Even if you have limited time in Nara, you don’t have to limit yourself to the usual tourist spots in town. With a good network of trains and buses, you can cover a lot of ground if you are strategic. Getting out into the countryside will let you really connect with the locals.
Hasedera Temple is stunning in all seasons, and the town around it is charming. Stop by one of the many restaurants along the main street for lunch. It takes less than an hour from Nara City by train on the JR line, and you can easily manage the trip in a half day.
From Murouji Temple to Murou Art Forest, you can cover centuries of history in a single day. The area has quiet forest paths to take you between the major sights, but there is also a bus service. Allow an hour by train to reach Murou and a full day exploring.
Close to Nara Park, Nishinokyo was central to Nara’s history. There are several World Heritage temples here, including Yakushiji Temple and Toshodaiji Temple. The two temples are linked by an attractive road with soba restaurants and traditional houses. It’s just 15 minutes from Nara city by train or bus and you can cover it in half a day, then add a side trip to see the magnificent remains of Heijokyo Imperial Palace nearby.
Strolling the Edo streets of Imaicho would make for a pleasant morning. Add in lunch and a visit to Kashihara Jingu Shrine, and you have a great day out. There are several bicycle rental shops in the area to help speed your journey. Just 30 minutes from Nara City, many of Imaicho’s historic houses are open to the public. Don’t miss Kawai Sake Brewery.
Tanzan Jinja Shrine is magnificent in spring and autumn, with one of the loveliest pagodas in Nara. You can reach it by bus from Sakurai Station, about 40 minutes from Nara City. On the way, drop in to Shorinji Temple and Abe-Monjuin Temple, which have excellent Buddhist statues. On the other side of Sakurai, Ohmiwa Jinja Shrine is a must-see.