Things to do in Kathmandu and around

Buddhist temples like this are among the most interesting places to visit in Nepal -- and the Kathmandu Valley has many of them.

Nepal may be famous for its mountains. But it turns out, the cities are pretty interesting too. And there is no better place to start your exploration of Nepal’s history and culture than in the Kathmandu Valley. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the center of Newari culture. Interested yet? Then read on for the list of the best things to do in Kathmandu and around.

 

Kathmandu itself is a pretty interesting city. But to get the most out of your time there, take a few day trips to the many places to visit around Kathmandu as well.

 

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1. Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square

 

The highlight of Kathmandu travel is Durbar Square
When you visit Kathmandu, you have to see Durbar Square — the center of history and culture

 

One of the best examples of medieval architecture in Nepal — and possibly in all of Asia — is right in the heart of Kathmandu. Durbar Square is where kings once ruled, trade caravans to Tibet once passed through, and a child goddess still resides.

 

The square — actually three linked squares — contains a smattering of ancient temples and historical buildings. Some were extensively damaged in the 2015 earthquake, while others were left basically untouched by the disaster.

 

While history is the draw here, Durbar Square has a very ancient-meets-modern vibe. Shops operate out of the ground floors of many of the old buildings. Locals come to pray at several of the temples and shrines. And of course, motorcycles and taxis constantly threaten to run you over!

 

Admission to Durbar Square in Kathmandu costs 1000 rupees. It’s well worth it, as this is one of the best things to do in Kathmandu.

 

2. Take a day trip to Bhaktapur

 

Bhaktapur is one of the most beautiful places to visit around Kathmandu
One of the top Kathmandu day trips is to the ancient city of Bhaktapur

 

Of all the historical cities in the Kathmandu Valley, little Bhaktapur is the most pleasant to visit and the best-preserved. Unlike in Kathmandu, the entire town maintains its historical character. Even better — it sees far fewer tourists than the other major Kathmandu attractions.

 

Bhaktapur also has a stunning Durbar Square. But the real highlights are the other two squares: Taumadhi Square and Tachupal Square. Both contain amazing examples of Newari architecture in the form of elaborate temples. The temple guardian statues are particularly unique.

 

But Bhaktapur isn’t all about headline attractions. The real appeal of doing Kathmandu day trips to Bhaktapur is to wander around the streets that feel like they haven’t changed in 800 years. A self-guided walking tour like this one from Lonely Planet is the best way to see it and is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Kathmandu and around.

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In order to preserve its traditional character, Bhaktapur charges a 1,500 rupee admission fee to visit the town center. This covers Durbar Square and most of the other attractions.

 

You can get to Bhaktapur by bus from central Kathmandu — it takes about an hour. See my post on Bhaktapur for more information.

 

3. See the sun rise over Mount Everest at Nagarkot

 

It is possible to see Everest when you visit Kathmandu -- do a short overnight trip to Nagarkot.
Obviously one of the Nepal attractions everyone wants to see is Mount Everest. You can get a good view just 20 km from Kathmandu. Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

 

It’s meant to be among the most spectacular sunrises anywhere in the world — and it’s just 20 miles outside of Kathmandu.

 

That’s the reward for visiting Nagarkot, a small town in the Kathmandu Valley. Unlike the other ideas on this list of things to do in Kathmandu, this one requires an overnight visit — but it will be well worth it, especially if you aren’t doing an Everest Base Camp trek during your time in Nepal. Since Everest is one of the top Nepal attractions, you wouldn’t want to leave Kathmandu without seeing it, would you?

 

Most travelers take the bus to Nagarkot the night before, stay overnight to watch the sunrise, and then head back to Kathmandu the next day. It’s also possible to trek to Nagarkot — solo women should be careful about doing this alone. It’s only worth doing this trip during October-December and maybe March-May, as the views will be too hazy at other times of the year.

 

For more information and inspirational photos, check out this article.

 

4. Explore the Buddhist stupas of Boudhanath or Swayambhunath

 

The Buddhist stupa in Boudhanath is one of the must-visit Nepal attractions
The Kathmandu area has several important stupas — including this one in nearby Boudhanath

 

At the top of most travelers’ lists of things to do in Kathmandu is see an important Tibetan Buddhist stupa. After all, this is one of the most accessible places in the world to experience Tibetan Buddhism. Two popular options are Boudhanath and Swayambhunath.

 

Swayambhunath is more popularly known among travelers to Nepal as the “monkey temple.” It gets its name from the hordes of macaques that hang around outside. A visit to this hilltop stupa is one of the essential things to do in Kathmandu, especially around sunset — the views from the top are incredible. You can walk here from central Kathmandu.

 

If you don’t mind going a bit further afield, Boudhanath is the more interesting of Kathmandu’s major Buddhist sites. It’s the largest stupa in Nepal and the most important Tibetan monument outside Tibet. The best time to visit is late afternoon, when the tour crowds go home and monks and pilgrims gather to pray. Boudhanath is a short taxi ride (350 rupees) or a half-hour minibus ride from Thamel.

