14 Best Things to Do in Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal. It is also currently the only city with an international airport in the country. And so, if you plan on flying into the country, you will pass through the city on your way to whatever destinations you have in mind. But that's not to say that Kathmandu isn't a great city to spend some time in!

Kathmandu, the capital city, is a vibrant city for culinary and adventure travelers alike, making for a great place to get your bearings before visiting remote villages to disconnect from city life. Here, yoga classes are mandatory for school children, and pop-up restaurants occasionally show up in unexpected places.

Start your Nepal exploration from the capital town, Kathmandu. The city is full of mystical charm and holds so many wonderful locations. From beautiful temples to quaint shopping areas, this city is chock full of appeal to travelers of all backgrounds. In this article, we have compiled a list of some of the best things to do in Kathmandu. We have arranged them by category for the ease of the reader, enjoy.

Kathmandu is beautiful, and you’ll realize it just when you get to explore it! Kathmandu was hit by the earthquake, but it still manages to hold its charm. You can board a direct flight to Nepal from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata. The city of Kathmandu itself has a lot to offer as well.

Kathmandu is a beautiful historic city with lots of great sights to visit like the Garden Of Dreams and the Hanuman Dhoka, a beautiful royal palace. Boudhanath and Kopan Monastery are also famous monasteries. Arouse your spiritual side and seek divine blessings at the Boudhanath Stupa and Swayambhunath Stupa.

These two temples are the famous shrines in Nepal, and a must-visit because they both are unaffected by the earthquake. How amazing is it sounding? In Nepal it’s rare for a journey to go as planned. The weather, the rusty vehicles and rugged terrain all play their part in constantly exceeding your ETAs. One way or another, you’ll get to your destination. The added dose of adventure is just another part of Nepali culture.

Tourist buses are the best way to travel between major cities and although there are rarely any helpful signs at the bus stations, locals will always be happy to help. Once on the bus, don’t expect it to move until it’s full, and then once in motion always factor in a few tea breaks for your driver. No rush here.

Back in the cities, rickshaws are probably the best modes of travel, but in Kathmandu try out a tempo. They’re basically mini three-wheel vans without bells or buttons, which means you have to bang a coin on the roof if you want to get off. Great fun.

Kathmandu valley is an ancient city with civilization dating back to thousands of years. It is a large open museum in itself. There are countless temples, monasteries, palaces, museums and sites which dates back to centuries. There are many folklores, stories and historic legends attached to these places.

Nepal is also home to the living goddess Kumari
Nepal is also home to the living goddess Kumari.

Here are the best things to do in Kathmandu:

Check out some of the Temples and Heritage Sites

This may come as the most obvious suggestion, but it's true! The city of Kathmandu is full of gorgeous temples. There are some extravagant ones that attract countless tourists annually. There are some smaller, less known ones that you can merely stumble upon as you walk around. But all of them are definitely worth stopping to check out.

1. Swayambhu

Nepal is home to many beautifully constructed and unique Buddhist monasteries and temples of Hinduism all over the world. Swayambhunath Temple is the most famous in all over Nepal. If you are in Kathmandu and wish to spend some quiet time while enjoying a panoramic view of the city, then Swayambhunath is the perfect spot for you!

Situated atop a hillock 3 km west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is the oldest stupa of its kind in Nepal. According to legend, Swayambhu evolved spontaneously when the Kathmandu Valley was created out of a primordial lake more than 2,000 years ago. You can reach the stupa by climbing 365 steep stone steps, or you can take the road that goes almost to the top.

There are numerous chaityas, statues and shrines of Buddhist and Hindu deities on the stupa premises. Reconnect with your spiritual self while circumambulating the stupa in a clockwise direction and enjoy a magnificent view of Kathmandu city.

Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple, and for good reason. You will see monkeys everywhere! Just stay alert and hold your belongings tightly as the monkeys will probably try to snatch them from your hands. Also, do not stare at them directly!

Famously known as 'Monkey Temple', this Buddhist temple receives countless tourists at all times of the year. The temple gets the name from the fact that there are monkeys living in the northwest part of the temple. It lies at the top of the Swayambhunath hill in the Kathmandu valley. There is a variety of trees on the site of the temple, the Tibetan name for the site means 'sublime trees'.

Between Thamel and the Durbar Square there are many stupas that are similar to each other. One of them is the Kathesimbhu Stupa, surrounded by a large number of small altars. It is a replica on a smaller scale of the Swayambhunath Stupa.

2. Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most important temples for Hindus all over the world. It’s on the go-to list of almost every Hindu devotees. Located on the bank of the Bagmati River, Pashupatinath Temple is a sacred Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, an incarnation of Shiva. The temple of Pashupatinath (Lord of Animals) is believed to be two thousand years old and is one of the oldest temples in the world.

The temple premises comprises 559 Shiva shrines and idols. Temples dedicated to several other Hindu and Buddhist deities surround the temple of Pashupatinath. It is also included in the UNESCO list of World heritage sites. Non- Hindus are not allowed into the main temple premises however you can witness the unique religious activities and archaelogical beauty of this ancient site.

You can also opt to visit the Pashupatinath temple in the evenings during which the ‘ arati ceremony’ is conducted on the banks of the Bagmati river. You will be bewildered by the strong spiritual energy you can experience during the evening ‘Arati ceremony’.

Lying on the Bagmati River, the Shree Pashupinath Temple is the largest temple complex in Nepal. It's also one of the four most important temples in all of Asia for Shiva devotees. Further, it is one of the 7 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley. Unlike most other UNESCO heritage sites, the Pashupinath Temple is open daily. The daily schedule is as follows.

  • 4:00 am: West gate opens for visitors.
  • 8:30 am: After arrival of Pujaris, the idols of the Lord are bathed and cleaned, clothes and jewelry are changed for the day.
  • 9:30 am: Baal Bhog or breakfast is offered to the Lord.
  • 10:00 am: Then people who want to do Puja are welcomed to do so. It is also called Farmayishi Puja, whereby people tell the Pujari to carry out a special Puja for specific reasons. The Puja continues till 1:45 pm in the afternoon.
  • 1:50 pm: Lunch is offered to the Lord in the main Pashupati Temple.
  • 2:00 pm: Morning prayers end.
  • 5:15 pm: The evening Aarati at the main Pashupati Temple begins.
  • 6:00 pm onward: In recent times the Bagmati Ganga Aarati that is done by the banks of the Bagmati has been gaining popularity. There are larger crowds attending on Saturdays, Mondays and on special occasions. Ganga Aarati along with Shiva’s Tandava Bhajan, written by Ravana, is carried out during the evening Ganga Aarati.
  • 7:00 pm: Doors close.

3. Shaktipeeth Shri Guhyeshwori Temple

A kilometre east of the main Pashupatinath temple lies a religiously significant destination for both the Hindus and Buddhists, the Guhyeshwari Temple. Considered as a symbol of power, it is believed to be part of Sati Devi's body which fell at the exact spot where the temple stands.

The pagoda-style temple was built during the 17th century and displays a unique figure of the Goddess laying parallel to the ground. Different pujas including tantric rituals are performed at the temple during festivals, especially by the Newar community. It is believed that worshipping the Mother Goddess blesses the person with great strength.

4. Boudha Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa is considered as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. As one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the stupa lies 8km east of downtown Kathmandu. It's the largest stupa in all of Kathmandu valley at 36 meters high. The landmark is great to take a stroll around and 'soak in the spiritual energy' as some say.

5. Kopan Monastery

Kopan Monastery is one of the most popular Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Nepal. It is perched on top of a hill north of Bauddha and is a popular destination for Buddhist studies and meditation. Kopan Monastery used to be open to visitors all week but the entry has now been restricted because of the overwhelming numbers of visitors.

An enjoyable walk from Bauddha leads to the monastery but one can also reach the monastery through two other main routes from Chabahil.

6. Budhanilkantha Temple

Visit the Budhanilkantha Temple, one of the most famous temples of Vishnu in the Kathmandu Valley. Situated at the foot of the Shivapuri Hills just 9 km from the main city, this shrine has a 5-meter long stone statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on a bed of Nagas or serpents in the middle of a small pond. If you wish to spend some time in nature too, you can go on a hike to the Shivapuri National Park just above Budhanilkantha.

7. Dakshinkali Temple

Situated about 19 km south of Kathmandu, Pharping is a thriving Newar town which boasts a number of ancient Buddhist pilgrimage sites and monasteries. A circuit of its religious sites makes for a fascinating day out from Kathmandu. Pharping lies on the road to Dakshinkali and it's easy to visit both villages in a day by taxi, bus or motorbike (and maybe even bicycle if you don't mind the traffic and dust).

