Our trips to Nara and Nikko were rather short but sweet. Especially to Nara. According to legends a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived on a white deer and since then deers are considered holy animals, protecting the city.
And it's easy to see Nara is better protected than the Pope with hundreds of deers wandering around the city, being cute and sniffing tourist's bags for food. You can feed them with rice crackers that are sold on the street stalls, but beware. The minute you posses food, you're fair game. Though ridiculously cute, don't be deceived. The deers of Nara kick but. They will bite or lick you/your clothes and in some cases, jump on you, kick you or butt you with their head.
The other thing Nara is famous for is the giant statue of Buddha in Tōdai-ji temple. The wooden temple burned down in a fire and was rebuilt, the bronze Buddha however survived. This truly majestic 15 m statue is the world's largest bronze Buddha and absolutely worth seeing. Figures around Buddha's head are different sizes to appear the same size when people view them from below.
Nikko, on the other hand, is closer to the mountains and known for temples, tasty Yuba and suicides waterfalls. Though it's fairly easy to get a temple/shrine overdose in Japan, Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shinto with three wise monkeys and the sleeping cat is worth checking out. Monkeys are supposedly connected to Tendai Buddhist legend and represent human's life cycle.
Sleeping cat or Nemuri-neko on the other hand is one of many animals carved in the corridor, meant protect the house from evil and bring good luck (go cats!). We didn't want to wake it up hence no photos.
Nikko's famous waterfalls - Kegon falls are fairly easy to reach by a bus. The ride includes adrenalin rush as you're progressing up the mountain on a very curvy road. Luckily all the the roads to and from the mountain are one-way. It's super easy to go to the bottom of the falls - with an elevator. Yes, for real.
On a more gruesome note, Kegon falls seem to be a popular suicide spot among Japanese youth. Perhaps glorified suicide of Misao Fujimura,a Japanese poet and philosophy student, has something to do with that. In 1902 he apparently wrote his farewell poem on a tree trunk, read it out loud and then threw himself into the falls. Needles to say he got famous almost instantly.
Food is definitely one of Nikko's highlights and everything they say about it is true. We tried out Nikko's speciality and yes, I'd have some of that tasty Yuba any time - it's unbelievably juicy, rather sweet and extremely addictive. Usually served with rice, noodles and tempura.
Though very nice and interesting, Nikko is also rather pricy, so if you're running short of time (or money) and hesitating between the two cities, I'd strongly recommend Nara. After all, how many times will you have the chance to be chased by urban deers?