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Chaos, dust and poverty might be the first things which welcome you once you arrive in Kathmandu. However, you just have to scratch the surface of this colourful lively city to truly appreciate one of the most unique cities on the planet!
Traditional Nepali mask during a performance in Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu (Nepal)
After spending one month in Kathmandu, volunteering at a local school and living in a host family, we fell in love with this wonderful city. Religion is definitely shaping the city and permeates every aspect of the daily life, from the Hindu bells ringing early morning to Buddhist monks chanting in their monastery.
Around every corner there’s a photo opportunity – a colorful market, an ancient stupa, local kids playing football in the streets, a cow blocking the traffic….
Below are just our favourite sights not to miss during a visit to Kathmandu district.
Make sure you experience a ride on a local bus and try Dhal Bhat, the most typical dish in Nepal.
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Beautiful statues at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu (Nepal)
This is the hearth of the city where all main touristic hotels, restaurants and shops are located. It consists of an intricate path of narrow unpaved streets with no names – it is relatively easy to get lost so we recommend you download an offline map.
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TIP – To find your way around the city we have used Maps.me, an offline map which gives you both driving and walking directions
Thamel is where you mostly find all tourists – enjoying a local meal on the rooftop of a restaurant, buying local inexpensive souvenirs or hiking gear, booking tours or buses,…
Every Saturday a local market comes to life in some of the streets and you can smell all kind of food, from unknown spices to local veggies and fruits, and shop around for carpets, fabrics and all sorts of religious trinkets.
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RESTAURANT PICK – Yala Café - A small lovely café and restaurant just off one of the main streets in Thamel. The menu includes many local dishes and some international ones as well – great quality at reasonable prices. Good internet connection and relaxing atmosphere. They can book fantastic hiking for you just next door at Mount Trails.
Traditional colourful shop in Thamel, Kathmandu (Nepal)
KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE
This is the main square of the city where you can visit many ancient buildings and temples. There are check points at both entrances where you have to pay for the entrance (NPR 750 p.p. – ask for a discount if you are a volunteer). Unfortunately, some of these buildings have been greatly damaged by the earthquake of 2011 and are still under reconstruction.
There are less than ten buildings in the square to visit at the moment and you can enter some of them, such as some temples and the palace which also serves as a museum. If you time your visit with the Indra Jatra festival, you will be lucky to have a glimpse of the sacred Kumari, a girl chosen through an ancient and mystical selection process to become the human incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga.
On the south entrance of the square there is a characteristic pottery and jewelry market.
RESTAURANT/ BAR PICK – Grasshopper Café – Nice atmosphere and cheap prices. We had an afternoon tea break here so we have not tried food but there’s a decent selection of dishes. If you are looking for panoramic views over the whole square and of the Monkey Temple and surrounding area, then opt for one of the many rooftop cafes.
Nepali "siesta" in the shadow in Kathmandu Durbar Square (Nepal)
PATAN DURBAR SQUARE
If you run out of time, choose Patan Durbar Square over Kathmandu Durbar Square (though you have to take a taxi / local bus to reach this neighborhood located south of the city centre). You have to pay for the entrance (NPR500 p.p. – ask for a discount if you are a volunteer ) which is worth paying to visit the beautiful buildings and the well maintained museum inside the complex. You can easily spend all afternoon in the museum, learning more about both Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Although some buildings are still under reconstruction, we got the impression this square is much better preserved than Kathmandu Durbar Square. Even while walking around Patan you will notice a slower pace of life and a more relaxed atmosphere which brings you back in time – most streets around the square are cobbled and this part of the city reminded us of famous ancient Bhaktapur.
Public laundry close to Patan Durbar Square in the weekend, Kathmandu (Nepal)
SWAYAMBHUNATH (MONKEY TEMPLE)
This is definitely our favourite temple in Kathmandu for many reasons – the amazing views of the city below and its surroundings, the cheeky monkeys which are an attraction on their own, the impressive stupa at the center of the temple and the beautiful decorations and hundreds flags fluttering all around.
There is an entrance fee (NPR200 p.p.) payable after walking up a decent amount of steep steps to reach the top of the hill – bring a bottle of water with you and don’t wear or hold any objects which monkeys can easily snatch from you, such as sunglasses on your head, long necklaces or scarves, and especially food and water bottles.
Stay alert when taking pictures with your mobile as monkeys will grab it from your hands in no time if given the chance.
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TIP – Visit this temple just before sunset – the light shaded over the stupa is magical. In addition, the temple is illuminated by lights and candles by night and, though there are more monkeys than during the day, walking up is well worth the effort. Just bring a torch with you for the descent.
