Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto including Nijo Castle
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 10 hours
Explore the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara on this full-day tour from Kyoto. In the morning, visit UNESCO World Heritage sites Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji, as well as Kyoto Imperial Palace. Then travel to Nara to visit World Heritage–listed Todai-ji temple complex (including Great Buddha Hall) and Kasuga Shrine. Plus, see the famous wild deer that roam Nara (you can even feed them!) and enjoy a Japanese-style lunch. It’s a packed day, but by the end you’ll have seen some of Japan’s most important ancient landmarks.
Your day trip starts with morning pickup for the Kyoto sightseeing portion of your tour. Known as the cradle of Japan’s cultural heritage, Kyoto was the country’s capital and home of the Japanese emperor from 794 until 1868. Thus, it boasts many important temples and other sites, several of which make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.
With your guide, visit some of the highlights of this ancient city, starting with Nijo Castle, the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogun until the mid-1800s. This World Heritage–listed castle was built in 1603 and is noted for the contrast of its solemn appearance with its gorgeous interiors. You have about 50 minutes here to explore.
Next, visit Kyoto’s most popular temple, Kinkaku-ji, another World Heritage site and the home to what is perhaps the world’s most exquisite Japanese garden. It’s also home to the celebrated Golden Pavilion, a 3-story structure covered in gold leaf and extended out over a pond. Make sure your camera is ready because it makes a great photo op. Spend about 45 minutes here.
Continue your tour to Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former residence of the emperors of Japan. During your 40 minutes here, visit the Shishin-den, where important state ceremonies took place, and get a feel for the Japanese aesthetic of purity, simplicity and calmness as you explore the palace grounds.
Take a break from sightseeing for lunch, and then re-board your coach for the 1-hour drive south of Kyoto to Nara, where you’ll visit two of the temples and shrines that make up the UNESCO World Heritage site the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.
Start at Todai-ji, a temple complex famous for being home to one of the world’s largest bronze statues of the Buddha, housed in the Great Buddha Hall. You have about one hour here to explore the temple grounds and surrounding Nara Park.
Then head to colorful Kasuga Shrine, famous for the 3,000 bronze lanterns that line its interior. You have 40 minutes here before continuing to a section of Nara Park, aka Deer Park, where tame sika deer roam freely and can be hand-fed (special food can be purchased from vendors, if you wish). If time and/or traffic conditions permit, you will also stop at a souvenir shop before heading back to Kyoto, where your day trip ends. Sample lunch menu (regular):
Sukiyaki (a stew-like hot dish with chicken)
Tempura (battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables)