Nara Deer Park: The Perfect Day Trip From Kyoto In Winter

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Have you ever wanted to know how to make new friends?  Look no further!  This is how you do it.  Granted, they will be deer, not people, but who doesn’t want a deer friend?  My point exactly.  Everyone does.

I didn’t do pretty much any sort of planning going into Japan, but I sort of knew about the Nara Deer Park between Kyoto and Osaka.  

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Our experience at Nara Deer Park in winter

What to expect at it?  I had no idea.  Deer, I guess.  Turns out the trip from Kyoto to Nara Deer Park was one of my favorite parts of my time in Japan.

Just a train and bus ride away, we found out these weren’t just any deer.  These deer are friendly, pushy, and not afraid of anything.

There are ladies around selling the little biscuit cookie things that you can feed the deer for just 150 Yen.  This is a solid investment as they can go pretty quick.  

We both ended up buying two because we had to use some to get the deer away from us.  But didn’t we want the deer by us?  Well, sort of.  Sometimes.

Nara Deer Park Japan

The deer here are of all ages and the big ones can be a little (a lot) intimidating.  These are the more aggressive ones that will pull on your sweater, tug on your purse, or bite you on the butt.  I’m not even kidding.  I saw that happen.

Once you feed one on the main walkway you become Snow White and have a following of at least four more.  The only way to get them to leave you alone was to throw some biscuits on the ground to distract them.

Sometimes they would still chase us as we ran away.  That was when we vowed to only feed the small deer.  They were far less intimidating and much more adorable.

Nara Deer Park Japan

The park is actually pretty huge and we could have spent all day there I’m sure, but we just had the afternoon on the sprawling grounds.  

There were quite a few temples to explore when you wanted a break from feeding deer, but those will come later.  This is for the deer.

We found a few that would stand and almost pose for you so you could take their pictures then give them their hard-earned payment of a biscuit.  Some would move on, others would stick around, and some would even follow you.

We had one stop and pose for us and being as friendly as we are, we both thanked it and told it how cute it was and went on our way.  

But wait!  He wasn’t done with us yet.  He hopped down and trotted after us begging for more.  What’s one more going to hurt?

Well, five minutes later he was still walking with us.  We kept giving him biscuits to see how long he would follow.  We stopped and eventually, he realized that was the end and it was time to say our goodbyes.  

It was the end of a short friendship and he was off to find new biscuits and better friends.

Nara Deer Park Japan

I would like to note that these are wild deer.  There are signs warning about this that they will attack you, kick you, knock you down, you know, deer things.  So when I was told that they bow to you if you don’t feed them, I wasn’t sure I believed it.

Then I saw them actually do it.  These wild deer bow to you if you hold out a biscuit and don’t give it to them.  What!?  How do they know how to do that!?  Why did they start doing that!?

Seriously, if anyone knows, please share!

And for just one biscuit, you can take selfies with them!  I mean, how could you pass that opportunity up?  Having a wild deer mere inches from your face?  

We obviously couldn’t along with countless other park visitors.  It might take a few tries, but it’s totally worth it.

Overall this was one of my favorite things in Japan, if not my entire trip.  Once we even suggested the park, I knew I had to go.  

It’s just too cool and perfectly, weirdly, Japan!  I would highly recommend going to Nara, even if it’s just for a couple hours.

Where is Nara Deer Park?

Nara Deer Park is about 45 minutes from the Gion area of Kyoto and 50 from Arashiyama by car.

Nara Deer Park is about 1.5 hours from Gion and 2.5 hours from Arashiyama via trains.

How to get from Kyoto to Nara Deer Park

We took the JR line, even though we didn’t have the JR pass.  It’s ten(ish) minutes slower than the other line, but I thought it was fine and would do it again.

JR Nara Line: It costs about 690 Yen and should take about 45 minutes by express train (kaisoku).  The other JR option is about 70 minutes on a local train (futsu).  Both depart from JR Kyoto Station in Kyoto and arrive at the JR Nara Station in Nara.

Kintetsu Nara Line: The private Kintetsu line will cost about 1110 Yen and take about 35 minutes by express train (tokkyu) . It departs from the Kintetsu Kyoto Station (on the south side of JR Kyoto Station) in Kyoto and arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station in Nara.

Nara Deer Park entrance fee

It’s free!  But the deer biscuits are, I believe, 150 Yen and temples may have entrance fees as well.  You’ll need money for food, drink, and transportation.

Nara Deer Park Japan

How long do you need for a trip from Kyoto to Nara Deer Park?

We were ambitious during our visit and spent the morning at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and the Monkey Park then went to the deer park in the afternoon and it was perfect.  If you want to do more in Nara than see the deer park, I would go for a whole day.

Are there deer at Nara Park in winter?

Yes! I don’t know if there are less than other times of the year but there were plenty of deer at Nara Park in winter when we were there.

How many deer are in Nara Park?

There are over 1000 deer that call Nara Park home! And they’re not just any deer, they’re sacred! They’re semi-wild, mostly friendly, and roam freely throughout the park.

Are the deer at Nara Park aggressive?

They can be! Not all of the deer want to bite you but some of them certainly will. The ones right by the entrance were a loot more aggressive than the ones further in.

The deer will pull on loose straps, loose clothing, and purses, so if you can avoid having those, that will be helpful.

I didn’t get bit or nipped at but have seen plenty of that happening. You may have to sacrifice some biscuits to lure more aggressive ones away from you.

They will also follow you. Some follow you casually from a distance and others more insistently and close. We had one follow us for like five minutes! It was a nice one though.

Nara Deer Park Japan

What is Nara Deer Park in winter like?

Nara Deer Park in winter was really nice! It was pretty cold (I had to buy a hat and gloves in Arashiyama that morning) but it wasn’t crazy busy, especially out of the main area.

We didn’t see any snow there but I’m sure it gets flurries on occasion. There won’t be leaves on the trees, so that’s really the only downside, it was all pretty brown.

That said, I wouldn’t skip it because of that! It’s such a fun place to visit and one that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Is Nara Deer Park in winter worth it?

Yes! I think this is worth it any time of year but I still loved it in the winter. It was a little cold but so much fun. It would be a really fun thing to do if you’re in Kyoto with kids.

Nara Deer Park Japan

Where to stay in Kyoto in winter

Kyoto Takasegawa Bettei – This is a sustainable ryokan in the heart of Kyoto. There are river and garden views, and each room has a private bathroom.

Kyonoyado Gekkoan – This is in the Nakagyo Ward district in Kyoto, near Nijo Castle.

Ryokan Hostel Gion – This traditional Machiya style hostel is in the Gion area of Kyoto. This would be the perfect budget option in a great location.

The Millennials Kyoto – This has, a direct quote from Hostelworld, a “high tech & multi-functional sleeping pod which can be completely controlled by an iPod (provided at the check-in).” It looks new and hip and good for socializing.

Other Kyoto area posts you might like

Need something to read while you’re there?

16 Books Set In Tokyo To Experience The City From Home

Break Out Your Magnifying Glass For These 28 Great Japanese Crime Novels

14 Japanese Horror Novels For Fans Of Gore And Ghosts

Have you been to Nara?  What did you think of it?  Do you want to go?  

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