10 best things to do and visit in Kathmandu, Nepal
When we booked our trip to Nepal, we originally wanted to divide our time between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Because our plans to go to Pokhara fell through – no more plane tickets, we decided to spend the complete week in Kathmandu.
I know a lot of blogs and people say not to spend too much time in the capital, I found Kathmandu a nice, open, welcoming and great place to stay.
The Kathmandu valley has a lot to offer and even though we had a sea of time – more than recommended, we were unable to see everything on our list.
For many travellers Kathmandu is the starting point of their hiking tours, of their Everest Base Camp treck or just a place where the plane arrives and leaves from. The Nepalese capital, however, has a lot to offer tourists who love culture and history. I have made a list of the 10 best things to do and visit in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The stupas are typically Buddhist monuments that can be visited in India and Southeast Asia. Bodnath Stupa is the largest in Nepal and is a very important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Majestic and rich in history, it will fascinate you especially by its size: 40 meters in height and about 100 meters in circumference! Its imposing golden roof is adorned with two huge eyes, representing the eyes of Buddha.
Although I did prefer the Hindu temples over the Budhist ones, I enjoyed visiting the Boudhanath Stupa. There are a number of great restaurants and bars with rooftops from which you can enjoy a drink or a meal overlooking the Stupa
Josh and I stumbled upon Durbar Square by accident. No – really. We were literally just walking down some streets and alleyways until I noticed there were some “old buildings” in the distance. Little did I know this was actually Durbar Square!
We had planned visiting Durbar Square on another day but decided to do it there and then.
Durbar Square is literally a “Must See” when travelling to Nepal. Although many of the beautiful temples and a part of the old royal palace was destroyed or damaged during the earthquake, you get a really good feel of what the “Old” Durbar Square would have looked and felt like.
Durbar Square is very beautiful but also very busy. There are many touts waiting for tourists to arrive so make sure to negotiate and barter a good price for guided tours.
Joshua and I often pick our travel destinations depending on the food. We love food. Can you tell?
When we were living in London, there was Mo:Mo restaurant a 10 minute bus ride away (which was very close since we lived in Thamesmead). We often went to enjoy a plate of Mo:Mo each after work. They were delicious and they were cheap!
For those who don’t know what Mo:Mo is: these are little steamed dumplings filled with spiced meat. I am not the biggest fan of dumplings, but I love Mo:Mo because the flavours lean more towards India rather than China. They come with a spicy red sauce or a mild green sauce. Both are delicious!
But Mo:Mo is not the only great Nepali and Newari food you can find in the Kathmandu valley. Nepal makes great Dosa and the Sel Roti is amazing!
Joshua and I took a cooking class because we wanted to make these delicious delicacies ourselves! You can find an in-depth review of our personal and amazing cooking class on my Nepali Cooking Class in Kirtipur with Kathmandu hotel pickup review.
As for drinks, try local beers: I enjoyed the strong version of Nepal Ice and Ghorka the most. You can also try the local whiskeys. I never ordered one and now I am sorry I never did!
Thamel and Asan
As a tourist, there is quite a significant chance you end you end up staying in Thamel.
Now, let me tell you: I do not like touristy areas very much. I absolutely HATED khaosan road in Bangkok and I never voluntarily go to Dubai Marina or JBR (except when there’s a great brunch going on, but still…).
When Joshua and I did some research into Kathmandu and where to stay, almost all blog posts mentioned Thamel as the tourist area and a great place to stay. I was obviously sceptical. I hated tourist areas. So it would probably suck, right?
Well, no. Where the South of Thailand and Dubai attract obnoxious, irritating and horrible tourists, the westerners walking around in Thamel are all very respectful, very nice and incredibly friendly. Most of them come for hiking and culture, which means there is a massive difference between the average tourists in Khaosan Road and in Thamel. And that’s a good thing. I really enjoyed my stay in Thamel and I loved roaming around the streets.
Obviously, goods, food and souvenirs in Thamel were quite expesnive – and that is when and why you go to Asan.
Asan borders directly onto Thamel. I often even didn’t notice wandering into Asan. Asan is a bustling area where local people set up stalls and wares. Everything is very cheap and you can easily barter the price down when you feel they are pulling your leg.
I would happily advice anyone to take out a few hours to just walk along the stalls, look at the produce, discover the hidden stupas and shrines, taste the amazing food in Asan and meet the local people.
Josh and I were quite lucky as we booked a magnificent Market tour – I have written a review about this great market tour experience here. We learned so much about the history of Asan, the food, the people, the customs… it really helped us navigate Asan better and get more out of experiencing the area.
