How to get to Nara from Kyoto and back. A detailed day trip itinerary
Are you wondering if a day trip from Kyoto to Nara is feasible? Do you want to see its amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites, even though you are very short on time? Then the shortest possible answer is: Yes, absolutely.
That being said, a day trip to Nara does require some planning which is why I compiled this helpful travel guide, with detailed train connections and other options to see Japan’s oldest capital and one of the major tourist highlights in any Japan itinerary (click to check out mine). Japan is big and expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, right?
While it always pays off to reserve a little more time for Nara (I would suggest staying overnight once), a day trip can be a beautiful option for tourists on a tight schedule. In this case, consider booking a guided tour (book it here). Japan has a super-efficient train system, especially in the Kansai area, and why not rely on it when planning a Nara day trip itinerary?
From Kyoto station to Nara station it only takes about 35 minutes by high-speed train (Shinkansen bullet train). If you are still wondering what to do in the city, do read my guide on the top 10 tourist attractions in Nara.
Personally speaking, I hate changing accommodations too often when on a sightseeing trip. Packing, unpacking, check-in, and check-out eats away a lot of time (on that note: check out my Japan packing list).
So, a day trip from Kyoto to Nara Park might actually be the best option to see its beautiful temples and shrines. By the way, I also got a very detailed guide on Kyoto, you will find super helpful with lots of insider tips.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links to GetYourGuide in this article. I feel they are by far the best guide company out there, which is why I recommend them.
From Kyoto to Nara by train
Nara is in the most central area in Japan (called the Kansai region). It is only some 35 kilometers south of Kyoto and Osaka lies some 28 kilometers to the south. The railroad system is extremely dense in this area, providing you with way more options to travel from Kyoto station to Nara than you actually need. There are two companies connecting Kyoto/Nara with regular train lines:
JR Nara Line Y690:
If you hold a JR Rail Pass, then this is the option you want to take. The Miyakoji Kaisoku Express will get you from Kyoto to Nara in 45 minutes. These trains leave every 30 minutes from Kyoto Station and JR Nara Station and cost about 710 Yen. You can also take the local Futsu line. It will take you some 70 minutes from Kyoto station to Nara station.
Kintetsu Nara Line Y1110:
By far the fastest way to travel from Nara to Kyoto and back is the private Kintetsu line. It will only take you 35 minutes, but your JR Rail pass will not be valid. Be aware that these operate from a different (but equally central) train station. The limited express train leaves twice per hour and costs about 620 Yen (the green car will be a bit more expensive). There is also a regular express train that will take 45 minutes to reach Japan but is quite a bit cheaper.
The Kintetsu Nara station is actually quite a bit closer to Nara Park, so taking this train from Kyoto to Nara has a lot of advantages. There are very regular buses serving the central area of Nara, so the JR Nara line is still a good alternative.
For non-Japanese speakers, the best way to check for current prices and connections is HyperDia – probably the most helpful website you will need on your trip through Japan.
Nara day trip itinerary
Japan is a country for early risers, and I would suggest to grab a yummy bento box at the train station in Kyoto and leave as early as possible. If you are staying at a Ryokan, you might want to tell them to pack you a bento or not book breakfast for that day, as you will really need to the whole day to see it all (or most of it).
It is rather easy to navigate through Nara (i’ll show you how in a second), but a local guide might be a very good idea if you want to dig deeper into the rich history of Nara (you can book one here). Otherwise, you can follow this itinerary:
7:15 am: departure from Kyoto station to Nara by rail
8:03 am: arrival at Nara Kintetsu station
8:15 am: Explore Kofuku-ji temple
9:00 am: take your time around Nara Park and feed the deer
10:00 am: walk towards Todai-ji & then up the hill to Nigatsudo to enjoy a beautiful view
11:00 am: walk over to Kasuga-Taisha
12:00 am: Lunch break in the Higashimuki Shopping district (take the bus)
1:15 pm: grab a bus (#97) to the Hōryū-ji area
2:00 pm: explore Hōryū-ji & its beautiful museum
4:00 pm: take the bus to Yakushi-ji and explore this beautiful temple
5:00 pm: take the bus back to Nara Kintetsu station/train from Nishinokyo station
5:30 pm: take the Kintetsu Limited Express
6:05 pm: arrival at Kyoto station
Now, this is only a rough sketch of a Nara day trip itinerary. You might want to skip a couple of these World Heritage sites, or you might tour Nara the other way around (starting in Hōryū-ji and ending at Kofuku-ji temple.) Actually, this might be a smart option as you won’t need to worry about catching the bus back in time. Also, check out my list of the 10 best temples in Nara for further inspiration.
This itinerary planned for arrival in Kyoto at 6:00 pm. That is about the time most Ryokans will start serving dinner, so you will make it in time. If you are staying at a hotel (which I actually wouldn’t recommend in Kyoto, as the finest Ryokans in all Japan can be found here), then you needn’t worry to be back earlier.
Be aware, however, that most temples in Nara (or Japan as a whole) will close around 5 pm. In Summer, it will be 5:30 pm. Most temples will end the admission about 15 before closing time.
Getting around in Nara
A very dense network of bus lines operates within Nara. So, you might want to consider buying the Nara Bus Pass, which will grant you unlimited Kotsu buses around Nara. As a very good alternative, the 1-Day Kintetsu Rail Pass is available for foreign tourists and will give you access to unlimited rides on the buses in Nara and trains between Nara and Kyoto (& Osaka for that matter). It costs 1500 Yen. The 2-day pass will be 2500 Yen (but obviously not needed on a day trip to Nara.
Within the area of Nara Park, walking really is the best choice. Todai-ji and Kasuga-Taisha are not exactly located next door, but the free-ranging deer on the way will make up for it. If you are not as sure-footed, you can take the bus for a stop or two.
If you want to get to the Hōryū-ji area, you got two options.
Getting to Hōryū-ji by bus
The bus will probably the easiest option to reach the ancient temple. Take Bus number 97 to Hōryūji-mae. Be aware that buses only leave like once an hour. Also, know that this bus will actually take about 50 minutes to reach Hōryū-ji as it will stop quite frequently (the area is quite pleasant, though). The bus departs from the JR station but goes around a loop through Nara Park.
Taking the train to Hōryū-ji
You can also opt to take the Yamatoji Line from JR Nara Station and leave at Hōryū-ji station. The train is considerably faster than the bus (12 minutes!) if you got a Rail pass it will be cheaper, but you will have to walk about 20 minutes to the actual temple. You can only take bus number 72 to the temple.
I utterly love the whole Hōryū-ji area, as it’s very rural, very quiet and a wonderful place to walk around. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
So that’s it. I hope I was able to help you out planning your perfect day trip and all your questions around “How to get to Nara from Kyoto” were answered. If not, do comment below!
Picture credits: Yuya Tamai
This is very useful – thank you!
Is it easy to navigate the walking path from the kintetsu stn to nara park? I guess Saturday being a weekend wont be a problem as well?
Thank you for sharing your itinerary!
(Pls reply to this, made a mistake on the email ad in the pre ious msg. Tnx!)
Yeah..you basically just have to walk down the street for like 500 meters. I think you can manage that :P
Thank you for your very helpful post.
We are going to Kansai for the cherry blossm in March 18 and would stay in Kyoto for a few day first before moving to Osaka. We plan to go to Nara for a day trip on the last day in Kyoto with our luggage then go to Osaka to check into our hotel, would there be any lockers for our luggage at Nara station if we need to take the luggage with us? We have a large 81 cm luggage.
there are coin lockers at all JR stations in Japan and even a lot of subway stations. That really should not be a problem (except they are all occupied *lol*).
But you can easily do the day trip from Osaka directly. Only takes like 40 minutes with the subway.
