In the three years that I lived in the countryside of Nara prefecture, I discovered two very beautiful and little-known temples (by little-known, I mean by tourists- although Japanese people are very familiar with both of them). One is Hasedera Temple and the other is Murou-Ji Temple. Both of them are roughly an hour from Nara and can be accessed by taking the Kintetsu line from Nara, transferring at Saidaiji, and then transferring again at Yamato-Yagi. Take the local train about 4 or 5 stops to Hasedera station for Hasedera Temple or take the express for 3 stops to Murou-guchi-ono station for Murou-ji Temple.
Hasedera is one of very few active Buddhist monasteries. As you tour the temple, you can hear the monks practicing their chants and may occasionally be greeted by a monk as he sweeps the many steps of the temple. Murou-ji is an incredibly old temple located in a very remote mountain village (you can take a bus from the station, but most people hike through mountains and bus back). There is a staircase to a wonderful viewpoint that reminds me of the stairs in "The Lord of the Rings". Entrance fee for either temple is 500 yen. Don't expect to see many foreigners at either temple.
Nara Prefecture and nearby Wakayama Prefecture are great places for camping in. It is a little hard to find good camping spots in Japan as it is not a common pastime for the Japanese but if you would like to go camping then bring along your tent and sleeping bag and have a go!
the nara koen (park) area is wonderful and around it there are lovely hills with hiking/biking rails. u can rent a mountain bike at nara JR station for a day or only for few hours and go and explore the beautiful nature :)) u will also get a good view of the city from up there :))
In Nara are several Japanese gardens. Most famous are the 'Isuien' en the 'Yoshikien'. Though both are traditionaly Japanese, the have a quite different look. One is more open, with little fields and ponds, while the other is tightly planted, with narrow paths winding through an orderly wilderniss. 'Off the beaten path' is mostly the templestreets in the forests that are - besides the road - completely filled with small lantarn-shaped memorials for deseased loved ones.
There is a Shrine that is a bit further into the bush and hills from Todaiji Temple. It is a nice walk through the bush to get to it. There is a festival held here every year where lots of sake is drunk!
KASUGA TAISHA SHRINE: Founded in the 8th century by the Fujiwara family, this shrine was completed in end 19th century. The lantern festival held twice a year at this shrine is the major attraction for the Japanese.
For shrine enthusiasts: in Nara prefecture, 1 hour by train from Nara city to the south (Y480) there's the Kashihara-jingu, in the city of the same name. It's one of the biggest shrines of Kansai area, generally ignored by tourists.
I was lucky to catch this moment on film, when the priests march for their daily morning duties, at 8 o'clock.