Bucket List: Top 15 Best Things to Do in Nara, Japan

Nara Bucket List: Tourist Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Nara City, Japan

Nara City, the capital city of Nara Prefecture, was once ancient Japan’s capital during the Nara period. This ancient city has plenty of historical sites that can make up this entire list. Nara City is a relatively small and compact city that travelers can easily explore on foot or with bike rentals. Along with ancient sites, the city boasts a rich history and culture, open outdoor spaces, and natural attractions.

With its close proximity to Osaka and Kyoto, Nara City can easily be a fun day trip in your itinerary. But spending more than a day in the city is a great option if you want to immerse yourself in Japan’s history. Here are the 15 best things to do in Nara, Japan.

1. Feed Sacred Deers at Nara Park

Beautiful nature deer in Nara park photo via Depositphotos

People visiting Nara City are always recommended to first Nara Park among all other attractions. It’s right at the center of the city and is the gateway to other popular attractions.

The park has winding pathways, ponds, and as it’s most popular attractions: deers. Wild sacred dears roam the park that visitors can feed snacks to.

2. Admire Todai-Ji Temple Complex

Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji Temple in Nara photo via Depositphotos
Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji Temple in Nara photo via Depositphotos

The Todai-Ji Temple is the largest wooden structure globally and, along with seven other sites in Nara, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The temple complex is home to numerous impressive structures, but the most impressive one is the 16-meter high Buddha statue, which is the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.

3. View Buddhist Artworks at Nara National Museum

Nara National Museum by 663highland via Wikipedia CC
Nara National Museum By 663highland, CC BY 2.5, CC

The Nara National Museum is located within Nara Park and can be easily recognized by its colonial facade. The museum is divided into two buildings; it’s West Wing, the Hall of Buddhist Images, contains its permanent exhibit of Buddhist statues and art.

The museum’s East Wing contains temporary special exhibits. English guided tours are offered.

4. Explore the Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Kasuga Taisha Shrine photo via Depositphotos
Kasuga Taisha Shrine photo via Depositphotos

Founded in 768 with the Fujiwara Family’s help, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is the most important Shinto shrine in Nara dedicated to the city’s guardian deity.

The shrine is located at the foot of mountains and is dotted with hundreds of lanterns around and on its property. The Kasuga Taisha Shrine is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Admire the Kofuku-Ji Temple

Kofuku-ji is a Buddhist temple that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, in the city of Nara photo via Depositphotos
Kofuku-Ji is a Buddhist temple that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples in the city of Nara photo via Depositphotos

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kofuku-Ji Temple, was founded during the 7th century by the Fujiwara and serves as the clan’s guardian temple. It was originally located in Kyoto but was transferred to Nara in 710.

Less than ten buildings remained of the once sprawling temple complex, including the 2nd tallest pagoda in Japan.

6. Have a Relaxing Time at Isuien Garden

View of Isui-en Garden during early fall, towards the Nandaimon gate, and hills of Nara photo by Kimon Berlin via Wikipedia CC
View of Isui-en Garden during early fall, towards the Nandaimon gate, and hills of Nara photo By Kimon Berlin (Gribeco) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC

The Isuien Garden is a beautiful sprawling garden first developed in 1673 by Kiyosumi Michikiyo; then, a later area was added in 1899. The garden is landscaped in the Japanese Shakkei style, which means “borrowed scenery.”

The garden is home to the Neiraku Art Museum, a pond with a small island and stepping stones, and winding pathways.

7. Admire the Historic Horyu-Ji Temple

Horyu-Ji Temple photo via Depositphotos
Horyu-Ji Temple photo via Depositphotos

With a reputation of being the oldest completely preserved temple complex in Japan, the Horyu-Ji Temple stands out in its historical significance in Nara City. The temple was built in AD 607 and currently has several of the world’s oldest wooden buildings.

The vast temple complex is also a museum housing some of the most important Buddhist images in the country.

8. Step Back in Time at Naramachi District

Naramachi District by shankar s via Flickr CC
Naramachi District by shankar s via Flickr CC

Located on the southwest side of Nara Park, the Naramachi District is a beautifully preserved ancient neighborhood dating back to the Edo period. It was the city’s merchant district and is currently the best place to shop, eat, and drink in the city.

Several traditional homes and warehouses are open for the public to visit.

9. Go Forest Bathing in Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Kasugayama Primeval Forest by Vera46 via Wikipedia CC
Kasugayama Primeval Forest By Vera46 – Original version, CC BY 2.0, CC

If you’re looking to clear your mind from worries and just be in nature without any distractions, the Japanese activity for that is shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. In Nara City, the perfect place to go forest bathing is Kasuyagama Primeval Forest, just behind Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Travelers can get a guided tour through the 620 acres of woodland just to soak in nature.

10. Hike to the Top of Mount Wakakusa

Deers grazing in Mount Wakakusa photo via Depositphotos
Deers grazing in Mount Wakakusa photo via Depositphotos

Located on the eastern side of Nara Park, Mount Wakakusa only reaches a height of around 350 meters, and it would only take up to under an hour to reach its top.

But the views up the mountain of the city are stunning, and the way up is equally memorable with plenty of cherry blossoms.

11. Climb Up to Nigatsu-do temple

Nigatsu-do, a temple in Nara, Japan photo via Depositphotos
Nigatsu-do, a temple in Nara, Japan photo via Depositphotos

Although technically to be part of the larger Todai-Ji Temple complex, Nigatsu-do Temple is often considered a separate attraction. The temple’s famous feature is its location on the hillside of Mt. Wakakusa. Reaching up the temple requires climbing up a lantern-lined staircase.

The temple is also treasured for its balcony, where festivals are held and bring a gorgeous city view.

12. Enjoy Local Food Specialties

Kakinoha Sushi by cozymax via Flickr CC
Kakinoha Sushi by cozymax via Flickr CC

There are several specialty foods that visitors can try in the city. One such specialty food is the Kakinoha Sushi, pressed sushi in kaki or persimmon leaves. The kaki leaves enhance the flavors of the sushi but make sure not to eat them.

Another kind of sushi to get in Nara City is the kakinoha-zushibento or boxed set meals.

13. Grab a Snack at Nakatanidou Mochi Shop

Green Tea Mochi photo via Depositphotos
Green Tea Mochi photo via Depositphotos

As travelers visit the many historic attractions in Nara, a quick snack is always available in the city’s streets. A local favorite is the Nakatanidou Mochi Shop, which sells freshly made sweets along Sanjo Dori St. west of Nara Park.

Their yogomi-mochi and different flavored senbei are a must-try.

14. Spend Time with Owls at Owl Cafe Watawata

Owl Cafe Watawata photo via FB Page
Owl Cafe Watawata photo via FB Page

Just across the street from Nakatanidou is the Owl Cafe Watawata, Japan’s original owl cafe. The cafe’s entrance is 1,300 Yen, which includes a drink and up to an hour of personal time with an owl of your choice.

There are 10 distinct breeds of owl available in the cafe, with an English-speaking staff happy to speak about their care.

15. View the Serene Cherry Blossoms at Mt. Yoshino

Yoshinoyama, Japan Spring Scene photo via Depositphotos
Yoshinoyama, Japan Spring Scene photo via Depositphotos

While in Nara, take a day-trip to the town of Yoshino just south of the city. It takes under an hour by train to reach. The town is famous for Mount Yoshino’s, Japan’s top Cherry Blossom viewing spot with over 30,000 cherry blossom trees on the mountain.

There are numerous trails, and walkways visitors can take to hike up the mountain.

Nara Travel and Tour Packages

To help you plan out your vacation to Nara, we listed places to visit and other amazing activities in Nara, Japan. We also listed some of the best travel deals and tour packages and excellent flight deals and accommodation.

Searching for the best hotels, resorts, and affordable flights in the nearby Cities? Check out our list of affordable Nara hotels and resorts via Agoda, Booking, or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.

Want more updates about new package tours and tourist spots in Nara, Japan? Follow #TeamOutofTown, on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Bloglovin, and Pinterest for more travel ideas.

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