21 fantastic things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal's chaotic capital

The best things to see and do in Kathmandu, Nepal’s chaotic capital

Post updated: 14/7/2019 | Looking for the best things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal? Discover famous attractions, ancient sites, sacred temples, the best food, and the chaos of Thamel with our comprehensive Kathmandu must do list!


There's just something about Kathmandu.

From the moment we stepped off the plane on our first visit to Nepal, we really enjoyed our time in this bustling city.

It's surprising, because we're not usually fans of heavily polluted cities, nor ones that are claustrophobic, chaotic and exhausting. Despite the constant grumbles from motorbikes, annoying touts pushing trekking tours and hashish, and the painfully bad infrastructure, Kathmandu is endlessly appealing.

The rabbit-warren streets of the backpacker district of Thamel are intoxicating, as are the surrounding alleyways which head seemingly in all directions, only to end in the same place. Despite the 2015 earthquake, Kathmandu's cultural and artistic history is prevalent just about everywhere, as are its historic temples and royal palaces, all waiting to be explored.

And the food... don't get us started on the food, so delicious, so cheap.

But what made the city just the little bit better were the people. Each person we met was so friendly and accommodating, despite the constant hardships of recent years.

The city can be an overwhelming city to navigate and explore, and one day is certainly not enough to see all of Kathmandu’s top things to do; after three long visits here we are still discovering new parts of the city. If you're planning to visit Nepal but spend minimal time in Kathmandu, we suggest you change your plans and add at least two days to your stay in the city. It's worth it.

You won't be short of things to, and that's why we've put together our favourite things to do in Kathmandu.


What to do in Kathmandu | Our top things TO DO IN KATHMANDU


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Explore each of Kathmandu’s ancient Durbar Squares

No visit to Kathmandu would be complete without visiting the incredible UNESCO World Heritage listed Durbar squares of Kathmandu.

Going back in history, Nepal was actually split into three main kingdoms - Basantapur (Kathmandu), Bhaktapur, and Patan, each of which had a royal palace and surrounding Durbar squares located in the Kathmandu Valley.

In the unified Nepal of today, each Durbar Square is made up of temples, idols, statues, open courts and fountains along with other structures. They are the perfect place to admire ancient Nepali architecture, Newari wood carvings and historic traditions. Oh, and it’s a great place to people watch.

These UNESCO World Heritage sites may have suffered more than most in Kathmandu during the earthquake, but they still retain the beauty and intricacy which made them so famous. It’s easy to spend a day exploring these squares and temples and we absolutely recommend it.

We also recommend venturing out into the surrounding areas which are filled with quaint laneways and hidden temples/religious monuments.

Below is a an overview of each Durbar square in Kathmandu:


| Kathmandu Durbar Square |

Kathmandu Durbar Square might have suffered more from 2015 earthquake than most Kathmandu tourist sites, but it’s still an essential stop on any self respecting travellers 'what to do in Kathmandu' checklist. And best of all, it’s it super accessible, situated in central Kathmandu, just a 10 minute walk from the tourist hub of Thamel.

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Kathmandu Durbar Square is a stunning series of former beautiful temples and shrines, both Hindu and Buddhist, former royal palaces, courtyards, statues and ponds.

The most impressive parts of the square are indeed the pagodas, which feature traditional Newari wooden carvings, some of which date back to the 16th century. Unfortunately, the majority of the glorious structures Mark saw on his first visit to Nepal in 2013 no longer remain, or are under reconstruction, but there’s still a lot of interesting sites to see. These include:

Jagannath Temple | The oldest and most beautiful structure in the complex, and most famous for its erotic carvings. Dates back to 1563

Hanuman Dhoka | The former Royal Palace, hit hard by the 2015 earthquake. You can walk into the courtyard, and see the Hanuman statue at the main entrance

Kumari Ghar | Home of the Kumari, a girl selected to be the town’s living goddess, and symbol of Devi, Hinduism’s concept of female spiritual energy. It’s unlikely you’ll see the Kumari (if you do, you’re very lucky!), but do check out the small courtyard, with beautiful carved wooden balconies and windows

Kal Bhairav | A colourful stone image of Bhairav, representing the deity Shiva in his destructive manifestation. Great for watching locals performing religious practices

Many of the ancient temples and structures were severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, and when we visited again in 2019, the area resembled more of a construction site than a world heritage site. That being said, positive restoration work is being done, and it won’t be long before this area is back to its former glory.

THE DETAILS

Where | Kathmandu, south of Kathmandu, 5 mins from Thamel

Cost | $10 – $15 USD to each, per person

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews - Kathmandu

Book | Book your Durbar Squares day tour (includes all Durbar Squares!)

Best things to do in Kathmandu - Kathmandu Durbar Square
Best things to do in Kathmandu - Kathmandu Durbar Square
Best things to do in Kathmandu - Kathmandu Durbar Square

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| Bhaktapur Durbar Square and the old city of Bhaktapur |

Whatever you do, don’t miss the pagodas, temples, palaces, narrow laneways and warm-brick facades of Bhaktapur. The ancient Newari city is, in our opinion, the most extraordinarily beautiful ‘city’ in Nepal.

The UNESCO World Heritage listed city is known for it’s artistry and crafts; walking the streets you’ll notice pottery makers, craftsmen, painters and carpenters doing their thing - we recommend buying your souvenirs here, where the quality is great and directly from the local

Points of interest in the city of Bhaktapur that we recommend you visit include:

Bhaktapur Durbar Square | The square is large, and houses the 55 window Palace, Golden Gate, Pashupatinath temple/Pagoda, the Royal bath, Chyasalin Mandip, Siddhi Lakshi temple, Vatsala temple (currently being restored)

Nyatapola temple | The tallest pagoda ever built in Nepal, this five storey temple based on the five basic elements

Dattatreya Square | Located in the older, east end, Dattatreya Square is our favourite square in Bhaktapur. Flanked by Dattatreya temple and an array of traditional Newari buildings, it’s a quieter and more comfortable here, with far less tourists making it to this part of Bhaktapur

Juju Dhau | Okay, this isn’t necessarily a place, but rather a local staple food - Newari yoghurt. Made from buffalo milk, it’s sweet and creamy and served in a traditional clay bowl. We could eat this all day… trust us!

Pottery | In the south of the city there are a number of old men who go make pottery

A visit here takes around 40 minutes from Kathmandu, but once inside the old-town, including Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the streets are pedestrianised, providing a calmer atmosphere than Kathmandu Durbar Square.

THE DETAILS

Where | Bhaktapur, 40mins east of Kathmandu

Cost | $10 – $15 USD to each, per person

Book | Book your Durbar Squares day tour (includes all Durbar Squares!)

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews for Bhaktapur

Best things to do in Kathmandu - Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Best things to do in Kathmandu - Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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| Patan Durbar Square |

The third of Kathmandu Valley’s UNESCO World Heritage listed Durbar Squares our favourite, with a distinct lack of souvenirs stalls and touts giving a friendly, relaxed vibe.

The locals treat it like their second home, with the benches and temples a meeting point for people of all types, from young lovers to groups of old men. It’s a fascinating place to people watch - you could spend hours here watching the world go by (we did just that on our second visit here!).

Like most of the classical Newari architecture found in the Kathmandu Valley, Patan was mostly constructed during the Malla period (14th - 18th centuries), leaving a Royal Palace, and assorted Hindu and Buddhist temples and idols surrounded by public squares.

Some of our recommended sites to visit in Patan include:

Patan Museum | Housed in the former royal palace, the museum exhibits objects and treasures from Nepal’s rich cultural history, including bronze and copper casts, and traditional crafts from Patan

Krishna Mandir | The most impressive temple in all the Durbar squares, and Patan’s most important, Krishna Mandir houses shrine to Lord Krishna, with shrines to Radha and Rukmini on either side

Mul Chowk | Central courtyard of the Palace and the most beautiful of the three main chowks in the complex

Like most historical sites in Kathmandu, Patan Durbar Square is still undergoing restoration post 2015 earthquake.

THE DETAILS

Where | Patan, 10mins south of Kathmandu

Cost | $10 – $15 USD to each, per person

Book | Book your Durbar Squares day tour (includes all Durbar Squares!)

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews Patan

Best things to do in Kathmandu - Patan Durbar Square
Best things to do in Kathmandu - Patan Durbar Square
Best things to do in Kathmandu - Patan Durbar Square

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Experience Kathmandu’s Spiritual side at Boudhanath Stupa

If you really want to experience Kathmandu’s spiritual side, Boudhanath stupa is a must.

Dominating the local skyline, the eyes of buddha have gazed out over Kathmandu from the gilded central tower of Boudha Stupa since the 14th century.

Festooned with Buddhist prayer flags, the whitewashed dome and all-seeing eye of Buddha is already impressive when viewed at ground level - and when viewed from above, the complex transforms into the shape of a Mandala and a tribute to Buddha’s path to Enlightenment.

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Stupa became the site of Tibetan Buddhism during the 50’s, when refugees from China immigrated to Kathmandu and based themselves in the streets and alleyways around the Stupa.

Today, thousands of pilgrims visit each day to walk around the central dome, spinning prayer wheels as they go; Tibetan monks chant mantras and pray in the surrounding monasteries while tourists take it all in.

In all honestly, give yourself an hour to sit on one of the benches and watch the world go by within the Boudha complex - it’s an intoxicating mix of incense, chanting, prayers, pilgrims, monks, tourists, and beggars.

On the outside of the Stupa is Guru Lhakhan Gompa, one of the oldest monasteries in the Boudhanath area. It’s worth a quick visit, as Inside you’ll find beautiful statues of Guru Padma sambhava, Amitabha Buddha and Arya Avalokiteshwara, as well as Buddhists performing traditional and ritual activities. There’s also a brilliant view from the second floor.

