Every trek in Nepal begins and ends in Kathmandu. It is a mecca for mountaineers, humanitarians, trekkers and passionate adventure travellers.
Hemmed by Himalayan foothills, the vibrant city is packed full of history, palaces, temples and bazaars. Home to 2.5 million people, there’s no denying it, Kathmandu is a sensory overload. Embrace the hustle and bustle of the city and let it weave its magic around you.
Have you got some spare days in Kathmandu and are unsure how spend them? We’ve got you covered! We asked our well travelled staff, local crew and Himalaya mountaineering leaders to tell us their favourite things to do in Kathmandu and surrounds.
Feature image (above): Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu by Charles Duncombe
Riding past a local market. Image: David Fok
1. Get Your Cultural Fix
It's been just over two years since the devastating earthquakes hit Nepal in 2015 and the reconstruction of heritage sites has been an ongoing process. There has been some debate whether to retain the remaining structures of some sites or to demolish and rebuild them. While some still have visible damage, many have been reconstructed and are worth a visit. Recovery is a slow process, but tourism is something Nepal needs more than ever.
The largest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa is religious centre for Buddhism, encircled by houses and monasteries where Rinpoches reside. The stupa is the most popular site for Buddhists in Nepal. Throughout the day, pilgrims can be seen circumnavigating the structure chanting mantras. It is especially spectacular at night, adorned with illuminated butter lamps. Remember to walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction and also to spin the prayer wheels clockwise.
Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath Temple)
Enjoy breathtaking views of Kathmandu
Overlooking parts Kathmandu Valley, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Swayambhunath (Swayambhu), is one of the holiest Buddhist Chaityas in Nepal. Soaring high above the city, the “Monkey Temple” boasts some of the best views in Kathmandu. You will be captivated by the jumble of Buddhist and Hindu iconography crammed into every spare inch. The temple was mostly untouched by the 2015 earthquake and still remains in good condition today.
One of the most sacred temples in Nepal
Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located on both banks of Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism. Only followers of Hinduism can enter the main temple but all the other buildings are available for foreigners to visit.
2. Fly Over Mount Everest
Complete your trek in Nepal with an epic mountain flight over the Himalayas including Mount Everest. Take off from Kathmandu early in the morning and catch breath taking views of the world’s highest mountain range from above. A number of airlines offer one hour flights on small 18-seater planes with prime viewing and ample opportunities for photos during the flight.
3. Take Off on a Day Trip
A peek into the medieval period
Bhaktapur is an ancient Newar city that is located 13km from the centre of Kathmandu, in the eastern corner of Kathmandu Valley. It is a must-see sight in Nepal and is best described as one of the most preserved medieval city states in Kathmandu Valley. Sadly, due to the 2015 earthquake, whole streets and traditional houses where lost. Yet despite the devastation, there is still so much to see here including medieval squares, hidden courtyards and narrow streets. Best of all, Bhaktapur remains less busy and polluted in comparison to Kathmandu.
A hub of fine art and culture
Patan is one of three ancient Royal Cities of Kathmandu Valley and is a hub of fine art and Hindu and Buddhist culture. The Patan Museum is formerly the residence of the Malla kings and a section of the palace is home to one of the finest religious arts in Asia. This national treasure is a wonderful introduction to the architecture, symbolism and art of the Kathmandu Valley.
“The Patan Museum, gives fantastic insight into many aspects of Nepali culture, history and religion. I especially love the explanation of the techniques used to create the intricate religious statues.” – Joe Kennedy (Himalaya Operations, World Expeditions, Sydney Office)
4. Escape to a Beautiful Garden
Garden of Dreams - Escape the hustle and bustle
Even though there was some minor damage in the 2015 earthquake, the beautifully restored Garden of Dreams (Swapna Bagaichi) remains one of the most serene and enchanting places in Kathmandu. It’s only a two minute walk, yet feels a million miles away from central Thamel.
“The Garden of Dreams is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. There are ponds, beautiful garden beds and squirrels! A great little cafe in there too. Its entrance is on Tridevi Sadak Street.” - Heather Hawkins (Author, marathon runner & adventurer)
Local women working in Thamel. Image: Peter Walton
5. Get Active
Explore Kathmandu Valley on a Mountain Bike
The Eastern side of the Kathmandu Valley provides some good bike riding routes, which can be a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many shops in Thamel that offer guided cycling tours or bikes to rent. A great source of information for cycling routes is the shop Himalaya Singe Track that rent bikes for US $25 a day.
Take a Day Hike to Nagarjung Peak
This day hike is highly recommended by mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape. It is located 15 minutes drive north-west of Kathmandu’s city centre. Enjoy a 4 hour hike to the summit (2,127m) to see the famous Buddhist Stupa. At the top you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Himalayan Ranges in Kathmandu Valley.
“If you are there for more than a day I’d recommended getting out of the valley by hiking up Nagarjung, which in the colder months can have great views of the mountains from Gauri Shankar across to the Annapurnas.” - Tim Macartney-Snape (Australian Mountaineer & Adventurer)
6. Shop 'Til You Drop
Shopping in Thamel District
The Thamel shopping district is where you can wander, soak up the atmosphere and look for some fabulous souvenirs and great priced trekking gear. The bargaining is half the fun!
7. Jazz it Up
Chill with “Jazz Upstairs”
Nowhere else in the world will you get to enjoy the soothing sound of jazz music accompanied with a plate of Nepali momos! What a perfect way to kick back and relax after trekking, with an Everest beer in hand and some jazz tunes in the background. Jazz Upstairs was founded in 1997 and is one of the oldest restaurants in Nepal. It is located on the 4th floor in a building in Lazimpat across from the French Embassy. You are in for a real treat with local bands as well as musicians from around the world performing here.
Himalayan Java Café
The Himalayan Java is the first specialty coffee house in Nepal and is highly recommended by Heather Hawkins for its amazing coffee and free wifi. With several locations around Kathmandu, the coffee house is great to escape the busy streets and relax with a real coffee, especially after a long trek!
Fire & Ice Pizza Restaurant
Fire and Ice Pizzeria has been said to serve the best pizzas in Kathmandu! So if you are craving a slice, why not treat yourself to a delicious pizza feast post trek - let us know if it really is the best!
The streets of Kathmandu. Image - Stephen White
8. Kick Back and Relax
Get a massage and facial
After spending days or weeks trekking in Nepal, a massage and facial is a heavenly treat. Relax those sore muscles and unwind before you head home. Many hotels offer treatment packages so it’s best to ask your hotel for their recommendations.
Re-centre with a yoga or meditation class
Maintain that post-trek 'zen' feeling with a yoga or meditation class before you fly back to reality. Some top places for yoga or meditation include Hattiban Resort, Neydo Monastery or Last Resort.
Walk down Asan Tol to Durbar Square
Durbar Square is where the city’s kings were once crowned and legitimised. It still remains the heart of the old town. It’s also a spectacular display of traditional architecture and it’s easy to spend hours wandering around the square. Pair it with a walk down the junction of Asan Tole, jam-packed with vegetable and spice vendors, and you’re for a splendid day out.
9. Visit the Tilganga Eye Centre
Visit the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology (TIO) at Bagmati Bridge and see the work of the Fred Hollows Foundation including cataract eye surgery by Nepali doctors. Nepal Eye Program was officially launched in July 1992 to support the prevention and control of blindness in Nepal and the region. For more information ask the World Expeditions office at the Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu for visiting times.
If you’re keen to explore the Kathmandu in depth, then you might consider immersing yourself on a 5 day Kathmandu Valley extension. You’ll explore the markets, temples and medieval towns including Bhaktapur and the famous Stupa at Boudhanath where many Tibetans live. We also visit the Balthali Resort on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley where we can undertake day walks with memorable sunset views of the Himalaya. Learn More
Still haven't planned that trek in Nepal yet? Check out our range of Nepal adventures - all begin and end in Kathmandu!