Kathmandu valley, the capital city of Nepal, is perched in between the majestic mountains of Phulchoki, Chandragiri, Shivapuri, and Nagarjuna. It has been a major hub of human settlement for over 2oo0 years.
Kathmandu a beloved city for tourists of all kinds: budget traveler, mountain lovers, adventure junkies, and/or religious pilgrims. The Kathmandu Valley has 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites with five of them either in Kathmandu or the near vicinity. All of them are worth visiting and spending time exploring.
The Tribhuvan International Airport is where all the international flights land. You can use a taxi to get to your accommodation. Buses are helpful if you are thinking of traveling to a distant location.
Kathmandu City Rooftop View
Things To Do In Kathmandu
Kathmandu is the exotic capital of Nepal. It has impressive temples, intimidating mountain peaks, and interesting history. A trip to Kathmandu is guaranteed to boggle your mind.
First of all, you will not know which destination to visit. From the Boudhanath Stupa to Annapurna, there is a broad range of options. The city is home to a large number of Buddhist and Hindu temples, monasteries, and sacred sites.
Located about 11 km from the center and northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu, the stupa’s massive mandala makes it one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal.
This stupa has been standing tall for 1,400 years. Consequently, years of history live on in the Boudhanath Stupa. During afternoons, when the tourist crowds subside, you can take a tour. The sight of monks robed in maroon and the spinning prayer wheels is mesmerizing.
You can have a closer look at Buddhism during your tour. There are symbolic structures throughout the Stupa that explain different aspects of Buddhism. For example, the thirteen rings represent the thirteen steps to Nirvana. Plus, the five Dhyani Buddha statues symbolize air, water, earth, fire, and ether.
The Boudhanath Stupa is an octagonal enigma surrounded by monasteries and artifact shops. You can visit all of the shops and monasteries after you are done gawking at the Stupa.
Swayambhunath, Kathmandu Photo by Alexander Shafir CC BY SA 4.0
Home to at least 29 Buddhist Monasteries & Nunneries & one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world, the Boudha Stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built during the 5th century
Durbar Square, Patan
Patan & Durbar Square
Located 7 km south of Thamel, across the Bagmati river, is one of the largest cities in Nepal. Patan-Durbar Square is a UNESCO world heritage site, full of temples, statues, palaces & the must-see attraction of Patan Museum.
Just standing at the center of the square will take you back in time. In the past, the royal palaces and temples in this square would come alive with festivities. Now you can hear vendors crying out their prices and see monks on their way to temples.
Bhaktapur square, Kathmandu Valley
Bhaktapur literally translates to Place of devotees. Also known as Khwopa, it is an ancient Newar city in the east corner of the Kathmandu Valley.
Hindu Sadhus in Bhaktapur
If you want to see the goddess for yourself, go to Kumari Bahal (aka Kumari Ghar or Goddess House). This is where the living goddess stays. A chosen young girl gets the opportunity to live in the 269-year-old structure.
You can also visit the Hanuman Dhoka and revel in the royal architecture of Kathmandu.
Pashupatinath was built 320 years ago during the reign of King Bhupendra Malla. On the shores of Bagmati river, this religious temple perches. It has four distinct corridors which are intricately designed in silver.
Note: Non-Hindus can’t access the interior of the temple.
You can observe the vibrant and noisy scene in the area. Many tourists are busy ogling the temple while vendors hawk their goods. Furthermore, you can visit the Nandi (Bull of Shiva), which represents the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
Lastly, the ghats are of great cultural significance in Hinduism since that is where bodies are cremated.
