Top 10 Things to Do in Kathmandu

Sadhu holy men at Pashupatinath Temple

 CR Shelare / Getty Images

When visiting Nepal, the capital city of Kathmandu is where you'll most likely end up first. Don't make it a fleeting stop on your itinerary though, as it's worth staying a while in this captivating city and soaking up its atmosphere. The most interesting things to do in Kathmandu encompass everything from heritage, architecture, and culture to spirituality and shopping. Here's how to make the most of your time there.

01 of 10

Go for a Stroll in the Garden of Dreams

Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu, Nepal

Timon Schneider / Getty Images

It's hard to imagine what could be more relaxing than strolling through the Garden of Dreams, situated across the street from what used to be the Royal Palace near the bustling Thamel tourist district. Created by scholar and horticulture enthusiast Kaiser Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana and built in 1920, the European-style garden offers a brief respite from the rest of the busy city and is open daily to the public between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., making it the perfect spot for a picnic or mid-day stroll.

P877+MR2, Tridevi Sadak, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone +977 1-4525340
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02 of 10

Day Trip to Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park

Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park in Nepal

LisaStrachan / Getty Images

About two hours from Kathmandu, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park is located along the northern edge of the valley, offering more than 61 square miles of nothing but nature. Home to many rhododendrons, pine and oak trees, Himalayan black bears, rhesus monkeys, leopards, 177 species of birds, 102 types of butterflies, and 129 kinds of mushrooms, the former watershed and wildlife reserve became Nepal's ninth national park in 2002 and is now a popular place for trekking.

44600, Nepal
Phone +977 1-4370355
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03 of 10

Marvel Over Historic Durbar Square

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Susan Blick / Getty Images

Kathmandu's ancient old city is set around the Durbar Square at Basantapur, south of Thamel, where the royal family lived until the 19th century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. In addition to the Royal Palace, Hanuman Dhoka, there are many Hindu and Buddhist temples dating as far back as the 12th century. Sadly, in 2015, a devastating earthquake destroyed most of the southern section of temples and badly damaged other buildings, including the palace.

A combination of poor upkeep, ongoing restoration works, and the price of tickets (1,000 rupees per person for foreigners) have discouraged many tourists from entering the Durbar Square. However, there are two more elaborate and historically important Durbar Squares located nearby in the Kathmandu Valley, at Patan (500 rupees for foreigners) and Bhaktapur (1,500 rupees for foreigners). These attractions represent a much better value for money and are definitely worth seeing, although the earthquake unfortunately did cause significant damage to both. Numerous companies offer private tours, such as this Patan and Bhaktapur Day Trip from Breakfree Adventures.

दीघा पहलेजा, J P Marg, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone +977 1-4268969
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04 of 10

Stroll Through the Old City

Seto Machhendranath Temple

John Elk III / Getty Images

From Durbar Square to Thamel, wandering through old Kathmandu's fascinating maze of narrow streets and alleyways will keep you busy for hours, if not days. You'll be surprised to discover shrines and statues hidden away in unlikely places, so grab a map and get exploring!

From Makhan Tole, located on the northeastern corner of Durbar Square, head along Siddhidas Marg to the teeming market square of Indra Chowk, where five roads converge. Continue straight along Siddhidas Marg to Kel Tole, home to one of Kathmandu's most ornate temples, the Seto Machhendranath Temple.

Further along Siddhidas Marg, you'll reach Ason Tole, the busiest junction in Kathmandu. A mesmerizing mass of people ply this route from morning to night and produce from all over the Kathmandu Valley is sold there. It’s worth spending some time here just absorbing it all. There’s also a magnificent three story temple dedicated to Annapurna, the goddess of abundance, which draws the pious.

Turn left onto Chittadhar Marg and walk for about five minutes, then turn right onto Chandraman Singh Marg and continue until you reach Thahiti Tole, home to a 15th-century Buddhist stupa and the Nateshwar temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Dominating a secluded courtyard along the way is the Kathesimbhu Stupa, a 17th century copy of the great Swayambhunath Stupa located just outside Kathmandu.

North of Thahiti Tole is where you'll find Thamel Chowk, located in the center of Kathmandu's tourist hub.

Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
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05 of 10

Shop and Hang Out in Thamel

Rickshaw outside craft shop in Thamel, Kathmandu.

Tom Cockrem / Getty Images

Kathmandu's Thamel tourist district can be crowded and frenetic at times but still manages to retain an old-world feel, perpetuated by the rows of Tibetan prayer flags and cycle rickshaws that trundle by.

The streets of this lively area are lined with shops overflowing with brightly colored clothing, jewelry, paper lanterns, thangka paintings, wood carvings, bronze statues, music, and books. Bargain hard to get a good price—aim to pay only a third or half of the original quoted price—as shopkeepers can be ruthless. Need some assistance? Backstreet Academy offers this popular Kathmandu shopping tour.

As the day starts fading, Thamel takes on a whole different vibe as its streets glow with the warmth of a multitude of lights and the sound of live music drifts from its bars. Head to Brezel Cafe and Bar on J.P. Marg, Rosemary Kitchen & Coffee Shop on Thamel Marg, and Cafe De Genre on J.P. Marg for excellent food and ambiance. Sam's Bar, located upstairs opposite the Hotel Mandap on Chaksibari Marg, is an old favorite.

