Todaiji Temple, Nara © DavideGorla
Originally called Heijo, Nara became the first permanent capital of the country in 710. Although its capital status only lasted for 74 years, they were years that entrenched and enshrined Japan's arts, crafts and literature. It flourished as a political and cultural centre and was blessed with numerous temples, pagodas and palaces. Most of Nara's historic treasures are conveniently contained in a vast park, making sightseeing easy and pleasurable. Highlights are Todaiji, the huge temple containing Japan's largest Buddha statue, and Horyuji, the temple containing the world's oldest wooden structures. A good way to explore the city is on a historic walking tour and visitors should ensure that they take a stroll around the old Naramachi merchant district.