Personally, I prefer Nara over Kyoto. Why? Because while you are temple hopping or sightseeing, you can stop and rest in the woods or a park in between sights. Kyoto is a city and therefore requires use of public transportation to see many of the sights. In Nara, all you need are your own two feet. Nara also allows you to really explore and get in touch with your inner-kid again. You can follow a well-trodden path or go off the beaten road. I have been to Nara countless times and always find a new overgrown path in the woods that I haven’t explored yet. Often, I don’t see any other people. You can lie in the green grass (be careful of deer droppings) or venture into the woods. If you prefer hiking, a good path to follow is up Wakakusa Hill and when you reach the top, you will be greeted with a stunning view. It’s hardly ever crowded up there and it’s a perfect place to have a picnic and watch the clouds, whatever you want to do (within reason, of course).
If you want to see historical things, there is always Kofukuji, the five-story pagoda a hop, skip, and jump away from Todaiji or Kasuga Grand Shrine, which is located to the left of Todaiji up the hill next to primeval forest (also marked as a World Heritage site). Another good place to stop and have a look is the Nara National Museum in the vicinity of Nara Park. From April 3rd, 2010 to June 20th, 2010 they are having a special exhibition, “Imperial Envoys to Tang China: Early Japanese Encounters with Continental Culture.” If you are in the mood, there is also an option for boating at Sagi Ike Pond on the outskirts of Nara Park. You can rent a boat for an hour for around 1000 yen. Afterwards, head to the most delicious Indian restaurant in Kansai, located on the main tourist street of Nara. There’s only one so you can’t miss it. Nicely sized sets start at 1,480 yen for dinner and 980 yen for lunch. So if the next time someone tries to convince you go to Kyoto for the umpteenth time (don’t get me wrong, Kyoto is a lovely place), remember, there’s always Nara.