Top 6 Things To Do In Kathmandu, Nepal

TOP THINGS TO DO IN KATHMANDU, NEPAL

Landing on the tarmac in a new country is something I always look forward to. While other people are annoyingly standing up before the tone has signaled that it’s safe to take of your seat belts, I tend to get lost in my imagination. Anticipation of what adventures await me trigger a smile from ear to ear. That couldn’t be truer than when we landed in Kathmandu, Nepal. In addition to exploring the top things to do in Kathmandu, arrival meant I was one step closer to tackling my life-long bucket list adventure of trekking to Everest Base Camp.
The ancient city of Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and tends to be where most travelers enter the country. It only takes a few minutes navigating the dusty streets to begin to see what makes this destination so interesting – the convergence of old meets new. You’ll see tons of Buddhist and Hindu religious sites and get to see the Newari architecture specific to Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley. Get lost exploring the colorful markets along winding alley ways – it really is a charming and mystical place. All of this is of course being juxtaposed by the ever-expanding city – new roads and high rises sprouting up all over the place. Our guide Prem mentioned that Kathmandu is one of the fastest growing cities in South East Asia.
Like many adventurers who visit the city, Kathmandu served as the base for our Himalayan explorations. Whether you are catching a domestic flight to Pokhara for some Annapurna fun or braving your way to Lukla for trekking in the Everest Region, be sure to take some time to explore Kathmandu. We took the opportunity to explore all the great things to do in Kathmandu both before and after our trek – and are glad that we did.

Are you planning a visit to this eccentric city? Be sure not to miss these top things to do in Kathmandu.

//MONKEY AROUND AT SWAYAMBHUNATH

No visit to Kathmandu is complete without making a visit to Swayambhunath. Coined as the “Monkey Temple” due to the large number of macaques roaming around, this religious site is a great place to see the spirituality of Kathmandu in action. The base of the stupa is lined with prayer wheels that when spun send the mantras inscribed on them into the air. While this is probably done most of the day, the mornings and evenings tend to see large numbers of devotees spinning the prayer wheels as they walk clock-wise around the stupa. When visiting be sure to be respectful and follow suit – only walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction.
As this stupa sits on top of a hill you will be rewarded with great panoramic views of Kathmandu and Kathmandu Valley. It is also a popular place to watch the sunset over Kathmandu. In addition to the main stupa, there are smaller temples and shrines to explore as well as artesian shops.
Practical Info: Swayambhunath is located at Swayambhu Cir Rd, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal. Some people walk from Thamel, but taking a cab is easy. Just be sure to confirm rate before hopping in. There is a small entrance fee applicable for non-Nepali visitors. Note there are 365 stairs to reach the top of the hill if entering from the front. If entering via the parking lot entrance, you will be spared.

//STROLL THROUGH DURBAR SQUARE

Be sure to carve out some time to explore the old town of KathmanduDurbar Square. Not really a square, but a combination of a few squares around royal palaces – this historic part of Kathmandu not only houses these beautiful palaces and temples, but is also where you may get to experience one of the many colorful processions through town. We opted to hire a guide to take us through the alleys ways and provide a bit more context to what we were seeing – I’d suggest doing the same.
As you are making your way through the UNESCO Heritage Site be on the lookout for the pilgrims making their way to the Mahendreshwar Mandir. Look closely at the architecture as you make your way through by Jagannath Mandir – yes, those will be erotic carvings you are looking at. You of course can’t miss the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex – the former residential palace of the Nepalese royals. While we opted to enjoy the architecture from the outside, some of these locations serve as museums and allow you to check them out from the inside. South of the complex you can pop into Himalayan Java for a nice coffee and finish your exploration on Freak Street – former hippie central of the sixties.
On April 25, 2015 central and eastern Nepal was struck with a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake and the 7.3 magnitude aftershock that occurred on May 12, 2015 devastated much of the region – including Durbar Square. As you make your way around you will notice the massive cracks in a lot of the propped up buildings and the rubble of what is left of a lot of the decimated temples. A lot of the sights in old town have an image out front showing what the area looked like before the earthquake as it goes its rebuilding efforts. It’s a very small glimpse of some of the widespread destruction caused that year. Restoration efforts will likely go on for ages, but I still suggest this be on one of your things to do in Kathmandu.
Practical Info: The main square is located at Kot Square, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal. There is a small entrance fee applicable for non-Nepali visitors. Once you pay, you’ll have access to whole area and the Tribhuvan Museum.

//VISIT BOUDHANATH

You can’t come to Kathmandu without visiting the largest stupa in South Asia. A short drive outside of downtown Kathmandu you will find Boudhanath – the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. If you haven’t guessed yet, the stupa is massive and really needs to be seen in person to appreciate the scale. As you make your way clock-wise around the Boudhanath Stupa, be sure to take in all the detail. Every element you see from the bottom to the top represents an element of the path to enlightenment. There are tons of painted frescoes, sculptures, carved mantras, painted buddha eyes, copper prayer wheels and prayer flags.
The area is also full of narrow shop-filled streets that beckon to be explored as well as tons of smaller Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. You could easily spend a couple hours here exploring. For a different vantage point of the stupa, be sure to visit one of the many roof top restaurants that exist on the square. Whether you want to snack on some momo (dumplings), get refreshed with an Everest Beer or refuel with a coffee – this is sure to be one of the highlights of your day out. Get away from the hustle and bustle down below and enjoy seeing the stupa and surrounding Kathmandu Valley from above
Practical Info: The stupa is located at Sundhara Marg, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal. There is a small entrance fee applicable for non-Nepali visitors.

//REFLECT AT PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE

Located on the outskirts of Kathmandu along the Bagmati River, you will find the sacred Hindu temple of Pashupatinath. Everything you read about this place will tell you it’s one of the most religious sites in the world for Hindu followers of Shiva. In fact, during Maha Shivaaratri – a major Hindu religious festival – the temple grounds draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The Kathmandu Post reported that 1.5 million people in 2016. Whether you are choosing to visit during the festival or not, it should be noted that only Hindu followers are able to enter the temple – but the grounds and surrounding buildings in the complex are accessible. The photo below is facing the temple complex.
It’s here where you will see the often-photographed sadhus – holy Hindu men who have given up normal life and all forms and removed themselves from all forms of indulgence. Just know that asking for a photo will cost you – so have some cash to hand if you so choose. I struggle with with sort of touristy thing – they have given up all worldly possesions, yet charge a fee for a photo. You won’t find a photo of a sadhu here.
As you are walking around the grounds, take note of the platforms near the Ghats of the Bagmati river. These platforms are used for the funeral pyres for open-air cremations that take place here. Perhaps you have experienced one of these yourself or have visited another destination like Varanassi, India where this sight is quite common? If not, you will likely get the opportunity to do so here. To be clear – I am not talking about a “finger-pointing-OMG-look-at-that-how-crazy” opportunity. Put the camera down and show some respect for those who are mourning and saying good bye to their loved ones. Quietly observe from a distance, absorb what you are seeing and reflect.

I chose not to photograph the creamations out of respect. The photo below is approaching the main complex center but the smoke in the air is coming from creamtions taking place. To observe these just cross the bridge over the Bagmati and take a seat.

Practical Info: The temple is located is Pashupati Nath Road 44621, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal. There is a small entrance fee applicable for non-Nepali visitors.

//HANG OUT IN THAMEL

Thamel is unapologetically the tourist hub of Kathmandu. Formerly a hippie hot spot in the 60’s, this neighborhood has the hustle and bustle only a city like Kathmandu can offer. It’s chock full of outdoor gear shops, noisy bars, cozy cafes and restaurants with international cuisine. For brekkie be sure to try to Pumpernickel Café and for one of the best pizzas (and gelato) in Nepal, pop over to Fire & Ice. We loved both – but that could have been because we pretty much were eating Dhal Baht for most of our Everest Base Camp Trek. It is likely you will find yourself in a hotel here so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to putz around and check it out.
Kathmandu often serves as the holding pen for trekkers and mountaineers who are about to set off on a Himalayan expedition or who have just come back from one. As you walk through these narrow streets you can’t help but feel the sense of adventure. It’s also a great place to get any last-minute gear you may need for your big trip. You can pretty much find anything here you need here – last minute snacks, sim cards, books, trekking poles, playing cards, gloves, wet wipes – it’s all in Thamel. Just keep your eyes peeled for authentic shops. That Patagonia fleece for $5 sound too good to be true? It is.
Practical Info: If you plan on trekking, you’ll need to pick up your Trekkers’ Information Management Systems (TIMS) permit card at the Nepal Tourism Office located a short walk from Thamel at Pradarshani Marg, Kathmandu 44617, Nepal. If you are travelling in an organized group, these are likely provided – just triple check.

