If you’re visiting Nepal, then you’ll be spending some time in Kathmandu. Home to Nepal’s only international airport (so far), the capital takes no time at all to bewitch you. There are so many places to see in Kathmandu. The City of Shrines is the proud home of 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, countless ethnic groups, lip-smacking cuisine, and charismatic locals. It can be hard to choose the best places to visit in Kathmandu, but we’ve handpicked some for you!
Before exploring the city, get to know it first. Nepal’s largest metropolis, the Kathmandu Valley is located at an altitude of approximately 1,400 m (4,600 feet) above sea level. Just like Chatpate, (the city’s favorite street-snack), Kathmandu is a flavorful mixture of different elements brought together into one colorful explosion. If you’re lucky enough to catch it during the best season to visit Kathmandu, you’ll never want to leave!
Did you know?
Kathmandu is believed to once have been a lake, drained by Manjushree the Bodhisattva by splitting the Chobar Hills with his flaming sword.
Go on a tour of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu, mesmerizing medieval architecture, breathtaking views of the Himalayas, and a cultural hotspot. From regular street festivals with traditional instruments, natural wonderlands tucked into secret folds of the city, and awe-inspiring ancient architecture, you can never see enough of Kathmandu.
There are so many places to see in Kathmandu during your visit, this list will help you focus on the very best of Kathmandu. You can experience lively processions of towering chariots, local musical instruments and dancers, and also sip local tea in quiet palace squares, all in the same city. Explore some of these top 10 best places to visit in the Kathmandu valley to make most of your time here!
1. Kathmandu Durbar Square
Also known as Hanuman Dhoka Square due to the statue of Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God, standing at the entrance, Kathmandu Durbar Square is among the seven world heritage sites in Kathmandu. The medieval royal palace square is full of beautiful pagoda-style temples embellished with intricately carved exteriors.
The square is one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu due to its rich history and is central in the celebrations of some of the city’s major festivals, such as Indra Jatra. These festivals include processions of gigantic chariots pulled by locals accompanied by traditional dances and music.
Highlights of the Durbar Square:
- The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex or the Old palace. This impressive palace complex was the former residence of the Rulers of the Kathmandu Valley. It is now a museum.
- The Krishna Temple, known for its unique octagonal structure and three-tiered pagoda structure.
- Kumari Ghar. This traditional Newa building houses the Living Goddess Kumari every year.
- The four-roofed, nine-storied “Nautale Durbar”, also known as Basantapur Durbar. Once a royal residence, it was rumored to have been a brothel. Now you can tour the structure as a museum.
Standing proud as one of the most sacred Hindu locations since the 5th century, Pashupatinath is the largest temple complex in Nepal. Primarily a place for the worship of Shiva, the temple premises hosts 492 temples and hundreds of smaller shrines and places of worship.
The Pashupatinath temple holds immense spiritual power. It facilitates the celebration of Maha Shivaratri, along with conducting an enchanting Aarati every evening. One of the world heritage sites, Pashupatinath is also a significant cremation site as the holy river of (Bagmati, a tributary of the Ganges) flows through it, thus a must-visit place in Kathmandu.
Did you know?
Aarati is a special Hindu ritual performed by lighting incense and cotton wicks dipped in Ghee along with religious chanting and ethnic music.
Some of our favorite parts of Pashupatinath:
- The 5-story main temple, which houses the unique and highly symbolic four-facing Shiva linga.
- The labyrinth of Shiva lingams, at the heart of which is a dedicated shrine
- The temple of Kaal Bhairava, dedicated to the sinister manifestation of Shiva which represents fear and annihilation.
- The evening Aarati held every evening at 7 pm by the central priests and specified caretakers of the temple
It is believed that back when the Kathmandu Valley was a giant lake, Swayambhunath was an island. Perched on top of a hill, Swayambhunath, better known as the Monkey temple, offers a splendid view of the entire Kathmandu valley. On a good day, the incredible view of the Himalayas also makes it one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu.
