Things to do
Nara was Japan's first imperial capital, with cultural artefacts dating back 1,300 years. Nara lies about 30 kilometres east of Osaka, and its small size makes it easy to discover its hidden charms.
While the temples, gardens and historic attractions of Kyoto may get more attention, Nara's heritage is arguably older than Kyoto's and home to some of the most stunning examples of ancient design and architecture in the country. The most famous, Todai-ji, is home to a huge flock of tiny deer, which are sacred in the area.
Nara served as the capital of Japan for 74 years from 710. In 794, the seat of the imperial court was transferred to Kyoto, known as Heian-kyo, and Nara's importance began to wane. Thus Nara has retained its small-town feel: it’s easy to navigate and isn’t cluttered with tourists.
Like Kyoto, the city grew around a grid pattern modelled on Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty China (now known as Xi'an). And whilst the commercial area around the train station could be that of any provincial Japanese city, a visitor does not have to walk too far to step back into time.