This World Heritage temple complex is less than 30 minutes from the Nara Park area, with easy access by train and bus. Spacious and easy to explore, it features unique Chinese and Korean architecture, over 300 of Japan’s best Buddhist carvings and a pagoda that is said to be the world’s oldest wooden building.
The whole area is compact and rural, ideal for walking or cycling. The nearby Tatsuta River is famed for its autumn leaves and gave rise to Tatsuta-Age, a local specialty of fried chicken seasoned with soy sauce. Allow at least half a day to enjoy the key sights, or a full day to explore the area in depth.
There is a shuttle bus to Horyuji Temple from the South Exit of Horyuji Station, but you can also walk there easily in around 20 minutes. On the way, you will find casual cafes and restaurants and traditional shops. With wide roads and ample bicycle parking, the area is ideal for exploring on two wheels, which will also allow you to access further-out sights like Hokiji Temple. There are several bike rental shops, near the station and closer to Horyuji Temple.
It’s worth buying the multi-venue ticket at Horyuji Temple, as Horyuji Treasure House, a modern museum space full of rare carvings, is a must-see, housing many World Heritage treasures, including the graceful, elongated Kudara Kannon and the delicate Yumechigai Kannon or Dream Changing Kannon, who turns nightmares into good dreams.
Just beyond the Yumedono or Dream Hall, on the east side of the complex, lies Chugu-ji Temple. Originally a nunnery, it houses the beautiful seated figure of the Miroku Bosatsu, often compared with the Mona Lisa for its serene beauty.
After exploring the temple buildings, take a break for lunch or afternoon tea. Just outside Chugu-ji Temple, Taiseian is a tiny tea house tucked away in a residential street. The friendly owner speaks English and offers a range of tea ceremony options, all including freshly made matcha and seasonal wagashi sweets. For something more substantial, try Cafe Comodo or Genmaian a few minutes away.
The nearby temples Horinji and Hokiji, surrounded by farmland, are best accessed by bicycle. On the way, you can try the inexpensive Japanese lunch sets at Kitakomichi, which usually feature grilled fish and several simple side dishes. A little further up the hill, Garden Cafe Nag has good views of the area from its garden tables.
If choosing to walk, Hokiji Temple will take about 20 minuts from Horyuji. Although photogenic at any time of day, Hokiji is perhaps best known for the lovely views of its pagoda at sunset. In September, the surrounding fields are covered in delicate cosmos flowers. Buses back to Horyuji Station stop just outside Hokiji Temple.
For a change of pace, you can stop off at Koriyama Station, just 7 minutes from Horyuji Station on the way back to Nara City. This traditional goldfish town is famous for its castle and historic streets, but is also home to some cool little cafes and bars.