Thamel, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
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06 of 10

Dodge Monkeys at Swayambhunath Stupa

Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

Arutthaphon Poolsawasd / Getty Images

Swayambhunath Stupa, Nepal's famous Buddhist temple, sits atop a hill to the west of Kathmandu city, reached by a tiring walk up a flight of 365 stone steps. The temple entrance fee is 200 rupees for foreigners.

One of the first things you'll notice, even before you start climbing, is the monkeys. Hundreds of them live on and roam around the temple premises. They're believed to be holy, although it's best not to think about the reason why—they're said to have been formed from the head lice of the Buddhist deity Manjushri, who was raised there.

Fortunately, most of the Swayambhunath temple complex survived the 2015 earthquake. It was founded in the beginning of the 5th century and is considered to be the oldest of its kind in Nepal. If you're interested in gaining insight into the religious aspects of the temple and its significance in society, take this Swayambhunath tour led by a resident monk, where you'll be able to participate in ceremonies and chanting sessions.

P77R+X4G, BHAGANPAU 44600, Nepal
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07 of 10

Get a Blessing at Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu

TripSavvy / Chris VR

Nepal's most sacred Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath Temple draws devotees from the Indian subcontinent along with a motley collection of painted sadhus (Hindu ascetics). Most of the sadhus are friendly and happy to be photographed for a small fee, in return for which they'll give a blessing.

Ancient Hindu rituals, astonishing and unchanged by time, are practiced inside the temple complex. Enter and you'll get an uncensored (and confronting) perspective of life, death, and reincarnation, including the open-air cremation of bodies on funeral pyres along the river bank.

Tickets cost 1,000 rupees for foreigners. While the main temple is off-limits to anyone who's not Hindu, you can wander about the rest of the vast grounds. If you don't want to pay to go in, you can still get a decent view from the opposite side of the river.

The most interesting time to visit is early in the morning between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. to see the cremations, or in the evening after 6 p.m. to see the aarti (worship with fire). Note that the temple is closed from noon until 5 p.m. daily.

Gaushala Road, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone +977 1-4471828
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08 of 10

Walk Around Boudhanath Stupa

The spire on the Boudhanath Temple
Chris VR / TripSavvy

Located on the northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu about a 20-minute walk from Pashupatinath, Boudhanath is the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal, an important center of Tibetan Buddhism and culture as well a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

As the sun sets, the Tibetan community comes out to circumambulate, or walk around, the stupa, accompanied by the gentle chanting of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum and spinning of prayer wheels.

Early mornings and evenings are the best times to visit, when prayers are offered and tour groups are absent. The entrance fee for foreigners is 250 rupees.

Don't miss going inside some of the many gompas (monasteries) around Boudhanath; they're gracefully decorated with vibrant murals. One of the most impressive, Tamang Gompa, is situated opposite the stupa, offering an outstanding view of it from the upper floors.

Boudhha, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
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09 of 10

Take a Traditional Cooking Class or Painting Workshop

Thangka painter in Nepal

Bjorn Holland / Getty Images

Have you enjoyed eating Nepali cuisine and want to learn how to prepare it? Or, perhaps you've been enamored by the intricate Buddhist thangka paintings and want to make one yourself?

SocialTours' Cook Like a Local Tour is highly recommended for anyone interested in an experiential cooking experience. It's the company's signature tour and is renowned as a must-do in Kathmandu. You'll be taken to a local market to source fresh ingredients and become familiar with the spices before being shown how to make momos, daal bhat, and aloo paratha. 

Nepal Cooking School in Thamel provides sought-after cooking classes, while the profits are used to fund social programs that empower women and girls in a remote village.

Backstreet Academy also offers a wide variety of experiential tours, all conducted by a knowledgeable local residents. The Thangka Painting Workshop is one of the most popular, and you'll end up with a unique souvenir to take home.

Paknajol Marg, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone +977 980-3894085
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10 of 10

Visit Villages in Kathmandu Valley

Villages in Kathmandu Valley.

Richard I'Anson / Getty Images

Leave Kathmandu's traffic and urban sprawl behind and step back in time in the Kathmandu Valley, where villages have retained a traditional way of living, untouched by modern development. Two of the most popular villages to visit are Bungmati and Khokana, located to the south of Kathmandu and not far from Patan. These two village were hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and are in need of tourism more than ever. 

Bungmati village dates back to the 6th century and revered rain god Rato Mahhendranath is believed to have been born there—unfortunately, his temple was destroyed by the earthquake and his idol is now kept at nearby Patan. Many of the villagers are engaged in wood carving and sculpture and you can drop by their workshops. Khokana is a fertile farming village, where mustard oil is harvested and local residents spend most of their days engaged in agriculture.

Breakfree Adventures offers a private Bungmati and Khokana Village Day Tour from Kathmandu.

Bungamati, Nepal
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Top 10 Things to Do in Kathmandu