Ten of the Best Things to Do in Kathmandu
Kathmandu! As I walked round the familiar streets of Thamel, I was taken back to my previous visit 10 years before, when the sight of cows casually strolling round the narrow roads and monkeys jumping across electricity poles, had induced an overwhelming sense of excitement that regrettably I have never experienced again on my travels.
Kathmandu was the very first place I visited in Asia – the temples, shrines, spices and street food were all unfamiliar to me back then. But now, as I walked along the same paths, the excitement and nostalgia of being in Kathmandu was starting to build up again as I eagerly showed Nikki my old haunts and explained all about the best things to do in Kathmandu.
Ten of the Best Things to do in Kathmandu
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1. Walk around the Boudhanath Stupa
One of my favourite sights in Nepal, the huge Buddhist stupa, is one of the largest in the world and a UNESCO world Heritage Site. Thankfully, the stupa which was damaged in the infamous 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people, has now been expertly restored.
The area around the Stupa, decorated with multiple prayer flags, is full of Buddhist monks chanting mantras and walking around it and the shops in the area sell Tibetan souvenirs as well as Tibetan momos and butter tea. If you’re missing Tibet whilst in Nepal, be sure to visit the Boudhanath area!
Location – The stupa is about 8km away from Thamel. We got there by walking from Pashupatinath Temple (a 30-minute walk away) since we visited that first, but you can easily get a taxi from any place in Kathmandu or catch a bus or van headed that way from the bus terminal opposite Ratna park.
2. Climb up to Swaymbhunath (The Monkey Temple)
Want to work out your butt muscles? The 350 steps up to the monkey temple will surely contribute to that! And if you like monkeys, the climb up won’t get boring since you’ll be stopping every few steps to watch the mischievous rascals play or to snap pictures of them. Be sure not to carry any plastic bags or visible food though since they are experts at sneaking up right behind you to steal your stuff.
Once at the top, you will be rewarded with great views over Kathmandu valley as well as Buddha statues, prayer wheels, a large stupa and lots of prayer flags. Definitely one of the best things to do in Kathmandu!
Location – A 30-minute walk away from Thamel just past the river.
3. Explore Thamel
Thamel is noisy, dirty, and full of rickshaws, motorbikes, cows and taxis. We do not recommend that you stay there unless you really need to be close to the action. Even so, try to get accommodation which is sufficiently recessed from the street. Thamel is worth exploring if just for the restaurants, momo shops, souvenirs, trekking shops and general chaos. Some people love it, others hate it.
Exploring the familiar places in Thamel and discovering some unfamilar ones, was high on my list of things to do in Kathmandu on this visit! I just loved getting lost in the narrow roads, stopping to look at the many shrines whilst avoiding the cows whilst discovering new momo shops.
Nikki on the other hand, was not terribly fascinated by the place. Touts stand at every corner of the streets trying to persuade and hassle tourists into buying opium and hash or other services, which got on his nerves after a while – he even tried scaring the touts away by telling them that he was a Maltese police officer who needed to have urine examinations after the holidays (I wasn’t present and I’m still not very sure what this was about) but to no avail.
Since Thamel is primarily a backpacker hangout, there’s some nightlife going on. Live bands pelt out western songs regularly at Lhasa Bar and Purple Haze – some are excellent so we really recommend spending a night or two in town!
4. Take a Day trip to Bhaktapur
Home to the most beautiful Durbar square in the Kathmandu valley, Bhaktapur should not be missed. It is very easy to organise a half day or a full-day trip to the heritage town.
5. Dine In Traditional Nepali style at Bhojan Griha
Dining at Bhojna Griha is a full Nepali experience which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Not only was the authentic traditional food delicious, but we were treated to folk dancing and singing during our meal. The 150-year old house (which used to belong to a royal priest) has been renovated in such a way as to have guests dine from long low tables in its large halls. Seated on the floor on large cushions, we feasted on fried potatoes, momos, lentil dal, fried fish, chicken curry, spinach, rice and sweetened yogurt.
The restaurant operates in an eco-friendly and socially responsible manner so as to have a positive impact on the local environment and we were very glad to have been introduced to such an initiative which is trying to make an environmental difference in the local community.
6. Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square
Badly damaged by the 2015 earthquake, Kathmandu’s Durbar Square has not yet been full restored but is still worth visiting, especially if you aim on getting an insight into Kathmandu’s history and culture. The intricate woodcarvings and the rich architecture of the square’s buildings are extraordinary and it is worth taking the time to observe as many aspects of the square as possible.
