Nara Travel: Things to do in Nara

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  • There are many things to do in Nara besides visiting its many temples and shrine. Try eating kakinoha-zushi in Naramachi, feeding deer at Nara Park, or visiting Nara National Museum.

    children in front of deers at Nara Park - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nara is known for its temples and shrine, there is the renowned giant bronze Buddha in Todaiji and the vermillion columns of Kasuga Taisha. However, don’t miss other things to do in Nara and only visit the temples. Come join us as we show you how to get to Nara, places we’ve stayed, delicious food we ate, and browse through the old street of Naramachi.

    Getting to Nara

    For the majority of foreign visitors, you will arrive Nara via Kyoto if you take the Shinkansen bullet train. There are a few trains you can take to Nara from Kyoto but the most cost-effective and fastest way is on the JR Miyakoji line (710 yen). You can also take the Kintetsu-Limited Express to Nara but it’s slightly more expensive and you arrive at the Kintetsu-Nara Station instead of Nara Station (13 min walk away).

    train info sign at Nara station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Miyakoji Rapid Service Nara - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    The Miyakoji Rapid Service train is spacious with large toilet facility and the seating is on a first come first serve basis.

    toilet on Miyakoji rapid service - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    children inside Miyakoji rapid service - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Although it’s a rapid service train, it will make seven stops along the way including at Uji. Uji is famous for its matcha.

    children posing next to statue of Sento-kun - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kids posing with Nara mascot Sento-kun

    Nara Station

    Nara station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nara Station

    You can download the Nara City Main Route Map for bus routes but it’s fairly easy to get around the city and the main attractions.

    1. Bus 1 and 2 are loop bus that will take you to Todaiji, Nara Park, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji, Nara National Museum, Naramachi, and Gangoji Temple.
    2. Bus 70, 72, and 97 will take you to the west side of the city including Toshodaiji Temple and Yakushiji Temple. Only bus 97 will reach Horyuji Temple and takes about 1 hour.
    3. Bus 12 and 14 will take you to Heijo Palace Site.

    sign for Nara City Loop Bus at Nata Station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    passengers boarding Nara City Loop Bus at Nata Station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    You can also take the taxi to get around the city and the standard pricing to each location are listed for visitors on the taxi stand sign.

    Taxi prices to destinations from Nara Station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Alternatively, you can use Gurutto Bus to get around Nara. Each ride is 100 yen or you can purchase a day pass for 500 yen. There are Gurutto Bus stops near many of the popular locations.

    Gurutto Bus Stop Nara - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    If you forget something or get hungry, JR Nara Station has you covered with plenty of restaurant choices and stores to purchase goods.

    Vierra Mall at Nara Station - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Naramachi – Nara’s Merchant District 奈良町

    Naramachi was Nara’s historic merchant district and it is one of the main attractions for visitors to the city. There are well-preserved wooden machiya in this area that has kept their traditional look.

    Narrow streets in Naramchi - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Narrow streets in Naramchi
    Naramachi Machiya building - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Traditional machiya building
    traditional Chinese pharmacy in Naramachi - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Traditional pharmacy

    In Naramachi district, we recommend the Naramachi Museum (奈良町資料館) and Koshinoie (ならまち格子の家) where visitors can go for free. Koshinoie is a very well preserved machiya. You are able to explore the house from the inside and understand what it was like to live in a traditional townhouse.

    interior of Koshinoie - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Living room inside Koshinoie - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Living room inside Koshinoie

    Buddhist altar inside Koshinoie - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Courtyard inside Koshinoie - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Courtyard inside Koshinoie

    Besides the well-preserved machiya, Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple Gangoji is also in Naramachi.

    Gangoji - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Gangoji

    Kakinoha-zushi (柿の葉寿司)

    Just a bit north of Naramachi are many small streets and shops you can explore. There are a few restaurants that sell Nara specialty – kakinoha-zushi (柿の葉寿司). What is kakinoha-zushi? It’s sushi wrapped in permission leaves.

    Narrow streets in Naramachi - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Narrow streets in Naramachi
    Hirasou Nara Restaurant - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Hirasou Nara – kakinoha-zushi restaurant
    Kakinoha-zushi - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kakinoha-zushi

    Since Nara is located inland it was difficult to transport seafood safely before refrigeration. Persimmon leaves had antibacterial properties and could keep the sushi fresh by wrapping inside the leaves.

    Unlike typical sushi restaurants, there aren’t many varieties of fish to pick from.  Kakinoha-zushi is usually served with salmon, mackerel, and trout. With our set meal at Hirasou, it came with assorted sushi including grilled corn, and green tea rice was served on the side.

    grilled corn sushi at Hirasou Nara - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    tea rice at Hirasou Nara - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Green Tea Rice

    Mochiidono Center Gai (Mochiidono Shopping Street)

    Continuing walking just a bit north you’ll find the covered shopping arcade Mochiidono Center Gai. You can find all sorts of Japanese souvenirs on this street along with many restaurants.

