The spacious Nara Park is where you will find several of Nara’s most well known temples and shrines, as well as the 1,000 or so semi-domesticated deer that are what most people tend to associate Nara with these days. The park, today an officially designated “Place of Scenic Beauty”, was established in the 1300s making it one of the oldest parks in the entire country. Nara Park is located about 5 minutes on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station and 15 minutes from JR Nara Station. Nara Park is full of things to see and do, here are a few spots that you definitely shouldn’t miss!
A massive Buddhist temple located in Nara Park. The highlight is the Great Buddha Hall, or Daibutsuden, a National Treasure and UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses several enormous Buddha statues. The temple date back to the 8th century, and according to records held by Todai-ji, a total of 2.6 million people was involved in its construction in one way or another, with 350,000 of these working directly on the Buddha statues. The current structure was built in 1709, and was the world’s largest wooden building until 1998.
This hillside temple is technically also a part of the vast Todai-ji complex. To get here, one has to climb up a very atmospheric set of cobblestone stairs. Once you’ve reached the balcony at the top, you will be treated to a great view of the vast Nara park, with the rest of the city in the distance. In the beginning of March, a ceremony where big torches are carried up to the balcony is held. This ceremony dates back several hundred years. Back in 1667, an accident occured during the ceremony, and the entire structure was burnt to the ground. The present building was finished in 1669, and is a designated National Treasure.
The most well known Shinto shrine in Nara is located on the forest side of Nara Park. It dates back to the time when Nara was the capital of Japan. Both the shrine and the primeval forest surrounding it are UNESCO world heritage sites. To get here, you have to walk along a path famous for the hundreds of stone lanterns on each side.
This 342 metre high “mountain” is located in the back of Nara Park. Despite the modest height, it provides a good view of the city. Getting from top to bottom takes around 45 minutes. Wakakusayama is a popular spot during the cherry blossom season, as one side of the mountain has a long line of cherry blossom trees. In January every year, the Wakakusa Yamayaki festival takes place, when the old grass from last year is burnt during a spectacular event that also involves plenty of fireworks.
Nara National Museum
The most prominent museum in Nara is well regarded for its massive collection of Buddhist art. Many of the sculptures and images on display belong to the temples and shrines in Nara. The museum was built in 1894 but has since been expanded with several additional wings and separate buildings. The museum is open from 9:30am to 5:00pm from Tuesday to Thursday, open until 8:00pm on Friday and Saturday, and is closed on Mondays. Admission is 520 yen.