Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is one of my favorite cities in the world.
A city that I have been visiting at least once a year since 2009. So I have had over 15 visits to the city now over the years.
During these experiences, I’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of all the top things to do in Kathmandu – even though the city is changing very fast these days.
Visit Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu is the cultural center of Nepal and home to over a million people.
It sits in a valley in the Himalayan foothills in the middle of the country.
Kathmandu has often been a stop-off point when visiting Nepal and for adventurers hoping to tackle the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest.
But if you’re not ready to tackle Everest, there are many other hiking trips in Nepal on offer.
Kathmandu is a melting pot of temples, colorful markets, and lively neighborhoods. The city is steeped in rich traditions with friendly locals keen to welcome travelers to their part of the world.
If you visited Kathmandu and Nepal years ago, you will be surprised by how much the capital has changed over the last few years – especially since the devastating earthquake in 2015.
Almost gone is the time when you had to plan your day after the electricity in Kathmandu.
In the past, it normally only lasted a few hours a day before you had complete blackouts throughout the city.
Now that you’re excited, let’s dive into some of the highlights in our travel guide of what to do in Kathmandu Valley.
What to Do in Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu is a city-centered around its deep culture and history.
The best things to do in Kathmandu will allow you to experience the most out of your time here, learning and exploring one of the most unique capitals in the world.
1. Admire Historic Architecture in Durbar Square
Durbar Square sits in the heart of old town Kathmandu near the former Royal Palace. It’s the cultural hub of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its 50 palaces, temples, and courtyards spanning the 12th to 18th centuries.
Many buildings in Durbar Square were partially destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. Luckily they still retain their majesty and ooze old-world glamor with exotic carvings and inspiring works of art.
Highlights of Durbar Square include the ancient buildings of Hanuman Dhoka and Kumari Bahal. Both of these attractions are rich with craftsmanship with beautiful colored wall carvings.
While here, make sure to check out Kasthamandap Temple, the oldest structure in Kathmandu valley.
2. Explore the Labyrinth of Back Streets in Kathmandu
Kathmandu offers unique experiences for tourists visiting the Nepalese capital, and many of these experiences can be found in the charming backstreets of the city.
Connect with a local guide to experience the best street food in Kathmandu, learn how to carve wood with an artisan, take a painting class, or cook regional dishes the Nepalese way.
These exciting walking tours allow you to uncover hidden depths of the city from a local’s perspective, and you’ll discover places that most tourists never get the chance to see.
3. Pashupatinath: The Temple of Life and Death and Home to Lord Shiva
Pashupatinath Temple, located on the banks of Hindu’s holy river Bagmati in the eastern part of Kathmandu, is maybe the most important site in the city.
While the holiest part of Pashupatinath is only open for Hindus, the rest of the area is open for foreigners.
Pashupatinath is where all cremations of Dead bodies in Kathmandu happen, much like in the city of Varanasi in Neighboring India.
But while in Varanasi, only Hindus get cremated in Pashupatinath, Buddhists can also.
Pashupatinath Temple is also home to many meditations, caves, pilgrims, and holy Sadhus. Some of the Sadhus here even dress up for foreigners to take their photos.
There’s also a couple of older European hippies who’ve been living here since the ’80s, meditating in some of the caves.
Luckily the 2015 Earthquake left the holiest section of Pashupatinath untouched, with only some other parts of the area getting damaged.
4. See Boudhanath/Bouddha Restored to Its Former Glory
Boudhanath/Boudha is the holiest place in Kathmandu for Buddhists and the holiest Buddhist site in the world outside Tibet.
It’s also the largest Buddhist Stupa structure in the whole of Nepal.
This is the center of Buddhism in Nepal and the best place to learn about it. Boudhanath/Bouddha also has great accommodation and cafes.
It can be a better option to stay here if you are looking for a quieter area than Thamel.
Some of the best places that I could find include:
Boudhanath/Bouddha was heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake but has now been restored to its former glory.
5. Take a Day Trip to Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur is just a 1-hour drive from Thamel (depending on traffic) and is called the City of Culture in Nepal.
Walking around in the town is like stepping back in time.
