Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is bursting with kinetic energy. Din! The work of ongoing construction. Clink! The rhythm of metal craftsmanship echoing down the alleyways. Beeeeep! The commotion of a busy street corner while squeezing between cars to cross the road. It is one of those cities that gets often overlooked by tourists looking to escape the city hustle and bustle for the tranquility of the Himalayas. However, Kathmandu offers a special array of things to do and culturally immersive experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Consider spending a few days visiting different places in Kathmandu to better contextualize your travel experience through this special country. Here are the 17 best places to visit in Kathmandu.
What to do in Kathmandu & the Unique Places to Visit in Kathmandu
If your time is limited and you can only do one thing while in Kathmandu, then let it be this. The Boudhanath Stupa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of a grand and spiritual complex with different spaces to peruse through. It sits in the middle of the busy Kathmandu city outskirts but feels a world away. You should dedicate at least a few hours to fully absorb the people, the stupa, the temple, and the Chokhor prayer wheel (main picture above). Remember to circumambulate around the stupa clockwise only. There are tons of restaurants and shops surrounding the complex to take breaks between exploring.
At the time of my visit, there was a mass prayer for a monk who had passed away and it was a very special and spiritual experience to be present for. The entrance fee of 400 Rupees goes towards the site’s maintenance.
Lovers of metalwork (silver, copper, and brass): this is the place for you! Ason Street is located just a stone’s throw from Kathmandu Square/Durbar Square and is buzzing with local vendors and buyers. The prices are much more affordable here than in Thamel. I went alongside my local guide who confirmed the prices were good. Since there are copper mines in Nepal, the metalwork is both local and much more affordable. Thus, this market makes for a great place to shop for a beautiful and unique metal craft to bring back home. I bought copper cups, platters and other craft souvenirs to bring back to friends and family!
Bhaktapur Ancient City
Today, the ancient Newa city of Bhaktapur is known and visited for its well-preserved ancient architecture including impressive squares, courtyards, and UNESCO world heritage sites; many of which withstood the devastation of the 2015 earthquake. Bhaktapur is just 30 minutes away from downtown Kathmandu but has fewer crowds and less traffic/pollution, making it a perfect place to visit in Kathmandu Valley for the day.
Here are just a few of the many things you can do in Bhaktapur:
- Go shopping for artisan crafts (including art, copper, and silver)
- Eat local lentil arepas out of a hundreds’ year-old alleyway restaurants
- Stop for local and all-natural curd/little yogurt bowls
- Sip chai masala tea throughout the day
- Go to a Thangka painting or ceramics/pottery class
Bhaktapur is the treat that keeps on treating!
Read More In My Blog Post: Visiting Bhaktapur – The Perfect Day Trip in Kathmandu Valley
Panipokhari Market & Shops
There is a new hip community space tucked away off a side road from the busy Maharajgunj Road home to a burgeoning local trendy Nepali scene. Here you can find different small businesses such as:
- Healthy cafe + outdoor patio
- The Museum boutique hotel
- An art gallery
- Hip and local artisan shops
- A fine dining restaurant (Le Sherpa)
- Weekend Farmer’s Market
Just take a look at the picture above, it almost looks like it’s not even in Kathmandu right? Well, this sweet respite from the commotion of Kathmandu fast-paced living offers all the aforementioned and more. On Sundays Le Sherpa even hosts brunch + yoga and on certain weekends a farmer’s market opens up. If you’re looking for ultra-unique craftsmanship, the Local Project Nepal offers gorgeous crafts ranging from gold and brass hand made jewelry to copper cups and sustainable skin products.
Swayambhunath / Monkey Temple
Patan Ancient City + Community Homestay
The ancient Buddhist city of Patan is located just 15 minutes from downtown Kathmandu. Although it’s so close, it was once its own distinct Newa Kingdom where Buddhism was and still is the predominant religion. Patan is home to hundreds of courtyards and temples scattered around its interconnecting streets. Here you can bump into silversmiths crafting their metalwork in open-air, live heritage sites where people go daily to praise their Hindu and Buddhist deities, and several gorgeous restaurants, cafes, and shops. Don’t go to Patan without paying a visit to The Golden Temple (pictured above) and Patan Durbar Square.
