Avoid the Crowds – Day Trip to Nara

After a few days in the busy and crowded Tokyo and Kyoto, I was looking for some peace and quietness so I decided to take a day trip to Nara first thing in the morning. In less than an hour train ride, we arrived at Nara by 8 am and took a long walk to the famous Todaiji Temple. On the way, we encountered wild deer roaming around the city. Nara is also famous for its deer.

It was so well worth to wake up early, we were almost the first ones in the temple so no crowds at all…..ahhhh peace finally and can have photos without getting photobombed!

The beautiful Todaiji Temple that cost 600 yen admission fee. The structure is the biggest we have seen in Japan so far!

Right after, a group of school students who looked like they are on a field trip arrived, we thought schooling in Japan must be fun as we always run across students at all the tourist sights!

The Buddhist statues inside the Great Buddha Hall are huge!

A model of Todaiji:

Next, we walked to Nigatsu-dō and passed by many nice architectures that I have to stop for photos; it was so easy to take great photos too!

And we ran into a deer that was eating leaves right next to the vending machine so we quietly walk near to have a photo with it.

Sorry to disturb your breakfast xD

It was a really nice walk and they have clean public bathrooms 😀

We arrived at Nigatsu-dō which means Hall of the Second Month.

I love those big white lanterns hanging around the temple and at Nigatsu-dō, it offered the best view of the Nara! And the best of it was that only us two there!!! We took photos like crazy!

Those wooden frames of writings and paintings added more ancient feel to the structure.

At the front, the rows of old metal lanterns were also very pretty!

The view of the ancient houses and temples below:

How can I not have photos with those hanging lanterns? I have seen photos of the lanterns light up at night and I wished that we have time to go back during the night time!

I wouldn’t pass a chance to make a wish too!

Surrounding the hall were those stone monuments, perhaps of those who donated to built the hall?

More deer roaming around:

More empty ancient buildings, I felt a little weird not seeing other tourists around!

We walked for another 15-20 minute to the next stop: Kasuga Taisha, a beautiful shrine. On the way, we saw families of deer including this one blocking the entrance of a shop LOL. He really knows how to pick a right spot to rest!

Across the street on this little park was filled with deer!

OMG, a Pikachu vending machine!!!

Amazing that this deer turned back and looked at us!

And this one figured out how to get under the ropes to across the stairway!

A cute mini shrine along the way as well!

We finally arrived at Kasuga Taisha, isn’t it beautiful with people?

More hanging lanterns that I absolutely adored:

We paid another 600 yen to obtained this special access into the shrine and it was so well the money!!! This hall of lanterns was so picturesque! Perhaps the extra admission cost, there were a lot of tourists outside but they didn’t want to pay the price to get in so we were, once again, only two of us there at least for 15 minutes!

Photo time!!! I purposely edited tohse to be more pink toned, which effect do you preferred?

The visit route was looping around the shrine and more halls with lanterns.


This short hallway are all golden lanterns!

And this hall where one side is all golden lanterns and another with metal lanterns.

You can get awesome photos at Kasuga Taisha so make sure you pay the extra fee to enter!

Once we were done, we walked down through this stairway with stone lantern pillars on both sides once again.

Another shrine on the way down and students were there.

This deer stopped and looked at us again 😉

Once we reached to the bottom of the “hill” many tour buses parked there and the tour groups arrived. A group of deer was hanging out at the store where they sell deer crackers. I thought it would be fun to feed those gentle deer but once I bought the crackers, they got aggressive! OMG, the whole group came to me and didn’t even wait for me to feed them the cracker one by one, instead, they were like fighting as if they haven’t get feed for days! They became more aggressive that some started to bite my dress and pull!!! OMG, what I thought a fun experience became a nightmare; I was so afraid that they going to rip my dress that I decided to throw all the crackers out as far as I could to get them away! Phew!! I read online that those deer suppose to take a bow and then get fed….grr what happened?

Jason was able to pat this one before it walked away.

Then, another victim!!!

Yep, he couldn’t control them as well that he had to throw all out to avoid getting bitten!

Think twice before you buy the crackers especially if there is a group of deer around, they aren’t gentle when in a group! They sure did damaged my dress a little 🙁 So sad! We walked all the way back to the station and passed by many beautiful ancient architectures!

