Kathmandu Nepal Travel Guide: Exploring the Capital and the Country’s Largest City

KATHMANDU

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is the gateway to adventure spots like Pokhara and world heritage sites like Bhaktapur and Patan. The city, although quite dense and populated, should not be missed. There are a lot of sites and temples worth visiting in this culturally rich city, from small river-side shrines to massive temples in Durbar Square.

HOW TO GET THERE
  1. For flights and entry requirements to Nepal, please read: Nepal Budget Travel Guide: Backpacking Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara
  2. From Tribhuvan International Airport, there are a lot of taxis waiting outside the arrival area. You may ride one to your hotel. There are also prepaid taxis available inside the arrival area.

Take note that taxis in Nepal never use their meters. Agree on a price first before riding to your hotel. A decent rate would be 400 Rs to Thamel. Do not forget to haggle.

WHERE TO STAY

There are a lot of hotels and guesthouses scattered all over Kathmandu. Thamel is the area where most tourists stay. Here’s a list of hotels in Kathmandu. To scan for hostels and guesthouses you may also try Booking.com list of hotelsAirbnb or Hostelworld. Other tourists stay away from Thamel because of its busy streets, although its location is good since it’s near Durbar Square and the bus pick-up point to Pokhara.

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The busy streets of Thamel at night

You’ll definitely find an accommodation that suits your budget. There are guesthouses for only USD 10 a night to more expensive hotels for USD 50 a night. Eating out is never a problem in Thamel because there are tons of restaurants in the area. It’s also a good place to buy souvenirs before heading home. (While there are more options, souvenirs in Thamel are priced a little bit higher compared to the ones in Bhaktapur)

FOREX is also readily available. Canvass for the best exchange rates before converting your cash. We noticed that some FOREX have better exchange rates than others even though they’re at the same area. You may check out the bank at the first floor of Hotel Arts Kathmandu for some good rates.

ITINERARY AND THINGS TO DO

Kathmandu is Nepal’s capital and largest city. Its busy streets, quaint shops and unique architecture will welcome you as you arrive. A day or two is enough to explore the city.

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Walking to Kathmandu Durbar Square from Thamel will take you around 20 – 30 minutes
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While walking to Durbar Square – most houses have intricate window wood works

You may start your day with a walk to Kathmandu Durbar Square from Thamel.  Take note that there’s a 1000 Rs entrance fee to the square. They will give you a brochure with map to guide you, as well as an ID which you must wear inside and surrender upon leaving. The brochure will also serve as your ticket to the museum. The square is a big complex full of beautiful temples and shrines with intricate exteriors.

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Center of Kathmandu Durbar Square
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Do not forget to enter the museum heading to a beautiful quiet courtyard

After exploring Kathmandu Durbar Square, you may take a taxi ride to Boudhanath – Nepal’s largest stupa. It is located on the northeastern part of the cit, just 30 minutes away from  Durbar Square. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. There’s a fee of 250 Rs when entering the area. A ticketing booth is stationed at the main entrance.

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The enourmous Boudhanath Stupa

The stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is encircled with intricately detailed, well-preserved houses. From above, it looks like a giant mandala with three large platforms as its base. At the center, a golden spire is located painted with omnipresent Buddha eyes. Going around Boudhanath is really an experience. There are multiple shops surrounding the temple selling souvenir items. There are also rooftop cafes and restaurants nearby if you want a different perspective. You will also notice monks walking around since there are a lot of monasteries nearby. You may actually visit some monasteries surrounding Boudhanath.

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Well-designed monasteries surrounding Boudhanath
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The Boudhanath Stupa Complex, view from one of the rooftop cafes

After Boudhanath you may take another taxi ride to Pashupatinath around 10 minutes away. There’s also a 1000 Rs entrance fee to the complex. You will not be able to enter the main temple, marked by a golden spire, unless you’re Hindu. One of the main highlights is the golden statue of Nandi – Shiva’s Bull – in the middle of the main temple where you might get a glimpse of from the entrance. Pashupatinath is considered one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal because of its location on the bank of Bagmati River.

Do not forget to go to the other side of Bagmati River where you’ll see a lot of shrines and crypts. There are also funeral pyres along the river where open-air cremations are done. We were able to witness one cremation being held. It was quite a unique experience. It is also common to see sadhus (with yellow painting on their bodies) seated along some shrines. They will ask for some cash if you take a picture with them.

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Bagmati River at the back of the main temple in Pashupatinath – an open-air cremation is ongoing hence the crowd

If you still have time, you may visit Swayambhunath or The Monkey Temple on the western part of the city, around 30-45 minutes away from Pashupatinath. It is located on top of a hill overlooking the capital. You’ll need to walk up the stone steps before reaching the complex above. There’s also a white stupa at the center of the complex, quite similar albeit smaller than Boudhanath. From Thamel, a taxi ride will set you back 150 – 200 Rs (bargain hard). There’s a 200 Rs entrance fee before the stone steps. You might want to visit Kopan Monastery as well located on the northeastern part of the city near Boudhanath.

For a more laid-back exploration, probably two days is more than enough to explore all sites. Although, if you start quite early you maybe able to visit all the sites in a day.

BUDGET
  • Entrance Fees: Kathmandu Durbar Square 1000 Rs, Boudhanath 250 Rs, Pashupatinath 1000 Rs, Swayambhunath 200 Rs
  • Transportation: Kathmandu Durbar Square – Boudhanath 600 Rs, Boudhanath – Pashupatinath 200 Rs, Pashupatinath – Thamel 300 Rs
  • Accommodation: 1000 Rs/night in Thamel (Yeti Guesthouse)
TIPS
  1. Be careful when buying souvenirs at Kathmandu Durbar Square. We were being asked 600 Rs for Buddhist prayer beads, the price went down to 100 Rs after some haggling. Most souvenir shops especially street vendors will jack the price up. Remember to canvass before buying.
  2. Keep in mind that Nepal was hit by a powerful earthquake last 2015, some of the structures are closed and are under renovation. Some temples have also been completely destroyed – especially on the southern part of Kathmandu Durbar Square.
  3. Some locals would offer guiding services upon entering some sites. It is not required but if you want to agree on a price first.
  4. We strongly recommend to bring a dust mask when going around the capital because of the dust and pollution.
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