There are a few animal-based activities on most people’s itineraries when they come to Japan. No doubt leading that list are the deers in Nara Park. But, is Nara worth visiting just to see these deer, or are you better to spend your time elsewhere?
As far as I’m concerned, Nara is absolutely worth visiting regardless of what you get up to. Even if you aren’t too interested in seeing the deer, the area offers many other things to do which will make the trip one to remember.
So, I think Nara is worth visiting, but what specific areas? And how should you go about visiting to guarantee you make the most of your time there? Well, grab yourself a cup of matcha, and let me tell you all about it!
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Why should you trust me?
Well first off, as you can see from this photo above, I can clearly communicate with animals… Definitely don’t have food in my hand…
I’ve been to Nara 3 times, though as I write this article, I’m off again in about 2 weeks with family. I know almost everything there is to know about this place, more than enough for someone visiting for the first time. If you want to know about it, chances are, I can tell you!
As I’ll talk about in a bit, I’ve been in the Summer, Spring, and Autumn, and would love to book a trip in winter as well.
Oh and by the way, if you can’t be bothered to read the article but still want to get a general sense of what Nara can be like, take a look at the cinematic video I shot of Nara Park below.
And one final thing: I’m not one of these bloggers who loves EVERYTHING Japan has to offer, and I won’t recommend going everywhere in these kinds of posts. I recently answered the question “Is Osaka Castle worth visiting?“, and my answer to that was a lot less positive than this one.
What is Nara known for?
When asking the question ‘Is Nara worth visiting?’ it’s important to remember that ‘Nara’ is actually a Japanese prefecture and not just that place in Japan that has loads of deer.
Now, I’d imagine the reason 99% of you have clicked on this article is that you want to find out whether it is or isn’t worth visiting those deer, so that’s what we’ll focus on today!
If you’re looking for beautiful palaces, Shinto shrines, and the oldest wooden building in the world, Nara is definitely worth it!
How to get to Nara
There are a few ways to get to Nara (and the deers), and much of that depends on where you’re staying. The most important thing to remember is to get the train to Kintetsu Nara station, not Nara station.
From Kyoto to Kintetsu Nara Station
For some reason, I always thought this would be an easier journey than going from Osaka, but surprisingly that’s not the case.
Sometimes you can get a direct train from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station (like the map above), but often you’ll have to catch two. It’s a private line, so make sure you search for ‘Kintetsu’ in Kyoto because it’s in a slightly different area than all the others are.
When you get on the first train (if it’s two rather than one), you’ll likely be taking it to Yamato-Saidaiji, with quite a few stops in between. From there, you’ll transfer onto the Kintetsu Nara Line and ride 3 stops to Kintetsu Nara.
From Osaka to Kintetsu Nara Station
If you’re based in Osaka, you’ll need to get yourself to Osaka Namba station. From there, it’s a single train on the Kintetsu-Nara Line (just under 40 minutes) and you’re there.
It’s also a lot cheaper than coming from Kyoto, despite taking a similar amount of time.
I’ve got extremely fond memories of this train ride as it was one of the first I did when I originally came to Japan many years ago. It’ll give you stunning views out across Osaka and is even better during dusk or dawn. Highly recommended!
10 things to do in Nara
To truly help you understand what to do in Nara, and help you answer the question of “is Nara worth visiting?”, I’m going to show you a few things you can do there to fill up your time. The first three are all things I’ve done recently, and the others are things that come highly recommended.
1. Todaiji Temple
Cost: ¥500 per person
I only went inside Todaiji temple on the last trip to Nara, and I’m incredibly glad that I finally got around to doing so. This place is epic!
I’ve always known about this temple in Nara, and how it houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues (15m), but knowing about it and actually seeing it are such different things.
There are also these slightly smaller statues (I think around 8 meters) that sit to the left and right of him. Equally as impressive in my opinion!
Apologies for the slightly wonky photo, but I also found this image inside of Todaiji temple and I think it truly represents just how spectacular this place is, and how important it is to Japan.
2. Nara Park
Probably the reason you clicked on this article in the first place! If you like deer of all shapes and sizes running after you (lovingly?…) and waiting for you to feed them, this is the place to come!
I’ll explain a little more in the next section about where to go, but there are definitely good and bad places to stop and feed them. Don’t follow the crowds with this one!
