is very pretty, and is tucked into the woods in a way that makes it feel very secluded. The walk to the shrine, however, is just as pretty. Along the path to the shrine are hundreds of stone lanterns covered in bright green moss. The lanterns are lit just twice a year, but the elaborate stone work and the contrasting moss make it a memorable walk. Near the main shrine there are several side paths with smaller shrines and statues that are worth taking a detour for. You’ll see the deer wandering the area, and it’s a great place to enjoy a relaxing stroll.

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5. Explore Nara park

A view of some of the park through a gate

While there are still a lot of historical sites to see in Nara, my last recommendation is for Nara Park. Especially if you’ve been staying in Tokyo or Kyoto, you may find yourself wanting some time with nature. Nara park is expansive and feels very open. If you arrive in the fall, you can see the fall colors here. It’s also a great place for viewing Sakura trees during the spring. Nara park is a great summation of what makes Nara worth a visit; Nara is a great place to slow down, explore some historic sites, and enjoy the beautiful sights.

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Take the time to relax and explore historic Japan

There are a number of other things to see and do in Nara, and most of them are best seen by simply wandering. Spending a day wandering around Nara is relaxing and a great way to experience the feeling of old Japan. Despite being a fairly large city, much of it has a small, natural feel. Japan can be very fast-paced, and a brief trip to Nara can be a great break. Take some time to slow down and really experience Japan by visiting Nara.

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
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Hello fellow wanderers! My name is Eric, and I'm a writer based in Wilmington, North Carolina. It's a gorgeous coastal town in Southeast America, but that hasn't stopped me from dreaming about...Read more

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