Things You Do Not Want to Miss in Nara, Japan

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Todai-ji

Nara, often bypassed by tourists either heading straight to Kyoto or Osaka, is Japan’s first permanent capital city and definitely a place not to be missed! Not only it owns a lot of UNESCO historical sites, such as Daibutsu, Todai-ji, one of the most majestic sights in Japan. Nara is also well-known for its wild and tame deers running everywhere (YES you can easily spot them)! Most important, Nara can be explored in a day or two! Hence, if you want to indulge yourself in a peaceful and scenic place, make sure you pay Nara a visit!

Check out my Osaka travel guide if you haven’t –> here

Nara Japan Manhole Cover
Everything in Japan is so beautiful. Look even their manhole is a piece of artwork!

Nara can be easily reached if you’re traveling from Osaka or Kyoto. There are two main train services that link Osaka and Kyoto to Nara. One is the Japan Railways (JR) train and the other is the Kintetsu train. I personally opted JR since I’ve already bought the JR pass and my hotel is just beside the JR station which is super convenient. However, if you only plan for a day trip and want to visit all the attractions right away, pick Kintetsu railway as the station is located closer to Nara Park (approximately 10 minutes walk). While it takes 20 minutes to walk to Nara Park from the JR Nara Station.

Wendy Quah Travel Blog Nara Japan By Bicycle
The bike I rent to travel around Nara.

wendy quah travel blog nara japan nara park

Getting around Nara – Nara can easily be explored on foot. However, you might need to take bus, taxi or train for some of the sights. If you want a more challenging and local way, rent a bicycle like me. ** But I’ve to warn you there are many slops and uphill for certain attractions, so your energy will definitely be drained by the end of the day!

wendy quah travel blog nara japan super hotel lohas jr nara eki

If you happen to stay in Nara for a day or two, I would highly recommend Super Hotel Lohas JR Nara Eki. As it is situated beside the JR station which is extremely convenient especially for those who are traveling with family and many baggages.

wendy quah travel blog nara japan super hotel lohas jr nara eki

wendy quah travel blog nara japan super hotel lohas jr nara eki breakfast

My stay at this hotel is absolutely pleasant. I loved how they make sure you have a great sleep by giving you the chance to choose your own pillow. Regardless you like it soft, or hard, you’re bound to find the perfect pillow here! Besides, this hotel also owns natural hot spring so you can definitely indulge yourself after a whole day of exploration in the city. Not to forget, their buffet breakfast is simple but delicious!

wendy quah travel blog japan seven eleven icecream

P.S There is a seven-eleven on the first floor of building! You can easily grab snacks or meals there.

Without further ado, let’s jump into places you have to visit when you’re in Nara!

1. Tōdai-ji Temple & Nigatsu-do

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Todaiji Temple

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Todaiji Temple

Tōdai-ji is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. In fact, its officially listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main hall of Todaiji, is the largest wooden building in the world. Daibutsuden also houses the largest Buddha in all of Japan at 15 meters in height. Aside from the magnificent architecture and buddha statue, the surrounded landscape including lake and garden is absolutely picturesque.

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Todai-ji

After seeing Todaiji Temple, make sure you check out one of its most important halls, Nigatsu-do. Tucked somewhat far away from the main tourism area, the beautiful Nigatsu-do rises quietly and majestically. Built into the mountainside, this building is definitely a great place to get a breathtaking view of Nara cityscape!

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Todaiji Temple

 

2. Kōfuku-ji Temple

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Kōfuku-ji Temple

Kofuku-ji is a very important temple in Nara. It was transferred from Kyoto in 710, and used to be a family temple of the Fujiwara family, the most powerful family at that period. There are two famous pagodas in this temple, three stories and five stories. The five stories pagoda is the second tallest in Japan. Continuing through the complex you’ll see the northern and southern octagonal halls, the Central Golden Hall, and a series of less eye-catching but still beautiful secondary structures.

