The best places you should see in Kathmandu
Most when thinking of Nepal, imagine mountains such as Everest or perhaps Sherpa. Well Nepal has a lot more to offer than just the Himalayas. The entire country is filled with cultural UNESCO listed heritage sites and landmarks! Most of them are located within the Kathmandu Valley and open to the public for sightseeing or exploring. We at Unique Sherpa Trek and Expedition want to inform you about the best places you should see in Kathmandu! In this blog about the best sightseeing places in Kathmandu will explain you a bit about the history, the local people, sightseeing with a guide or not, and of course the best places you can visit during your stay here.
The Kathmandu Valley:
In order to know the best places you should see in Kathmandu, first you need to understand how the Kathmandu Valley and Kathmandu came to be. The origin of the Kathmandu Valley is quite the legend. According to both Hindu and Buddhism stories Kathmandu used to be a giant lake. Up on the waters of the lake a single giant lotus flower bloomed. The legend goes that the Bodhisattva named Mañjuśrī (Manju Shree) came upon the lake during one of he’s pilgrimages. Intrigued by the lotus flower radiating on the lake, with he’s flaming sword he cut a gorge (at Kathmandu’s Chovar) to drain the lake. At the place of the lotus the great and peaceful Swayambunath Stupa was build and with the entire valley was transformed into a lush green area.
The first people to inhabit Kathmandu are called Newari. Skilled in handcraft, and agriculture these Newaris formed the third kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu. With Bhaktapur to the East, Patan to the South and Kathmandu to the North-West. Each village had its own king and religious temples, and huge palace courtyards called Durbar Squares. After a huge battle for supremacy Kathmandu became the victor and named the entire valley as Kathmandu incorporating Patan, and Bhaktapur. Over just a spam of 50 years the entire Kathmandu Valley has been developed in to a bustling metropolis! Roads accessing to every part of the Valley, electricity is provided to every area, and modern shops, restaurants and goods can be acquired here now. As they say in Nepal; “all roads lead back to Kathmandu”. As the current (AD. 2023) only city with an international airport, Kathmandu is also the first place you’ll visit when entering Nepal via air!
Who are the people of Kathmandu?
Nepalese use an old Hindu system called castes. This means that instead of last names, they use caste names indicating to which cast they belong. The major three castes that can be found in Nepal are, Brahim or Baun, Chettri, and Newar. There are also castes, or clans sharing a Tibetan and Mongolian heritage called Tamang and Magar. These castes used to have their own villages, but now with development and modernization you can find every type of ethnic group anywhere. That being said when visiting Kathmandu you’ll notice a strong Newari influence in the streets. You see, Newari have their own festivals which are almost once a week. During these jatras or festivals you can see many Newari people marching through the streets of Kathmandu in traditional garments and creating music with flutes and drums. It is quite a sight to see and gives a cultural, if not spiritual feeling.
Another thing you’ll notice when you explore around Kathmandu’s best places to see is the unique architectural designs of the old buildings and temples. Strongly influenced by Newari culture, these old palaces and temples have some of the world’s most beautiful handcrafted wood works incorporated within them! Newari people same as the other castes in Nepal take their religion seriously and are very devoted. Almost every major street inside Kathmandu has a temple (small or big) and are visited daily for worship by the locals. Also known for their handling of mustard seeds and the brewing of local rice wine called “roxi”, the Newari people of Kathmandu are true craftsmen. During your visit in Kathmandu you can even participate in a homestay overnight, which will place you in a local Newari family to experience their way of life! You can still find traditional Newari villages around the Kathmandu Valley such as Panauti or Kritipur. Newari are well known for their kind hospitality and joyfulness, you’ll have a great time!
The best places you can see in Kathmandu:
As mentioned before the Kathmandu Valley is divided into three parts; Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. To make this list of the best places you should see in Kathmandu a bit clearer we divided them according to location. So without further ado these are Unique Sherpa Trek and Expedition’s best places to see in Kathmandu!
