It’s no surprise that Nepal attracts around 790,000 foreigners every year through land and air.
More interestingly, tourists from around the globe choose Nepal for different recreational activities and cross them off the things-to-do-before-I-die list.
What will give you that adrenaline rush are the fact that Nepal is geographically diversified resulting in different thrilling adventures.
Over 40,000 people venture into trekking to Everest Base Camp, which makes it the most popular trek in Nepal, followed by Annapurna Base Camp Trek.
If you are travelling to Nepal for the first time in hopes of trekking and embarking on adventures, Kathmandu will be your first stop as it has the only international airport in Nepal.
Kathmandu is also the capital city of Nepal. So there are a lot of things this city has to offer too.
Kathmandu recently made its way to the list of Top 25 cities ‘Traveller’s Choice’ by Trip Advisor, beating Sydney. Moreover, Kathmandu is the only South-Asian country to make it to the list.
Back in 2013, Kathmandu was ranked third among the top 10 travel destinations on the rise in the world by Trip Advisor which also meant it ranked first in Asia.
Kathmandu has always fascinated people from all around the world with its beautiful hills and around 130 ancient and important monuments.
So if you give this city a chance to show you how wonderful it is, you’ll definitely want to lengthen your stay. It has that effect on everyone.
Getting to Know Kathmandu City
It’s a known fact that Kathmandu is a size of a peanut geographically but when it comes to culture and lifestyle, it dominates most cities.
The city is above 2000 years old and is situated at 1400 meters above sea level.
Nepal is basically known for its altitudinal variations, ranging between 100 m above the sea level to peak of the Earth, the Mt. Everest.
Also Nepal is the mountainous country having many sky-penetrating mountains with lush green meadows, serene hills and deepest gorge.
Among many hill stations, some of the most notable ones are: Kakani, Nagarkot, Chandragiri, Dhulikhel and Shivapuri.
The city got its name ‘Kathmandu’ from the ‘Kasthamandap Temple’ located at Durbar Square, which means a shelter made through the wood of a single tree.
Also the legends say that before this heavy human civilization, Kathmandu used to be a huge wide lake which was later cut by the goddess Manjushree and the water ran out.
Even though the city is packed with heritages, it isn’t what it used to be anymore. The earthquake of 25th April, 2015 destroyed everything leaving people devastated.
Sites in Kathmandu City
Kathmandu, being as small as a city can get, is full of interesting things to observe.
There’s a wide range of people belonging to different cultures, their own monuments with their own gods and goddesses, and even their own variety of food and cuisines.
You not only get to soak in every little ounce of culture but also get to enjoy them thoroughly.
I’d rather not confuse you with more information so let me move onto the descriptions of ‘must visit places’ around the city.
1. Kathmandu Durbar Square
Basantapur Durbar Kshetra, also widely known was Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the three royal palaces of the former Kathmandu Kingdom.
The kshetra surrounded by much brilliant architectures depicting the talent and dedication of craftsmen over the centuries.
The monuments had their own pride and would stand tall but after the devastating earthquake, we can’t say that anymore.
Kathmandu Durbar Square was the kingdom where ancient kings were crowned and legitimized and from where they began ruling.
In order to preserve and have people reminisce what their ancestors passed down, many festivals (jatras) are carried out on special occasions.
The Durbar Square area is the combination of 3 linked squares.
To the south of the square, you’ll find the open Basantapur area, former elephant stables that is now used to keep souvenir stalls and off which runs the very famous freak street.
To the west lie many temples and monuments which were once a sitting spots for people. It’s very therapeutic.
Moving northeast, you’ll see the second part of the Durbar Square. It exhibits a giant and fierce looking statue of Kaalbhairab leading up to Hanuman Dhoka.
Further northeast you will enter into the local and very busy market from where you can buy and eat almost anything.
You just have to keep your eyes and sense of smell open.
Swayambhunath is believed to be the oldest monument in the valley. It is also known as Monkey Temple.
