Two days in Kathmandu: What to see

The Monkey Temple is one of the highlights of spending two days in Kathmandu

For such a small country, Nepal packs a big punch. Epic Himalayan views, traditional Tibetan culture, jungle safari adventures. But what surprised me most on my recent trip to Nepal was how interesting its cities are — especially Kathmandu, with its vibrant street life and incredible medieval architecture. Whether you’re just passing through on the way to do the Everest Base Camp trek or on a long overland trip across Asia, it’s well worth spending at least two days in Kathmandu.

 

This city has every backpacker amenity you could ever want. It offers creature comforts that you won’t find anywhere else in Nepal. It’s super-tempting to spend your entire time in Kathmandu cafe-hopping and shopping, or to take a whirlwind tour of all the towns in the Kathmandu Valley. But there is so much more to the city than that.

 

In this post, I’ll outline how to spend two days in Kathmandu exploring big-name attractions and off-the-beaten-path corners. If you’re wondering what to do in Kathmandu before or after your trek, read on!

 

(Looking for an overview on travel in Nepal? Check out my Nepal backpacking guide first!)

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running. 

 

Day 1: Durbar Square and the old town

 

On your first day, dive right into the historical and cultural heart of the city, and one of the most important places to visit in Kathmandu. Today is all about traditional architecture and history, but there are lots of off-the-beaten-path detours you can take. Spend the morning exploring Durbar Square itself and the afternoon checking out the major squares and hidden courtyards that define this town.

 

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

 

Durbar Square is the center of Kathmandu's history and culture. Don't miss it on your two days in Kathmandu.
Durbar Square is the center of Kathmandu’s history and culture.

 

Start your two days in Kathmandu in the heart of the old city — Kathmandu Durbar Square. “Durbar” means “palace” in Nepali. The royal family used to rule from here and the area is steeped in history. Some of the buildings date as far back as the 12th century.

 

Unfortunately, parts of Durbar Square were extensively damaged by the 2015 earthquake. You’ll see scaffolding around many of the temples as rebuilding efforts are still underway. But the north end of the square and some of the most intricate and beautiful buildings were nearly untouched. It’s still well worth visiting and there is plenty of traditional architecture on display.

 

Access to the area around Durbar Square requires a ticket, which you can purchase from booths at each entrance point. It costs 1,000 rupees ($10). The staff are pretty strict about checking it. Your ticket is only valid for the day you purchase it. If you want a longer ticket, stop into the site office with your passport and one photo and they’ll issue it for the length of your visa (for free). Unfortunately, the square is not closed to vehicles, so you’ll have to dodge motorbikes while you wander around.

 

The square is most impressive if you start at the south end and make your way north. The following buildings are can’t-miss during your two days in Kathmandu, but there are dozens of other temples dotting the neighborhood. Pick up a pamphlet when you purchase your ticket to learn more about each of these.

 

Kumari Palace

 

This is your chance to see a living goddess in the flesh.

 

The Kumari Devi is a child goddess who brings good fortune to the people of Nepal. She is selected from the Newar community in early childhood, around age 5, and holds the post until she reaches puberty. During that time she makes daily appearances at her palace but otherwise rarely ventures out in public.

 

You can visit the intricately designed palace and courtyard where the Kumari lives. It’s among the most beautiful buildings in Kathmandu. The courtyard is covered with elaborate carvings. You are welcome to photograph the courtyard when the Kumari is not present, but no photographs of the goddess herself are permitted.

 

Your best chance of catching a glimpse of the Kumari is at 4 pm.

 

Ashok Binayak

 

This small shrine to the Hindu elephant-man-god Ganesh is in front of you and on your left as you leave the Kumari palace (across the road). You’ll recognize it by the endless parade of worshipers stopping by to ring the bell and make an offering.

 

While the architecture is not particularly notable, this is a great spot for people-watching. Ladies sell flowers outside and a butter candles and incense burn all around. It’s also a common stop for trekkers heading into the mountains — an offering here is thought to bring good luck on your journey. Non-Hindus are welcome.

 

Shiva-Parvati Temple

 

This temple is most notable for the white statues of Shiva and his consort that appear in the second-story window. Beyond that, it’s another example of classic architecture.

