If you wish to travel to Nara from Tokyo, there are three main routes to go by: by train via Kyoto, by air via Osaka, and directly by highway bus.
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Traveling by Train
Traveling by train is probably the easiest, and most comfortable way to get to Nara and if you have a Japan Rail Pass it can be economical too. To take the rail route, first take a shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, and then transfer to a local line for Nara.
Taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto
The regular unreserved fare for the shinkansen to Kyoto is 13,080 yen. Travel time varies though, according to the service you take. There are three types of train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line: the Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The Nozomi is the most frequent and the fastest train as it travels between Kyoto and Tokyo in just 2 hours and 20 minutes. However, this train is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
If you wish to use the Japan Rail Pass, your best choice is the Hikari which takes just 2 hours and 40 minutes to cover the distance. The Kodama stops at every station on the way and so takes about 4 hours.
Local Lines from Kyoto to Nara
From Kyoto you have a choice between two local rail lines: the JR Nara Line or the private Kintetsu Kyoto Line. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you should take the JR Nara Line. Be sure to take the Miyakoji Rapid service on this line which takes 45 minutes to reach Nara, and not a local train which stops at every station and takes 70 minutes. The regular fare for the JR Nara Line between Kyoto and Nara is 710 yen.
If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, you may decide to take the private Kintetsu Kyoto Line. This line has both the cheapest and the fastest trains to Nara. Kintetsu Nara Station is also more centrally located in Nara than the JR Nara Station.
You can take an Express train on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line for 620 yen and be in central Nara in 50 minutes. If you are in a hurry, you can pay 1,130 yen for a Limited Express ticket and be in Nara in just 35 minutes.
Traveling by Plane & Airport Limousine Bus
It is possible to fly from either of Tokyo’s two primary airports at Haneda and Narita into Osaka and then take a limousine bus service to Nara. Osaka has two airports that you can fly into: Kansai International Airport and Osaka Itami Airport. Osaka Itami Airport is slightly closer to Nara and flight times into Osaka Itami are also shorter, but you are more likely to get a low cost flight between Narita Airport and Kansai International Airport.
Low cost airlines like Peach and Jetstar run extremely cheap services between Narita Airport in Tokyo and Osaka’s Kansai Airport. A flight lasting just 1 hour and 30 minutes can cost as little as 3,990 yen (before tax). JAL and ANA also run flights between Narita and Osaka Itami Airport that take 1 hour and 20 minutes but these will cost considerably more at between 10,000 and 30,000 yen.
Haneda Airport has flights to both Osaka Itami International Airport (1 hour and 10 minutes) and Kansai International Airport (1 hour and 15 minutes), but again there are no low cost carriers for these flights, so ticket prices for both destinations could cost between 23000 and 40000 yen.
Airport Limousine Bus Services
Nara Kotsu Bus runs regular limousine bus services to Nara directly from both Kansai International Airport and Osaka Itami Airport. Travel time is dependent on traffic conditions but the bus from Kansai International Airport to Nara takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes and from Osaka Itami Airport it takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The fare from Kansai Airport is 2,050 yen for adults and 1,030 yen for children. The fare from Osaka Itami Airport is 1,480 yen for adults and 740 yen for children. Buses depart every hour and stop at both JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station. For more details please visit the Nara Kotsu website.
Traveling by Highway Bus
If you are not a light sleeper, then taking an overnight highway bus can be a good way to save money on both transport costs and hotel accommodation. There are three main companies running overnight bus services between Tokyo and Nara: JR Bus Kanto, Willer Express, and Nara Kotsu Bus.
JR Bus Kanto operate one service that runs between Tokyo and Nara. The Premium Dream 11 service is an overnight bus service that leaves Tokyo Disneyland at 21.15 and Tokyo Station at 22.10 and arrives at JR Nara Station’s East Exit at 6.50 the following morning. Prices vary between 8,800 yen and 12,300 yen depending on the seat you book. For more details please visit the JR Bus Kanto website or make a booking at Kousokubus.net.
Willer Express also run overnight services on two routes. One route departs from Tokyo Disneyland at 22.05 and Tokyo Skytree at 22.35 and arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station at 6.55 and JR Nara Station at 7.01. The fare for this route is currently listed at 8,600 yen. The second route departs from Shinjuku Bus Terminal at 23.15 and arrives at JR Nara Station at 6.32 and Kintetsu Nara Station at 6.35. The fare for this route is currently listed at 7,700 yen. For more details and to make online bookings check the Willer Express website.
The Nara Kotsu Bus company also runs highway buses between destinations in Tokyo and Nara. The Shinjuku to Nara bus runs from Shinjuku’s Keio Plaza Hotel at 23.00 and Shinjuku Bus Terminal at 23.15. It arrives at JR Nara Station at 6.32 and Kintetsu Nara Station at 6.35. Fares vary according to the season but start from as little as 5,980 yen. The Tokyo Disney Resort to Nara bus departs from Tokyo Disneyland at 22.05 and from Tokyo Skytree at 22.35 and arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station at 6.55 and JR Nara Station at 7.01. Fares start at 7,500 yen but may vary according to the date of travel. For futher details and to make online bookings, check the Nara Kotsu website.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.