Nara is a sizeable prefecture just south and east of Osaka in the Kansai region of Japan, and one that’s increasingly giving Kyoto a run for its money as top spot to visit. Stuffed full of Buddhist temples, sacred deer and sakura-covered mountains, it should be on any traveler’s bucket list. Nara City was once the capital of the country, and its history can be sensed on every street corner. Here’s how to get from Tokyo to Nara to begin your journey down one of Japan’s most important memory lanes.

Nara deer in front of Todaiji temple
Nara is known for its cheeky deer. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Note: If you’re planning on making any other domestic trips while you’re visiting Japan, buying a Japan Rail Pass is highly recommended, as it gives you virtually unlimited bullet train rides for 7, 14 or 21 days. If you’re traveling from Tokyo to Nara, Osaka or Kyoto, and then down to Hiroshima, for example, the pass will likely still be worth it despite the October 2023 price hike.

However, if you’re only doing a quick run to Nara, Osaka or the surrounding area, a one-way bullet train ticket may be, well, just the ticket. But read on for a full breakdown of your travel options.

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Tokyo to Nara at a glance

Travel MethodTimePriceBooking link
Shinkansen2.5 hours to Kyoto, plus 50 minutes from Kyoto to NaraAround ¥14,500Book Here
Plane1 hour 20 minutes from Tokyo to Osaka, plus 1.5 hours to NaraAround ¥5,000 one-wayBook Here
Highway Bus8 to 9 hoursAround ¥5,000 one-wayBook Here
Local Trains9 to 10 hoursAround ¥8,000

Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nara: The easiest option

tokyo shinkansen to kyoto
The Shinkansen is also the speediest way of getting from Tokyo to Nara, going via Kyoto Station. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Travel Time

Getting from Tokyo to Nara is super quick via the Shinkansen, taking around 2.5 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto Station, and then about 50 minutes from there to Nara Station via the JR Nara Rapid Line (a regular train). The Nozomi is the fastest bullet train available on this route, though if you have a Japan Rail Pass you’ll be limited to the very slightly slower Hikari and other models.

The slowest Shink is the Kodama—it’s an old model that takes upwards of 3.5 hours to make the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. In general, this slowpoke is best avoided, but taking it can be a way to save money. See below for more on that.

Taking bags on the bullet train

If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. Shinkansen luggage rules dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (included in your JR Pass). Bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all.


During peak season, which encompasses spring and summer holidays, Golden Week and New Year, a one-way bullet train ticket + onwards ticket purchased at the station will cost you around ¥14,650 (on the Nozomi). Taking the Hikari and traveling during low periods will shave a few hundred yen off the price. To hang onto a few more coins, you can opt for unreserved seating (jiyuuseki), but this might mean standing for the entire journey. It’s better to go for reserved seating (shiteiseki) and ensure a comfortable ride.

Discount options

Currently, the best way to bring down the cost of bullet train travel is by taking advantage of a JR Pass, which is available to short-term visitors to Japan. Another possibility is purchasing a Puratto (Platt) Economy Plan ticket for the Kodama from Tokyo to Kyoto—these are sold by a company called JR Tokai Tours for ¥10,300¥11,600 a piece.

Long-term residents who don’t qualify for tourist promotions can check the Japanese travel booking site Jalan for special deals.

Domestic airlines

Peach Airlines
Low-cost carriers sometimes have good deals from Tokyo to Kansai Airport, but you need to factor in time and transfers. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Flights are the next option most people consider, and indeed you can fly from either Haneda or Narita Airport in Tokyo to Kansai Airport in Osaka in about 1 hour 20 minutes. Specials are often available on Japan’s low-cost carriers, but it’s a good idea to work out the transfer times and costs (on both ends) before booking your ticket, as these can quickly add up to make it a bit of a bum deal.

Highway buses from Tokyo to Nara

Overnight buses are one of the cheapest options from Tokyo to Nara. | Photo by

A budget way of getting from Tokyo to Nara is simply hopping onto an overnight highway bus. One-way tickets usually start around ¥5,000, though prices may be lower depending on the season. Buses depart from major train stations in Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, between 9pm-11pm at night, rolling into Nara around 6:30am. The buses also stop in Kyoto and Osaka. See what’s available for your travel dates.

Local trains

JR West Nara Line train at Kyoto Station
Local trains are a theoretical, adventurous option. | Photo by

A less common way of getting from Tokyo to Nara is by taking local trains. While this can take a full day or longer, it can save you some pennies—especially if you snag a Seishun 18 discount ticket. Available in spring, summer and winter, these rail passes cost ¥11,850 and allow five days of travel (consecutive or not) on local and rapid JR trains. One pass can be shared among a group, for example giving five people one day of train travel for ¥2,370 each.

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The Nara Tourist Information Center in the old Nara Railway Station building located next to the modern station.
The Nara Tourist Information Center in the old Nara Railway Station building | Photo by Gregory Lane

To see what routes you can take with a Seishun ticket, play around on Hyperdia—just uncheck all of the boxes except for Japan Railways and local. When we last checked, the trip from Tokyo to Nara looked like it would take roughly 9-10 hours, with six transfers needed. Without a Seishun 18 ticket, the regular cost was ¥7,880, making an overnight bus or flight a better bet.

Pro tip: Read our guide to what to do in Nara once you arrive.

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