 

Kala Bhairab

 

A woman lights candles for worshipers in front of Kala Bhairab
A woman lights candles for worshipers in front of Kala Bhairab

 

The most atmospheric part of Kathmandu Durbar Square is the area around the figure of Kala Bhairab. Bhairab is the most fearsome depiction of Shiva. He protects devotees, but if you violate the moral code, he will enact swift justice. He is designed to look intimidating, and this stone image sure lives up to its goal.

 

Hang out near the statue for a few minutes and you’ll see dozens of Hindus coming and going, making offerings, lighting candles, praying. This is perhaps the most openly spiritual place in the city and you can’t help but be captivated by it during your two days in Kathmandu.

 

Taleju Temple

 

Durbar Square’s largest and most impressive temple stands at the far northern end of the square. 35 meters high, towering over everything around it, and in virtually perfect post-earthquake condition, you can’t miss it.

See also  Ubud Rice Field Walks: Escape the city

 

The temple is not open to the public — even Hindus are only allowed to enter during a couple of festivals. But you can peer into the courtyard, where there are a number of other small and interesting shrines.

 

Hanuman Dhoka

 

Kathmandu’s royal palace was extensively damaged during the earthquake, and repairs are still underway, but it’s magnificent nonetheless.

 

The palace actually doesn’t look like much from the outside. The real charm is visiting the inner courtyards. Several are still closed to the public due to structural damage, but you can visit two of them, which will give you a good taste of the grandeur of the palace.

 

The palace also contains a museum, but it’s mostly just random royal artifacts and not particularly interesting.

 

Old Kathmandu: Durbar Square to Thamel

 

After you’ve wrapped up your sightseeing at Durbar Square, spend the next few hours of your two days in Kathmandu wandering around the ancient neighborhoods between the palaces and the backpacker district of Thamel.

 

Lonely Planet Nepal guidebook has a great, detailed walking tour you can follow if you want to explore in-depth. It takes about two hours. But if you’d rather just wander around the neighborhood, here are a few of the highlights.

 

Indra Chowk

 

Bead and bangle shops around Indra Chowk
Bead and bangle shops around Indra Chowk

 

This major square is the first one you’ll come to heading north from Durbar Square. It’s dominated by two temples: Mahadev Temple and Akash Bhairab Temple. The latter is closed to non-Hindus.

 

This truly feels like the center of Kathmandu street life. Cycle rickshaw drivers hawk for business, shoe shiners work on suit-clad clients, motorbikes bulldoze their way through the pedestrian traffic, and ladies stand around on the sidewalk gossiping and taking it all in.

 

On the right side of the square is a small alley crowded with dozens of bead and bangle shops. It’s an immensely colorful and fascinating place to stroll through, especially in the late afternoon when women are out shopping.

 

The caravan route to Tibet

 

Take the street that leads northeast from Indra Chowk, past a number of important and large temples. This is a busy shopping street. Historically, it was the beginning of the caravan route to Tibet.

 

The shops along this street are mostly for locals, not tourists, and it feels like every resident of Kathmandu comes here to shop. You’ll see typical women’s clothing stores and lots of pots and pans shops. Just be careful with the totally maniacal motorbike traffic, and be prepared for lots and lots and lots of people.

 

The road ends at Asan Tole, one of the most interesting squares that you can’t miss during your two days in Kathmandu. A handful of temples and shrines dot the square. But its main feature is an all-day open air vegetable market. Pick up a fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the street vendors, find a corner where you’re safe from motorbike traffic, and watch the world go by.

 

Kathesimbhu Stupa

 

Evening at the stupa -- one of my favorite Kathmandu sights
Evening at the stupa

 

One of the reasons the old city of Kathmandu is so fascinating is that it’s covered with hidden courtyards containing incredible monuments and temples. You’ll find yourself steps from the total chaos of traffic and noise, but feeling like you’re a world away, where kids can ride their bikes and play cricket safe from passing motorbikes.

 

One such courtyard is on the main road leading north to Thamel. You can find it by looking out for a string of dentists’ shops (there is a nearby temple dedicated to the toothache god), and then a Ganesh statue. Shortly afterwards, you’ll see a small alley to your left — take that turn and you’ll quickly spot the stupa.

