What to do in Kathmandu!
Boudhanath Stupa and the colourful city of Kathmandu

What to do in Kathmandu?

If you’re planning a trek in Nepal and thinking you’ll spend some time in the capital, you might be wondering what to do in Kathmandu! There are so many amazing things to see and do including an impressive seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites – more than in any other city! Yes, it’s hard to know where to start! In this blog, read about my first experience in the incredible city I love – Kathmandu.

First Time Arriving in Kathmandu

My first trip to Kathmandu created a barrage of emotions. Apprehension and nervousness quickly turned into curiosity. Followed by the need to ‘be brave’ and just get out there and explore. I stayed in Thamel – the tourist haven of Kathmandu. It was another world. Vibrant colours, sounds and smells coming from every direction. Cows in the street and tiny taxis squeezing their way through unlikely spaces.

I was instantly hooked on the laid back yet organised chaos of Kathmandu!

Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time, a solo female, was a nerve wracking experience! Staff from my hotel were waiting for me at the airport. It was dark. We drove for what seemed like a long time through unlit streets, navigating bumps and holes in the road. I was grateful to reach the hotel safely!

Getting Oriented in Thamel (or Not!)

The next morning, I left the hotel to find a maze of tiny, colourful streets without pavements that all looked the same. Despite traveling regularly, my orientation leaves a lot to be desired! After ten minutes, I returned to my hotel to collect myself. It took a while, but I gradually ventured further and further out.

The most important thing is to carry a business card from your hotel. If you’re lost, locals will happily help, or you can jump in a taxi. Some people carry a compass too. It sounds extreme, but in the maze of Thamel it’s not a bad idea! Once I felt at ease and bit the bullet, I just walked, keen to explore all the nooks and crannies. I even found my own way back!

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There are so many things to do in Kathmandu! The capital is home to an impressive seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so you’ll want to see some! Here’s an overview to help you choose which sites to visit! Ask us about including a sightseeing tour in your itinerary.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

One of three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, this historic site boasts spectacular architecture built over several centuries including the old Royal Palace. Sadly, some temples were damaged or completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. However this site is still magnificent to behold and you’ll love the interesting stories your tour guide will share with you about Nepal’s history.

Bhairava Statue, Kathmandu Durbar Square
Hindu deity ‘Bhairava’ (fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva), Kathmandu Durbar Square

Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)

Sacred Buddhist temple Swayambhunath Stupa, also famously known as the ‘Monkey Temple’ is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal. A leg-stretching climb is well worth it to see the Stupa up close, as well as magnificent views of the city. Just don’t feed the monkeys and keep tight hold of your sunglasses and hat! You have been warned!

Golden Buddhas at Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), Kathmandu
Three huge Golden Buddhas await you at Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa

Gaze into the ever-watchful eyes of the impressive Boudhanath Stupa. Now restored and open for business following the 2015 earthquake. ‘Boudha’ is the largest stupa in Nepal and the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu. It’s also an amazing photo opportunity as you can see!

Boudhanath Stupa and the colourful city of Kathmandu
One of the largest spherical stupas in the world – ‘Boudhanath’ in Kathmandu

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

My favorite UNESCO site is the ancient walled city of Bhaktapur. Home of UNESCO site Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and the famous Peacock Window. This stunning Newar city also suffered some noticeable damage in the 2015 earthquake. But many historic temples remain, and the streets and squares will amaze you. It’s a bustling mini-city, full of tiny streets, splendid wooden architecture everywhere you look, food markets, and clay pots drying in the sun. Bhaktapur is famous for the production of ‘piggy banks’ or money boxes called Khuturke. They are gifted to children who use them for saving coins. Only when the khuturke is full, can it be broken and the money accessed.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Handmade khuturke and other clay pots drying in the sun at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple is considered the center of Hindu faith in Nepal and is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. It’s actually a large complex consisting of many temples and ashrams, spread out along the banks of the Bagmati River. Home to many interesting Hindu legends, and sadhus (holy people). You can’t miss the vivid orange, yellow and red of their clothing, as well as their face paint!

What to do in Kathmandu - Holy Sadhus at Pashupatinath
Holy Sadhus at Pashupatinath Temple

In the temple complex on the banks of the river, there is a cremation site for Hindus. You can see families performing rituals and burning the bodies of their relatives. This conjured up strange feelings for me. It felt wrong to witness a husband washing the head and feet of his dead wife, even though it’s technically a public affair. The smell (and ash depending on wind direction) from the burning bodies fills the air. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square is found in the city of Lalitpur, in the Kathmandu Valley. The Newari architecture is as amazing as any you’ll find in Nepal. Sadly, the square suffered significant damage in the 2015 earthquake and will be undergoing repairs for several years to come.

What to do in Kathmandu - Patan Durbar Square
Patan Durbar Square

Changu Narayan Temple

The only UNESCO site I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting – I must put it on my list for next time! Changu Narayan Temple is considered to be the oldest Hindu temple still functioning in Nepal. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu – ‘the Supreme’ preserver and protector. Construction is also ongoing at this site, as earthquake repairs are being made.

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Garden of Dreams

If you’re spending any length of time in Kathmandu and you’re seeking some peace and quiet, kick back in the Garden of Dreams with a book. The Garden of Dreams is a secluded garden paradise frequented by both travellers and locals wanting a break from the hustle and bustle. A mini botanical garden protected from the busy city by high walls is beautiful as well as tranquil. Honestly, I wished I’d discovered it earlier in my trip!

Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu
Relax in the tranquil Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu

Shopping in Kathmandu

I love the shopping too! You can get everything you need for trekking at reasonable prices, so don’t feel compelled to buy everything before you arrive in Nepal. Also, don’t forget to buy some Tibetan Prayer Flags, or even better have them gifted to you. It was a truly special moment when I hung my flags on the Cho La Pass in the Everest Region.

My still cherished purchases include a Thangka painted by the ‘Master’ painter in this photo! Gorgeous scarves, a cotton bedspread, wrap-around blankets to keep warm, and silver earrings – a gift from friends. These are just some of the stunning handicrafts on offer.

Master Painter in Bhaktapur painting a Thangka
A Master Painter at Bhaktapur Bajrala Thangka Painting School, painting a Thangka just like mine!

Now you know what to do in Kathmandu, ask us about including a sightseeing tour in your itinerary – you choose the sites you want to visit! Or we can add extra night’s accommodation so that you can explore Kathmandu your way!