The first permanent capital of Japan, Nara (奈良) is one of the most rewarding destinations in the country. Indeed, with eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, Nara is second only to Kyoto as a repository of Japan's cultural legacy. The centrepiece is, of course, the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, which rivals Mt Fuji and Kyoto's Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) as Japan's single most impressive sight. The Great Buddha is housed in Tōdai-ji, a soaring temple that presides over Nara-kōen, a park filled with other fascinating sights that lends itself to relaxed strolling amid the greenery and tame deer.
Nara's best feature is its small size: it's quite possible to pack the most worthwhile sights into one full day. Many people visit Nara as a side trip from Kyoto, and comfortable express trains link the cities in about half an hour. Of course, it's preferable to spend two days here if you can. If your schedule allows for two days in Nara, you might spend one in Nara-kōen and the other seeing the sights to the west and southwest of Nara city (areas known as Nishinokyō and Ikaruga, respectively).
Nara destination guides
Travel in Japan one year after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami
One year after Japan's heartbreaking triple-disaster, the country still has a lot more reconstruction ahead of it and some psychological and economic scars that have yet to heal. Yet while the magnitude 9.
3-Day Mt Fuji, Kyoto and Nara Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo
Capture the quintessential Japanese travel experiences - Mt Fuji, Kyoto and Nara - on a three-day Bullet train rail tour from Tokyo. Your experience begins with the spectacular scenery of Mt Fuji and Hakone National Park. Continue by Bullet train to Kyoto where you'll spend the next two nights.
Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto including Nijo Castle
Explore the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara on a full-day tour from Kyoto. See all the highlights of Kyoto including visits to Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace. Then travel to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Nara and some of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Hand-feed the deer and see the Kasuga Shrine with more than 3,000 lanterns.