What to do in nara?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: July 3, 2024

Explore Nara Park

Nara Park, established in 1880, is one of the oldest parks in Japan and spans an impressive 502 hectares. The park is most famous for its free-roaming deer, which are considered sacred and are a symbol of the city. Visitors can interact with these friendly creatures by feeding them shika senbei, special deer crackers sold by vendors throughout the park. The deer have even learned to bow to visitors in exchange for treats, making for an unforgettable experience.

Visit Todaiji Temple

One of Nara’s most iconic landmarks, Todaiji Temple, houses the Great Buddha (Daibutsu), the largest bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana in the world. The temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an architectural marvel. The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. The temple grounds also feature smaller halls, beautiful gardens, and the Nandaimon Gate. Don’t miss the hole in one of the wooden pillars in the Daibutsuden; it is said that those who can pass through it will be granted enlightenment in their next life.

Discover Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Established in 768 AD, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is Nara’s most celebrated Shinto shrine and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine is renowned for its thousands of stone and bronze lanterns, donated by worshippers over the centuries. These lanterns are lit twice a year during the Setsubun Mantoro and Obon Mantoro festivals, creating a magical atmosphere. Walk through the serene pathways lined with moss-covered stone lanterns and explore the various sub-shrines within the complex.

Stroll Through Isuien Garden

Isuien Garden, located near Todaiji Temple, is a stunning example of Japanese landscape artistry. The garden is divided into two parts: the front garden, dating back to the mid-17th century, and the rear garden, created in the late 19th century. Both sections offer beautiful views of the surrounding nature and carefully designed landscapes, including ponds, tea houses, and stone lanterns. The garden’s name, which means “garden founded on water,” reflects its design centered around water features.

Explore Naramachi

For a taste of traditional Nara, visit Naramachi, the city’s historic merchant district. This area is filled with well-preserved machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) that now house museums, shops, cafes, and restaurants. Wander through the narrow streets and discover hidden gems, such as the Naramachi Koshi-no-Ie, a beautifully restored townhouse that offers a glimpse into the daily life of Nara’s merchants during the Edo period. Don’t forget to visit the Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum, where you can try your hand at operating various traditional Japanese toys.

Experience Horyuji Temple

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Horyuji Temple, is located just outside of central Nara in the town of Ikaruga. Founded in 607 AD by Prince Shotoku, this temple complex is home to some of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The five-story pagoda and the Kondo (Main Hall) are particularly impressive, showcasing the architectural prowess of ancient Japan. The temple grounds also feature the Gallery of Temple Treasures, which houses an extensive collection of Buddhist art and artifacts.

Admire the Art at the Nara National Museum

The Nara National Museum is a must-visit for art and history enthusiasts. The museum’s extensive collection focuses on Buddhist art, with exhibits including statues, paintings, and ritual objects. The museum is divided into two main buildings: the original building, constructed in a French Renaissance style, and the newer East Wing, which houses the permanent collection. The museum also hosts special exhibitions throughout the year, so be sure to check the schedule during your visit.

Take a Scenic Hike in Mount Wakakusa

For a bit of outdoor adventure, hike up Mount Wakakusa, located on the eastern edge of Nara Park. The mountain, also known as Mount Mikasa, offers a relatively easy hike with a rewarding panoramic view of Nara City from the summit. The trail is particularly popular during the spring cherry blossom season and in autumn when the foliage is at its peak. Every January, the mountain is set ablaze during the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival, a spectacular event where the grass on the hillside is burned in a controlled fire.

Sample Local Cuisine

No visit to Nara would be complete without trying the local cuisine. Savor traditional dishes such as kakinoha-zushi, sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves, and narazuke, vegetables pickled in sake lees. For a sweet treat, try yomogi mochi, rice cakes flavored with mugwort. Many restaurants in Nara also offer kaiseki, a multi-course meal that showcases seasonal ingredients and meticulous preparation. Explore the eateries in Naramachi or near Nara Park to find both casual and fine dining options.

Engage in Cultural Workshops

To fully immerse yourself in Nara’s rich cultural heritage, participate in one of the many workshops offered throughout the city. Learn the art of Japanese calligraphy, try your hand at traditional pottery, or create your own washi (Japanese paper). These workshops provide a hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of the craftsmanship and traditions that have been passed down through generations.

Shop for Unique Souvenirs

Take home a piece of Nara by shopping for unique souvenirs. Look for handcrafted items such as Nara brushes, known for their exceptional quality and used in calligraphy and painting. Pick up some locally produced sake, or choose from a variety of deer-themed items, including plush toys, accessories, and stationery. The shops in Naramachi and around Nara Park offer a wide range of products, ensuring you’ll find the perfect memento to remember your trip.

Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

For an authentic Japanese experience, consider staying in a traditional ryokan, a Japanese inn that offers tatami-matted rooms, futon bedding, and kaiseki meals. Many ryokans also feature onsen (hot spring baths), providing a relaxing way to unwind after a day of sightseeing. Staying in a ryokan allows you to experience Japanese hospitality and culture firsthand, making your visit to Nara even more memorable.

Attend Local Festivals

Nara hosts several festivals throughout the year that showcase the city’s vibrant culture and traditions. The Nara Tōkae Festival in August illuminates Nara Park with thousands of lanterns, creating a magical evening atmosphere. The Omizutori Festival in March, held at Nigatsu-do Hall of Todaiji Temple, features dramatic fire ceremonies that have been performed for over 1,200 years. Attending these festivals offers a unique glimpse into Nara’s rich cultural heritage and provides a memorable experience for visitors.

As you explore Nara, you'll find that this ancient city effortlessly weaves together history, culture, natural beauty, and modern attractions, offering a truly unique and enriching experience. From the sacred deer of Nara Park to the serene gardens and historic temples, each corner of the city tells a story waiting to be discovered.

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