Kathmandu’s side of the Kathmandu Valley:
With countless of small temples, high surrounding hills with viewpoints, and cultural monuments, there is much to see in Kathmandu’s side of the valley. To name them all would be too much to list down. Hence we will show you the best places you should visit in Kathmandu as well as less touristic (foreign) destinations.
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square:
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square or Kathmandu’s Palace Courtyards is truly a place to visit whenever you are in the city. Locally known as Basanthapur, Kathmandu’s Durbar Square are huge open squares in the middle of a packed and concrete city. The Durbar Square is filled with huge ancient temples and old palace buildings. Used in the time of Kathmandu’s three kingdoms this was once the heart of Kathmandu’s royalty, namely the Malla and Shah Dynasties. Now open to the public for exploration the entire area is filled with local markets selling spice and dried goods. You can also find here many Newari handicraft stores selling handmade wooden cultural items or Newari style Thangkas. Taking a stroll around the Kathmandu Durbar Square is as if you walk back in time. It is just incredible how these old buildings and monuments are still in an immaculate state! Every year huge festivals are held here as well such as Indra Jatra, Kumari Puja and Holi. For foreigners the Kathmandu Durbar Square has an entry fee of 1000 NRS (about 7-8 USD). Definitely worth it!
The Pashupatinath Temple:
Probably the most important of all Hindu Temples in Nepal, the Pashupatinath Temple stands high on the list of best places you should see in Kathmandu! Located on the Eastern side of the city and just north of the international airport the Pashupatinath Temple is visited daily by devotees looking for spiritual guidance from the residing Guru’s (Hindu priests). The temple itself is located on the two banks of the main river running through Kathmandu the Bagmati River, and is known as the largest (surface size) Hindu Temple in the world! Visitors here can explore around, see the Temple’s unique architectural features, and make photos with ash covered Guru’s, or participate in a hand palm reading. We do want to warn you before you visit the Pashupatinath Temple. This temple is also a famous burial place for Hindu’s, as it is said that the waters of Pashupatinath will guide the soul peacefully and fast to the afterlife. Pashupatinath is also said to be home of Shiva’s Linga, a myth you’ll have to check out yourself! There is an entry fee for foreigners to enter the temple complex. It’s about 1000 NRS (7-8 USD). While non Hindu’s are not allowed inside the temple building you can still see great views from the back and outside.
The Boudhanath Stupa:
Located in the Boudha district of Kathmandu is the largest Stupa, the Boudhanath Stupa. This massive white with gold colored Stupa stands as a beacon for Buddhist devotees who come daily here to perform worship, chant mantra’s and try to find inner peace. The Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu is said to be the burial place of one of the Holly Buddha’s named Kassapa. The Stupa came to be from a Tibetan influence. As it is located on the ancient trade route from Tibet to Kathmandu, many stopped here to pray, turning the Stupa into a famous and important rest and worship place for those traveling to Kathmandu. Over the years more and more Tibetan refugees build Stupas and Gompas around Boudha, and it was in 1979 that the Boudhanath Stupa was recognized as one of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. Now also a popular touristic place, the Boudhanath Stupa is one place you should see when in Kathmandu! There is a modest entry fee for foreigners to enter the Stupa’s ground of 400 NRS (about 3 USD). You’ll find many rooftop restaurants, as well as yoga & meditation studios, and Buddhist handcraft shops spread around the Stupa, making it an ideal place for roaming, and having lunch with great views!
