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Nara Travel Guide: An Excellent Guide to the World

Eight roaming sika deers

This Nara Travel Guide helps you make the most of your day in the city. It features a well-thought-out travel itinerary and a detailed budget for the trip. 

Disclaimer: Some information in this Nara Guide changes too often. If you continue reading this article, you agree to cross-check information with concerned authorities. Read the site’s full Terms.

Introduction

I sought comfort in Nara after a few days of feverish activities in Osaka. Compared to Osaka that emanates vibrancy, Nara provides a cozier and more nostalgic atmosphere.

The former capital of Japan has a rich historical and cultural legacy. Ancient Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, old structures, and a yard with over a thousand Sika deer can all be found.

While other Japanese cities feature ultramodern buildings, Nara is home to eight ‘UNESCO World Heritage Sites’. This reflects the city’s standing as one of Japan’s spiritual seats.

The vast stretches of Nara Park are the ideal setting to engage with herds of northern-spotted deer under clear sky. These mammals are a visual feast, even though some of them are very aggressive.

Nara greatly influenced Japan’s illustrious past. Its deep-rooted customs and antiquated shrines and temples make the city as among Japan’s cultural treasures.

Nara Travel Guide Contents

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In Shinto beliefs, deers are regarded as messengers of the gods and protectors of the city. Currently, over 1,200 Sika deers ramble in Nara City and are protected for their cultural significance.

Visa in Japan

Holders of foreign passports intending to visit Japan should contact the Embassy of Japan with regards to entry requirements. Otherwise, consult iVisa.com, a reputable and trusted visa service provider.

Philippine passport holders are required to apply for a tourist visa when traveling to Japan for tourism purposes. The Embassy of Japan does not accept in-person Japan visa applications. Thus, an accredited agency collects all the needed visa requirements.

On the other hand, travelers must undergo stringent immigration procedures before departure. Read ‘How to Avoid Getting Offloaded at Philippine Immigration?’

Standard Time in Nara

The Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in Nara is UTC +09:00.

Thus, Nara is an hour ahead of Manila, five hours ahead of Dubai, and seven hours ahead of Paris. Moreover, Nara is eight hours ahead of New York. Conversely, Nara is two hours behind Sydney.

Climate in Nara

Nara, the capital city of Nara Prefecture, is positioned in the Kansai region on the island of Honshu. Japan’s largest island, Honshu, is in the country’s temperate zone. Hence, Nara City experiences mild temperatures and occasional rainfalls.

Best Time to Visit Nara

Like Osaka and the rest of Japan, Nara is more appealing during spring and autumn seasons. However, these peak seasons are associated with hordes of tourists and pricier hotel rates.

March to May

Experience the more enthralling beauty of Nara from March until May, as it marks the cherry blossom season. Sakura trees flourish in March and reach their full bloom in April’s first week.

Nara Travel Guide Tip: Japanese observe the ‘Golden Week.’ This local holiday falls from the last week of April until the first week of May. So avoid the week as hotel rates soar and crowds of tourists are visible in many sights in Nara.

June to August

A warmer temperature welcomes visitors from June to August. While August is the warmest month, rains are more frequent in June and July.

September to November

The autumn season, beginning September until November is one of the best times to visit Nara. Its public parks are more stunning during fall as green leafage turns into warm shades of yellow, orange, and red.

December to February

Expect a colder and snowy atmosphere from December to February as it marks the winter season in Nara.

Language in Nara

Japanese is the widely spoken language in Nara, Japan. It is a bit tough and challenging for foreign tourists to communicate, as locals are not fluent in English. But, city tourist information centers are near transport stations and tourist attractions, while the public signs have English translations.

Here are essential Japanese words and phrases to learn before your trip to Nara, Japan.

  • Ohayo gozaimasu – Good morning
  • Oaidekite ureshi desu – I am glad to meet you
  • Eigo o hanasemasu ka? – Do you speak English?
  • Shitsumon o shite mo ii desu ka? – May I ask you a question?
  • O-negai shimasu – Please
  • Ima nanji desu ka? – What time is it?
  • Mou ichido itte kudasai – Please say that again
  • Wakarimasu – I understand you
  • Arigato – Thank you

Currency in Nara

The Japanese yen, abbreviated as JPY, is the official currency in Japan. As of February 14, 2023, the exchange rate is JPY 1, PHP 0.42, or  USD 0.0076.

