Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is one of my favourite cities in the world, a city that I have been visiting at least once a year since 2009.
So I got a pretty good understanding of Kathmandu and what to do there even tho the city is changing very fast these days.
Kathmandu is the cultural centre of Nepal and home to over a million people.
It sits in a valley in the Himalayan foothills in the centre of the country and has often been a stop-off point for adventurers hoping to tackle the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest or just one to do one of the many treks that Nepal got to offer.
Kathmandu is a melting pot of temples, colourful markets and lively neighbourhoods, each steeped in rich traditions with friendly locals keen to welcome travellers to their part of the world.
But be aware, if you visited Kathmandu and Nepal years ago, so will you get surprised how much Kathmandu has changed over the last few years, and especially since the devastating Nepal 2015 Earthquake.
Every year there´s opening up more and more high-end hotels, shops and malls around the city, which only a few years ago would have sounded crazy.
And almost gone is the time when you had to plan your day after the electricity in Kathmandu, which normally only lasted a few hours a day before you had complete blackouts throughout the city.
Below we have detailed some of the highlights in our travel guide of things to do in Kathmandu.
Top Things To Do in Kathmandu
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, yet they still retain their majesty and ooze old-world glamour with exotic carvings and inspiring works of art.
Highlights of Durbar Square include the ancient buildings of Hanuman Dhoka and Kumari Bahal – both rich with craftsmanship with coloured wall carvings and Kasthamandap Temple, the oldest structure in the Kathmandu valley.
Explore Labyrinth Back Streets of 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 which most tourists never get the chance to see.
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 most holly part of Pashupatinath is only open for Hindu´s so is the rest of the area open for foreigners.
Pashupatinath is where all Cremations of Dead bodies in Kathmandu are happing, much like in Varanasi in Neighboring India, but while in Varanasi only Hindu´s get cremated so are Pashupatinath also used Buddhist.
Pashupatinath Temple is also home to many meditations caves, pilgrims and holy Sadhus, while some of the Sadhus here are dressing up for foreigners to take their photos.
But there´s a couple of older European Hippies whos been living here since the 80´s meditating in some of the caves.
Luckily so did the 2015 Earthquake live the most holly section of Pashupatinath untouched with only some other parts of the area getting damaged.
Boudhanath/Bouddha Restored To Its Former Glory.
Boudhanath/Bouddha is the holiest places in Kathmandu for Buddhist and the holiest Buddhist site in the world outside Tibet. It´s also the largest Stumpa in the whole of Nepal.
This is the centre of Buddhism in Nepal and the best place to learn about it. Boudhanath/Bouddha is also has a great option with accommodation and cafes in Kathmandu and can be a better option to stay here if you are looking for a more quiet area than Thamel.
Boudhanath/Bouddha was heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake but have now been restored to its former glory.
Bhaktapur Take A Day Trip
Bhaktapur, just a 1-hour drive from Thamel (depending on traffic), is called the City of Culture in Nepal and the town is like walking back in time.
Home to more temples than Kathmandu, and with the historical centre closed off of cars and bikes makes Bhaktapur a quiet place to walk around compared to the traffic chaos in Kathmandu.
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 upscale restaurant Third Eye serving 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 in traditional cafes and restaurants throughout the city, or just stop by a local hole in the wall momo restaurant were a plate of momos costs less than 1usd
Try Nepal´s First Craft Beer.
The first Microbrewery opened up only back in 2015, the Sherpa Brewery. Now sold in most restaurants and shops, so tourist can finally drink something else than Tuborg, Carlsberg and San Miguel which is the 3 largest breweries in Nepal still.
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 artefacts, the other is a Buddha Art Gallery and the third consists of a natural history museum of animal, butterfly and plant species endemic to the country.
Visit the MonkeyTemple/Swayambhunath
Swayambhunath stupa is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal.
Set atop a hill in the Kathmandu valley, the stupa dates to 5th century CE and is sacred to Buddhists featuring shrines, temples, a Tibetan monastery and 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 the third eye acts as a messenger for the universe, connecting those interested in listening and learning with the teachings.
It’s a magical and serene location to visit outside Kathmandu – you can learn much about the religion from artefacts hidden inside the temples and stupas and even observe hundreds of ‘holy’ monkeys which reside in the grounds.
Browse the local Artisan Shops in Kathmandu
Shopping in Kathmandu is a treat for travellers seeking souvenirs for family and friends.
There are bustling shopping malls selling the latest fashions and accessories, outdoor adventure gear stores and artisan shops.
In Thamel neighbourhood, 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 which lease out sleeping bags, jackets and warm hiking clothing by the day.
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 and 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 the chariot to pay their respects to their god so he can bless them with long life and happiness. It’s a fascinating spectacle where the entire city gets involved, and the atmosphere is electric.
Relax at the Garden of Dreams.
This neo-classical 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 you can also relax with a drink on lush grass and soak up the atmosphere, wander through the small museum which displays the history of the gardens and if you are feeling hungry, 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 for traffic so have the Gardens of Dreams lost its popularity among foreigners.
Meditate at Colourful Kopan Monastery
Atop a hillside offering incredible views of the capital is Kopan Monastery. This colourful 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 while embarking 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.
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 thought you where crazy, but over the last couple of years so have the nightlife in Kathmandu rapidly changed, now there huge clubs in Thamel, some with hight western standard.
If there are a few years since you visited Kathmandu, so is can it be hard to believe that Kathmandu got high-end clubs now, but someone 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 neighbourhood 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 and Durbarmarg, home to some of the city’s most popular dance clubs and bars.
Venture Outside the City to Chandragiri Hills
Reaching a peak of 2500 metres, Chandragiri Hills can be accessed via cable car from Thankot 15 kilometres 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 views of Annapurna and snow-capped Mount Everest which can be seen far into the distance.
Gain the Best Photographs from Nagarkot
Around 32 kilometres east of Kathmandu, 2,175 metres above sea level sits the popular resort of Nagarkot.
This is a place for photographers and outdoor adventurers offering incredible vistas of Mount Everest and the Himalayas.
You can enjoy some of the best sunrises and sunsets in Nepal and Nagarkot can be reached by car or taxi if you book in advance. Alternatively, organise a tour from Kathmandu and 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 travelling 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 travelling from India to Kathmandu. However, you can change in southern Nepal.
You can also travel by bus to Nepal from Patna and Gorakhpur; however, you need to have the correct permits so ensure all of your paperwork is up to date prior to travel.