Pharping is one of the many sacred grounds in the Kathmandu Valley. The larger than life legends that surround the village are a testament to the belief that great things have happened here. Pharping is a must-see for all going through Kathmandu so one can immerse themselves in centuries-old traditions and customs.

Pharping not only holds importance in Vajrayana Buddhist practitioners' life but is equally important for Hindus as well. Dakshinkali, one of the major pilgrimage sites for Hindus, is constructed at the lower half of Asura Cave which is about a kilometer outside the village of Pharping. Dakshinkali is one of the main temples in Nepal dedicated to the goddess Kali.

Dakshinkali Temple, one of the most popular temples in Nepal dedicated to goddess Kali, is 45 minutes' drive to the south of Kathmandu. It is believed that the temple was built after goddess Kali appeared to King Pratap Malla in his dreams and instructed him to build a temple dedicated to her.

There is a belief that if an animal sacrifice is offered to goddess Kali at the temple, then one's wishes will be fulfilled. This is the reason why, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and particularly during the festival of Dashain, devotees in large numbers come to the temple to offer worship and sacrifices to the goddess.

Also make sure to visit the Sheshnarayan Temple, Gorakhnath Temple, Bajra Yogini Temple and Guru Padmasambhava meditation cave for a day-out worth remembering!

8. Durbar Square

Explore Kathmandu Durbar Square, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durbar Square is one of the best places in Nepal to explore if you love historical sites. Durbar Square is another UNESCO heritage site in Kathmandu. It's one of three squares in the valley of Kathmandu. The square is full of temples, courtyards, fountains and statues.

It is also situated in a lovely area of Kathmandu with other sites such as Taleju Temple and Bhandarkhal within walking distance. But that's not to say that there isn't already so much to see in Durbar Square itself. Because, there is. It is the best place in Nepal to unlock the knowledge about the history of Nepal. Durbar Square displays the Nepalese art and design in its very best. Durbar Square is wonderful in terms of cultural offer.

Kathmandu Durbar Square, or Basantapur Darbar Kshetra in Nepali, was home to the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings, the former rulers of the city. The Durbar Square in Kathmandu city is one of the three main Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu valley. Today, the square is still surrounded by courtyards and temples which tell tales of the history of the city.

Some of the popular structures around the area include the Taleju Temple, the Kalbhairav at Indra Chowk, Hanuman Statue and Basantapur Tower. This Durbar Square holds much significance, as it was the site of many important ceremonies including the coronation of the many kings. The square is still home to some of the most celebrated festivals and ceremonies, such as the Indra Jatra celebration.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kathmandu Durbar Square preserves the culture, tradition, architecture, and history of Kathmandu and is a must-visit destination if you're visiting the city.

9. Kumari Ghar

The most important buildings are Hanuman Dhoka (former Royal Palace); Kasthamandap, building that gives its name to the city and the Kumari Palace, where the girl who is chosen as Goddess of the city lives until she reaches puberty with her first period and is again a mortal like everyone else. Kumari, a young pre-pubescent girl chosen as a god and the sign of excellent female strength or Devi in Hindu religion stays in the Kumari house in Durbar Square.

The sacred dwelling place of Kathmandu's living Goddess dates back to 1757. The Kumari Ghar is believed to have been built by King Jaya Prakash Malla as an act of atonement to Goddess Durga. After the renovation of the three-story brick building in 1966, the doors to the courtyard were opened for visitors to admire the beautiful architecture and craftsmanship of Nepal's finest woodcarvers.

The Living Goddess seldom makes an appearance from one of the first-floor windows, but when she does, it is much to the excitement of the visitors. However, taking photographs of the Kumari is strictly forbidden. Visit the Kumari Ghar across Durbar Square, at Basantapur to experience an important facet of the mythical history of Kathmandu.

10. National Museum of Nepal

The National Museum of Nepal is the largest museum of Nepal. The museum proudly displays a collection of historical artwork and weapons used in wars during the 18th and 19th centuries in Nepal. Other relics such as statues, paintings, and currencies are displayed in a separate gallery at the museum.

The museum can be divided into three buildings - Juddha Jatiya Kalashala, Buddhist Art Gallery and the main building which houses the natural, historical, cultural and philatelic sections of history. It used to be a palace and holds nationwide archaeological and developmental significance as a monument to relive the wartorn history of Nepal.