Bhaktapur is a quieter place to walk around because the historical center is closed off to cars compared to the traffic chaos experienced in Kathmandu. It is also home to more temples than the capital city.
6. Sample Nepalese Cuisine
Kathmandu is awash with buzzing cafes and restaurants, serving everything from local Nepalese cuisine to international, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.
You can discover the upscale restaurant Third Eye which serves spicy tandoori plates, dine on French-Nepali cuisine in Old House (a 200-year-old residence), and even feast on melt-in-the-mouth Italian food at Fire & Ice Pizzeria.
However, if you are seeking snacks with a regional twist, try sampling Kashmiri crepes, tikka wraps, or traditional Tibetan desserts such as sweet rice and raisins.
These are found in traditional cafes and restaurants throughout the city. You can also stop by the Hole in the Wall restaurant where a plate of momos costs less than 1 USD.
7. Try Nepal’s First Craft Beer.
The first Microbrewery in Nepal, the Sherpa Brewery, opened up back in 2015. It is now sold in most restaurants and shops, so tourists can finally drink something other than Tuborg, Carlsberg, and San Miguel – which are still the three largest breweries in Nepal.
8. Discover the National Museum of Nepal
Nestled in the western district of Kathmandu in a splendid historical building close to Swayambhunath stupa is the National Museum of Nepal.
This museum dates back over a century, showcasing a plethora of antiques, historic art, and weaponry. It’s the largest museum in Nepal and gives tourists an insight into Nepali heritage through historical artworks, murals, relics, and statues.
The museum has three buildings in total. One of which houses artifacts, the other is a Buddha Art Gallery, and the third consists of a natural history museum of animals, butterflies, and plant species endemic to the country.
9. Visit the Monkey Temple / Swayambhunath
Swayambhunath stupa is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal. Set atop a hill in the Kathmandu valley, the stupa dates to the 5th century CE and is sacred to Buddhists. It features shrines, temples, a Tibetan monastery, and a library.
The stupa is decorated with painted Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows and above each set of eyes is the spiritual third eye.
Folklore states that when Buddha would preach, cosmic rays emitted from his third eye would act as a messenger for the universe, connecting those interested in listening and learning about the teachings.
It’s a magical and serene location to visit outside Kathmandu.
You can learn a lot about the religion from the artifacts hidden inside the temples and stupas. There are even hundreds of ‘holy’ monkeys which reside on the grounds.
10. Browse the Local Artisan Shops in Kathmandu
Shopping in Kathmandu is a treat for travelers seeking souvenirs for family and friends.
There are bustling shopping malls selling the latest fashions and accessories, outdoor adventure gear, and artisan shops.
In the Thamel neighborhood, you can find unique gifts created by local artists and design studios nestled along atmospheric alleyways.
Discover one-of-a-kind handmade paper products ranging from lamps to notebooks made from the lokta plant or invest in pashminas made by minority groups.
Alternatively, if you’re heading out into the wilderness following your exploration of the capital, you will be pleased to know there are several reliable rental gear shops in the city.
These lease out sleeping bags, jackets, and warm hiking clothing by the day.
11. Visit Kathmandu During a Festival like the Seto Machindranath
The Seto Machindranath chariot festival is celebrated during Chaitra, the last month in the Nepali calendar (mid-March until mid-April).
The festival lasts for three days. It involves pulling a wooden, ribbon-decorated chariot of Seto Machindranath to various places throughout the city until it reaches its destination and is celebrated with a rifle salute by soldiers.
During these days, local people come out in their thousands to pay their respects to their god so that he may bless them with long life and happiness.
It’s a fascinating spectacle where the entire city gets involved and the atmosphere is electric.
12. Relax at the Garden of Dreams
This neoclassical garden in the heart of Kathmandu is the perfect place to escape the buzz of the city. Created in the early 1920s, it quickly became one of the most sophisticated private gardens in Nepal of the time.
An absolute delight to stroll around, the Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu is a charming ensemble of trickling fountains, pergolas, and ornate pavilions dedicated to the six seasons of Nepal.