The stupa holds immense Buddhist significance. Three golden statues of the three forms of the Buddha greet you at the bottom of the hill, and smaller shrines, as well as playful monkeys, will keep you company on your climb up to the main stupa.
At Swayambhunath you’ll surely enjoy:
- The three supersized golden statues of the Buddha’s three forms which tower over you in greeting at the gate.
- The giant prayer wheel inscribed with Tibetan writing which you have to push in order to pin.
- The wish-fulfilling pond: legend says that if you make a wish and drop a coin in the lap of the statue of the Buddha in the middle of the pond, your wish will come true. You’ll also find monkeys swimming in the pond on hot summer days.
- The viewpoint at the top of the hill, from where you can behold the entire Valley of Kathmandu.
Regarded as the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal, the Boudhanath stupa is one of the largest stupas in Nepal. Standing tall on a massive mandala base, Buddha’s eyes on a golden spire overlook the city. The constantly spinning prayer wheels make it one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu.
Surrounded by monasteries, the stupa is a major spiritual center. You’ll find monks in liveries going about their daily meditation and prayers, surrounded by the distinct aroma of incense. Boudhanath is an oasis of calm mysticism tucked into the heart of the city.
The best of Boudhanath are noticeable in:
- The quaint Tibetan stores in the stupas’ outskirts that sell local and handcrafted goods.
- The meditation spots in the premises where you’ll find monks offer their daily prayers.
- The prayer wheels surrounding the stupa
- The giant mandala at the base of the spherical stupa where you can offer your prayers
There is no place fuller of life than Thamel. A backpacker’s heaven, it can be anything you want it to be. The streets of Thamel hold countless trekking and mountaineering gear stores, travel agencies, currency exchange booths, grocery stores and budget hotels serve as the perfect pit stop for tourists. In addition, you’ll find an incredible selection of travel friendly clothes made of local materials, traditional and special souvenirs.
A tourist marketplace by day, Thamel is reborn at night. Its endless streets are suddenly lit up with restaurants, bars and clubs. A little charlatan spot, you’ll find Kaiser Mahal at its entryway which is host to Kaiser Library (one of Nepal’s oldest libraries) as well as the Garden of Dreams, a neoclassical garden. Such variety and vibrancy makes Thamel one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu.
At Thamel you can enjoy:
- Mandala Street: the famous street decorated with fairy lights and prayer flags is a gateway into the best eateries and souvenir stores.
- Vibrant nightlife: experience local youth culture and get a taste of Kathmandu nightlife.
- Immerse yourself in the array of local stores offering a range of traditional goods from hand-woven pashmina, ethnic jewelry, hemp goods, and handicrafts.
- Multiple shrines on street corners, maintained by the locals- you can ring the bell, light a small oil lamp and experience an oasis of peace in the constant rush.
6. Kopan Monastery
On the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley, rising up out of the terraced fields north of Boudhanath is the Kopan hill, marked by a towering Bodhi tree. Historically and culturally significant, as the home of the former kings’ astrologer, the Kopan Monastery lies on that very hill.
Housing up to 360 monks, lamas, teachers, and workers, the monastery rises up on the terraced fields on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The monastery is one of the best places in Kathmandu for spiritual learning and even hosts students from outside the monastery.
Some highlights of the Kopan Monastery:
- The beautiful terraced fields on the surrounding hills and the very hill that the monastery lies.
- The intricate Thanka paintings and traditional artwork in and around the monastery.
- The Tibetan language and spirituality learning centers where you can immerse yourself in the monks, nuns, and learners’ lifestyle.
7. Chandragiri Hills
Chandragiri is one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu, as it truly embodies the spirit of the valley. Situated 2,547 meters (8,356 ft.) above sea level, the view tower gives you an unobstructed 180-degree view of the Himalayas including the Annapurna range and Mt. Everest.
The Bhaleshwor Mahadev temple resting on top of the hill, accessible by trekking or cable car, holds incredible historical significance in the foundation of Nepal as the country we know and love today.
Some of our favorite things about Chandragiri:
- The statue of Prithivi Narayan Shah with an inscription on the historical significance of the temple and hill.
