If you’re traveling alone and considering a trip to Japan, Nara is an ideal destination. This ancient Japanese city in the Kansai region, is welcoming to visitors and though it is often overlooked on a busy itinerary, there are a wealth of treasures to be had by exploring here.
Single travelers looking for a place to contemplate life or just relax will find Nara an especially wonderful city, and those who are seeking out other travelers to explore the region with will also be pleased. Nara offers the best of both city-life, culture and the wonders of nature.
Here is a guide to help you make the most of your solo trip to this highly underrated Asian city.
When to go
Spring and fall are by far they best times of year to visit Nara. The summer brings the heaviest rainfall to the region, and winter is quite cold, though it is rare to experience a long period of temperatures that are below freezing. Spring is especially beautiful with cherry blossoms in full bloom, and fall brings the dazzling colors of autumn to Nara park.
Where to stay
The people in Nara are warm and welcoming, and though often quiet initially, in many households it won’t take long for you to feel as though you are a part of the family. The best way to get to know the locals, is by staying with a family, or an individual, through CouchSurfing. Not only is it free, but it the cultural exchange offers benefits to both the host and the guest.
I met a lovely family of four this way, and we created a long-lasting friendship that endures to this day. Seeing Nara through the eyes of those who were born and raised here is the best way to experience what this ancient city has to offer.
If you would like to consider other options, keep in mind that the guesthouses known as Ryokans, or B & Bs, in Japan will often book only two or more people, as they charge per person instead of per room.
If you prefer a hotel stay, Super Hotel is located right across from the JR Nara train station, making transportation quite convenient. Rooms are clean, quiet, and comfortable, and start at only $69 US.
What to see
You can’t miss the several thousand beautiful and friendly sika deer that roam the streets of Nara. They are considered sacred to the Japanese, and even wonder into the shops and restaurants of the city, but call Nara Park home.
Nara Park is also home to the Nara National Museum. It houses Buddhist paintings, statues, ceremonial objects, ancient treasures, and archaeological artifacts. It is well worth a visit, and even better, the museum is free.
The Todaiji Temple will take your breath away. It is the one of the largest wooden structures on earth, and the home to the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world. The large Buddhist complex holds one of the most famous and magnificent temples in Japan, and the detail and beauty of the craftsmanship is nothing less than amazing.
Isuien Garden is a glorious Japanese garden, and another must-see in Nara. It is widely regarded as a prime example of engineered gardens from the Meiji period. While you’re there, visit the tea room for the ultimate experience. Admission is just $8.50 US, or 650 yen.
Where to eat
Staying with a local family might also provide some of your best dining experiences in Nara, but there are also a wealth of wonderful places to eat in the city.
Hiyori is located in central Nara, and offers dishes featuring delicious fresh and local produce along with fish, chicken, shrimp or beef. It would be difficult to find food that his both healthy and mouth-watering anywhere. Though the food is light, you won’t be hungry.
Harishin is located in old town Nara, just south of Nara Park. This area should not be missed. It has a peaceful, serene atmosphere and charming homes with winding alley ways that are perfect for exploring on foot. Harishin is a restaurant that is located in a 200-year old building, and here you can dine and enjoy a picturesque view of the garden.
Harishin offers obento, which is basically a meal in a box. It is affordable and mouth-watering delicious. The bite sized shrimp and the scallops are heavenly, and everything here is so beautifully presented.
Nara is definitely my cup of tea, and I highly recommend this city to single travelers visiting Japan.
K.C. Dermody is a freelance writer and a Featured Contributor for Yahoo!Travel. She has traveled to nearly all 50 states, and many countries worldwide, and has a passion for imparting what she has learned from her experiences to others.
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