 

The stupa is a popular Tibetan pilgrimage site and the courtyard also contains a monastery, so you have a good chance of encountering monks eager to practice their English. Remember to ask before taking photos.

 

Kathesimbhu Stupa is most beautiful in the evening, just before the sun sets.

 

After you visit the stupa, continue walking north along the main road. You’ll pass dozens of prayer flag shops. Consider buying a set of flags to hang on your trek. The shopkeepers will be happy to explain their meaning and significance.

 

Thamel Chowk

 

You are now officially in Thamel, the main backpacker district. You’ll probably end up spending a good amount of time here during your two days in Kathmandu, mainly to sleep and eat. There isn’t a lot to do beyond that, but this pleasant square is worth visiting.

 

The square contains a stupa at the center and a couple of interesting temples and shrines around the sides. It’s a relatively quiet square that doesn’t see much vendor traffic.

 

That wraps up your first of two days in Kathmandu. Get some good food (see below for recommendations), find a good roof deck to have a beer on, and go to bed early in typical Nepali fashion.

 

Day Two: Off the beaten path and the monkey temple

 

Now that you’ve ticked the main attractions off your list, it’s time to get away from the crowds (for a couple hours, at least). Today’s itinerary will give you insight into day-to-day life in the city, before taking you to one of its most famous and spiritual monuments.

 

Temples, shrines and quiet back streets: South of Durbar Square

 

Get off the beaten path with a walking tour of Kathmandu
This is the real Kathmandu — veggie vendors working out of trucks in a small courtyard.

 

If the area north of Durbar Square is home to Kathmandu’s most important history, the area south is its 21st-century cousin. There are still plenty of old buildings here but it’s also far more residential. The sense of community is strong, and the locals are very friendly.

 

Lonely Planet also has a good walking tour of this part of the city. The gems are harder to find here, so it’s worth following their route.

See also  Borobudur sunrise: What you need to know

 

Tukan Bahal

 

A typical and pleasant courtyard in southern Kathmandu, this one is home to a large stupa. The buildings all around it are residential, so you’re very likely to see families hanging out here.

 

A couple small markets set up in the evenings in the nearby side streets. Keep an eye out for veggie vendors. The atmosphere is less hectic than the markets closer to Thamel.

 

Lagan Square

 

This square is a popular neighborhood gathering place. Small markets set up shop and kids start pickup cricket games here. The temple at the center of the square is Machhendranath Temple.

 

Nearby, but hard to find, is another small and charming courtyard known as Ta Bahal. Step inside and you won’t even be able to hear the motorbike traffic just on the other side of the wall.

 

Temples just south of Durbar Square

 

On the main road leading south from the southwest corner of Durbar Square are a string of several Vishnu temples. They’re red brick and not easily distinguished from each other.

 

Adko Narayan Temple is one of the most important Vishnu temples in Kathmandu, and you’ll see a steady stream of locals coming and going.

 

Swayambhunath (the “Monkey Temple”)

 

One of the most interesting things to do in Kathmandu, and an essential stop on your two days in here, is Swayambhunath Temple. This stupa is commonly referred to among travelers as the “monkey temple” due to the resident critters.

 

The temple is Buddhist but includes much Hindu iconography. It’s a great place to familiarize yourself with the blend of these two religions that is characteristic of Nepal.

 

What to expect

 

Prayer wheels at the monkey temple
Prayer wheels at the monkey temple

 

You may imagine a visit to an important Buddhist temple to be a peaceful, contemplative one — but Swayambhunath is anything but. Expect crowds, lots of pushing and shoving (some on a steep staircase), and an overwhelming array of sights, sounds and smells. Keep a sense of humor and a dose of patience and you’ll find it exciting and fascinating.

 

The monkeys that surround the temple are very photogenic. But don’t let them get too close. You don’t want a monkey bite (and rabies shot) to ruin your holiday. Avoid carrying anything that dangles (women may want to remove earrings), put any food you have inside your day pack, and don’t even think about trying to touch or feed them.

 

The most atmospheric way to get to Swayambhunath is to walk across the river from central Kathmandu. Look for a set of stairs leading up the hill. You’ll pass another small, interesting temple that looks more Chinese-style. Continue along the main road until you reach the unmissable eastern staircase. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from Thamel.

