Japan's first permanent capital, Nara (奈良) is one of the country's most rewarding destinations. The biggest draw is the awe-inspiring Daibutsu (Great Buddha), a towering effigy first cast in the 8th century. Historically important temples and shrines house treasures of Buddhist art, and more can be found in the excellent Nara National Museum. All of this occupies a compact area in and around Nara-kōen, a large, grassy park home to many (somewhat) tame deer.
Nara is popular as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka – there's just enough time to see the highlights. If you stay longer, you can visit one or more of the temples on the city's outskirts (less crowded but no less rewarding), stroll through the old merchant district of Naramachi and really immerse yourself in early Japanese history, art and architecture, for which Nara is famous.