How would you like to visit a city park over run by deer? If you haven’t known already, the city of Nara in Japan has it’s famous deer park where you can go foot to hoof with these 4 legged creatures.
Going to Nara is relatively easy if you are already staying at Kyoto or Osaka. Both cities connect to Nara by JR train lines, and if you already have the JR Pass, this train ride is basically free.
From Kyoto Station, JR rapid trains leave at 30 minutes intervals and take 45 minutes to arrive at Nara Station. The tickets costs ¥710 one way but are covered by the JR Pass.
From Osaka Station, JR rapid trains leave every hour and take 50 minutes to arrive at Nara Station. The ticket costs ¥800 one way but are also covered by the JR Pass.
Another railway company, Kintetsu runs trains from Kyoto and Osaka to Nara. Prices are lower and their station is nearer to Nara Park compared to JR, so if you don’t have the JR Pass, you can consider the Kintetsu trains instead.
Nara in a Day
Nara itself is a small city and for most visitors, a visit to Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. Nara was the first permanent capital of ancient Japan established in 710AD. Later the capital was moved to Kyoto in 784AD. Because of this, you will find a large number of temples and the ruins of an imperial palace in Nara.
Most of the attractions including the deer are centred around Nara Park. From JR Nara station the quickest way to get to Nara Park is by public bus. Otherwise you can walk the more than 2km distance if the weather is good. For ourselves, we took a taxi from JR Nara station to Nara Park. The distance is not far and for a group of 4-5 people, a taxi can be a more economical choice of transport.
If you take the Kintetsu trains, then the Kintetsu Nara station is much nearer to Nara Park and you can just walk over.
While children may find it cute to feed the deer. Small children shouldn’t do it as the deer can be aggressive when feeding and knock smaller children down, or bite to get attention. I received a painful nip to my leg just because 1 of the deer didn’t get a biscuit in time, and my pants pockets were wet with deer saliva because they were putting their muzzles inside to look for biscuits. And that’s my first experience with the Nara deer.
So besides cavorting with resident deer, Nara has the very famous Todaiji Temple complex which is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple lays claim to the world’s largest wooden structure and stands at 48m tall.
To get to the temple you have to pass through the equally impressive Nandaimon Gate (South Great Gate) which is also an all wood structure.
There is an entry fee of ¥600 to enter the main temple which houses the Great Buddha Hall. I do think it’s totally worth it to pay to enter the temple as you will get to see the largest bronze Buddha in Japan inside, plus many other ancient artifacts.
Besides the Great Buddha Hall, there are several other notable buildings in the Todaiji temple complex. They don’t require any entry fees and are within walking distance from the great hall.
Once you’ve had your fill of deer and temples, it’s time to head back to Nara city. There is a small shopping street where the tourists hang out for snacks and souvenirs. This is also a good time to check out some of the restaurants in Nara. For ourselves, we decided to eat at Edogawa Grilled Eel Restaurant which serves unagi, or Japanese fresh water eel. This restaurant is quite well known and it’s better to make reservations. We had to wait almost 45 minutes as we were just walk-in customers.
From Naramachi Street or the main street of Sanjo Dori, you can walk back to JR Nara station or Kintetsu Station to catch your train back to Kyoto or Osaka.
For a typical day trip, most people will opt to visit Todaiji and Nara Park in the morning as it’s less hot, and then make their way back to Nara city to enjoy lunch/tea break at the restaurants and do some shopping before catching the train back to Kyoto or Osaka.