It dates back to 5th century when the great-grandfather of King Manadev established this historical monument.
In Tibetan the word ‘Swayambhunath’ means ‘Sublime Trees’ indicating many varieties of trees found on the hill atop which the stupa stands.
One of the most interesting things you can find there are the 365 stone steps on he entrance. People go back and forth on those steps every day of their lives.
The steps can be very helpful to burn calories and when you reach the top, the view is mesmerizing.
At the top, you’ll see the Buddhist white-washed stupa with its well-bound eyes seeing all four sides of the valley. You’ll find other shrines and temples each beautiful than the other.
After the 365th step, you’ll find the biggest Vajra (thunder-bolt scepter), which signifies indestructibility of the diamond and the irresistible force of thunderbolt. Thus, Vajra is the symbolic representation of firmness of spirit.
If you aren’t that much of a pedestrian the there’s a road around the hill from the south leading to the Southwest entrance. You’ll still have to walk a few steps but it’s nothing compared to earlier.
Buddha Park is a great place to visit if you’ve got some time to spare.
It consists of three big statues of Amitabha Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Padmasambhava. The environment inside these is very peaceful and you can also enter there free of cost.
A highly acclaimed religious place for people following Hinduism all around the globe, Pasupatinath is a beauty in itself.
It is located at the bank of Bagmati River. Pasupatinath is dedicated to the Lord Shiva.
Built in around 5th century, it is regarded as the oldest Hindu temple of Nepal.
Unfortunately nothing of 5th century remains this day due to destruction done by the Mughal invaders. It was later built in the 19th century.
Pasupatinath is truly a place for boosting your inner self. Its calming environment calms your troubled soul down.
However, only Hindu people are allowed to go inside the main temple of Pasupatinath. The non-Hindu ones can view the temple from across Bagmati river.
It feels bad knowing you can’t enter the temple, right? Well worry less my friend because you can enter but only after 5pm.
After 5pm, the worshippers do Aarti (a special kind of worshipping), which is truly something everyone should see.
Whenever I’m stressed about anything, I find myself captivated by the elegance and devotion of Hindu people towards this holy place.
Not everyone is a spiritual person. Even if you aren’t, you can still observe the nature that has blessed the temple in so many ways.
Pasupatinath is not a place you’d want to miss visiting. Trust me!
A sacred place for people following Buddhism, Boudhanath is another incredible pride of Nepal.
The huge Mandala upon which the stupa stands is the best creation in itself. You’ll love it.
After Boudhanath was enlisted in the UNESCO world heritage site in 1979 AD, it was been drawing a huge amount of national as well as international tourists.
Something about walking along the 108 small depictions of Dhyani Buddha (Amitabha) at the base of the Stupa is stress-relieving.
A brick wall comprising 147 niches, each with four or five prayer wheel engraved with the Buddhist mantra, surrounds the huge Stupa. You will see a huge number of people spinning those wheels and if you try it, you might enjoy it as well.
You can also see lots and lots of street vendors and ancient curio shops. Get yourself anything and take away a memory with you from this holy place.
5. Famous Heritage Walk
The famous heritage walk spans around the local areas around the central Kathmandu, giving you a deeper perspective to this city.
You’ll probably be staying in Thamel from where the heritages walk kind of starts.
Thamel is a very busy little place with numerous luxury hotels, artifact shops, tattoo inns, vintage shops and varieties of restaurants.
The very first hotel of Kathmandu i.e ‘Kathmandu Guest House’ had started their mega business there which helped other hotels to emerge eventually.
From the bottom of the Thamel’s Norshing Chowk, you’ll enter Thahiti Chowk. A very popular part of the old city, it has numerous temples, shrines and antique shops.
Thahiti stands for its old ‘Thahiti Stupa’ which is said to have been built around 15th century. Across it, you will find the the Nateshwar temple.