 

Visiting the stupa

 

"<yoastmark

 

The lower levels of the eastern stairway are covered with statues, shrines, women selling butter candles, men selling fruit juice and ice cream, and devotees praying and playing with selfie sticks. As you start the climb, you’ll pass carvings and more statues. A set of animal statues signifies that you’re near the top. Look for the ticket booth off to your left (admission is 250 rupees).

 

At the top of the stairway is a giant thunderbolt. This is one of the most important symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. From there, walk clockwise around the stupa, as all the locals do. Prayer wheels completely ring the central stupa. Remember to spin them in a clockwise direction as well.

 

The stupa platform contains several other small temples. Look out for the signs to determine which ones you’re allowed to photograph. You’ll also see groups of monks milling about and guarding the eternal flame.

 

Finally, near the eastern staircase are two platforms where you can get a spectacular view over Kathmandu and the surrounding mountains. This is the best place in the city to watch the sunset from. It’s the perfect way to close out your two days in Kathmandu.

 

Two days in Kathmandu practicalities

 

When to visit Kathmandu

 

You should time your Kathmandu travel plans to coincide with one of Nepal’s two dry seasons — October through November, or March through May.

 

During the dry season, the weather in Kathmandu is amazing. The temperature in Kathmandu tends to be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, dropping to the low 60’s at night. It’s sunny, with some chance of afternoon showers during shoulder season. It’s the perfect weather for walking around outside all day.

 

If you visit during the monsoon, expect significant rain. This would be especially miserable because the roads are largely unpaved and turn into mud pits during rainstorms.

 

How to get to Kathmandu and how to get around

 

Cycle rickshaws are an atmospheric away to travel in Kathmandu
Cycle rickshaws are an atmospheric away to travel in Kathmandu

 

Kathmandu contains Nepal’s only international airport, so it’s the arrival point for most travelers. The airport is very small and a little grim, but it does have free WiFi, charging stations, and a few places to pick up food and drinks for your flight. You can change money at kiosks outside.

 

The airport is about a 30 minute taxi ride from the city center. There is a prepaid taxi stand in the airport, or you can arrange a pickup from your hotel. It costs $5-$7 to get to and from Thamel. A public bus is available, but really not worth it unless you’re on an extreme budget.

 

If you arrive by public bus, chances are you’ll be dropped off at the new bus park. It’s a half-hour walk or ten-minute taxi ride to Thamel. The tourist buses drop off near the Ratna Park bus station, near Thamel.

 

The easiest way to get around Kathmandu — especially if you want get the most out of this Kathmandu tour — is by walking. But walking isn’t always a pleasant experience. The streets were badly damaged from the earthquake. Sidewalks aren’t really a thing. There are technically traffic laws, but nobody follows them. The dust and pollution can be overwhelming. But on the flip side, the city center is pretty small and walking will allow you to duck into the small courtyards and squares that make Kathmandu so charming.

See also  Things to do in Kathmandu and around

 

It is theoretically possible to rent a motorbike or bicycle for your two days in Kathmandu, but I would certainly not want to drive there.

 

Cycle rickshaws and taxis ply Thamel and popular tourist spots looking for people who need a ride. Negotiate a price in advance. Neither is very expensive — trips within central Kathmandu cost around $1-$2, and the trip out to Swayambhunath runs $2.50

Where to stay

 

The lovely garden at Elbrus Home -- a great guesthouse in Kathmandu
The lovely garden at Elbrus Home — a great guesthouse in Kathmandu

 

The vast majority of travelers doing Kathmandu sightseeing stay in the backpacker district of Thamel. There are probably more hotels than people in this area, and they range from really grimy budget dumps to truly glamorous palaces. Dark and loud are the two main characteristics of these guesthouses. Even if your hotel doesn’t have a bar associated with it, it won’t be able to block out the street noise that seems to go until 2 am.

 

A good alternative is to base yourself just north of Thamel. A handful of friendly budget guesthouses have cropped up in this area. The best of them is Elbrus Home, a charming family-run spot with a great garden and three roof decks. Rooms start at $12 including a large breakfast (with cheaper dorms). Opt for one with a private bath in the main building.