 

5. Learn about Hinduism and Buddhism at Nepal’s best museum

 

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Patan is the third ancient kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley. Like Bhaktapur and Kathmandu itself, Patan has a Durbar Square filled with temples and monuments.

 

Unfortunately, the earthquake damage was more noticeable here. But it’s still worth including Patan on this list of things to do in Kathmandu and around because of its fantastic museum, located inside the ancient royal palace.

 

The Patan Museum contains Hindu and Buddhist artifacts and iconography. It couples them with great English-language explanations of the symbolism and meaning embodied in them, along with the history, traditions, and blending of the two religions that is unique to Nepal. This is undoubtedly the country’s best museum and if you’re even remotely a museum person, it’s can’t-miss.

 

Allow two hours to fully explore the museum and the architecture of the palace it’s housed in. The cafe in a pretty garden within the museum walls makes for a good tea break.

 

Admission to the Patan Museum is included in the 1,000 rupee Durbar Square entrance ticket. You can’t buy a standalone ticket to the museum.

 

Patan is a short bus ride from Kathmandu — in fact, the two towns have more or less become one bigger city. It’s one of the most convenient places to visit around Kathmandu and easy to fit into a short trip. You could easily spend a whole day wandering around and visiting the other temples and shops in Patan. See my post on things to do in Patan for more information.

 

6. Splurge on backpacker essentials in Thamel

 

One of my favorite things to do in Kathmandu is enjoy the international dining scene
Don’t miss out on eating fantastic Bhutanese food when you visit Kathmandu

 

Now that you’ve checked off all the historical and cultural essentials, the last thing on the list of things to do in Kathmandu and beyond is to treat yourself.

 

Thamel is the main backpacker/tourist district in Kathmandu. It’s obnoxious, loud, crowded, and expensive. But it’s also tons of fun, especially if you’re coming off a long trek in the mountains. Even better, it has one of the best international dining scenes you’ll find in any city in the world.

 

If you need to pick up supplies for trekking, Thamel is the place to do it. You can find high-quality, locally made down jackets and sleeping bags, trekking poles, backpacks, and more — all for bargain prices. I just wouldn’t recommend purchasing hiking boots here. You’ll want to buy those at home and break them in before your trek. I recommend these Merrell boots.

 

Food is the other big appeal of Thamel. Highlights include Or2k for Israeli, Roadhouse Cafe for Italian, Hankook Sarang for Korean, and Dechenling for Bhutanese curry. Pumpernickel Bakery has fantastic black forest cake, and the best independent coffee shop in town is Gaia Restaurant.

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Where to stay while exploring these things to do in Kathmandu and around

 

You never have to go far to find one of the good budget hotels in Kathmandu.
The lovely garden at Elbrus Home — one of the top budget hotels in Kathmandu

 

With the exception of the sunrise trip to Nagarkot, everything on this list of things to do in Kathmandu and the Kathmandu area can be covered on Kathmandu day trips. So you can stay in the city center the whole time.

 

Most backpackers stay in Thamel. This is convenient and social, and there are seemingly infinite cheap guesthouses all within a ten-block radius. The downside? It’s very touristic and very loud. Many travelers complain about music blasting from nearby bars until 2 am every night.

 

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For a quieter alternative, consider staying north of Thamel. The charming, family-run Elbrus Home is one of the top budget hotels in Kathmandu. Dorms are as cheap as $3 a night, and private rooms start at $12. All include a large breakfast. If you have the choice, try to get one of the brighter rooms in the main building.

 

How much time do you need in the Kathmandu Valley?

 

The Kathmandu Valley is one of the best Nepal attractions to visit
Exploring the Kathmandu Valley is one of the best things to do in Nepal — right up there with trekking in the mountains!

 

I highly recommend exploring the Kathmandu area independently, either by taxi or public transport. You’ll meet more locals and get a better sense of daily Nepali life. If you want to travel this way, you need four days to cover everything on this list of things to do in Kathmandu.

 

If you don’t have that kind of time, you can opt for a guided tour instead. Generally these are minivan tours that rush you through the major historical sites in a single day. The biggest benefit is you’ll have a local guide to explain things for you. These tours cost around $40, although if you’re on a guided trek it may be included. You can book from any Kathmandu travel agency.

 

Looking for more Kathmandu travel advice? Check out my two-day itinerary for more detailed coverage of the capital city itself. There are tons of hidden back-street temples and courtyards worth visiting in between your Kathmandu Valley sightseeing.

 

However you prefer to travel, don’t overlook the Kathmandu Valley on your list of places to visit in Nepal. Nepal isn’t just about the mountains — it’s a historically and culturally rich country too. Take the time to explore the capital city and surrounds and you won’t regret it. You’ll come away with a much deeper appreciation for this fascinating and beautiful country.

 

Do you have other ideas for places to visit around Kathmandu? Leave a comment!

 

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The Kathmandu Valley is the best place to learn about Nepali history and culture. Visit ancient palaces, Tibetan Buddhist temples, and more with this list of things to do in Kathmandu and beyond #nepal #travel

The Kathmandu Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of medieval architecture and other historical treasures. Read on for inspiration of how to spend your time in Kathmandu and around #nepal #travel #asia

 

Looking for more things to do in Nepal? Check out my other posts here

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steph and zach dorworth

Kathmandu does seem quite interesting. Would love to do that day trip to Bhaktapur to see the statues. Watching sunrise over Mount Everest is such a great idea too! Thanks for the recommendation to stay at Elbrus Home too because we love more budget friendly options that are good quality. Great post!

