Just outside of central Kathmandu is the mystical town of Boudhanath (also spelled Boudhnath and Boudha). It’s an important center of Tibetan culture. This is one of the few places in the world where a large community of Tibetans is able to freely practice their religion without fear of persecution or discrimination. In short, it’s an intoxicating place to explore. The town’s focal point is Boudhanath Stupa — the largest stupa in Nepal and the most important Tibetan monument outside of Tibet. If you’re at all interested in Tibetan Buddhism, culture and history, it’s well worth the trip to visit Boudhanath Stupa while you’re in Kathmandu.
Boudhanath Stupa History
Boudhanath first established itself as an important place in Tibetan Buddhism in the 7th century. It was a natural stopping point for merchants from Kathmandu to pray before beginning the long journey along the trade routes to Lhasa.
The stupa has gone through several rounds of destruction and reconstruction. The one you see today was probably built around the 15th century, although locals will give you many variations of the exact timeline.
The mystique and legends surrounding the stupa’s history are part of what make it so interesting. Some of the best sources of Boudhanath Stupa information and mythology are the shopkeepers in the area. Several folks I met were adamant that the stupa contains the remains of and artifacts belonging to several important Buddhas, demonstrating the importance of Boudhanath Stupa. But they admitted that the historical record to back up those claims is limited.
More recently, Boudhanath’s significance increased with the arrival of a large Tibetan refugee population in the early 1960’s. These refugees and their families still live here today. The town has also seen a large influx of young Nepalis from the countryside — many of them Sherpas from the Everest region — looking for a lower cost of living than they’d find in Kathmandu proper.
In 1979, Boudhanath Stupa was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage landmarks in Nepal alongside several other Kathmandu Valley historical sites. Luckily, the stupa survived the 2015 earthquake with very little damage.
Symbolism in the construction of Boudhanath Stupa
Boudha Stupa is constructed in the typical style of Buddhist stupas in Kathmandu. If you’ve visited Swayambhunath (i.e. the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu), it will look familiar — although Boudhanath is far more beautiful.
The stupa’s central feature is a large white dome, topped with a spire decorated with Buddha’s watchful eyes. The squiggly line that looks like a nose is actually the Tibetan symbol for unity.
Each feature is symbolic of one of the elements: earth, water, air, and the “beyond” or “void”. The spire — which represents air — is 13 levels tall to symbolize the 13 levels you must attain to reach nirvana. Colorful prayer flags drape from the top back to the base, and prayer wheels line the entire exterior.
When you visit Boudhanath Stupa, you’ll be in awe of the level of detail in the construction. Each aspect is perfectly proportioned. It may not be immediately obvious from the ground level, but visit a rooftop restaurant near the stupa and you’ll see why this is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Nepal.
What to expect when you visit Boudhanath Stupa
Boudha Stupa is hidden in a large plaza accessible by alleyways leading from the main road. If you arrive at the main entrance, you’ll find a ticket office. Foreigners must pay the Boudhanath Stupa entrance fee of 200 rupees. If you enter through a different alley, you won’t encounter a ticket office. I came in through an alley on the east side and didn’t even realize I was supposed to pay until after I left.
As with every other Buddhist stupa, it’s respectful to only walk clockwise around the structure. Starting from the main entrance, walk about a quarter of the way around and you’ll see a crowd formed around a small shrine at the base of the stupa. To the right of the shrine is the entrance to reach the upper levels of the dome. From here, you can walk 360 degrees around the stupa in relative peace and quiet. Walk about halfway around and look below you to see young monks in training meditating and praying — many of them are Western, studying at a nearby Buddhist monastery.
Many Westerners associate Tibetan Buddhism with a secluded hilltop Buddhist monastery, monks praying, and general peace and quiet. So you may be surprised to learn that Boudhanath is actually a pretty chaotic place.
When you visit Boudhanath Stupa, you’ll jockey for space with pilgrims, monks, tour groups, and hippies learning to practice Buddhism. Beggars will ask you for money, shopkeepers will solicit your business, and some annoying old man with a tripod will step directly in the way of your perfect photo. Arm yourself with a healthy dose of patience and the understanding that this is every bit as authentically Tibetan as what you’ll find in remote corners of the Himalayas.
