This quiet town was the capital of Japan in the 8th century, but today, you'll find a much more serene atmosphere in Nara than in bustling Tokyo. Soak up the calm during a visit to the Kasuga-taisha shrine, surrounded by the site's nearly 3,000 decorative stone and bronze lanterns. This shrine, combined with the Todai-ji temple's giant bronze Buddha statue, makes any walk through Nara feel like a spiritual quest.
The nature that cradles the city is just as majestic as its ancient structures. In Nara Park, which surrounds the temple, you can go for a relaxing stroll and encounter wild deer roaming free. These animals were considered sacred until World War II and were thought to be protected by one of Kasuga-taisha's deities. Today, they are considered "national treasures".
Want to get some exercise as you explore Nara? Hike up Mount Wakakusa to see the remains of the ancient imperial city above the town. If you're traveling in the spring, the cherry blossoms will add their distinctive beauty to this panorama.