Pradeep Guragain Pradeep was born and bred in Nepal and is a seasoned hiker and rider. With a passion for self-drive road trips, he will just head off at a moment’s notice for trips, either long or short. Scuba diving is another passion he loves to pursue. As for the future – “I dream of living in a farmhouse close to nature, and far from cities.”

Top Things To Do In Kathmandu – List Of Great Attractions

8 min read

things to do in kathmandu

Whether you have come to Nepal for trekking, for a particular festival, white water rafting or a combination of them all unless you are entering and exiting from India, chances are you will be spending some time in Kathmandu. Despite its chaos, nose and high pollution level, there are many hidden gems in the city and much to do. You could easily spend five or six days roaming around the sights, eating, drinking, partying and shopping in this unique city. And even if you are not really interested in temples and culture, it’s there at every step so you might as well enjoy it!

Brief History Of The Kathmandu Valley

To enjoy a city to its fullest, it’s a good idea to know a little about how it came about. And there is plenty to know about how Kathmandu started!

Legend has it that the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake, cut open by Manjushree Bodhisattva, a Buddhist deity. With one swipe of his sword, Manjushree created Chobar Gorge and the area now known as the Kathmandu Valley.

The three main cities of the Valley, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan date back more than 2,000 years, with a succession of rulers until 1768 when the King of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan Shah, unified the country and became the first King of Nepal. Then there were more battles, wars, and treaties over the next 100 years until the Rana rose to power, with Jang Bahadur Kunwar (Who was given the hereditary name Rana) becoming the first Rana prime minister in 1846. At that point the Shah King became a figurehead. The Rana went on to rule the country until 1951 when King Tribhuvan was restored to the throne.

Throughout Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley you will find two main types of art and architecture, that of the Rana (You might notice big white buildings reminiscent of old European style where the basic design came from), and the Newars. The Newars are the original inhabitants of the Valley and follow a unique blend of Buddhism and Hinduism and have their own language. The Newars are famous for their literature, art, trade, agriculture, and architecture.

So yes, if you love ancient art, architecture, temples and old buildings, you will love exploring Kathmandu. On the other hand if these don’t interest you so much, there is still plenty to do. And I would suggest you do the main ‘must see’ culture things anyway. Even the oldest temple is not just a building it is a living heritage where you will find colourful characters and interesting alleyways and shops.

The Basic Temple Experience

Even if you think all temples are the same and are not interested in religious sites, there are four places you must visit. Not just for the architecture but for the experience.

Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)

monkey temple kathmandu
© ctis
  • What is it – Buddhist stupa
  • Why to go – Monkeys! Great views of the Kathmandu Valley. Buddhist traditions and culture
  • Average recommended time – Approximately an hour plus travel
  • Entrance fee – NPR 200

Situated on a hill just behind Thamel, walking distance actually, Swayambhunath was founded in the 5th century. Consisting of a stupa, shrines and temples, some several hundreds of years old, the stupa has the iconic Buddha eyes painted on it. After climbing up the 365 steps you get amazing views of the city. The best time to come is sunset. Sunrise is also good if you are an early riser! The other reason to come is to people watch. Both Hindus and Buddhists come here. There are shops and restaurants around about. Plenty of monkeys too, which gives it its ‘street name’ of Monkey Temple. Please don’t feed the monkeys!

Pashupatinath

© holidify
  • What is it – The most famous Hindu temple in the world
  • Why to go – Burning ghats and Hindu funeral rites. Large Hindu temple complex. People watching
  • Average recommended time – Two to three hours excluding travel
  • Entrance fee – NPR 1000

No one knows exactly when this temple complex was established, around 400 AD is a good enough guess! This large complex of temples and shrines has the most important temple in the Hindu religion and thus attracts Hindus from all over the world. However, Non Hindus are not allowed into the main temple! But you can roam around the rest of the complex and stand on the opposite bank of the sacred Bagmati River to watch funeral rites taking place. During February there is an amazing festival where sadhus from mainly India will gather to celebrate Lord Shiva. But at any time, this complex is colourful and vibrant with pilgrims, worshipers and those who just come to look! Come at dusk to witness the vibrant evening prayers. Or on full moon for traditional classical music. There are some small tea shops, stalls or once you are finished exploring walk up to the main road where there are a number of teashops and local restaurants. If you want to experience something really unique, go have a coffee or drink in Dwarika’s Hotel, 15 minutes walk away.