Make the most of your trip to Boudha Stupa
The best time to visit Boudhanath Stupa is in the late afternoon. The crowds on Kathmandu tours leave, and hundreds of pilgrims arrive. You’ll hear the monks chanting and smell the incense burning. There is no better way to gain an understanding of Tibetan culture.
The best views of the stupa from above are from Cafe du Temple and Stupa View Restaurant. Both are a bit pricey and very crowded during the day. Himalayan Java also has a good second-floor view and great coffee if you just need a short break — and you’ll likely share a table with local monks instead of Western tourists.
Things to do in Boudhanath after you visit Boudhanath Stupa
Beyond the largest stupa in Nepal, Boudhanath is home to many Buddhist monasteries. It’s a good shopping destination if you’re interested in bringing home Tibetan handicrafts. If you have more time when you visit Boudhanath Stupa, you can also combine it with a trip to the important Hindu site of Pashupatinath Temple.
The easiest Buddhist monastery to visit is Guru Lhakhang Gompa, directly across from the shrine at the base of the stupa. It contains elaborate murals, and the upper levels provide good views over the stupa. You’ll see thousands of butter candles burning, and it’s a popular pilgrimage site.
Quieter Samtenling Gompa is just a few steps away from the stupa, on the northeast end. Alternatively, head a bit further north to visit the massive complex of Shechen Gompa.
As in most Buddhist cultures, feet are considered slightly taboo in Tibetan Buddhism. Remove your shoes before entering a Boudhanath monastery. Don’t step over monks’ cushions or point your feet directly at anyone.
If you’re more interested in shopping for Tibetan handicrafts, you can start with the shops surrounding the stupa itself. But the alleys leading to the stupa have the same products for cheaper. You’ll find the best deals north of the stupa, where fewer people rushing through on Kathmandu tours venture.
Visit Pashupatinath Temple
After you visit the stupa and the town, another of the favorite things to do in Boudhanath is to walk to Pashupatinath Temple. the journey takes about 20 minutes. Download an offline Google map and use these directions from Lonely Planet to find the way.
Pashupatinath Temple is a major Hindu pilgrimage site. It also overlooks cremation ghats where you can see this sacred ritual completely in the open. If you decide to visit, err on the side of respect when it comes to tourist behavior and photography (basically, don’t take photos).
Note that there is a 1,000 rupee admission fee and non-Hindus aren’t allowed to enter most of the temple. Many people who visit are disappointed. I chose to skip it for those reasons, and since I’d seen similar things in Varanasi. But other travelers — especially people who have never been to India — find it fascinating and well worth the money.
How to get to Boudhanath from Kathmandu
It’s very easy to visit Boudhanath Stupa from Kathmandu. Getting there, exploring for awhile, and coming back takes about three hours.
By far the easiest way to get to Boudhanath is to take a taxi. It’s affordable, especially if you are in a group — I paid 350 rupees from Boudhanath to Thamel. Be sure to agree on a price before you get into the taxi, but aggressive bargaining isn’t necessary. The taxi ride takes 20 minutes or so.
When you leave Boudhanath, walk out of town (to the west) for a couple hundred meters to get the best deal on a taxi. If you try to take one directly from the stupa exit, you’ll pay 50-100 rupees more.
Another easy — although potentially less satisfying — option is to take one of the Kathmandu tours that includes Boudhanath. These are typically minibus tours that also stop in Patan and possibly Bhaktapur, as well as hitting the major Kathmandu attractions. I always prefer to travel independently over taking tours — tours are too rushed for me. But if you have limited time in Kathmandu it could be a good option. Any travel shop in Thamel can book this for you.
Public transportation to visit Boudhanath Stupa
If you’re on a budget, you can also take public transportation to Boudhanath. This is really only worth it if you are counting every penny.
The first step is to go to the chaotic Ratna Park bus station, just outside of Thamel. Ask the locals for a bus to Boudha (it’s pronounced “Bow-da,” not like “Buddha”). They’ll direct you to either a big bus, a microbus, or a tempo (pickup truck with wooden benches in the back). The latter take you around the ring road before heading to Boudhanath, and they are extremely dusty and crowded.