In our opinion, the best time to visit Boudhanath is during the late afternoon when the place has a more authentic feel. Locals go about their daily ritual and the surrounding area is less busy. Alternatively, visit early in the day to avoid the throngs of tourists.

If you want the best views of the Stupa, as well as a cheeky lassi or chiya, check out Cafe du Temple or Stupa View restaurant rooftops. While the views are incredible, the prices are not, so expect to pay for the privileged position.

THE DETAILS

Where | Bouddha, Northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu, 20 mins from Thamel

Cost | $2 USD per person

Opening hours | 9:00am - 17:00pm every day

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews

Book | Spiritual Nepal guided day tour

A man prays at Boudhanath Stupa, a Kathmandu must visit attraction
prayer wheels at boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu things to do
Boudhanath Stupa is one of the top things to do in Kathmandu

Escape the chaos of Kathmandu | Our guide to the backpacker paradise of Pokhara


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Visit Pashupatinath temple, one of Hinduism’s most important Sites

Pashupatinath, even after numerous visits, still blows our mind with its mix of religious, cultural and spiritual experiences.

Here, you truly experience the intoxicating chaos and bustle of human (and Nepali) life, and the sacred Pashupatinath Hindu temple is a sobering reminder that all life eventually comes to an end.

In existence since 400 A.D, Pashupatinath is dedicated to the god Shiva, and is one of the holiest sites in all of Hinduism, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The complex itself is a swirling mix of smoke, chanting, and pilgrims; it’s one of the few living cultural heritage sites anywhere in the world. It includes 518 temples, buildings and structures, its main temple - a traditional pagoda structure, is considered a masterpiece in Hindu architecture.

For westerners, you’ll have to view from outside as the temple is for Hindu devotees only. The main attraction here is the shining Shivalinga and huge golden statue of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi. It’s also home to some pretty colourful artwork.

Alternatively, the best views of the whole Pashupatinath Temple complex are across the river, on top of the series of pagodas. Just watch out for the monkeys in this part - they’re a little rabid.

Pashupatinath ghat is also the location for many Buddhist and Hindu cremations, so you’ll likely see one of these taking place on the banks of the river. It’s a pretty confronting sight but incredibly interesting to witness.

We recommend hanging around and watching the Aarti ceremony which commences each evening at 6:30pm (see below!).

Overall, the temple only suffered minor damage from the 2015 earthquake so can still be seen in all its glory.


THE DETAILS

Entry | Around $10 USD per person

Location | Northeast Kathmandu, about 20 mins from Thamel

Opening hours | 7am - 7pm daily

Book | Spiritual Nepal guided day tour

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews

getting a blessing at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu
A traditional cremation at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu

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Experience a traditional Aarti ceremony at Pashupatinath Temple

As night falls gently over the Pahhupatinath complex, different hum of activity starts to rise; people line the far bank of the river, and an elaborate offering of music, chanting, incense, lights and camphor to Lord Shiva begins.

The ceremony, known as Aarti, builds slowly until the whole crowd is on their feet, dancing as they chant and sing together in worship, and it’s impossible to resist being swept up in the energy of it all!

The Aarti ceremony is one of the more important ceremonies in the Hindu faith; it always includes a flame or light, and generally involves the passing of an Aarti plate/lamp around a deity or person, and is accompanied by songs praising that deity or person.

Watching an Aarti ceremony truly is one of the most unique experiences to have in Nepal.

We recommend hanging around and watching the Aarti ceremony which commences each evening at 6:30pm.


THE DETAILS

Where | Pashupatinath temple, Northeast Kathmandu, about 20 mins from Thamel

Entry | Around $10 USD per person

Book | Spiritual Nepal guided day tour

A traditional Aarti ceremony at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu things to do
Watching an Aarti celebration at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu

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Admire Swayambhunath Stupa (and the views of Kathmandu)

Trust us; a visit to Swayambhunath (or Monkey temple) is one of the best things to do in Kathmandu. There may be a few stairs (365) and a heap of monkeys to navigate before you summit, but the experience and views are worth it.

Perched atop a hill overlooking the whole of city, Swayambhunath is one of Kathmandu’s most important religious sites. Functional since the 5th century, the Swayambhu complex consists of a stunning domed stupa, as well as ornate and beautifully decorated shrines and temples.

A visit here is as enlightening as it is exciting.

It’s a beautiful, if not slightly chaotic jumble of Hindu and Buddhist iconography; at the top there’s a heady scent of incense and butter candles, ubiquitous prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and the hum of the sacred om mani padme hum (“Hail to the jewel in the lotus”).

The stupa itself is the most symbolic structure in the complex - it’s dome represents the earth, while the gold, 13-tiered structure on it’s peak symbolises the 13 stages of nirvana.

The base of the stupa is encircled by prayer wheels featuring the mantra om mani padme hum. There’s also five ornate plinths around the Stupa which represent the five Dhyanai Buddhas and five qualities of Buddhist wisdom - Vairocana, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, and Aksobhya.

In the early evening, local monks and devotees circumnavigate the stupa, spinning each prayer wheels with vigour as they make their way through the ever present smoky incense that hangs heavy in the air. This is definitely the best time to visit to truly experience Swayambhu at it’s most intense and beautiful.

At the entrance to the temple complex there’s also a fountain, which if you manage to throw a coin into the pot you can wish for something and with luck the wish will come true. Mim somehow managed to get the coin in the pot and wished for world peace… something we’re still waiting on!

The lofty hilltop provides the best vistas of Kathmandu, perfect for a sunset snap over the city below (smog/dust/weather permitting, of course!).

Unfortunately, during the 2015 earthquake the temple suffered a large amount of damage at the summit however the main structures are still standing and have been renovated and brought back to their former glory over the last few years.

THE DETAILS

Entry | Around $4 USD per person

Location | Western outskirts of Kathmandu, about 20mins from Thamel

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews

Book | A day tour of Kathmandu, including Swayambhunath stupa

A cheeky monkey on Swayambhunath temple, Kathmandu things to do
Swayamhunath temple, Kathmandu
Buddha’s eyes overlooking Kathmandu from Swayambhunath stupa


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See Mt. Everest, without hiking it!

Let’s face it, most of us are never going to summit Mt. Everest (even Everest Base Camp is tough enough!), but there is an alternative… an epic scenic flight over the iconic peaks of the Himalaya, and of course Mt.Everest.

Soaking up the incredible views of the majestic mountains from above, this flight kicks off (weather permitting) from Tibhuvan airport before soaring over the impressive snowcapped peaks of Nepal. The pilot will provide narration during your flight, pointing out the main peaks, and teaching you all about the spiritual significance of the revered Himalayan peaks.

The holy grail though, is the Everest fly pass, which will no doubt end in tears, 100+ photos, and major bragging rights amongst your friends and family.

THE DETAILS

Book | 1-hour Everest Scenic Flight

Tip | Don’t forget to offset your flights - learn how to with our carbon offset post here

The incredible Himalayan mountains

NEPAL INSPIRATION: WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT NEPAL


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Join a cooking class (for a good cause) in Kathmandu

We always say that to truly experience a destination, you have to understand its food culture too - so most places we go, we try to take a traditional cooking class.

In Kathmandu, we joined a cooking class at Seven Women, a social enterprise working to empower marginalised Nepalese women through skills training and literacy classes. For Nepali women, the kitchen is the heart of the home and we learned that it gives them a great sense of pride to share their food, culture and traditions with travellers from around the world.

During our cooking class, we learned how to make traditional Nepali dishes, including a proper Nepalese curry (Dal Bhat!) from scratch using fresh local ingredients from Kathmandu Valley. Surprisingly, it tasted absolutely delicious.

We then made a traditional rice pudding for dessert, which we’re both comfortable in admitting, was the best thing we’ve ever cooked.

During the class, we also heard from Anita, our leader, all about the hardships faced by women in Nepal, and how things are slowly but surely improving across the country, especially with the help of social enterprises such as Seven Women.

Not only is a traditional cooking class at Seven Women one of the best things to do in Nepal, it’s also a great way of supporting an enterprise that is helping empower Nepali women.

THE DETAILS

Where | Seven Women, Ranibari Marg Opposite to Manokranti Centre, Kathmandu

Cost | USD $45 for a three hour class

Includes | Guided tour of Seven Women headquarters, lunch and drinks

Book | Book a Seven Women cooking class

Cooking class in Kathmandu is one of the best things to do
Seven sisters cooking class, Kathmandu

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Try your hand at a Momo making class with Sasane

If you’re like us, after your first day in Nepal you’ll fall in love with momos and want to eat them forever and ever. Okay, so we migggght be a little too obsessed with momos, but it’s hard not to be when they’re just so damn delicious.

For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about, momos are Tibetan dumplings filled with minced meat/vegetables and served with a spicy tomato coriander sauce. Derived from tibetan word mong mong, which means tasty dumpling, they were introduced to Nepal during ancient trade between Nepal and Tibet. Now, they’re one of the most popular fast foods in Nepal, and a staple of locals and tourists alike, especially in the mountain regions.

Because of their notoriety in Nepal, we highly recommend joining a momo making class.

We joined Sasane (Sisterhood of Survivors), a local not for profit which helps and rehabilitates survivors of human trafficking through paralegal and hospitality training and employing, for a momo making classes (and a delicious lunch!) and had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. We not only learned to make delicious dumplings (they’re actually really hard to make!), we also gained an understanding of the plight of human trafficking in Nepal, and women’s rights.

The afternoon was eye-opening and educational, and a wonderful way to give back to an important humanitarian cause.

