Kathmandu is a bustling and busy city that holds a great sense of tradition and culture. Food plays an important part of the city, with influences coming from both India and China that create incredible fusion dishes well worth trying on your visit. The options for places to eat and discover are almost endless, and you will certainly not be left disappointed. From shopping to sightseeing, escaping to the mountains and visiting the cities top religious sites, here’s my pick of the top 27 things to do in Kathmandu.
Often overlooked or treated as a stopover destination or gateway to access the Himalayas, I hope this list gives you more than one reason to hang around Kathmandu for more than a few days before you explore the rest of Nepal.
In this guide, we’ll cover the best places to discover within the ancient city of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Unique Things To Do in Kathmandu
1. Visit the famous Durbar Square
A visit to Kathmandu wouldn’t be complete without first stopping off at Durbar Square. These plazas in front of the old royal palaces are host to all sorts of temples, water fountains, idols and open courts. Weave in and out of monuments and around animals roaming freely, and feast your eyes on Nepalese art and history. Sadly the earthquake that hit Kathmandu in 2015 has caused a lot of damage to the area as many of the ancient structures didn’t manage to survive the devastation. Piece by piece Durbar Square has slowly been rebuilt back into its former glory. By far one of the top places to visit in Kathmandu!
2. Shop around Thamel Street
A hotspot for shopping with fascinating market architecture on display the second you look up you will see the sky is filled with Nepal pray flags that drape between the buildings. The atmosphere is notably visitor friendly and a great spot to pick up hiking supplies and knock off outdoor brands for trekking around Nepal. Kathmandu is often considered as a gateway city to the mountains and see many outdoor shops to meet the demand of expeditions.
Remember, if you have an eye for a bargain, it’s ok to negotiate a better price on purchases. You will also find plenty of amazing restaurants to take a rest in when you get tired of haggling and shopping. One of the top things to do in Kathmandu, you can’t come to Nepal without visiting Thamel. Curious how cheap (or expensive) shopping is here? My friend Jean wrote a guide to all money related things in Nepal.
3. Walk around the Garden of Dreams
This neo-classical historical garden has been recently renovated, and now is an even more spectacular display. This sophisticated private garden was built in the Edwardian style, and is a stunning and peaceful oasis that makes for a lovely, tranquil afternoon. A great location to escape the busy buzz of Kathmandu.
4. Spend time at Boudhanath Stupa
The Stupa is the most famous UNESCO world heritage site in Nepal, and is an extremely important site for Buddhists. Listen in on ceremonies and prayers around the temple, and there is a magnificent view to enjoy too. You could easily spend 20 minutes walking around the structure taking in this incredible Stupa. You can also find a number of places to eat in the grounds so be sure to spend some time here exploring the shops and restaurants. Consistently listed as one of the top sights in Kathmandu, this Stupe is a marvel to look at.
5. Take a scenic flight over the Himalayas
Take an express flight to Everest with Yeti airlines and fly right over the Himalayas and see Mount Everest from above. There are daily departures from Kathmandu domestic airport, which gives you a golden opportunity to see the Himalayas from the comfort of an express scenic plane – a trip to Nepal wouldn’t be complete without seeing the extensive mountain range.
6. Check out Swayambhunath Stupa
In the northwest of the Kathmandu valley, this Stupa is otherwise known as the Monkey temple. It’s the perfect place for panoramic views over the city, and absorb the atmosphere of this monument to the faith and harmony.
7. The royal palace of Hanuman Dhoka
The royal palace of Kathmandu was founded 4-8AD, and although it was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake there is still plenty of wonder to see here. Watch the monkeys who live in the square here frolicking and playing around the impressive complex of structures. Be sure to hold on to your camera securely and don’t feed the monkeys to avoid any issues.
Where to eat in Kathmandu
8. Dine at Road House Café
This is a popular place to eat in the Thamel area amongst International visitors. Enjoy delicious wood-fired pizzas in their gorgeous outside seating area, and cool yourself down with a nice iced coffee. If you reach a point where you want to eat some western food – this can happen after a 10-day hike across Nepal! The Road House Café is a perfect option to grab a taste of home.
9. Find the best momos in town.
Utsav Restaurant is THE place to go for authentic Nepalese, food and some of the best momos (traditional Nepalese dumplings) to be found in Kathmandu. This restaurant enjoys an established reputation, and you can also find classic Nepalese performances going on in the restaurant while you eat.
10. Yangling Tibetan Restaurant for a local taste.
For a fresh take on the Nepalese classic, try the fried chili momos for a spicy taste of something delicious. The restaurant is located down a quiet street, so its a nice place to escape the crowds. How many momos can you eat in one sitting?
11. Cafe Du Temple for a great view.
As the name might suggest, this restaurant has great views of the Boudhanath Stupa, and great momos as well. Sit on the outdoor balcony with a drink for the best chance to sit back and enjoy the view. This might possibly be the best seat in Kathmandu to enjoy lunch.
12. Itum Bahal monastery to find tranquility
This famous monastery is one of the most spectacular to be found in all of Nepal, and is a haven of tranquility. Explore pagoda-like sanctuaries and courtyards over six centuries old. Check out the bodhi tree near the front of the site that grew up right through one of the old stupas and dismantled it – these ancient trees are always beautiful to behold.
