Visiting Japan for the first time? Undoubtedly, Nara and Kyoto will be on your travel list. If you plan to arrive at the Kansai International Airport or base yourself in Osaka, then this is the ideal one-day tour that covers both of these historical cities.
An English-speaking guide and, on some days, a Chinese-speaking guide will accompany you; so you won’t miss out on any information and even have the opportunity to learn some trivia about Japanese culture, food, and day-to-day life. The best part…you will have plenty of free time during this tour and you won’t need to drag your luggage with you while sightseeing.
So are you excited to know where you can go in one day?
Departure from Umeda and Namba
Easily accessible from any hotel in Osaka and centrally located, you can choose between two meeting points, either Umeda (West Umeda Parking) or Namba (Namba Parks). Your guide will be waiting with a “Wow! Bus” logo flag.
*Depending on the weather or other circumstances, the order of the tour itinerary may be subject to change.
World Heritage sites in Nara Park
Your first stop will be Nara, the capital of Japan 1300 years ago. Sprawled over a vast area, Nara Park includes the grounds of Todai-ji temple, Kofuku-ji temple, and Kasuga Taisha shrine.
Todai-ji temple, the world’s largest wooden structure
As soon as you get off the bus, you will be in front of the monumental Nandaimon gate of Todai-ji temple. Built more than 800 years ago, this is the largest temple gate in Japan. As you walk towards it, you will be dwarfed by the scale of this 25.46 m high gate. It’s no surprise that Nandaimon is a designated national treasure.
Daibutsuden, the Great Buddha Hall, embraces your sight as you pass through the gate. The grandeur of the world’s largest wooden building will leave you spellbound. Please note the entrance fee is not included in the tour cost.
The Great Hall houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana which is about 15m (50 feet) in height! Awe-inspiring, the tranquil, serene expression of the great Buddha leaves a calming effect on many visitors, as they contemplate in this immense space.
One of the things not to miss when you’re inside this hall: try squeezing yourself through the hole in the base of one of the wooden pillars. It is said that those who can squeeze themselves through this hole won’t suffer from any illness or ailment. Don’t forget to get a snapshot of you trying to wriggle through the gap!
Still have time? Walk past the Daibutsuden towards Nigatsudo Hall. Go up the steps and see the city of Nara unfold. This is where you can truly understand the scale of Todai-ji, a temple like no other.
A brush with nature
After the remarkable Todai-ji, you can spend time with the 1,200 or so adorable wild deer that roam freely through the park. Deer are considered to be messengers of the gods in Shinto and have become synonymous with Nara.
You can feed the deer with crackers and interact with them. Can you believe this? If you bow, the deer also reciprocate with a bow. Even the deer seem to have imbibed this quintessential Japanese habit!
If time permits, you can take a quick look at Kasuga Taisha famous for its many bronze and stone lanterns. The guide will not be accompanying you here; so be cautious of the time limit as you also need to have lunch before getting on the bus.
Once you finish wandering around the park, you can grab your own lunch at any one of the many Japanese-style restaurants in the area. This tour does not cover the cost of lunch.
Kyoto, a world apart
After lunch, you can take a nap in the bus and before you know it, you’ll be in Kyoto.
Your first stop will be Heian Jinju, a shrine that honors Kyoto and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive structures you will see. Built in 1895, on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto, the shrine’s main buildings are a 5/8th scale reproduction of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period.
The architecture of this shrine sets it apart from other structures as it has a distinctive Chinese influence and you can find abundant depictions of the phoenix, white tiger, blue dragon and black turtle, the four legendary creatures in Chinese mythology.
Gion, the most famous area of Kyoto
The warmth of lanterns, the sound of geta and the sight of a geisha gently sliding a shoji: straight out of an old woodblock print, Gion is a ride through a nostalgic world of intrigue.
Hanami Koji (street) in Gion is loved both by residents and visitors alike for its elegance and antiquated feel. The stone-paved streets, latticed teahouses, traditional souvenir shops and restaurants transport you back in time. This is also one of the best spots to get a glimpse of geisha or maiko. So keep your cameras ready!
Another area that you mustn’t miss in Kyoto is Shijo Dori (street) which runs east to west from Yasaka Shrine to Karasuma Street bisecting Gion. Lined with shops, ranging from age-old, family-run establishments to high-end department stores, a walk through this street will offer an insight into a myriad of well-crafted souvenirs as well as culinary delights.
Feeling peckish? Grab a stick of sweet, soy sauce-glazed dango, cool down with an intense matcha-flavored ice cream or just relax at a tea house with freshly whisked green tea!
Typically quieter than both Hanami Koji and Shijo Dori, Gion Shirakawa is along a canal lined with willows, teahouses and high-class restaurants. The cobbled lanes with almost no overhead wires offer a chance to take postcard-perfect photos. And if you’re lucky or patient, you might just get a maiko walk into your frame.
Want more of Gion?
You have the option of leaving the tour in Gion, if you wish to spend more time in the area. Please be advised, there will be no refund and you will be responsible for arranging your own transportation to return to Osaka.
If you do decide to stay a while longer in Kyoto, you also have the option of renting a kimono in the Gion area, if you wish to do so, please send an email to the address provided in the link below:
For those who plan to return with the tour, once you have seen all the spots and got your fill of Kyoto and Nara, get into the bus and relax on the way back to Osaka.
Please note that an advanced booking is necessary to join this tour. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking quite a lot.
What are you waiting for?
Go ahead, book yourself a perfect day trip and immerse yourself in the sublime charm of Nara and Kyoto!