The capital of Japan from 710 to 784, Nara was built on a grid pattern, influenced by T’ang Chinese cities of the time. The first written records date from this period, and Nara is generally regarded as the birthplace of Japanese civilisation. The town’s greatest legacy for the visitor, however, is the collection of ancient temples and shrines spread throughout a vast park – though the area around Nara is also thick with important historical and archaeological sights.

The most famous is the impressive Todaiji temple, home to a Japan’s largest Buddha statue. Though the current temple structure is only two thirds the size of the original, Todaiji remains the largest free-standing wooden structure in the world.

From here you can take the meandering paths through the park to the temples and shrines in the foothills of the neighbouring mountains. This area also hosts two famous fire festivals in the autumn and winter.