Nara is sometimes overlooked by visitors to Japan, but this incredible city is rife with cultural and historical artifacts and landmarks.  It is located a short train ride from both Osaka and Kyoto, in the Kansai region of Western Japan.  

Nara was the imperial capital of Japan from 710 to 794 during the Nara Period—Japan’s first true capital, in fact.  Then called Heijo-kyo, the city’s layout was modeled after Xi’an in China, with roads laid out in a grid and the palace at the north end.  However, while many other of Nara’s most historical landmarks have existed continuously since their foundation, the palace was largely abandoned when the capital moved to Kyoto.  Not much was left of it until some of the buildings were later excavated and restored. 

Rather than multiple sites in Nara being designated individually, several are collectively designated as one UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.  These include Heijo Palace, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Kasuga Grand Shrine, and Kasugayama Primeval Forest, as well as several others—8 landmarks in total.  Additionally, Nara is home to many Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures.  

Nara is also known for the 1,200 or so tame deer that live there, which are fairly friendly and enjoy the special deer crackers sold at vendors throughout the city for visitors to give them.  These deer are considered sacred, and in the past the punishment for killing one was death.  They have been revered since the Nara period, when citizens of Nara prayed to the lightning god Takemikazuchi for protection of the capital and, as the legend goes, Takemikazuchi rode into Nara on a great white deer.


Population (Nara City)

359,667 (2017)

Dates as Capital of Japan

From 710 to 794 (the Nara Period)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

(Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara)

The Nara Palace Site

Todaiji Temple

Kofukuji Temple

Yakushiji Temple

Gangoji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple

Kasuga Grand Shrine

Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Other places to visit

Nara Park

Ukimido Gazebo

Nara National Museum

Local specialty foods


Kuzu mochi

Asuka Nabe


Miwa Soumen

Kakinoha Zushi


Deer Antler-Cutting Ceremony (October)

Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri (December)

Setsubun Mantoro (February):




Local train

Kyoto-Nara (JR) (45 min)

Osaka (Osaka Station)-Nara (JR) (50 min)

Osaka (Tennoji)-Nara (JR) (30 min)

Osaka (Namba)-Kintetsu Nara (40 min)

Osaka (Tsuruhashi)-Kintetsu) Nara (30 min)


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