Great ! Thank you for your reply. Really look forward to this trip :-)
Hi Norman, thanks for this great post. I’m planning to visit Tokyo in a few days, then head down to Kyoto for 3 days and do a day trip to Nara while I’m in Kyoto. Instead of a day trip from Kyoto itself, do you think it’ll it be better to stop by at Nara on the way to Kyoto, or even on the way back instead? I saw you mentioned that all JR stations have lockers for baggage?
well..you’d have to catch a very early train from Tokyo then. I’d say that doing it from Kyoto is better. But 3 days will be a tight schedule. You could easily spend them in Kyoto without the day trip. There are 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto alone ;-)
Hello. I was wondering if i can finish Nara and Kyoto in a day? Is that possible?
in one day? If you just want to see the train station, then it’s possible. Otherwise, please plan a week at least :)
It was so difficult to find information on what’s in Nara aside from the deer park – so thank you so much for this! Now I’m definitely considering going to Nara when I’m in Japan.
GLad to be of help! Actually, I think the deer park is the least of it all. :)
Hello Norman, I will be staying is Osaka for 5 days. I would like to spend 1 day visiting Nara and another day for Kyoto. Is the Kintetsu 2 day pass is the most ideal? Can you suggest a relaxed itinerary as I am traveling with seniors?
while 1 day in Kyoto sounds not enough (especially if you are traveling with seniors), I’m alas no travel agent. So, I can’t personalize an itinerary for you.
THat being said, you’ll hopefully find a lot of useful content on my site:
Hi there! I appreciate your detailed itinerary! We are planning for a day trip to Nara in March 2019, and I was wondering as to how much a whole day trip to do all of this would cost as opposed to booking a tour.
I am doing all of the planning on my own for my husband and I, and I want to make sure I calculate as much as I can, especially since transport seems to be adding up quickly. If I buy the Hakone Free Pass and the JR Rail Pass, that should help me some right?
Well…going by yourself certainly will be cheaper than this. But you obviously won’t have a guide (which is the main reason for the high fee.
A train ticket to from Kyoto to Nara is quite cheap, so the JR Rail Pass will not save you any money if that’s your only use of it! :)
Hello! If I already obtained a JR pass and if we were to take bus #97 to Hōryū-ji area, do I have to purchase a separate pass for the bus rides? Thank you!
yes, you will have to buy a bus ticket. This bus is sadly not covered by your standard JR pass. but it’s only a couple of yens.
Thank you for this detailed itinerary for a day trip from Kyoto to Nara. I will be traveling with my husband and 77 year old mother to Kyoto in March 2019. My mother is in quite good physical shape. I’m wondering if it’s possible for us to see Nara on our last day in Kyoto, on our way back to Tokyo? I’m assuming that we will need to travel back to Kyoto before boarding the train back to Tokyo? Or maybe we can get to a different train station easily from Nara? But I also noticed that you indicated it might be hard to find empty lockers at the Nara train station to leave your luggage for the day? Thank you for your help. Gayle
there are lockers at all train stations throughout Japan. The Nara train station is a bit smaller, but i’m fairly sure you will be able to store your luggage there. As for train connections, you really should check them out yourself. There’s a wonderful english website called http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ to help you along.
And sure, i don’t see why you couldn’t see Nara on your last day. You probably won’t be able to see it all, but the main highlights, certainly.
am planning to come to osaka for 10 days, from 29jan-07feb. any good suggestions with where to stay around and with which train station and pass or coin to go to.
am planning 29jan, arrive KIX airport, then go to Kobi (please tell me how to get there and which train station i need to get in so i can find my route to hotel, i will stay for 2 nights in kobi, 29,30 then 31 in the morning heading to kyoto. then stay for 31,1 and 2 then 3 heading to nara stay for 1 night then 4 till 7 i already booked hotel in osaka. hotel live artex.
then 7 will heading back to kix.
thanks any good tips for me, travelling with 1 miss and 1 senior (2 big 1 small luggage).