Bonus: Consider doing a tour or a community homestay with a local family in Patan to fully understand and connect with Patan life and culture.
Fly Over to Visit Mt. Everest
If you’re not an expert mountaineer or experienced hiker, there is still a way to get up close to the majestic Himalayas including Mt. Everest… By taking the Everest Mountain Flight Tour from Kathmandu City! In a one hour experience, we flew on a tiny 16-seater plane to the tallest peaks in the world. My favorite part was being able to slightly step into the cockpit and talk with the friendly pilots in mid-air flight and see the panoramic views through their windows. It felt like something out of this world or from a space movie. If you’re in Nepal put this experience on the top of your bucket list of things to do in Kathmandu. Especially if you can’t do a trek to the Himalayas.
Related Blog Post — Mt. Everest Flight Tour Experience + Useful Tips | Nepal Travel
Kathmandu Durbar Square
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard good reviews about Kathmandu Durbar Square due to the ongoing construction from the devastating earthquake of 2015. On top of it being one of the pricier places to visit in Kathmandu ($2000 rupees), several other tourists had ranked low on the best places to visit in Kathmandu. But what none of these tourists had was my local tour guide! My guide (Kalpana) took me all around the Square and into the nooks and crannies of its smaller courtyards, museum, spiritual spaces, and ancient shrines. She showed and explained the significance of both big and little things that I would have otherwise completely missed on my own.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site complex is a beautiful place to roam and take in the ancient architecture and rich cultural heritage. It is well worth a visit, but be sure to bring a guide so you don’t miss the special details.
Garden of Dreams
Garden of Dreams a lovely green oasis located smack dab in the middle of the Kathmandu city buzz. It’s the perfect escape from the city buzz where visitors can relax alongside the local Nepali people. The garden is well-maintained and walled-in so the quiet gardens provide an Eden-like world. The garden also has an old library with a collection of thousands of books and as well as a restaurant/cafe. Avoid going on Saturdays as it gets busier.
Fun fact: Voltaire is quoted in French at the entrance saying: “Il faut cultiver son jardin” which translates to “It’s important to cultivate your own garden.”
Entry fee: 400 Rupees
Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Asia dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built in the 5th century and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Please note: the inner courtyard of this sacred Hindu temple complex is only open to practicing Hindus of South Asia. As such many foreigners will only be allowed to visit certain areas such as the smaller temples in the external premises of the complex and the crematory on the bank of the Bagmati River.
It’s important to be culturally conscious of your presence in this holy place as a foreigner. This is also a Hindu burial place where corpses are washed, blessed and burned. Local families will be here mourning their painful loss, so please refrain from being disruptive or insensitive by taking photos when not appropriate.
Also note: there will “holy men” dressed in orange who want to be photographed but it is for a fee.
Seeing Hands Massage
Seeing Hands is a nonprofit organization that provides masseuse training and employment for visually impaired Nepali people. They have four clinics throughout Nepal which provide massages starting at around $20 USD. So if you’re in the area of one of their locations, pop in for an amazing and affordable massage while helping fund a great cause. These are their locations in Kathmandu.
Thamel Neighborhood is one of those places that gets mixed reviews from tourists. First-time travelers usually love the neighborhood since it provides the main things a tourist may want: great restaurants, shops, nightlife, hostels, and a centralized location. However, because of that, it is one of the busier parts in Kathmandu. My first time here, I felt overwhelmed with the commotion from pedestrians, cars/motorcycles, construction, and pollution. Random men approached me, offering to sell drugs more than once and at night some drunk tourists pour out bars stumbling back home.
But despite those quirks, I do think that Thamel is also one of the best places in Kathmandu for first-time visitors to situate themselves and is well worth the visit!
