Stunning Temples, Maple Leaves and Deer: Nara 1-Day Autumn Itinerary

Oh deer, oh deer, oh deer! What better way to travel back in time and experience the magic of fall in Japan than to visit Nara? Nara is the oldest capital of Japan, boasting a total of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Imagine the country’s national treasures and sacred sights covered in fiery momiji (Japanese maple trees) and golden leaves!

Nara is easily reachable from Kyoto or Osaka, making it a favorite stop for all travelers heading to Kansai region. Explore gardens elaborately decorated in nature’s richest colors, wander around vast fields with free-roaming deer at Nara Park, and see Japan’s largest bronze Buddha in Todaiji Temple – all in one day.

We’ve compiled all the important stuff, like how to get there and best spots to see Japanese maple leaves. All you need to do is read and book!

What You Should Know Before You Visit Nara:

Best Time To Visit

Nara’s fall season runs from late November to early December, with a peak around November 15.

Where To Stay

We recommend staying in Kyoto (hotels and Airbnbs) or Osaka (hotels and Airbnbs). Aside from easy access to Nara, you can easily dedicate another day of your itinerary to these other must-visit Kansai destinations.

How To Get To Nara

By Train

From Kyoto:

Option #1: Take the JR Line at Kyoto Station and alight at Nara Station. If you have a JR West Kansai Area Pass, you may use it here to cover the cost.

  • Cost ¥710
  • Duration 45 minutes

Option #2: Ride the Kintetsu Line from Kyoto Station, and alight at Kintetsu Nara Station. Limited express trains depart twice per hour while Direct Express trains depart every hour

  • Cost ¥1,130 (one-way) for limited express, ¥620 (one-way) for direct express
  • Duration 35 minutes for limited express, 45 minutes for direct express

From Osaka:

Option #1: Take the JR Line at Osaka-Namba Station and alight at Nara Station. If you have a JR West Kansai Area Pass, you may use it here to fully cover the trip.

  • Cost ¥800
  • Duration 45 minutes

Option #2: Similarly, if you’re taking the Kintetsu Line from Osaka-Namba Station, take the train and alight at Kintetsu Nara Station. Limited Express trains depart twice per hour while Express trains depart every hour

  • Cost ¥1,070 for Limited Express, ¥520 (one-way) for Express
  • Duration 30 minutes for Limited Express, and 30 – 35 minutes for Express

By Bus

From JR Nara Station, ride the Nara City Line Loop Bus to Nara Park. The ride will take over 20 minutes.

  • Cost ¥210

Convenient Option: Day Tour from Osaka: Nara Park, Kyoto and Kobe

Should you wish to squeeze in a visit to Kyoto and Kobe on your dedicated day for Nara, this convenient day tour will take you through famous Kansai spots, including Arashiyama Bamboo Groves, Todaiji Temple, Nara Park, and Mosaic Umie Kobe Harborland!

Map of Nara (image via Google)
Map of Nara (image via Google)

Here’s Your 1-Day Fall Itinerary Around Nara:

8:30am: Byodoin Temple

Byodoin Temple (image via Shutterstock)
Byodoin Temple (image via Shutterstock)

To make things clear, this temple isn’t exactly in Nara, in fact, it’s located in Uji city, which is midway between Kyoto and Nara. If you’ve taken our advice above, might as well stop by Uji Station while riding along the JR Nara Line! This UNESCO-listed temple is a 12-minute walk from Uji Station.

You’ll be seeing red all over – the crimson Phoenix Hall framed by brilliant maple trees, and the pond reflecting the temple grounds, is simply magnificent. This beloved landmark is even imprinted on Japanese 10 yen coins.

  • Opening Hours 8:30am – 5:30pm (last entry 5:15pm)

Treasure house: 9:00am to 5:00pm (last entry 4:45pm)

  • Cost ¥600

12:00pm: Lunch at LBK Craft

Arrive at Nara and take a short 10-minute walk from Nara Station to find LBK Craft, a highly-recommended gastropub. Indulge in a variety of options, from traditional Japanese food (like pork gyoza) to Western fare (think fried chicken and grilled meatballs). The place also offers refreshing craft beers, and caters to all vegans and vegetarians!

  • Opening Hours 12:00nn – 9:30pm
  • Cost ¥2,000 – 3,000

1:00pm: Kofukuji Temple

Kokufuji Temple (image via Shutterstock)
Kokufuji Temple (image via Shutterstock)

Just walk for 4 mins from LBK Craft and you’ll run right into Kofukuji Temple! Marvel at its five-story pagoda, the second tallest of its kind in Japan and regarded as the symbol of Nara. Learn about the history of the powerful Fujiwara clan during the Heian period.

  • Opening Hours 24 hours

National Treasure Museum and Eastern Golden Hall – 9:00am to 5:00pm

  • Cost Temple grounds – free

National Treasure Museum – ¥700

Eastern Golden Hall – ¥300

Both – ¥900

2:00pm: Nara Gardens – Isuien and Yoshiki-en Gardens

Isiuen Garden (image via Kimon Berlin, Flickr)
Isiuen Garden (image via Kimon Berlin, Flickr)

After another 10-minute walk, reach Nara’s top two gardens, Isuien and Yoshiki-en. The picturesque gardens are located right next each other. Roam around and admire the ‘borrowed scenery’ effect, meaning elements inspired by Kyoto landmarks and mountains, along with traditional garden styles!

