Nara is this small city close to Osaka and Kyoto (making it a great day trip) famous for its wild deer, the giant Buddha statue, and the many temples. It’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic monuments. It’s one of the best places to visit in Japan – with or without kids. On this guide, we’ll focus on the things to do in Nara with kids in one day!
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Getting to Nara
Nara is very close to either Osaka or Kyoto. It takes around 1 hour by train (the normal train, it doesn’t even have to the a bullet train).
Just get off the train at the Nara Station and you’re there.
The trip from Nara to Osaka, Osaka to Nara, Kyoto to Nara or Nara to Kyoto takes around 40 minutes in a regular train. It can take a little bit over an hour depending on the time of travel and the transport method used, but it doesn’t go over that.
What to do in Nara, Japan?
~ See the deer, of course!
We had left Nara train station and walked toward the park, following the signs (there are many, so you won’t get lost), for 5 minutes when we encountered the first deer.
Well, and, of course, the first deer senbei (the deer biscuit) seller. We bought one pack for each kid and started feeding the deer right away. They were adorable and we were feeding them whole biscuits until Angelo told us to give them small pieces.
Some of them asked for food by pulling our clothes with their mouths. Other deer were more polite and asked for food by either rubbing their heads against us (a little scary when they had horns) or by bowing. That was adorable.
Except for the mistake bites, they were all very gentle and kind. They’d try to get our attention by grabbing our clothes and end up biting us a few times, but they weren’t super painful and it was easily shaken off.
Once, though, the deer felt threatened by Jose and ran after him. It stopped in a few seconds, I don’t believe it was trying to hurt the kid, just scare him.
Tips for interacting with the Nara deer
- There are many deer all around Nara, so you don’t have to give out all your biscuits to the first ones (though it is hard to resist them bowing and being cute).
- There are also many biscuit vendors, so you don’t have to buy all in one place. Grab a pack, walk a bit while giving it out. When it finishes, buy the second, and so on. Otherwise, they smell the biscuits and chase you. Nicely. But they do.
- Give them pieces of the biscuit, not the whole biscuit. To make it safe, crack a piece (one biscuit can be cut in 8 or 10 pieces, seriously) and put in on the palm of your hand and let them take it. It makes it harder for them to bite your hand by accident.
- Don’t stare directly at their eyes. Blink often, look away, just be nice.
- When you’re bowing (they do bow back), make sure you only bow your head a little. If you bow your whole body, they may take it as a threat. That’s what Jose did up there.
- If they’re resting, let them rest. Some of them won’t mind you coming to take a nice selfie, but some will be annoyed and the result is not a pretty photo.
- Don’t run after them. Seriously, don’t.
- They’re wild animals, so be respectful.
- If people are taking photos of you and the deer and you don’t want it, tell them. Most will stop. Some will pretend they’re not and keep taking photos anyway, but it’s worth to try.
- In spring, there are babies. Visit Japan between April and July to see them. A visit to the deer nursery (seriously) is paid, but we saw a few baby deer around too.
~ Other Nara Tourist Spots
Kofukuji and the pagodas
We first entered Kofukuji (paid) and the 3 and 5 story pagodas. They’re beautiful, but we could only see the bottom story, which was a little disappointing. And we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, another sad thing. It is, as everything in Japan, very organized and smooth.
Then we went to see Todaiji (also paid), where sits one of Japan’s biggest Buddha statues. It is really big and it was also very crowded.
It took us a while to be able to light an incense before entering, but we wanted to do it anyway. Coral (4) broke hers to pieces – they are fragile, but the rest of the family did OK.
You pray to enter while your incense burns (you don’t have to wait the whole time) and as soon as you look inside, you can see the giant Buddha statue. It’s really, really big and impressive.
People are wild inside the temple and I is really scary as kids can get lost really, really easily. Watch your little ones.
You can also cross under this tunnel there to have luck, but the line was HUGE and we gave it up, honestly.
Kasuga Taisha, the lantern temple
We found this temple on our last trip to Nara (we go there every time we go to Japan, and we try to see something different every time). It’s so beautiful, with the streets lined with stone lanterns.
At the entrance, there’s a deer statue spitting water (so we can cleanse our hands) and it was super fun. The kids enjoyed washing the deer spit with deer spit.
There were many deer there also, and since it was less crowded, it was easier to play with them.
There were many temples in and around Nara Park, and many of them are free, so wander around and check what you want/can see.
When I say many, I really mean many. SO MANY I couldn’t note the names of them all.
In some temples, there are monks praying or meditating so it’s a cool experience to watch them. In others, you can’t really enter the occupied areas.
If you’d rather take a tour and have it all laid out to you, check your options below!
Nara for families with kids
To be really honest, the outside of the temples were a lot more interesting and beautiful. I mean, that’s where the deer are.
The gardens are so beautiful, there are the fountains where people wash their hands before entering a temple, the deer, the gorgeous walkways….
The kids really love it because of the deer and the large outdoor area, full of parks, trees, lakes, and curious places. But the biggest draw are the deer.
Best Nara Souvenir
We got a small omamori for each from one temple, which is said to bring protection, health, luck, or whatever it is you choose. Ask the person and they’ll guide you, though their English may be limited or inexistent.
There are, though, many other options, like the many deer-related items (keychains, biscuits for humans, candies, hats), special teas, maneki-neko – the little cats that bring money – and so much more! Don’t buy everything from the first shop you find, because there are so many of them!
The thing is: most of the shops, stalls and cafés close at around 5 pm. Do your shopping before that and enjoy the rest afterward.
Food in Nara for families
Restaurants open for meal times, and they close between them, so if you want a proper sit-down meal, aim for the regular meal times. If you’re OK with snacks, then anytime is good.
Just beware that after around 5 pm most snacks and cafés close, so you’ll only have the option of proper (and more expensive) restaurants.
Nara is very famous for its Japanese food, so do try to eat during meal times, not when it rains (like us). There are many restaurants I’d have loved to try!
To finish it…
It’s a beautiful, beautiful place BUT it can be tiring for the kids since the biggest draw are the deer. Once they’ve had enough of the deer, they’ve had enough of Nara. The temples and the pathways are stunning, but for kids traveling in Japan, it’s not something they wouldn’t have seen somewhere else.
I believe it’s a perfect day trip. It fills a day nicely and that’s it! We love it.
- City / Country
- Minimun Stay
- $ ~ $$$
- Best local transport option
- Do we recommend it?
- Nara / Japan
- A few hours
- Child friendly enough
- Trains and walk!
- Super safe
- Oh, yes!
Check it out our trip to Nara in video below and don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube Channel!