Explore the Beautiful Nightlife at Lord of the Drinks (LOD)
If you’re like me and you find messy cheap crowds of drunk people stressful, but you still like to dress up and have a nice night out a few times a year… Lord of the Drinks is the place. Posh, clean, gorgeous, and spacious LOD is considered one of the best clubs in South Asia. It’s got great live music, impressive light shows and draws a fun crowd. LOD is also a great space to meet and get in touch with another burgeoning side of Nepali culture: young and hip locals.
Hindu Astrologist: Culturally Immerse Yourself in Local Spirituality
Now whether you’re a believer or not, spirituality can be an intrinsic part of understanding the local culture and history. And in Nepal, birth chart astrology is often taken very seriously especially by Nepali Hindus. After my friend, Olivia recommended Mr. Subedi, whose home is located in the heart of Thamel I went ahead and reached out to him to make an appointment. What followed as a series of interesting analyses of myself including family, love, business, and health. This belief system is taken so seriously that it is a critical part of arranged marriages in South Asia– many of which have an extremely low divorce rate both locally and in the diaspora abroad. Now whether it’s all a self-fulfilling prophecy with a ton of influence from various social constructs or an accurate divine manifestation is up to your own personal faith!
I like to keep an open mind and thought it was a very interesting cultural experience. Afterward, Mr. Subedi and I meditated and had a nice homemade vegetarian lunch in his kitchen.
Tip: Before going you must know your exact birth time and place.
Phone number to contact Mr. Subedi: +977-985-109-3357
Places to Stay in Kathmandu: Cool Hotels
Traditional Comfort Hotel was a relaxing oasis in Kathmandu after an adventurous trip through Nepal. Staying here was the perfect respite after a lengthy and adventurous trip around Nepal. The ambiance and decor inside Traditional Comfort makes you feel relaxed the instant you walk through the doors. It is gorgeous with meticulous details from the woodwork to the sheets which are locally made. The breakfast was incredible and the dinners were delicious with a home-made and attentive touch. Traditional Comfort is also the perfect launching pad to get to know Kathmandu: from here you can book local sustainable tours to different parts of the city, get a private driver from the hotel, go on day trips, and even get picked up for a full day spa massage.
Hotel Mulberry is tucked away in a quiet corner in the center of the most popular Kathmandu neighborhood for travelers: Thamel! This is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in Nepal and yet it seems very underrated. After a week at Hotel Mulberry, it became a royal home away from home. The hotel is gorgeous and clean. Upstairs it has an infinity pool on the roof, a fitness center on the top floor, impeccably clean and other state-of-the-art amenities. If you can afford the $100-$150 price tag, I say go for it! This is a wonderful place to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate in the midst of the busy Kathmandu city living. Oh, and they provide great wifi!
Preparing for Your Visit to Kathmandu
Pollution: Unfortunately, Kathmandu City is quite polluted for a number of reasons ranging from the population to the post-earthquake construction efforts. Thus, it is important to properly prepare for your Kathmandu travels. As someone with asthma, the first thing I did upon arrival was to buy a face mask to protect my health. But even if you do not have health sensitivities, it’s advisable to wear a facemask if you are walking outside for longer periods of time. This is not just advice for tourists, but for many locals as well who also wear their face masks outside.
Getting Around: There is no Uber in Kathmandu but there is an abundance of taxi cabs all around the city. The nicer the car the more expensive the fare. The more vintage-looking cars would charge me a fraction. Both can be hailed from the streets quite easily.
Local & Sustainable Tours in Kathmandu to Support
Consider hiring a Nepali company that supports local communities such as Royal Mountain Travel. Their prices are very affordable, their business model focuses on sustainability and ethical practices and yet their tours of very high quality. I enjoyed bonding with my guide (Kalpana) whom I got to know as we traveled throughout the city together for days. A private tour is an especially attractive option if your time is limited and you’d like to see a number of things in a specific amount of days. Royal Mountain Travel will provide a car and expert guide so that you can tailor your itinerary to your liking.
For just $35, they provided a day tour of Bhaktapur and Panauti!
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