3. Nara Park

wendy quah travel blog japan nara park
There was a huge painting of a deer in the road to remind the drivers that deer may make a sudden movement to cross! There were also circular warning signs along every road.

wendy quah travel blog japan nara park deers

Nara park is home to numbers of freely roaming wild deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame, but you have to be careful when you have any food as they might think you will feed them and become a littl aggressive. There were some small stalls where you can purchase deer crackers. As soon as you had the crackers in hand, the deer would come close to you and nudge your clothes and arms. Some of the deer even learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed.

wendy quah travel blog japan nara park deers

wendy quah travel blog japan nara park deers

4. Isuien Garden

wendy quah travel blog isuien garden nara japan

Isuien garden is the most picturesque garden in Nara. Isuien means “garden founded on water”, and this garden’s name is derived from the fact that its ponds are fed by the small adjacent Yoshikigawa River. It’s a spacious stroll garden with a pond and plenty of blooming flowers and trees. This garden looks even more breathtaking during the Spring and Autumn. However, due to we visited during the late Spring all we spot are these greenery.

wendy quah travel blog isuien garden nara japan

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Isuien Garden
The neighborhood of Isuien Garden

5. Kasuga-taisha 

wendy quah travel blog japan nara kasuga taisha

Kasuga-taisha which was established at the same time as the city itself, is Nara’s most celebrated shrine which also famous for its lanterns – and the deer, of course. Even the shrine’s chōzuya is carved in the shape of a deer. wendy quah travel blog japan nara kasuga taisha

6. Naramachi walk

wendy quah japan travel blog nara naraachi walk

In Naramachi you will experience the atmosphere of old times created by old “machiya” (historic merchant townhouses) and small alleys full of interesting sights. You can spot many cute shops that sell clothing, souvenirs, and food.

Food You Have to Try
1. Nakatani-dou 中谷堂 | Mochi
wendy quah travel blog japan nara Nakatani-dou mochi

 

After wondering around the streets, we came across this mochi shop, known as Nakatani-dou, 中谷堂. We were attracted by the crowd and the high-speed mochi-pounding performance without knowing its popularity! However, I’m glad we did try it!

The result of all that pounding action is soft, chewy yomogi mochi dusted with kinako powder. Kinako is roasted soybean flour and it has a slightly nutty taste that goes well with the natural flavour of yomogi. Since the mochi is made fresh, it was still warm when it handed to me. When you bite into it the sweet red bean paste oozes out!

2. Edogawa Naramachi 江戸川 | Eel Rice

wendy quah travel blog nara japan Edogawa Naramachi eel restaurant

Edogawa Naramachi is Nara most well-known eel restaurant. Despite the long queue for almost an hour, we decided to give it a try as we do not want end up regretting in the future. I must admit, I’ve never really been a big fan of eel, but after eating it here I have truly changed my mind! It is extremely delicious and worth the price. P.S if you’re on budget, make sure you consider before entering as it can be quite pricey.

3. Taiyaki

wendy quah travel blog japan nara taiyaki

When you’re in Japan, of course you need to get your hands on one of their famous dessert, Taiyaki. Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake and it is usually filled with red bean paste that made from sweetened azuki beans!

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Nara was simply amazing and I’m glad that we visited here, a place which is so rich in culture, history and also nature! So, make sure you do visit Nara if you’re in Japan!

You’ll never know until you go!

Things to Do in Osaka for First-Timers

 

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

Japan has never been in my travel wishlist even though my favourite cuisine is Japanese food (pretty ironic isn’t it). However, I am absolutely glad that I’ve paid a visit there with my family last year. Japan does not disappoint me, in fact it exceeded my expectations. The food, the people, the architecture, the culture, — it was bliss. I’ve visited Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto during my trip, but I’ll be breaking down the content into 3 different articles. So, if you want to check out those posts, stay tune!

1.Visit Osaka Castle and Nishinomaru Park
Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

Osaka’s monuments really don’t get any more iconic than this majestic Osaka Castle. It was surrounded by breathtaking Nishinomaru Park, which happened to be a great spot for Hanami during the Cherry Blossom Season (I wish we went there a week early to catch those beautiful scenes!) Osaka Castle park is free so make sure you stroll around, you can even have picnic there.

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle Osaka Japan
Osaka Castle
We bought some food from Kuromon market and enjoy it with the beautiful scenery.

The castle opens it’s doors at 9 am and the park surrounding the park is open all to the public at all times. It will cost you 600 Yen to go inside the castle.

Matcha Ice-cream
Matcha Ice-cream

Don’t forget to grab the delicious Matcha ice-cream while admiring the Osaka Castle!

