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Top 5 Things to do in Nara on TripAdvisor

Luke K.

by GoWithGuide travel specialist:Luke K.

Last updated : Apr 23, 202310 min read

Things To Do

If you are planning a trip to Nara, then a great place to start would be with the five top rated attractions on TripAdvisor. See the amazing great Buddha in Todaiji, experience the sight of deer as you travel around Nara Park, or enjoy a 1,200 year old night spectacle of fire, that reminds us that the winter is coming to an end. Here are the five top sights:

1. Todaiji

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People have always loved Todaiji, which was completed in the year 752 and continues to be a religious place down to this day. The essential sights include the buildings that were rebuilt after being destroyed in fires caused by wars, Daibutsu (the great Buddha), masterpieces from the geniuses Unkei and Kaikei, and the statues of the guardian deities.

Todaiji is a cultural property in Nara that is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is home to countless works of art and structures that are designated National Treasures, and is full of objects of extremely significant cultural value. Here, you will experience the dynamic atmosphere of a history spanning the ages in such objects as the main temple building, which houses Japan’s largest temple, and Daibutsu (the great Buddha statue).

At a height of 8.4 meters, the huge wooden images of guardian deities (National Treasures) flanking Nandaimon on both sides are not to be missed. Records show that these figures were made by the genius Buddhist image sculptors Unkei and Kaikei and their 13 disciples in just 69 days during the Kamakura period in the year 1208. These vivid and powerful statues stand magnificently, captured in a moment with their clothes fluttering in the wind. They have an incredible realism so that even their blood vessels can be seen. The image of the powerful Rikishi is a masterpiece of art from the middle of the Kamakura period.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Todaiji
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Todaiji
Tours of Todaiji

2. Nara Park

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(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Ever since the capital moved to Nara in the year 710, people have loved this location for the many historical cultural properties found here, and for the historical feel of the area and its climate. On the massive 660-hectare site of Nara Park in the center of Nara, you will find such World Heritage sites as Todaiji, Kofukiji, and Kasuga-taisha, as well as the Nara National Museum, which houses a number of National Treasures, including works of Buddhist art. The many ponds create a beautiful scene among the green landscape, across from which are the gentle slopes of Mount Wakakusa and the primeval forests of Mount Kasuga, which spread out magnificently. The historical buildings have long coexisted harmoniously alongside the nature of this city park, which is more beautiful than any other in the world.

Nara Park is also famous for deer. Deer crackers (shika-senbei) are sold inside the park so you can enjoy feeding the deer, which are raised not with artificial feeding but as wild deer that are a Nationally Protected Species. Deer have long been valued as messengers from the gods, so they have continued to coexist in this park without fear of man. (Please beware that the deer can become boisterous during mating season.)

Nara Park is full of nature, but the beauty of that nature is particularly outstanding during the cherry blossom season in early April. The sight of the 1700 cherry trees within the park in bloom was selected as one of the top 100 cherry blossom locations in Japan. We hope you will thoroughly enjoy playing with the deer, and the beauty of the temples that have coexisted alongside nature for 1300 years at Nara Park, which is stunning in every season.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Nara Park
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nara Park
Tours of Nara Park

3. Toshodai-ji

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(image by flickr.com)

Toshodai-ji is the head temple for Risshu, one of the six sects of Buddhism brought to Japan. In 759, Jianzhen began a place of Buddhist meditation that was for students to learn the mores and principles that needed to be protected in the religion. At the time, there had been no high priest to instruct these precepts in Japan, and there was a huge problem with a decrease in the quality of monks. It is at that point that Emperor Shoumu invited Jianzen from China to establish the correct Buddhist precepts. After 5 failed attempts to cross over to Japan, he finally reached the country after losing his sight in both eyes. This great achievement is known widely in both Japan and China.

Despite the many temples that were burned down during times of war, Toshodai-ji still remains as a remnant from the Tempyo Era. Inside, the Golden Hall has retained its appearance since its establishment in the late 8th century. In the center is the principal image of Rushanabutsu, on the right is the statue of Yakushi Nyorai and on the left is the statue of Senju Kannon. All of them are statues from around the 8th and 9th centuries and have been designated as National Treasures. In addition, you cannot miss the Kodo Lecture Hall with its open space. Originally, this was the Higashi Choushuuden Hall moved from Heijo Palace and then restored. Since no buildings remain of the Heijo Palace, the hall is an extremely valuable building at this time.

