Chaotic streets. Colorful markets. Ancient temples. Nestled in a valley and surrounded by Himalayan peaks, the ancient city of Kathmandu is as spiritual as it is urban; a stupa or temple is around every corner, a hidden courtyard through every secret doorway.
I had no idea what to expect on my first visit to Kathmandu, Nepal, but maybe that’s a good thing because Kathmandu utterly defies expectations. I learned so much about Nepalese culture and history during my visit – as a hosted delegate at the Himalayan Travel Mart – that I created an entire blog post dedicated to all of the things nobody tells you about traveling in Nepal. Be sure to read it before your trip!
One important thing to know: the original inhabitants of Kathmandu are the Newar people, an Indigenous community who have lived in the Kathmandu valley for centuries and today comprise about half the residents of Kathmandu.
Much of the culture of Kathmandu is unique in Nepal because it is actually Newari, and you’ll see Newar influences throughout the city, from ancient hand-carved wooden architecture to piles of pottery to Newari food.
Although I only spent a few days in Kathmandu, Yana – who I traveled with for a week along with a group of travel agents and other writers – spent extra time in the city exploring its every dusty nook and tucked-away alley. So when she offered to write me a guide to places to visit in Kathmandu, I was thrilled! … and then immediately filled with FOMO, because I didn’t get a chance to do everything she included in this post and I’m super bummed about it. I fully intend to return.
Our guest writer, Yana, is a Belgian semi-nomadic adventurer and foodie. She’s passionate about sustainability and is on a self-proclaimed mission to turn travel into a force for good.
Take it away, Yana!
Psst: Looking for more travel tips? We have a couple more posts about traveling nearby that will help you plan your visit!
- 34 Things Nobody Tells You About Traveling in Nepal
- Virtual Nepal Trip: Guided Virtual Vacation to Nepal
- The Perfect (Detailed) Bali Itinerary For 2 Incredible Weeks
- What To Pack For Bali: The Essential Bali Packing List For Him & Her
When I got off the plane at Kathmandu’s tiny airport, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I’ve been to Asian capital cities like Bangkok, Hanoi and Phnom Penh before and these metropolises fascinate me. But the insane amount of sounds, smells and sights – ALL at the same time – leads to a sensory overload that drives me crazy. I usually end up hiding under a blanket or packing up my bags to leave A.S.A.P.
That pattern got disrupted when I came to Kathmandu.
It wasn’t love at first sight – although that was only because the Himalayas weren’t visible at the time – but this place has grown on me quickly.
Once I started to find my way around, I immediately felt at home. Coming from Europe, I loved the walkable historical quarters and the unique energy around the large temples.
Add to that cocktail an eclectic mix of modern and authentic coffee houses, delicious restaurants, colorful and fascinating art galleries, and shops, super zen people, insane traffic (which – if you’re an optimist or a fearless daredevil – could be considered an art form that all local drivers seem to naturally master) and somehow a very peaceful undercurrent that serves as the glue that holds everything together.
I know it sounds weird, but it’s really the best way to describe this endlessly fascinating place.
I’m absolutely sold, and I hope that after your visit, you will be too!
This post contains everything you need to know before coming to Kathmandu and all the spots you absolutely need to discover once you are here. Namaste!
Practical Travel Tips for Kathmandu
There are quite a few things you want to take into account when first visiting Kathmandu to make sure you are comfortable and able to make most of your stay.
When is the best time to visit Kathmandu?
Nepal is all about the Himalayas. And when you pick the right season, you can even see their snowy peaks all the way from Kathmandu! No need to put on hiking shoes and shed blood sweat and tears to marvel at these impressive giants.
The best views – and temperature! – are during fall and spring, so that’s September till November and March till April.
During the winter months you’ll get clear skies too, but it does get cold and occasionally even snows!
Between late May and August, you’ll experience more clouds and downpours from the impending raining season. The weather is still warm, but you’ll get plenty of rain as well as electricity blackouts – and no views at all.
My visit in early June was just a few weeks before the rainy season hit in full force, with just the occasional sprinkle to calm down Kathmandu’s dusty streets. And while everything was pleasantly uncrowded, clouds hid some of the best views!
