Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Beyond

A small temple in Bhaktapur -- one of the best day tours in Nepal

The Kathmandu Valley is the heart of Newari culture and tradition. The medieval architecture is amazing. The entire area is dotted with stunning temples. The history seeps from small alleyways and shops peddling traditional crafts. Most travelers in Nepal learn about the Newaris in Kathmandu itself. Some venture out to Patan. But few people make it to the third, and arguably most beautiful, of the ancient Newari cities — Bhaktapur. Still, a day trip to Bhaktapur Durbar Square and the surrounding city is not to be missed when you’re backpacking in Nepal.

 

Bhaktapur Durbar Square is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can easily see it and all the other major Bhaktapur attractions in a single day. Leave Kathmandu around 8 am and you’ll be back by 4 pm.

 

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About Bhaktapur: History, ancient and modern

 

These palaces are some of the best places to visit in Bhaktapur
One important thing to know about Bhaktapur is the earthquake damage here was severe.

 

The history of Bhaktapur starts in the 12th century, when it was founded by King Ananda Malla. It became a capital city in the 15th century, and maintained its prominence through the 1800’s.

 

The city’s claim to fame was it was an important trading center. Caravans running to and from Tibet would stop here. As trade routes shifted, the city saw some decline. Then, major earthquake in the early 20th century further reduced its status.

 

Political decline aside, Bhaktapur has always been an important religious center and still is today. Its nickname is “city of devotees,” and it has more temples per foot than the other major Kathmandu Valley royal cities.

 

Tragically, the 2015 earthquake severely damaged many of the traditional buildings. Reports of the devastation have led tourist numbers to plummet in recent years. Don’t let that deter you from doing a Bhaktapur day trip — the reality is, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is still spectacular, the town has largely been restored, and the crowds are far less than you’ll encounter in Patan and Kathmandu.

 

If you want to learn more about Bhaktapur and its history, you can hire a guide from the tourist office — or one of the freelancers that works Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Prices run about $20/hour.

 

What to see in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

 

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square entrance fee is $15
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is pedestrian-only, making it more pleasant to visit than its counterparts in Patan and Kathmandu

 

The collection of ancient temples and palaces at Bhaktapur Durbar Square is nothing short of impressive. The square spans a large area in the center of the city.

 

The most impressive piece of architecture in the square is the famous Golden Gate. This gate forms the entrance to the Royal Palace. The craftsmanship is stunning — look for the Garuda (eagle) battling serpents, as well as detailed depictions of a number of other Hindu gods.

 

Walk through the Golden Gate and you’ll reach the inner courtyards of the palace. The highlight here is Taleju Temple (in the second courtyard). It’s one of the most important temples in Bhaktapur and non-Hindus may not enter. But you can look through the gate and get a good glimpse of the intricate painting and wood-carving.

 

Continuing into the third courtyard, you’ll find a magnificent ancient water tank. Serpents are the theme here — along the sides, in the center, and forming the spout.

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After you leave, look next to the Golden Gate for the 55 Windows Palace. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a palace with 55 windows. For more information about 55 Windows Palace and its history, read this article.

 

Most of the rest of the buildings around Bhaktapur Durbar Square are Hindu temples. Look out for the Char Dam Temples, which are popular pilgrimage sites, and the Erotic Elephant Temple — which is exactly what it sounds like. Other impressive temples include the large Pashupatinath and Siddhi Lashmi Temples.

 

The east end of Bhaktapur Durbar Square experienced the most severe earthquake damage. A handful of temples still stand, including a Buddhist temple with ties to the cult of the Kumari (child-goddess), but it’s harder to imagine what they looked like in their prime.

 

The best part of visiting Bhaktapur Durbar Square is that it is the only medieval square in Nepal that is completely closed off to vehicle traffic. You won’t have to dodge motorbikes or crazy taxi drivers — just the occasional cyclist and large tour group.

 

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square entrance fee is built into the $15 fee you pay to visit the entire historical city. If you didn’t already buy a ticket at one of the town entrance gates, you will have to pay at the western end of the square. Security staff check tickets carefully at all entrances. You can also get a detailed Bhaktapur Durbar Square map at any of the ticket offices.

 

Beyond Bhaktapur Durbar Square: Other important landmarks

 

Durbar Square may be the focal point of Bhaktapur sightseeing, but it’s not the only impressive place to visit in the city. In fact, Bhaktapur has three large squares with ancient temples. All of these Bhaktapur attractions are covered by the Bhaktapur entrance fee.