The Swayambunath Stupa:
High on a forested hill on the West side of Kathmandu stands a peaceful white Stupa called Swayambunath. In front of the hill a huge square with 3 golden Buddha statues welcomes you. The entire area is devoted to Buddhism and colorful prayer flags are hanged throughout the forest. A road leading around the hill, guides worshippers, who daily walk around the Stupa’s hill for cleansing and to gain spirituality. Prayer wheels are fitted all the way around the hill and a large stone staircase leads you up to the Stupa. It is quite the cultural experience walking up to the Swayambunath Stupa. You won’t be alone though. The entire hill is filled with countless Macaque monkey families! These rascals are not shy of humans and will approach you when you hold snacks or water. Up at the Stupa the entire Kathmandu Valley comes in sight given a clear view of the city. It is said that one can find true peace when meditating at the Swayambunath Stupa! 200NRS or about 1 USD is the entry fee, and in our opinion definitely worth it!
The Shivapuri National Park:
Kathmandu’s first and largest natural park, the Shivapuri National Park occupies an area of 159 km²/616 mi²! This huge natural park in the North-East of Kathmandu is a famous place for locals as well as foreigners looking to escape the city life in a short day trip. Hiking trails are placed throughout the park leading you to interesting spots. You can also find a few resorts here for an overnight stay or as a picnic location. The spring of the Bagmati River which runs through Kathmandu has its origin here, creating clear waterways and natural waterfalls in the park. Furthermore, as a popular hiking trail in Kathmandu people also hike through the Shivapuri National Park to reach Nagarkot a famous hill village offering immaculate views to its visitors! The entry fee of the park is just 1000 NRS (less than 10 USD). If you are looking for a natural sight during your visit in Kathmandu, then the Shivapuri National Park is the best place you should see in the Kathmandu Valley!
Less foreign touristic spots:
Besides the most popular spots, there are still some unmentioned best places to see in Kathmandu. These incredible sightseeing spots are less promoted in foreign tourism and more visited by Nepalese looking for a relaxing day out. In our opinion if you have time to spend in Kathmandu and have already been to the above mentioned places we highly recommend checking out one of these best sightseeing places in Kathmandu!
To the far west of Kathmandu, on top of a huge hill overlooking the valley is the Chandragiri Mandhir (Temple). The hill itself offers a great hiking experience for those seeking a bit of adventure. If not, you can always take a cable car up top! Chandragiri has become a famous outing spot over the years and being accessible via cable car just boosted its visitors rate! The rides up and down provide amazing views of the Kathmandu Valley and provide a great experience. There might be a queue on Saturdays as this is the main day Hindus perform Puja (worship at the temple). Entry fees are a bit high in our opinion. A two-way cable car ticket for Chandragiri costs a whopping 22 USD or about 2500 NRS! And, while this rate is considerably higher than other sightseeing places in Kathmandu. It is definitely worth it. Chandragiri provides its guest not only amazing views but also a great cultural and peaceful experience!
About 1 and half hour away from Kathmandu, on the other side of the Chandragiri Hills is a huge lake created by a massive dam. Khulekhani Lake stretches over a surface of 7km²/4.3mi²! The lake was formed with the creation of the Khulekhani Hydropower Dam. This project provides power to the local area in a natural way as well as creating a touristic area that increases the local economy. The lake side is connected by road and filled with hotels and resorts offering views of the lake itself. Here you can do boating (traditional wooden canoe/motor boat), Zip-line over the lake, or take a hike to the nearby Mohini waterfall. IT’s a short hike mostly walking up stone steps and then a short descend that takes you straight to the fall. There is a small entry fee of 50 NRS per person (Not USD), so bring some Nepalese change with you. Khulkhani is mostly visited by Nepalese or Indians and thus provides you a less foreign touristic experience of one of the best places to see in Kathmandu.
Dakshin Kali Temple:
A short distance away from Kathmandu’s main city is the Dakshin Kali Temple or Mandhir. Located in a cool jungle not on a hill but rather down a large pit which reaches a water floor of the nearby river and streams. The temple is truly spectacular to see and visit! A spiraling staircase connects the Dakshin Kali Temple with the upper ground. Reaching here even as a non-Hindu gives a sense of spirituality. The temple is most often used to worship for good luck by way of sacrificing goats or chickens. Hindu’s with new vehicles also come to the Dakshin Kali Temple to perform a Puja (ritualistic worship) for good fortune! If you are looking to see a beautiful Hindu Temple in a natural environment, than a visit to the Dakshin Kali Tample is a great option. There are no entry fees here, and local transportation as well as private has road access to the temple.
New Road shopping street:
Right in the center of Kathmandu, connected via small streets to Thamel is Kathmandu’s most famous shopping street, New Road. Here you can find almost anything. From shopping malls to smaller boutiques. Modern and traditional clothing shops, electronics and telecom shops, jewelry and cosmetic shops, as well as countless restaurants and street food stall for a quick bite. At most shops you can try to haggle a bit for the price, unless you see the “Fixed Price” sign. Taking a stroll here is a great way to see Kathmandu’s shopping district. Nearby New Road you can also visit the rebuild Dharahara Tower. This 72m/236ft long viewpoint tower, has just recently been rebuild and fitted with elevators bringing its guests to the top floor. From here you can expect incredible views of the Kathmandu Valley and city. A great way to end or even start a shopping day on Kathmandu’s New Road shopping street!
Chovar Gorge and park:
The mighty Chovar Gorge has long been used as Nepalese film setting. Offering its visitors an out of city experience and great views of the valley and city below! The Chovar Gorge and newly build park is open every day and mostly packed during Saturdays by locals holding picnics. Interesting is that according to the legend the Chovar Gorge came to be when the Bodhisattva named Mañjuśrī (Manju Shree) drained a huge lake with her flaming sword that revealed the Kathmandu Valley. Whether the myth is true or not the Chovar Gorge and park is the ideal spot for a half day roaming and enjoying the views! The newly build park might have an entrance fee of less than 100 NRS (No USD).
Bhaktapur’s side of the Kathmandu Valley:
To east of Kathmandu city is the old kingdom of Bhaktapur. This traditional Newari city has its own Durbar Square and unique sightseeing places. Naturally visiting Bhaktapur is a must, if you want to see the best places in Kathmandu! Besides the ancient city itself, spread around Bhaktapur are some interesting places to visit. Here is Unique Sherpa Trek and Expedition’s list of best places you should see while visiting Bhaktapur:
Bhaktapur Durbar Square:
Smack in the middle of the city you can find the Royal Durbar Square of Bhaktapur. This impressive and ancient massive courtyard is truly a sight to see! Surrounded by old palace and Hindu temple buildings made with Newari traditional architecture. Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square has its own museum, here oyu can explore the old palace grounds and step back in time! The entry fee for Bhaktapur Durbar Square is only 1500 NRS (about 12 USD). The Bhaktapur Museum has a separate entrance fee of only 200 NRS (Not even 1 USD). Here you get to see the traditional style of wood and brass carving and perhaps get a memorable souvenir. Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square has much more to offer than just Temples and old buildings. The entire place is a cultural hot spot. You can find street vendors selling all kinds of traditional and handcrafted items. Check out the pottery square to get a workshop into making clay pots, a specialty of Bhaktapur!
The Changu Narayan Temple:
Known to be Nepal’s oldest Hindu Temple, the Changu Narayan Temple dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu is just a few kilometers/miles north of Bhaktapur city. Located on a hilltop above the Manohara River this ancient temple is open to visit and roam around. While a short drive can take you there, you can also choose to hike to the Changu Narayan Temple and back, in half a day from Bhaktapur. This temple is also a popular ending or starting point for popular hikes in Kathmandu such as the Chisopani Nagarkot Hike. Near by the temple and Changu Village you can also choose to visit the Changu Narayan Museum for just 300 NRS (about 1 USD). It’s a private collection of ancient coins, architecture, and handicrafts. If you are in Bhaktapur and have time for a great half day out than visit the Changu Narayan Temple.
