Sober City Guide: Exploring Nara Without Alcohol

Nara City is an ancient and mystical place. Exploring Nara without alcohol is not only easy to do, but enchanting. Nara is located an hour outside of the busy cities of Kyoto and Osaka, and it’s a haven for travelers looking for a place to relax and ground. This makes it such a beautiful place for the sober traveler – it will satisfy your sense of wonder and delight all of your senses.

Japan is a country that completely blew me away with its offerings for the sober traveler! When I was researching Japan, I kept coming across nightlife tours and sake tastings, and I was wondering how I would feel traveling there as a sober person. Once I arrived, I was immediately delighted by how welcoming of a place it is for sober people, and how included I felt in the dining scene!

One thing that I absolutely love about Japan, is that every Izakaya (bar and restaurant) I visited had non-alcoholic beer on the menu! I love that I was able to experience Japanese beer, without the booze! This made me feel right at home and I had so much fun sitting at a bar, watching my food being prepared, with a solid non-alcoholic beverage!

Nara City is no exception, and it’s my favorite place that I visited in Japan! I spent my days exploring ancient temples, feeding the adorable bowing deer, and singing karaoke with locals in the evening. The only regret I have about my visit to Nara is that I didn’t spend more time here! Nara City is a whimsical place and the ideal locale for the sober traveler. Let’s help you build the perfect day exploring Nara without alcohol!

Deer in front of temple gate in Nara, Japan
Smiling in front of a temple while exploring Nara without alcohol
Deer in front of Kasuga-Taisha Shrine in Nara, Japan

Getting There

JR Line Versus The Subway

You can take the JR Line to Nara City, but that route is quite expensive. If you are visiting form Osaka or Kyoto, I recommend you save some money and take the subway lines for half of the cost! You can find the most affordable options by adjusting your search on google maps to “Lowest Cost.” This will show you the route from the city you are staying in to Nara City, without the expensive JR ticket prices.

Whimsical Activities for the Sober Traveler

Exploring Nara without alcohol is easy because there are simply so many things to do! Personally, my favorite activities in Nara are all outdoors, so do your best to plan for good weather! There is so much to get curious about in Nara – its rich history, stunning architecture, rich wildlife, and delicious food are just some of the delights that initially come to mind!

When I’m developing a sober trip, I focus on a few main things: adventure, cultural experiences, and dining. Nara City has endless opportunities for each and every one of those things, and you definitely won’t find yourself lacking things to do! I’m excited to share my favorite sober activities to experience in this beautiful and ancient city.

Posing front of Southern Round Hall of Kohfukuji Temple in Nara, Japan

Spend an Afternoon Feeding the Adorable Nara Deer

The number one thing that comes to mind when thinking of Nara, is the Nara Deer! Nara has a strong Buddhist history and presence, and the Buddhist Monks have protected the deer in Nara for centuries. A quick google search taught us that there are currently over 1,300 wild deer in Nara! 

That’s easy to believe – almost instantly upon arrival, you’ll find countless deer roaming around and looking for treats! You can purchase “deer crackers” from local vendors on every corner for 200 yen. 

Once you have your crackers, you’ll want to hide them and search for a spot to feed the deer! I recommend finding one or two deer that are alone so that you don’t get overtaken by swarms! My best piece of advice is to wear layers in case they nip at your clothes and protect your butt…they like to bite your butt!

I made a sweet video of my partner and I feeding the Nara Deer – you can see how chaotic but also adorable they are! This is such a funny memory and I genuinely am looking forward to feeding them again in the future. This is such a fantastic sober activity to spend your day doing in Nara – it really never gets old!

Deer in front of Kasuga-Taisha Shrine in Nara, Japan
Deer relaxing in the forest in Nara, Japan
Deer in front of temple gate in Nara, Japan

Nara City Deer: Is Feeding Them Ethical?

Animal tourism is generally something that I encourage people to avoid. It’s always stressful for the animals and it’s hard to find any interaction with animals abroad that is healthy for both people and the animals. So if you’re worried about participating in feeding the deer, I genuinely understand your concerns and I’m happy to talk about my feelings around it!

Overall, I didn’t feel anxious over the deer’s wellbeing while visiting Nara. They are completely wild and they are generously cared for by the city. They are eating crackers from people’s hands, yes, but they are also roaming Nara’s parks freely. They have ample green space and were grazing on grass and other foliage while we were there. They are revered as a “national treasure” in Japan and taken care of by the city and its monks. I believe encountering the Nara Deer is a great experience and recommend it for the traveler who is interested in exploring Nara without alcohol!

Feeding a deer in Nara in front of a shinto gate
Nara deer begging for a treat
My partner posing with a deer in Nara, Japan

Visit Nara City’s Ancient Buddhist and Shinto Temples

Nara is so much more than a place to see thousands of wild deer! Nara was Japan’s first ancient capital, and you can find some of Japan’s most stunning shrines and historically powerful temples here. The temples in Nara City grew so powerful in fact, that the capital was eventually moved away from Nara after the Buddhist monasteries became a threat to the government.

