Nara is one of Japan’s most enchanting cities. It’s wrapped in forests, deep gardens, deer and an overall mysterious atmosphere. Most visitors visit Nara as a day trip when they’re visiting Kyoto or Osaka. A day enough time to see the best of Nara, but deciding what to prioritize on can be quite difficult. Especially if you’re wanting to plan around the best things to do in Nara with kids. To help you out, we’ve planned an itinerary for a Nara day trip. We’ll explain the best ways to travel from place to place, what you can expect from each attraction, and why they’re worth visiting!
Before you start…
Before you embark on your Nara day trip, we encourage you to take a stroller. Although all the main attractions are pretty close together, there will be quite a bit of walking and strolling. But don’t let this put you off. You won’t even realize all the walking since you’ll be distracted by the incredible gardens and buildings at the same time!
Buying a data plan is also a good idea when going on this trip. It smooths out the process of figuring what signs mean (street signs indicating tourist attractions, instructions, public transport stops, etc), finding directions, and for general translating.
We also advise you to take some kid-friendly snacks for the day. Nara has a world of exquisite street food around some corners, but just in case of an emergency, it’s a good idea to be prepared.
Nara Day Trip Itinerary
An overview of the itinerary:
9:30 am - Nara Park
10:30 am - Todai-ji Temple
11:30 am - Isui-en Garden and Yoshiji-en Garden
12:30 pm - Lunch
2:00 pm - Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
3:30 pm - Kofuku-ji Temple
5:00 pm - Dinner in Naramachi
9:30 am – Nara Park
We recommend an early start of around 8:30 a.m. if possible. Reaching Nara can be very easy and fast when you have a JR Pass, so make sure to purchase one at any travel service center or ticket office at a JR station. If you’re travelling from Osaka, make sure to get the JR Kanjo-Yamatoji Line until Nara. Otherwise, if you’re taking the train from Kyoto, make sure to get on the JR Nara Line. Remember that the express train will get you there a lot faster! From either Osaka or Kyoto, you should get to Nara in around 50 minutes.
To begin your Nara day trip, you should start your tour at the legendary Nobori-oji Street. You’ve probably heard about this enchanting place before since it’s considered one of the best things to do in Nara, with it being equally as popular and loved by kids as well. There are crackers available for purchase in the park where kids will be able to feed the 1200 sike deer that live here straight from their own hands.
If you keep the crakers in your pocket, deer will be likely to approach you and try to nibble themselves inside your jacket or pants; which can probably get to spook kids. Make sure you tell them to keep the crackers in their hands in front of them so that the deer can eat from them…it will keep them getting surprised from behind! There are over 600 hectares of this park to explore, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to see it all. However, there are a few attractions within the park itself, but you can take your time making your way to them. Seeing so many deer concentrated in one place is certainly something you don’t see every day, so make sure to embrace the experience as much as you can!
10:30 am – Todai-ji Temple
Inside the Nara Park you can find the Todai-ji, another of the best things to do in Nara with kids. It is a very impressive wooden temple that contains one of the largest bronze Buddha statues in the world. If you want to set your kids a special activity, make sure to make your way to the back of Daibutsu-den. You’ll find a pillar with a hole in the middle. Children who are able to pass through the hole are believed to benefit from enlightenment in the future, so encourage your kid to give it a go!
11:30 am – Yoshiji-en Garden and Isui-en Garden
Your Nara day trip cannot be complete without visiting one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan – the Isui-en Garden. However, make sure to see the Yoshiji-en Garden on your way there. It’s one of Nara’s best kept secrets, as it rarely appears on any guidebooks or Nara travel itinerary suggestions. It’s a free admission attraction, and you can find signs indicating so on your way to the Isui-en Garden. This hidden gem used to be the home of one of Nara’s priests. The house itself is designed according to traditional Japanese design, and surrounded by wonderful gardens with all sorts of different trails. These lead to different pond gardens, moss gardens and flower gardens to discover. This is one of the best things to do in Nara with kids because the gardens are fuller and more “enchanting-looking” than other Japanese gardens you may see around .
Once you’ve left the Yoshiji-en Garden, the “best garden in Japan” Isui-en Garden should be close by. It’s located right on the path from the train stations towards the Todai-ji Temple so you can’t miss it. There signs for the garden are very. It’s also a great space for your kids to run around in.