Yoshikien Garden (image via Shutterstock)
Yoshikien Garden (image via Shutterstock)

Walk on stone steps on the pond separating from Isuien’s immaculate front and back garden. At Yoshikien, admire the wooden tea house contrasted by vivid fall foliage, and take a moment to relax by the quiet river.

  • Opening Hours Isuien Garden: 9:30am – 4:30pm (last entry at 4:00pm)

Yoshiki-en Garden: 9:00am – 5:00pm (last entry at 4:30pm)

  • Cost  Isui-en Garden – ¥900

Yoshiki-en Garden – Free if you bring your foreign passport

3:00pm: Deer at Nara Park

Nara Park (image via Shutterstock)
Nara Park (image via Shutterstock)

The moment you’ve been waiting for! This ‘deerly’ beloved attraction is the one you simply cannot miss.  Encounter over 1,200 deer frolicking around scenic ponds, and vast green fields – a postcard-worthy scene enhanced by splashes of red and orange fall foliage. 

Fun fact: Legends say that Sika Deer are the gods’ sacred messengers; that’s why they’re also regarded as a national treasure. Greet the much revered animal by bowing and watch them return the gesture before feeding them shika senbei, or special deer crackers from nearby stores. Don’t forget to take a take a deer selfie!

  • Opening Hours 24/7
  • Cost Free

Deer crackers – ¥150

4:00pm: Kasuga Taiga – Grand Shrine

Bronze Lanterns at Kasuga Taiga (image via Shutterstock)
Bronze Lanterns at Kasuga Taiga (image via Shutterstock)

Make your way from Nara Park and stroll through a forest of cedars and Chinese black pines. You’ll eventually find yourself in Kasuga Taisha, another landmark of the powerful Fujiwara clan. With its vermillion Chinese- style buildings, stone lanterns, lush wisteria and vivid maples, you can truly revel in the splendor of autumn!

"I see you over deer!" (image via Shutterstock)
“I see you over deer!” (image via Shutterstock)

Enjoy the whimsical vibes given off by innocent deer hiding behind the bronze and stone lanterns. Oh deer, how adorable!

  • Opening Hours: From April to September: 6:00am to 6:00pm

From October to March: 6:30am to 5:00pm

Inner area: 8:30am to 4:00pm

  • Cost: Free for outer area, ¥500 for inner area

5:00pm: Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple from the back (image via coniferconifer, Flickr)
Todaiji Temple from the back (image via coniferconifer, Flickr)

Last but not least, Todaiji is the head temple of Japan’s (Buddhist) temples. Make sure to visit the impressive main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) – this is the world’s largest wooden building and Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. Soak up the spiritual atmosphere as you feast your eyes on clusters of red maples and wandering deer.

  • Opening Hours 7:30am – 5:30pm
  • Cost Free

6:00pm: Dinner

Expensive (but worth it!) option: Multi-course meal at Oryori Hanagaki Restaurant

Treat yourself to a decadent 10-course meal called kaiseki in this two-starred Michelin restaurant. If you don’t mind splurging, savor mouthwatering puffer fish, richly-flavored clams, and melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu beef at this exclusive 18-seat restaurant.

  • How To Get There Ride the Kintetsu Nara Line and alight at Gakuenmae Station. Walk for around 8 minutes
  • Address 2 Chome-13-2 Gakuenminami, Nara, Nara Prefecture 631-0034, Japan
  • Opening Hours 12:00pm – 2:00pm and 6:00pm – 10:00pm
  • Cost ¥23,641

Cost-effective Option: Italian Cuisine at Nino

Rated on Tripadvisor as the #1 best restaurant in the area, Nino boasts sumptuous Italian cuisine created (pizzas and pastas) with fresh vegetables and fine ingredients. Sit back and relax in the cozy atmosphere and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere.

  • How To Get There Walk back to Kintetsu Nara Station, right by Exit 5
  • Address 11-11 Nishimikadocho | 1F Prime Bldg., Nara 630-8225, Nara
  • Opening Hours 6:00pm – 10:00pm
  • Cost ¥2,000 – 4,000

Quick Tips

  • Dress in warm layers, like sweaters, pullovers, coats, scarves, boots, and thermal pants. Temperature is estimated to be wintry-cold, at around 11℃ – 15℃ for daytime in mid-November and dropping to around 7℃ in early December
  • For travelers with heavy luggage: Head to Nara Tourist Information Center near Nara Station and simply pay a deposit of ¥500
  • Check all the transportation schedules and make sure you don’t miss the last train if you’re not staying over at Nara
  • You don’t have to go to ALL the temples Since they are within walking distance after you arrive in Nara, choose according to the ones that pique your interest and match your budget. Then, stay for a longer period of time

Now’s your chance to discover historic Japan with the dramatic scenery of autumn! Make some ‘deer’ friends at Nara Park, feel the spiritual atmosphere at Buddhist and Shinto sites painted in warm tones, and enjoy a uniquely Japanese experience. With our Nara autumn itinerary, we hope you can have a breathtaking fall adventure before the year ends!

Looking to explore more scenic fall foliage destinations aside from Nara? Read our autumn in Japan series below: