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The 9 Best Things to Do in Kathmandu, Nepal

A panoramic view of Kathmandu, densely packed houses stretching to the horizon. Strings of prayer flags hang in the foreground

The 9 Best Things to Do in Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, the bustling capital of Nepal, is a vibrant and ancient city. With its awe-inspiring temples, crowded markets, and rich cultural heritage, Kathmandu offers a captivating journey into the heart of Nepal. In this post, we cover the very best things to do in Kathamandu, as well as the best places to stay, travelling around, and delicious Nepalese food.

Prayer flags streaming from the top of a white and gold stupa with the words "Best Things to Do in Kathmandu" superimposed

Kathmandu

Kathmandu’s narrow streets are filled with history, interesting architectural wonders, and stories of centuries past. Often a starting point for Himalayan treks and expeditions, it draws visitors from all around the world.

Is It Worth Visiting Kathmandu?

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an adventurer, or someone seeking a unique cultural experience, Kathmandu is certainly worth visiting. It’s a melting pot of ancient traditions and modern influences. You can explore UNESCO World Heritage Sites and old town areas, while enjoying the local cuisine and experiencing the warmth of the Nepali people.

How Many Days Do You Need in Kathmandu?

The number of days needed in Kathmandu depends on your interests and the scope of your visit. To do everything (except number 1) on our list, 3 or 4 days should be enough. If you have longer, there’s always more temples, hikes, parks, and great restaurants to keep you busy.

The 9 Best Things to Do in Kathmandu

1. Everest Base Camp Trek

While it’s obviously not in the city, Kathmandu is somewhat of a starting point for an Everest Base Camp trek. We’ve seen a fair bit of the world, and for us, trekking to EBC ranks as one of the best experiences we’ve ever had – a true adventure!

A group of people in winter gear trekking with poles through the snow covered Himalayas

The scenery and views are simply breathtaking, and the daily sense of purpose, challenge, and achievement is rewarding for your soul. If you’re after a unique destination, enjoy a trial, and love to push yourself then look no further.

If you want to know more, check out this Everest Base Camp Trek – The Ultimate Guide.

Wondering how much to budget? How Much Does an Everest Base Camp Trek Cost?

2. Swayambhunath – Monkey Temple

Swayambhunath Stupa, also known as the Monkey Temple, is an ancient religious complex located on a large hill, on the western edge of Kathmandu. It is one of the most iconic and sacred sites in Nepal and was a major contributor to Kathmandu Valley becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Swayambhunath is a prominent Buddhist stupa, characterized by its white dome with a gilded spire on top, which is adorned with the eyes of the Buddha and various symbols. These eyes are often referred to as the “Eyes of Buddha” and are said to symbolize His all-seeing nature.

The stupa is surrounded by a variety of shrines, temples, statues, flags, and prayer wheels, and it offers stunning panoramic views of the Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayan mountains. The temple complex is also known for the presence of a large population of monkeys, hence the nickname. The most common monkeys are rhesus macaques, known for their distinctive pink faces.

3. Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath, often referred to as just Boudha, is located in the eastern part of Kathmandu. It too is one of the most significant and revered Buddhist stupas in Nepal. Considered by many to be the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist site outside Tibet.

A huge white and gold Buddhist stupa with prayer flags streaming down from the top

Boudhanath is a huge stupa with a large white dome topped with a gilded spire, similar in architectural style to Swayambhunath Stupa. The stupa is surrounded by platforms at different levels which you can access and walk around on. It’s also adorned with colorful flags, prayer wheels, and the “Eyes of Buddha,” which gaze out from all four directions.

The stupa is a focal point for Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and is a center for religious and cultural activities. Join the locals in walking a full circle clockwise around the stupa, which they believe removes negative karma.

4. Kathmandu Durbar Square

There are several Durbar Squares around the Kathmandu Valley including Bhaktapur, Patan, and Kathamandu Durbar Square – also known as Basantapur Durbar Square or Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square. These three squares are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are known for their historical importance.

A pyramid like structure made of red bricks surrounded by buildings

The most popular and significant being Kathmandu Durbar Square located near to the popular area of Thamel. It was here that the Kings of the Malla and Shah dynasties resided and ruled from. The central square and surrounding royal palaces, was the seat of all power in the region during the 16th to 18th centuries.

5. Everest Mountain Flight

If you’re not heading to the mountains for an Everest Base Camp trek, but you still want to see Mount Everest, then an Everest Mountain Flight is the perfect option.

A wide landscape view of the snow-capped Himalayas from a plane. The plane's wing is visible in the top of the photo

The plane departs from Kathmandu Airport and flies alongside the Himalayas, offering panoramic views of the permanently snow-capped giants. Most of the elite “Eight-thousanders” are visible from this flight!

For those with a bigger budget, you can even get a helicopter directly to Base Camp!

6. The Garden of Dreams

The Garden of Dreams, also known as the Garden of Six Seasons, is a beautiful and serene historical garden located in the heart of Kathmandu. It is a peaceful oasis amid the bustling city and serves as a welcome change of pace.

A couple stand arm in arm in a landscaped garden with a neo-classical building in the background

Originally designed and built in the early 20th century, the garden was inspired by European garden design, particularly the neo-classical style. It was initially a private garden for a high-ranking member of the Royal Nepalese Army. Near the end of the century, it was set to be demolished, but luckily avoided it and was opened to the public in 1998.

As well as the architectural elegance of the garden, it is also adorned with a variety of indigenous and exotic plants and trees. There’s also a little cafe to enjoy a coffee and/or snacks.

7. Explore Thamel

The Thamel district is the busiest and most chaotic area of Kathmandu, and that takes some doing! Some people hate it, most on the other hand, love the hustle and bustle of the locals going about their day, market stalls, shops, and restaurants everywhere you look.

Colourful prayer flags hanging above a street in Kathmandu

It’s a good, central option for places to stay and so it may be unavoidable for you anyway. But it’s worth exploring the area, finding the best restaurants, and just wandering aimlessly. It might be a culture shock coming from Europe or North America, but as soon as we’re home, we miss this side of Asia.

8. Hiking the Nearby Hills – Nagarkot

Whether you’re considering an Everest Base Camp trek or not, there are much shorter treks and hikes you can do right here in the Kathmandu Valley.

Nagarkot is a very popular option, and it’ll become clear why when you see it. It boasts incredible views of the Himalayas and even the mighty Mount Everest on the clearest of days.

It’s a little outside the center, but you can book private sunrise hiking trips that will pick you up from the hotel.

9. Eat Too Many Momos

Momos are definitely our favorite Nepali food, although Dal Bhat is a close second.

Momos are small dumplings filled with vegetables (or minced meat) coated in various spices and either steamed or deep fried. They’re both incredible, but as you can probably guess, the deep fried ones are particularly so! They’re typically served with spicy dipping sauces to add some extra zing.

A Nepali meal of momos, sauces, curry, and chapatis outside a restaurant

You won’t have any trouble finding these around Kathmandu, particularly around Thamel, where you can watch street stalls cooking them fresh.

When is the Best Time to Visit Kathmandu?

The best time to visit Kathmandu is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) seasons.

These periods offer mild, pleasant weather with clear skies, making it ideal for sightseeing and trekking in the nearby mountains.

This area of Nepal is famous for its rhododendrons, and spring is when you can see them in bloom. This sudden burst of life adds a vivid color to the landscape.

Monsoon season (June to August) can be wet and overcast, and winter (December to February) can be chilly, especially at higher elevations. So, it’s best to avoid these for the best experience in Kathmandu.

Getting to Kathmandu

Flying is really the only way to consider when planning a trip to Kathmandu. There are some border crossings from India and Tibet, but the roads are very poor, and you can’t rely on them being open.

The main airport in Nepal is Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport which has good connections to the rest of Asia. If you’re coming from Europe or North America you will probably need to transit via one of these. Istanbul in Turkey and Dubai in the UAE are both ideal stops on the way to Nepal.

Transiting through the UAE? Here’s the Best Free Things to Do in Dubai.

white and gold buddhist stupa with Buddha's eyes painted on

Getting Around Kathmandu

The streets around Kathmandu are crowded and gridlocked with traffic. So, the best way to get around for short distances is on foot or using a cycle rickshaw as they can navigate through some of the congestion.

For further distances like getting from the airport or reaching the surrounding Kathamandu Valley, taxis are an inexpensive and easy option. Taxis are plentiful around Kathmandu, so it’s easy to flag a car down. Many drivers will not use the meters, so you need to negotiate a price before leaving. It’s usually better to walk away from tourist sites since we found the ones waiting at those ask for higher fares.

There are also online taxi and scooter apps like Pathao and Tootle. But be warned if you book a scooter, they don’t usually bring helmets, so it’s not advisable.

Where to Stay in Kathmandu

Thamel is probably the best area to stay in Kathmandu. It’s a very busy neighborhood with a maze of small alleys and streets. There’s no shortage of shops, stalls, hotels, restaurants, and cafes around there. It’s very central and many of the best things to do in Kathmandu are easily walkable from Thamel.

Find your perfect stay in Thamel.

A sunset over Kathmandu and the surrounding mountains from a rooftop

For a quieter area to stay, Boudhha to the east of Thamel is a great choice. It’s an ancient part of the city, known as an important place for Buddhists. It’s still pretty busy around, but not as crowded as Thamel.

Search for your ideal accommodation in Boudhha.

Kathmandu FAQs

Is There a Lot to Do in Kathmandu?

Kathmandu offers a diverse range of activities and attractions. You can explore ancient temples, visit bustling markets, and immerse yourself in the city’s buzzing street life.

As well as the city, there are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the Kathmandu Valley. And there’s not enough time on earth to sample the delicious Nepali cuisine at every restaurant. If all that wasn’t enough, it’s also the gateway to the Himalayas with many treks and hikes available.

Is Kathmandu Cheap or Expensive?

Kathmandu is a very cheap city for travelers. Accommodation, food, and transportation are all reasonably priced, making it a perfect backpacking destination.

Of course, the cost of your trip can vary depending on your preferences; there are luxury hotels and experiences available, so it’s possible to spend a lot. But in general, Kathmandu is budget friendly, and that’s the most common way to explore here.

Is it safe to walk around Kathmandu?

It is generally safe to walk around Kathmandu as a tourist, but it’s always best to be cautious in crowded areas. The most dangerous thing is the volume of traffic and lack of sidewalks.

Is Kathmandu safe at night?

Kathmandu is usually safe at night for tourists, but stay in well-lit, populated areas and avoid isolated places.

Can I wear shorts and/or bare shoulders in Kathmandu?

As with most religious countries, modest dress is recommended, but it’s not very strict in Kathmandu. Definitely avoid bare shoulders and shorts if you’re intending on visiting religious sites as you may not be allowed to enter.

Will I get altitude sickness in Kathmandu?

Kathmandu sits at an altitude of around 1,400m. At this height you won’t get altitude sickness.

Can you see Everest from Kathmandu?

You can’t see Mount Everest from Kathmandu as it’s around 150 miles from the city.

Can you see the Himalayas from Kathmandu?

You can see the Himalayas on a clear day from Kathmandu, especially from viewpoints like Nagarkot.

Is it hard to breathe in Kathmandu?

Air quality varies, and it can be challenging to breathe in Kathmandu, especially during pollution peaks. The altitude is not high enough to be a contributing factor for most people.

Where is Kathmandu?

Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal. It’s situated centrally within the country in the Kathmandu Valley.

What is the famous thing in Kathmandu?

The most famous things in Kathmandu are its ancient temples and stupas. It is also known for hiking and climbing since Everest trips usually begin here.

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