The museum, known as Chhauni Silkhana or arsenal gallery in the past, was originally used to display weapons and firearms used during the war history of Nepal.

11. Narayanhiti Palace Museum

Have you ever wondered how it would be like to live like royalty? Kathmandu is a city full of ancient architecture and history, but none holds as much nobility as the former residence of the then reigning Monarch, Narayanhiti Palace. Today, the palace has opened its doors to visitors as a museum offering them the opportunity to see the regal lifestyle one could only dream about.

12. Garden of Dreams

The Garden of Dreams, aka. Garden of Six Seasons, is located in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. The site was characterized by six pavilions; one for each of the 'six seasons' of Nepal: early summer, summer monsoon season, early autumn, late autumn, winter and spring. Now, there are only three pavilions to see on the grounds.

Visit the Garden of Dreams if you are looking for some quality time amidst peaceful surroundings in Kathmandu. Located right at the entrance to the tourist hub of Thamel, this neoclassical historical garden is a quiet oasis in the middle of the city. Tour the museum, read a book while sipping coffee, and relax.

Spread over an area of 6,895 sq m within the Kaiser Mahal Complex, the Garden of Dreams was originally built as a private garden. It was later renovated and opened to the public. The garden also houses pavilions, an amphitheater, central ponds, pergolas, and urns. This garden is designed in the European style and has variety of flowers imported from different countries.

13. Shivapuri Hill

Relish your time in nature with fresh air at one of the few areas of woodland left in the capital, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park. Take a day off from your boring day-to-day lifestyle, and compensate your body and soul with a grasp of fresh air and an obligatory hike to the second highest hill near the valley.

14. Taudaha

As the only natural lake left in the Kathmandu Valley, Taudaha offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is located near Chobhar on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Today, the lake is popular as one of the best bird-watching destinations in Nepal with hundreds of migratory birds spotted around the lake, especially during the winter.

So, if you’re looking for a quiet place to watch birds or feed some fish or enjoy a peaceful day with someone special, then visit Taudaha for a relaxing experience. Manjushree is 1 km to the southeast of Chobar. It has one of the longest caves in Southeast Asia.

Walk Through the Streets of Thamel

Go to the Thamel neighborhood, where there is a large number of pensions and restaurants. It is the most touristic place in Kathmandu, but above all the most lively. The neighborhood of Thamel in Kathmandu is a big hub for tourists. And for good reason! There are countless markets lined up and down the streets selling all sorts of goods and souvenirs.

You can find anything from pashmina to trekking gear to hand crafted jewelry to simple souvenirs. Thamel is the city's main zone for nightlife. Each night, the bars open their doors and have local groups play great music. Let the sound of the music and the sight of the happy hour signs draw you in for a lovely night on the town.

In addition, it is the ideal center from which you can go to visit all parts of the valley.

Side note: there are many agencies and online resources to find walking tours through Thamel if you want to make sure that you see it all during your time in the neighborhood.

Take a Hike Up One of the Mountains Surrounding the Valley

If you are in Kathmandu, the hike from Bhimdhunga to Naubise lets you do that without having to go too far from the city. This short, downhill hike is a feast for the eyes with glorious views of flowers in full bloom, vineyards and vegetable gardens. And nothing says Spring better than that.

I stayed up on one of the mountains surrounding Kathmandu my first time in the city. Let me tell ya, the view is amazing! But to go even further, my friends and I took a day trip to hike up to the top to get one of the best views of the city. I don't believe that there are any businesses that you can book a hike through, but there may be. My group and I merely set off on our own accord.

We spoke to the son of the housekeeper at our Airbnb and he told us to follow the road up then take the 'jungle path'. The jungle path is in actuality just finding your way through the wild of the trees on the mountain. Certainly not for everyone, but if you can figure it out it's a wonderful way to spend the day.

Book a trek!

Kathmandu isn't just about the mountain climbing either, there are loads of other great adventure activities that you can get involved with. There are some great biking trails in the area and you can also go white water rafting. The thrill of a bike trip has its own adventurous charm and the ride to Sisneri in the outskirts of Kathmandu valley is no different.

Come alive on the dirt and rocky roads on the way to some of the most beautiful natural swimming pools in Nepal. A dip in the pool is perfect for cooling off on hot summer days with your friends. If you're seeking a quick adventure near the valley then this trip is exactly what you may be looking for. En route, you’ll pass the Taudaha Lake.