The Kōfukuji Five Storied Pagoda:


We really like Nara, it’s so much better than I thought with beautiful ancient architectures and not as crowded. Be there early and you’ll have the whole place to yourself!

We took the train from Nara to Osaka (another hour train ride) for lunch. Jason wanted to try a famous eel (unagi) restaurant and found Uoi to be famous and affordable. We plugged in Uoi and there is one right near Osaka Station so we followed the GPS. Osaka Station was like a zoo, if you think Kyoto Station is a maze, Osaka Station is even a bigger maze with underground pathways and tunnels connecting through malls!!! The walkway signs all suddenly disappeared and we were in the center of this underground intersection that goes to 8 different places urg! And the worst was that no GPS signal down there!!! We were going around circles and we thought it’s a restaurant inside the Hanshin Department Store Umeda so we were trying to locate a store directory….no luck! We managed to locate it and guess what? It’s actually inside a department store (picture Macy’s with 10+ floors up and 3 basement floors), the whole 3 floors in the basement are dedicated for food and snacks!!! Without knowing, the Uoi branch is a counter (like one of the cosmetic counters inside Macy’s literally) and it’s for takeout only. Jason bought an eel rice box, literally, they put the eel and rice inside this wooden box and wrapped it! Without a place to sit down to eat and I am not an eel person so I need something else for my lunch. I found a booklet and it is the store directory! I saw that up at the 7th floor has a bunch of restaurants.

We took the elevator up to the 12th floor and have a formal lunch at another well-known unagi restaurant – Unaman. There’s even a Din Tai Fung on that floor but we’ll save that for Taiwan.

Jason’s eel craving…..he wasn’t too impressed LOL! He thought those precooked and marinated packaged eel tasted much better!

I don’t like eel and there’s no other choice in the menu so I ordered a Japanese omelet and it has nothing inside, it’s just a nicer looking scrambled egg, urg ripped off! Jason’s eel box was like 3000 yen and my omelet was an expensive one around 800 yen!

After the unfilling lunch, we headed back downstairs to buy the infamous Uji matcha (green tea powder). There are so many brands to choose from and some even selling green tea drink mix (sugar plus matcha) to make iced green tea. I ended up buying a few of each brand and end result:

The department store also provides tax refund service and the line to get that process was crazy! There are like 10+ employees processing tax refunds so the line did get moving along quickly but still it was like a 30 minutes wait! Once we were done shopping, we took the metro to see the famous Osaka Castle. Crowds again!

The entrance fee in the castle is another 600 yen….if you are a history buff then great, if not, it’s a waste of money! The inside is more like a museum exhibit instead of a “castle” and there’s no photo allowed in most of the floors. You just walk from one floor to the next with some displays of arts of history.

And that was it until you get up to the highest floor that you can walk out for the view….well of a modern city! It’s really not that interesting -.-

We could’ve saved 1200 yen and stayed down to take photos of the exterior of the castle instead!

To avoid the crowds, I recommend to walk to away from the main entrance and you should be able to get decent photos without the heads.

Osaka sightseeing checked lol, we were so done with the crowds so we decided to take the metro back to Osaka Station and then a quick 30-minute train to Kyoto. Our legs were soared after the days of walking so we decided to have dinner in Kyoto Station. We walked to “The Cube” to the restaurant floor and the selections didn’t seem interesting to us. Then, we walked back down to the other side of the train station for more restaurants. I was getting really hungry that I gave up on looking and just randomly picked one. It was not too bad. We ordered the raw tofu to try…..ummmm not taste LOL!

The fried shrimps were good.

Jason ordered a beef udon, it was nothing special!

I ordered a duck breast udon and it was okay, I can’t complain much since we didn’t put any effort into finding a high ranking restaurant.

This was the resturant inside Kyoto Train Station, we don’t even know the name of it so I took a photo of its store front…..it’s average!

We didn’t want to venture out far because we wanted to have dessert at Nakamura Tokichi again inside the station. This time, we both ordered the green tea jelly and it came with 3 scopes of creamy, green tea ice cream! Green tea ice cream and green tea jelly are the perfect matches!!! They have a small store in front of the cafe which they sell their brand of matcha and iced-green tea mix. I bought the can and it is really good!