 

Taumadhi Square

 

Don't miss the impressive Nyatapola Temple on your Bhaktapur Day Trip
Animal statues guard the entrance to Nyatapola Temple

 

The single best example of Newari architecture in town is in this plaza just east of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Nyatapola Temple is 30 meters high — making it the tallest temple in all of Nepal.

 

Unbelievably, the temple saw very minor damage from the 2015 earthquake, and it’s been entirely restored. Admire its perfect proportions from below before climbing the long, steep stairway past a series of stone animal guardians. It’s worth wandering around the top level, but only priests are allowed to enter the temple itself.

 

Taumadhi Square also has two other large temples. Both contain extensive Hindu iconography. While you’re wandering around, keep an eye out for the chariots lying around — Bhaktapur hosts an annual chariot festivalIf you’re lucky enough to visit in April, try to time your Bhaktapur sightseeing with this amazing display of Newari culture and tradition.

 

Tachupal Square

 

Tachupal Square is one of the most popular tourist places in Bhaktapur
A temple guardian in Tachupal Square

 

About half a kilometer away from Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the town’s original central gathering place. Tachupal Square contains the city’s most fascinating statues and some of its oldest buildings. It’s at the top of the list of best places to visit in Bhaktapur.

 

The focal point is Dattastreya Temple. You won’t be able to miss the enormous stone guardians at the base of the stairway. Climb the stairs to see more impressive Hindu iconography. The temple looks quite different from the typical Kathmandu Valley architecture and is well worth visiting, even if you’re templed-out.

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Tachupal Square is also known for the beautiful Peacock Window. This spectacular example of traditional woodcarving is one of the highlights of visiting Bhaktapur Durbar Square and beyond.

 

Pottery Square Bhaktapur

 

Wondering what to see in Bhaktapur? Don't miss a stroll around Pottery Square Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur pottery is famous throughout the Kathmandu Valley

 

The third must-visit square beyond Durbar Square is Pottery Square. This is the center of the Bhaktapur pottery industry, which is one of the most important traditional crafts in the Kathmandu Valley. If you purchase a ceramic in Kathmandu, chances are it was originally produced here.

 

The main attraction is the thousands of clay pots left out to dry in the sun. You can also chat with the craftsmen and women who work at the outskirts of the square. There aren’t a ton of shops here to buy their wares directly — you’ll get better deals shopping closer to the city center (or just buying from Kathmandu). A handful of small temples line the square and the surrounding alleys.

 

In short, the main appeal of visiting Pottery Square Bhaktapur is a window into the town’s fiercely traditional side. Walking through the square, you’ll feel like nothing has changed in 300 years.

 

Bhaktapur Walking Tour

 

Half the fun of visiting Bhaktapur Kathmandu is finding the little hidden temples like this.
Half the fun of doing a Bhaktapur tour is finding the little hidden temples like this.

 

While these three squares and Bhaktapur Durbar Square are undoubtedly the highlights of a Bhaktapur tour, the city is extremely charming all around. Every small alley drips with history and culture. While the earthquake damage is definitely noticeable (especially as you’re dodging construction crews), the historical heart of the city is still well-preserved. There are dozens of places to visit around Bhaktapur.

 

The best way to see these Bhaktapur attractions is on a self-guided walking tour. Lonely Planet has a good one that takes you through all the main squares and best places to visit in Bhaktapur, but connects them with interesting courtyards and alleyways. Allow three hours. Part of the tour takes you outside the historical center, so be sure to hold onto your ticket to avoid paying the Bhaktapur entrance fee again.

 

If you have less time, at the very least, don’t miss the hidden Bhimsen Temple and the cluster of temples, shrines and water tanks in the area around Nava Durga Temple.

 

How to get from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur Durbar Square

 

Visiting Bhaktapur is one of the easiest day tours in Nepal, since you can take a bus from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur directly.
Your Kathmandu to Bhaktapur bus will drop off right near Durbar Square.

 

Most people do their Bhaktapur sightseeing on day trips from Kathmandu. Luckily, it’s pretty easy logistically.

 

The fastest (and priciest) option is to take a taxi. From Thamel, this will run you about 800 rupees each way. You don’t need to pay your driver to wait for you — you can easily find another taxi driver to take you back after your visit.