Beyond the best things to do in Kathmandu, one of the best things to do in all of Nepal is to go on a trek. And throughout the city of Kathmandu, there are many many travel agencies looking for new clients. And they're not hard to find!

Trekking is the main reason that a lot of people go to Nepal and its certainly a part of the experience that you don't want to miss. Most of the agencies that you find will be able to work with you and help you create the experience of your dreams. Just picture it now, you on the top of a mountain somewhere living your best life.

How does fresh air, greenery and time with nature sound? Tempting, right? Offer yourself a day off from your restless schedule, and plan a visit to Sundarijal. Sundarijal, located about 17 km northeast of Kathmandu, is a small Tamang village which is famous among the local traveler for picnics, hikes, cycling, trekking, off-road ride, and greenery, evidently!

Sundarijal is also the gateway to Langtang Gosainkunda Trek trail from Kathmandu. On top of that, Sundarijal serves as the starting point of several Kathmandu valley based treks/hikes. Surrounded by mystic waterfalls, lush forests and green rice terraces, Sundarijal Hydropower Station is another attraction in Sundarijal.

Try the Nepali Cuisine

Go out to eat at a real Nepali cuisine restaurant. Try the dal bhat and eat all of the different curries and dal that come with the meal. Nepali food is so very good. And, if you have a kitchen where you're staying (and you're feeling bold) try to cook your own Nepali food!

Momo dumplings, thukpa noodle soup, and gorkhali lamb – Nepali cuisine is a mash up of Indian, Thai and Tibetan dishes, all concocted with a Nepalese twist. Dhal, veggies and rice are also commonplace at meal times but, as a Hindu country, beef is strictly off the menu – steak-lovers be warned. It’s also the Nepalese way to sit on the floor cross-legged at meal times, especially in more rural restaurants. Momos are the lifeline of the himalayan regions of India. They range from simple steamed veg momos to the Afghani Tandoori ones. Whichever you choose, each one will be able to delight you to the maximum. Chicken momo is usually the most in demand, but who can forget the soup? Filled with veggies and wrapped in a thin sheet of dough, momos are quick-bite snacks that are steamed in an oven. Momos are served with chutneys and some eateries serve them with vegetable soup.

The name Pancha Kwa originates from the ethnic Newari dishes, more popular in Kathmandu Valley. It is a soup made from a fermented bamboo shoot, potatoes, black-eyed peas, vegetables and jimbu. Newari food is popular for its exquisite preparations and taste. Chataamari is a fine example of this exquisite Newari culinary community.

This snack is specially made during different occasions and festivals, usually as appetizers. The Chataamari is a type of rice pancake topped with items such as meat, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and even cheese. The snack is often referred to as a Nepali pizza because of its similarities to the pizza. However, the taste speaks differently as it takes on a shape of its own with vibrant Newari flavors added to the mix.

There’s enough choice in Nepal that you don’t need to confine yourself to restaurants. Be sure to hit markets like the Organic Farmer’s Market or Asan Tole open-air market, where some of the best fruits, nuts and sweets are found. Let’s start with coffee and the fact that Nepal actually cultivates Arabica beans.

That means if you’re a fan of a morning caffeine fix, you won’t be disappointed. Visit Phewa Lake’s Pokhara to see how the farmers get it from kernel to cup. If you’re a tea lover then Nepal also has you covered. Chiya is extremely popular and Tibetan tea, served with a dollop of rancid butter, is a unique one to try.

Heading right to the source, visit the district of Ilam at the bottom of Mount Kangchenjunga, to see the country’s oldest tea gardens. For those in need of the harder stuff, keep an eye out for Nepal Ice, the local beer, or raksi and tongba, local liquors that will definitely get the party started.

In Conclusion

Kathmandu is a lovely city full of mystical charm and beauty. And to not go out and experience it while you're staying there (even if you're passing through) would be missed opportunity. These are only just some of the best things to do in Kathmandu. There's a whole world of things to see and experience in the city.

I hope this article has been able to help you and you have a good idea of what you'd like to do now. This post was written by Joe of letsjoetravel.com. For more of his content, see his website. He writes and shares photos/videos about his travel experiences and helpful tips and guides. His blog can be found here and his galleries here.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions or comments. Be safe on your travels!
Kalyan Panja