Although the entry fee is Y650, it is worth including in your Nara day trip. No matter what time of the year you visit, there will always be something in season to bloom. This means that if visit the garden at different times of the year, it will look different each time. By this time of the day, you might start feeling a little hungry; so make sure to order a cup of matcha while you go on a stroll. It’s also possible for you to plan to have a picnic with a couple of snacks; another of the things to do in Nara with kids that is worth considering.
Website: Isui-en Garden
12:30 – Lunch
Time for lunch! There are several options for lunch in Nara. The first option is to sit and enjoy a meal in one of Nara’s restaurants. Mellow Café is an excellent option as it offers kid friendly options and food for those who want to catch a break from Japanese cuisine. Otherwise, if you simply cannot get enough of Japanese food, Terakawa and Kamaiki are two of the best restaurants in Naramachi. They serve some of the most iconic Japanese dishes like sushi, sashimi, udon noodles and the well-known sake drink; but also have English menu options. Having a non-Japanese menus is great when traveling with kids. You never really know when they’ll be prone to try new things or not…better to play it safe!
However, if you think you won’t have enough time to sit down for an entire meal, Nara has some of the best Japanese street foods that are worth trying out. We recommend walking around and trying a couple of things as you. This way, you’ll get to truly live the best Japanese street food experience. We should also mention that the majority of these snacks are very unique and fun, so in the end, it turns out to be one of the great things to do in Nara with kids. These are a few things you should try:
- Mochi: Mochi is sort of like a pounded dough stuffed with azuki beans. It definitely has a distinctive texture, and is generally well-liked by kids.
- Dorayaki: These look like fluffy pancakes, but they’re actually stuffed with beans. They’re absolutely delicious, and you can also ask for different fillings such as sweet potato or chestnut. They’re the perfect savoury snack to eat on the way from place to place since they’re quite cheap (Y118) and filling.
- Deer Poop: This one is definitely a favourite among children. Of course, they’re just chocolate covered peanuts, but you can see where they get their name from. They’re a great dessert to treat your kids to, and you can be certain that they’ll remember them for sure.
2:00 pm – Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
After lunch, it is a good idea to visit the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. It’s located within the Nara Park area, making it very easy to find and access. The Kasuga Taisha shrine is the most popular and famous shrine in Nara, since it used to belong to Japan’s richest and most powerful family. The outside part of the area of the shrine is incredible by itself; where you can see deer wandering about and forests. But if you want to get a closer look from the shine’s inner rooms and buildings you will have to purchase tickets.
Different from other shrines, Kasuga Taisha is mostly known for its collection of bronze lanterns. The lanterns are only lit up twice a year though; once in February and once in mid August for the lantern festivals. This another great idea of things to do in Nara with kids! Seeing the shrine lit up by the lanterns is truly memorable. It could even be the highlight of the trip since it is such an unusual and beautiful image. Make sure to take this into account if you’re interested!
Website: Kasuga Taisha Shrine
3:30 pm – Kofuku-ji Temple or Nara National Museum
If you would rather do something else, another option of things to do in Nara is to enter the Nara National Museum. The museum is within a 10 minute walk from all the main attractions in Nara, and is a great option for when the weather is rainy or cold. The older building of the museum contains a large collection of Buddhist images and art; while the second and newer building hosts temporary exhibitions. Take a look at their website before you go to see if there is anything interesting for you and your family – currently, there is a beautiful exhibition on the On-Matsuri and the Sacred Art of Kasuga, and photographic plates of the exciting murals of the Horyu-ji Temple. Of course, make sure you don’t miss any deer roaming around!
Website: Nara National Museum
5:00 pm – Dinner in Naramachi
At 5:00 pm, most attractions, gardens and museums start to close. If you’re still feeling like taking the most out of your time in Nara, you might enjoy staying for dinner in Naramachi and walking through its streets. Naramachi is Nara’s traditional district where you can find shops, ancient homes, restaurants and Japanese inns (ryokan). Some of the best places to eat dinner in Naramachi are Edogawa Naramachi; their specialty dish being grilled eel and Kura.
After dinner, just spend time and wander through the streets. Take time to point out the small, older-looking shops and cafes that give an idea of what Nara was like several years ago. Children love imagining scenes of the past, so it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Nara with kids.
If you’re planning on having dinner back in Kyoto, make sure to read our post on the best kid-friendly restaurants in Kyoto.
After having visited the best of Nara, it may be time to go back to Kyoto or Osaka. You can easily make your way to the train station by following the signs; you won’t be more than 20 minutes away on foot.
We hope that this itinerary helps you plan a route for Nara – it’s genuinely one of Japan’s most charming and enchanting places to visit. It’s not every day that you see a city taken over by deer!