Nearby Places to Visit
- Madhyapur Thimi – Thimi lies between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. It is one of the ancient, cultural and historical places
- Kirtipur – located next to Patan, one of the oldest settlements in the Kathmandu Valley
- Namo Buddha – one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal. It is known as the place where the Buddha, in a previous life as a prince, gave his body to a starving tigress and her cubs
- Pharping – a Buddhist sacred cave, lying above the Bagmati river
- Shivapuri Hill and the Bishnu Muhan – a small spring from where river Bishnumati originates
- Nagarkot – a quick getaway from the bustling capital for some relaxation and outdoor activities. It’s an ideal location to watch the sunrise. The Club Himalaya Resort, located just outside of the village has a great viewing point
- Dhulikhel – a village that offers a nice quiet setting to wander the streets and see the ‘non-tourist’ side of Nepali life. Dhulikhel Lodge Resort is a nice place for lunch and a view of the mountains
- Changunarayan – a small village and home to the ancient temple of Changu Narayan which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley
- Panauti– one of the oldest towns in Nepal, consisting of many temples dating back to the 15th century or earlier
- Kakani – a settlement of 8,000 people famous for its strawberry farms
Far Away Destinations
Himalayan Yak near Pangong (Tso) Lake
Besides the amazing sightseeing and general experience of being in Kathmandu, there are several places you can visit from Kathmandu.
It’s your starting point for numerous adventures in the rest of the country including trekking, rafting, jungle adventures, and more extreme sports.
Sunrise in Nagarkot
View from Pokhara
A 6 hours bus trip or 40 minutes flight, is a pleasant little city on Phewa Lake. Many visitors use it as a hub for treks and adventure sports. The city is a popular destination for travelers and also features a bustling live music scene
Chitwan is famous for Rhinos and Elephants
Chitwan National Park
You might think that Kathmandu is only rich in culture and heritage. However, that is not the case. Just when you thought this city couldn’t be any more appealing, you will discover its vast natural beauty. To witness the tremendously diverse wildlife you can visit Chitwan National Park.
It’s a popular place for safaris, complete with Elephant rides, rhino and tiger spotting, and jungle walk.
You can’t help but be awed by the sight of a fierce Bengal tiger, while you trek through the park. One-horned Rhinos can be spotted here as well. Plus, bird lovers can observe around 450 species of birds in the park.
Mani stones, Khumbu Himalayas
Khumbu is near Mount Everest and is a short flight from Kathmandu and offers snow-capped peaks and yak caravans carrying goods over mountain passes from Tibet.
Gokyo lake is a beautiful lake that you can trek to.
Everest Base Camp
The Southside Everest base camp is in Nepal (the northern base camp is in Tibet). These camps are rudimentary campsites on Mount Everest that are used by mountain climbers during their ascent and descent.
You don’t have to climb Everest, you can simply trek to the Everest Base Camp if you want a piece of Everest experience.
Nepal houses several of the towering peaks in the Himalayan Mountain Range. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, and Annapurna are some of these peaks.
Annapurna is most popular among tourist for trekking. You can start your base camp at Pokhara.
Then trace your way through the sacred Fishtail mountain and Hiunchuli. Otherwise, you can take the easy way out at Thorung La Pass. Once you reach a height of 5,000 meters, your eyes can’t glimpse enough of the glorious heights of the surrounding mountains.
Best Time To Visit
The climate varies in the city. The area in the lower valley has a temperate and humid climate. On higher altitudes, the temperatures can drop suddenly. Winters can be chilling in the highland areas.
Overall, the weather is pleasant year round. You can visit Nepal anytime you like.
Visas and Trekking Permits
To extend your Nepal tourist visa, up to a maximum of 150 days per year, you need to visit the Nepal Immigration Office.
Bring your passport, a passport photocopy and one passport sized photo (even though you’ve already given these details to get your original visa).
Visa extensions can only be bought per day, at a rate of $2 USD per day. (You can pay in local currency).
Panoramic View of Everest Base Camp
TIMS card – to register for a Green TIMS card for independent hiking, you need to visit the Nepal Tourist Office either in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
More information about TIMS and trekking permits is described in our blog post “Trekking in Nepal“.
From Kathmandu, buses to most parts of the Kathmandu Valley, with destinations such as Bhaktapur and Nagarkot, leave from the Ratna Park bus station.
