If you are planning to visit Nepal, the country with the highest mountains in the world, you will want to start your journey in Kathmandu.
Most people use this city as a quick stopover before heading off to the Himalayas for trekking. But there’s so much to see here already. So here’s a quick guide by our guest author Yana Maximova on the best places to visit in Kathmandu.
**** This guest post isn’t sponsored nor commissioned but contains affiliate links. If you book anything from them, this doesn’t cost you anything but might give me a little commission to help keep this free blog full of more travel tips and me fuelled with chocolate to keep writing. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. ****
Why visit Kathmandu?
It’s worth staying in Kathmandu for several days exploring this ancient city. The capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, is crowded and chaotic yet a charming.
There are so many places to visit in Kathmandu, from ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples to medieval palaces and spice markets, which will charm you with the smell.
If you get tired of the craziness of the city, you can easily escape by visiting one of the monasteries or hiking to nearby hills to overlook the whole of the valley.
You will notice that the whole valley is covered in lots of houses, as people build more each year. If you have visited Nepal 20-30 years ago, you would have seen a completely different scene.
Kathmandu used to be a much smaller city with lots of fields and trees. But not urbanization is taking over, leaving almost no space for nature within the city. Its history dates back to the 12th century.
Word of warning: pollution in Kathmandu is quite bad! The dust and the exhaust gases make the air very hazy. If you have some health issues like asthma, best to bring a face mask or buy one as soon as you arrive.
I’d recommend staying in Kathmandu for at least 3 days, or longer if possible, to visit the most interesting and important must sees in Kathmandu.
When is the best time to visit Kathmandu?
Kathmandu has a very mild climate. It’s never too hot or too cold in the city. So you can visit the city pretty much any time of the year. However, be prepared that in winter it gets quite cold (but the temperatures never go below 0°C). So you’d need to have a warm jacket at least.
If your main goal is to go trekking then the best time to visit the country is in March-May and October-December. These are two main seasons for trekking.
But generally it’s not the best time to travel around Nepal, as the floods and landslides can occur, as well as leaches may attack you if you are in nature.
Before people used to start coming to Nepal for trekking from September, however, due to climate change, the weather patterns are changing and now it keeps raining throughout the whole of September.
Best Things to Do in Nepal
Thamel is the oldest part of the different Kathmandu locations. It’s also a major Kathmandu tourist spot, where lots of hotels, restaurants and shops are located. If you visit Kathmandu, you will most likely stay in this part of the city.
Here you can find everything, from cheap local “Hole in the wall” places to expensive Western restaurants; from backpacker’s hostels to fancy hotels.
Moreover, in Thamel, you can get everything you may need for trekking: rucksacks, clothing, poles, hiking shoes, water bottles, oxygen tanks and many more in case you didn’t bring everything with you.
The narrow and busy streets of Thamel may be very confusing at first. But don’t be discouraged to explore them. Some of them may take you to hidden courtyards with the beautiful small temples.
One second you are in the middle of a busy road, and the other second you find yourself in a very quiet place, watching the pigeons flying around the temple and prayer flags fluttering in the wind above your head.
Thamel is filled with markets and shops selling everything from the iconic singing bowl (in all sizes), and handmade clothing, bags, soaps, teas, coffee.
Here you can also buy famous pashminas (scarves and pullovers), big variety in incense sticks, spices, prayer flags, Nepali handicraft, books, maps and many other things. This is the place where you can get all your Nepal souvenirs and presents before going back home.
Remember to bargain! It’s expected. Since it’s a tourist place in Kathmandu, the prices are inflated by 2-3 times. But do know when to stop. A couple of dollars will not make a big difference to your wallet, but for a local person, it may mean a meal for a whole family.
Entrance fee: Free
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square is the heart of the old town where you will find an old palace and pagoda style temples, which are a great example of traditional architecture. For over 200 years the kings of Kathmandu used to live and rule from here.
Also known as Hanuman Dhoka, the square is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nepal. This is a bustling place filled with locals and tourists.
Unfortunately, many temples and the palace were badly hit by the devastating earthquake in 2015. Several temples were completely destroyed. At the moment, the reconstruction is still going on, but the square is open to visitors.