Nagarkot, Hillside village:
Kathmandu’s best view point to see the Himalayas is at the Nagarkot Hillside village! From here you get to see incredible views of the Everest, Manaslu, Annapurna and Langtang ranges among others. The village is just a short drive away from Kathmandu and can also be accessed with a half day hike from Sundarijal to Chisopani. Here you’ll find many hotels of different class, from low budget to luxurious resorts offering panoramic views. The village itself is located at an altitude of 2,195m/7,201ft and has an entry fee of 300 NRS (about 2 USD). Nagarkot is also well known for its scenic sunrise and sunset views of the Himalayas and the valley below! For the best views of the Himalayas we do recommend going there somewhere in mid spring or during the fall/autumn seasons of Nepal. With unmatched Himalayan views, Nagarkot is one of the best places to see in Kathmandu!
Dhulikhel and Namo Buddha:
Just a few hours away from Kathmandu and near to Bhaktapur is Dhulikhel and the Namo Buddha Monastery. At Dhulikhel you can relax at one of the resorts, take a dip in one of the infinity swimming pools offering amazing views of the mountains. Dhulikhel has also a superman style zip line for the thrill seekers. A short hike or drive from here takes you the Namo Buddha Monastery. According to the myth, at a cave near the monastery Buddha offered a part of he’s own flesh to help a starving tigress feed her cups! The Monastery itself is quite peaceful and interesting to visit. It’s also completely free and you can find some local guesthouses or hotels here as well.
Less foreign touristic spots:
Besides the best places you should see near Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, there are a few unmentioned landmarks and sightseeing places that you should know about. Near to Bhaktapur on the way to Dhulikhel you can visit Sanga and see a 44m/143ft tall Shiva statue on hill! There is a small park near the statue and the entrance fee is only 100 NRS (No USD). More to the south of Bahktapur is the old Newari village of Panauti. Here you can take a stroll around and see the local Newari community up close. At Bhaktapur’s West entrance near to the Army College you can visit a huge man-made pond called the Rani Pokhari. As mentioned above there are so many nice and interesting places to see in and around Kathmandu it’s almost impossible to mention them all in this list of the best places you should see in Kathmandu!
Patan or Lalitpur’s side of the Kathmandu Valley:
East of Bhaktapur and just South of Kathmandu you can find the 3rd kingdom Patan. Also called Lalitpur this ancient Newari region is still a cultural paradise. Unlike Bhaktapur, Patan is attached to Kathmandu and you can reach here easily by walk, public or private transport or even hire a bicycle. There are many interesting places to see in Patan. Here is Unique Sherpa Trek & Expedition’s list of the best places you should see in Patan;
Patan’s Durbar Square:
Patan’s Durbar Square is home to the famous Krishna Mandhir Temple, and is said to be architecturally the most beautiful of the 3! As a famous destination during the Kathmandu sightseeing tour, almost every tour company includes Patan’s Durbar Square in their packages. Here you can see a whole row of towering temples decorated with spiritual objects and figurines of idols. Near the Durbar Square of Patan you can also visit the Patan Heritage Museum. Serving as both café and museum it’s also a great place to have lunch. The streets are filled with local handicraft street vendors and you are free to roam around and check out the local shops and markets as well. The fee for entry on to the Durbar Square is 1000 NRS (about 8 USD).
Less foreign touristic spots:
There are many places to visit in and around Patan Lalitpur. These less tourist spots don’t require full days to visit and are all within a short drive away from the city center. Visit the Botanical gardens of Godawari. The entry fee is 1000 NRS (about 8 USD) and here you get to see a wide collection of exotic plants and flowers. These used in the medicinal and scientific communities are still being research today. The park itself is well maintained and serves as a great picnic spot. Also in Lalitpur, you can find the Kathmandu Zoo. It’s a small national zoo compared to western country zoos but still here you can see some of the local wildlife that roams around Nepal!
These where the best places you should see in Kathmandu! You can’t visit them all in one day and you best make a tour package with a reliable agent such as Unique Sherpa Trek and Expedition. Explore around the Kathmandu Valley and visit the 3 kingdoms of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan!