Close to the more popular Kyoto, Nara is an often overlooked destination for tourists exploring Japan. Those who do make the trip will find well preserved historic attractions, spacious parks and delicious cuisine waiting around every corner!
Nara absolutely should be on your itinerary if you want a more authentic representation of Japanese history and modern life.
As a lesser-known destination, there aren’t many travel guides with an overview of the best neighborhoods in the city. Like many Japanese cities, navigating where these neighborhoods are can be tricky, and it’s important to gather your bearings a little bit before you even arrive.
So we’ve decided to create this guide to help people planning a trip to Nara – and also encourage those that haven’t considered it previously to make time for the city during your trip to Japan. We’ve figured out the best neighborhoods, as well as who they are best for.
Let’s jump right in!
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in Nara
- Where to stay in Nara for the first time – Naramachi
- Where to stay in Nara on a budget – Nishinokyo
- Best neighborhood in Nara for families – Nara Park
- Where to stay in Nara for nightlife – Downtown Nara
- Naramachi Museum is one of the simplest museums in the city, but provides a great overview of the history of the area
- Similarly, Naramachi Townhouse of Traditional Lifestyle allows you to experience what it was like to live in Japan decades ago
- Gangoji Temple is the most popular in the area, and is regularly opened up to outside guests in return for a contribution
Table of Contents
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Nara.
Best Hostel in Nara: Hostel & Gallery Gisgood
Backpackers that choose to visit Nara will want to stay right in the heart of the action – so of course, our Downtown pick had to take the top spot for hostels in the city! It comes with excellent reviews and is within walking distance of most major attractions.VIEW ON HOSTELWORLD
Best Airbnb in Nara: Newly Built Apartment
This gorgeous, modern apartment is located right in the heart of our budget-friendly neighborhood – but it still retains a luxurious vibe thanks to additional facilities! The large king-size bed make this perfect for a couple enjoying a city break, but it also comes with great reviews from solo travellers.VIEW ON AIRBNB
Best Hotel in Nara: Nipponia Hotel Nara Naramachi
This four-star hotel gives you the best of both worlds between western-style accommodations and traditional Japanese ryokan! Rooms are designed to reflect the classic heritage of the Naramachi area, and also fitted with modern furnishings and equipment to ensure maximum comfort. This is the perfect pick for anyone that wants to sample Japanese culture.VIEW ON BOOKING.COM
Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Nara
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It’s unfortunate that many tourists opt to stick to neighboring Kyoto rather than giving Nara a chance. Many of the historic attractions in this city are better preserved than those in the larger cities – giving you a frankly unbeatable experience when it comes to learning about the nation’s past!
Each neighborhood has something different to offer – but they are all well worth a visit during your time in the city.
Downtown Nara is the area surrounding the main train station. Whilst there aren’t many historic attractions in this neighborhood, this is where you will find great examples of contemporary life in Japan!
Downtown is home to most of the city’s nightlife, as well as modern restaurants and sleek hotels.
Just to the east of Downtown Nara is Naramachi – a long area which stretches down towards the outskirts of the city. This is the perfect location for those interested in learning about the city’s history! It’s also a great neighborhood for traditional experiences – whether you want to stay in a ryokan or partake in a typical tea ceremony.
Further east is Nara Park. This huge park is one of the largest in Japan – and is popular not just with visiting families but also with locals looking for activities to entertain their kids!
The park itself is packed with excellent facilities, whilst the surrounding area has some family-friendly cafés and restaurants.
Finally, if we head to the opposite end of Downtown – about ten minutes southwest on public transport – we reach Nishinokyo! This area used to be the capital of Japan, and still retains much of this history to this day.
Despite this, it isn’t frequented by tourists – making it one of the cheapest areas in an otherwise expensive city.
Still undecided? Check out our expanded guides below!
4 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Nara
Let’s take a look, in more detail, at the four best neighbourhoods in Nara. Each caters to different interests, so be sure to pick the neighbourhood that’s right for you.
Though a bit of a hipster neighborhood these days, Naramachi actually has major historic significance to the city of Nara! Many of the homes in the area can be dated back to the city’s foundation, and there are plenty of bathhouses that have been running for decades (if not centuries) on the same site.
Naramachi’s recent trendiness also makes it a great spot for first-time visitors! The laid-back culinary scene lets you try Japanese cuisine at reasonable prices, and many stores have put a lot of effort into retaining the traditional style of their façades – creating a unique atmosphere when shopping.
Things to See and Do in Naramachi:
– Naramachi Museum is one of the simplest museums in the city, but provides a great overview of the history of the area
– Similarly, Naramachi Townhouse of Traditional Lifestyle allows you to experience what it was like to live in Japan decades ago
– Mochiidono Shopping Street is the main thoroughfare in the area – and your first port of call for checking out the historic architecture
– Gangoji Temple is the most popular in the area, and is regularly opened up to outside guests in return for a contribution
– There are plenty of culinary delights in Naramachi, but we love Bolik Coffee – which perfectly combines speciality coffee with traditional Japanese tea culture
Best Hostel Naramachi: Guesthouse Naramachi
Right in the heart of Naramachi, this hostel is only a short walk away from most of the best-known attractions in the city! They offer both dorms and privates – with the dorms limited to four people to give you a more peaceful experience.
They have a bicycle rental service, including safety equipment.VIEW ON HOSTELWORLD
Best Airbnb in Naramachi: Machiya Stay
This huge Airbnb is housed entirely within a traditional building – and as such, aims to give guests a typical Japanese ryokan experience with the added privacy of having your own apartment! It can sleep up to ten people, however, can accommodate smaller groups if agreed in advance.VIEW ON AIRBNB
Best Hotel in Naramachi: Nipponia Hotel Nara Naramachi
This gorgeous four-star hotel is designed with the neighborhood in mind – with each room looking like an updated version of the traditional Japanese ryokan layout! They have complimentary parking facilities, as well as an Asian style breakfast every morning. It is within walking distance of both Naramachi and Downtown attractions.VIEW ON BOOKING.COM
Nishinokyo was once the capital of Japan, and the location of the emperor’s palace! Despite this historical relevance, the area isn’t often visited by tourists – especially because of its distance from the city centre. Nevertheless, thanks to fast and efficient public transport this is a great option for those on a budget.
Japan is a notoriously expensive country, so opting for somewhere a little more suburban can be a great way to avoid breaking the bank! What’s more, Nishinokyo still has the same great culinary scene as other areas of the city, as well as two of the biggest temples in Nara.
Things to See and Do in Nishinokyo:
– Toshodai-ji is a large temple that marks the beginning of Nishinokyo – and also has interesting memorials to important local figures
– Yakushi-ji is the other important temple in the area, often regarded as one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the city – perfect for Instagram snaps!
– Head down to Oike – a small inner-city lake with a park surrounding it, this is the perfect spot to unwind after a long day of exploring
– Pick up some local souvenirs, as well as great ice cream, at Nishinokyo Miyagedokoro Kitora – they also have a great clothing section
– Ichihashi is our pick of local restaurants – they offer typical Japanese cuisine, as well as some of the best sake in the city
Best Hostel Nishinokyo: Centurion Hostel
Located right in the heart of the World Heritage Site area of the city, the Centurion Hostel is perfect for budget travellers that want to stay a little bit closer to the city centre! Rooms are designed with tradition in mind, whilst still retaining modern conveniences to ensure a comfortable stay.VIEW ON HOSTELWORLD
Best Airbnb in Nishinokyo: Newly Built Apartment
As the name suggests, this apartment is part of a modern complex – which comes with additional security features, bicycle parking facilities and elevators! There is a king-size bed in the main bedroom, as well as a floor mattress in the living area – great for groups of three and small families.VIEW ON AIRBNB
Best Hotel in Nishinokyo: Hotel Asyl
Economy hotels are a popular option for Japanese citizens as it allows guests to save money! These hotels are basic, but come equipped with everything you need for a short stay in the city. Hotel Asyl is one of these hotels, and comes with excellent reviews. They also provide breakfast every morning.VIEW ON BOOKING.COM
Nara Park is one of the largest municipal parks in Japan, and has long been a popular neighborhood with local families! For visitors, the area surrounding Nara Park offers plenty of museums, natural attractions and family-friendly restaurants.
Nara Park has a more peaceful atmosphere than other neighborhoods – perfect if you want a relaxing break.
Surprisingly, it is only a short walk from the city centre to Nara Park – making it convenient for getting to all of the main attractions! If you are staying further into the park area, there are also excellent public transport links to other parts of the city – and even onward to Kyoto.