Ason Chowk will probably be your next stop which won’t be that hard to notice considering there is a three-storied Annapurna Temple.
Across the temple, you’ll find a beautiful 2-storied brass Ganesh Temple, in front of which lies the mysterious celestial stone fish surrounded by a stone wall.
Around these temples will be tons of people moving in all the directions humanly possible, and that’s the beauty of it. People will be busy selling vegetables and spices to make a living, some buying them, some exploring the place in any way possible.
If you take south, there is a street filled with incredible metalwork, especially utensils. Straight on this way and you’ll reach Jana Bahal, featuring the majestic temple of Luchhubhulu Ajima.
Going south of the same way, you’ll find yourself at Indra Chowk. You’ll know its Indra Chowk when you see tons of shawls showcased for sale on the temple’s step.
That temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva which was built in the 18th century. Its distinguishable characteristic is its big black stone.
On the right after moving a little ahead, you’ll see The Aakash Bhairab (Indra Mandir). The statue of Lord Indra is placed on the second floor of that rectangular building.
You also might observe a big crowd on the ground floor of the temple.
The crowd is there to take luscious sip of the amazing lassi ( a yoghurt based thick drink with nuts and sweets). Best in the city.
Passing the Aakash Bhairab, you’ll find yourself standing between two streets. Take one on the right and follow it to the end.
Now you’re in the Kathmandu Durbar Square’s north end.
While walking through the heritage walk, don’t freak out when you feel like you’re lost. You’ll be okay, trust me.
One road might not lead to where you thought it would but that’s what’s interesting about this place. The unpredictability.
And all the narrow streets have a common end so there’s really nothing to worry about. Just explore every corner possible.
Best place to eat in Kathmandu?
Food is something you cannot wait to explore every time to visit a new place? Well friend you’ve come to a very interesting place.
This time don’t go for what you always been on a daily basis. Try something totally different.
Kathmandu will surprise you with its culinary magic.
The list of places I’m about to make will not only help you taste new things but it’ll also engrave a memory deep into your tongue.
After all, it’s not just you who should explore. Your tongue should do the same.
1. Tukche Thakali Kitchen
To Nepalese people, Daal Bhat Tarkari is an essential part of the meal. They take this every day for almost the rest of their lives.
Almost 99% of the Nepalese households prepare daal bhat twice a day and savor the taste as per choice.
The Thakalis have a special set of hands which prepare the most authentic version of daal bhat there is.
There are tons of Thakali Kitchens which aren’t as authentic as the other. So take yourself to Lazimpat-Uttar Dhoka, find Tukche Thakali Kitchen and prepare to be blown away.
If you can’t reach to Lazimpat then that’s fine as long as you find the best alternative.
The good news is there is a better alternative located there in Thamel.
The Mustang Thakali Chulo also serves the best Daal Bhat Tarkari.
2. Himalayan Java
At the end of the Basantapur Durbar Square, right next to some authentic vintage shops, you’ll find a wonderful café called Himalayan Java café.
Himalayan Java has been promoting Nepali Coffee since 1999 AD and has successfully won millions of hearts.
After your heritage walk, you can visit there for some relaxation. Not only does it serve the best coffee in town but the environment is so therapeutic.
The customer service is amazing. They’ll treat you so well.
And if your tummy’s demanding some food to go in, you can find so many restaurants in the Freak Street. Some of them are Upstairs, Grasshopper, Secrets lounge and Suryamoon Bistro.
Lazimpat is a very well-known tourist area. Mostly known as the home of some of the most luxurious hotels, it has a pride of its own.
You can always find better alternatives here for any restaurant. Every single one of them will surprise you.
On top of that, you’ll get to experience live music while devouring the delicacies in the best way possible.
To name a few of the best ones here; Trisara, Votoo, Irish Pub and Antique Bar.
Being a very touristy place in the town, it comes as no surprise to know that there are varieties of restaurants serving varieties of cuisines.
If you have any specific craving, here’s a list to help you out:
- La Dolce Vita Restro
- Fire and Ice (I especially like the pizza there)
- Reef Restaurant and Lounge Bar
- Roadhouse Café
- Bon Appetite Café
- Northfield Café
- Confectionaries and cakes
- Hot Breads
- Third Eye Bakeries
- Everest Bakery
- Bars, live music and clubs
- Purple Haze Rock Bar
- Reggae Bar
- Sam’s Bar
- Funky Buddha
- Neon pub
If you’ve molded yourself into veganism then you’ll really want to check out OR2K.
These are the places you’ll want to go. Treat yourself by taking your hungry mouth to one of these.
Do and don’t While Travelling Around Kathmandu City
- There will always be a necessity of carrying a mask with you. The pollution around Kathmandu is something to be careful of and the dusts act as a free make up. So wear a mask in hopes of not getting sick while travelling.
- The traffic around here is so crazy and you’ll probably encounter many violations of traffic rules. So be very careful and pay extra attention while walking or you can just book a cab.
- Nepal is still way behind when it comes to technology, so the Internet won’t work as fast as you’d expect. Slow internet is such a pet peeve. However if you’ve bought yourself a local SIM card then the cellular data will give you a little above the average performance.
- The main problem in Nepal is electricity blackout. Locally known as ‘Load shedding’ or ‘periodic electricity blackouts’, they are very frequent and last for hours. So you can either choose a hotel with 24 hours electricity provision or you can keep torchlight with you. It can even come in handy during later adventures.
- Nepal is a very safe travel destination even for solo travelers or even women. The records of theft that have been recorded had occurred in budget hotels among the tourists themselves. So you can relax and not be too weary all the time.
- If you like cycling, plan a ride out to the valley because the in-city is too congested and you won’t be able to enjoy to fullest.
- If you love hiking and are hiking around the Kathmandu valley, make sure to get comfortable hiking boots and good quality backpacking sleeping bag.
- People around here like to negotiate price for everything, so there’s no fixed price as such. You might face two-tier pricing, but if you negotiate well the deal can turn in your favor.
- If you are travelling in a cab, remember to negotiate the price beforehand. The cabs here do have a meter but they seldom use it.
- Also if you ever get to travel in bus DON’T sit on the front 4 seats. It isn’t so much of a big deal but they are reserved seats for those having trouble standing.
Travel Itineraries around Kathmandu
a. One-day itinerary
One day can be a very short span, you got to make sure you make the most out of it. You can take a cab or if are good with maps then you can walk around the below itinerary.
- Traditional lunch of Daal Baat Tarkari
- Back to thamel
- The heritage walk
- Thamel Chowk
- Thahity Chowk
- Ason Chowk
- Indra Chowk (Don’t forget the Lassi treat)
- Hanuman Dhoka
- Kathmandu durbar square
- Himalayan Java
b. Two-days itinerary
Well in two days, you can cover a lot more than before. So here’s the itinerary:
- Pashupatinath Temple
- Boudhanath (Don’t forget to taste the famous Laphing)
- Kathesimbhu Stupa
- The heritage walk
c. Three-days itinerary
If you’re going to stay three days in Kathmandu, then with an extra day to spare, you can also visit the neighboring districts – Kirtipur, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. They’re just as beautiful as Kathmandu. Some of the highlights are:
- Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur
- Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur
- Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Bhaktapur
- 55 windows Temple, Bhaktapur
- Nagarkot, Bhaktapur
- Naagdaha, Kirtipur
You’ll get to experience something like never before. Nepal, especially the capital, Kathmandu is truly a blessed city.
To travel Nepal like a Nepali, you have to do everything in a Nepali style.
There can be things you wished you never had to experience like pollution and stuff but it shouldn’t be the reason to hold you back from exploring this place.
You will explore. To truly experience Nepal, you have to go out on a limb here.
And about language, most people in Kathmandu can speak English. That won’t be a problem.