When you travel to Nepal, the first place you will experience is its capital, Kathmandu, because that’s where the airport is. To me, Kathmandu itself is a gorgeous city with lots to do, see and experience. I absolutely loved being there and I felt right at home. (Plus: the people are nice, that helps too with a great experience:))
Anyway: here are some Kathmandu tips: must dos and must sees you shouldn’t miss when you visit this beautiful city.
Swayambhunath (monkey temple)
Swayambhunath is an old Buddhist temple complex which is built on a hill. When up there, you can enjoy an absolutely stunning view over the city of Kathmandu. There are prayer wheels, prayer flags, and lots of stupas and pagodas. While it’s definitely a popular tourist destination, many Nepali people visit Swayambhunath as well. Be prepared to climb lots of stairs, because that’s how you get up there.
I made a seperate article (with lots of photos) about exploring Swayambhunath here.
The temple is also known as the Monkey Temple, and that’s for a reason. There are monkeys everywhere. Watch out, they’re cheeky. If they get the chance, they will steal food right out of your bag or hand.
Momma monkey stole a cookie
Garden of Dreams
Escape the busy streets of Thamel and go visit the Garden of Dreams. You can reach this park within a 5 minute walk from Thamel. On the other side of the gates, after paying an entrance fee of 200 rupees, you will find an oasis of peace and quiet. It’s open from 9am to 10 pm, so if you have the opportunity, also visit the park at night. The buildings are beautifully illuminated when it’s dark.
Tip: it’s allowed to take some snacks and a bottle of juice or water inside the Garden of Dreams. Do this and just go there and relax. It’s lovely.
Have you ever heard of the cremations in Varanasi, India, at the Ganges river? Pashupatinath is similar, but then in Nepal. Pashupatinath is probably one of the more important places for Hindus in this country. The temple complex is built on both sides of the Bagmati River, a holy river. People bring their loved ones to this temple to cremate them. There’s even a small building where sick or old people go towards the end, so they can die there.
It’s weird to be present and take photos at such a private event. The Nepali people don’t actually mind, as long as you keep some distance. So if you can handle being in such an emotional place, definitely visit Pashupatinath.
Boudha, Bodnath, Boudhanath: this temple has many names. It’s situated in the north-east of Kathmandu, about 3 miles / 5 kilometers from Thamel. So you might want to grab a taxi or tempo to get there. The temple is one of the largest stupas in Nepal: you can see it from a distance because it’s in the middle of the city and it rises above the surrounding buildings.
There are three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu valley, and one of them is actually in Kathmandu (the other two are in Patan and Bhaktapur). The entrance fee is around 700 rupees, but if you are truly on a budget, you can take a side street to get to the temples without paying.
Story time: In one of the buildings on Durbar Square, there’s a Kumari. This is a girl who is chosen (after a thorough selection process) at a very young age, as young as 3. She is believed to be an incarnation of a goddess. After lots of rituals, the girl will go live in the palace on Durbar Square until she menstruates for the first time. While being a Kumari, she’s only allowed to leave the palace for ceremonies. Her feet are not allowed to touch the ground when she’s off palace grounds, so when she’s outside for a ceremony, she will be carried in a palanquin.
Stroll around Kathmandu
Thamel is known as the tourist area of Kathmandu. There are a lot of small shops and restaurants, and it’s definitely worth it to stroll around this district. In the many small shops you can find nice souvenirs, for example yak wool, cashmere & pashmina shawls, singing bowls and rice paper products. Don’t forget to bargain! Like I already mentioned: this is a touristy area so shop owners aim high with their prices.
Out of all my Kathmandu tips, this is the most important one: There are more places to explore besides Thamel. Try to go to the more local areas, because this is “the real Kathmandu”. I absolutely loved loved loved strolling around and taking photos in the less touristy areas.
Try local cuisine
Of course you need to try local food when you visit Nepal! Nepal’s signature dish is Dal Bhat, with lentils, rice and cabbage. Although I must admit I had the very best dal bhat while on my Poon Hill trek. The guesthouse owners make it with fresh ingredients from their own garden. De-lish!
Other foods to try are samosas and momos. Samosas are savoury deep fried ‘thingies’ which are made of dough, filled with for example potato, lentils, peas, onion and many other possible ingredients. Momos are dumplings which can also contain many different ingredients, for example beef, chicken or yak. Or vegetarian ones with cabbage, onion and/or potatoes.
Don’t forget the drinks though: Nepali Chai tea is absolutely delicious. Want to try it for yourself? Check the very easy masala tea recipe here