Although there are a number of languages commonly used in Nepal, with Newari the most common in the Valley, most people will also speak Nepali and the visitor will find English spoken in many places, at least to a certain degree.
The most important food in Kathmandu could be the indigenous Newar Food. There are hundreds of traditional Newar delicacies and can be found in bhatti (local restro) to cafes.
Momo – the most popular food in Kathmandu could be the momo, a dumpling which has its roots in Tibet and China. They are available fried or steamed and stuffed with buffalo, chicken, or veggies
Nepali Thali – a set meal will usually include rice, daal, vegetable/meat curry, a vegetable dish, pickle (achar) and curd.
Tibetan & Newari dishes – Kathmandu is also a good place to sample traditional Newari and Tibetan dishes
Sel roti – a popular Nepali traditional home-made, sweet, ring-shaped rice bread/doughnut
There are dozens of tourist restaurants clustered in Thamel serving everything from Middle Eastern to Mexican food. Indian and Nepali dishes are always the most authentic and economically priced
Note: Most restaurants that cater to tourists will add a 10% service charge and then a 13% VAT charge (total of 24.5%) to the prices stated on the menu.
Chiya – a milky spiced tea similar to the Indian chai, is ubiquitous and good for a break to calm one’s nerves.
Rice wine – the indigenous Newar rice wine ‘Thon’ and alcohol ‘Ayelaa’ is available in local most restaurants
Raksi and Chang – for a quick drink and cheap cultural experience, try the local ‘Nepali wine’ (raksi) or ‘Nepali Beer’ (chang)
Local beer – Gorkha Beer, Everest Beer, Nepal Ice, San Miguel, Carlsberg, and Tuborg beer are the principal conventional beers served in Kathmandu
Safety & Health Tips
- Air quality in Kathmandu is very poor after the earthquake, particularly around the ring road. Buying a dust mask is advisable
- Water in Kathmandu borders on being lethal and water-borne diseases are rife. Do not, under any circumstances, drink from taps or consume salads and ice unless you are confident that the water used in their preparation has been filtered and boiled. Also, use boiled and filtered water for brushing teeth and avoid swallowing water when taking a shower
- Food can be contaminated and some people suggest that you should eat only at larger restaurants. Counterfeit and out of date food and cigarettes are very common in local shops, check use-by dates before purchasing products
- Homemade Alcohol (chang, raksi, roxi, toongba) may contain methanol and is not recommended in large amounts
- Vaccinations for rabies, tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis are recommended prior to arriving in Kathmandu and can take several months to complete. Tropical diseases such as Japanese encephalitis should be vaccinated against if you plan to travel outside of the Kathmandu Valley, towards the lowlands in the Terai. You may wish to take malarial prophylaxis as well
- Animals, such as bats and monkeys (including those at Swayambhunath), may be carriers of rabies and other diseases. Even if you’ve had the foresight to be vaccinated for rabies prior arrival, treatment following possible exposure is still necessary to prevent infection. If you are bitten, you should go to a clinic immediately for treatment
Wi-Fi & SIM Cards
Most cafes & restaurants in tourist areas have free Wi-Fi for customers. Computer/internet rentals are almost stacked on top of each other in Thamel & near the stupa at Boudha.
Although not adequate for video conferencing the 128-256kbit/s NTC backbone often used by the cafes is more than adequate for VOIP calling.
ISD and STD telephone services are available in almost all internet cafes. Services such as Skype are available in most tourist areas.
Ncell – Ncell SIM cards are available from NCell for Rs100 and you will also need to show your passport and provide a passport photo. Recharge cards for NCell can be purchased almost everywhere. Look for the white and violet NCEll signs on the front of shops selling these cards. Data packages are also available.
On some treks, you will be in remote areas with no internet or phone service. Don’t be surprised. That said, coverage in populated areas is usually good.
September 13, 2016 3:47 pm
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