Todai-ji is a Buddhist temple famous for housing the massive 15 meter tall statue of Variocana Buddha, which is commonly known as Daibutsu or Great Buddha. It was originally founded in the mid 8th century and it's nowadays designed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Great Buddha Hall which houses the Daibutsu was lost to fire in several occasions and the present structure is a reconstruction finished in 1709. Although the hall has been scaled down to around 2/3 of its original size, it's still one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.
The Temple is guarded by two impressive giant wooden warriors located in the Nandaimon, the front gate, which can be found on the way to the main hall. Both the gate and the statues are designated as National Treasures. Todai-ji's grounds also contains several smaller gates and buildings and is of the most popular spots to feed deer, due to the high concentration of tourists and deer-cracker sellers.
Kofuku-ji is a Buddhist Temple which was established in the late 7th century as a family temple for the Fujiwara clan and is now registered as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The temple originally consisted of more than 100 buildings which were destroyed and reconstructed several times along history, due to the damage caused by civil wars and fires.
Nowadays only a few of the initial structures remain, including an impressive 50 meter tall 5 story pagoda dating from 1426, which holds the title of the second highest in Japan and it's considered a landmark of Nara. The Temple also features a smaller 3 story pagoda which predates the taller one by a couple of centuries.
The grounds of Kofuku-ji can be explored freely at any time, but there are two areas which require an entrance fee: the National Treasure Museum (600 Yen), which hosts several Buddhist art pieces, and the East Golden Hall (300 Yen) which is a registered as National Treasure dating form 1425. A combination ticket for both is available at a price of 800 Yen.
Isui-en is a beautiful Japanese garden which covers an area of about 13.500 m2. It's divided in two sections, the front and rear gardens, which were originally two separate gardens built in different eras but merged in 1939. It features a large pond shaped after the Kanji character of Water (mizu), fed by the adjacent Yosiki river and contains two small islands connected by stepping stones.
Isui-en was built using a technique called shakkei, meaning "borrowed landscape". This technique uses the nearby located Nandaimon gate, from the Todai-ji temple, and the higher hills of Nara to create a landscape which blends the garden with the rest of the city.
Kasuga is Nara's most famous Shito Shrine, established in 768 by the Fujiwara Clan and registered in UNESCO's World Heritage Site list. Following tradition, the shrine was reconstructed with new materials every 20 years up to the end of the Edo period.The paths which lead to the main shrine through the mountain are decorated by more than 2000 stone lanterns donated by worshipers, creating a unique atmosphere which makes of the approach the most interesting part of the visit.
Kasuga Shrine is quite a big a complex formed by several shrines scattered through the forest, which are connected by a network of paths. The Inner Shrine, Kasuga's main building, is constructed in an architectural style known as "Kasuga Style", painted in vermillion red and decorated with more than one thousand hanging bronze lanterns. Its inside can be visited paying a fee of 500 Yen.
JR Kyoto Station
JR Nara Line Rapid
45 min. 690¥
JR Nara Station
Kintetsu Ltd. Exp.
35 min. 1110¥
Kintetsu Nara Station
Most of the main attractions in Nara are located near Nara Park and can be explored on foot. Nara park can be reached in a pleasant 15 minute walk from JR Nara Station or on a couple of minutes walk from Kintetsu Nara station.