Aside from admiring the landscaping, sculptures, and architecture inside the gardens, there are other activities to enjoy. Relax with a drink on lush grass and soak up the atmosphere, wander through the small museum which displays the history of the gardens, or head for Kaiser Café to build your own sandwich.
For years the Garden Of Dreams was the perfect place to escape from the crazy and dusty traffic in Kathmandu. But after Thamel was closed off to traffic, the Gardens of Dreams lost its popularity among foreigners.
13. Meditate at the Colorful Kopan Monastery
Atop a hillside offering incredible views of the capital is Kopan Monastery. This colorful stupa is the ideal space to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism.
You can learn how to balance mind, body, and spirit with their month-long meditation courses, discover the teachings of Buddha, and delve into other spiritual practices.
It is a great place to visit in Kathmandu where you can embark on a vegetarian diet to cleanse and detox the body.
If you don’t want to stay that long and simply wish to see the temple in all its glory, you can enjoy day trips to Kopan Monastery from Kathmandu.
14. Experience the Buzz of Kathmandu’s Nightlife.
If you had talked about Kathmandu nightlife just a few years ago, people would raise their eyebrows at you and think you were crazy. However, over the last couple of years the nightlife in Kathmandu has changed rapidly.
Nowadays, there are huge clubs in Thamel, some with high western standards.
If it’s been a few years since you visited Kathmandu, it can be hard to believe that Kathmandu has high-end clubs now.
Someone must have invested tons of money there over the last couple of years. As I said, Kathmandu is changing very fast these days.
Still, most of Kathmandu’s nightlife takes place around the hostels, guesthouses, and hotels in the city.
Thamel neighborhood is lots of fun with cafés, restaurants, lounges, and live music bars.
It’s one of the liveliest places in the city – alleyways and winding streets are chaotic and buzzing with atmosphere.
The district is popular with trekkers and backpackers, so you are likely to make new friends and hear wonderful stories as you party.
Other areas boasting dazzling nightlife in Kathmandu are Lazimpat with clubs, bars, and casinos; as well as Durbarmarg, home to some of the city’s most popular dance clubs and bars.
15. Venture Outside the City to Chandragiri Hills
Chandragiri Hills is a peak of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) that can be accessed via cable car from Thankot – 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of Kathmandu.
The scenic ride boasts breath-taking valley and mountain views, and at the top, you are rewarded with a visit to Baleshwar Temple, botanical gardens, and a fun amusement park.
That’s not all. When you have finished exploring the attractions, sit on the hillside and marvel at the views of Annapurna and snow-capped Mount Everest which can be seen far into the distance.
16. Gain the Best Photographs from Nagarkot
Around 32 kilometers (20 miles) east of Kathmandu, sits the popular resort of Nagarkot – 2,175 meters (7,100 feet) above sea level.
This is a place for photographers and outdoor adventurers offering incredible vistas of Mount Everest and the Himalayas. From here you can enjoy some of the best sunrises and sunsets in Nepal.
Nagarkot can be reached by car or taxi if you book in advance. Alternatively, organize a tour from Kathmandu where transport will be included.
How to Get to Kathmandu
There are over 15 airlines flying to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport these days, making the country more accessible to foreign visitors.
However, most flights are not direct, especially from Europe, and will require a stopover.
That said, if you’re traveling through India or having a break in the Middle East first, you can jump on a flight to Nepal quite easily.
There are direct flights from Kolkata via Buddha Air or Air India a few times every week.
You can also fly direct to Kathmandu from New Delhi via Air India, Royal Nepal Airways, and Jet Airways.
There are no direct trains traveling from India to Kathmandu. However, you can change in southern Nepal.
You can also travel by bus to Nepal from Patna and Gorakhpur in India.
However, you need to have the correct permits, so ensure all of your paperwork is up to date prior to travel.
Explore All the Kathmandu Things to Do
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of all that Kathmandu has to offer, it’s time to start planning your trip. This unique cultural destination is not only great for hikers but allows you to explore a lifestyle unlike any other in the world.
With all the changes that are happening to Kathmandu, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s completely different in a few years.
If you noticed anything new while there, please let me know in the comment section below. Safe travels!