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.
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SPECIAL THINGS to do in Kathmandu + Places to Visit
1. Boudhanath Stupa ★
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.
You can also visit Boudhanath Stupa as part of a private tour, that will take you to four different UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu. The tour lasts 6 hours, and besides Boudhanath Stupa you’ll also visit Kathmandu Durbar Square, Pashupathinath Temple, and Swyambhunath Stupa. Book this tour here.
2. Ason Market
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!
You could visit Ason Street as part of a walking tour. This 3 hour walking tour will take you through the backstreets of Kathmandu to Ason Street, and also to Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kumari Temple, Hanuman Dhoka Palace as well as Kathmandu’s Freak Streets. [BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE].
3. 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 to 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
You can also visit Bhaktapur as part of a tour that’ll take you to see the beautiful Nagarkot Sunrise, where you can enjoy panoramic views towards the Kathmandu Valley and Shivapuri National Park, and then continue onto Bhaktapur where you can enjoy the historic city for 4 hours before being transported back to Kathmandu. [Book this tour here]
Bhaktapur is the treat that keeps on treating! Read More In My Blog Post: Visiting Bhaktapur – The Perfect Day Trip in Kathmandu Valley
4. 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’s 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 handmade jewelry to copper cups and sustainable skin products.
5. Swayambhunath / Monkey Temple ★
Swayambhunath Stupa is one of the most important and oldest Buddhist World Heritage Sites in Nepal; consisting of a stupa and different shrines and temples from over 1,500 years ago. Swayambhunath is also known as Monkey Temple due to various monkeys that live here. Although they may seem cute and friendly, it’s important to be careful of these monkeys as they have been known to attack and steal from people.
The Swayambhunath Stupa rests on a tall hill in the Kathmandu Valley, about 15 minutes west of downtown Kathmandu. As such, to reach stupa there are many hundreds of steps to climb which are not difficult but if you have limitations, plan your visit accordingly. However, once you catch a glimpse of the breathtaking (pun intended) panoramic views of the city as well as the beautiful religious monuments, you will know it was well worth the climb.
You can visit Swayambhunath Stupa as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site Tour, on which you will visit 4 of the main sites in Kathmandu; Swyambhunath Stupa, Bouddhanath Stupa, Pashupathinath Temple and Kathmandu Durbar Square. On this tour will can learn about the local history and culture, as well as enjoying the amazing views from Swayambhunath Stupa. Book here.
6. Patan Ancient City ★
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.
7. 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.
8. 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. [BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE]
9. Garden of Dreams
Garden of Dreams is 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.”
Tour Option: Consider booking a tour of the Garden of Dreams. First, you’ll visit the Thamel shopping district, where you can purchase souvenirs and enjoy a bite to eat before heading to the Garden of Dreams. Hotel transfer, included! [BOOK THE TOUR]
10. Pashupatinath Temple
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. Also note: there will be “holy men” dressed in orange who want to be photographed, but it is for a fee.
Tour Option: You could visit the Pashupatinath Temple as part of this half-day tour, where you’ll be guided around the temple by a knowledgeable guide, who will teach you about the temple’s history and heritage. This tour also includes Boudhanath Stupa (#1 listed above). [Book this tour here]
2nd Tour Option: You could also choose to do an evening tour, where you’ll experience an Aarati ceremony. Aarati is an important evening ceremony, performed by sadhus (Hindu monks) and purjaris (Hindu priests). During this 3-hour tour you’ll get to learn about the temple’s history and experience Aarati. [BOOK THE TOUR HERE].
11. 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.
12. Thamel Neighborhood
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 of Kathmandu.
During my first time here, I felt overwhelmed by 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!
13. 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.
14. 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 was 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
15. Go on a Day Trip to Kirtipur
Southwest of Kathmandu is the ancient city of Kirtipur which is said to be one of the oldest settlements in the Kathmandu Valley. Kirtipur is home to the Newar people, which were one of the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. Whilst visiting Kathmandu, you could take a day trip to Kirtipur and explore its ancient architecture, hill top temples and enjoy the local Newari cuisine.
Tour option: Consider this half-day tour. You’ll be guided around the city, and visit many of its historical sites, including Bagh Bhairab temple and Chilancho Stupa shrine. You’ll also get to enjoy a Newari lunch!
16. Half-Day Nepali Cooking Class
Thamel: Whilst in Thamel, why not take a cooking class and learn to cook four traditional Nepali dishes? You’ll be taught how to pick the best ingredients and learn different cooking techniques to create these dishes. There’s a choice of three different menus, each containing four dishes, so you’ll be sure to cook something you enjoy. [BOOK THIS TOUR HERE].
Kirtipur: You could also consider this Nepali cooking class when visiting Kirtipur. This cooking class will teach you how to make Nepali comfort food, such as momo (dumplings) and sel roti (rice flour donuts). You’ll also get to pick fresh organic vegetables from the host’s farm and visit a local food store. [BOOK THE TOUR HERE]
17. Evening Rickshaw Tour + Durbar Square
A great way of exploring Kathmandu and getting immersed in the local culture is to ride a rickshaw. You could opt to book this Rickshaw tour, where your Rickshaw guide will drive you through the streets of Kathmandu. You’ll start at Thamel, where you’ll pass by the storefronts and people hawking vegetables, baked goods, scarves, and other local goods. You’ll also ride past Asan, the oldest food market in Kathmandu. The last stop on your tour will be Durbar Square. Here you’ll hop off the Rickshaw and explore the squares temples, shrines, and palaces on foot. After visiting Durbar Square, you’ll hop back on the Rickshaw and be taken back to the departure point.
18. Local Food Walking Tour
A great way of experiencing Kathmandu’s local cuisine is by joining a food tour. This food tour will take you to hole-at-the-wall eateries that the locals regularly eat at. You’ll visit 6-7 places at the market in Indrachowk and Durbar Square and get to taste local snacks and sweets, such as momo (dumplings).
19. Meditation + Sound Healing Session
Why not consider taking a break from sightseeing, by going on a spiritual sound journey? Wellness is always important, even when traveling and this meditation and sound healing session can help you relax, unwind and feel refreshed. The experience is run by a monk, who will use traditional instruments such as singing bowls and gongs, as well as modern instruments such as an ocean drum.
20. Day Trip to Bhaktapur + Panauti
While visiting Kathmandu, why not take this day trip to Bhaktapur and Panauti? You’ll spend 3 hours in Bhaktapur where you can see the city’s well-preserved shrines and temples, and still, get a feel for how the city was in ancient times. Then you’ll visit Panatui, which is one of the oldest towns in Nepal. In Panatui you’ll get to visit local entrepreneurs and learn about their craftsmanship. [BOOK THE TOUR HERE]
21. Go on a Day Hike from Sanga to Panauti
If you enjoy hiking, you could consider this private hiking tour that takes you from Sanga to Panauti. You’ll follow a trail that is less known to visitors, and pass through villages that are less known to tourists. Your guide will tell you about the Tamang culture of the places you pass through during your hike. Once In Panauti, you’ll enjoy lunch with a host family at the Panauti Community Homestay. [BOOK THE TOUR HERE]
22. Guided Full-Day Tour of Kathmandu’s Highlights
I took this 7-hour tour with the folks at Royal Mountain Travel. A guide came with me and took me all around the top 3 highlight things to do in Kathmandu: Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, and Boudhanath. This was truly a life-changing experience to walk alongside a local guide, who is passionate about sharing her culture and history. Honestly, one of my favorite travel experiences. Kathmandu is such a special place; definitely go with a guide so that they can contextualize what you’re seeing, smelling, and doing! [BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE]
23. Nagarkot Sunrise View and Day Hiking from Kathmandu
During this day hiking trip, you’ll get to watch the sunrise at Nagarkot, and enjoy panoramic views across the Kathmandu valley towards the Himalayas before you begin a 4-hour hike. During your hike, you’ll pass through the small villages that are home to the Brahmin, Newars, and Tamang communities. You’ll also visit the Nagarkot Buddha Peace Park and the Changu Narayan Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [BOOK THE TOUR HERE]
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 make 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 homemade 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. 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 amid 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.
- Day Trip to Bhaktapur & Panauti from Kathmandu – I did this one. And it was absolutely an increidble and unforgettable experience! A MUST DO!
- Full Day Tour of the top 3 Kathmandu Places to Visit (Temples and Stupas) – I did this one too, it was life-changing!
- Day Hike from Kathmandu: Sanga to Panauti
- Cooking Lessons with Local Nepalese Family