Brianna (@ArchivesofAdv)

This post made me miss Kathmandu! I was there 5 years ago! You forgot to add “eat your weigh in Momos” 😛

DebbZie
4 years ago

I really wish to make it to Nepal soon. It’s been on top of my bucket list for a while now. I have bookmarked your well written article here as it will come handy for my trip to Nepal. I would definitely explore Bhaktapur and sampling some (tons) of local food in Thamel. Thanks for sharing this! 😀

noelmorata
4 years ago

I found Katmandu Valley fascinating and filled with amazing places to visit around the region. It’s famous palaces are definitely Unesco caliber and its good that they are making the long and panstaking effort to rebuild many of these magnificent places from all the rubble.

LDH Is TravelAtWill
4 years ago

Like to have a good idea of day trips for a new city. Bhaktapur looks like it is an interesting spot. Glad to hear it has less tourists than some other spots. A chance to see Mt Everest would definitely be on my list to visit. A sunrise visit would be magical. Good to know that we can do Kathmandu and some day trips in a four day visit.

Medha Verma
4 years ago

I can’t believe I haven’t made it to Kathmandu yet! I lived 22 years in India yet didn’t get there. Bhaktapur looks beautiful, just the kind of place I’d like to visit and I also want to try traditional Nepalese cuisine. The stupa at Boudhanath is also something I’d want to see!

Marcus and Mel
4 years ago

Seeing the sunrise over Everest must be an amazing sight. Good tips about the best time to go as you wouldn’t want to get there and just se the haze and cloud. Bhaktapur looks interesting and doesn’t sound too busy.

Vanessa Chiasson
4 years ago

You are so my kind of traveler – I love that you included info on Pumpernickel Bakery and their black forest cake. I always end up craving the opposite kind of food to that which is around me (like the day when I decided I couldn’t live without tacos in Greece…..) and so it’s nice to know that you can indulge yourself a little.

Paige
4 years ago

You have me dying to get here. I was supposed to be in Nepal in April but I had emergency surgery that interrupted my trip. So, it’s still at the top of my list. I know you recommend 4 days, but do you think there’s enough to see to stretch it out even longer? Boudhanath looks like a dream location to visit for someone who loves Buddhism like I do.

authenticfoodquest
authenticfoodquest
4 years ago

I can only imagine the magnificence of seeing the sunrise over the Mount Everest. Wow! That would top on my list. Love your focus on Bhaktapur and the unique statues in this not frequently visited destination. This is a pretty comprehensive post with of great options. I’m really curious about the food!!

Julia Jerg
4 years ago

Nepal is high on my bucket list and Kathmandu especially seems definitely worth visiting! I am really surprised about your comment that it has the best international dining scenes – yum, love to try it out!

toptravelsights
4 years ago

This is very funny. I was reading your post and came to the section about where to stay and my first thought was that this garden looked very familiar. And it is indeed the same guesthouse that I stayed at five years ago when I visited Nepal. I wish I’d had as much time as you to explore the Kathmandu Valley. I only had two full days and that was enough to explore Kathmandu and Bakhtapur, but I missed out on everything else. And I would have loved to have more time to walk through Kathmandu or just relax a… Read more »

Lydia
4 years ago

Visiting and exploring Kathmandu sounds like an awesome idea, Carriee. A day trip to Bhaktapur would be so much fun as I love exploring ancient cities! 🙂

Lauren
4 years ago

Nepal has been at the top of my bucket-list for quite some time. This post just pushes it closer to the top 😍 Definitely saving this for later!

Mayuri
Mayuri
4 years ago

Such pretty pictures! I’m sure I will love Kathmandu. I actually have lots of Nepalese friends and I genuinely love their culture and love

Thanks for sharing this guide

Amanda Ulmer
4 years ago

I can only imagine how incredible watching a sunrise over Everest is! I’m definitely adding this to my bucket list. I’m definitely going to check out your 2 day itinerary as well!

Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists

WOAH Bhaktapur looks stunning!! How have a never heard of this place before?! *adds to bucket list*

Amy Dodd
Amy Dodd
4 years ago

Beautiful post, loving all the photos. It’s my dream to visit and I would love to watch a sunrise over Mount Everest. Thank you for such amazing travel inspiration!

This Wanderlust Heart
This Wanderlust Heart
4 years ago

Kathmandu seems like such a nice place to travel. Thank you for sharing!

Viviane Claire Feeney
4 years ago

Kathmandu hasn’t been on my list, but it sounds like somewhere different from the western countries, great for trekking (an activity that I’ve been procrastinating and intimidated by for a while) and long term stay to stretch for budget. I was astonished by the super low prices of the Elbrus Home, $3/night, that’s like 10% of the typical $30/night you’d pay in a typical western country for a shared dorm!
Sounds like you had a lovely time there.

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