Boudhanath is typically an intermediary stop on the bus routes. It helps a lot to download an offline Google map of the area so you know when to get off. Vehicles stop directly outside the stupa, but you won’t be able to see the stupa from the street at all. I asked the driver of my tempo to let me know when to get off and he didn’t. You pay when you get off — 20-25 rupees, depending on the type of vehicle.
Getting back to Kathmandu from Boudhanath is even harder. Tons of buses stop directly outside the stupa, but it seems that none of them go to Ratna Park. Every driver I asked unhelpfully pointed me further down the road, where there were no bus stops! I didn’t want to end up on a bus that would drop me at some unknown station far from Thamel, so I eventually gave up and took a taxi.
On your own steam
Boudhanath Stupa is close enough to central Kathmandu that you could theoretically walk there. It’s about 3.5 kilometers. The walk is along very dusty, high-traffic, major roads with no sidewalks.
Some travelers rent bicycles or motorbikes to visit Boudhanath Stupa. You couldn’t pay me to drive in Kathmandu traffic. But it could be a good option if you’re planning a longer day trip including other destinations around the Kathmandu Valley.
If you decide to walk or rent a bike or motorbike, be sure to time your visit so you’re off the roads before dark. Between the reckless driving and police targeting foreigners for tickets, it’s not worth the risk to return too late.
Extend your Boudhanath Stupa visit
Note: This section 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.
If you want to spend longer in Boudhanath, visit at odd hours of the day, or just want a quieter alternative to Kathmandu, it’s entirely possible to stay overnight in Boudhanath.
Backpackers rave about sister properties Boudhi Guesthouse and Rokpa Guesthouse. Both help support programs for disadvantaged children.
Literally every other building in Boudhanath is a momo shop, so you never have to look hard for food here. Thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) is another popular option. The area around the stupa has an abundance of Western/Nepali backpacker cafes.
If you want to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, consider attending the 10 am daily talks at Kopan Monastery. This is also a popular place for Westerners to study Buddhism. You can sign up for a course lasting from one week to a month.
Looking for more Kathmandu day trip ideas after you visit Boudhanath Stupa? Try visiting the medieval city of Patan. Click here to read more about Patan.
Visiting Boudhanath Stupa is an unforgettable experience. It’s the most beautiful of all the stupas in Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley. And it’s an easy day trip from Kathmandu. Don’t miss out on this chance to learn about and witness firsthand Tibetan culture.
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Wow that pictures with the candles is just stunning. I’m not sure why, but it was my favorite part of this post!!
Aw thanks Sarah, that means a lot! That was my favorite photo I took. Whenever I look at it, it totally brings me back to the atmosphere in Boudhanath.
I was here during sunset and it was absolutely magical to watch people worship at dusk and the stupa glow in the golden sunlight.
That’s so great! I wish I’d been able to visit at sunset.
Nepal has a special place in my traveller heart. When I was 7, one of my mother’s graduate students from Nepal gave me a ceramic mask for good luck. It was my foreign, special artifact that I kept on display in my room for luck and coolness sake, even though it scared me. It showed me that there was a big world out there beyond Ohio with cultures and customs different than anything I was used to. Fast forward, and I have now been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but still haven’t made it to… Read more »
What a graceful and thorough post. I’d love to visit and walk to the Stupa, to shop those alleys and meander late in the day. The views from the restaurant sound interesting too. You must’ve spent a long while in Boudhanath.
Thanks Elaine! I actually only spent a morning there. It doesn’t take too long to get the vibe. Unfortunately my time in Kathmandu was pretty rushed, otherwise I would’ve stayed a few days.
Love that huge bell Carrie. Nepal is a spot unlike any I have visited. Culture bleeds through the nation. Similar to how spirituality bleeds through culture in a place like Bali. You feel like you’ve stepped back a few centuries visiting temples in Kathmandu. Loved it there.
I’ve never visited Boudhanath but it has definitely entered my bucket list (along with Kathmandu)! Your photos really seem to capture the atmosphere.
Thanks Sofia! Kathmandu is also pretty great — be sure to visit Durbar Square when you’re there.