2. Go Kuromon Ichiba Market
Kuromon Market Osaka Japan
Kuromon Market
Kuromon Market Osaka Japan
Kuromon Market

If you are a hungry soul (like me) craving for mouthwatering fresh seafood, and street food, you must not miss this market which has more than 190 years of history and tradition. There are tons of shops (approximately 150) selling food from sweet to savory.

tuna sushi kuromon market osaka japan
Fresh tuna sushi – I can still remember how the tuna melts right away after I put them in my mouth.
Grille Scallop Kuromon Market Osaka Japan
Grille Scallop

Food to try:

Grilled Scallop, Tuna Fish, Sashimi, Takoyaki, White Strawberries

3. Shop until drop and Eat all you can at Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi 
Glico Dotonbori Shinsaibashi Osaka Japan
Glico Sign, Dotonbori

Going to Osaka without making a stop at Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi is like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Shinsaibashi Arcade is the premier shopping area in Osaka. Around 600 meters long, it’s filled with trendy boutiques, retail chains, and luxury department stores. Whether you’re looking for Japan designers’ shops or international brands, you’re bound to find what you love here! When you walk into this open area and see that large Glico man sign. That’s when you know you’re in Dotonbori. The giant Glico Man is Dotonbori’s most iconic landmark.

Dotonbori Osaka Japan
Glico, The Landmark of Dotonbori
Dotonbori Osaka Japan
Dotonbori

Food You Must Not Miss In Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi

Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran Ramen Dotonbori Osaka Japan
Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran originated from Fukuoka offers Classic Tonkotsu Ramen from the 1960s. It is an extremely popular ramen place in Japan even the locals will queue up for their ramen! I can literally have this every day, it totally taste different (in a good way) with what I had in the past!

Luke’s Lobster

Luke's Lobster Shinsaibashi Osaka Japan
Luke’s Lobster

Ever since I had my first burger and lobster experience in London, I will not miss any possible chance to have a bite of it, and I’m glad I did.

Pablo Cheesecake

Pablo Cheesetart Dotonbori Osaka Japan
Pablo Cheesetart

Pablo which originates from Osaka as a takeaway cheesecake shop has attracted long queues for its signature “Rare/Medium” cheesecake. Recently, Pablo have even packaged its products as Osaka souvenirs targeting at travelers.

Authentic Japanese Street Food

When in Japan, eat Japanese food (including their delicious street food) as much as possible. Don’t lie, you’re going to miss the authentic taste when you’re back home.

Try Sashimi, Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki, Yakiniku, Kani.

Sashimi Osaka Japan
Sashimi
4. Visit The Universal Studio
Harry Potter Universal Studio Osaka Japan
Harry Potter

If you enjoy the adrenaline rush or want to reminisce your favourite movies’ characters. Universal Studio can never be wrong! The prior reason I visit USJ is of course the sake of Harry Potter!

Make sure you grab yourself a mug of butterbeer! I had the frozen version and it tasted like caramel root beer! I swear it is soooo good! There are few rides which are extremely enjoyable. For instance, Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey (duh! even though it’s in Japanese version, I still enjoyed it a lot!), Hollywood Dream Backdrop (utterly thrilling), The Flying Dinosaur (if you have a strong heart make sure you go for it despite the long queue)!

Butter Beer Universal Studio Osaka Japan
Butterbeer
Harry Potter Universal Studio Japan Osaka
Harry Potter and the Wizarding World
Chocolate Churros Snoopy Bun Universal Studio Osaka Japan
Chocolate Churros and Snoopy Bun
wendy quah blogger universal studio osaka japan
Universal Studio
5. Visit The Convenience Stores!!!
Look how happy is my sister after getting all her favourite snacks

You might be thinking am I serious? Why include convenience store in a travel list. Trust me, you’re gonna thank me later when you find out how much you get to save while getting yourself some delicious meals and snacks. There are three main stores name you should know, which are 7-11, Family Mart and Lawson Station. You can literally grab so much things here, ranging from light breakfast (sandwiches), to bentos, coffees, beers, and ice-creams!

seven eleven family mart osaka japan
Drinks Selection in 7-11
curry katsu don udon seven eleven osaka japan
Curry Katsu Don, Omelette Rice, and Teriyaki Udon
sandwich sweet melon bread bento starbucks coffee osaka japan convenience store
Our breakfast for the second day!
6. Grab Great Deals at Rinku Premium Outlet

If you’re a shopaholic, or wanted to grab cheaper designer pieces, seek no further than Rinku Premium Outlet which has more than 200 brands including some of their local brands.

Make sure you grab the discount coupons at the information counter to get some further deductions.

If you are planning a visit to Rinku Premium Outlets, you can plan it on your Day 1 or your last day since it is located so near to Kansai International Airport.

Tempozan Ferris Wheel Rinku Town Osaka Japan
Tempozan Ferris Wheel

If you’re not aiming to shop, I still recommend you to drop by Rinku Town as you get to see the breathtaking city scape from this huge Tempozan Ferris Wheel. You can even visit the Marble Beach to catch sunset.

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I hope this travel guide comes in handy if you plan to travel Osaka!

Do not hesitate to leave me your questions, or better tips!

“Jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul”