Things to Do in Kathmandu
Thamel is the beating heart of Kathmandu’s traveler scene. Hiking and rafting businesses, hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, and souvenir shops are jam-packed into the narrow streets of Thamel. While Thamel is hardly typical of the rest of Kathmandu, it’s a lively place to spend time, and is convenient for planning your travels around Nepal.
Pilgrims from Nepal and India flock to Pashupatinath Temple, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Pashupatinath is also where many Hindu Nepalis come to die and be cremated.
One of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world, Boudhanath is a major pilgrimage point near Kathmandu. Every day, Buddhists fill the square to light incense, turn prayer wheels, and perform kora (clockwise circumambulations) around the monument. Rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake, the stupa is one of Nepal's most unmissable attractions.
The heart of Kathmandu, the Kathmandu Durbar Square (Basantapur) is a vibrant public square was once the Kathmandu Kingdom royal residence. It has one of the world’s highest concentrations of well-preserved ancient buildings, making for a stunning open-air museum. Although the square was damaged during the 2015 earthquakes, there is still an array of architectural gems to see.
Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for Mount Everest, and the Sagarmatha National Park is where the tallest mountain in the world sits. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is full of natural wonders: other high mountains, trekking trails, diverse wildlife, and Sherpa culture. It’s Nepal’s most popular trekking destination.
The oldest shrine complex in the Kathmandu Valley, Swayambhunath Temple (sometimes called the Monkey Temple) was said to have been built over 2,000 years ago. Situated at the top of a winding staircase, Swayambhunath has one of the city’s best panoramic views. The complex, containing multiple shrines and a stupa, is considered holy to both Buddhists and Hindus.
Bhaktapur, once medieval Kathmandu Valley’s seat of power, earns its accolade as Nepal’s best-preserved city. The earthquake of 2015 claimed many historic buildings, but the one-time flourishing kingdom is still packed with old-world charm. Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and heart of the city, is well-worth a visit.
Namche Bazaar is a small, busy market town perched high in the Himalayas. It’s been on trade routes to Tibet for many centuries, and is now an essential stopping point on hikes in the Everest (Khumbu) region. As it’s located at 11,286 feet (3,440 meters), hikers and climbers stop at Namche to acclimatize before heading higher into the mountains.
Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park is in the north of the Kathmandu Valley, a chance to enjoy nature close to the city. There are many hiking and mountain biking trails through the park, and on a clear day visitors can see snow-capped mountains to the north. It’s a great place to come for a quick escape from Kathmandu, or to embark on a longer trek.
Lukla is the gateway to the Everest region of Nepal, and most travelers who visit Sagarmatha National Park and Everest Base Camp pass through Lukla. This small town perched on the side of a mountain is also known to have one of the most dangerous airports in the world, although most flights do arrive without incident.
More Things to Do in Kathmandu
Patan, also called Lalitpur, was once a separate kingdom from Kathmandu, with its own kings, culture, and traditions. Now, it is essentially the southern part of Kathmandu city. With its strong Newari culture, exquisite temples, and vibrant handicrafts traditions, it’s a favorite day trip destination for travelers to Kathmandu.
Many travelers think of snow-capped mountains when they think of Nepal, but the Chitwan National Park couldn’t be further from that image. Located on the Terai—the once jungle-filled plains of southern Nepal bordering India—Chitwan is famed for its jungle activities, and sightings of the 1-horned rhinoceros are almost guaranteed.
Sundarijal is a village in Gokarneshwar Municipality to the north of Kathmandu, and on the edge of the Shivapuri National Park. Sundarijal means “beautiful water,” and the area is known for its waterfalls. Many visitors come to Sundarijal while hiking and mountain biking in the Shivapuri area.
The Changu Narayan Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and is thought to be the oldest temple in Nepal. Parts of it date back to the third century, but most of the structure and its decorations date from between the fourth and 18th centuries. It’s uncrowded, and a nice destination from Bhaktapur.
Dakshinkali Temple, 14 miles (22 kilometers) south of central Kathmandu and on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley, is a sacred Hindu temple famous for one thing. Twice a week, male goats and roosters are sacrificed here to the goddess Kali, who is said to be hungry for blood. Visitors can watch this event at the temple in the hills.
The hilltop village of Nuwakot is home to Nuwakot Fort, a beautiful and historically important fortress and palace built in 1768. While the fort is the area’s main draw, visitors also come to stay in charming boutique hotels or homestays and hike in the forested hills around the village. Nuwakot makes an ideal destination for a peaceful 2- or 3-night getaway from Kathmandu.
In the middle of dusty, traffic-clogged central Kathmandu is the neoclassical Garden of Dreams. The garden and pavilions were created in the 1920s as private gardens, but now they’re open to the public and provide a peaceful contrast to the busy streets outside.
Phakding is a small village in the Everest region. It’s one of the first places that many hikers stop on the Everest Base Camp trek. Situated at 8,530 feet (2,600 meters), it’s at a lower elevation than Lukla—where the airport is—and thus an ideal place to acclimatize before heading higher into the mountains.
Patan’s Krishna Temple (Krishna Mandir) is one of Kathmandu’s finest temples, and unlike most in Nepal, which are usually made from carved wood and brick, Krishna is made of finely crafted stone. Built in 1637, it stands unique in the middle of Patan Durbar Square and is a highlight of a visit to Patan.
“Chisapani” means cold water in Nepali, and towns with springs in them share this name throughout Nepal. This particular Chisapani is found on the edge of the Shivapuri National Park, in the northern Kathmandu Valley. It’s a popular overnight stop for hikers on their way to other villages around the valley rim.
Hanuman Dhoka is Kathmandu’s royal palace, once the seat of power for the kingdom. Home to the royal courts of both Malla and Shah dynasties, it was built during the fourth and eighth centuries and is an important part of Kathmandu’s UNESCO-listed Durbar (or “palace”) Square. Although damaged in the 2015 earthquake, it remains a must-see site.
The Trisuli River (Trishuli River) starts in the mountains of Tibet, then runs parallel to the east-west Prithvi Highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara, before it heads south to join the Narayani River. It’s a popular destination for white-water rafters, particularly the stretch between Charaudi and Mugling, where there are many riverside camps.
The Nagi Gompa (Nangkyi Gompa) is a Tibetan Buddhist convent located in the Shivapuri National Park, on the northern edge of the Kathmandu Valley. It’s home to more than 100 nuns, which is rare in a region that has many monasteries for men. Visitors are welcome, and many travelers stop here while hiking in the park.
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