Nepal is well known for its very, very high mountains—in fact, it's home to eight of the world's top 10 highest mountains. Adventure lovers flock to Nepal to climb and trek in the Himalayas, but there's so much more to see and do in this geographically and culturally diverse country. Along with the mountains, there are jungle-filled plains, rolling hills, and vibrant cities. Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country, but the influence of the strong Buddhist minority can be seen almost everywhere.
Whether you're seeking physical challenges surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, or more sedate city pursuits, Nepal's got you covered.
Climb a Mountain That’s not Everest
Mount Everest may be Nepal's most famous mountain, but it's far from the only one that can be climbed. And, given the environmental cost, questionable ethics, extreme risk, and immense expense of climbing Everest, there are actually many other mountains in Nepal that mountaineers should set their sights on instead.
Less experienced mountaineers who still want a challenge can tackle a "trekking peak," a category of mountain that doesn't require advanced technical mountaineering skills, but is still much more challenging than a regular trek. Twenty-eight peaks in Nepal are classified as trekking peaks, with Island Peak (20,252 feet/6,173 meters) being one of the most popular.
More experienced mountaineers have a choice of more than 300 mountains around the country, around 100 of which have never been climbed. You won't encounter any human traffic jams there.
Ride the Manakamana Cable Car
Halfway along the Prithvi Highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara is the cable car at Kurintar, which is hard to miss. It leads up to the Manakamana Temple in the hills of Gorkha District, one of Nepal's most important Hindu pilgrimage sites. The temple itself was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake, but reconstruction was completed in 2018. From the temple, on a clear day, there are beautiful views of the Himalayas. But, even if the weather's not clear, the long cable car ride over the Trishuli River Valley and beautiful farmland is definitely worthwhile.
Learn about Nepali Religious Architecture at the Patan Museum
Travelers interested in art, culture, and architecture should make the excellent Patan Museum one of their first stops in Kathmandu. Located in the old palace building in the Patan Durbar Square, this is Nepal's finest museum, with exhibits on the Hindu and Buddhist culture of the Kathmandu Valley, specifically related to the architecture and religious monuments you see around the valley.
Shop for Locally-Made Handicrafts and Textiles
Nepal has a rich handicraft tradition, and these days you can either shop for traditional items or more contemporary designs inspired by traditional elements. Items to look out for include mala bead necklaces, dhaka cloth clothing, items utilizing the striped pangden aprons woven by Tibetan women, pottery, handmade lokta paper, Tibetan Buddhist thangka paintings, hand-woven bags, and Maithil paintings made by women. Fair-trade shops selling more traditional items, mainly made by women, include Dhukuti (in Kathmandu) and the Women's Skills Development Organisation (with shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara). For more modern design items, check out Timro Conceptstore or The Local Project, both in Kathmandu.
Splash Your Way Down a White-Water River
Nepal is a white-water lover's paradise, with many long, clean rivers flanked by white-sand beaches, jungle, and villages. Complete novices can join a one-day white-water rafting trip on the Bhote Kosi or Trishuli Rivers, or learn to white-water kayak. Longer multi-day adventures are also offered, from a couple of days on the Seti or Kali Gandaki Rivers to 8-13 day expeditions on the Sun Kosi, Karnali, or Tamur Rivers.
Paraglide Over Pokhara
Strolling through the lakeside town Pokhara you're sure to notice the colorful paragliders floating overhead. Sarangkot Hill, just north of Pokhara's Phewa Lake, is one of the best places in the world from which to paraglide, thanks to the stable thermals and incredible views. On one side you'll be treated to views of the Annapurna Himalaya, and on the other, you'll see Phewa Lake and the small farming villages around Pokhara. Beginners can take tandem flights with an instructor.
Visit the Birthplace of the Buddha
Although Nepal is a majority Hindu nation, it has strong Buddhist connections, the most significant of which is the fact that Prince Siddhartha Gautama, aka the Buddha, was born here in 623 B.C. The modern-day nation-states of India and Nepal didn't exist then, but he was born in Lumbini, a small settlement on the Terai (Nepali plains), near the border with India. Travelers to Lumbini can visit the Peace Park, which has many monasteries and temples constructed by Buddhist organizations and governments from around the world.
Paddle a Colorful Boat on Phewa Lake
The colorful boats of Pokhara's Phewa Lake are an iconic image of the city. Rent a paddleboat with an oarsman to spend some time admiring the peace, quiet, and mountain views from the middle of the lake. The Tal Barahi Temple, on a little island in the lake, is a worthwhile stop.
Spot Rhinos on Safari in Chitwan
Over the last few years, the Chitwan National Park has run a successful one-horned rhinoceros conservation program. Poaching has been dramatically reduced (if not totally eliminated), and there are now, more than 600 rhinos live in the park. Visitors are almost guaranteed a sighting of the enormous creatures when on a Jeep, ox-cart, or walking safari. You could also spot the endangered gharial crocodile, deer, elephants, lots of different birds, or a Royal Bengal Tiger (although the chances of seeing them are higher in Bardia National Park, further west in Nepal).
