Welcome to the mystical city of Kathmandu, Nepal! Nestled in the heart of the majestic Himalayas, this enchanting destination has captivated travellers from all corners of the globe for centuries. Known for its rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and warm hospitality, Kathmandu offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience.
As the capital and largest city of Nepal, Kathmandu is a vibrant melting pot of history, spirituality, and modernity. With a history dating back thousands of years, the city has been a centre of trade, art, and religious pilgrimage, leaving behind a legacy that can still be felt today. From ancient temples and bustling bazaars to bustling streets and peaceful courtyards, Kathmandu is a tapestry of diverse cultures and traditions.
One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that showcases a collection of palaces, temples, and courtyards, reflecting the city’s architectural brilliance. As you wander through the narrow streets of the old city, you’ll encounter intricate woodcarvings, hidden shrines, and colourful prayer flags creating a truly unique atmosphere.
In this comprehensive guide, I will provide you with essential information and tips to make your journey to Kathmandu an extraordinary one. Having visited this location four times in the previous years – and having it feature a predominant role in my travel memoir, Soul Truth – I’ll delve into the best times to visit, how to get there, where to stay, must-visit attractions, local customs and traditions, and delicious culinary delights to savour. Whether you’re an intrepid adventurer, a history buff, a spiritual seeker, or simply a traveller in search of new experiences, Kathmandu promises to leave an indelible mark on your soul.
So, pack your bags, prepare your adventurous spirit, and get ready to embark on a journey to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Before you go:
Do you have your travel insurance? Travel insurance is a crucial aspect of any trip, including when visiting Kathmandu or any other destination.
I use Safetywing, which has competitive prices for both travellers and digital nomads. They also cover COVID-19 medical care.
Books about Nepal:
I like to suggest some reading material before travelling to Nepal to help understand the culture and the socio-cultural intricacies of the destination. Specifically, if you plan on trekking while in Nepal.
The easiest way to get to Kathmandu is by air. Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) in Kathmandu is the main international gateway to Nepal. Numerous international airlines operate flights to and from Kathmandu, connecting it to major cities around the world. You can book a direct flight to Kathmandu or opt for a connecting flight if necessary. The airport is located approximately 6 kilometres from the city centre.
Most nationals require a visa to enter the country. The cost of a visa for foreigners visiting Nepal can vary depending on the duration and type of visa you require. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2022, the following visa fees were applicable:
- 15 Days: USD 30
- 30 Days: USD 50
- 90 Days: USD 125
Multiple Entry Tourist Visa:
- 15 Days: USD 25 + USD 20 for each additional entry
- 30 Days: USD 40 + USD 30 for each additional entry
- 90 Days: USD 100 + USD 50 for each additional entry
Note* You will need to bring $USD cash with you to pay for the visa.
Kathmandu, like any other city, faces several tourism challenges. Here are some of the key challenges that the city encounters:
Infrastructure and Traffic Congestion: One of the significant challenges in Kathmandu is inadequate infrastructure and traffic congestion. The city’s roads, especially in the central areas, are narrow and often congested, leading to traffic jams. Insufficient public transportation and limited parking facilities add to the congestion. These issues can impact tourists’ travel experiences and contribute to longer travel times and frustration.
Air Pollution: Kathmandu experiences high levels of air pollution, primarily due to vehicular emissions, industrial activities, and the city’s geographical location. Poor air quality can be a concern for tourists, affecting their health and overall experience. It is recommended for visitors to be aware of air quality conditions and take necessary precautions.
Waste Management: Waste management is a significant challenge in Kathmandu. The city struggles with proper waste disposal and recycling systems, leading to littered streets and environmental concerns. The accumulation of waste can negatively impact the aesthetics of the city and create sanitation issues, affecting the overall tourist experience.
Sustainable Travel Tip* Consider these ways you can make your travels waste-free.
Heritage Preservation: Kathmandu is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, including ancient temples, palaces, and traditional architecture. However, the preservation and maintenance of these heritage sites face challenges. Factors such as natural disasters, lack of proper conservation efforts, and urban development pressures can pose threats to the integrity of these cultural assets.
Getting around Kathmandu can be an adventure in itself. The constant traffic makes it a rather testing undertaking to get from one destination to the next, but here are some common modes of transportation you can use to navigate the city:
Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Kathmandu, and they can be a convenient way to get around, especially for longer distances or when travelling with luggage. You can find taxis at designated taxi stands or hail one on the street. It’s recommended to negotiate and agree on the fare before starting the journey, as most taxis in Kathmandu do not operate on meters. Try to check travel guides to see what the reasonable price is.
Tip* Download the Patheo app. It’s the Nepalese version of Uber and you can book a car or a motorbike (if you dare). You always pay the price mentioned on the app and the do not have to haggle.
Public Buses: Kathmandu has a network of public buses that operate on various routes throughout the city. While they can be crowded and have varying levels of comfort, they are an affordable option for getting around. The bus routes are colour-coded, and the fare is generally paid to the conductor once onboard. However, be prepared for traffic congestion and feeling like a tinned-sardine during peak hours.
Walking: Kathmandu’s city centre and many of its attractions are relatively compact, making walking a viable option, particularly in areas with narrow streets. However, be cautious of traffic, and uneven sidewalks, and observe pedestrian safety. Motorbikes will jolt passed you within inches.
Where to stay?
Kathmandu offers a range of accommodation options catering to different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular areas to consider for your stay in Kathmandu:
Thamel: Thamel is a bustling neighbourhood located in the heart of Kathmandu and is a popular choice for many travellers. It is known for its narrow streets filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and guesthouses. Thamel offers a vibrant atmosphere, and easy access to amenities, and is a hub for backpackers and tourists.