What should I wear in Kathmandu?
You might hate it – I definitely do! – but as a woman, you’ll want to cover your shoulders and knees as a sign of respect for Nepalese culture. Unfortunately, that’s not just your uniform for temple visits only, but for your entire trip. It sucks, but it is what it is, and when you’re a visitor in someone else’s country, you gotta play by their rules.
You can also choose to ignore it – every now and then I saw a girl in mini shorts and tank top – but you will stand out, and even tourists will look at you disapprovingly.
Depending on the time of your visit, this will be easy or more challenging. In my case, it felt like hell as I visited in June with soaring temperatures of 95 degrees. I recommend stocking up on lightweight travel clothing, made from clothing like linen or 100% cotton.
As for men, you’ll need to wear long pants when visiting temples, but you can get away with shorts otherwise. Must be nice.
Is Kathmandu safe?
OMG, yes! There are few places in the world where I have felt this safe and relaxed as a solo female traveler. People mind their own business, and I’m sure the Buddhist culture, the presence of spirituality in daily life and proximity of the impressive Himalayas have something to do with it too.
If there’s one thing that scared the hell out of me, it’s the stray dogs – they lay around sleeping EVERYWHERE in Kathmandu and wake up at night to go hunting in packs in the small back alleys. I wasn’t ready to be eaten alive! Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
If you stay away from dark back alleys/packs of barking dogs, I’m pretty sure you will survive too.
Is Kathmandu polluted?
In a word: YES. Air pollution is a real concern in Kathmandu, whether you currently have breathing problems or just would like to avoid them in the future!
During the hot and dusty summer months, you literally can’t walk in the street without a proper mouth mask to avoid breathing in dusk, smog, and exhaust.
Most taxis will keep their windows rolled down rather than run expensive A/C, so you’ll likely want to have your mask on at all times except when you’re indoors.
How to get around Kathmandu?
Kathmandu is a surprisingly walkable city. Especially the centers of the various districts as they have pedestrian zones! If you feel adventurous – I tried but gave up … mostly because of the heat though – you can walk from district to district. Locals do it too. Just keep chaotic traffic and pollution in mind.
Oh, and use earplugs to prevent your nervous system from a breakdown caused by all the honking.
If you’re traveling across town, your best bet is to take a taxi or riksja (bicycle taxi) to your primary destination and explore by foot once you are there. Expect to pay around 500 Nepalese Rupees (about 4 USD) for rides between the different districts and tourist attractions.
If you are a daredevil and/or need to save some Rupees, you can order a cheap ride via the motorbike sharing-app Tootle. It’s basically Uber, but on two wheels.
Places to Visit in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is a crazy vibrant and buzzing city. At the same time, the main districts each have a distinct look, feel and energy that I absolutely loved! I’ve included the best neighborhoods and sites on this list of places to visit in Kathmandu that are absolutely worth exploring.
Stuff Your Face in Thamel
Thamel is best described as the Khao San Road of Kathmandu (that famous night club-and-tourist shops-street in Bangkok that’s well-known among backpackers).
If you want easy access to nightlife, souvenir shops, art galleries, affordable massage parlors, coffee shops with organic high-altitude Himalayan coffee, and of course, tons of excellent restaurants, Kathmandu’s #1 backpackers district has got you covered!
Oh, and you can wander around at ease because the entire square mile that comprises Thamel is a pedestrian zone. YASSS!
Kathmandu is foodie heaven. Period. Whether you want to eat vegan, gluten-free, Asian or Middle Eastern, it’s there. And it’s affordable, too!
The best way to experience the food in Thamel is to take a food tour. One of the best companies to book with is Backstreet Academy, a fantastic social enterprise & ethical tour company founded in Kathmandu which gives locals the tools to develop and run authentic tours and experiences. Its mission of social impact empowers communities while connecting locals and visitors. Also, their tours are fantastic!
The Breakfast Tour by Backstreet Academy is a fantastic way to experience Thamel early in the morning, before crowds and tourists have woken up and when locals are still shopping at street markets which all disappear within hours. If you’re not an early riser, try this secret food tour instead!