THE DETAILS

Where | Sasane

Cost | 1,000 NPR (USD $10)

Book | Email Sasane at sasanenepal@gmail.com

Momo making class at Sasane, Kathmandu
The lovely women of Sasane in Kathmandu
Momo making class in Kathmandu

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Eat all the delicious Nepali food in Kathmandu at these restaurants

Don’t be worried by the quality or variety of food in Nepal because it’s incredibly good! Nom.

These are our favourite restaurants (we’ve honestly eaten at almost all in Thamel!)

| Nepali Food |

Unfortunately, finding a true Nepali restaurant in the heart of Thamel is tough, however these are our three favourite, with one exception - Yangling. Each time we’re in Kathmandu, we make a beeline straight for their delicious thukpa (Tibetan soup) and momo.

Our favourite Nepali restaurants in Kathmandu include:

Yangling | Amazing and cheap Nepali/Tibetan food including Momo's, Choila and Thukpa. Our favourite restaurant in Kathmandu! - Read Yangling Tripadvisor reviews

Thakali Kitchen | Genuine Nepali dishes at cheap prices, it’s frequented by locals so you know it’s good

Silauta Restaurant | Another local gem in the heart of Thamel, order the veg Thali and wash it down with a sweet lassi

| Western Food |

If you're keen on western food (which you will be after hiking), Thamel is literally overflowing with options. No matter what cuisine you're after, you're sure to find it in Kathmandu, including Mexican, Italian, French and American.

Our favourite western restaurants in Kathmandu included:

Roadhouse Cafe | In our opinion, Kathmandu’s best pizzas at (almost) affordable prices. Always packed, so get there early

La Dolce Vita Italian | Kathmandu’s best Italian food, but also on the more expensive side

OR2K | A Thamel institution serving western and local dishes. Never been disappointed with a meal here

Rickshaw Cafe and Bar | New on the scene, this cool bar cum restaurant serves great western food. The bar/terrace is awesome

Cafe Mitra | Serves delicious western food, including their burger, which is the best we’ve had in Kathmandu!

Upstairs Cafe | Quieter, and slightly cheaper than most western-style restaurants in Thamel, serves very good quality, fresh food

Fresh momos in Kathmandu, Nepal


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Join a Kathmandu secret food tour

After our third visit to Nepal, we were keen to learn more about Nepali cuisine away from the westernised restaurants that dot Thamel and Freak Street, so we joined a Secret Food Tour with Backstreet Academy.

Meeting Sandib just outside Thamel, we began our tour at a local tea house located in an ancient bahas, or courtyard, where we sampled some of the local chiya (not chai!!, which we were quickly told off to saying).

Sugar high complete, we moved on, stopping at five epic, locals-only food stalls, where we tried a whole range of local delicacies. These included baras (traditional lentil pancakes), yomari (dumpling made out of rice flour and is filled with molasis traditionally), samosas with a Nepali twist, a Tibetan staple of momos, sweet and sour pani purri, and a thick, creamy lassi.

It’s fair to say that each stop was a taste sensation; we just didn’t realise that Kathmandu had such a thriving street-food scene.

While the food was delicious (like, really delicious!), stepping off the well worn tourist path and into local bahas and through narrow alleyways, while learning all about the history of Kathmandu from Sandib was an unexpected benefit. A word of warning through - if you’re taller than five feet, mind your head — in Nepal the mountains are high but the doorways not.

There is no doubt in our mind we would never have found these food stalls without this tour, and we highly recommend it as one of the best things to do in Kathmandu

THE DETAILS

Book | Kathmandu Secret food tour with Backstreet Academy

Street food snacks in Kathmandu, Nepal
A delicious bowl of momos we ate on our Kathmandu food tour

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CHILL OUT IN THE GARDEN OF DREAMS

When the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu gets you down, pop into the Garden of Dreams just outside of Thamel for a relaxed oasis of tranquility.

In this beautiful neo-classical garden you’ll find pavilions, verandahs, fountains and a relaxing amphitheatre where you can chill out on one of the pillows provided. It’s also evidently the romantic destination of choice for Nepalis, with lovebirds on every corner!

There’s also the Kaiser restaurant which does a damn fine hamburger if you’re craving a western delicacy!

THE DETAILS

Where | 5 min walk from Thamel, Kathmandu

Cost | $2 USD per person

Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews

Read more | Our time exploring Kathmandu's Garden of Dreams

Visiting the Garden of Dreams is one of the best things to do in Kathmandu
What to do in Kathmandu? Visit the Garden of Dreams


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Enjoy a homestay just outside of Kathmandu

If you’re keen for a super authentic experience that empowers women and gives back to local communities, then you can’t miss a community homestay.

Just 32km and two hours drive from Kathmandu is Panauti, the stunning Newari village complete with red-brick buildings and intricate wood trimmings, surrounded by rice terraces carved into the foothills of the Himalayas.

More importantly, it’s home to the Panauti Community Homestay project, where a group of strong, independent Nepali women are stepping outside their comfort zones, building profitable businesses, and transforming the idea of a what a woman in rural Nepal is capable of today.

