Nepal’s magical capital is an exotic mix of narrow alleyways, bric-a-brac shops, shanty houses, colourful rickshaws, crossed telephone wires and hidden alcoves where Hindu shrines emit sweet incense into the humid air.
The touristy trekking hub of Thamel, the dated hippie hangout of Freak Street and the ancient and glorious Durbar Square, Kathmandu has much to keep the visitor occupied. With a hectic pace, beeping crazy traffic and pollution that’ll give you the ‘Kathmandu cough’ within the week, you’ll be maddened by, yet most certainly will fall in love with this city.
A melting pot of a city, the crowded capital Kathmandu is the only city that has an international airport and so is the gateway to Nepal for most. In our opinion, the Kathmandu valley is the essence of Nepalese culture. It is made up of four major cultural cities – Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur.
The ancient cities, once a stronghold of the indigenous Newars, have still managed to live to this day through palace squares, uncountable temples, rites and rituals that date back centuries and the way of the people. The valley boasts a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – all worth your time that you spend there.
Things to do in and around Kathmandu
Visit Durbar Square: Dating back to the 12th & 18th centuries, this urban focal point of the city houses a multitude of palaces and temples in its ancient courtyards and streets. Here you can catch a glimpse of the Kumari Devi ‘child’ Goddess from one of the balconies.
Freak Street: Made famous by the hippies of the 60s and 70s, this area close to Durbar Square is still a popular traveller hang out with a more chilled out vibe than Thamel, and cheaper food and accommodation.
Patan: The third largest city in Nepal, Patan is 5km South of Kathmandu and is famous for its arts and handicrafts as well as its ornate architecture and hundreds of monuments and temples.
Bhaktapur: Providing stunning views of the Himalayas, Bhaktapur is filled with magnificent Hindu and Buddhist religious sites as well as being home to the elaborately carved 55 Window Palace housing the National Art Gallery.
Pashupatinath Temple: A sacred Hindu Temple dedicated to the God Pashupati, located on the banks of the Bagmati River. Here you can witness a Nepalese funeral where bodies are cremated on the river banks.
The Garden of Dreams: A welcome oasis of tranquility in the hectic surrounds of Thamel, The Garden of Dreams offers a romantic park with lawns, water features, neoclassical architecture and a small café. Worth the small entrance fee.
The Monkey Temple: A 20 minute walk from Thamel to the foot of the hill, and a further 1000 steps to reach this most sacred Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage site. Rotate the prayer wheels and, on a clear day, view the whole of the Kathmandu Valley! (Just watch out for the pesky monkeys!)
Boudhanath Stupa: Join the monks, locals, tourists and pilgrims circumambulating this majestic shrine. Be taken aback by the smells of incense and butter lamps, the ringing of the stupa bell and the flapping prayer flags and the sheer size of this Stupa – an all-around sensory experience. Then take it all in over lime soda and dal bhat from a rooftop restaurant.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
Thamel is the main tourist hub of the city and the place where most of the hostels and hotels are located… you’ll find accommodation to suit a variety of budgets here. There are also plenty of restaurants, Nepalese and international, bars, shops and trekking agencies.