Once an ancient capital of Japan, Nara is home to some of the country’s most important historical treasures. Within its sacred sites, you’ll find numerous UNESCO-protected temples, traditional Japanese gardens and historic districts lined with cafés and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), that take you back in time. Like many Japanese cities, Nara is intertwined with nature, where its surrounding green peaks give way to cherry tree-filled parks, atmospheric forests and friendly roaming deer.
You can find Nara hostels in the city centre close to the train station, or on the outskirts of town in its lush deer parks. Immerse yourself in Japanese culture and stay in a traditional townhouse with tatami straw-matted lounges and shōji sliding doors, or opt for a modern pad with sleek urban interiors. Pick a Nara hostel with social vibes where evening events and an on-site bar get everyone chatting, or hostels with zen-like atmospheres thanks to dimly-lit lounges and tranquil gardens.
Nara may be smaller than its neighbouring cities, but its diverse districts each have a distinct character. Downtown Nara is considered one of the livelier areas where you’ll find the main train station and a string of shops, restaurants and bars. The Nara Park area covers a large proportion of the city and it’s where you’ll discover most of Nara's heritage. South of town is Naramachi, a historic neighbourhood with hipster hangouts, while to the west is Nishinokyo, which has two World Heritage Sites.
Temples are everywhere in Nara. In the heart of the city, Nara Park is home to the Todaiji and Kofukuji Temples, as well as beautiful gardens and wandering roe deer. There’s also the Toshodaijio and Yakushiji Temples to the west of town. If you love Japanese art and history, head to the National Museum and Nara Prefecture Museum of Art. To see the city in bloom, stroll around the Manyo Botanical Garden or climb Mount Wakakusayama for its cherry trees and panoramic views over the city.
Kansai International Airport is Nara’s nearest airport. Limousine buses connect the airport to the city centre. If you’re coming from Tokyo, you can get the overnight bus (7-8 hours). From Kyoto and Osaka, you can get the fast train into town, both of which take less than an hour. When you arrive, hire a bike from the train station and cycle around the city and its parks, or hop on the Nara Kotsu Bus Service.