The Garden of Dreams
When I first hear about the Garden of Dreams I thought it was boring and not worth my time. But then our plans to go to Bhaktapur fell through which meant we had half a day to fill.
Joshua really wanted to go so I tagged along for the ride.
Turned out the Garden of Dreams is very beautiful and boasts an amazing restaurant with great views and even better cocktails. We even decided to come back and to splash out on some food and drinks at the restaurant as it was so nice to sit in The Garden of Dreams by sunset.
The garden itself is a colonial garden with fountains, duck ponds and magnificent statues. The garden is very well kept and an oasis of rest in the bustling city of Kathmandu. You can hear the birds sing, there are squirrels running around on the grass and apparently there’s even a monkey that swings from tree to tree – but I never saw him.
There are numerous documentaries about the Kumari in Nepal. The Kumari – also known as the living goddess, is a little girl between 3 and 4 years old, elected according to 32 selection criteria to embody the living form of the Hindu goddess Durga. Idolized, venerated, the inducted girl is isolated in a temple and receives special treatment until she gets her period.
In Nepal, there are a dozen of these living goddesses. In Kathmandu, Kumari lives in a palace on Durbar Square. She can never leave this palace, except for the feast of Nepal, at the beginning of September, which brings together thousands of people around her palace on Durbar square.
Although you cannot “see” Kumari, you can visit the courtyard of her little palace. I loved the red bricks and the dark wood carved windows and decorations. You could hear the music that was played for Kumari’s enjoyment coming through the windows.
Only Hindu’s can go in and ask for her blessing.
Pashupatinath is the most sacred place in Nepal and is an absolute MUST SEE when visiting Kathmandu.
Erected on 281 hectares on the bank of the Bagmati, it is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The temple is closed to anyone who is not Hindu or does not look Nepali. So even when you ARE Hindu but you don’t look Hindi or Nepali, there is a great chance that you may not enter the temple grounds.
There are nice spots from which you have a vantage point onto the golden roofed temple and the massive statue of a bull. We were not allowed to take pictures, but I can ensure you that the temple is incredibly beautiful.
But there is so much more going on on these temple grounds. You can get a really good feel of how people deal with death as this temple and the river are also used for cremations. Families will come together to pray over the body, wash the body and ultimately cremated it next to the river.
Even if everything happens at a distance, needless to say that the ritual is striking for anyone who attends.
Pashupatinath is also the place where you can meet the holy men. I would advice to watch out as there are also a high number of fake holy men that come especially from India to scam tourists out of their money.
Another great stupa to visit is Swoyambunath – also known as The Monkey Temple due to the high number of monkeys roaming around on the temple grounds.
Swoyambunath is situated on a hill 3 km from Thamel. I would not necessarily advice walking this distance without good gps equipment or at least some knowledge of the city and the streets.
The climb is hard but not so unpleasant, we take the time to see the monkeys wander between the statues and observe Katamanduh below.
The view from the top is breath-taking – even though the city was covered in smog when we visited. Take your time to discover the small shrines on the temple grounds and to go up to the little monastery on the other hilltop on the same mountain.
Joshua and I had a drink on one of the so called “roof top bars”. It might be a bit more expensive then you would normally pay, but the view, the monkeys and the experience were worth it!
The Royal Palace
One of the places of interest in Kathmandu that is often skipped by tourists is the Royal Palace. This massive building just outside of Thamel is kept in the same way as it was when the royal family was still living on the premises.
Although Nepal became a democratic country in 2008, the décor of the Royal Palace looks like a 60’s and 70’s time capsule. I would highly recommend visiting the Royal Palace when you are a fan of vintage or maybe even lived through this time period yourself.
The Palace was the backdrop of one of Nepal’s most horrendous mass murders when the crown prince of Nepal, Prince Dipendra, opened fire and killed (almost) his entire family. The king - King Birendra of Nepal, was very much liked and loved by the Nepalese and so it still is today, a black page in Nepalese history.
Sunrise at Nagarkot
One of the best places to watch the sunset from is Nagarkot. This mountain top in the middle of the hills give you an amazing view of the sun coming up from behind the Himalayas.
You need to get up pretty early – we had to be ready at 4 am, but it is worth it. There are many packages of tour guides that will take you up the mountain (the drive is an attraction in itself!) and show you the sunrise.
Afterwards you can choose to walk down or to drive down by car and do a trek to Changunarayan Temple – which was the most beautiful temple I have seen on my trip to Kathmandu.