//GET ON TOP OF THE WORLD

For me, Kathmandu is synonymous with Mt. Everest. Given the numbers of others that flock here and use Kathmandu as their base each trekking season, I would say I am not the only one. Those adventurers who decide to head into the Himalayas either do so in the direction of Pokhara or towards Mt. Everest. During my first visit, it was all about Mt. Everest and trekking in the Everest Region. The trails are challenging and the views are mind-blowing. If you love the great outdoors and are a fan of trekking – do yourself a favor and head out one of the many amazing trails in the Everest Region.
Most people making their way to Everest Base Camp and the many trails do so by flying from Kathmandu to the world’s most dangerous airport in Lukla. Flights tend to leave in the morning and will only fly during perfect conditions. My recommendation is to add a few days before and after your trip as a cushion as there are often delays.
If you are not into trekking, but still want to get up close and personal with Mt. Everest – you have options too. Flight operators such as Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines offer scenic Everest flights from Kathmandu. Don’t be fooled by the photos – you will not fly around or over Everest. These flights will fly along the Himalayan ridge and you will see Everest from a distance (if the weather is clear and the window you sit at is clean). I’d recommend considering helicopter flights to Everest. These do fly through the glacier valleys and get you much closer to the gorgeous peaks you want to see. There are some operators that land in places like Gorakshep giving you a chance to walk around and physically be there.
We opted to retrace our trekking steps in a chopper after our 15-day trek and it was mind-blowing (and worth every penny). Be prepared to negotiate hard and have a flight of a lifetime. Need a bit of a nudge? Read about how we decided to make our Everest Helicopter Adventure happen on the last day of our Everest Base Camp Trek.
Looking for a place to stay while you are in town? You’ll have plenty of choice ranging from your luxury resorts to hostels. While we tend to go luxe, we opted to stay at the Kathmandu Guest House located in the heart of Thamel. It served as our base before and after our Everest adventure. It was less about the thrills and more about the history of the hotel. This former general’s mansion is sort of a Kathmandu staple and has hosted many big-name celebs – photos of which you will see as you make your way through the lobby.

If you are thinking of heading to Nepal, do yourself a favor and make sure you carve out some time see all the great things to do in Kathmandu.

Pin Me For Later!

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN AND AROUND NEPAL, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT DESTINATIONS // NEPAL.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links and I earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I personally use all of these companies for my own travel needs and feel they can help. Clicking through the links doesn’t cost you anything and if you decide to make a purchase with one of these organisations, you will be helping to support the DomOnTheGo website.

12 comments

  • Thanks for sharing!Nepal has some of the most spectacular treks in the world. In this trekker’s paradise, a trekker not only enjoys the magnificence of the mountains but also the history, lifestyle, and culture of the people. Makalu Adventure being in the industry for the past 18 years offers some of the most amazing trekking experiences. With us, you can try out Nar Phu Valley Trek, Kanchenjunga, Makalu, or Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Plus, we also have short and smooth treks from 3 days to a week for families and enthusiastic old peoples as well. To know more, call us or visit us!

  • Kathmandu seems like such a vibrant and exotic place. I would love to visit the Monkey Temple and those views of the city and valley look amazing!

  • I hear so much about Kathmandu as a base for the treks, I never really imagined it to be so rich in culture and adventure itself. But of course it is, and you’ve done a great job summing it up in this post, which is now going in my bookmarks. I too am sorry to see the photos of destruction after the earthquakes and I like what you said about respectful photography. Thank you for posting.

  • The pictures of Nepal after the earthquake was disheartening, good to know that there has been fast paced development and things are very much back to normal. Swayambhunath temple will definitely be on top of list whenever we visit the city. Thanks for this post.

  • I visited Nepal a year before the big earthquake. It’s really sad looking at your pictures now and realizing the great damage it left. How unfortunate to see centuries-old structures and temples now crumbled down, probably after a few seconds of earth shaking. It’s great to know though that somehow, they are slowly moving towards recovery.

  • I have always been curious about Nepal but never made it. This post makes me want to visit. The before photos really do give you a sense of the destruction from the earthquake. I suspect it will be years before they really recover.

  • Macaques (shudder!), most dangerous airport and glaciers?!??!! You’re very brave, sir! I might just stick to the capital, wander Freak Street and the Pumpernickel Bar et al. Maybe trek a bit to see ait of Everest then scurry back to safety. Lol. You did good trekking and doing all the base camp activities. Those are not easy!

  • Wow that looks amazing! Everest Base Camp is definitely one of the top things on my hiking bucket list and I will definitely make sure to spend a couple days exploring Kathmandu when I do go.

  • I so cant wait to get to Nepal and do the hiking one day but for me in the capital, I would love to check out Katmandu and the temples. I dont really know too much about the city and I think I need to do some more research before heading out there.

  • Trekking in Nepal is high up on our wish list. We really need to dedicate the time to not only absorb the culture but acclimate to the altitude. Once we make that investment, it would be a shame to leave too quickly. Visiting Kathmandu would be a perfect way to accomplish these things before pressing on to more arduous adventures. The real question I have is how much pre-planning I should do from home, and how much I should leave open for when I land in country? That is where guides like this from travellers who have been in country recently are so helpful.

  • On the part of Monkey Temple, it actually made me curious why there are some temples with a lot of monkeys around. I’m rather curious on why it happened and how. I think I should find out next about the reason behind this phenomenon. 🙂

//Add Your Comment Below

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.