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Without doubt, when you step off the plane into the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu you know you’re in no other place. The smells, sounds, and sights as you negotiate from the airport into town, assault your senses. Many come to Nepal for the incredible Himalayas and the trekking that they offer, but the chaotic capital has its own special wonders. You could wander the streets of Kathmandu for days and never tire, but here are the most famous, most iconic, most beautiful and sacred places to visit in Kathmandu, and the Kathmandu Valley.
We hope you find our guide to things to do in Kathmandu useful. We’d suggest you have at least 3 clear days to see Kathmandu before or after your trek because there is just so much to see, learn, and enjoy.
Places to Visit in Kathmandu and Kathmandu Valley
The following places of interest and historic sites should give you plenty to do in Kathmandu and ideas for day trips from Kathmandu.
The 3 Durbar Squares
There are 3 Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Durbar Square simply means Royal Square and these ancient places have some of Nepal’s most magnificent architecture.
Kathmandu Durbar square with its ancient Palace, temples and sadhus is a sight to behold, from the child goddess Kumari’s palace to the narrow winding streets of shop houses. Nothing beats wandering the streets and temples till it’s time to stop for a delicious local bite to eat in one of the many restaurants or street stalls.
Make sure you go into the palace where the child goddess lives and wait for her to come to the window. A surreal experience for even the most well-traveled nomad.
Kathmandu Durbar Square, for Pinterest
The Pinterest pin that I published with a spelling mistake! (above) It’s been pinned thousands of times, so it stays.
The temple complex of Pashupatinath, on the Bagmati River, with its monkeys, sadhus and regular worshipers is another icon of Kathmandu.
Access to the temple itself is strictly reserved for Hindus only but the complex is open to all visitors for a fee.
Pashupatinath comes alive during Shivaratri where Sadhus from across the subcontinent converge on the holy site and receive their followers.
The burning ghats here are fascinating but confronting, if this is your first experience of death rights on the subcontinent be prepared for open cremations.
Swayambhunath overlooks the sprawling Kathmandu Valley from high on a hill to the west of Kathmandu. The name means sublime trees in Tibetan.
This temple is one of the oldest in Nepal and buildings on the site date back over 1500 years.
The complex features a main Stupa with peaceful Buddha eyes and smaller temples that surround the stupa. There was extensive damage from the earthquake in 2015 but it has been almost repaired some 18 months later.
The most important site for Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal this stupa, located 11km from the centre of Kathmandu in the northeastern corner.
The structure is the largest spherical stupa in Nepal and is an imposing stupa in its own right.
Surrounded by more than 50 Tibetan Gompas (monasteries) it has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979.
The location was picked as it lies on the ancient trade route between Tibet and Patan, thus bypassing Kathmandu city which was a later development.
The Boudhanath dome was severely damaged in the earthquake, when we were there in 2016 it was almost completely restored, in 2018 it was perfect.
With its many trekking agencies, guest houses and shops full of trinkets and trekking equipment, this district has a buzz like no other.
Eager trekkers haggle for the latest knock-off cold weather equipment before heading up into the high reaches of either the Annapurna or Everest regions.
Just returned trekkers head into the numerous bars and restaurants to talk about their experiences up in the valleys and on the peaks.
The vast multi-story corner shop that sells everything trekkers may need is constantly busy with people shopping for supplies before heading off. The sheer number of Mars Bars and Snickers sold here is mind-blowing, only matched by the price of one high up on the slopes.
If people watching is your thing then this is the place to spend an afternoon overlooking the streets.
Freak Street is just off the main Kathmandu Durbar Square and it was where the hippie trail ended. It’s interesting to visit and get a feel for Kathmandu as it was in the 60s and 70s. There is also some incredible street art in this area. We have a full post on Freak St. here.
Bhaktapur offers the 3rd Durbar Square of the Kathmandu valley and is well worth the trip. In a taxi the journey should take you around an hour, the public bus will take longer. The distance is only about 25 Km but bad traffic and roads make the journey longer.
We have a full post on Bhaktapur here, we spent 4 days there in 2018 and highly recommend staying at least one night, but you can visit Bhaktapur as a day trip.
Nagarkot is famous as a Himalayan view-point and can be reached from Kathmandu in around 2 hours or from Bhaktapur in 1. We have a full post on Nagarkot here. Again, we spent a few nights here in 2018.
Swayambhunath for pinterest
If you’re looking for places to visit in Nepal outside of Kathmandu, or if you’re thinking about trekking in the Himalayas, head back to our main Nepal Travel Guide page for more tips, information and ideas. Thanks for visiting, we have a passion for Nepal, tell us what your plans are in the comments below.