 

Alternatively, take a local Kathmandu to Bhaktapur bus. These leave from a special bus park around the corner from Ratna Park in Kathmandu. Walk past the Ratna Park station on the right side of the road, and you’ll come to an overpass. Go up and to the left, cross the main road, and go down on the right side. You can’t miss the bus station — half a dozen large buses will be parked there. Ask someone for the bus to Bhaktapur and they’ll put you on the right one. It costs 25 rupees and takes about an hour.

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The bus to Bhaktapur stops just outside the main entrance gate to the city. You’ll pay your Bhaktapur Durbar Square entrance fee a few meters from the bus stop.

 

When you go back from Bhaktapur to Kathmandu, be sure to tell the drivers that you want to go to Thamel (really, Ratna Park, but they’ll know what you mean if you say Thamel). Some buses go to the northern bus station in Kathmandu, which is pretty inconvenient.

 

You could also take a Bhaktapur tour from Kathmandu, or find a Kathmandu Valley tour that includes Bhaktapur. However, these types of day tours in Nepal are quite rushed. It’s really only worth it if you’re on very limited time. Prices start around $40.

 

Hotels in Bhaktapur

 

The Bhaktapur area has plenty of hotels if you want to stay longer to learn about the history of Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
There are plenty of hotels in Bhaktapur if you want to extend your trip.

 

Want to spend more time in Bhaktapur? It definitely makes for a quieter and more pleasant alternative to Kathmandu’s chaos and pollution.

 

Everybody’s favorite budget Bhaktapur accommodation is Shiva Guesthouse. In addition to good, clean rooms, it has a great coffee shop and cafe on the ground floor. It’s right on Bhaktapur Durbar Square. At $13 for a private room, it’s a good deal.

 

Hotels in Bhaktapur trend more mid-range. The best place to stay in town if money is not a factor is Peacock Guesthouse. Rooms start at $45 including breakfast.

 

Where to eat on a Bhaktapur day trip

 

One of the big perks of Bhaktapur day trips from Kathmandu Nepal? The great coffee!
Bhaktapur is the only city in the Kathmandu Valley with several seriously good independent coffee shops. Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash.

 

The biggest plus to spending a day in Bhaktapur is the great coffee options. If you’re tired of Nescafe with way too much milk, head here for a caffeine splurge.

 

Beans Cafe is the pick of the coffee shops. It’s at the southeast end of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. It’s so tiny you could easily miss it — and it only has about six tables. But the cappuccinos ($2) are so delicious, and the carrot cake and apple pie are pretty good too.

 

Alternatively, the cafe on the ground floor of Shiva Guesthouse is great. It also serves light meals like salads and sandwiches.

 

Beyond the coffee shops, Bhaktapur’s food scene is pretty meh. You’ll find the usual Nepali/pan-international restaurants. The pick of the bunch is the upper-floor Namaste Cafe in Taumadhi Square. You can get a great dal bhat for $3, and it comes with a good view of the temples.

 

Craving sweets? Don’t miss Bhaktapur’s most famous food — king curd. This ridiculously delicious and creamy yogurt dish is available from dozens of small shops. You’ll find it most easily on the road leading to Bhaktapur Durbar Square from the bus stop to Kathmandu. It’s about $0.75 for a serving (in a Bhaktapur pottery-style clay bowl, of course).

 

All in all, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the best place in the Kathmandu valley — and in all of Nepal — to learn about the country’s medieval architecture and traditions. Even after the earthquake, it’s still an incredibly atmospheric place to visit. And it’s one of the easiest day trips from Kathmandu. Don’t miss this beautiful city while you’re backpacking Nepal!

 

What’s your favorite historical city? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

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Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the most stunning example of medieval architecture in Nepal. The town drips with history and culture. It's one of the best day trips from Kathmandu. Read on to learn more about the hidden gems of this ancient town... #nepal #travel

 

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goisy
6 years ago

This is such an interesting post! One of my best friends volunteered in Nepal for a few months and I’ve really wanted to visit since then 🙂 x

cynthiagraner
cynthiagraner
6 years ago

This looks like such an amazing city! The animal statues at Nyatapola Temple are lovely. I’m glad to see that there are plenty of areas that weren’t as devasted by the earthquake (or have recovered already).

steph and zach dorworth

Bhaktapur does sound amazing. So glad they restored it after the earthquake. Absolutely love all the animal statues among the city and squares! Seems like a great and affordable place to stay!