I could fill an entire blog post with places to eat in Kathmandu, but for the sake of keeping some overview, I’ll limit myself to listing only my absolute favorites that are all situated in Thamel.
- Thamel House: You can’t visit Kathmandu without trying traditional Nepali food! This incredibly atmospheric restaurant sits in an authentic Newari building and offers a vegetarian or non-vegetarian discovery menu for about 1500 Nepalese Rupees (about 13 USD). Why choose if you can taste everything, right? My ab-so-lu-te favorite dish is Badam Sandekho, which translates to a spiced-up peanut salad.
- Yangling Tibetan Restaurant: If there’s one local food you have to try, it’s a momo, and this family-run restaurant serves the best (and cheapest!) ones in town. A momo is a dumpling with a vegetable or meat – or just about anything, really – filling. It’s not a light snack, so unless you are super hungry, order just one type of momo at a time. I made the mistake of being too greedy (I’d perhaps rather call it too enthusiastic) and ordered a Tibetan Soup, vegetable, and chicken momos. 20 momos and a heavy soup were A LOT, and I’m a big eater. Oops.
- Sarangi: Sarangi serves mouth-watering vegetarian and vegan food. Try anything on the menu, as it’s all delicious. On top of that, it’s also a sustainable (bye-bye single-use plastics) and a social enterprise. The revenues support training for the Gandharba people, one of the lowest and most marginalized castes of Nepal, which increases their chances of getting a job in hospitality.
- Or2K: If you fancy hummus wherever you go, this Israeli vegetarian restaurant is right up your alley. It serves finger-licking good Middle Eastern dishes, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Don’t forget to wash your feet or bring clean socks, as you need to take your shoes off to enter the restaurant!
Note from Lia: Want to learn how to make momos? Book a momo cooking class with a local and learn from the pros! I took a class with Social Tours, an ethical tour operator, at my favorite uber-hip Kathmandu coffee shop, The Hub.
You can pay whatever you’re able and learn how to make momos from scratch – including veggie momos, meat momos, and CHOCOLATE MOMOS, which are as delicious as they sound – plus a traditional peanut tomato mint and plum based sauce.
Travel Back in Time in Kathmandu’s Old Town
The Old Town is – as you can guess – the historical and cultural heart of the city. Several of the main places to visit in Kathmandu are located in Old Town, and they are all within walking distance and centered on or around Durbar Square.
Durbar stands for ‘palace’, and the origins of the current temples and palaces date back to 1672 A.D. The entire Durbar square actually consists of three connected squares with a mixture of royal palaces – known as Hanuman Dhoka – as well as Hindu and Buddhist temples constructed centuries ago.
Until the 19th century, Durbar Square was the seat of royal power in Kathmandu, and it will forever be an important part of Kathmandu’s history.
Reserve half a day for the main attractions or a full day if you want to explore the small labyrinthine backstreets that are filled with houses in traditional architecture, small temples, artisan’s workplaces and colorful shops with fresh fruit and vegetables and other foods, restaurants and LOTS of people. It will be a titillating experience of sounds, smells, and sights!
There are two strategies you can use to visit Durbar Square.
If you prefer a guided tour, there are many professional tour guides at the ticket counter that will happily offer you a 1-hour tour for about 800 Nepalese Rupees (about 7 USD). You can also book a tour like this one in advance.
If you prefer to explore on your own, this self-guided tour is fairly comprehensive! Take a stroll around the squares, sit down, read about the places and take everything in.
Don’t forget to enter the Royal Palaces, though! They are even more impressive on the inside than the outside.
- Travel Tip: An admission ticket to Durbar Square will grant you access to all the temples in the square, as well as Hanuman Dhoka, but only lasts for 1 day. If you want to visit Durbar Square multiple times, ask for a stamp with a date when you buy your ticket. Your ticket is valid for 7 days (but can be extended upon request). You will be probably be asked for your passport and a photo, so make sure to bring these along!
Visit the Temples in Durbar Square
The historic temples in Durbar Square – some of which date back as far as the 1500’s – are well worth taking the time to explore.
Sadly, the 2015 earthquake in Kathmandu completely destroyed some of the major temples in Durbar Square, but restoration of this magnificent Unesco World Heritage Site is on-going. Some sites are completely restored, others are under reconstruction and – at the time of writing – two former temples still lie in ruins.
Despite these losses, this still is an incredibly majestic place that will leave a lasting impression. There are two temples within Durbar Square that I recommend taking the time to explore.
At first sight, the Kumari Bahal isn’t the most spectacular palace on the Durbar Square but it is the most devoted one. What’s unique to it is the Kumari Devi – translated as Living Goddess – that lives here.
Yup, you’re reading that right. So if you’ve always dreamed of meeting an actual living god-like person, this is your moment!
The little Kumari, who is a member of the indigenous Newar community in Kathmandu, has to go through a stringent selection process to clear her from evil spirits, and she must also fit a list of 32 physical requirements.
Usually, the goddess is anywhere between 3 years old and puberty – she loses her goddess-status as soon as she gets her period. Whomp whomp.
The current Kumari became a goddess at the age of 3 in 2017. Each day, she shows her face for about 10 minutes at a specific time, during which it’s forbidden to take pictures and you are obliged to stand and remain still. Seeing a child goddess on full display through the lens of my Western perspective was one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had in Asia.
If you need a drink to recover from your encounter with the Kumari – I did – I recommend going to one of the nice rooftop bars situated around the Kastamandap temple.
- Travel Tip: For more information and history about this unusual tradition, this guided tour focuses primarily on the Kumari.
On a totally different note… you may or may not be into erotic woodcarving (I’m not disclosing any personal preference here, thank you very much!), but for the sake of history, you can’t deny it’s fascinating – or at least historically significant – that the Jagannath Temple features explicit erotic scenes on its roof struts! Like, the entire Kama Sutra and Procreation: The Sequel (I mean childbirth, of course).
Despite being the smallest carving on the strut, the carvings are most certainly the main attraction.
Temples like this one, featuring with erotic Tantric images, appear in the entire Kathmandu valley. They vary from rather innocent to hard-core pornography – we’re talking like next-level acrobatics and threesomes with animals. Hmm. But hey, you do you temples, you do you.
The reason for their existence is unknown, but there are a few myths and legends. The one I was told is that a king in the 16th century disclosed these formerly secret tantric images to inspire couples to make love more often. Not for the fun of it, but because he needed more men to protect his reign!
Soon, other kingdoms followed his idea and also started encouraging procreation for the sake of the realm, and thus the designs spread throughout the region.
- Travel Tip: When visiting these or any spiritual sites in Nepal, please don’t chase away the (insane!) amount of pigeons. In Western culture, they have no meaning and are just considered to be ‘flying rats’, but in Nepal, they are seen as a symbol of peace. Mind your karma, folks.
Hang Out on Freak Street
After you’ve admired the erotic carvings for a while, head back south over Durbar Square to have a look at the long lost glory of Old Freak Street (called Jhochhen Street on Google Maps).
This street was the epicenter of the hippie trail in the ’60s and ’70s. Hippies traveled en masse to Kathmandu for its – back then – legal cannabis and incredibly cheap cost of living. The street was re-named after it’s colorful foreign visitors that gathered there ‘on the road East’.
It’s said that the massive influx of travelers in search of cannabis caused the government to declare it illegal, and this is why we can’t have nice things.
If you are curious about the Hippie Trail, I absolutely recommend reading ‘Hippie’ by Paulo Coelho. My eye fell on it in my guesthouse, and it was a lovely journey into a movement I knew little about before coming to Kathmandu.
Visit Kathmandu’s Historical Rival
In the Middle Ages, Patan was a rivaling city-state with Kathmandu (called Kastamandap at the time), but by now the two ancient cities have merged into one. Located just south of Kathmandu proper, Patan is well worth a visit during your time in Kathmandu.
Patan’s Durbar Square is the historic center of the former Lalitpur Kingdom (that’s its original Sanskrit name, meaning ‘City of Beauty’) and considered to be the most beautiful in entire Nepal. I definitely recommend visiting this ancient architectural masterpiece!
This place really breathes history, and I felt pretty small while taking in all this grandeur from days and centuries-long gone.