Tibet and Nepal are very high on my to do list and although I’m not a Buddhist it does intrigue me and a visit to Boudhanath would be a definite on my list. To walk the Stupa would be quite a special feeling as I’m sure you would feel the history run through you. Great tips on entering through different entrances and not the main gate to avoid tourist fees. I actually had the same experience with a few temples in Cambodia, going through side entrances with the locals you’re avoided shelling out the tourist fee. I have saved this… Read more »
thanks Amit! I totally agree that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to feel like Buddhist places are special. I hope you get to visit Boudhanath someday!
Absolutely love the design and details of the Boudhanath Stupa. Your description and pictures of the place and views are incredible. Nepal is high on my list and visiting this largest stupa would be a must do. Thanks for the detailed guide through your article and a deeper appreciation for everything it represents!
Thanks so much — I hope you get a chance to visit Nepal someday!
So I could visit Boudhanath by public transport?! That’s a big plus. The stupa looks really mesmerizing, and of course I’d like to see the monasteries and temples, too. Thanks for putting also some information on guest houses and eateries in your post so one can follow your footsteps there.
Yeah, you can do it by public transport. It’s just kind of confusing. But totally worth the hassle ot get there.
Nepal is really one of my travel goals this year. This post gives me more reasons to push through with my plans! Amazing photos!
Do itttt Nepal is so great!
I went there a long time ago, when it was not so crowded. My husband, when he went for his EBC trek in 2016 said, lot of construction was happening . I remember we did a lot of walking from Boudhanath to Pashupatinath and then took tuk-tuk kind of contraption back to where we were staying.
Yeah, there is TONS of construction all over Nepal. I think a lot of it is earthquake restoration. Even though the stupa itself wasn’t damaged, a lot of the houses and shops around it were.
What a beautiful place! It looks like it is packed with so much history and culture! The Buddhist monastery is breathtaking!
Loved reading about how you went through a separate alley and didn’t realize that you were supposed to pay! I’ve had similar stories in other countries and I’m sure other travelers have had similar “foreigner” moments!
Haha I felt so bad after I discovered that. I didn’t mean to cheat the Nepali government out of its desperately needed earthquake restoration revenue. I made an offering at a temple worth double the cost of my admission to make up for it, hopefully that evens out my karma.
Thank you for this detailed guide on Boughanath Stupa, it looks really nice! I can’t believe I haven’t made it to Nepal yet. I lived in India for the first 25 years of my life and it was literally hop, skip and jump for me but I didn’t visit. It’s good to know this stupa is not too far from the capital city and there is public transportation to get one there (though I’d rather take a taxi too, like you mentioned). The fact that this stupa is the most significant Tibetan stupa outside of Tibet makes it all the… Read more »
Oh wow, you should definitely check out Nepal the next time you’re in the area! It’s such an easy country to travel in, but with so much history and culture (and nature, of course).
What a comprehensive guide! I’ve never heard of this place but am planning a trip to Nepal in a few years. I’ll keep this in mind
Nice, you should definitely add Boudhanath to your list!
It’s a wonderfully informative post but honestly I’m much interested in your personal stories – perhaps you’d share them next?
Haha I’m getting there…I have 14 days of handwritten trekking diaries that I have to go through and edit first. Oh the joys of not having access to a computer while actually doing the travel…
Wow ! I would to visit here one day! Tibet and Nepal have always been high on my list! I always love learning about the history of where I travel, and there seems to be that in abundance here. Also your pictures are beautiful!
Thanks Chiera! Yeah, the Kathmandu Valley has an incredible amount of history. It’s one of the most interesting cultural destinations I’ve been to in a long time.
It’s incredible how every little detail on the stupa has some meaning/significance to it. You can tell so much thought went into building this, no wonder it is such a sacred place today. I’ve never been to Nepal but would love to see it one day!
Yeah it’s super interesting. And if you didn’t know, it would look like nothing.
This is a such a thorough and well-informed guide! I feel like I barely need to visit now. 😉
Thanks Chelsea :).
Your post reminded me of my experience in Shanti Stupa, Leh, India which was so magical it cannot be put in words. I love the vibe around these stupas and you instantly get that peace. Lovely read 🙂
Thanks so much! Yeah, I totally agree that it feels peaceful, even if the surroundings are kind of chaotic.