Less than an hour from Kyoto and Osaka lies Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara. Home to the country’s oldest and largest temples, Nara is bursting with ancient monasteries, Zen gardens and shrines. Here is our guide to the sights you won’t want to miss.
1. Todaiji Temple
This grand temple is the world’s largest wooden building. Once the most powerful Buddhist temple in Japan, Todaiji now houses the country’s largest bronze Buddha.
2. Nara Park
You’ll find most of Nara’s main attractions including Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha and Kofukuji Temple here. The park’s most endearing attraction, however, has to be the wild deer that roam freely throughout the grounds.
3. Isuien Garden
This lovely Japanese garden is just a short stroll from Todaiji Temple. It contains a number of small ponds and tea houses.
4. Kasuga Taisha
Nara’s most celebrated shrine is famous for its many lanterns, which are lit twice a year during the Lantern Festivals in early February and mid August.
5. Kofukuji Temple
The Fujiwara Clan was Japan’s most powerful family and their temple complex once consisted of over 150 buildings. Today, only a handful of buildings remain including two pagodas of great historical value.
6. National Museum
Staying in Nara Park, No.6 on our list is the National Museum, which contains many treasures from around Japan, including Buddhist statues, paintings and ceremonial objects.
7. Yoshikien Garden
Across the river from Isuien Garden, Yoshikien in central Nara is made up of three distinct gardens: a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden.
This former merchant district has many beautifully preserved machiya, long, narrow townhouses that served as both shops and living quarters for local merchants after the 15th century.
9. Horyuji Temple
Founded by Prince Shotoku, who first introduced Buddhism to Japan around 540 BC, Horyuji is one of the country’s oldest temples. Several of its buildings date from the 7th century and are the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures.
Also from the 7th century (but restored in the 1970s), Yakushiji is an ancient temple complex that contains an original three-storied pagoda. The Yakushi trinity in the main hall is considered a masterpiece of Japanese Buddhist art.
Learn more about day trips to Nara from Kyoto.