Nara is the heart of Japan, its where the old world meets the new. It should be top of your list of places to visit if you ever find yourself in Japan. Nara was established as Japans first official capital in the year 710 and it’s held much of its splendour, you feel as if you have been transported back in time walking among some of Japans oldest and largest temples. Nara can be accessed very easily, just jump on the train from Osaka or Kyoto and within an hour and a half you can be in Nara. It’s a stark contrast to the city and is brimming with historic treasures. It is also home to some of the largest and most magnificent bronze statues anywhere in the world.
It’s a fairly small town that centers around Nara park. This park is home to wild deer, you’ll be surprised at just how many there are, not to mention how domesticated they are. But be careful, they have a tendency to eat maps as we quickly found out! Whilst at the park, there’s a few things you mustn’t miss:
Without doubt this is one of the most amazing places in the modern world. The temple itself has been rebuilt over the years and is still the largest wooden building in the world despite only being 30% of it’s original size. Once you have finished marvelling at the outside you step in and are greeted by a 15 meter high bronze Buddha. Outstanding!
If you want to experience a real Japanese styled garden, this is a perfect place to explore. It was originally built by a wealthy merchant who lived there in the 17th century but is now solely used as a display of Japanese gardening to visitors. It’s not free, but your small entrance fee secures you a tour guide who gives you a full explanation of the gardens landscape, the trees used, what they signify and the rich history.
If you don’t mind a bit of a mountain hike, this walk up mount Wakasen gives you some beautiful views across the town of Nara and surrounding woodland. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the highest peak and with most of the route being paved with steps it’s easy for anyone.
Due to the smallish size of Nara, you’re unlikely to find budget style capsule hotels and staying closer to the park does come at a bit of a premium. You should expect to pay in the region of £40 per night for a standard room. We can highly recommend the Washington hotel which was perfectly located within walking distance to Nara park, the train station and plenty of shops and restaurants.
Despite being a very traditional part of Japan you will see a KFC when you arrive at Nara station! As you get closer to the park though, the majority of restaurants are Japanese and there is a strong bias to locally produced foods. We only ventured out for one meal but can recommend the Manna Indian restaurant, for only £8 each we had a delicious set meal with the biggest naan breads we’d ever seen!
Getting to Nara is very simple, there is a JR stop within walking distance of the park and many surrounding cities offer day tours via bus. Once in Nara, everything can be seen on foot, although if you don’t fancy that, hailing a cab or catching a local bus is an option. If you need any advice about getting around, what to see or anything in general, stop off at the information center next to Nara Park (just opposite library) . They were extremely helpful and spoke perfect English. They even let us dress up in Japanese costume for free.