Our last chance of the famous green tea dessert in Japan and it was sure satisfying!

We didn’t make it the last shuttle back to our hotel so we once again took the metro. It was a long day for us since we woke up extra early to have a head start and so well worth it! This was probably the most enjoyable sightseeing day in Japan for me and I never thought Nara is my favorite Japan destination of this trip!

14 thoughts on “Avoid the Crowds – Day Trip to Nara

  1. Did you skip Indonesia?

    Nara was my favorite too.I did not go to the shrine .Feeding the deer ,you should know better.All kinds of warnings.

    Himeji castle is much bigger ,more interesting and more photogenic then Osaka,but the climb to the top is also just exercise.

    If you are looking for an interesting religious photogenic experience try Our Lady of Czesetowa(forgive the spelling)between Krakow and Warsaw Poland.IT is a cathedral with a painting of jesus and Mary done by an apostle .All my pictures were very different and the zoom was really affected.Lots of legend and history surrounding a painting.Pretty wild.

    1. Yes, last-minute change 🙁 I really like the shrines in Nara, not crowded and large enough to get some good photos without other tourists. We had a limited number of days in Kyoto and so much to see surrounding it so didn’t make it down to Himeji Castle. Agree that Osaka Castle is not interesting at all. Thanks for the suggestion, Poland is on my list!

  2. And I thought Nara only had deers – coz that is all you get to see online. Such beautiful architecture.. and so peaceful without the loads of people. But you missed Dotonbori and the famous okonomiyaki in Osaka.

    1. We are not a big fan of big city anymore so Osaka doesn’t look appealing to us…we much prefer ancient architectures 😀

  3. I did the elbe river cruise.Berlin(museum island),Meisen(porcelain),wittenberg(lutheran)dresden,Bad schandau(asian like rock formations).Great castle reflection in Meissen and Dresden area great places to walk around.

    Prague by bus .Terazin holocaust center.Prague is a great place to walk around.

    Went to Krakow Poland,Auschwitz,Salt mine sculptures.I loved Krakow.We went to Warsaw ,which is underwhelming ,but the flight s are better and Our lady cathedral painting was on the way.

    I fed the deer in Nara back in the 70s when i was a little kid.Much safer then.Less people then and fewer deer.

      1. Bad Schandau is about an hour from Dresden.You should get some good pics in Dresden from river,tower and boat .Nice pic wth the city lit up at night.

        Clock tower in prague is a good way to view the city.great tram, nice city and river walks.

        never heard of Posnan. I Would go back to Krakow to visit the fire breathing dragon and see the wooden altar opening at st marys.

        1. We only doing a day trip to Dresden so don’t think we can stay to get some night photos 🙁 Oh yes, we are staying near Charles Bridge in Prague hoping to get some nice sunset photos!

  4. When I first visited Nara in 1981 it was a quiet provincial town. There were deer yes, but not the severe overpopulation that there is now. It was crowded only on weekends and national holidays. Most of the “tourists” were Japanese. I don’t think I had to pay anything to enter the kasuga shrine. The other temples such as Todaiji charged an entrance fee but it was a faction of the entry fee which is charged now. Yes there were deer and yes there were “shika senbe” available but not the ridiculous amounts there are today. Nara then was more famous then for its cultural heritage. I visited Nara today (20/5/2024) and I was saddened to see that it has lost its direction. The Kintetsu Railway signs symbolized not the cultural things in Nara, but the deer. I think the deer are cute but they should not be a symbol of Nara. Perhaps I am just too old to appreciate the trends of the modern world, perhaps not. You are tourists visiting Japan but year by year Japan is disappearing from your view as the Japanese frantically try to think of more ways to make money, money, money. Hurry and visit Japan because it won’t be here forever. It’ll soon be like any other tourist destination and in 20 years people will look at their photographs and think they saw Japan but what they saw was actually just another illusion. I wonder what the most famous “go to place” will be there then.

    1. Agree, I just got back from Osaka as well. We did a day trip to Kyoto and it was crowded than we were there some years ago. Himeji and Uji, on the other hand, are more “peaceful”.

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