Beautiful Buddhist temples, spectacular Shinto shrines and the excavated site of the great Imperial Palace make Nara City the ultimate historical spot.
Nara City is located east of Osaka City and south of Kyoto City and easily accessed by JR train from both.
From Osaka, the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service goes directly to Nara Station. From Kyoto, the JR Miyakoji Rapid Service goes directly to Nara Station. Other JR local lines also connect the two cities. From other locations in Kyoto or Osaka, the Kintetsu private railway may be the most convenient alternative.
The Ikaruga area near Nara City is home to Horyuji Temple, the oldest wooden building in the world. Also worth a visit is the nearby Hokkiji Temple , with its magnificent three-story pagoda. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, packed with historical intrigue.
Close to central Nara is the site of what was once the most important building in Japan, Heijo Palace . Although little remains of the original structures, the buildings at the Heijo Palace site have been recreated using authentic period-appropriate materials.
The only surviving part of the original palace is found at the nearby 8th century Toshodaiji . The simple, ancient buildings are architectural gems. Fans of historical architecture should also visit Yakushiji , which has an ancient pagoda dating back to A.D. 730.
Visitors who are willing to travel a little further outside of the city will enjoy the Yamatokoriyama area. This area is only a short distance from sights such as Yakushiji and can be combined with them in a day trip.
The area is known for the spectacular Koriyama Castle . This castle is famous for its peaceful garden and its protective wall, which features stones from a variety of sources including religious icons. The resulting defensive structure serves as a powerful reminder of Japan's military past.
Yamatokoriyama is the center of the Japanese goldfish industry, and there is even a Goldfish Museum.
People looking to experience the more natural side of Nara should head to Kuragari-toge which combines a satisfying hike with deep history. This can be combined with a cultural experience at the nearby Hozanji Temple, which is home to an unusual Hindu-inspired elephant entity.
Even further afield is the Mt. Shigi area. This area also combines cultural attractions, Chogosonshiji Temple , and its tiger-inspired architecture, with natural attractions such as Kongosenji , famous for its hydrangeas.
Whether you want to take your time with each location or see as much as possible in a day, Nara City is a great base for your adventures.