Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal anchored in a valley enclosed by the Himalayan mountains, is a vibrant city with maze-like alleys, ancient architecture, and stunning temples. Many of the sights have been destroyed or damaged by an earthquake in 2015. However, this shouldn’t stop you from exploring the town as many of them are under renovation. Therefore, here’s a complete list of the iconic places to visit in Kathmandu to pique your interest.
Thamel is one of the most popular districts of Kathmandu and full of tourists and crowds. Tibetan prayer flags adorn the skyline, while rickshaws, shops, and restaurants dominate the streets. It surely is one of the best areas for shopping for clothes and souvenirs. And if you plan on hiking in Nepal, as there are dozens of shops selling or renting the equipment.
One thing to note about shopping in Thamel or elsewhere in Nepal is to bargain hard. So, master those skills beforehand and aim for roughly half the prices of what the seller offers. However, don’t insist too much if the difference is just pennies.
Thamel is also one of the best areas for food and drinks. Here, you can find locals selling street food, fresh veggies, bars, and cafes offering local or international cuisine. Also, it’s the best areas to stay in Kathmandu as some of the sights are within a walking distance.
Additionally, there are plenty of places to visit in Thamel besides all those shops and restaurants. Its narrow alleys are full of less-known and less crowded shrines and temples.
Kaathe Swyambhu Shree Stupa
Somewhat off the beaten path from Thamel, you’ll find gorgeous Kathesimbhu stupa, also known as Kaathe Swayambhu Shree stupa. It’s like a mini version of the Monkey Temple built in the mid-17th century. Famous Tibetan pilgrimage site is far away from the overcrowded Boudha or the Monkey Temple; therefore it’s one of the quiet places to visit in Kathmandu while wandering around Thamel district.
Seto Machhendranath Temple
Yet another hidden gem of Kathmandu lies between Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square. Constructed in the 17th century, the temple attracts both Hindus and Buddhists as it’s dedicated to the deity Seto Machindranath.
Buddhists believe that he is a form of a person who represents the kindness of all Buddhas (Avalokiteshvara ). Hindus think that he is a rain-bringing embodiment of Shiva for Hindus.
Apart from this, the courtyard features several small shrines, statues, prayer halls (chaityas), and a mysterious western-looking female statue encircled by candles and facing the temple.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Located within walking distance from Thamel, Durbar Square is the second most important place to visit in Kathmandu. It is one of the most significant sites in the whole country that includes an old royal palace of the late Kathmandu Kingdom. Therefore, lots of locals and tourists visit the square.
It is one of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley; all of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the buildings collapsed in the 2015 earthquake which showcased spectacular architecture and skills of the Newar craftsmen. However, it’s still worth visiting because of the series of Buddhist and Hindu shrines and temples, courtyards, former royal palaces, pagodas, and statues as the area is slowly rebuilding.
Entrance fee: 1,000 NPR
Old Freak Street
Once in the area, make sure to visit the Freak Street, a small street in the south of the square. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the street was a famous area for hippies flocking to Nepal. The main draw was the government-run hashish shops that attracted many hippies from all around the world in search of legal cannabis.
It was a hippie nirvana for quite some time until the government started to issue strict regulations on tourist appearance and dress code.
After such regulations, hippies felt helpless and the hippie movement of Nepal disappeared by the late 70s. However, traditional forms of tourism quickly replaced hippie tourism.
Today, the street looks like any other one in Kathmandu, full of shops, cheap hostels, trekking agencies, and souvenir stalls to name a few.
Swayambhunath a.k.a Monkey Temple
Sat on the top of the hill overlooking the city, the so-called Monkey Temple is one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu. The temple got its name because of the holy monkeys living here.
Dating back to the 5th century, the centerpiece of the temple complex is the fascinating domed stupa surrounded by elegantly decorated shrines.
The dome represents the earth and the 13-tiered structure on its top symbolizes the 13 stages of nirvana, while the prayer wheels encircle the base of the stupa.
The whole area is a bit chaotic mixture of Buddhist and Hindu iconography, with omnipresent prayer flags, the scent of butter candles, and the hum of the sacred and well-known mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.
Getting to the temple requires walking up 365 steps, but it’s so worth it. Being nearly out of breath at the end of the stairs, you feel the burning sensation in each muscle of legs. However, as a reward, you get a 360-degree view of Kathmandu. Unbelievably beautiful!
Entrance fee: 200 NPR
Pashupatinath Temple Complex
Kathmandu sightseeing includes a visit to a sacred and famous Hindu temple complex at the bank of the Bagmati River, around 5km from the city. The Pashupatinath Temple is another UNESCO World Heritage Sites full of ashrams, temples, holy men, and spots for cremation.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the most sacred and oldest Hindu temples in Nepal, where, unlike many other UNESCO sights, Pashupatinath Temple still functions and hosts cremation ceremonies every morning.
Unfortunately, foreigners can’t visit the main temple complex, but the entrance fee grants you a chance to explore other temples, cremation sites, and pagodas within the territory.
Note: At the entrance tour guides will greet you without even identifying themselves as tour guides. They may start showing you around and demand a small fee afterward. So watch out for them.
Entrance free: 1,000 NPR
Not too far from the Pashupatinath Temple, you’ll find the largest spherical stupas in Nepal and another UNESCO World Heritage Site – Boudhanath Stupa, or Boudha in short.
This was one of my favorite places to visit in Kathmandu because of its tranquility and seeing the city’s spiritual side. Arrayed with Buddhist prayer flags, the whitewashed dome and Buddha’s all-seeing eyes are a fascinating scene to see. The stupa became the religious site of Tibetan Buddhists during the 1950s when refugees from China came to live in Kathmandu and based themselves in the districts around the stupa.
At sunset, Tibetan Buddhists circle the stupa, chant the Om Mani Padme Hum and spin the prayer wheels.
Give yourself an hour or more to sit down at one of the benches or a bit overpriced rooftop restaurants surrounding the stupa and watch the world go by – it’s a fascinating mix of scents, prayers, tourists, monks, pilgrim,s and chanting.
Entrance fee: 400 NPR
Garden of Dreams
If you are looking for parks in Kathmandu to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the Garden of Dreams is a perfect place. Located just outside of Thamel, it’s an oasis of tranquility despite being right in the busy center of the city.
This stunning neo-classical garden is home to fountains, pavilions, and terraces. You can bring your mat to lay down on the grass or use some of the pillows provided.
Entrance fee: 400 NPR
One of the places to visit in Kathmandu should be Asan, the bustling market street nestled between Durbar Square and Thamel. You can find almost anything here, from home goods to fresh produce. Even if you are not planning on buying anything, it’s a fun experience to watch local everyday life.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan Durbar Square is the third of its kind in the Kathmandu Valley located a bit outside of the capital. Nevertheless, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the top places to visit in Kathmandu; it has a more relaxed vibe than Kathmandu Durbar Square and lacks the never-ending souvenir stalls.
Constructed during the 14th-18th centuries, Patan Durbar Square also features typical Newari architecture with wooden carvings. Wander through its Buddhist and Hindy temples, visit Patan Museum, and admire the idols surrounding the square.
Come here to spend a good amount of time sitting at the benches to enjoy looking at the locals pass by and their everyday life.
Entrance fee: 1,000 NPR
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Nepal, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking.com and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Kathmandu Airport to the city center
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, trekking trips, and day trips to maximize your stay and experience in Nepal