Boudha: Boudha, also known as Boudhanath, is home to one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. This area has a tranquil and spiritual ambience, with many monasteries, meditation centres, and guesthouses. Boudha is a great choice if you prefer a quieter atmosphere and want to immerse yourself in Buddhist culture.
Related Reading: Where to book sustainable accommodation online
Lazimpat: Lazimpat is a neighbourhood located to the north of Thamel and is known for its quieter streets and upscale hotels. It offers a more relaxed and residential feel compared to Thamel, while still being within easy reach of major attractions and amenities.
Patan: Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is a separate city located just south of Kathmandu. It is known for its well-preserved Durbar Square, ancient temples, and traditional Newari architecture. Patan offers a blend of history, culture, and artistic heritage. Staying in Patan provides a unique experience and allows you to explore the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Related Reading: Community Homestay Nepal: Empowering Local Communities
Durbar Marg: Durbar Marg is a vibrant area located close to the city centre and is known for its upscale hotels, restaurants, and shopping centres. It offers a more modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere, with easy access to major attractions, business districts, and entertainment venues.
Jhamsikhel: Jhamsikhel, also known as Jhamel, is an emerging neighbourhood located south of central Kathmandu. It has a laid-back and artistic vibe, with trendy cafes, art galleries, and boutiques. Jhamsikhel attracts a younger crowd and offers a more contemporary and alternative experience.
Sustainable Travel Tip* Watch the video where I stay in a farmstay just outside of Kathmandu. If you are feeling to escape the city, I can recommend the Natural Earth Order Farm.
General things to do in Kathmandu:
Kathmandu is rich in culture and traditions. Here are some traditional things to do and see in Kathmandu:
- Visit Durbar Squares: Kathmandu is known for its historic Durbar Squares, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Explore Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, and Bhaktapur Durbar Square to admire ancient palaces, temples, and intricately carved wooden structures that showcase the Newari architectural style.
- Explore Temples and Stupas: Kathmandu is home to numerous temples and stupas of religious significance. Visit the iconic Pashupatinath Temple, sacred to Hindus, and observe religious rituals and cremation ceremonies along the Bagmati River. Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world, is a must-visit to experience the peaceful atmosphere and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
- Explore Old Towns: Kathmandu has several well-preserved old towns with narrow streets and traditional Newari architecture. Walk through the labyrinthine alleys of places like Thamel, Asan, and Ason to discover traditional markets, shops selling local handicrafts, spices, and vibrant street life.
- Visit Museums and Art Galleries: Learn about Nepal’s history, art, and culture by visiting museums and art galleries in Kathmandu. The National Museum, Patan Museum, and The Taragaon Museum offer insights into Nepal’s rich cultural heritage through artifacts, artwork, and exhibitions.
- Enjoy Newari Cuisine: Indulge in traditional Newari cuisine, which is famous for its unique flavours and dishes. Try Newari specialties like momo (dumplings), bara (lentil pancakes), kwati (mixed bean soup), and yomari (sweet rice dough dumplings). You can find authentic Newari restaurants and street food stalls throughout the city.
- Take a Newari Cooking Class: Join a cooking class to learn how to prepare traditional Newari dishes. Engaging in a hands-on cooking experience allows you to understand the local ingredients, techniques, and flavours while enjoying a delicious meal at the end.
Try the below tours while in Kathmandu
Sustainable Travel Tip* Support local resident, Shazia, on this street food tour that explores hidden local eateries.
Tip* Remember to be respectful of local customs, dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and follow any guidelines or restrictions provided. Engaging in these traditional activities and experiences will give you a deeper appreciation of Kathmandu's rich cultural heritage and traditions.
Alternative things to do in Kathmandu:
Go on a sustainable hike with Let’s Clean Up Nepal: Let’s Clean Up Nepal (LCU Nepal) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to environmental conservation and community engagement in Nepal. Founded in 2017, LCU Nepal has been actively working towards creating a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable Nepal through various initiatives and campaigns. Each Saturday, they take visitors on hikes and clean-ups around the valley. Find out more. This project also offers eco tours and travel packages. Visit the Himalayan Green Trips website for more information.
Support fair trade artisans by shopping ethically: Shopping fair trade is an impactful way to support ethical and sustainable practices in global trade. Fair trade ensures that producers, especially in developing countries, receive fair wages for their work. It promotes social justice by providing workers with better working conditions, fair contracts, and protection against exploitation. By choosing fair trade products, consumers contribute to the well-being of workers and help alleviate poverty. See this list of stores with a conscious mission in Kathmandu.
Related Reading: Volunteer for a local community near Kathmandu
Go on a spiritual journey: In Nepal they greet using the words Namaste, meaning “I bow to the divine in you”. For many years the great valley of Kathmandu and the surrounding Himalayan mountain ranges have been a sacred land of deep spirituality. Year after year travellers come to Nepal for meditation, yoga, astrology, retreats and to be with the divine energy of the mighty Himalayas. See this list of spiritual practices in Kathmandu.
Visit an Ayurvedic Health Clinic: Ayurveda Health Home in Kathmandu is a renowned wellness centre that offers traditional Ayurvedic treatments and therapies. Ayurveda, an ancient holistic healing system originating from India, focuses on achieving balance and harmony in mind, body, and spirit. The benefits of Ayurveda lie in its personalised approach, natural remedies, and emphasis on preventive care. Ayurvedic treatments, including herbal medicines, massage therapies, detoxification programs, and dietary guidance, aim to restore and maintain overall well-being. The centre offers a range of wellness options.
Do you have anything else to add to this guide? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me on the link here.
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