Maloney
6 years ago

To say my trip to Nepal was life-changing would be an understatement. I was on a tour so I always had a guide. I’m definitely pinning this page so I can do somethings on my own when I have the chance to go back!

Tanmaya Godbole
Tanmaya Godbole
6 years ago

Oh wow, I hadn’t even heard of Bhaktapur!! Now it’s definitely on my list! I’ve been wanting to go to Nepal since I was a kid, I must prioritize it for next year 🙂

Wendy Elliott
6 years ago

Interesting to learn some history of Bhaktapur. It sounds like Bhaktapur has faced many unfortunate events since the 12th century. It sounds like they have done a good job restoring though, and I do prefer places with fewer crowds. I would love to see the ancient temples at Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Nyatapola Temple entrance looks spectacular; too bad visitors can’t enter. Thanks for the tip on the walking tour – we like to take self-guided tours.

The bus option sounds like a great budget option, as does the $13 night Shiva Guesthouse.

Great tips!

LDH Is TravelAtWill
6 years ago

This looks like a great spot to visit if we are even in Kathmandu. Thanks for the tip about hiring a guide. We often miss so many details by trying to see some spots on our own. I just love the colour and creativity of the temples. The Peacock Window sounds interesting. Thanks for the coffee tip. Powdered coffee just won’t cut it for us.

Sheriane
6 years ago

These images are spectacular. It’s great to see the earthquake didn’t destroy this area. I believe I would really enjoy this area due to it be pedestrian only, so good to know that

Lydia
6 years ago

Bhaktapur Durbar Square is such a perfect day trip destination, Carrie. I love visiting heritage sites and this one seems astonishing. That pottery square left me speechless. I am adding Bhaktapur Durbar Square to my bucket list!

Vanessa Chiasson
6 years ago

This is so my happy place! Just the other day I was lamenting on Facebook that all I read about Nepal is about extreme adventure -good for those folks but I’m a huge wimp! I’m all about this kind of exploring, getting to know a city and discovering some awesome coffee along the way.

Tracie Howe
6 years ago

That sounds like a great day trip! I think I might want to stay over night, especially since the Shiva Guesthouse sounds so nice. And $13 is a bargain!

authenticfoodquest
authenticfoodquest
6 years ago

Such incredible statues and so much history. Indeed, Bhaktapur Durbar Square looks like a perfect day trip. Love the little door to the temple and the amazing animal sculptures. Would have loved to see a picture of King Curd. Sounds divine!!

mags
mags
6 years ago

I haven’t been to Nepal and honestly haven’t heard much about it outside of Kathmandu. Bhaktapur look like it’s more my speed. The architecture is gorgeous!

Dorene
6 years ago

Great timing for this post for me. I’ll be there in November. I knew of Nyatapola Temple but there are so many other beautiful ones to see. The earthquake did cause alot of damage, but looks like restoration is at least underway, but I am sure it will take years. Great bonus that Bhaktapur has good coffees. Thanks for the great travel tips.

oliviarutt
5 years ago

This is such an informative post! This place is so gorgeous, I’m glad that it was able to be restored as much as it can. It’s amazing that the temple suffered very little damage.

TheRidgelineReport
5 years ago

Ugh Nepal has been at the top of my list for years!!! I’d love to do a long trip here and spend some quality time. The clay pots are awesome. Looks like something out of a history book!

Katie Diederichs
5 years ago

This is packed full of information! We visited this area before trekking to Everest Base Camp a couple years ago, but it would have been super helpful to know more about the history and significance, like you have written here. But even still, it’s fun reading about it even after visiting. Thanks for putting this all together!

Mo
Mo
5 years ago

what a comprehensive post! I love visiting ancient cities and imagining what life must have been like centuries and centuries ago! I have not yet been to Nepal, but everytime I read a post on this amazing place it inches up my bucket list 🙂 Thank you for highlighting sightly off the beaten path destination, I love seeing more of the remote locations.

Ketki Gadre
Ketki Gadre
5 years ago

This neighboring country has forever intrigued me to visit. Taumadhi Square looks really amazing and i would love to take walking tours across all the square to get the real feeling of Bhaktapur. Nice post.

Bidisha
5 years ago

Nepal has long been on my bucket list. Your post has essentially captured the rustic essence of Nepal and the pictures have come out so well. Great work done on such a detailed guide.

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