Kathmandu is widely known for its chaotic environment, where most of the tourist wants to get out from. Interestingly there are some hidden gems (some popular though) you should check out. Some of them are unusually peaceful and offer you a place to relax and take a moment off from the city life of Kathmandu. (16 Best Places of Kathmandu to visit)
Do you know? Kathmandu is known as the “City of Temples”. Most of the beautiful sites in Kathmandu valley are temples and monasteries. Many of them are worth visiting.
Best Places to Visit in Kathmandu
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Durbar Square means “Place of Palaces” and Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the three (3) Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, which is enlisted in the UNESCO world heritage sites.
The squares impress almost all the first timers who come to visit here. The site is rich in history and has a massive collection of over 50 temples within its territory. The temple was caressed by all the past rulers and you can see different temples with varieties of styles and forms. The catch to come here is; you can see buildings, which are from 1560–1574 AD and learn a bit of history of many rulers who ruled here. The must-see of this attraction is the “Living Goddess”, Kumari. Kumari is a young girl selected by priests and lives in the Kumari Bahal – is a three-storey building built in 1757. Other attractions are the Kansthamandap (translated to “The Pavillion of Wood” and the Kathmandu as a name of the city comes from it. Legend says that the building was made using only one Sal tree.).
The site is actively lived by humans and you can see people selling different commodity, worshipping and just passing by. If you want to visit the site, it is about 15 minute of walk from Thamel and don’t forget, you have to buy tickets to visit.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Among the three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the largest. The site is well-preserved and often synonym to the traditional art, architecture, and craft works. And Definitely, must see attraction for someone who likes to feel the aroma of Newari culture. For the second half of the 15th century, Bhaktapur was the capital city of Nepal. Many tourists prefer this site because cars are not allowed inside the town center and it is interestingly less crowded and peaceful. History says that Bhaktapur was one among the strongest kingdom of Kathmandu valley but after the King Yakshya Malla divided the Kingdom between three sons in 1482. The nation lost its power and was soon avenged by Shah Dynasty from Gurkha. The city is still decorated with the figures of then wrestlers who participated in Malla Yuddha, a famous combat between two wrestlers started by the Malla Kings.
Patan Durbar Squar
Patan Durbar Square is one of the three popular, most visited and UNESCO listed world heritage site. Patan, which is also known as Lalitpur is famous for hosting much festive and feasts, which showcase traditional arts and crafts. The site was Palace of then King of Patan and now you can enjoy the amazing display of Newari architecture. Some of the major attractions of this square are the Patan Museum – which boasts bronze statues and many religious objects, The Golden window – built by Srinivasa Malla in 1680, The Mahabouddha Temple – a masterpiece made out of clay from the fourteenth century, which houses thousands of images of Lord Buddha beautifully engraved and finally The Krishna Temple – built in 17th century and only temple with 21 shrines and made completely out of stone.
Swayambhunath Stupa(Monkey Temple)
In Thamel – the tourist hub, many locals recommend you to visit The Monkey Temple. What they mean is, The Swayambhunath, where you can actually see lots of monkeys flocking here and there. The Stupa is around 3 KM from Thamel and takes about 45 minutes by foot. Because the stupa is located on the top of the hill, you have two options to reach there, one is by taking a 365 long stairway or taking a little easier; drive halfway and then taking a short climb. The atmosphere around the Stupa is very calm and you can listen people praying there. It is also listed in the UNESCO world heritage site and boast lots of chaityas, arts, prayer flags, and many other. One of the most notable attraction besides the temple itself is the “Vajra” – it translates to ‘Thunderbolt’ and is established by the King Pratap Malla in the 17th century with the aim to stop any kind of ill omens and get rid of all evils. In the Vajra, you can notice 12 different engravings representing zodiacs. Other notable attractions are the Pratappur, Anantapur, Harati Mata Temple & Basupur Temple.
Changunarayan is UNESCO listed world heritage site. This site is located approximately 22 KM from Kathmandu and lies at an altitude of 1540 meters. Also believed to be the oldest temple (464 AD), which takes us back to the period of Lichhavi, this temple dedicated to the Vishnu who reincarnated as Narayan. Interesting feats of this temple are the street handicraft shops, the Changu Museum which preserves some of the most precious ancient antiques and you can learn to paint or make masks with the help of locals. Most tourist combines Changu Narayan Temple visit with Nagarkot hill climbing to see the amazing Himalayas far across on the horizon and enjoy glorious sunrise and sunset views. You have to pay extra fees to enter museums and temples, don’t forget that.
