Nara City's proximity to Osaka and Kyoto makes it a popular day trip destination. However, spending only a couple of hours here is not nearly enough to fully experience its magic.
Spending a night or two will give you enough time to wander through the park full of deer, explore Naramachi, visit the magnanimous Daibutsu, admire the pagoda at Kōfuku-ji temple, and even find peace at Kasuga Taisha shrine.
Not only will this guide take you on a journey across Nara, but we'll also highlight the best neighborhoods and accommodations available in the region.
Main image: PIXTA
Deciding Where to Stay in Nara
Buzzing neon lights, anime, fast cars, and even faster bullet trains are the images that flash in most people's minds when someone says Japan. But there's another side to this country, full of open space, foliage, and serene stillness. No, we don't mean Kyoto. Find all of this, and more in the ancient capital city of Nara — without the crowds of tourists.
But before you spend your hard-earned money, it's imperative to make sure you're staying someplace in Nara that’s tailored to your needs.
1. Distance from Nara Park
Nara's attractions are condensed around Nara Park. Guests focus solely on the distance of their hotel to these central sights. But first, ask yourself: What month are you traveling in? Nara is especially popular in the cherry blossom season (late March to early April) and for the autumn foliage season (mid-November to early December)
During tourist-heavy months, Nara Park can get somewhat noisier and more crowded throughout the day. Light sleepers might wish to consider accommodations that are tucked away from main streets to prevent hindrances to their beauty sleep.
Plan on using Nara as a base while visiting multiple cities nearby? Then book a hotel near the train station. Loop buses link even the far-flung zones of Nara to the stations. But you don’t want to spend your holiday jumping from one public transport to another.
3. Travel style & time available
Nara city is chock-full of hidden attractions in alleyway nooks waiting for you to stumble upon. But you can only discover these by taking an off-the-beaten path. If you're short on time and don't have hours to meander, staying in an isolated area would be less than ideal.
Five best areas to stay in Nara
Traveling alone on a tight budget? Want to wake up to the sight of baby deer? Pinning for a luxurious getaway? We've got you covered.
To save you time, we've listed down the best Nara hotels in the five popular areas of JR Nara Station, Kintetsu Nara Station, Naramachi, Nara Park, and Yoshino.
1. Stay near JR Nara Station
This area overlaps with downtown Nara, with the JR station sitting on the western part of its border. Streets here are full of life even after dark, with plenty of hotels, restaurants, and bars.
A 20-min pleasant walk from the JR Nara Station on Sanjo-Dori street leads you straight to the main sights of Nara. Stop by mochi stores to grab a snack to munch on while you stroll.
On those mornings when you can't be bothered walking, take a tourist bus at the East Exit of the JR station heading straight to Nara Park.
If you base yourself around the JR Nara Station, you can effortlessly access other regions of Nara and numerous cities in the vicinity.
Why stay near JR Nara Station?
・JR pass holders can travel for free on the JR Nara line to and from Kyoto, Uji, Inari, and Tofukuji. The pass is also valid on Yamatoji rapid trains to Osaka.
・Nara City Tourist Information Center near JR Nara Station for multilanguage assistance.
・Walking distance to Nara Park.
・Several restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, from sushi to Italian to steakhouses.
Where to stay near JR Nara Station
2. Near Kintetsu Nara Station
Sharing proximity to Nara Park and its sights while also being far enough from the noise, staying near Kintetsu Nara Station will give you the best of both worlds.
Close to Kintetsu Nara Station is Sarusawa Pond. This peaceful pond flaunting reflection of Kofukuji Temple's pagoda is a must-visit for photographers. Grab a coffee at the cafe next door to spot adorable turtles suntanning.
Nestled between Sanjo-dori & Kintetsu Nara Station sits the shopping street Higashimuki Shotengai. You could spend a whole day exploring its historic handicraft stores, and clothing boutiques.
Why stay near Kintetsu Nara Station?
・Accomodation choices for various budgets
・At 6 min. walking distance from Nara's attractions.
・Close to Sanjo-dori & Higashimuki Shopping Street; Hub of activities & exquisite restaurants.
Where to stay near Kintetsu Nara Station
East of JR Nara Station is the former merchant district of Naramachi. A place frozen in time, this neighborhood's charm lies in its architecture and old-timey vibe. If you find joy in strolling through quaint alleys while admiring traditional homes and stopping by to pet a stray cat, you'll love staying in Naramachi.
Comparable to Kyoto's Gion — with its glowing lanterns, cinematic vibe, and traditional ryokans — staying in this hipster neighborhood will be a treat for anyone interested in vintage Japan.
Naramachi has two main draws, Gango-ji Temple, a world heritage landmark, and the machiya houses.
Few machiya-style houses run as museums and hotels while others as cafes and shops.
Located 15 min walks from Kintetsu Nara Station and 20 min from JR Nara Station, staying at Naramachi makes it easy to explore landmarks.
Why stay in Naramachi?