To prevent the decay of Buddhism in Japan, Jianzhen took more than 12 years to reach his goal of getting to Japan. His statue at Goei-do Hall can only be viewed annually for just three days in June, from the 5th to the 7th. Measuring 80.1cm in height, it is Japan’s oldest portrait sculpture and is a work that is representative of the Tempyo Era. The appearance of him with his eyes closed is exceptional as an example of a portrait sculpture. The realistic representation is remarkable up to the faithful re-creation of Jianzhen’s indomitable spirit.  

Admission: Adult: ¥ 600 / Child: ¥ 200

Guidebook from Planetyze about Toshodai-ji
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Toshodai-ji
Tours of Toshodai-ji

4. Isuien Park

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(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Isuien Park is a Japanese garden that was created during a relatively modern era in the former capital of Nara. The two gardens that were built by different owners in the Edo and Meiji Eras still retain that serenity. Taking into consideration the many historically significant cultural assets and structures from over a thousand years ago, Isuien Park, which was built in the 17th century, may be thought of as being a more recent property.

With Mt. Wakakusa in the background, the park is a soothing world with features such as the pond and hills delicately positioned and the old teahouse that was moved there. After thoroughly enjoying the World Heritage cultural properties and gaining some tranquility, you will most likely treasure the time that you spend at Isuien Park.  One feature at the traditional Japanese garden that is Isuien is that you are able to enjoy the front garden and rear garden that were built by two different people in two different eras.

The front garden that spreads out at the entrance of the garden proper was constructed in the early Edo Era in 1670 by Michikiyo Kiyosumi, a tanner from Nara. A thatched-roof house known as Sanshuu-tei was placed by the pond there as a place to enjoy sencha tea (a lighter tea than matcha). At the pond, stones representing a crane and tortoise, symbols of longevity, have been placed as small islands, and with the inclusion of stone lanterns, there is a feeling of an Edo Era garden. Currently, Sanshuu-tei has become a restaurant where you can enjoy a meal while viewing the garden.

The rear garden was constructed during the Meiji Era (around the late 19th century) by businessman Tojiro Seki as a place to enjoy the tea ceremony and poetry readings. It was built around a pond using the technique of shakkei (borrowed landscape) to bring alive the nature of Mt. Wakakusa and Mt. Kasuga in the background along with Nandaimon Gate of Todai-ji Temple and some man-made hills. The freely spreading landscape was deliberately and skillfully constructed as a scene to completely fill your eyes right up to the reflection on the pond’s surface. The sound and sensation of the waterfall built at the back of the pond are also wonderful, and the whole garden is something to enjoy the changing impressions of the scenery as you walk through it. Isuien Park is just that refined place for that serenity and peace of mind.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 900 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Isuien Park
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Isuien Park
Tours of Isuien Park

5. Todai-ji Nigatsu-do

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(image by flickr.com)

Nigatsu-do is one of the Buddhist halls located at Todai-ji Temple. Founded in the 8th century during the Nara Era, the existing structure was rebuilt in 1669. In December 2005, it was designated as a National Treasure. This building specializes in the Buddhist rite of Shuni-e, a singular place reserved for this purpose. A strong air of the Middle Ages remains with the manners and customs regarding Shuni-e. The principal image of Buddha is of the 11-faced Kannon represented by the two statues of O-Kannon and Ko-gannon. These are Buddha that are never revealed to the public although many people have come to visit. Near Nigatsu-do to the south is the Hokke-do Hall, also known as Sangatsu-do. The area for these two halls is called Jouin. Known as the place where the predecessor to Todai-ji was located before the consecration of the Great Buddha, remnants of the building and tiles from the first half of the 8th century have been excavated there.

Shuni-e (Second Month Service) is a repentance service for national peace and security in which monks, on behalf of the people, take on the burden of worldly sins and pray to the principal image at Nigatsu-do, the 11-faced Kannon. Since its beginnings in 752, it has continued annually without stopping once. It was once held from February 1st to the 14th in the old lunar calendar which contributed to its name. Currently, it is held from March 1st to the 14th. The climax is the omizutoriwhich is held overnight on March 12th. It is a ceremony in which sacred water (okouzui) from the Wakasa Well is offered to the Kannon. The group of 11 monks taking part in the ceremony (known as rengyoushuu) light the path to the well by carrying large torches. The spectacle of the brightly flaming torches as embers fly off into the darkness is a reminder to the people of Nara that winter is ending.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Todai-ji Nigatsu-do
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Todai-ji Nigatsu-do
Tours of Todai-ji Nigatsu-do
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