Magical sunset light on the main stupa at the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal
There is also a section of this temple (closed in the evening) which is often overviewed by tourists as it’s on the other side of the main entrance of the temple – three big Buddha golden statues and a monastery will welcome you to this part of the complex.
RESTAURANT PICK – Maitri Tibetan Restaurant – Try this restaurant only if you spent a reasonable amount of time in Nepal. Your stomach might not be ready for this spicy local food, which is delicious by the way and cooked and served by Buddhist monks.
Flying high on Mount Dalara over Coron Town and beyond - Busuanga Island, Philippines
Possibly the most famous and biggest Hindu temple in Kathmandu district, Pashupathinat is easily reachable by a taxi ride or by local bus from Thamel. There are two main entrances and you will be asked to pay a fee to enter (NPR1,000 p.p.).
If you walk in from the eastern entrance (east side of the Bagmati river), you will walk with the river on your left – this is the only part of the temple from where you can witness the final rite of a Hindu funeral which usually takes place under one of the white shelters on the other side of the river (where only Hindus are allowed). The corpse, wrapped in white bandages, is set on fire by the oldest son of the family and the ashes are then freed in the dark brown waters of the river (some children were swimming there when we visited!).
You can explore the upper part of the temple on your right by ascending a set of steps which leads to a higher viewpoint – lots of monkeys are looking for food here so take care. There are also some Sadhus, or holy homeless, who can read your future or give you a blessing in exchange for little money – they will also ask for money in exchange for a picture.
After descending back to the river, cross the main bridge to the Western side and walk through the temple where tourists are allowed (don’t worry, locals will let you know if you can not walk in certain areas). Once you exit from this part of the temple, you have to walk back to the main road (you can arrange with your driver to pick you up from this entrance in advance.
TIP – This temple comes to life during big Hindu festivities and visiting it during holiday time it’s even more intriguing to observe how Hindus celebrate. You just have to take extra precaution with your valuables as the place can be quite crowded and pickpockets are around the corner.
RESTAURANT PICK – We have not tried any particular restaurant in this area. We recommend you visit this temple during mid morning or afternoon and then head to a more touristy area with restaurants and cafes.
Cow resting inside Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal
A perfect place to escape the chaos of the city – visiting the complex of Boudhanath Stupa is like entering a completely different space where you can experience the peace and beauty of Buddhism. Lots of monks and believers walk clockwise around the huge white stupa in the middle of the square and roll the prayer wheels all around the stupa.
Make sure you always walk clockwise when visiting a Buddhist temple as a form of respect – you can explore the upper levels of the stupa surrounded by all colourful Buddhist flags fluttering in the wind and perfumed burnt incense.
TIP – If you enter the square from a secondary alley, there is no check point so you do not have to pay the entrance fee if you would like to visit this temple more than once during your visit to Kathmandu.
You can buy exquisite Mandalas in some of the shops around the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal
There are lots of restaurants, cafes and shops around the stupa to choose from – you can learn more about (and buy) an extremely detailed Mandala or a singing bowl, both used by Buddhists as an aid for meditation. You can shop around for beautiful (and cheap) souvenirs or explore the exiting alleys with their market stalls and more cafes. You can just sit with a cup of coffee at one of the roof top restaurants and enjoy the tranquility of this magical place (highly recommended also by night).
CAFÉ PICK – We can’t remember the name of this small café but you can not miss it as it is the only coffee stand without proper sits – We had the best black coffee in Kathmandu in this tiny café. Muffins and cakes are also quite good. There is no place to sit apart from some weaved sits or the public benches.
Ancient monk praying inside the Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu (Nepal)
This monastery is located a bit far from the city centre, but it’s totally worth a visit if you have time to explore Kathmandu. You can reach it by taxi or better walk up the green hill with great views over Kathmandu city, which stretch out as far as Boudhanath Stupa and the airport.
TIP – You can actually sleep in this monastery for a night or two (contact them directly for more information here). They also organize retreats for Buddhist students from Western countries (find more information on their website) – that’s why you’ll see a certain number of Western in-house residents walking around.
There is no entrance fee and as soon as you step into the monastery you will be surrounded by the orange and red garments of young and old monks and nuns who live here. There is a small shop onsite where you can buy souvenirs and support the monastery. When there is no puja (prayer time), you can enter the main prayer complex – the decorations and carvings are really beautiful and detailed. Take your time to also explore the gardens just behind the prayer space on the right – we found lots of nuns relaxing and playing together, it was a great sight!
RESTAURANT PICK – Kopan Café – There is just one and only restaurant at this monastery which is run by the monks/nuns. Food mainly consists of local dishes, all very good, and few beverages. The views of the city below are fantastic!
Two young monks strolling around Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal