This fabled city, rich with history, culture, and tradition, has become a sprawling urban center hosting 2.5 million inhabitants and tens of thousands of travelers at any one time. Surrounded by some of the world's greatest peaks, Kathmandu has mountains of its own in the form of ancient monuments and temples.
As a capital, Kathmandu is the epicenter of economic and political life in Nepal, which significantly colors any visit. The most developed region in the nation, Kathmandu offers visitors the chance to not only experience a vibrant culture, but to enjoy luxury amenities, fantastic shopping, and cosmopolitan cuisine.
Whether you're looking to gather your bearings in the city before launching a mountain trek, or you're just interested in museums, stores, and tea shops, Kathmandu delivers. There is something for every traveler in this ancient metropolis.
Many of Nepal's most important festivals take place in Kathmandu, which hosts pilgrimages, harvest celebrations, and the Festival of Lights, an important Hindu festival. These events take place throughout the year and are not to be missed.
Kathmandu's location under four mighty mountains - Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun, and Chandragiri - makes it an ideal launching point for all sorts of adventures. From treks through the Kathmandu Valley, to bungee jumping, to trips to local villages, there's much to explore.
Kathmandu is over 2,000 years old, and it's easy to tell. Many of Nepal's most important religious and historical sites are located in Kathmandu. While in town, be sure to visit the Narayanhiti Palace Museum to learn more about this heritage.
Renowned since ancient times, Durbar Square is filled with magnificent palaces and temples, as well as the Kasthamandap from which the city is named. Over 10 sites of interest can be found in the square, though some were heavily damaged in the 2015 earthquake.
Kathmandu is one of those rare places where it doesn't matter what you've got on your itinerary - just experiencing the city and the living culture of the Nepalese is enough to fill up your days.
The Boudhanath Temple, or Stupa, is the largest temple outside of Tibet. It is at the center of Kathmandu's Tibetan culture and is richly endowed with Buddhist symbolism. You can find it in Boudha, in the east of Kathmandu, where it dominates the skyline. It is thought that the Boudhanath Temple dates from the 14th century and its exterior represents the Buddhist cosmos. Inside, you will find an extraordinary array of frescoes and structures incorporating many sacred numbers from the Buddhist faith. Visiting is a colorful, moving and exhilarating experience that lives long in the memory.
Durbar Square is sure to feature on your visit to Kathmandu. The name means royal palace square and the square faces the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. This was the seat of the Nepalese royal family until the 19th century and was the setting for the coronation of Nepalese kings. Today, you can visit the state rooms, where you will find elaborate wooden carvings, decorative window frames and the Mahendra and King Tribhuwan museums. To the south of the square you will encounter one of the strangest attractions in all of Nepal. The Kumari Chowk is a gilded 'cage' (actually a beautiful building) which is home to the Raj Kumari, a young girl regarded as the living embodiment of the Hindu goddess Durga.
Pashupatinath Temple is one of the four most important sites in Asia dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is said to date from around 500 AD and there may have been a site of worship as much as 500 years before that. It is the most extensive temple complex in all of Nepal, stretching along both banks of the Bagmati River. The main temple is built in pagoda style and features a roof gilded in silver and intricate wood carvings. Unlike other World Heritage Sites, Pashupatinath is a working temple and you can watch the fascinating daily rituals of the monks when you visit.
The Narayanhity Palace was the principal residence of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Nepal until the 19th century. It housed state occasions with lavish hospitality and includes a huge complex of buildings, courtyards and gardens. The current palace is not as old as you might think; it was built in 1970 by the American architect Benjamin Polk. After the 2006 revolution, the palace was converted into a museum. It holds a fantastic collection, including the fabulous crown jewels of Nepal. You can also admire the beauty of the Reception Hall and Throne Room, with its 48-foot chandelier.
The Swayambhunath Temple sits atop a hill around two miles west of Kathmandu. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Nepal and one of the most holy. Legend says the temple appeared spontaneously when the valley emerged from a lake 2,000 years ago. The temple complex includes lots of shrines, statues and countless prayer wheels. Some highlights are the huge gold Vajra, or thunderbolt, on the east side and the Sleeping Buddha on the west. It is still a working temple and is one of the best places in Nepal to see religious ceremonies.
Kathmandu is a relatively temperate and warm city, with winter highs hovering around 66 degrees, and summer highs peaking around 90 degrees. However, summer also sees very high rainfall, and winter lows reach the low thirties, so preparation is required no matter when you visit. Spring and fall may be the best times to visit, as weather is mild and rain less frequent.
Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) is located just a few miles east of town. There are many regular connections to Asian countries including Thailand, India, Korea, Malaysia, and China, and many others. Most hotels include hotel transfers, but taxis are available for about रू400-500, although if you walk to the end of the parking lot you may find one for रू200-300.
It is possible to rent a car and driver in Nepal, but rates vary wildly depending on the trip. For example, the 95-mile trip to Simbhanjyang and back costs रू4500, while a round trip to the Borderlands, approximately 115 miles total, costs रू4300. Researching and comparing pricing ahead of time is highly advised.
Buses are often used by locals trying to connect with other parts of Nepal. However, buses are incredibly uncomfortable due to poor road quality. It is also possible to ride into Nepal on buses from India. Kathmandu has two bus stations: Balaju to the north and Kalanki to the south.
Most hotels are located in the Thamel district, although there are others scattered throughout the city. Kathmandu has a wide range of accommodation for both budget and luxury travelers. Alobar1000 is a popular guest house, while the Hotel Shanker is a former palace converted into a hotel.
Thamel - Thamel is generally known as the tourist district, with attractions such as the Royal Palace (Narayanhiti Palace), a wide array of restaurants and bars, and the most hotels of any district in the city.
Chetrapati - bordering Thamel, Chetrapati is home to a university campus, a Buddhist temple, and many great restaurants. It's a nice place to walk around.
Jhochhen - located right by Durbar Square, Jhochhen is a fascinating area with several temples and historic buildings, in addition to Freak Street, a popular hang-out spot for hippies.
There are buses for getting around the Kathmandu Valley, and many circle around the outer Ring Road for रू20 to रू35, depending on the distance. Ask the locals for help if you choose to take this route, as it can be very difficult to navigate for a newcomer. Rickshaws are also abundant in the Thamel area, with prices open to negotiation. Keep in mind that rickshaws should cost about रू100 for a ride across town.
Taxis can be found throughout the city. Taxis have meters, which have rates beginning at रू14 before 21:00 and rising to रू21 afterwards. However, many drivers choose not to use the meter, so you may have to negotiate a price before your journey starts. A trip across town should cost no more than रू100-200.
It is possible to rent a car (or a taxi) for a day, or to get to a specific destination. Patan should cost रू300 to access, and Bakhtapur should be around रू1,000 rupees one-way. Renting a car for a full day of sightseeing around Kathmandu should cost around रू3800 rupees, and there is a Sixt outlet at the airport.
Everything from jewelry to electronics can be found in Kathmandu's markets, which take place throughout the city. Kathmandu is also known for its many bookshops, which are stocked with both classics and travel guides. Thamel has many second-hand bookshops. If you are looking for clothing, a high-quality pair of jeans can be found for about रू3,000, while local, traditionally made goods cost far less.
Kathmandu has many convenience stores and a number of supermarkets, including Bhat Bhateni and Big Mart. However, you'll find plenty of food sold on the street as well. A loaf of bread will cost around रू90, while a dozen eggs fetches रू190.
Kathmandu's cuisine is one of the city's main attractions. The momo, a dumpling which can be filled with buffalo, chicken, or vegetables, can be found from street vendors throughout town, and is often paired with daal, curry, stewed vegetables, a pickle, and curd. Chiya, a milky tea, is a must as well. If you eat at a tourist restaurant, expect prices to be at least 25 percent higher than elsewhere. Meals can approach रू300 at a tourist establishment, but locals pay much less. Angan serves great Masala Dhosa for around रू70, while Wunjala Moskva hosts performances by local dancers.