An ancient Japanese capital city, Nara is one of the country's understated gems. Located 25 kilometres west of Osaka and 40 kilometres south of Kyoto, Nara often falls into the shadow of its famous neighbours. However, its ancient temples and shrines have been exceptionally preserved and Nara has more designated national treasures than anywhere else in Japan.
Nara's sights are conveniently concentrated in Nara Park, an idyllic green space that's dotted with ancient relics and many wild deer. They include the World Heritage Todai-ji, an inspiring temple complex that contains the world's largest wooden building (Daibutsu-den), a 15-metre Buddha statue, and various other surreal statues. Kofuku-ji is Japan's second highest pagoda while Himuro Shrine is a revered destination during the spring cherry blossom. Some 3000 stone lanterns and sake barrels fill Kasuga Taisha, a temple hidden in an exquisite indigenous forest. Also within Nara Park is a series of historic shrines and immaculate gardens.
Nara Park can be traversed on foot and is the natural focus when having one day in the city. Other attractions are scattered across Nara, notably the pagodas of Yakushi-ji, the temple of Gango-ji, and the rebuilt Heijokyu Palace.
Kansai is the closest international airport to Nara and a transfer using bus or train will take 75–90 minutes. There are regular train connections between Nara and the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Once in Nara, it's less than 1 kilometre from the main station to Nara Park. Many visitors choose to rent a bicycle to explore the park. Local buses connect other attractions and most are signposted in English.
Nara has historically been a hub for culinary specialties, notably thin wheat noodles and a mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves.