Despite the damage of 2015 earthquake, there are still plenty of amazing places to visit in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Let’s help to get the country on its feet!
Kathmandu, Nepal’s vibrant capital, sits on elevation of 1,400 meters in Kathmandu Valley of central Nepal. It is home to some amazing temples, stupas and temples and gateway to Nepal’s premier attraction, the Himalaya. More than two years after devastating earthquake, most of the sights are re-opened and welcome visitors again.
There are ongoing restoration works – therefore, every dollar that you spend on tourism is helping to get the country back on the feet. Not only you get great value and combination of interesting and affordable destination – you are actually helping just by being there. No matter whether you are interested in easier Annapurna hike or wanna make it to Everest Base – it’s now the perfect time to visit Nepal is now.
Nepal and Himalayas are indeed on a bucket list for most mountain lovers and those vertically inclined – and it was the same with me. When I got the invitation from Nepal tourism to attend Himalayan Travel Mart, I just couldn’t say no (yay!). Apart from the event itself, I got extra time to experience Kathamandu sightseeing. The city feels little overwhelming for the first time – still, there are also peaceful and relaxing places to visit in Kathmandu.
Flying to Nepal is an experience itself, since you are navigating above the Himalayas. I was extremely lucky: on my flight back I got amazing views of Mount Everest. Early morning was just a perfect time, so the sky could not have been clearer.
Heading to Nepal, you will fly to Tribhuvan International Airport, which is the only international airport in the country. I recommend Kiwi.com to find the cheapest rates. Getting from the airport is pretty easy – you can hire a taxi or arrange transfer from your hotel. Airport is located 5,5 east of the center.
INSIDER TIP: When flying from Nepal, I recommend getting the window seats on the right side of the plane.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KATHMANDU
If you expected small and quiet mountain city, you are very wrong – Kathmandu is very different. There is 2,6 million people who call it home. Is busy, noisy and sometimes dusty– so be prepared! Yes, there are also peaceful and relaxing places to visit in Kathmandu. I wrote this article to help to find Kathmandu points of interest smoothly.
It is good idea to stay in Thammel quarte which offers the most accommodation options. You can choose one of the hostels or book your room with Airbnb (feel free to use $30 travel credits for your first Airbnb booking).The transportation is rather hectic, so you will probably end up walking around which gives you the most authentic experience. Don’t worry: there is always a rickshaw to hop in when you get to tired or lost.
So, which are the best things to see in Kathamandu? Let me tell you!
01 | Swayambhu aka Monkey Temple
Both pilgrims and tourists alike to climb the three-hundred-odd steps leading up to Swayambhu, the stunning golden stupa located on the hill west of Kathmandu. This Buddhist religious monument is decorated with 20 kilograms of gold and It is definitely among my favorite places to visit in Kathmandu – you get there amazing 360-degree panoramas and the atmosphere is very special with many symbols.
The stupa is is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley and belongs to most sacred places in the country. According to Tibetan custom one should walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction. Very interesting and new for me were also the spinning prayer wheels – I have never seen something like this before (there is 108 of them!)
Practical infomation: The base of the hill is 20 minutes’ drive or a 30 minute walk from Thammel. The entrance fee is NPR 200 (US$ 2). It is a great place to watch the sunset or sunrise. If you want to see the Nepale pilgrims, arrive before 9 am. There are several buildings and shrines in the complex – make sure to have enough time for exploration (one hour or more!)
02 | Kathmandu Durbar Square
Ancient Durbar Square features temples dating back to the 12th century including Kasthamandap or “Wooden house” that gives the city its name. Although Durbar square has still not been restored to its former glory (some of the buildings were severely damaged or during earthquake), there is a lot to see. I was honestly astonished by the number of sights concentrated in one place (in fact, it is two adjacent squares, not just one).
You can climb the steps of many temples, sit down and enjoy the shadow as the locals do it. Sometimes, it gets really hot here, so I recommend visiting it in the early morning or just before the sunset. Some of the must see-s includes Taleju Temple (standing on a 12-stage plinth, and reaching 35 meters in height) and Kumari Bahal (three-storey structure featuring amazing carving work) and Hanuman Dhoka that I cover later.
Practical information: It is the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal. The entrance fee is NPR 1000 (US$ 10). If you are spending more than one day it Kathmandu, it is worth exchange your single-entry ticket with a multiple-entry pass. You will need a passport photo for doing this.
3 | The Royal Palace
Kathmandu’s royal palace, known as the Hanuman Dhoka, is the jewel and a must-see when visiting Durbar square. Although being hit hard and extensively damaged by the 2015 earthquake, the palace is again open to visitors. There is a huge country yard and back in the gardens I spotted several monkeys playing around.
The palace was originally founded during the Licchavi period (4th to 8th centuries AD) and then was expanded by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. It is named after the stone image of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, that sits near the main entryway. In Nepali language ‘Dhoka’ means door or gate.
Practical information: The entrance fee is included in Durbar square ticket. Yay!
04 | Boudha Stupa
Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath is known as holiest and most recognizable sites in Kathmandu. With a diameter of 120 meters it makes for the largest temple in Nepal. It was probably built on the 14th century; there are many various legends about its construction. Of course, this mystic place full of symbolism is also on the UNESCO list.
