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The first permanent capital of Japan was founded in 710 AD at Heijo, which is today known as Nara City. Put in the shade by its more popular neighbours Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is excluded from most tourists’ itineraries. However, this location remains loaded with significant scenic and historical sites, including some of the country’s oldest Buddhist temples, and it boasts a large amount of buildings nominated as Japanese national treasures.

Most of Nara’s main attractions are concentrated in the wide and pleasant Nara Park, which is also home to numerous free roaming deer. Constructed in 752 AD, Todaiji is one of Japan’s most renowned and historically important temples and a must-see. Formerly the chief temple of all provincial Buddhist places of worship, Todaiji contains Japan’s hugest Buddha statue and is furthermore the world’s largest wooden structure.

Another major draw and Nara’s most notable shrine is Kasuga Taisha, renowned for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns that are lit during the Lantern festivals (February and August). The Kofukuji temple features diverse historic buildings, above all a three- and a five-storey pagoda, the latter being one of the tallest pagodas in Japan and the symbol of Nara.

Nara National Museum presents one of the best collections of Buddhist art on the globe, with the National Treasure Hall displaying an impressive assortment of statues. Several highly recommended sites are situated in the museum’s vicinity and can be found on a Naha map. Set en route to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Isui-en Garden is a colourful, superbly arranged garden thick with lovely flowers and enclosed by Nara Park.

Nara provides its visitors with all sorts of lodgings ranging from first-rate Nara hotels to family-run pensions and low-budget guesthouses. Among the city’s luxury hotels is the JAL-Hotel Nikko Nara, which is directly linked to JR Nara Station and conveniently located for exploring the city’s sights.

Budget accommodation in Nara includes the Ryokan Nara, a clean, traditional Japanese backpacker hostel run by welcoming and helpful owners. Shopping devotees will discover plentiful amenities along Nara’s shopping streets including Higashimuki, Mochiidono and Sanjō-dōri Avenue.

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