Durbar Square in Kathmandu is only a 20-minute walk from Thamel. You can see this magnificent Kathmandu temple towering over all other buildings; it’s very visible.
Taleju temple is the tallest and one of the oldest temples here. In the past, no buildings in the city could be taller than the Taleju temple.
One of the central sites is the Hanuman Dhoka Palace itself, where Nepal’s royal family used to reside until the 1800s. Make sure to go inside and see the museum. The palace is still in a very poor state, with big cracks in the wall and ruined tower and the upper floor on the south side.
The Kumari Temple is another must for your Kathmandu sightseeing. This place is home to the living goddess. Kumari is a young girl who is specially chosen and is believed to be the human incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga.
If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of her through the window at around 4-5pm. Taking any pictures of Kumari is forbidden and considered to be a bad omen. Don’t even try it!
Entrance Fee: NPR 1000
Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
The Swayambhunath stupa in Kathmandu is one of the must-visit places and major landmarks of Kathmandu city. It’s also known as Monkey temple due to the abundance of the monkeys around the temple.
The white Buddhist stupa is located on the hilltop, from where the panoramic view of Kathmandu valley opens before your eyes.
This is one of the oldest stupas in Kathmandu valley, which was built around the 5th century. Swayambhunath is also one of the most sacred religious sites of Nepal. Both Buddhists and Hindus come here to worship. It’s also another Kathmandu UNESCO World Heritage site.
The monkey temple is located within a walking distance from Thamel. It will take you only 30-40 minutes to reach the temple. Then you will need to take 365 steps to get to the top of the hill.
When you walk around the stupa, it’s best to do it clockwise according to local traditions. Plus, it will prevent you from running into people coming the other way.
After you finish enjoying the panoramic views and walking around stupa rolling the prayer wheels, do continue your way to the backside. You will find stairs down that will take you to a small park and a Buddhist monastery.
To some degree, I enjoy the park even more than the stupa itself. Very old and big trees surround you here, with thousands of prayer flags swaying above your head.
Tip: be careful with the monkeys. Don’t carry any food (especially bananas) in your hands or the sneaky monkey will snatch it away from you. A monkey once jumped on my friend, when she took out a banana out of her bag.
Many people heard my friend screaming and we saw a happy monkey running away with banana. (Editor’s note: Don’t let the monkeys steal from you as happened to me at Uluwatu Temple in Bali.)
Entrance fee: NPR 200 Pashupatinath Temple
Entrance fee: NPR 200
Pashupatinath Temple is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. It was built in the 5th century on the banks of the Bagmati River. Although non-Hindus cannot enter the main temple, the complex around the temple is quite big and worth exploring.
With a very high chance, you can witness a ceremony of cremation happening on the bank of the river. Some people find this experience very disturbing, as you can see bodies burning in the open air.
While the ceremony can be witnessed by everyone, it’s best to abstain from taking video or photo footage out of respect.
Hindus from all around Nepal and even India come to Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath temple to live their last days and be cremated here. It’s believed that those who die in Pashupatinath will be reborn as humans.
You will notice many men sitting around the temple with their bodies painted in bright colours. Most of them are fake Sadhu, pretending to be saints. They will invite you to take a picture with them, and then ask for money. So either be prepared to pay or don’t take any photos of them.
Pashupatinath is definitely a very unique place. You can get a guide at the entrance who will explain you in detail about the history, rituals and ceremonies that take a place at the temple. The guide service costs only 10$ for a group.
If you come in the evening, you may witness a fire ritual ceremony Aarati. It starts at 6 pm every night and is conducted by the priests at the bank of the river. Aarati is a very unique and fascinating experience filled with fire, incense and mantra chantings.
The easiest way to get here is by taxi. It will cost around 4-5$ from Thamel.
Entrance Fee: NPR 1000
The Boudhanath stupa is the largest and the most important Buddhist stupa in Nepal. The stupa was built on a trade route between Tibet and India, where Tibetan merchants used to stop for a rest and to pray. The place remained sacred throughout centuries and the Stupa was built in the 5th century.
In the middle of the 20th century, when China invaded Tibet, many Tibetan arrived in Nepal and settled around the stupa. If you venture out though the small streets, a bit away from the stupa you will find lots of Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan style houses.
People believe that the stupa contains some holy relics, such as sacred texts and objects used or touched by Buddha or possibly even parts of his body. Since stupas are sealed, no one knows for sure what is inside. But people believe that the relics give special power to the stupa.
The giant Buddha eyes on the top of the stupa are looking in all 4 directions. Thousands of colorful prayer flags flutter peacefully in the wind above your head.
When you visit Bouhanath make sure to join in the stream of thousands of pilgrims, monks and tourists walking Kora around the stupa. Remember to walk clockwise around the stupa. Enjoy the moment and feel the energy flowing through your body.
And when you get tired you can rest in one of the cafes and restaurants around the stupa. Some of them have rooftops, from where you can an amazing view of Boudha and all the people walking around it.
Entrance Fee: NPR 400
Garden of Dreams
The Garden of Dreams is located right next to Thamel and is a perfect gateway from the noise and bustle of Kathmandu. The second you enter the garden, you will feel like you are in a completely different world. There’s such a big contrast to the outside world.
Inside the gates, you will submerge in the world of green grass, ponds filled with lilies, beautiful flowers and squirrels jumping between the lush green trees. It’s a miniature botanical garden in the heart of Kathmandu, which may surprise you at first with its European inspired architecture.
The Garden of Dreams was created at the beginning of the 20th century as a private garden of an extraordinary and talented field marshal Kaiser Shumsher.
Nowadays, this place is open to the public and both locals and foreigners come to enjoy this little oasis amongst the chaos. It’s one of the best things to do in Nepal for lovers of gardens.
Inside the garden, you will also find a café and a restaurant, where you can enjoy the evening in a peaceful and even romantic atmosphere.
The entrance is 200 NPR for foreigners. If you are staying in Kathmandu for a long time, you can get an annual membership for 3000 rupees, to be able to escape the chaos of the city at any time.
Entrance fee: NPR 200
If you get tired of craziness of the city, the Kopan Monastery is one of the greatest places to see in Kathmandu for that reason. This beautiful Tibetan monastery if located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, overlooking the whole of the valley from the top of the hill.
Not many people know about this place. However, its beautiful architecture, gardens and panoramic view of the city make it worth a visit.
Currently, around 360 Buddhist monks, students, teachers and lamas live in the monastery, from the age of 6 to 60.
Tourist can come here for a day visit to relax or meditate in the gardens. Visitors from all over the world come to the monastery to join the courses and retreats to learn and practice Tibetan Buddhism.
Before visiting Kopan, remember to dress up modestly. The knees and shoulders of both men and women should be covered. It’s best to avoid see-through and tight clothes altogether.
You can also join for a Dharma talk at 10 am from Monday to Friday. Call in advance to double-check if Dharma talk is happening.
Entrance Fee: Free!
If you are looking for a little help with seeing the places to visit in Kathmandu Nepal in a short time, you don’t have to come up with your own itinerary. There are local tours with expert guides who will gladly show you around.
To really take in the best of the best of the valley of Kathmandu in two days, check out the following tour. This way, you can travel with ease and see Swayambhunath Stupa, Boudhanath Stupa, the town Panauti and Kathmandu Durbar Square on the first day alone.
One the second day, venture forth to the most gorgeous temples of Kathmandu. You’ll start at Brahmayani Temple, which dates back to the 15th century, and then move on to Indreshwor Temple, Unmatta Bhairav Temple and Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery.
You will get to see multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites with entrance fees included. You’ll get picked up at your hotel and the guide is English speaking. Reserve your spot now.
Before you start your journey, don’t forget to take out travel insurance. Many international and long-term travellers trust World Nomads.
They offer 24/7 emergency essistance and 150+ adventure activities are covered. Even if you’ve already set out on the road, you can buy cover while travelling. Get more details here.
GUEST AUTHOR – Yana Maximova is a digital nomad and traveller and currently lives in Nepal. She writes about sustainable travel. At the moment, she’s on a mission to travel to every country in Asia before she ventures out on a new continent.
She loves meeting new people, travelling to remote locations and trying new experiences. She started her blog with an idea to help people to travel in a more responsible and sustainable way.