Take a Teahouse Trek
Nepal is a popular trekking destination, partially because of the excellent infrastructure in the mountains. Whereas in some countries you may need to camp or stay in shared huts, in Nepal you can stay in "teahouses" along the more popular routes. These are like basic guesthouses, and while facilities are normally not fancy (with some exceptions) you generally get your own room, warm blankets, and hot food. The Everest and Annapurna regions have the most developed teahouse infrastructure, but you can find teahouses in many different trekking areas.
Chill Out at the Garden of Dreams
Kathmandu can be a frazzling and infuriating, but the peaceful Garden of Dreams is a delightful place to chill out right in the heart of the city. The manicured garden with fountains, flowers, and arches is attached to the Kaiser Mahal, a 19th-century palace that wouldn't look out of place in Europe. Grab a drink at the Kaiser Cafe or just find a spot in the shade and read a book.
Visit all Three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley
"Durbar Square" means royal square, and as the Kathmandu Valley is comprised of three erstwhile kingdoms, there are three Durbar Squares: in the city of Kathmandu (also called Basantapur Durbar Square), Patan, and Bhaktapur. Each has a distinct feel and architecture, so all three are worthy of your time. Kathmandu's Durbar Square combines traditional Nepali/Newari temple architecture with neo-classical designs, Patan Durbar Square is entirely traditional and houses the unparalleled Patan Museum (and is, arguably, the most beautiful and well preserved of the three squares), and Bhaktapur Durbar Square was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake but is still worth a visit.
Birdwatch at the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
While Chitwan is where you should head for rhinos, the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is an excellent destination for keen birdwatchers. Not many tourists visit the park, located in the wetlands where several rivers meet. It's a haven for many bird species, including greater spotted eagles, spot-billed pelicans, and much more.
Travel to the Other Side of the Himalaya
Most of Nepal lies south of the great Himalayan range, but there are pockets over on the other side, in the rain-shadow of the mountains. These regions—Mustang and Dolpo—are culturally and naturally distinct from most of the rest of Nepal, and are a fascinating destination for trekking or just general sightseeing. Jomsom is the gateway to Mustang, and can be reached by a 30-minute flight from Pokhara up the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Dolpo is more complicated to reach, but that's part of its allure. Dry, barren mountains, sandcastle-like forts, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, ancient cave dwellings, and fossils of sea creatures at altitudes of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) await adventurous travelers.
Join Tibetan Pilgrims at One of Buddhism’s Holiest Sites
Kathmandu's Boudha Stupa is the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet, and the Boudha area is the center of Kathmandu's Tibetan community. The enormous white stupa with a golden pinnacle painted with the eyes of Buddha is spectacular at any time of day, but it's especially atmospheric at dawn and dusk when hundreds of devotees do a kora (clockwise circuit) of the stupa.
Celebrate a Traditional Hindu or Buddhist Festival
Many Hindu and Buddhist festivals are celebrated in Nepal throughout the year, and are a cultural treat for travelers. Foreigners are usually very welcome to observe or participate. Major festivals include:
- Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival held in September/October, celebrating the triumph of good over evil
- Tihar, the Hindu festival of lights, held in October/November
- Holi, held in February/March, is a festival of color and water that welcomes spring
- Rato Macchendranath Festival, held in Patan in April/May, is Nepal's longest-running festival. It goes for around a month in Patan, and is a Newari festival worshiping the god Rato Macchendranath
- Buddha Jayanti, Buddha's birthday, in April, especially celebrated in Buddhist areas like Boudha
- Teej, held in September, is when Nepali Hindu women let loose by dancing in temples and praying for the long life of their husbands
Find Kathmandu’s Colorful Street Art
Many of Kathmandu's attractions are traditional in nature, but over the last decade, a number of street art projects have brightened up the overwhelmingly drab, concrete facades of the city. Colorful murals of everything from gods to tigers to geometric designs adorn walls all over the city, but there's a particularly large concentration in the Kupondole area of Patan.
Feast on Dal Bhat
Nepal's de facto national dish is a collection of smaller dishes that comprise a meal. Dal means lentils, and bhat means rice, so dal bhat is, at its simplest, lentil curry served with rice. But, a meal of dal bhat usually includes several vegetable curries as well as a meat curry (most likely chicken or mutton), a salad, and a spicy pickle. You can find delicious dal bhat at every price point, and its always tasty, filling, and nutritious.
Sip on Ilam Tea
Many tea-drinking enthusiasts are familiar with Indian Darjeeling tea, but fewer have tried tea from Ilam in eastern Nepal, despite the area being just across the border from Darjeeling. Travelers can pick up wooden boxes of Ilam tea in shops around Kathmandu, or travel all the way east to hike, birdwatch, and enjoy the rolling tea-field scenery of Ilam.
Visit Nepal's Holiest Hindu Temple, Pashupatinath
Pashupatinath Temple is Nepal's holiest Hindu site. Located on the banks of the Bagmati River, it's also the city's most important cremation ground. Non-Hindus won't be allowed into the most important temple buildings, but are welcome to visit the grounds. There's a reverential atmosphere here, as open-air cremations and funerals take place throughout the day.