Kathmandu is certainly a city you’ll never forget once you visit – busy, bustling, and booming with excitement and certain chaos unique to the Nepal capital. Many adventurous travelers merely use Kathmandu as a stopover before hopping back on the road towards the Langtang Valley, the Himalayas, or perhaps Pokhara – but the city is definitely more than just an afterthought. It has so much to offer to the point where it can get a little dizzying to keep track! So don’t miss out the opportunity to experience just how lively and vibrant it can be, with some of the best things to do when in Kathmandu:
Catch a glimpse of Kathmandu’s cultural and religious roots
1.) Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa is constructed with mandala architecture in mind, making it one of Kathmandu’s largest circular stupas and truly a Buddhist icon not just in Nepal, but for the entire Buddhist community. The mandala is a symbolism for the different levels in Buddhist chakras, with wisdom and clarity in the middle representing Nirvana, the final goal of Buddhism. People from all over the world visit here for pilgrimage, walking around the dome; monks can also be seen chanting prayers and rituals. There are lots of restaurants and cafes around where you can catch a fantastic view of Boudhanath from afar, too! The beautiful flags intertwining the stupa and its watchful eyes are best seen from above for the best effect.
Address: Boudha, Kathmandu 44600
Entrance Fee: 400 NPR
2.) Kathmandu Durbar Square
In the past, Nepal was divided into three kingdoms – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan. The three kingdoms have three Durbar Squares filled with ancient architecture and the remnants of what life in Nepal was like during the olden days. If you want to visit somewhere with the best representation of the country’s origins in terms of structures and culture, then this is an amazing place to visit. Feel as if you’ve traveled back in time walking past the temples along the square, statues staring out their windows, monuments of figures with religious significance dotted throughout the streets, and sights of artistic Newari wood carvings.
Address: Ganga Path, Kathmandu 44600
Entrance Fee: 1000 NPR
If you want a Kathmandu city tour from a local’s perspective, I suggest you book this Kathmandu City Tour
3.) Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, making it one of the most sacred sites in Hinduism – which is no wonder it receives thousands of religious visitors yearly. The pagoda-styled temple complex is a stunning sight to behold, with gold and silver roofs and intricate wood carvings along the walls. Aside from its beauty, Pashupatinath is also a location wherein many religious cremations are held – if you come across one during your visit, it is a humbling experience indeed.
Address: Pashupati Nath Road 44621
Entrance Fee: 1000 NPR
4.) Swayambunath Stupa
Swayambhunath, also known as the “Monkey Temple” due to the number of monkeys that live there, is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal. Aside from the monkeys, it’s also one of the best places to get an amazing view of Kathmandu! Climb up the many stairs and be greeted to the sight of the city skyline and colorful, red-roofed villages in the distance. If you’re lucky and come up on a clear day, you might even see the Himalayan mountain ranges to the west of Kathmandu.
Address: Kathmandu 44600
Entrance Fee: 200 NPR
If you want more a more spiritual tour here at Monkey Temple you can book a Monkey Temple with a monk experience.
Shop for great finds at the local markets
1.) Asan Market
Asan has been one of the major marketplaces even during the ancient times – till this day, it’s a bustling shopping center where you can purchase practically anything under the sun. From local fabrics, spices, textiles, electronics, and more. Aside from that, Asan is also the venue to many local festivals and celebrations – so don’t be surprised if you see people marching and dancing to the beat of the drum along its streets.
2.) Thamel Market
Thamel is undoubtedly one of the liveliest spots in Kathmandu, teeming with colors and the bustle of locals and tourists. In the alleyways and corners of the Thamel you will find everything you need, from places to shop, hostels to stay in, and delicious local street food. While Thamel can be a wonderful shopping experience in the mornings, in the evening it turns into party central! You can find the greatest concentration of clubs, bards, and indie restaurants sure to help you end the day with a bang.
If you want to shop like a local and learn how to haggle or know where to find the best deals, you can also book a shopping tour with a local in Kathmandu and get an authentic shopping experience.
Interact with the locals
Kathmandu Valley is home to a number of monasteries which practice the Buddhist faith – a religion which is intertwined with the culture of the Nepali people. When you get to know the people in the monasteries, in turn you also familiarize yourself with a crucial part of Nepal as a whole. There are various monastery tours available, where you can speak to the monks, ask questions about their faith and practices, and even be taught how to meditate. Aside from that, the monasteries are a great place to visit just for the serene experience and the lovely sights of the countryside – one great example being the Kapan monastery.
Doing a homestay with a local family in Kathmandu will allow you to not only have affordable accommodation, not only support the locals living in the city, but it will also allow you to foster a connection with your temporary family – to see what Kathmandu is truly like, beyond the tourist spots and attractions. You will be able to live like a local, be with the locals, and interact with their close community – forming memories close to the heart through conversation and smiles, something no picture will ever be able to do. If you want a really wholesome experience in Kathmandu, then a homestay is a great decision.
I stayed in two homestays, Panauti and Patan and I loved them both. I honestly suggest them, if you want to try the homestay experience you won’t regret you can book here.
Take local tours around Kathmandu
Going on tours through Kathmandu is a great way to get to know the city in just a short amount of time! With tour companies such as Backstreet Academy, you can book a number of different guided tours depending on your interests and schedule. Some examples are:
1.) Go on a street food adventure in Thamel
Kathmandu has quite the impressive Nepal street food scene, and what better way to get to know a city than through its food? With a tour through Kathmandu’s best food stops, you can both get a taste of the local favorites, fill up your tummy, and gain new knowledge about the culture and origins of delicious Nepali cuisine.
2.) Take a momo cooking class
Nepal is famous for their momos! Why not learn the craft of making the delicious dumplings so you can have them for yourself at any time, even after you’ve left Kathmandu? Learn how to make momos with local families and chefs, and in turn gain a skill you can take with you for the rest of your life.
3.) Go on a photography tour
Go on a photography tour through the streets of Kathmandu, through the narrow alleyways and crannies for some of the best shots you normally wouldn’t be able to take just self-exploring. With a professional photographer tour guide, venture off the beaten path and take snaps of sights and memories you’ll have on film forever.
Sightsee in Kathmandu’s most serene spots
The streets of Kathmandu can be rather crowded and in its own organized chaos, but thankfully there are spots in the city perfect for just relaxing and getting away from it all for just a moment.
1.) The Garden of Dreams
Just outside the bustling roads of Thamel, the Garden of Dreams is a serene classical paradise equipped with pavilions, ponds, pagodas, fountains, and an amphitheater. The sight of long stretches of green grass and blooming lily pads floating on the waters are a sure way to clear your mind and get you raring to go for the next exciting activity on your itinerary in Kathmandu.
Address: Tridevi Sadak, Kathmandu 44600
Entrance Fee: 200 NPR
2.) Kathesimbu Stupa
The stupas and temples in Kathmandu are of major religious and cultural significance, so it isn’t surprising that these areas tend to be crowded with tourists and visitors. If you want a quiet alternative to the likes of Boudhanath, then a visit to the Kathesimbu Stupa will do you wonders. It’s a stupa in a hidden courtyard where Tibetans usually visit during their pilgrimage, featuring a lovely pagoda and Western-style monastery. A fun fact about the origins of Kathesimbu is that is was constructed to be a replica of Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple in the 16th century – rumor says that it was even built using leftover materials from Swayambhunath!
Address: Kathmandu 44600
Entrance fee: None
Day Trips from Kathmandu
A great thing about Kathmandu is that it has access to many other beautiful spots in the region, only a day trip away. Here are some of the easily accessible ones sure to give more substance and wonder to your stay in Nepal:
13 km away from Kathmandu is Bhaktapur, home to a fascinating collection of ancient architecture and local artisans who practice their craft in woodworking and pottery. Here you will find the beautiful Bhaktapur Durbar Square as well as a variety of different temples boasting wood, stone, and metal artworks and figurines. Bhaktapur is also famous for a special kind of yogurt, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere in Nepal – so be sure to grab a taste of the ‘Juju dhau’ curd while you’re there.
Patan, alongside Bhaktapur and what is presently known as Kathmandu, was once part of the three Newar kingdoms before the unification into what we now know as Nepal. Like Bhaktapur, it is rich in ancient arts and culture, especially the production of stone and metal statues of religious significance. The Patan Durbar square houses a museum which provides an insight to even more of the city’s interesting past.
If you want to learn more about Patan’s history, you can book this tour.
How to get to and From Kathmandu
1.) By plane
Normally, all international flights land at the Kathmandu International airport. Not many airlines carry flights to Nepal so it’s best to book in advance to make sure you get to Kathmandu during your desired date.
2.) By tourist bus
If you want to go to other provinces in Nepal from Kathmandu, then you can buy tickets for a tourist bus. Expect the travel to be long and the bus ride bumpy and uncomfortable, especially in the areas where there are more jagged roads. You can purchase tickets either at local bus stations or through travel agencies – it’s best to go through travel agencies for assured quality, however.
How to get from Kathmandu Airport to the city
Upon exiting the airport, you will find that there is a long line of taxis waiting to pick up customers. Line up, tell the driver your destination and head into Kathmandu with ease. There are Prepaid taxis for a fixed rate, usually 750 NPR. There are also local Public taxis a bit further from where the Prepaid taxis are parked in front of the airport – on a decongested day, Public taxis can save you up to 300 NPR.
Note: Public taxis do not rely on the meter for their rates, so make sure you negotiate for a set price beforehand.
You can book a private car to take you to your destination – just contact them to park outside of the airport. If you’re staying at a hotel, a majority of them have airport pickup services. If you want to secure your ride ahead of time you can also book here.
The Nepali rupee (NPR) is the official currency of Kathmandu.
These are the exchange rates for USD and PHP as of writing:
1 USD = 110 NPR
1 PHP = 2 NPR
Does Kathmandu have ATMs?
Yes. Like with most major cities, you can find ATMs dotted all throughout the city. Do note that the maximum you can withdraw in a single day ranges from 10,000 NPR to 40,000 NPR – so if you need a large amount of money during your itinerary, it’s best to prepare the cash beforehand in order to avoid shortage.
Is Kathmandu credit card friendly?
Yes, many institutions in Kathmandu accept credit cards but of course for mom and pop shops, smaller restaurants, and the markets and bazaars, you can pay with cash only.
How to get a Nepal visa on arrival
Most nationalities can get a visa on arrival at the Kathmandu International airport. All you need to do is:
- Go to the immigration area of the airport
- Prepare your passport
- Complete your visa application either manually or electronically
- Pay the visa fee
- Present your visa application, passport, receipt, and proof of accommodation to the immigration desk
- Obtain your visa
Of course, this will vary depending on the strength of your passport and the discretion of the immigration employees. If you’re unsure, then it’s best to book your Nepal visa online.
And those are the best things to do in Kathmandu! The city is such a flurry of different activities and cultural fascinations it’s hard to choose what to do first – but whatever you pick, be it going on a food trip or sightseeing around the beautiful stupas and temples, you’re sure to have an eye-opening experience to the wonders the busy capital has to offer.