Like nearby Kyoto, Nara was once the Japanese capital and a source of enormous cultural and religious outpourings. Unlike its more celebrated neighbour, however, Nara has survived relatively untouched by modern advances and remains a relaxed town dotted with temples, shrines and parkland.
From the fifth and sixth centuries onwards this region was Japan's cultural heartland, and successive rulers displayed their devotion to the recently introduced Buddhist faith by building splendid temples and commissioning grand works of art. Many of these remain today, including the most famous, Todai-ji Temple, home to the great bronze Buddha housed in Japan's largest wooden structure.
Also worthy of a visit are the Kofuku-ji and Horyu-ji temples nearby. The parkland at the eastern end of town boasts the greatest number of these temples and is a pleasant area to stroll at leisure.
Nara is also home to several tame deer roaming through the park area. You are able to buy food for them at various kiosks. The deer can be quite frisky and will try to nibble items of clothing, but are generally friendly.
Nara is only a short 45 minute train-ride from Kyoto, and makes for a pleasant day trip or overnight stay if time allows.