Oftentimes, visitors flock to Nepal for the opportunity to trek the Himalayas, including the Mount Everest region. Some people may think that if you’re not a hard core trekker, there is little to do in the country. But the truth is Nepal has much more to offer other than marvelous trekking opportunities. In fact, in our humble opinion, Nepal is one of the most captivating places we have ever travelled to.
The Kathmandu Valley alone will blow your mind with its medieval cities, unique lifestyle, rich culture and strong spiritual devotion.
Most foreign travelers to Nepal will eventually land at Tribhuvan International Airport just outside of Kathmandu. And if you find yourself in this situation, please don’t hop on to the next fight out of the valley right away. Spend a couple of days exploring the wonders of Kathmandu Valley! To say that this valley is one of the most fascinating regions in Nepal is definitely an understatement.
Here are the must do’s while in the enigmatic Kathmandu Valley
1. Soak up the distinct and electrifying atmosphere of Thamel.
Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu. This is where you will find most of the souvenir and craft shops, guesthouses, hotels, bars and clubs in the city. The neighborhood is composed of narrow dusty streets packed with establishments. You may hear travelers claiming it is touristy, but it really has a very cool frontier-ish atmosphere, partly because it is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. And yes, expect the presence of regular touts in the area, but the locals are overall friendly and naturally pleasant. There is plenty of quality local merchandise sold in Thamel, so shopping here is exciting. The restaurants that cater to tourists follow an open-air concept and are nicely decorated. And the best thing about them? Their menus are affordable despite of their excellent food quality. No wonder Kathmandu is considered to be one of the cheapest cities in the world
2. Go Medieval Square Hopping
There are three important medieval squares in the Kathmandu Valley, and they are all regarded as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Kathmandu’s Durbar Square sits right in the heart of Kathmandu as it is the historical center. This massive complex is filled with exquisite temples, courtyards and palaces. Also called Hanuman Dhoka and Basantapur, the square also houses many government offices and royal buildings. But the most prominent attraction in the square are the magnificent Dhoka Palace Complex, which was built to honor Hanuman, the monkey King; and the Kumari Chowk. This is where is where you can find the Kumari House, home of the Living Goddess of Nepal. The Living Goddess is a young girl who was selected by the Shakya community as she is believed to be the human incarnation of the Hindu Goddess, Taleju.
- Patan is an art enthusiast’s dream destination. Aside from housing several Buddhist and Hindu temples, ancient palaces and stone baths; the city’s Durbar’s Square is filled with metal statues, exquisite carvings and the finest handicrafts. The rich art tradition here is mainly due to the talented breed of artists and craftsmen who have been born and raised for centuries. Some of the most prominent structures in Patan are the Palace of the Malla Kings, the stone temple of Lord Krishna and the Patan Museum.
- Like the other heritage site squares in the Kathmandu Valley, the Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square is a haven for magnificent monuments and structures, which include palaces, temples carved wood columns, and open courtyards. Bhaktapur was part of the trade route between Tibet and India during ancient times.
3. Make your way to Swamyambhunath Stupa
It is easy to recognize the highly revered Swamyambhunath Stupa as it sits on a conical hill and its impressive white dome and shimmering golden spire reach into the sky, making their presence known from several miles away. The stupa is known to be the most ancient among all major holy shrines in Kathmandu Valley. It is believed to be a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage destination way back to the 5th century AD. The word “Swayambhu” means ‘Self-Created or Self-Existent’. To reach the hill top, you need to climb 365 steps toward the hill top. Indeed, it is such a small price to pay to get a closer look at Swamyambhunath’s incredible architecture. And remember to circle around the stupa in a clockwise direction, except if you are a Newari Buddhist.
4. Head over to Boudhanath Stupa
The largest stupa in Nepal is called Boudhanath or Bodnath. Another thing special about this structure is it is considered to be the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Hence, Boudhanath is the fierce symbol of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu. You can find the stupa within the town of Boudha, just east of Kathmandu.
5. Witness a Breathtaking View from Nagarkot
Take a break from marveling at religious shrines and ancient buildings, and make your way to Nagarkot. The town lies on the northern section of Kathmandu Valley, and is just 32 kilometers from Kathmandu. The main reason to visit the town is to catch the stunning view of Himalayan peaks including Mount Everest. Most travelers make it here to watch the sunrise peeking through the snow-covered mountains.
It is possible to see all these fantastic attractions around Kathmandu Valley in a span of 2-3 days. But you can also easily spend a few weeks in the region, and find yourself engrossed with its people, its rich flourishing culture and marvelous monuments.
Chasing Places hired a taxi to bring us to the three medieval squares in one day. If you’re on a budget, don’t go for the initial price you get quoted for a taxi tour. The key is to haggle and ask other drivers. You can also book with a tour operator if you want an English speaking guide, but be prepared to pay more.
Which area did we stay in while in Kathmandu?
We stayed in the Thamel area and we would strongly suggest for you to do the same. It had a great selection of restaurants, shops and tourist services to choose from. Here is a link to the properties in Thamel to save you some time:
Want to find the cheapest room in Kathmandu?
We would recommend booking a hotel in Thamel and then using that a base for day trips and excursions. Feel free to check the location of hotels and guesthouses using the map tool here. We feel that www.agoda.com and www.hotelscombined.com are the two top providers for rooms in Kathmandu and Nepal in general. Agoda has a massive selection of rooms to choose from and it’s competitively priced. Many of our backpacking friends prefer www.hotelscombined.com due to their effective price comparison searches. We use both sites depending on our trip budget and location. In Nepal, either one should work well. Here are links to their property lists for Kathmandu:
Alternatively, you can find room bargains in Kathmandu using the search box below: