Planning a Trip
Nara is easily reached from Kyoto Station on two lines: the JR Nara Line and the Kintetsu Limited Express. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you'll probably want to take the commuter JR Nara Line, which departs about four times an hour and takes 43 to 57 minutes depending on the train; if you don't have a pass, the trip costs ¥690 ($5.75/£2.90) one-way. If speed or luxury is of the utmost importance, the deluxe Kintetsu Limited Express whisks you to Nara in 34 minutes, guarantees you a seat (all seats are reserved), and costs ¥1,100 ($9.15/£4.60) one-way; departures are every 30 minutes (if it's peak season, it's a good idea to buy your ticket in advance). A slower Kintetsu ordinary express takes 45 minutes and costs ¥600 ($5/£2.50).
You can also reach Nara from Osaka in about 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the train and the station from which you leave. The Kintetsu Nara Line, departing from Namba Station, takes 40 minutes and costs ¥540 ($4.50/£2.25) one-way.
There are tourist information offices at both JR Nara Station (tel. 0742/22-9821; daily 9am-5pm) and Kintetsu Nara Station (tel. 0742/24-4858; daily 9am-5pm). Both have good brochures and maps with useful information on how to get around Nara by foot and bus. For more detailed information on Nara, visit the Nara City Tourist Center, 23-4 Kami-sanjo-cho (tel. 0742/22-3900; daily 9am-9pm), located in the heart of the city on Sanjo Dori between both stations and about a 5-minute walk from each. Finally, there's Sarusawa Information Center (tel. 0742/26-1991; daily 9am-5pm), located at Sarusawa-ike Pond, south of Nara Park and not far from Nara's many attractions.
If you take the Kintetsu Line, you'll arrive at Kintetsu Nara Station; if you take the JR train, you'll arrive at JR Nara Station. Both stations are about a 10-minute walk from each other and are within walking distance of Nara Park and its attractions. Kintetsu Station is slightly closer, about a 5-minute walk to the entrance of the park, while the JR Station is about a 10-minute walk to the park. Keep in mind, however, that Nara Park is quite large and its major attractions are far-flung; it takes about 20 minutes to walk from Kintetsu Nara Station to Todaiji Temple. Around the stations themselves is Nara's small downtown area, with Sanjo Dori serving as the main shopping street and running from JR Nara Station to Nara Park.
If You're Heading to Horyuji
If you plan to visit the Horyuji Temple Area , the cheapest and fastest way to get there is from JR Nara Station on the JR Kansai Yamatoji Line going in the direction of Namba (in Osaka); departures are every 10 minutes or so and bring you to Horyuji Station in 13 minutes (fare: ¥210/$1.75/£90p). From there, you can either walk to the temple area in about 20 minutes or take the bus (¥170/$1.40/70p), which departs two to three times an hour from 10am. Obviously, becuase it takes quite a bit of time getting to and from Horyuji, you must limit your sightseeing to only the major attractions if you plan on visiting both Nara Park and Horyuji in 1 day.
Your Own Personal Guide
Nara YMCA Goodwill Guides will be glad to show you the sights in exchange for the chance to practice their English. A national organization of volunteers, Goodwill Guides range from students and housewives to retired people. One guide each is often posted at both the JR and Kintetsu Station tourist offices and is available to the first tourists who show up any day except Sunday. But if you want to be assured of having a guide, make reservations in advance by calling tel. 0742/45-5920 at least the day before to arrange a time. Guides are available daily from 9am to 5pm. There's no charge for these personal guides, but you are requested to pay their transportation to meet you, and I suggest you also pay for the guide's lunch (guides do not have to pay admission fares to attractions). A similar service is provided by Nara Student Guides by calling tel. 0742/26-4753.