Things to See and Do in Nara Park:
– The park itself is packed with great facilities – and in the summer it bursts into life with local festivals and activities
– Nara National Museum is the largest collection of exhibits dedicated not just to the city, but also national history and science
– Himuro Shrine is right in the middle of the park – making it the most accessible shrine for tourists, and one of the most photogenic too!
– If you want to discover the diverse, yet unique, flora and fauna of Japan head to the Manyo Botanical Garden in the east end of the park
– Shizuka Park is an excellent restaurant for families – they offer typical Japanese cuisine as well as a laid-back atmosphere
Best Hostel Nara Park: The Deer Park Inn
This small hostel is located right in the middle of the park – providing a peaceful location for you to relax after a long day of exploring the city! It is within easy walking distance of the main attractions, and they also provide regular tours of the surrounding area.
Both dorms and privates are available.VIEW ON HOSTELWORLD
Best Airbnb in Nara Park: Japanese House
Another excellent traditional apartment in the city, this Airbnb comes particularly well rated by families visiting the area! The host has superhost status – meaning you can expect only the best in terms of service.
The building is over 100 years old, letting you experience a small piece of local history.VIEW ON AIRBNB
Best Hotel in Nara Park: Kotonoyado Musashino
This four-star accommodation is one of the best-rated ryokans in the city – perfect for those wanting to enjoy a cultural experience! Rooms sleep up to five people, making it a great choice for families and large groups.
A complimentary Asian style breakfast is provided, as well as high speed WiFi access.VIEW ON BOOKING.COM
Downtown Nara is the area surrounding the main train station – making it a convenient choice for those only visiting for a short period of time. As the business hub of the city, it also hosts the largest collection of restaurants, bars and nightclubs – making it our top pick for nightlife in Nara!
Nightlife aside, Nara is a major shopping destination for locals and visitors alike – with plenty of malls and shopping streets surrounding the station! It is also where most tour companies depart from, whether you plan on exploring the city with a guide or heading further afield.
Downtown Nara offers a great mix of tradition and contemporary living.
Things to See and Do in Downtown Nara:
– Lamp Bar is a trendy bar and nightclub that has an upmarket atmosphere, though the drinks are reasonably priced by Japanese standards
– For something a bit more down to earth, & Space is also popular with locals and even serves food into the early hours
– Sanjodori Street is a shopping route that, much like Naramachi, is lined with traditional houses and storefronts
– Vierra Nara is a huge department store right next to the train station – it has everything you could possibly need from food to cosmetics
– Surugamachi no Okonomiyakiya serves the classic Japanese savoury pancake dish with an innovative array of toppings
Best Hostel Downtown Nara: Hostel & Gallery Gisgood
This hostel is by far the best in the city when it comes to social facilities! Not only are their common areas excellent, they also run regular events and tours of the surrounding neighborhood where you can mingle with other guests. Basic toiletries are included, and the on-site café offers tasty food.VIEW ON HOSTELWORLD
Best Airbnb in Downtown Nara: Traditional House
Another traditional Japanese apartment, this one is a better pick for smaller groups that want to enjoy this cultural experience! It’s only a stone’s throw away from the train station, as well as easy walking distance from Nara Park and Naramachi.
There is a well-equipped kitchen, as well as free WiFi access.VIEW ON AIRBNB
Best Hotel in Downtown Nara: Piazza Hotel Nara
This towering four-star hotel is located right next to the train and bus stations! This makes it the ideal pick for business travellers, as well as those only in the city for one or two nights.
A complimentary breakfast is provided, and the rooms are well equipped with modern conveniences.VIEW ON BOOKING.COM
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Nara
Often overlooked by tourists from outside Japan, Nara is well worth taking the time to explore during your trip to the island nation! Packed with cultural highlights, it is one of the best-preserved cities in the country – giving you the opportunity to dive deep into Japanese history and traditions.
In terms of the best area, we’re going to go with Downtown! Though not as touristy as Naramachi or Nara Park, it is probably the best-connected neighborhood and still retains that inner city charm visitors have come to expect from Japan.
Nevertheless, each neighborhood in this guide has its own charms – whether you are interested in nightlife, or want something a bit more peaceful. We hope this guide has helped you to plan your itinerary.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!
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Writer and Editor, Ana Pereira is a California native, inspired by Earth exploration and introspection. Recently, she spent several months exploring Africa and South Asia. She spends most of her “down-time” out in the wilderness, climbing, hiking, and beyond, and is feverishly passionate about travel and health.