- The temple of Bhaleshwor Mahadev which is regarded to bless all worshippers by fulfilling their wishes.
- The view tower which allows for a 360o view of the surrounding Himalayan range.
- The cable car ride up Chandragiri hill.
8. White Gumba (Seto Gumba)
Located outside of the ring road, Seto Gumba (White Gumba) is a Buddhist monastery lying 1,500 meters (4,921ft.) above the sea level. Nestled among pine trees, the Seto Gumba is also known as Druk Amitabha Mountain. It hosts many students of Buddhism, and is a center of spiritual seeking.
The best of Seto Gumba is manifested in:
- The enchanting woods on the way to the way to the Gumba, tucked away from the city.
- The smaller shrines in the Gumba premises, and yards thrumming with spiritual energy and peace.
- The incredible architecture of the imposing fortress-like Gumba, and its surrounding learning centers.
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Ason is Kathmandu’s hidden gem, and one of the best places to spend your time in Kathmandu. When you’re not stumbling on the numerous shrines and temples on its narrow streets, you’ll be wandering through the traditional houses on either side. The busy square is a convergence of six streets, hosting the famous bazaar boasting a tremendous variety of merchandise sold here, ranging from foodstuffs, spices, and textiles to electronics and bullion.
Historically, Ason straddled one of the two legendary India-Tibet trade routes that passed through Kathmandu. Therefore, Ason has been one of the city’s main marketplaces since ancient times. The trade route is diagonally aligned, and the section within the city extends from Kathmandu Durbar Square to the northeast.
Culturally, Ason is a center for traditional celebrations of major Hindu festivals. The most important festival of Dashain begins with a religiously significant procession entering the Kathmandu Durbar square via Ason. Indra Jatras’ giant chariots are pulled through its streets, which are also home to multiple traditional Newa guthis and musical societies.
At Ason you’ll surely enjoy:
- The tiny stalls selling everything from worship and prayer material, ethnic beads and jewelry, garments, and traditional food items.
- The incredible local heritage – walk in the narrow streets between old houses and temples that have been standing for centuries.
- The square- which is a convergence of six streets- spilling into one cacophony of religion and business.
- The Ason Dabu: a stone platform where sacred dances and musical performances are held during festivals. At other times it is covered by shops.
10. Narayanhiti Palace Museum
The Narayanhiti Palace was the residence and principal workplace of the last reigning monarch of the kingdom of Nepal. Located in the heart of Kathmandu, it now stands as a museum of the Nepali monarchy. The Palace premises boast remarkable courtyards, incredible architecture with multiple religious allegories which alone makes the palace museum a must-visit monument of Kathmandu.
The name “Narayanhiti” is made up of two words “Narayan” and “Hiti”. Narayan is another name for Lord Vishnu, whose temple is located opposite to the palace. Hiti is the Newa word for water spout, which stands in the precincts of the palace, a historically significant landmark.
The museum showcases the Royal Crown Jewels. It also showcases the remains from the Royal Massacre, during which a significant number of the Royal family was killed, acting as the harbinger to the end of monarchy in Nepal.
Some highlights of the Narayanhiti Durbar:
- The royal museum: walk through former royal living rooms, artwork, as well as military displays.
- The incredible courtyard along with fountains and beautiful cherry blossoms lining the streets inside palace premises
- The remains from the devastating royal massacre – the ruins have been preserved and you can take a guided tour for the full experience.
- The crown jewel display: you can behold the diamond-studded royal crown, and scepter, displayed to the public only after 2018.
Kathmandu, the city of Gods, is a place that will not disappoint you no matter how many times you visit. Just ask the locals who uphold its incredibly rich traditions, and keep it full of life. There are so many places to see in Kathmandu, it’s hard to choose the best places from them. So, if you have any questions about exploring the best of Kathmandu, you can talk to our travel experts. We’ll be happy to help you plan the best tour of Kathmandu for you. For any more queries on visiting Kathmandu, or traveling in Nepal, you can contact us or WhatsApp us at +1-410-307-0007.