During our visit, a group of Nepali women seemed to be having a reading/chanting session right besides one of the smaller temples!
Location – A 20-minute walk away from Thamel.
7. Hunt for Kathmandu’s best momos
If you’ve travelled in the Himalayas before, you will be familiar with momos, dumplings stuffed with various fillings such as paneer, buffalo meat and vegetables. If you haven’t tried them yet, then you’re in a for a treat! Momos can be steamed or fried and are usually served with a dipping sauce.
My personal favourites are steamed momos stuffed with cheese and potato; Nikki likes the ones stuffed with meat and covered in gravy. I always try to limit my momo intake by sharing them with companions but then normally give in to temptation by ordering a second helping of the inexpensive and delicious morsels to stuff my face with!
Kathmandu is packed with momo shops, many of which prepare momos early morning and continue to serve them until they run out, usually some time in the afternoon. So if you’re really looking for the best momos in town, be sure to start your hunt in the morning before the best ones run out! Add this to your list of things to do in Kathmandu!
8. Meet the Sadhus at Pashupatinath temple
This expansive Hindu temple complex right on the banks of the Bagmati River, is the most sacred temple dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva in Nepal. The complex consists of hundreds of shrines, statues and temples and cremations take place regularly on the funeral pyres at the banks set up by the deceased’s loving relatives. It is very possible to witness such open-air cremations although we advise you to keep a respectful distance and avoid taking close-up photos of the funeral ceremony.
The temple is considered to be so holy that many elderly Hindus come to the temple to spend their last few weeks preceding their death in Pashupatinath after which they are cremated in the river. The temple is home to many sadhus, holy men in orange robes and painted faces who gave up worldly pleasures to live a peaceful life of devotion. Very often they are happy to pose for photos for tourists although some of them will demand a fee.
Location – a 15-minute bus ride or taxi ride away from the main bus station opposite Ratna park (more in traffic).
9. Take a day trip to Patan
Patan is a historical ancient town close to Kathmandu valley. The city is known for its rich heritage of arts and handicrafts and as well as for its Durbar Square which again was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake and is still being reconstructed.
The Patan museum, located within the square is worth spending a couple of hours in – it houses a variety of statues and religious objects which give more insight into the history of Patan and its people. The entrance fee to the museum is included in the Patan entrance ticket. If you’re looking for some high-quality souvenirs to take back home, be sure go on a day trip to Patan!
10. Relax in the Garden of Dreams
And if you’re looking for more peaceful things to do in Kathmandu, the Garden of Dreams is a blissful sanctuary within the city which is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of busy metropolis, that it almost feels unreal. This is the spot to go to if you want to take a break from the chaos of Thamel. The gardens are very well-maintained and the restaurant serves good food which is generally of better quality than that found in Thamel.
Location – a 5-minute walk away from Thamel.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
I stayed at Hotel Traditional Comfort, which is far enough from the noisy chaos of Thamel but still within walking distance.
A relatively new boutique hotel, the red-brick building is decorated in traditional in Newari style with large spacious rooms, traditional but modern furnishings and thoughtful lighting. If you’re looking for elegant simplicity in your accommodation, this is the right place for you.
The restaurant serves delicious Nepali and western food whilst the rooftop terrace provides panoramic views over Kathmandu. The friendly staff were as helpful and accommodating as possible making my stay so easy and comfortable that I can recommend this hotel with no hesitation whatsoever.
Where to eat in Kathmandu
Rosemary Kitchen and Coffee Shop
This is the place where Nikki and I celebrated our six-year anniversary dinner a week after the actual day. Serving Western, Nepali and Indian food, we initially chose this restaurant because it had a cheese platter and wine listed on its menu, food items we sorely missed from back home. The chicken tikka dishes, bacon tortelloni and yogurt cheesecake did not disappoint either!
I was a regular at this restaurant on my first trip to Nepal and I was curious to see whether its wood-fired pizzas had changed in quality or size. I am happy to confirm that the they were just as good as when I had first tasted them 10 years back!
Best thali I’ve had in Nepal! Enough said!
Dwarika’s Chhen (World Heritage Hotel)
Our meal here was served buffet-style during a function. The quality of the food, was superb and I can only imagine that individually-served dishes would be just as good. The hotel itself which is located just inside Durbar square, is built in traditional Newari style with a beautiful heritage courtyard in which you can also dine.