The stupa is built on an octagonal base, is surrounded by prayer wheels, and has colourful prayer flags draped from its 36-metre central spire. Boudhanath is the center of Tibetan/Buddhist community, and is surrounded by around 50 monasteries and shops settling Tibetan artifacts.
Practical information: Boudhanath is is located about 11 km northeast of Kathmandu. One way by taxi will cost you around NPR 400-500 (US$ 4-5) on depending on your negation skills. The entrance fee is NPR 250 (US$ 3).
05 | Thammel
Thammel is a tourist neighborhood consisting of narrow alleys crowded with various shops and vendors. You can buy there anything from souvenirs to mountain gear (some of that should be even real). Thammel is dotted with money exchanges, restaurants, cafes and guest houses. This is where most foreign visitors to Nepal stay – many of them are heading to Himalaya next.
It is the best to wake up early and explore Thammel in the morning. On a hot day, the quarter it turns into boiling hell: its crowded and very dusty. I spent half a day exploring and I got to use wet tissue to cover my mouth and nose. By the way, its streets are not just for walkers, you will encounter motorbikes, rickshaws and the occasional meandering cow.
Practical information: It is handy to have a head mask and very good hiking shoes. There is no entrance fee.
06 | Kathesimbhu Stupa
I have actually found this place by accident when wandering around maze-like streets of downtown Kathmandu. The fascinating dome of Kathesimbhu Stupa is rising from a hidden courtyard, surrounded by other buildings such as temples and also a public school – it is very lively place with kids running around. They were indeed surprised to see a foreign girl around.
The stupa was built around 1650 as a copy of famed Swayambhunath Stupa, also located in the Kathmandu Valley. There are plenty of other smaller stupas, engravings and statutes around. Do not miss the stunning two story pagoda dedicated to the goddess called Hariti. You can find it in the northwestern corner.
Practical information: There is no entrance fee. The stupa is located between Thammel and Durbar square (better have a map, search for Drubgon Jangchup Choeling Monastery).
07 | Garden of dreams
There is no better place to escape the chaos of Kathmandu than the neo classical garden Swapna Baigicha also called Garden of Dreams. This green oasis features gorgeous flowers, historic pergolas and murmuring fountains. The place has European touch and is incredibly peaceful.
The garden was built in back 1920s and later restored using the money of Austrian Government. The place has been brought back to life after the 2015 earthquake damage. Coming here is a guarantee of moments (or hours) in the fresh air and relaxing. Sometimes, people come here to have a picnic; there is a cozy cafe as well.
Practical information: It is two minutes’ walk from Thammel. The garden is open from 9 am to 10 pm. Entrance fee is NPR 200. (US$ 2).
FOOD IN KATHMANDU
Nepalese Cuisine combines a range of ingredients and characteristics from its neighboring countries with its own gastronomic history. With countless restaurants and tastes, you will never get hungry in the country’s capital.
Kathmandu the best place in the country to taste Nepalese and Tibetian specialty called momos – the vegetables or minced meat wrapped in dough. You get them fried or steamed and stuffed with buffalo, chicken, or veggies. Prices can vary depending on the location and the fillings, but expect to pay between NPR80-250 for a dozen. Great place to try momos is Thamel Momo Hut (you can find it on Tripadvisor). I even tried them filled with the chocolate.
With all said above, I have to stay that if you are not used to street food, you should be careful to what you eat. I had some diarrhea problems after I returned from Nepal – but I am sure this can be avoided quite soon when you use some pills against it. I didn’t do it (later I had to visit doctor and start using antibiotics.
PLACES TO STAY IN KATHMANDU
Kathmandu used to be backpackers paradise in the recent years there is an up rise of modern and luxury hotels as well. I have stayed in Kantipur Temple House (Could not have chosen better), but I have included couple of other hotels that I visited and that feature Nepali architecture.
Kantipur Temple House – this is where I stayed during the conference. Located right in the heart of Thammel, yet peaceful and green. It features traditional Nepalese architecture. It is ecofriendly, rooms feature a fan. Best part? Morning yoga sessions!
Check the rates and availability here.
Thamel Eco Resort – another eco-friendly alternative in the town. Eco resort features impressive garden with colorful Nepalese flags, rooms are air-conditional. They serve international cousine and organize variety of excursions.
Check the rates and availability here.
World Heritage Hotel and Apartments – Staying here, you get historical Durbar square and Hanuman Dhoka palace next door. This is interesting choice for couples, their rooms are cozy and feature kitchenette for preparing own meals. Airport shuttle is free of charge.
Check the rates and availability here.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO NEPAL? WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO?
I did my best to explore it but I can tell you – this city is huge! There are also many other sights around Nepal – and this country offers far more than just an Everest. if you are into outdoors, you should give try to Annapurna following the Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek. By the way, I am now preparing article about day trips from Kathmandu. So you can look forward for that one!
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Thanks and have a great day!
My trip was possible thanks to Nepal Tourism board, Turkish Airlines and Earthbound Expeditions.