The premise of the homestay is simple: connect global travellers on homestays with local women and their families. The project was launched in 2013 with just 2 women, a number that’s swelled to 20 women and families today.

Homestay participants get close to the authentic lifestyle of the Nepali people, learning to cook traditional food, such as dal bhat and yomari (which Mark completely failed at!), harvest fresh produce, and build an understanding of the local culture and traditions. There are also local hikes into the surrounding lush hills, or the chance to explore the beautiful local village (full of the most warm locals you’ll meet in Nepal).

Not only are the benefits to to travellers amazing, the local community is also benefitting greatly - a family involved in the Panauti project can earn up to USD $400 per month - a very comfortable amount in Nepal. 80% of the income made from homestays like these goes straight to the women in charge, while 20% is deposited into a community fund that supports scholarships, sanitation training, and built the community hall a few minutes walk away from where we’re sitting right now.

Not only will you have the most authentic experience, you’re giving back to local communities, and helping empower women in Nepal.

THE DETAILS

Where | Panauti

Book | To experience the Panauti homestay for yourself, book this 7-day G Adventures Local Living Nepal tour!, or book directly with Community Homestay

A local girl dances in Panauti, Nepal
The old town streets on Panauti, Nepal
Our community homestay host, Sarina


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VISIT THE MARKETS AND BAZAARS OF KATHMANDU

The bustling market street of Asan is must visit in Kathmandu. Located between Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square, you’ll find just about anything. But visiting this market isn’t necessarily about buying things; it’s more about watching the action that unfolds each afternoon, when locals fill the streets in search of a bargain. It really is a sight to behold.

So sit down, grab a chiya for the local chaiwalla and watch the world go by. Chat to locals who join you, and learn a thing or two about the local community.

Otherwise, if you’re after the usual tourist paraphernalia look no further than Thamel, which sells everything from Buddha statues, mandalas and colourful wristbands to trekking gear, cashmere scarves and electronic gear.

THE DETAILS

Where | Asan Market, 10 minute walk south of Thamel

The bustling streets of Asan bazaar, Kathmandu

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Seek out some of Kathmandu’s off the beaten track temples and stupas

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| Kathesimbhu Stupa (little Swayambhunath/Kaathe Swyambhu Shree stupa) |

Slightly off the beaten track, in between the backpacker hotspot of Thamel and the bustling market streets of Asan, lies beautiful Kathesimbhu stupa (otherwise know as Kaathe Swayambhu Shree stupa).

This miniature version of Swayambhunath Stupa was built around 1650 is the most popular Tibetan pilgrimage site in the old town of Kathmandu, yet feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Boudhanath or Swayambhunath. In the northeast corner is the Tibetan-style Drubgon Jangchup Choeling Monastery

Blink and you’ll miss it, we visited this stupa during our Spiritual Nepal tour. Walking into the main square, it struck us that, while this Stupa is stunning, it was devoid of anyone bar a few school kids getting up to mischief. We

It's a good alternative to those travellers who only have a short time in Kathmandu, yet want to experience a stupa complex.

THE DETAILS

Where | Kaathe Swyambhu Shree Stupa

Cost | Free

| See Jana Banal (Seto Machhendranth Temple) |

Another hidden temple complex devoid of tourists but stunning in its own right is Jana Mahal, located in between Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Built in the 17th century, this important temple attracts both Buddhists and Hindus as the main deity residing in the temple is the Seto Machindranath (that statue of which was built in the 10th century). Buddhists consider Seto Machindranath to be a form of Avalokiteshvara (a person who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas), while to Hindus he is a rain-bringing incarnation of Shiva.

In the courtyard there are numerous small shrines, chaityas and statues, including a mysteriously European-looking female figure surrounded by candles who faces the temple. It may well have been an import from Europe that has simply been accepted into the pantheon of gods. Facing the other way, just in front of the temple, are two graceful bronze figures of the Taras seated atop tall pillars.

If you’re after a karma boost, buy some grain to feed the pigeons!

THE DETAILS

Where | Jana Bahal, Asan Tole

Cost | Free

Overlooking Kathesimbhu stupa near Thamel, Kathmandu

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CATCH A LOCAL BUS (it’s lots of fun!)

If you want to experience the chaos of Kathmandu, look no further than catching a local bus to any of the tourist sites out of the city, including Boudhanath, Bhaktapur and Swayambhunath. They’re cramped, packed full and driven like a rally car, but they are a great way to see how the locals commute. It’s also the cheapest way to get around town.

Most leave from Kantipath or Ratna Park bus stops just outside of Thamel.

catching a bus in Kathmandu
A local woman on the bus in Kathmandu


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Best things to do in Thamel, Kathmandu’s backpacker hub

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| Wander (and shop) in the backpacker district of Thamel |

It’s fair to say we have a love/hate relationship with Thamel, Kathmandu’s bustling tourist quarter.