13. Asan Tole street market
This colourful, traditional street market heralds Nepal’s history and culture and is a kaleidoscope of sights to see and things to buy. Share a samosa with a local vendor or grab a glass of tasty and refreshing lassi to enjoy and soak in the surroundings – the atmosphere here is very friendly.
14. Pashupatinath Hindu temple
One of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal, located on the banks of the Bagmati river. The site is approximately 5km northeast of Kathmandu, so best to share a taxi with other visitors as the distance is rather far from the city centre but worth the drive. Once you get here marvel at the classic Hindu architecture. It’s worth seeing if any festivals are going to be on during your visit so best to check ahead of time if the journey would be worth the trip.
15. Taleju Temple
Built in 1564, this temple is a monument to the south Indian deity Taleju Bhawani. It was lucky enough to escape with only minor damage during the earthquake, and the miniature temples and exquisitely carved gates make for a beautiful day trip from the city.
16. The Taragaon Museum
Accessible through the Hyatt Regency hotel, this fascinating gallery has incredible art and architecture on display from the 1800s right up to the present day. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn about Kathmandu’s history, as this city was only opened up for tourism in 1951.
17. Visit the Old Freak Street
This ancient street is a highly intriguing mix of culture, art, and architecture. It was the epicenter of the infamous Hippy Trail through Nepal in the 60s and 70s, and used to be a center for government-run cannabis shops. Nowadays you can find cheap guest houses, souvenir shops and trekking agencies – not quite as wild as the past, but still a place worth checking out to relive the past.
18. Shahid Gate
Meaning ‘Martyr’s Gate’, this is a monument to the men who stood against the Rana Regime. It’s near the Bhadrakali temple if you want to get more into your day to visit.
19. Guhyeshwari Temple
One of the most revered holy temples in Kathmandu, it stands in honour of Adi Shakti and is an important destination for Hindu and Tantric worshipped. The inside of the temple is host to all sorts of ceremonies and is filled with flowers.
20. Durbar Marg for nightlife
Known as the most happening place in Kathmandu, this is the place to go for upscale shopping and late night entertainment. The energy on the streets go on til late, and you can indulge in international high street shopping or a drink in a five star hotel.
21. Kopan Monastery for a good viewpoint
Overlooking the Kathmandu valley, this monastery is a really good view point for taking in the majesty of Kathmandu. A Buddhist monastery in the Tibetan tradition, you can enjoy daily Dharma talks and learn more about this fascinating faith and the goings on of the monastery.
22. Discover art in Narayanhity Palace
This palace is full of beautiful art, fascinating momento and lots of information about the Royal Family of Nepal. Take a step back in time to visit a lost world, and explore regal gardens and ancient rooms.
23. Ratna Park to take a break
A bustling city park, this is the place to come for a break from your busy schedule. Sit down on the grass and enjoy watching the locals and other visitors go about their business and everyday life.
24. Ranipokhari – Queen pond
Meaning ‘Queen’s Pond’, this beautiful body of water features a ruined temple and is undergoing extensive restoration to bring it back to the stunning vision of years gone past.
25. Patan Durbar Square
Patan is the oldest of the three cities in the Kathmandu valley, and is known for artistic heritage and great beauty. Hindu temples and Buddhist monuments all jostle for space, meaning you can wander around and absorb so much ancient culture in this thriving and beautiful place.
26. Trek around the city for 4 days
If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t have enough time to do EBC or the Annapurna Circuits, you can join a trekking tour just outside Kathmandu. Tours can run from 1 day to 4 days, but the longer the better really! Some tours from Kathmandu run as long as four days and visit the beautiful countryside around the Kathmandu Valley with fields, farms and villages that seemingly remain untouched by modern technology.
As you continue trekking upwards, you will find mountain views where you can see five of the fourteen highest mountain peaks in the world. The second leg of the trek begins with a view of the sunrise over the Himalayas. Then, it will take you through luscious forests and past quaint villages. In Namo Buddha during the third leg of the trek, you will visit a monastery and other places of worship. Lastly, you will return to Kathmandu during the fourth leg of the trek where you can continue exploring historical and natural sites as you please and visit local tourist destinations.
27. Tour Bhaktapur on wheels
Bhaktapur, in the eastern corner of Kathmandu, is a historical place with ancient structures that have been preserved to this day. Divided into four sites, namely the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Pottery Square, the Taumadhi Square, and the Dyattraya Tole. The area, as the heading suggests, is best toured on bikes.
Here you can see the Basantapur Chowk, a famous sculpture that caused the artist his hands, the Vatsala Durga Temple and Taleju Bell, a temple built during the time of King Jagat Prakash Malla who reigned the country from 1644 to 1673, the Peacock Window, an intricately carved wooden piece that is one of the country’s national art treasures, and the Nyatapola Temple, one of the tallest temples in Nepal with a five-tier roof.
Have fun exploring Kathmandu! Thank you for reading all about 27 things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal. From places to eat traditional Nepalese food, Shopping streets to find a bargain or exploring ancient temples, the city of Kathmandu has a lot to offer for visitors.
I hope you now have a whole list of loads of awesome places to explore from the above list of suggestions. Enjoy your next visit to Kathmandu for a few days before you go off hiking around the mountains of Nepal.
This article was put together by Dave Brett an adventure travel blogger from the UK who blogs over at Traveldave.co.uk. You can follow his adventure as he travels around the world one adventure at a time on Instagram and Facebook.