Nara is only a 30 min train ride from Kyoto and therefore easy to visit without moving your luggage again. Nara is above all an outdoor pet zoo for cute deer but also offers several nice temples and a little lake with a nice pavilion.
Here is a possible route, how to visit Nara:
First, you could get a free city map at Nara station and have an entertaining conversation at the English counter. The woman who works there doesn’t actually speak English that well and will say how sorry she is about that about 100 times.
From JR Nara station, take the yellow loop line bus to stop 7 and you will be at the intersection which leads to all the temples. The ticket costs 230 Yen and a full day pass is 500 Yen. I recommend to only take this one ride and then explore everything else on foot. The walk back to the station through town will take you about half an hour.
Nara deer park
In case you were worried that you won’t get to see a deer you will have calmed down by now because you already spotted quite a few of them during the bus ride. When you get off at stop 7 for Todai-ji temple you walk back a few meters and will be amidst several vendors of deer cookies for 100 Yen. The deer are very curious and will also come see whether you have something to give to them. So, on the short walk to Todai-ji temple you will get your fair share of deer interaction.
The entrance fee for Todai-ji temple is 500 Yen and well worth it. It’s Japan’s biggest wooden building and there are several big buddha statues inside. Also, there are no deer in the temple park and you finally get to calm down a little.
More temples and a hill
When you leave the temple, walk slightly uphill and follow the signs to the other temples. Once you reach a street with restaurants and souvenir shops, you have arrived at Wakakusa hill. Climb the hill and have a nice view over Nara. We had lunch in the first building. It’s actually a place where most big tour groups eat but they had a nice room upstairs. We could choose to sit on futons on the floor or on tiny chairs and tables. They were very quick with serving the food and it was absolutely delicious. Ramen cost about 800 Yen and curry rice 1000 Yen. All the restaurants we passed afterward didn’t look as nice.
The floating Pavillon
Once you visited the shrines and temples in the forest and collected some good luck for your love life, start walking back down the hill towards Ukimido Pavillon. This pavilion looks like it’s floating on the lake and is a wonderful place to just sit and rest your tired feet for a while. Try to spot the turtles and the big fish in the lake. In August, there is a lantern festival at the pavilion which turns the place into something magical.
More things to see and do in Nara
If you still aren’t tired then, stop by at Kofuku-ji temple with its high tower. On 3rd February you can watch a fire show for the daemons at this temple.
Now, you could visit Manyo Botanical Garden, which is Japan’s oldest botanical garden. Or you slowly start your way back into town. There are some nice buildings in Nara’s old town Naramachi and of course, there are restaurants and souvenir shops and other stores everywhere now. If you want to have another view above Nara, climb onto the balcony of the old library (Nigatsu-dō (二月堂). Google Maps
Before you leave Nara, you should take a picture at the funny fountain with the monk statue at the beginning of the covered outdoor shopping mall. Or, spend the night in Nara and visit one of the onsens in this town.
What’s your tip or must-see for Nara?