On one hand, it’s the colourful, busy and brash hang out of your backpacker dreams, filled with everything from hotels and guesthouses, top quality restaurants and bars, amazing bakeries (seriously, they are that good!), supermarkets, book stores, pirated DVD’s and everything in between.

It’s the place to find trekking gear (mostly imitation but still good quality), with literally hundreds of stores selling pretty much the same stuff at knock-down prices, and you can organise just about any tour, trek or activity in the area.

It’s also right in the heart of town, close to all of the major things to do in Kathmandu.

But on the other hand, it lacks any sort of culture, and over the last three years has developed a super seedy underbelly, whereby you can’t walk 10m without being approached to buy weed/smoke (NO, WE DON’T WANT SMOKE!). It feels a lot like Khao San Road in Bangkok, or any other seedy street around the World, and a lot different to the rest of Kathmandu, and Nepal.

It also has this tendency to pull you in and not let you out - why would any self respecting backpacker leave this oasis for all things good to explore the big bad world of Kathmandu?

That being said, we still love spending time in Thamel, walking the streets and soaking in the atmosphere that only really exists in this area. It’s a great place to hang out and meet fellow travellers, it can pull you in and not let you out.

Just make sure you make the effort to escape its grasp and go explore Kathmandu’s best attractions.

| Drink or party it up in Thamel |

Thamel is home to Kathmandu’s party scene, well at least the backpacker/traveller party scene.

Almost nightly, clubs pump their tunes and offer cheap drink deals to lure the crowds, but we’ve never really experienced a night in Kathmandu worth writing about.

If you’re looking for a place to drink, chill or party, check out the following places:

Roots Bar | With it’s epic entrance, Roots Bar is one of Kathmandu’s best bars. Friendly staff, good live music and a hipster feel make this a must visit

Sam’s Bar | A backpacker institution for good reason - great staff, happy hour drinks, cool music and relaxed atmosphere. Climbing teams, hippies and other tourists have been coming here for ages, so why not join them

Purple Haze | The best rock and roll bar right in the heart of Thamel, with friendly staff and middle range drink prices

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| Shop till you drop in Thamel |

From leather backpacks to colourful rings, hiking jackets to pashmina scarfs, Thamel is literally overflowing with shops to buy all your fave travel goods.

The best things to buy in Thamel include:

Trekking gear | Looking for trekking gear of any type? You’ve come to the right place. Thamel has thousands of shops selling everything from sleeping bags to shoes, so if you’ve forgotten gear back home, or are looking to buy all your gear in Nepal, Thamel has you covered

Artwork | There are many galleries and stores selling Nepali artwork, including our favourite, Mandala paintings

Jewellery | If you’re after silver or Nepali/Tibetan-style jewellery, Thamel has hundreds of stores throughout its busy streets

Pashina and Cashmere products | Woollen products are cheap and great quality in Nepal, and Thamel has many stores selling jumpers, scarfs, shawls and other products. The cheaper the product, the more cotton, so consider that when haggling!

Books | Books in Nepal are insanely cheap, and bookstores are seemingly on every corner in Thamel. Grab the latest blockbuster, or any Kerouac classic for your hike

The chaotic main streets of Thamel, Kathmandu

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A map of the best things to see and do in Kathmandu


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Kathmandu travel essentials | Everything to know before visiting Kathmandu

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Where to stay in Kathmandu | Accommodation in Kathmandu

Kathmandu has a huge range of accommodation options to meet any budget (we’ve written a complete guide to accommodation in Nepal to help you out - read it here!). Most properties are located centrally, primarily around the Thamel district.

We recommend the following accommodation options below:

| Budget Hotels/Guesthouses in Kathmandu |

HOTEL HOLY LODGE | The location, right in the heart of Thamel, massive rooms and great bang for your buck, makes Hotel Holy Lodge the best budget accommodation we’ve stayed at in Kathmandu (we’ve stayed in about 10 different places!). It can be a little hard to sleep at night, so ask for a room at the back of the property.

BOOK | Check prices and book Hotel Holy Lodge

Or, search for budget hotels/guesthouses in Kathmandu here

| mid-range hotels in Kathmandu |

NEPAL PAVILION INN | Pretty much our favourite place to stay in Kathmandu, this quaint, Newari-style hotel has beautiful rooms, is located in the heart of Thamel and has the most wonderful hosts.

BOOK | Check prices and book Nepal Pavilion Inn

HOTEL TRADITIONAL COMFORT | Large, clean rooms and a brilliant morning breakfast, Hotel Traditional Comfort is a really enjoyable place to stay at. Located just outside of Thamel, but it’s far quieter in the evening allowing for a good nights rest.

BOOK | Check prices and book Hotel Traditional Comfort

KATHMANDU GUEST HOUSE | A beautiful location, stunning gardens and agreeable rooms - Kathmandu Guest House is an institution for a reason. While not the finest place we've stayed, it's the perfect mid-range guesthouse right in the heart of Thamel.

