Kathmandu, being the capital city of Nepal, is pretty populated and is hustling bustling city. This advanced city with modern infrastructures and facilities is equally rich with ancient history, culture, and monuments. We cannot deny the fact that Kathmandu is dusty, noisy and crowded as the result of rapid urbanization and development. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Kathmandu is one of the fascinating cities in the world. There are so many exciting and interesting things to do in Kathmandu whether it involves sightseeing or eating or exploring. Kathmandu has its own natural and cultural significance that makes it an amazing city.
The vibrant city is full of lives and if you are wondering where to start, we are here to help you.
Here are some of the top things to do in Kathmandu:
Three Durbar Squares
You should not miss visiting the three Durbar Squares of Kathmandu Valley namely Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Durbar Squares display the fascinating art and architecture on the temples and palaces with the blend of Hindu and Buddhist culture and lifestyle. The ancient palaces in the Durbar Squares have now turned into museums safekeeping the history. They hold the history from the 12th century and all three Durbar Squares are listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are the reminiscence of the ancient kingdom of Kathmandu Valley.
Swoyambhunath is often referred as the ‘Monkey Temple’ as primates can be seen everywhere in the area. The magnificent golden stupa sits atop the hill in the west of Kathmandu and one can climb 365 worn steps to reach the stupa. You can enjoy the picturesque panoramic view of Kathmandu valley from the stupa. King Manadeva built the Swoyambhunath complex during 5th century comprising of stupa, temples, shrines, etc. While returning back, you can visit the three giant golden Buddha statues at the bottom of the hill on the western side.
Pashupatinath Temple is the temple of Lord Shiva and is the most significant & important temple of Hindus. The temple was built in 1696 during the rule of King Bhupatindra Malla. Standing on the bank of Bagmati, Pashupatinath is built in the pagoda style with the gilded roof, intricately carved rafters, and four silver-plated main doors. There are so many other temples and shrines in the premise of Pashupatinath. Only Hindus are allowed in the temple however, non-Hindus can have a glorious view of the temple from the western entrance. The sadhus, the open-air cremation at the riverbanks of the Bagmati River, flowers & incense hawkers are interesting to observe. The Aarati ceremony full of light and chanting every evening is recommendable.
Boudhanath, a Buddhist pilgrimage, is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kathmandu. Listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979, Boudhanath stupa is built on an octagonal base, surrounded by 147 prayer wheels and 108 images of Buddhist deities. Draped in colorful prayer flags, this stunning white dome is picturesque and is the most photographed monument in Kathmandu. The five statues of Dhyani Buddhas symbolize the five elements: earth, fire, water, air, and ether. The nine levels represent Mount Meru, the mythical peak at the center of the Buddhist cosmos and 13 rings from its base to its apex represent the steps to enlightenment or Nirvana. Do the parikrama (circumambulate) and walk around the stupa with other pilgrims, light up a butter lamp and send a prayer. Boudhanath is surrounded by monasteries and shops selling Tibetan artifacts. You can enjoy Tibetan delicacies like Thenthuk, Khapse, Laphing, etc. in the eateries around the Boudhanath.
Monasteries & Meditation
If you want to stay away from the noise and the chaos of the city, you can escape to one of the monasteries in Kathmandu. There are many monasteries reflecting Vajrayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Kapan Monastery and White Monastery (Seto Gumba) are popular and probably the most serene monastery in Kathmandu valley. Various kinds of meditation and Buddhist teachings are offered in the monasteries. If you love being on foot, you can choose to hike up to gumbas instead of taking cars or bikes.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum
Narayanhiti Palace (Narayanhiti Durbar) was the main residence of Nepal’s monarchy (the Shah Dynasty) from 1896 until the monarchy was abolished in 2008. The Palace was opened for public as Museum in February 2009. The palace is on 74 acres and comprises 52 rooms, out of which 19 are open to the public. The Museum displays the belongings of former royalty and the palace gardens are open to the public. You must have heard about the Royal Massacre that took place in this very palace in 2001. You can visit the massacre site in the palace, one of the most interesting things to do in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu has hundreds of restaurants and eateries that serve foods from around the world as well as traditional Nepali foods. And the most popular Nepali food, Momos is a must-try dish. Similar to Chinese dumplings and Japanese Gyoza, momos are the most loved food in Nepal. You can get a variety of momos; steamed, fried, kothey, etc. and have mostly vegetables and meat (chicken, pork, buff) fillings. The varieties of momos are increasing every day and they will please your palate for sure.
Nepal is paradise for those who love adventures. Major adventurous activities destinations are located outside Kathmandu; however, you can still go on small adventures in Kathmandu. You can go for a short one-day hike around the Kathmandu like Nagarkot, Namobuddha, Chisapani, Nagarjuna, Sundarijal, Shivapuri, etc. You can also go for biking in the hills surrounding the valley. You will be amazed how the lifestyle and environment change just a few kilometers away from the city area. Also, you can visit the wall-climbing center and learn the basics of rock climbing or practice for your rock-climbing trip that is already on your itinerary.
Markets & Shopping
Bazaars (markets) of Kathmandu are very interesting in its own way. The major bazaars of Kathmandu and Patan, Ason and Mangal Bazaar respectively, still carry the old traditional vibes with ancient buildings and shops and have everything that the Nepalese lifestyle needs. You can buy souvenirs of beautiful pashmina shawls, or traditional puppet dolls or take some Nepali tea and spices back home with you. Kathmandu is getting relatively expensive than before but your bargaining skills will help you seal the best deals. Even if you are not buying anything, with all the vibrant colors and buzz of the sellers and the buyers walking down the bazaars is an exciting trip to take.
Café & Bar Hopping in Thamel
Thamel is the top tourist destination in Kathmandu. Thamel is a busy area of the city, packed with travel agencies, guesthouses, hostels, cafes, bars and souvenir shops. The streets of Thamel are busy almost throughout the year. Strolling in the streets of Thamel is simply fun with so many touristy faces walking around. Besides the shops that sell souvenirs and trekking gears, the cafés and bars in Thamel are worth the visit. The restaurants serve national and international cuisines and you can see live music performances almost every night. After the sightseeing trip or hiking, you can relax, enjoy some nice drinks in Thamel and experience the nightlife in Kathmandu.
There are lot more things to do in Kathmandu besides that are mentioned above. You may find Kathmandu crowded, chaotic and dusty but there are so many interesting culture and lifestyle that are worth the hustle and bustle. Garden of Dreams (just outside Thamel), Botanical Garden (Godavari), Central Zoo, etc. can be just as relaxing away from the city buzz. You can check yourself into some of the luxurious hotels and enjoy the comfort. Besides dal bhat, you can try Newari delicacies and other traditional Nepali foods. Kathmandu is the fascinating city full of surprises. Are you ready to explore?
This post is just a little guide for you and you might explore more on your own.