Most of Nara’s major sightseeing locations are located in the area in and around Nara Park and can be visited on foot. However, taking a bus can still save you some time. This is particularly true if you arrive at JR Nara Station which is not as centrally located as Kintetsu Nara Station. There are also some sites which are not so easy to reach such as Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, and the Heijo Palace Site Museum. For these locations you can choose between taking a bus or taking a local train. If you do decide to use buses to get around Nara then it’s a good idea to buy a Nara Bus Pass to save yourself some money.
Bus Terminals and Information
JR Nara Station has bus terminals on both the west side and the east side of the station building, but the most of the important bus stops are on the east side. You can find a Bus Information Center with staff who speak both English and Chinese right beside the ticket gate inside the station building. There you can buy a Nara Bus Pass or pick up a free Bus Route Map.
Bus stops are located along both sides of the road outside Kintetsu Nara Station, but stops for the tourist buses are concentrated on the west side of the station. Kintetsu Nara Bus Information Center is located on the 1st floor of the Nara Line House building which is directly opposite the station building. You can pick up a free Bus Route Map or buy a Bus Pass here too. The Bus Route Map is also available online as a PDF.
Nara City Loop Line Buses
Nara’s buses are run by the Nara Kotsu Bus company. Most of Nara Kotsu’s regular buses are colored green and beige, but they also run two special “Loop Bus” services for tourists which are colored yellow. These buses run a circuit of the main sites in central Nara with stops at both JR Nara and Kintetsu Nara Stations.
The number #1 service runs an anti-clockwise loop and the number #2 service follows the same loop in and clockwise direction. This is a useful service for running between the railway stations and Nara Park, Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and Naramachi. Use the clockwise #2 route to visit the main sites, and the anti-clockwise #1 route to get back to the stations.
At JR Nara Station’s East Gate bus terminal you can board the clockwise #2 service at bus stop 2, and the anti-clockwise #1 service at bus stop 5.
At Kintetsu Nara Station the clockwise #2 service departs from bus stop 1 on the north side of the road across from the station building. The anti-clockwise #1 service departs from bus stop 9 on the south side of the road in front of the station’s taxi rank.
These bus stops are all very clearly marked and have information screens showing both the bus routes, and the current location of the nearest bus.
Apart from the color, the big difference between these yellow Loop Buses and the regular green buses is how you board them and the method of payment. You should board the Loop Bus from the front of the bus, and pay as soon as you get on. The Loop Bus has a fixed fare of 210 yen for adults, and 110 yen for children. When you want to get off the Loop Bus you should use the rear exit. When you use regular green Nara buses however, you should board from the rear of the bus and pick up a numbered ticket. The number on your ticket will correspond with a numbered fare chart above the driver’s seat, and you will pay the specified fare when you exit from the front of the bus.
Useful Regular Buses
Regular Nara Kotsu buses can be useful if you want to visit some of the more outlying attractions in Nara. Here is a list of locations you may want to visit with bus information for each.
Buses for Yakushiji Temple & Toshodaiji Temple
From JR Nara Station’s East Gate bus terminal take bus services #63, #70, #72, or #97 from bus stop 6. The journey should take around 20 minutes. From Kintetsu Nara Station you can board the same bus services at bus stop 8 and it will take around 25 minutes.
Buses for the Heijo Palace Site Museum
From JR Nara Station’s West Gate bus terminal take bus services #12 or #14 from bus stop 15 for a 25 minute journey. From Kintetsu Nara Station board the same services at bus stop 13 for a 17 minute journey.
Buses for Horyuji Temple
From JR Nara Station’s East Gate bus terminal board bus service #97 at bus stop 6 for a 62 minute journey. At Kintetsu Nara Station board the same bus service at bus stop 8 for a 66 minute journey.
Nara Bus Passes
A Nara Bus Pass is easy to use and gives you unlimited bus rides within the specified zone. There are three Nara Bus Passes available:
The 1-Day Pass costs 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. This covers the central locations around Nara Park, Naramachi, Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, and the Heijo Palace Site.
The 1-Day Pass Wide costs 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children. This covers a wider area than the cheaper 1-Day Pass, and extends as far as Horyuji Temple.
The 2-Day Pass costs 1,500 yen for adults and 750 yen for children. This pass is designed for tourists who wish to explore historical areas in Nara Prefecture as well as in the city itself.
These passes come with a free map and a list of special discounts at 42 restaurants and shops in Nara. You can buy the passes from the bus information centers at both the JR and Kintetsu Nara stations.
Nara Kotsu run a number of sightseeing bus tours around Nara with English or Chinese explanations provided with audio guide devices. You can easily tour the more central locations in Nara by yourself, but the full day Horyuji Temple & Nishi-no-kyo Area tour, and the half day Nishinokyo Yu-yu Bus Line tour take in some of Nara’s more outlying attractions and so may be worthwhile. You can view more details of these tours and book them online at the official Nara Kotsu website.
Nara Kotsu Bus also operate long-distance Highway Bus services between Nara and the following destinations: Shinjuku, Yokohama, Tokyo Disneyland, and Nagoya. For schedules and online bookings check the official English Nara Kotsu website.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.