 

You will always be able to find a place to stay in Kathmandu. But in the peak trekking seasons of October-November and March-May, it’s worth booking in advance unless you want to settle for somewhere seriously grim.

 

What to eat

 

This Bhutanese curry set was legitimately one of the best things I've ever eaten (in Kathmandu)
This Bhutanese curry set was legitimately one of the best things I’ve ever eaten

 

You can eat your way around the world during your two days in Kathmandu. This city has one of the best international dining scenes I’ve ever encountered. It may seem silly to be in Nepal and not eat Nepali food, but trust me, you’ll get plenty of that when you’re out trekking or visiting smaller towns.

 

The center of the Thamel dining scene is in the area around Third Eye and Ying Yang. Within a five-minute walk are great Korean, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Israeli, Italian, Mexican, and Bhutanese restaurants (and probably a whole lot more), along with dozens of solid “whatever comfort food you’re craving” type of international cafes.

 

Among my favorites were Or2k for a mezze platter, Roadhouse Cafe for pizza, Hankook Sarang for bibimbap, Rosemary Kitchen for a classy international menu, and Dechenling for Bhutanese curry. That last one is legitimately one of the top five meals I’ve ever had.

 

The one downside to this international food scene is that it’s not cheap. Expect to pay $7-10 for a meal with drinks, after including taxes and service charges (which aren’t built into the menu prices).

 

If you’re seeking a cheaper meal, try Momo Hut — where you can get any type of momo (Tibetan dumpling) you could dream of, served with spicy and flavorful sauces. Service is pretty slow. The takeaway falafel stand outside Or2k is another good affordable option. For cheap snacks, Pumpernickel Bakery has awesome cakes and good light meals at budget prices.

 

Hands-down the best place for coffee when you need a break from sightseeing during your two days in Kathmandu is Gaia Restaurant. The garden could not be more relaxing and the coffee is organic and strong. Roadhouse Cafe also has an espresso machine, and Starbucks-like Himalayan Java has a couple of branches around Kathmandu, including in Thamel.

 

Safety

 

During your two days in Kathmandu, be sure to look out for surprises like this hidden monastery
Kathmandu has surprises around every corner — like this hidden monastery

 

You don’t have to seriously worry about crime when you spend two days in Kathmandu — the city is very safe. Even pickpocketing is rare, and violent crime is basically unheard of.

 

Kathmandu has far fewer scams and hassles than India or other popular Asian tourist destinations. Taxi drivers will offer you a ride, shop vendors will ask if you’re interested, but no one will hound you. Bargaining is more a polite negotiation to a mutually agreeable price than a cutthroat battle to get things as cheap as possible.

 

The only two major risks you’ll face during your two days in Kathmandu are the traffic and the earthquake damage. Be very careful when walking around the city — this is not a good place to stick your nose in your phone. When crossing busy streets, walk with locals.

 

The Nepali government deemed many buildings structurally unsafe after the 2015 earthquake. If you see the signs, don’t enter the building.

 

On a more annoying front, Kathmandu experiences regular power cuts (like, several times a day regular). Most businesses have generators or back-up solar panels, and they never last long, but it can still be inconvenient. The main risk is turning over your laundry to be washed too soon to when you’re leaving Kathmandu — power cuts can delay wash cycles by hours (give the laundromat a full day).

 

Kathmandu can occasionally feel overwhelming, especially for first-time travelers to the Subcontinent. It’s loud, crowded, colorful, and in-your-face. But this is also one of the most interesting cities in Asia, bursting at the seams with history and culture. Even if you came to Nepal to trek, don’t miss out on spending two days in Kathmandu exploring everything this amazing city has to offer.

 

Have even more time in the capital of Nepal? Try going on a day trip to Patan.

 

What else would you do with two days in Kathmandu? Leave a comment!

 

Like this post? Pin it!

 

Discover hidden gems in Kathmandu, Nepal. Spend two days in Kathmandu before or after your trek and explore the royal palaces, the monkey temple, and more. This Kathmandu itinerary includes the top things to see in Kathmandu and hotel and restaurant recommendations...           