BOOK | Check prices and book Kathmandu Guest House

Or, search for mid-range hotels in Kathmandu here

| Luxury hotels in Kathmandu |

DWARIKA'S HOTEL | The best place we’ve ever stayed at in Kathmandu, Dwarika's is a collection of former traditional heritage Nepali houses formed around a courtyard. It feels like you're stepping back in time and absolutely worth the (very) expensive cost. Oh, and the restaurant is one of Kathmandu's best.

BOOK | Heritage Deluxe from £230 per night

Or, search for luxury hotels in Kathmandu here

| AIRBNB in Kathmandu |

A relative newcomer to the Nepal accommodation scene, Airbnb is available in Kathmandu, including some swish apartments in (honestly, we couldn't believe our eyes at how beautiful some were).

BOOK | Use our Airbnb code for up to £30 off your first booking!

Accommodation in Nepal


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Transport in Kathmandu | HOW TO visit the best things to do in Kathmandu

Like most of Nepal, the transport network within Kathmandu is very limited, slow and outdated. That’s not to say don’t use it, as it can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet the locals.

| TAXI |

Taxis are the best form of transport within Kathmandu.

They’re much quicker and more comfortable than a bus, and quite a bit of fun zipping through the chaotic Kathmandu traffic. You’ll almost always have to negotiate a fare, but they’re generally cheap.

| BUS |

If you want to experience the chaos of Kathmandu, look no further than catching a local bus to any of the tourist sites out of the city, including Boudhanath, Bhaktapur and Swayambhunath. They’re cramped, packed full and driven like a rally car, but they are a great way to see how the locals commute. It’s also the cheapest way to get around town.

Most leave from Kantipath or Ratna Park bus stops just outside of Thamel. Always establish the fare before getting on board.


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Kathmandu activities and Tours | seeing Kathmandu’s top points of interest

If you’d prefer to join a tour of the best things to do in Kathmandu, these are our recommended options below:

KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARES DAY TOUR | A day tour exploring all of Kathmandu’s historic Durbar Squares

BOOK | Full day Durbar Squares day tour

MT. EVEREST SIGHTSEEING FLIGHT | See Mt. Everest, without the hike

BOOK | 1-hour Everest Scenic Flight

TRISHULI RIVER RAFTING DAY TRIP | Something a little different - a white water rafting trip on the Trishuli river

BOOK | Trishuli River rafting experience


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TRAVEL INSURANCE

Whatever you do, don’t travel through Nepal without travel insurance. Whether it be a sprained ankle in the mountains (or worse), Delhi belly, theft, or lost baggage (Kathmandu airport is notorious for losing baggage!), things can go wrong in Nepal, and insurance is your only way of mitigating the issues!

BUY | Click here to get the best travel insurance deals with World Nomads

READ | Our ultimate guide to travel insurance

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NEPAL BACKPACKING ESSENTIALS

Travelling through Nepal comes with a unique set of needs. To help you have a comfortable, happy journey, we recommend bringing the following items with you:

Reusable water bottle | THE BEST INVESTMENT WE’VE EVER MADE! We use the Grayl water purification bottles, which allows us to fill up from any water source, anywhere in the world (including train taps!).

Biodegradable Wet Wipes | Keep clean without destroying the planet!

Hand sanitiser | not something we’d actually recommend normally, but in Sri Lanka it can be a bloody great investment.

A spork | to cut down on unnecessary plastic usage at meal times

Power bank | power does drop out… often! Don’t get caught out without power for your devices buy purchasing this power bank

READ | check out our eco-friendly packing guide to travel through Nepal consciously and comfortably


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EXPERIENCE MORE OF NEPAL WITH THESE ESSENTIAL POSTS

NEPAL TRAVEL GUIDE | Nepal Travel guide, including what to see, know and do!

NEPAL TRAVEL TIPS | Everything you need to know before you visit Nepal

KATHMANDU CITY GUIDE | Our in depth guide to the chaotic Kathmandu

POKHARA | Our definitive guide to this backpacker paradise

THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT | Our comprehensive guide to hiking the Annapurna Circuit

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t leave home without travel insurance (seriously, don’t!). Click here to get the best deals with World Nomads, our trusted travel insurance provider

PHOTOGRAPHY | Love our photography? Wondering what gear we use to get all of our photos around the world?

Click here to view our detailed photography gear guide, as well as our top travel photography tips!

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL | Responsible travel is important. REALLY IMPORTANT.

Learn our top responsible travel tips to help you, your family and friends travel more consciously around the globe

ECO FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials


Have you visited Nepal? Let us know your favourite things to do in Kathmandu in the comments below! 


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Our personal guide to the best things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal. This 'best of' list summarises the places we loved to visit during our stay in Nepal.
Our personal guide to the best things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal. This 'best of' list summarises the places we loved to visit during our stay in Nepal.

Thinking of visiting Nepal? read these essential posts!