・Historically significant neighborhood; Preserved buildings from Edo-era; Several machiyas converted into guesthouses, offering a peak into Japan's past.
・Offbeat attractions such as Koshino Ie, Imanishi Residence, Gangoji Temple and Harushika Sake Brewery
・Walking distance to train stations; loop buses available
・Experience Japanese nightlife at Kura Izakaya
Where to stay in Naramachi
4. Stay near Nara Park
Staying at Nara Park is a no-brainer for first-time visitors and families. An iconic landmark of Japan, Nara-Koen Park is over 5km of lush greenery and 1,300 deer, both enchanting visitors from across the globe.
Drenched in history, inside the park are breathtaking temples & shrines such as Tōdai-ji, Kofuku-ji Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, Isui-en Garden, and countless other bucket-list-worthy sights.
After sunset, when the day trippers are gone, you will have the area all to yourself to roam around and maybe befriend a few deer, too. The nightlife around the park isn't too exciting. But, after sightseeing from dawn to dusk, you will likely appreciate a good night's sleep in one of the many hotels in the area.
Why stay near Nara Park?
・Heart of Nara City; a cluster of sights nearby: Tōdai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, Isui-en Garden, and more.
・Home to around 1,300 bowing semi-wild but friendly deer.
・Abundant natural beauty throughout the year; orange hues during fall, pink sakura in spring, and leafy green otherwise.
・Walking distance to Kintetsu Nara Station, making it easy to city hop.
Where to stay in Nara Park
5. Stay in Yoshino
Boasting the title of Japan's most famous Cherry Blossom viewing zone, Yoshino's spiritual richness & beauty is unparalleled. It's home to Mount Yoshino, a World Heritage Site along a key pilgrimage route.
Kimpusen-ji Temple, central to the religion Shugendo, is at the base of Mt. Yoshino. Built by ascetic En-no-Gyoja, Kimpusen-ji Temple's main hall Zaodo is the second biggest wooden structure, after Nara City's Great Buddha.
An un-missable stop along the principal street is Nakai Shunpudo. A cafe with picturesque mountain vistas, selling Yoshino special Kuzu mochi.
The misty town is sprinkled with hot springs, ryokans, and a handful of guesthouses. Nara City is 2 hours from Yoshinoguchi Station with the JR pass.
Why stay at Yoshino?
・Mountain town with prosperous spiritual history, ancient shrines, mystical views, and cherry blossoms.
・Stunning Sights unique to Yoshino; Kimpusen-ji Temple; Mitarai Valley in Tenkawa Village; Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine; Dorogawa Onsen; Nyoirinji Temple
・Home to world-renowned delicacies like Kakinoha Zushi (Persimmon Leaf Sushi)
・Remote but not isolated; connected via rail to Nara City, Osaka, Kyoto, and more.
Where to stay in Yoshino
Types of accommodations around Nara
1. Hostels & guest houses
These inexpensive accommodations are basic, budget-friendly, and often cultural stays. Hostel-style guesthouses have dorm beds & others offer shared housing. Both include access to a shared kitchen, where you can whip a quick meal.
Mountainous locations with hot springs are ideal for Ryokans. These are Japanese inns with tatami mats, soothing beige walls, and often with access to an onsen.
Unique to Japan, this kind of stay tends to be pricier than hotels, but also tends to include excellent meals as well. Guests who splurge will be rewarded with an intimate insight into the extraordinary Japanese hospitality.
Glamorous hotels offering high-end amenities in Nara city are abundant. They focus on providing their guests with ultimate comfort during their time in the city of deers.
Best time & season to visit Nara
Stunning 365 days a year, Nara’s appeal doesn’t dim regardless of the season.
・Autumn Foliage Season (Oct - Dec)
Each Autumn, Nara gets a golden and vermillion makeover. Photographers, hikers, and Koyo fanatics rush to catch a glimpse of this sight. Hasedera Moiji Matsuri is the festival of maple trees that starts in October and lasts up to December. Thanks to these exciting events, hotels in Nara sell out fast in Autumn.
Families escape to Nara's mountains areas during the summer holidays to experience refreshing activities. During this season, temples are illuminated with lanterns, and skies with fireworks.
・Cherry Blossom Season (Mar-May)
Travelers rush to witness the blossoming sakura in Nara Park & Yoshino. Places can get fully booked months before sakura, so book in advance. Spring nights tend to get chilly, so prepare for cold weather.
All the places in Nara are booked out! Where do I stay?
If Nara is a sacred city, then Kyoto is its louder, trendier cousin. Due to its popularity, the accommodation options in Kyoto are plenty. With the availability of fast trains, a trip to Nara from Kyoto feels merely a stone's throw away.
Osaka is a central point for day trips to neighboring destinations like Koyasan, Mt. Yoshino & Nara. Rapid trains will teleport you to Nara in just 45 mins.
The nightlife here is electric, so if you’re looking to balance your day of immersing in traditional Japan with partying in underground indie clubs, staying in Osaka might work out even better for you!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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