Nara Travel Guide Tip: To save money, convert your currency to yen in downtown Nara, which offers better exchange rates. Otherwise, convert enough cash at the destination’s airport to cover your fare to the city center.

Modes of Payment in Nara

Although foreign-issued cards and stored value cards are accepted, having cash in Nara is essential, especially in making purchases.

Cash

Nara remains a cash-based society. And most commercial facilities and transport services in the city prefer cash as a mode of payment.

Debit and Credit Cards

In addition, debit and credit cards are accepted in upscale accommodations, shopping malls, and restaurants in Nara.

Stored-Value Cards

The IC Card or the Integrated Circuit Card is a reloadable smart card used as payment on public transport. Also, it is a cash substitute used in select commercial outlets in Nara.

Hence, the ICOCA is a convenient pre-paid card. It is used to pay fares for Japan Rail West trains and JR-covered transports in the Kansai region.

Nara Travel Guide Tip: Apart from ICOCA, rail passes are reliable tools to pay your fares across the Kansai region.

  • Grab the Kintetsu Rail Pass that offers unlimited rides on the Kintetsu railway trains across Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. Plus, board on Nara Kotsu Bus Lines that head you to Nara Park and various locations.
  • Avail of a Kansai Thru Pass. This non-JR pass provides unlimited subway, tramway, and bus rides throughout the Kansai region.
  • Or, use JR West Kansai Rail Pass. This unlimited and all-inclusive JR rail pass encompasses the entire Kansai region. However, the rail pass must be used for consecutive days.
  • Are you planning to visit Tokyo and other far-off cities in Japan? Reserve a JR Nationwide Pass instead.

Ways of Getting to Nara

Japan is an archipelagic country having vast bodies of water surrounding it. Hence, traveling via air and water is the only viable option to reach Japan.

Nara is a landlocked prefecture located in the heart of the Kii Peninsula. It is surrounded by Osaka, the gateway to the Kansai region, to the northwest and Wakayama to the southwest. Moreover, the prefectures of Mie and Kyoto are located in Nara’s eastern and northern portions.

From its neighboring prefectures, getting to Nara City is around an hour’s journey via train, bus, and taxi.

Getting Around Nara

The main tourist attractions in Nara City are close-packed. Hence, they are accessible even on foot. However, ease of transfer can be relied upon to its efficient bus networks and rail service running throughout the city.

Train

JR West and Kintetsu are two rail lines that connect Nara City from the rest of the Kansai region. However, two main areas within the city, Nara Park and Naramachi are inaccessible through these lines. Hence, reach them on foot or board a bus.

Bus

City buses are viable options for areas where trains are inoperative. Hence, Nara Kotsu Bus links the two major train stations and various corners of the city.

It operates in two different routes; loop line and regular line. The former compasses in central Nara, while the latter runs towards more distant areas in the city.

Loop lines charge JPY 210, PHP 87.32, or USD 1.59 for adults, while JPY 110, PHP 45.74, or USD 0.83 for children. Otherwise, use the more convenient payment method, the Kintetsu Rail Pass.

Nara Travel Guide Reminder: For Loop Lines, pay once you board at the front door and disembark using the rear door.

Conversely, when using the regular lines, embark at the back door and pay before dropping off at the front door.

Taxi

Although quite pricey, taxi is an alternative for passengers seeking more convenient transfers around Nara City.

The base fare for a four-seater taxi in Nara is JPY 660, PHP 274.43, or USD 5.00. While an additional JPY 90, PHP 37.42, or USD 0.68, is charged for each succeeding 307 meters.

Bicycle

Ride a bicycle to explore the compactness of Nara at your phase. Several establishments in the city offer bike rentals, a cheaper option for navigating various sights of the city.

Areas to Stay in Nara

Main attractions and cultural-relevant sights are thronged in Central Nara, Downtown, Nara Park, and Naramachi. Hence, most tourists go for a short visit to Nara and spend more time in larger cities like Osaka and Kyoto.

However, a few more places of interest are in store for visitors who wish to soak in its historical and cultural wealth. Spend your night in a ryokan or a traditional Japanese house, and plan to visit Nishinokyo the next day.

Downtown Nara

Transport convenience, shopping center, and nightlife – are the main draws in Downtown Nara. The two main rail stations and various retail outlets, restaurants, and bars are found in this bustling neighborhood.

Nara Park

To get closer to Nara’s main attractions, stay within the areas surrounding Nara Park. The expansive public park is home to noteworthy temples and shrines, gardens, and bunches of brown-spotted deer.

Nara Park is about 1.5 kilometers from the city’s main train stations. Reach the public park using the loop lines, or walk for about 20 minutes.

Naramachi

Experience the old-fashioned atmosphere in Nara’s old merchant district – Naramachi. It has traditional structures transformed into cafés, boutiques, and restaurants, lining up alongside its alleyways.

Spend a night in Naramachi, and you are steps closer to Gangoji Temple – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nishinokyo

A neighborhood detached from Central Nara, Nishinokyo is a historical site and home to the Heijo-kyo (Nara) Imperial Palace. Its location, away from the city center, makes it an ideal place to stay on a budget.

Internet in Nara

In a city, such as Nara, where most locals don’t converse in English, it is essential to use a navigation map. Having reliable internet on your smartphone may avert you from getting lost in unfamiliar places.

Power Adaptor in Nara

Nara operates on a 100 V supply voltage with a frequency of 60 Hz and it has two types of power adaptor:

  • A or has two flat parallel pins
  • B or has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin

Explore the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ in 9 days! But first, read the Osaka Travel Guide for a complete and comprehensive Japan itinerary.

Nara Travel Guide Itinerary

Nara Travel Guide Highlights: Sights and Attractions
Highlights: Nara Park, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todaiji Temple, and JR Nara Station.

Day 1 - Central Nara

Nara Travel Guide Reminder: It takes about a kilometer to walk from point A to point B.

08:30 am Arrival in Nara from Osaka

08:30 am – 08:45 am Head to accommodation

  • From JR Nara Station
  • Walk toward accommodation

08:45 am – 09:15 am Confirm reservation and check-in at Smile Hotel Nara

Nara Travel Guide Tip: Alternatively, stay in a hostel. A hostel is an inexpensive lodging facility that provides basic amenities, such as bunk beds and shared bathrooms. Thus, if you are on a tight budget, book a hostel in Nara.

09:15 am – 09:30 am Head to Nara Park

  • From accommodation
  • Walk toward JR Nara Station East Gate Bus Stop No.2
  • Take the Nara Kotsu (Yellow) Loop Line Bus No.2 (Clockwise) toward JR Nara Station
  • Alight at Kencho Mae Bus Stop
  • Walk toward Kofukuji Temple

09:30 am – 05:30 pm Explore Nara Park and have lunch

Nara Park

Opened in 1880, Nara-Koen, or Nara Park, is a vast expanse of an urban park at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Within the park’s grounds are temples and shrines, museums, gardens, and numerous shops. It is also the sanctuary of over a thousand freely roaming Japanese deers.

Nara Travel Guide Tip: Want to feed these adorable brown-spotted deers? The Shika Senbei, a deer cracker made from rice hull, is vend in several stalls within Nara Park. A bundle of 10 crackers is sold at about JPY 150, PHP 62.30, or USD 1.14.

Kofukuji Temple

Erected in 710 A.D., the Kofuku-ji Temple is a complex of structures, including the five-storied wooden pagoda – Japan’s second tallest. The 50-meter pagoda has been the symbol and a historic landmark of Nara.

Temple grounds are open for free. However, a few attractions require an entry fee. The halls and museum admit visitors from 9:00 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. daily. While admission starts at JPY 300, PHP 124.60, or USD 2.27

Nara National Museum

Inaugurated in 1889, the Imperial Museum of Nara, or the present-day Nara National Museum, displays a collection of Buddhist artworks. The western-style main building host a permanent collection of Buddhist artifacts, while its east and west galleries showcase special exhibits.

Nara National Museum is open to visitors from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. every Tuesday through Sunday. The admission fee is JPY 700.00, PHP 290.77, or USD 5.30.

Isuien and Yoshikien Gardens

Aside from Nara’s ancient structures and the wandering Sika deers, the city’s beautifully landscaped Japanese gardens offer a pleasant outlook. Two of the most well-liked are the Isuien and Yoshikien gardens, located beside the river of Yoshikigawa.

Isuien Garden shelters many tea houses and a museum that exhibits a collection of ancient artifacts. On the other hand, Yoshikien Garden features a well-arranged Japanese gardens.

Admission is between 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily. While Yoshikien Garden requires no entry fee, Isuien imposes JPY 600.00, PHP 249.23, or USD 4.54 entrance fee.

Todaiji Temple

A grand Buddhist temple erected in 752, Todaiji, Japan’s most influential seat of religion during those times. Its strong presence led to the transfer of Japan’s capital from Nara through Nagaoka in 784.

Todaiji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a complex of religious structures notable for its main hall – the Daibutsuden. It is the world’s largest wooden structure, which also shelters the highly revered 15-meter tall seated bronze buddha statue, Daibutsu.

To get into various attractions on the temple grounds, visitors will pass through the large wooden gate, Nandaimon Gate.

Daibutsuden Hall, the temple’s main attraction, is open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from April through October. And gates are open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. from November until March. The admission fee is JPY 600.00, PHP 249.23, or USD 4.54, while some other attractions require separate fees.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Dedicated to the god who protects the city, the Kasuga Taisha Shrine is Nara’s most revered Shinto shrine known for its legion of lanterns.

Notice strings of stone lanterns as you go past the main building, and in the shrine are manifold bronze lanterns. Hence, they are lit in February and August to celebrate the lantern festival or Mandoro.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine is free of charge unless you are going to see up close the shrine’s interiors. The shrine’s admission fee is JPH 500, PHP 207.82, or USD 3.79.

It is open from 6:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. from March until October and from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from November through February.

05:30 pm – 05:51 pm Head toward the JR Nara Station

  • From Kasuga Taisha Shrine
  • Walk toward Kasuga Taisha Omotesando Bus Stop
  • Take the Nara Kotsu (Yellow) Loop Line Bus No.1 (anticlockwise) toward JR Nara Station
  • Alight at JR Nara Station Bus Stop
  • Walk toward accommodation

05:51 pm – 09:00 pm Have dinner and nightlife
09:00 pm Prepare and sleep

Day 2 - Kyoto

05:30 am – 07:30 am Wake up, bath, and have breakfast 

07:30 am – 08:50 am Head to Kyoto

  • From JR Nara Station
  • Take JR Nara Local Line toward Kyoto Station
  • Alight at Kyoto Station

Budget for Nara Trip

In 2022, I spent P 2,966.25 for one day and one night in Nara. However, costs may still vary depending on your travel lifestyle. For more thrift tips, consider several ways to save money for your next trip.  

Below is the Nara travel guide budget for your reference

Pre-Departure

  • One day and one-night accommodation with breakfast, PHP 2,650.50 x 2, PHP 1,325.25

1st Day

  • JR Nara Station to Nara Park via Nara Loop Line Bus No.2, PHP 89.00
  • Isuien Garden entry fee, PHP 234.00
  • Lunch, PHP 400.00
  • Todaiji Temple admission fee, PHP 234.00
  • Kasuga Taisha entrance fee, PHP 195.00
  • Nara Park to JR Nara Station via Nara Loop Line Bus No.1, PHP 89.00
  • Dinner, PHP 400.00

Nara Travel Guide Resources

To help you with your travel plans, I’ve gathered a checklist of carefully chosen travel resources. These are the trusted online marketplaces that I highly endorse because of their excellent deals.

Passport icon

Looking for an easy-peasy solution to process your visa application and other travel docs, consult iVisa!

Insurance icon

SafetyWing covered you with their travel medical and health insurance solutions while away from home. 

Flight icon

The sky is the limit with Skyscanner if you are looking for better and cheaper flight options for your next trip.

Hotel icon

Make a reservation to one of the most extensive hotels booking services – Agoda. It offers unmatched hotel deals!

Hostel icon

Explore the world with HostelWorld! Book a hostel and share a space with newfound fellow travelers. 

Car rental icon

Drive your way to undiscovered places! Book a car via Discover Cars and experience hassle-free road trips. 

Tour icon

Want to visit your favorite theme park or museum? For discounted attraction tickets and tours, look for Klook!

Transportation icon

For transfers from point A to point B, go for 12Go! It has extensive coverage of ground transports and ferries, too.

Nara Travel Guide Question: What is the world’s largest wooden building found in Nara?

Please drop your answers or messages in the comment section. Thank you, and see you on the road!

traveledictorian-blogger

About the Author

J. Sac is the author of ‘Nara Travel Guide: An Excellent Guide to the World.’ He is also the founder of Traveledictorian – a travel blog that publishes well-thought-out travel content. 

His passion for writing, photography, and travel fueled him to explore Asia and the rest of the world. He also plans to undertake humanitarian work in his travels. Read his inspiring story and follow him on social media!

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