When travelers ask us where they should visit outside of Kyoto, without a doubt we recommend Nara! Today we will share with you the reasons we think Nara is a great place to visit as well as a sample one day itinerary based on our actual experience going there with kids.
3 Reasons Nara is a great place to go with kids
1. You can see cute deer!
For Japanese people, Nara equals deer! The deer in Nara are believed to be angels of god and have therefore been treated as holy from long ago. There are over 1000 deer living in Nara Park which is on the grounds of Kasuga Shrine.
There are several places within the park grounds where you can buy “shika senbei” literally deer crackers, which the deer will be happy to eat. Be careful because the deer know what the packages look like and if they see you holding the “shika senbei” they will crowd around you trying to get a treat. Being surrounded by deer will look as if you are in a world of fairy tales when you look back at your pictures!
2. World Heritage Town
In Nara, which was once the capital of Japan, you can find Kasuga Shrine and Todai-ji among a total of 8 cultural properties, Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, which is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Nara has two other listings on the World Heritage list as well, the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area and the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Total there are 20 individual venues on the list making Nara itself a town full of World Heritage!
3. Easy Access
Nara is easy to access from Kyoto! It’s just about a 50-minute train ride from Kyoto Station on the Kintetsu line and will cost 640 yen.
If you are short on time and want to get there a little quicker, the Kintetsu Limited Express takes just 35 minutes and will cost 1160 yen.
Recommended 1 Day Itinerary
Rent Bicycles at Nara Station
To explore Nara, you don’t need a car, but with kids it can be a bit too much walking, so renting bicycles is recommended.
There are some bicycle rental shops near the station. Some shops have bikes for kids as well as bikes with child seats attached. And don’t worry, you can also borrow helmets at the shops. One word of caution though, if you aren’t used to riding bikes, it may be best not to ride with kids.
The bike you see in the picture was rented here, http://nara-rent-a-cycle.com/en/
Head to Kasuga Taisha Shrine – a World Heritage Site
Once you have your bikes, head toward World Heritage site, Kasuga Taisha Shrine. On your way you will likely meet some deer, so if you would like, stop for a bit to greet them! If you have “shika senbei” the deer will come quite close trying to get some. Keep in mind these are wild deer, so be sure to watch closely as your kids feed them and please make sure you and your kids don’t touch the area near their tails. When we visited Nara when my oldest son was just 3 years old, he touched one of their rears and was kicked. The kick was so hard that he flew almost a meter! Don’t worry though, as long as you don’t do something to make them angry or surprise them, the deer are very docile. Just remember not to touch the area near their tails!
If you have “shika senbei” many deer will surround you, which is surprising for both adults and kids!
Pray at Kasuga Taisha Shrine while playing with deer
Kasuga Taisha Shrine is one of Nara’s power spots with a history of about 1300 years! Since there are deer at the shrine as well, kids are able to spend a little time at this historical place without getting too bored.
There are 3,000 lanterns lined up in the brightly colored shrine. These lanterns have been donated by the common people since ancient times and show how deeply the people feel about their religious beliefs.
As Kasuga Taisha Shrine is attached to a natural mountain area, you can enjoy being in nature too. In spring you can see beautiful and fragrant wisteria and in fall the colorful autumn leaves.
Time for lunch!
There is a restaurant on the grounds of Kasuga Taisha Shrine and many shops along the way to the shrine. Some famous dishes include somen (a thin noodle) and sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. My son was very happy to have somen.
Next, Todai-ji Temple
In just a short bike ride from Kasuga Taisha Shrine you will arrive at Todai-ji Temple, famous for its large Buddha statue. The hall in which the statue stands is the world’s largest wooden structure and is listed as World Cultural Heritage site.
The pink of the cherry blossoms with the temple buildings is very pretty!
The gate at Todai-ji, with a height of 25 meters, is the largest in Japan. The guardians positioned on either side of the gate are called Niou and two at Todai-ji are quite impressive.
The building itself is pretty amazing, but the most famous thing about Todai-ji Temple is the large Buddha statue. It is the tallest Buddha statue in Japan boasting a height of 15 meters!
It makes you wonder why such a large Buddha statue was made, right? It was built 1300 years ago at a time filled with famine and revolt. Because of the hard times, the emperor of the time wanted the country to be watched over and protected by the power of the Buddha and therefore had the statue built.
Going through a hole
In the hall where the large Buddha statue is located, there is a pillar with a hole in it. It is said that the hole is the same size as the large Buddha statue’s nostril! It is 30 centimeters wide and 37 centimeters tall, so not exactly a large hole, but it is said that if you are able to crawl through the hole you will be protected from evil and safe from disease and disasters.
If there’s time, see some of Nara-machi
If you still have some time, we recommend escaping the crowds and spending a more leisurely time in Nara-machi. Nara-machi is an area which used to be the main part of the city of Nara. You can see many “machiya” which are traditional Japanese townhouses.
Nara-machi “Koshino-ie” (House with lattice windows)
In Nara-machi you can find a type of house with lattice windows called “koshino-ie” in Japanese. This is a place which is now a rest spot and anyone can go inside. You can get a feel of what a traditional Japanese house was like.
Nara-machi Kara Kuri Omocha-kan
This is another spot where you can experience the feel of a traditional Japanese house. Here you will find many Japanese toys from the past. You can even play with some of them, so kids are excited to go here. Through playing with traditional toys of Japan, you can experience Japanese traditions and culture.
One day in Nara
Nara is the perfect destination for a day trip from Kyoto!
If you want you could even spend the night in Nara, but as Kyoto has so many kid-friendly hotels in good locations, we think staying in Kyoto and taking a day trip to Nara is best.