There are so many incredible temples to explore, that I couldn’t achieve seeing them all in one day! I did seek out some of the most famous, and historically significant temples that I would recommend placing at the top of your “must-see” list! They will fill you with wonder and provide you with an entire day’s worth of plenty to marvel at.

This kind of cultural exploration and experience is a pillar of my sober travels. I find that travel becomes meaningful and transformative when you engage in a place’s history and rich cultural offerings. Exploring Nara’s temples will not only give you a meaningful experience, but it will connect you to Japan’s deep history and spiritual lineage.

Kohfukuji Temple

Kohfukuhi Temple is located near Nara Station, and it’s a great place to start your temple explorations in Nara City. Kohfukihi Temple is a powerful ancient temple, and was one of the Seven Great Temples in Ancient Japan. The name “Kohfukiji” translates to “the Temple that Generates Blessings.”

Admission to the temple grounds are free, and you can wander aimlessly taking in the great halls and colorful pagodas. We began our exploration of Nara here, and I was in a state of awe from the moment we entered the temple grounds. You’ll marvel at the vermillion Central Golden Hall, the wooden Three and Five-Storied Pagodas, and enjoy a crisp scent in the air from pine trees and burning incense.

Five-storied Pagoda at Kohfukuji Temple in Nara, Japan
Central Golden Hall at Kohfukuji Temple in Nara, Japan
Southern Round Hall at Kohfukuji Temple in Nara, Japan

Todai-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple is Nara’s most famous temple. The temple was built in 738 CE but wasn’t opened until 752 CE. The temple has gone through multiple rounds of reconstruction since then, but remains a relic to Nara’s ancient history and importance. 

The temple has an incredible history, and is one of the most historically significant temples in Japan. The Great Hall houses one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, and it’s truly a site to behold!

The admission fee is 600 Yen to enter the great hall and the temple grounds. You can gain additional access to the museum for 1,000 Yen.

Large warrior statue at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Large seated Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
A head sculpture of a warrior at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

The Kasuga Taisha Shrine is a Shinto Shrine in Nara City. This was my personal favorite place we had the pleasure of visiting in Nara. The sacredness of the grounds is palpable, and the shrine is located in a wooded area at the base of a mountain. 

The shrine was established in 768 CE, and has been reconstructed many times over the centuries. The shrine resides in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, which is also a must see place in Nara. 

You access the shrine by walking on a trail through a beautiful forest, the Nara deer resting among the trees. Eventually, a stone staircase will open up with a shinto torii gate at the top. The shinto torri gate marks the space between the human world and the sacred world, so to step through the gate is an act of stepping into the sacred. 

We visited the shrine at sunset, and it was magical. There were almost no tourists there, so we were free to wander and experience the calm and peacefulness of the shrine. 

Deer outside main temple gate at Kasuga-taisha shrine in Nara, Japan
Posing at Kasuga-taisha shrine in Nara, Japan
Shinto gate at Kasuga-taisha shrine in Nara, Japan

Where To Eat – Round Wisteria Izakaya

One of the greatest experiences we had while visiting Nara was our dining experience! We had plans to go to a sushi restaurant, but found that it was closed when we arrived. This turned into the best accident because it lead us to a wonderful Izakaya. 

An Izakaya is a Japanese Bar & Restaurant. Even as a sober traveler, I love them for their charm, excellent food, intimate dining experience, and your ability to meet people. I have found that most Izakayas in Japan serve Japanese non-alcoholic beer! If they don’t, I recommend ordering a Japanese Tea! Of course, if this is triggering to you, I want you to take care of yourself. Find solice and nourishment in one of Japan’s incredible tea houses instead!

This Izakaya is run by an elderly couple who were some of the sweetest people! We ate excellent food while seated at their bar, and we met some kind and enthusiastic locals! The couple had a karaoke machine connected to their TVs, and we sang karaoke with the owners and locals. It was an excellent time! This is the perfect place to end your day after exploring Nara without alcohol!

Is a day trip enough for Nara?

Yes, you will have an amazing day visiting Nara and it is an easy trip from Osaka and Kyoto.

Is Nara walkable?

Yes! Nara is extremely walkable and an accessible city to explore by foot.

Is Nara City a good place for sober travelers?

Yes, it is my favorite city in Japan for sober travelers.

Final thoughts

Nara is an ancient city that has a powerful Buddhist and Shinto presence. The deer are enchanting and hysterical, the temples and shrines are peaceful and sacred, and the people we met were extremely kind. It’s a place where you can get away from the larger cities of Osaka and Kyoto and experience a slower pace of life.

Exploring Nara without alcohol is an enriching experience, and one that truly is easy to do! There are no shortage of things to marvel at in Nara City, and you will be left feeling full of wonder and amusement after spending a day there. Whenever I think of Nara City, it brings such a sweet smile to my face. It’s a city that quickly became dear to my heart, and I know that your sober adventures there will make you smile for years to come!

Deer relaxing outside temple gate in Nara, Japan
Feeding a deer outside of a shinto gate in Nara, Japan
Baby deer peering from behind a tree in Nara, Japan

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