Boudhanath Stupa

© trip
  • What is it – Buddhist stupa and area where exiled Tibetans live
  • Why to go – Nearest thing to Lhasa outside of Tibet. Tibetan culture. People watching
  • Average recommended time – Two to three hours, excluding travel
  • Entrance fee – NPR 400

Built around the 14th century, Bouddha is home to the largest stupa in the country. Built around the stupa are monasteries and, in more recent time, tourist shops and restaurants. While it is definitely a tourist attraction, many of the tourists groups go during the day, to fit in with their hectic sightseeing itinerary. I suggest you go in the early evening when the local Tibetan and Buddhist communities come out to do Kora around the stupa. Many women still wear traditional Tibetan dress and even young people can be seen walking around the stupa in prayer. There are many roof top restaurants overlooking the stupa where you can people watch with a beer or some food! Going a little off the Kora area you will find more restaurants serving traditional Tibetan food. There are many shops to buy souvenirs and Tibetan inspired goods. A great time to come is on a full moon or at Tibetan New Year (Around February). Keep in mind the whole place will be quiet by 8 pm, with even the restaurants closing up. Best to come around 5 pm. Alternatively you can also come around 6 or 7am in the morning (Depending on the time of year) for pretty much the same experience. Minus the butter lamps that are often lit around the Stupa.

Patan Durbar Square

patan durbar square
© wondermondo
  • What is it – All three original cities of Kathmandu (Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur) have squares which housed the original palace or durbar. Each of these Durbar Squares have temples and ancient buildings
  • Why to go – Ancient Hindu temples. Patan Museum. Living culture. People watching. A maze of surrounding small streets and alley
  • Average recommended time – Two to three hours plus travel
  • Entrance fee – NPR 1000

Patan is also known as Lalitpur and is surrounded by four stupas supposedly built by the Emperor Ashoka. The Durbar Square and surrounding area is filled with temples and courtyards and is perhaps the easiest of the three Durbar Squares to navigate. The main temple, dedicated to Krishna, was restored after being damaged by the earthquake in 2015. Built in the 17th century it is completely made of stone with friezes depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Golden Temple (A little away from the main square) was built in the 12th century and is the oldest and most glittering temple! Back in the square, Patan Museum is the best museum in Nepal. Set in an original palace building, this is an amazing way to discover something about the Valley, bronze making and other art forms native to the area. The museum has a small garden café so you can relax away from the crowds. Or sit with elderly locals on the wall outside the museum and soak up the experience. After exploring the courtyards and alleys round about, you can stay in Patan to enjoy dinner or live music in an area fondly called Restaurant Road!

To Sum Up

So these are my recommendations of ‘must see’ temples and stupas even if you think you are not really interested! As I have shown, there is much more to see and do around these areas than just look at ‘old buildings’!

More Temples In Kathmandu?

Not had enough temples? There are many, many more! And much more cultural heritage to explore.

Basantapur (Kathmandu Durbar Square)

basantapur kathmandu durbar square
© ctis
  • What is it – Large complex of Hindu temples
  • Why to go – Aside from the temples. People watching and souvenir buying. Walking distance of Thamel
  • Average recommended time – Two to three hours plus travel
  • Entrance fee – NPR 1000

Kathmandu Durbar Square was very badly affected by the 2015 earthquake. So expect to see scaffolding and building taking place. This UNESCO World Heritage Site houses temples, shrines, royal palaces, and courtyards. It is still home to the Kumari the Living Goddess (In actual fact a young girl especially chosen while very young and who remains a goddess until puberty). The area around the square is now as busy shopping area but which also leads into the old market bazaar of Ason. Ason is a maze of small shops and stalls where you can buy pretty much everything! Follow the narrow streets out of Thamel and get lost on the way, eventually ending up in Ason and Durbar Square is in front of you. From here you can also explore Freak Street the old hippy tourist area.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square
© Bhaktapur Durbar Square
  • What is it – Large complex of Hindu temples, and Newari architecture with artisan areas
  • Why to go – Beautiful temples in a vehicle free complex. Experience the past!
  • Average recommended time – One day to two days
  • Entrance fee – NPR 1500

Bhaktapur is the third original city in the Kathmandu Valley and houses the third Durbar Square. Situated about 8 km from the centre of Kathmandu, if you have the time, it is an amazing experience to stay overnight here. The main area is completely vehicle free and to wake up surrounded by temples and few tourists is worth the effort! Dating from the 15th century again some of the temples and shrines are under repair after the 2015 earthquake. But there is still a lot to see including the Nyatapola Temple the tallest pagoda in Nepal. Five stories based on the five basic elements. There are many craftsmen working in the area wood carvers, potters, painters etc. It’s quite something to watch them work. And when you are here you must try the Juju Dhau a special yogurt made in Bhaktapur made from buffalo milk. If you decide to stay overnight you can always head up to Nagarkot the next day for the mountain views and probably stay another night or two there.

Narayanhiti Palace Museum

Kings palace kathmandu
© glitter rebel
  • What is it – Former Royal Palace, now a museum
  • Why to go – Interesting from the perspective it was the site of the Royal Massacre in 2001
  • Average recommended time – Two hours
  • Entrance fee – NPR 500

Not a temple but with the same amount of mystery and tradition attached to it! Built in 1963 when presumably the then King got fed up with the drafty old palace in Durbar Square, the palace was converted to a museum when the country became a Republic in 2006. Interesting mainly because it was the site of the Royal Massacre that basically wiped out all the Royals in 2001, you should read up about the massacre before visiting. Situated at the top of Durbar Marg, it’s a 10 minute walk from Thamel so an easy way to pass a morning.

Chillax?

Thamel

© The Kathmandu Post
  • What is it – Main tourist area
  • Why to go – Hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs and shops
  • Average recommended time – As long as you like!

Thamel is the main tourist area of Kathmandu and where you will find many hotels and restaurants from the budget to the star category. With its vibrant nightlife of bars, clubs and even a cinema complex, it’s a welcome sight to many after a long trek. There are many shops in which to buy trekking gear and gifts to take home. Even if you are not staying in this area, it’s worth an evening out!

Garden of Dreams

garden of dream kathmandu thamel
© the common wanderer
  • What is it – Beautifully renovated Rana garden
  • Why go – Oasis in the madness that is Thamel! Garden, restaurant, bar, relax on the grass!
  • Average recommended time – As long as you like!
  • Entrance fee – NPR 200

This wonderfully restored Rana garden highlights Rana architecture with its ponds, pavilions and greenery. With an (Expensive) restaurant and separate bar you can relax in the sun (Or shade) by day and dine by night. Or take your own (Discreet) picnic and relax on the grass. Since it has an entrance fee there are no crowds to bother you. Also a great safe (But watch out for the ponds) place for children to roam around in.

Other Stuff

Once you have visited the temples and stupas and bought your souvenirs and partied a bit, what is left? Well, there are a number of private tours you can take that range from learning a new skill, to carve the wood, to learning to cook, to shopping in local style. You can also do a bike ride through the city or around the Valley. Show your artistic side through painting with a glass of wine of course! Learn to make momo or dal bhat or secret food tour. Take a walking tour or pub crawl! Going further afield you can experience life in the village through homestay, hike to Shivapuri, or take a mountain flight to get close to Mount Everest.

And there are also plenty of interesting villages on the outskirts of Kathmandu that see less tourists but are very interesting –

Kirtipur

© ecs

With its amazing Newari restaurant to sample authentic Newari food.

Bungamati

bungmati
© twitter

Once a very vital part of the trading route.

Thimi

pottery square bhaktapur
© red carpet journey

Where pottery is still made today.

Nagarkot

nagarkot bhaktapur
© agoda

For mountain panorama views.

Dhulikhel

dhulikhel monastery
© kimkim

An interesting drive and more mountain views.

If you are interested in retreats there is Kopan Monastery near Boudha which offers retreats of different lengths. This is of course a Buddhist retreat but there are yoga retreats on offer in different locations at different times of the year.

Festivals! Many, many festivals! From the traditional Nepali festivals to the ones for women only and music festivals ranging from traditional to jazz and heavy metal!

Ask Me!

There is such an array of things to do in Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley all I can say is, if you find something you are interested in, ask me about it!

Note: Entry fee is subject to change, check Nepal Tourism Board for latest.

Pradeep Guragain Pradeep was born and bred in Nepal and is a seasoned hiker and rider. With a passion for self-drive road trips, he will just head off at a moment’s notice for trips, either long or short. Scuba diving is another passion he loves to pursue. As for the future – “I dream of living in a farmhouse close to nature, and far from cities.”

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