Bouddhanath interests almost all the Buddhists around the world. The stupa is the largest of Nepal and Buddhist never misses this site. The stupa which you can see now is not its original form, it is believed that after series of reconstructions and renovations, it got its present structure. The Stupa is surrounded by the hybrid of modern and ancient type hotels and cafes, artifact sellers, small statues, and colorful homes. An interesting thing you will notice in the stupa is the two eyes, the third eye above it and question mark like symbol in the four sides of the Stupa. The symbols have special meaning – the question mark like symbol is the character for “1” and resembles unity as a way to reach enlightenment, the third eye is the representation of the wisdom of the Lord Buddha. If you observe the stupa carefully, you can notice that the shape gradually gets smaller at its height – this represents the abstract form of fire and they are of 13 steps. Above it, is the tower, which is the incorporation of air and above the tower, you can see symbolic ether and the Buddha Vairocana.
Pashupatinath Temple is the most praised, respected and most popular Hindu Temple. It is listed in the UNESCO world heritage site. The site is must visit for every tourist, it covers a wide area of 264 hectares and there are around 490 temples of different shapes, styles & designs dedicated to different gods and goddesses. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, you can see four-faced lingam of him and the whole premise of the temple reflects the presence of Shiva. Point of interest in Pashupatinath Temple are the Rajrajeshwori temple – known for the display of erotic figure, the Mrigasthali Park – known for the location of deer, the Vishworup – known for its amazing history, which says that it took hundred years to get it ready and the Gorakhnath Temple – known for its myth regarding the 12-year long famine in Nepal and its Shikar Style of Architecture.
If you are to visit the holy temple, BEHOLD! to see the live cremation of Human. Despite the facility of modern cremation, many Nepali can’t afford and the only choice for them is to use woods to burn the bodies. You can take a ride to Pashupatinath, it is 5 KM far from Thamel.
Chandragiri Hills is the new sensation for domestic as well as foreign tourists. The destination is just 11 KM far from the center of Thamel and you can see amazing Himalayas views in the far distance if the sky is clear. If you were to visit this attraction before 2016, you would have to take a 7 KM long and rough ride to reach the top of the hill or take a 3-hour long hike. Now, After the establishment of recent (2016) Cable car transportation, Chandragiri Hill has gained a huge boost in the flow of tourists and now they’ve begun standard hotel services, amusement park, resorts and many branded shops to attract more tourists. Besides, there is Bhaleshwor Mahadev Temple, where people have a belief that your wishes will be fulfilled if you ask with your heart and if you are worth it. If you have a short time in Nepal, this place is worth a shot.
Jamacho Hill Hiking
Jamacho Hill Hiking is a short one day hike. For complete beginners who have no experience in long walks, it can be quite tiring although it is listed in the easy category, for experienced hikers, this is a piece of cake. The top of the hill offers nice views of Himalayan ranges like Annapurna Himalayan Range, Manaslu Himalayan Range, and Langtang, Himalayan Range and the complete view of Kathmandu valley. In season, you can see scattered red rhododendron flowers and spellbinding nature, full of greeneries and clear blue sky. Also, there is a small Jamacho Monastery where you can find a statue of Nagarjuna Buddha and a tower where you climb for a better view of the surrounding. During the Buddha Jayanti and Jamacho Jatra Festive, many Buddhists and Hindus come here for the celebration.
To sum it up, you can see great sceneries, the up view of Kathmandu valley, the Jamacho monastery and lots of prayer flags.
Nagarkot is just 35 km far from Kathmandu. It is the most accessible and nearest place to take a nice glance of Highest Mountain like Everest and Manaslu, Langtang and Annapurna ranges (let’s just say, you can see 8 Himalayan ranges out of 13 from here). Especially the altitude of around 2200 meters is the best part of this short hike and because you can reach that altitude in just a day, this is insane. The notable thing about Nagarkot is that it is predominantly popular for giving amazing views of the green forest, the rhododendron flowers, the spellbinding views of the Himalayas and the glorious sunrise and sunset views. There is one tower at the top of the hill from where you can see stunning views along with the strong wind – the best feeling ever. Before Nagarkot was a tourist destination, it was the fort of rulers of Nepal. And because of its strategic location, it was used as the place to keep an eye on other Kingdoms and valleys.
White Gumba (Seto Gumba)
The Druk Amitabh Monastery or most notably White Gumba is located in pretty confusing place and even many Nepali don’t know its location. It is because no one was allowed to enter the Gumba, until the recent change. The Gumba belongs to “nuns” (female monks), the area is very clean with statues of Lord Buddha, Tibetan architectures, paintings and many monks praying in the hall. It is also an ideal location for nice sunrise and sunset view. Many tourists come here for meditation purpose because the environment is calm that resembles peace and patience.
If you want to go there, remember that the Gumba is open only on Sunday and you do not have to pay any fees, it is completely free for everyone including tourists.
Kopan Monastery is blessed by the flock of Tibetan Buddhists who come here for meditation. The monastery is just 8 KM from the center of Thamel and not very far from Bouddhanath. It is was founded by Lama Thubten in 1984 AD.
Kapan is known to offer different courses on Buddhism and meditation. You can take part in Discover Buddhism Series, where you are introduced to the basic principles of Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. The later is the Next Step Series, where you are given deeper explanation and information about the principles. The courses can last from 5 days to a month and enlightened you about Karma, mind control, life, death, Bodhicitta and much more.
If you want to visit the site, you should know that the opening days are limited due to a large number of visitors. So, know whether the Monastery is open or not before going. If you arrive here and the site is closed, you can take an hour hike to Phulbari Monastery – an amazing monastery featuring Thangka Paintings. And also there is Vajrayana Monastery on the mid-way to Phulbari Monastery.
Budhalnilkantha; also known as Narayanthan Temple, is about 10 KM far from the center of Thamel. It is a Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The best attraction of this site is the stone carving of the sleeping statue, which is said to the biggest of Nepal. The statue is about 5 meters in length, made out of single black basalt stone and resembles Lord Vishnu in sleeping state. It is surrounded by serpent Shesha, having eleven heads and you can see that Lord Shiva is holding a Chakra, a conch-shell, a lotus flower and the club. All the objects are believed to be a representation of his divine qualities.
Many people mix “Budha” with “Buddha”, the fact is that it has nothing to do with Buddhism – it simply means ‘Old’ in the Nepali language. And the word “Budhalninkantha” translates to “Old Blue Throat” (Budha=old, Nil-Blue, and Kantha=throat).
Budhanilkantha is popular for Haribondhini Ekadashi festival, which is celebrated in the Nepali 11th of Kartik month (Oct-Nov).
Thousands of pilgrims come here to worship during this day and the day is believed to be the awakening of Lord Vishnu from his long sleep.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum
Nayaranhiti Palace Museum, by the entitlement of Palace, you are probably wondering, why Palace? Well, it was because before it turned into a museum – the last King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal used to live here.
And the design of the Museum reflects the lifestyle of the then-king of Nepal. There you can see the impressive throne, the banquet hall, the modest royal bedrooms and the big armchair with built-in speakers. Other things you will enjoy in the museum include the paintings of previous rulers of Nepal with international figures, the stuffed tigers, gharials and rhino heads.
If you want to visit the museum, it is just 2 KM far from the center of Thamel. And remember, the area covered by the Palace is around 74 hectares and secured by guards and heavy walls. You are not allowed to carry cameras and plastic bags inside. There are 30 rooms in total and only 16 are open to the public – rooms are named after the districts and zones of Nepal and the doors, after the names of Mountains of Nepal.
Thamel is the biggest tourist hub of Nepal. Most visitors coming to Nepal usually come here. The place is filled with small shops and some larger ones. It is one of the oldest city of Kathmandu and you can see that most of the housings are influenced by the Newari style of architecture.
Thamel is overall a mess if you like to call it because you have no idea where you are going due to lack of street signs and there are no names on signposts. There is also no any border that separate Thamel from other areas. So, for the first time, you will have a hard time figuring out. As you know that Thamel is the city center, it also means that you are in the biggest tourism sector of the nation and all the trekking, tours, activities and adventure lovers leave from here.
Thamel is jammed with sellers, agents, tour operators (we are one of them) and every kind of people who sell every kind of things you wish to find in Nepal. From small souvenirs to large ones, you can find it. And remember, always bargain while you are buying things in Thamel – This is the best advice you can get while shopping around.
Garden of Dreams
Garden of Dreams is just what the name says, It is a Garden of Dreams. The garden now boasts different shades of colorful flowers and the design is based on the Edwardian style. Before the garden became public, it was the private garden of late Field Marshal Kaiser Sumsher Rana (1892-1964) built in early 1920.
Due to lack of proper care, the garden suffered and it was renovated in the early 2000s by the same Austrian-financed team that created the Patan Museum. Now, the garden looks gorgeous, with detailed resurrection of old gate, a marble inscription from Omar Khayam’s Rubaiya and nice looking ponds and fountains.
Want to visit the garden? Foreigners have to pay Rs. 200 per visit and locals are liable to Rs. 100. There is membership available for foreigners and locals, though it is good only for long term stay. The charge is Rs. 3000 for foreigners and Rs. 2000 for Nepalese – membership comes with perks, namely minimal free parking, a discount of 10% in Kaiser cafe and free entrance inside the garden.