Also, they’re literally everywhere. When you see it for the first time (and even on my 3rd time to be honest) it’s going to be pretty surreal.
You’ll find people that stop in their car for them, and honestly, most of the deer couldn’t care less about it. Well, unless they have food of course…
3. Nigatsudo Hall
The grounds of Todaiji are absolutely massive, and you could easily spend the entire day there. In fact, that’s exactly what I recommend you do, especially if it’s your first time.
Other things to do in Nara
There are absolutely loads of things to do in Nara, so much so that I’d be here all day if I told you all of them. Ideally, I’d write another blog post about it, but sadly I don’t think Google will let me rank for those kinds of keywords just yet…
Here are a few other things I’d recommend seeing. I’d advise doing your own research on if you’ve got longer than a day in Nara:
- Mount Wakakusa – a ‘mountain’ just behind Nara Park. Definitely worth it if you like walking, and at 342 meters, it’s not too daunting!
- Yoshikien Garden – ¥250 to get in, and really close to everything. Go early if you can because it does get busy due to its location
- Heijō Palace Remains – A reconstruction, but incredibly beautiful. I’ve seen it many times as I come in on the Kintetsu Nara line, it’s easily accessible too!
- Yakushiji Temple – A temple built for Emperor Tenmus’s wife’s recovery. Located on the outskirts of Nara.
- Horyuji Temple – The oldest wooden structure in the world. Seriously!
- Nara National Museum – Next to Nara Park, filled with art. I haven’t been inside, but have been kicked by a deer outside…
- Isui-en Garden – Widely considered the best park in Nara from the Meiji period. Once again, I’d advise coming early
Avoid the crowds in Nara Park
Nara is a popular place, and the park where most people go to find the free-roaming deer is no different. While I could try to make you get up at 4 am (just like I did to film that video), in reality, you just need to get up early enough to avoid the crowds in Nara Park.
It’s hard to pin an exact time down for that, as the day and time of year you’re in Nara will have a big impact on my recommendation. Ideally though, arriving before 8 am is what I’d recommend if you want a few bits entirely to yourself.
The vast majority of people leave Kintetsu Nara station (seen on the left-hand side of the map above) and only make it as far as Noborioji Park. It’s completely understandable because there are loads of deer all around this area, but that also makes it incredibly busy.
I urge you to walk just a little further, even just past the museum to the crossroads if you’re early enough. If you happen to turn up later, keep going until you get to the Todai-ji Shoro.
The same sentiment rings true for the majority of places in Japan. For instance, somewhere like Oshino Hakkai may seem small at first but if you just walk a little further, you’ll be able to explore a quaint Japanese countryside village.
This bell tower was in such an idyllic setting and was practically empty during one of the busiest Saturdays in Spring. Highly worth it!
Other than the very first time I came to Nara, I’ve arrived fairly early. By 11 o’clock, it always looked like the picture I took below.
Quite honestly, that’s one of the less busy photos. Walking a little further into the park is my best advice if you don’t want to get up early, and also prioritize certain things to do earlier in the day as well.
For instance, Todaiji Temple gets very busy around midday, so make sure to go before the crowds get here!
At exactly the same time the photo above was taken, we decided to go for lunch. It was along that walk that I spotted Araike Enchi, a park with practically no people, and only a few deer!
The park itself is pretty central to everything, but as you can see from the photo above that doesn’t mean it’s busy. If you’re looking for a bit of respite, somewhere to relax, or somewhere to get away from the deer chasing you, I’d have a look over here.
There are also a lot of places for picnics in shaded areas, and the whole place has a sweet family vibe to it.
It’s like a mini oasis in an incredibly touristy area. Love it!
Prefer to have someone show you around and make sure that you’ll see everything worth seeing? Luckily enough for you, there are a ton of tours in the area. Here are the 10 most popular ones (I think the bike Highlights Bike Tour looks epic!):
What season to visit Nara?
Spring is fantastic, Autumn is spectacular, Winter looks amazing, and Summer will likely be way too hot (though, still good). As I said early, I’ve been in the Spring, Summer, and Autumn, and was it worth visiting in all of those? Absolutely.
It’s definitely worth visiting Nara in the Autumn if you have the chance. The further you venture into the park, the more the scenery starts to look like something out of a painting.
Of course, it does get busy, but this is the perfect time of the year to come early! Just walk a bit further! 😉
If you’re looking to get some spectacular Nara Park photos, I think Autumn is probably the best time to come as well. Spring is a great time for photos as well, don’t get me wrong, but the shots you’ll get in Autumn are just something special.
Spring is of course a great time to visit Nara and absolutely worth it. It’s pretty much a great time to visit anywhere in the country, though, of course, it’s going to be slightly busier than during other times of the year.
If I had to say, I preferred visiting in Autumn because of the colors and the fewer crowds, but you can’t really go wrong with either of them. Get up early, walk further than everyone else, and know what to expect. Follow those tips and you’ll be just fine!
FAQs about visiting Nara
What time of day is best to see deer at Nara Park?
Honestly, I’d get there as early as you can. The first time I went to Nara Park I got there at about 12 and it was packed. I only ventured in as far as the closest park to Kintetsu Nara station (Noborioji Park) and really missed out on all this place had to offer.
So the second time I visited in Autumn, I made sure to get up early! Perhaps looking back it was too early, but we were coming in from Osaka, and it was a one-hour journey in total from our Airbnb.
It was pitch black when we arrived, and freezing! There were only a few photographers there at such an early time in the morning, so it was awesome to practically have the whole place to ourselves.
The time of day I recommend that everyone see the deer at Nara Park is sunrise, and if you watched the video at the start of this post, I think you may agree. Granted that may not always be possible, but dawn in Nara Park is just something else…
Another added bonus of arriving so early is that the deer aren’t hungry and bothersome like the one above. Or at least, not as hungry!
If you’ve come to Nara before you’ll know just how persistent some of these animals can be when they get a smell of those deer crackers. Don’t bother trying to hide them, they’ll be found!
How many days in Nara is enough?
There is a lot more to do in Nara than just seeing the deer, however, if that’s pretty much all you want to do, a single day will be long enough. You’ll be able to get chased around by cracker-hungry deer, venture into some of the temples (perhaps Nara museum too?), and feel like you’ve had a jam-packed day.
Take care not to squeeze too much in, it’s better to feel rested for the rest of your trip than feel like a headless chicken who hasn’t had enough time to recharge!
However, if you’ve got enough time to spend a couple of days here, I’d fully recommend doing so. One of the places I’ve always wanted to see but never got the chance to is Horyuji Temple, literally a collection of the oldest buildings in the world.
That’s the kind of thing you’ll remember!
How long do you need at Nara deer park?
Again, it depends on how much time you fancy spending around deer or just wandering around the area. I love walking, so I could easily spend all day here. But if you just want to see the deer and maybe the closer temples, you could do that in the morning, and then spend the afternoon having lunch.
Trust me when I tell you that visiting Nara always feels like a long day, even if you don’t technically do too much.
Where to eat in Nara Park?
I don’t eat meat or fish, so I might not be the best person to ask. Normally when I go to Nara Park I just grab myself one of the sweet potatoes from a street vendor.
They’re horrendously overpriced, but so damn tasty!
Just make sure you don’t eat them anywhere near the deer, or ideally not around lunchtime else you’ll have a bunch of hungry animals to contend with at the same time…
If you’ve decided to walk up to the bell tower we talked about above, there are a number of food options available to you right there in the park. What you eat will of course depend on what you fancy on the day, but having food options this close is a great way to stay in the moment and make the most of your day without venturing miles out of your way for something to eat.
There are quite a few places to eat both before and after the bell tower. It’ll just take a bit of walking around to figure out what suits you best.
I’m not entirely sure about the pricing though, so bear in mind that you may be paying a small premium for the location.
Is visiting Nara worth it?
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I absolutely think that it’s worth visiting Nara. It might not be as zen-like as Kyoto or Nikko and sure it might be touristy during certain parts of the year, but there’s a reason for that. I’ve never been to another destination on earth where deer roam free across the town, so putting Nara on my bucket list when coming to Japan was an absolute must!
Looking for somewhere a little further down south? If you’re after an island day trip where you can still see a load of deer, stunning temples, and delicious food, check out the article I wrote on understanding if Miyajima is worth visiting.