Nara is one of the most important historical cities of Japan. Aside from being the country’s first permanent capital, it is also home not only one but eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition, it holds the most number of buildings designated as National Treasures of the country. Despite its prized possessions, it does not receive as much tourist attention as its culturally rich neighbor Kyoto. Nevertheless, Nara is a shining jewel that is worth visiting especially if you are exploring Japan’s Kansai’s region.
One of the remarkable landmarks in Nara is the Daibutsu, also known as the Great Buddha. Located inside the high temple of Todai-ji, the Great Buddha is indeed a very impressive site. Considered to be one of the world’s largest wooden structures, Todai-ji Temple is one of the main draws in Nara. It welcomes visitors daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Another UNESCO heritage designated site that impresses and fascinates visitors is the Horyu-ji pagoda. Possessing five levels, this is the country’s oldest pagoda and the oldest surviving extant wooden building in the world. One excellent features of Horyu-ji is the Golden Hall or Kon-do, whose origins date back around 670 AD.
If you want to explore more temples and pagodas, then make your way to the 600-year old Kofuki-ji Temple, which also features five floors. It is the second tallest pagoda in the country, standing at about 50 meters. The original temple came from Kyoto, but was moved here during the 8th century. The Kofukuji Pagoda is a symbol of resilience in Nara as it had been reconstructed and exists today despite being burned down 5 times through history. The pagoda is open daily for visitors, from 9:00am – 5:00pm
Like most of Nara’s prominent landmarks, you can find Kofuki-ji and Todai-ji inside the Nara-koen Park. If there is only one place in Nara that your time permits you to visit, it should definitely be Nara-koen (Nara Park). The park makes a great hiking destination because of its wide green space. But it is not going to be a strenuous hike, as you can actually stroll leisurely around the grassy park.
Nara Park is home to the mercenary deer or Sika Deer, so don’t be surprised if you see several during your stroll. The deer population is highly respected because according the legends, they are protected envoys of the god from Kashima Shrine. These days, tourists are allowed to feed the deer with deer crackers called Shika Senbei. After temple hopping at the park, consider heading to the lively and colorful Higashimuki Shopping Street. Located beside Kintetsu Nara Station, this famous shopping street, which stretches to 250 meters, entertains people with its wide range of shops and restaurants.
Nara City is so compact that you can explore most of it all within a short time which is why most tourists who base themselves in Kyoto go for a day trip to Nara. This day trip itinerary is made even more convenient because of the excellent express train service linking both cities. The journey to Nara from Kyoto usually takes less than hour via the Miyakoji rapid service. The other interesting parts of the city include the western section called Nishinokyo and southwest section called Ikaruga.