    Mochiidono Shopping Street - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    retail goods on Mochiidono Shopping Street - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    pottery shop on Mochiidono Shopping Street - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    What drew us there was the popular mochi making shop Nakatanidou. Nakatanidou has been making headlines with its rapid pounding and kneading of mochi and you can check out how they do it in the clip below.

    The mochi shop do not have a set time when they perform, and our suspicion is that the shows are put on when a tourist bus stops there to buy mochi. Regardless, their yomogi mochi was super delicious.

    Nakatanidou mochi shop - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nakatanidou mochi shop

    yomogi mochi at Nakatanidou - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Hotels in Nara

    We recommend spending at least one night when visiting Nara. You can easily do a day trip from Kyoto but relax, slow down, and enjoy many attractions the city has to offer. On our two trips there over the years, we’ve stayed at a ryokan and also one time at the historic Nara hotel.

    Asukasou Ryokan

    The ryokan we stayed at was Asukasou Ryokan and we really enjoyed our stay there. Its location is very convenient and you can walk to many of the popular attractions in Nara including Kofukuji and Nara National Museum.

    Asukasou Ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    From our room, we could see the five-storied pagoda at Kofukuji from our window. The rooms are standard ryokan setup, with a balcony sitting area, the main room, and then restroom and bath near the entry,

    Asukasou ryokan room - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    The bathroom at Asukasou Ryokan are updated and very clean and modern.

    Asukasou Ryokan bathroom - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    During a ryokan stay, while you’re eating dinner the staff will transform the room for sleeping by laying out the ofuton.

    ofuton laid out in ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    There are 5 main criteria for evaluating a Japanese ryokan, it’s service, facility, dinner, onsen (hot spring), and breakfast. Asukasou Ryokan had great service and the staff paid attention to small details. When we first checked in, they had a tray of traditional Japanese candies where children can pick and select what they wanted which made them really happy.

    sesame tofu at Asukasou Ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sesame tofu

    The dinner was standard kaiseki where the chef showcased local seasonal ingredients. The meal was delicious and the dishes were delicate. The breakfast was also very tasty and well prepapred. The only downside of the ryokan was it’s very small onsen area. It was on top of the building so the view was good, but there was only one small soaking tub.

    seasonal appetizer at Asukasou Ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    seasonal appetizer
    sashimi at Asukasou Ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Squid, tuna, konpachi, and tai sashimi
    Grill beef, chicken, and vegetables at Asukasou Ryokan - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Grill beef, chicken, and vegetables

    Nara Hotel

    If you want to experience a hotel with a rich story in Nara, look no further than Nara Hotel. With over 100 years of history, Nara Hotel is the choice for emperors, presidents, and many celebrities to the city.

    Nara Hotel - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nara Hotel

    Nara Hotel is conveniently located in Nara Park and closed to many sightseeing spots.

     Images of emperor visiting Nara Hotel - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Images of the emperor visiting Nara Hotel

    The interior of Nara Hotel is traditional design and it has kept its classic look.

    Tea Lounge at Nara Hotel - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Tea Lounge

    entrance to the dining room at Nara Hotel - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nara National Museum

    Not far from the Nara Hotel is Nara National Museum. The museum has an amazing collection of historic Buddhist sculptures, paintings, and statues. The museum’s history goes back to 1889 and there are many priceless national treasures in their collection.

    Nara National Museum - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    museum exhibition sign in front of Nara National Museum - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nara Park

    Lastly, when you’re going between Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha, you’ll cross the beautiful Nara Park. Nara park has hundreds of wild deers roaming around freely.

    pond inside Nara Park - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    The park is very large and has many locations with beautiful scenery. You can buy shika senbei to feed the deer but please do not tease them and treat them with respect. Also, watch out while feeding as the deer could be aggressive if you have food.

    deer inside Nara Park - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    pathway to Nara Kasugano International Forum at Nara Park - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com

    Enjoy Many Thing to do in Nara

    We hope you enjoyed our travel guides on Nara. We had a fantastic two days there, visiting centuries-old temples and shrines, exploring new food like kakinoha-zushi, and taking in the peaceful and calm sceneries at Nara Park. If you have limited time, do not skip Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, and Kofukuji.

    We highly recommend spending one night and experience Japanese hospitality at a ryokan or Nara Hotel. Stroll through Naramachi and see the well-preserved machiya, and check out the priceless treasures at Nara National Museum.

    Sarusawa Pond - Nara Guide: Things to do in Nara | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sarusawa Pond

    Thank you for traveling with us and if you want to check out our adventures throughout Japan, check out our Japan travel guides.

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