 

Read more about Nepal here

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

43 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
TheGlobetrotterGP
6 years ago

hoping to get to kathmandu on my india trip next year – cant wiat it looks fab!

sue
sue
6 years ago

Brings me back to my travels in Tibet. Definitely want to go to Nepal. Good tips and photos.

Medha Verma
6 years ago

You’d probably find me at Durbar Square, the cultural and historical centre. The concept of ‘Kumari’, a little girl who is treated like a goddess since the age of 5, is quite interesting and intriguing! I wonder how she must feel living at the beautiful palace! I am not really a fan of monkeys but the monkey temple also sounds like an interesting place to visit. I have never considered visiting Nepal, despite its proximity to India but maybe I should!

Daniela Fries
Daniela Fries
6 years ago

Being an introvert with the need to spend time away from people and a digital nomad with the necessity to work, I’d most likely need rather 2 weeks than 2 days to visit all those places. Traffic seems to be similar to Peru, so I’m sure I’d survive it. Regular power cuts don’t sound good. Well, I love to read about places in Asia, Africa or Europa but to be honest, I’m going to stay in my beloved Latin America.

Elaine Masters
6 years ago

I long to visit that part of the world. So sad to hear the earthquake damage still isn’t repaired. Love the monkey temple and learning about the hidden stupa. It would be a wonderful city to wander for days. You made it all the more alluring. Thanks.

Jenny Davis
6 years ago

I visited Nepal last year. This is really a beautiful country but after earthquake it’s not like before but still it has so much to explore. People are so humble of this country and ready to help you always.

Richa
6 years ago

This is a super helpful post! I am hoping to stop by in Nepal next time I visit India and 2 days was what I had in mind for Kathmandu. Do you think all of the above sights are doable in 2 days?

Indrani
6 years ago

So much covered in 2 days! This is a worthwhile itinerary.
I am really keen about the local cuisine. The concept of Kumari Goddess amazes me.

layla
6 years ago

It looks like an incredible itinerary! The what to eat section had me drooling too. I will for sure make this my guide when heading to Kathmandu, thanks!

Ghia Lorenzo
6 years ago

Indeed Kathmandu has surprises around every corner, I just love how informative this post is. Also I really love how reach the culture is and it is amazing that for just 2 days, you get to manage enjoying everything in Nepal. I would love to visit their Monkey Stupa and their temples. Thanks for sharing this post!

eatlivetraveldrink
6 years ago

Solid guide for Kathmandu! I am obsessed with the colors here. I might add it on when I travel that way!

Ash
Ash
6 years ago

What a fantastic read! You transported me to a different part of the world which offers a more laid back lifestyle. Glad to know that it’s basically safe to travel to Kathmandu to enjoy all the sights you featured and the activities you suggested. Someday, I would like to visit.

Karla Ramos
6 years ago

Amazing Kathmandu! The Kamari sounds really fascinating. Im heartbroken that such beautiful place is destroyed by an earthquake. I hope it gets restored soon!

Lauren
6 years ago

Wow! I’ve never been to India and it’s really a whole different world from what I’m used to. I think I would walk around the streets in amazement. I’d like to check out some of those temples. Very interesting.

michellebry
michellebry
6 years ago

This sounds like a perfect itinerary. Nepal is definitely on my list, but unfortunately I dont think ill get there in the new future! Thanks for the share though. Definitely saving this 🙂

Mayuri
Mayuri
6 years ago

What a informative post! I so want to visit Nepal I used to live so close to Nepal but never made it there
And now I long to return
Thanks for sharing

antipodeanjen
antipodeanjen
6 years ago

So much to do!! From the looks of this article I would love Kathmandu because temple hopping is one of my favourite things to do when travelling.

Phoebe
Phoebe
6 years ago

This is a very helpful detailed post. For the Kumari, do they also treat the family special?

Carly | FearlessFemaleTravels.com
Carly | FearlessFemaleTravels.com
6 years ago

Pretty colors + yummy food = yes please! I’m now convinced that I need to include Kathmandu in my sabbatical next year!

Nerissa Templin
6 years ago

I love this itinerary. I always like to travel places for weekends etc so this is perfect. Definitely adding it to my bucket list!

43
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x