My absolute personal highlights are the Mul Chowk and Sundari Chowk that are situated in the middle of the Durbar Square (enter through the golden gate, south of Patan Museum). These are the largest, oldest and absolutely most impressive parts of the Royal Palace, dating back to 1662 and 1664. Think impressive woodcarvings, exquisite architectural details and gold ornaments everywhere you can see.
Try to go early in the morning or around lunchtime if you’d like to have the place to yourself to completely take in the unique vibe. If you love significant historic buildings, you’ll love it, trust me on this.
If you have some energy left, it’s worth having a look at the Patan Museum situated in the former residence of Patan’s Malla kings. It has an impressive collection of Hindu and Buddhist religious art and also a cute, peaceful garden café to let all your impressions sink in.
- Travel Tip: Your ticket for Durbar Square is also valid for the Patan Museum and Mul Chowk. If ticket counters on the square are not open, then you need to get your ticket inside the Patan Museum. If you want to return multiple times, bring your passport and ask for a stamp with the date on your ticket.
If you’re ready for a break and in dire need of some A/C, there is a cute Himalayan Java coffee house, left off of the south of Durbar Square in the Mangal Bazar towards the Metropolitan Police Station. (Just be aware, it has no toilet.)
After a caffeine pick-me-up, my (never-ending) curiosity pushed me to have a quick glimpse at Patan’s Golden Temple aka Kwa Bahal, located on Kwalakhu Road north of Durbar Square – mostly because the name sounded so fascinating. And it was absolutely worth it: the small temple is entirely covered in gold!
The Golden Temple is actually a unique Buddhist monastery dating back to the 12th century! I had never seen Buddhist temple architecture like this before. Here, young boys under the age of 12 are appointed as the main priest. Their serving lasts 30 days. Then, they hand over the responsibility to another young boy. It’s sort of like the male equivalent of the Kumari, but on a much shorter timeline. Yay for gender equality.
Visit a Healing Bowl Center for Sound Therapy
If you feel adventurous enough to try something that’s at the same time wholly harmless and out of your comfort zone, I totally recommend going to a Healing Bowl Center for a sound healing therapy with Tibetan singing bowls.
Essentially, it’s a deep tissue massage through sound. This centuries-old practice has been used in meditation and healing to restore harmony in the body.
I know it sounds a little woo, but it actually has nothing to do with superstition or magic: it’s pure science. Your body consists of 60% of water and water is an excellent conductor of sound waves. The ‘shape’ of the sound waves varies with a high and low tone, causing different vibrations in your body, hence the deep tissue massage effect!
If you want to give it a try, I absolutely recommend going to the very welcoming and knowledgeable Patan Singing Bowl & Therapy Center located opposite the Golden Temple in Patan. They follow and preserve the ancient traditions and took the time to explain to me everything so I could completely relax and feel at ease.
I LOVED every single minute of the sound session, and back home, I’m now going to sound healing sessions every month because it’s so relaxing. Speaking of a life-changing experience, damn. Let me know I’ve you given it a try in Kathmandu, I’m curious to hear about your experience!
For another option, the Nepal Singing Bowls & Healing Center offers free sessions and sound baths every day and is conveniently located in Thamel.
- Travel Tip: Don’t buy a singing bowl in the shops in Kathmandu, unless you only care about the sound or the look. All of these are industrially made, and as a consequence, their composition doesn’t allow for healing sound vibrations. Head over to the suggested places above if you really want the good stuff! Or, even better, visit the city of Pokhara – that’s the best place to buy an authentic singing bowl.
Meet a Monkey at the Monkey Temple
After two days of sightseeing in busy and crowded Kathmandu and Patan, I was longing for a peaceful experience, preferably with some greenery, a panoramic view of the city, and monkeys. Luckily for my specific tastes, Swayambhunath offered precisely that.
Laying 3 km outside of Kathmandu’s city center, the ‘Monkey Temple’ dates back to the 13th century and is the oldest of it’s kind in the country. The temple was said to have evolved spontaneously when the valley was created out of a primordial lake more than 2,000 years ago. It’s a Buddhist temple with loads of Hindu iconography incorporated in it and serves a symbol of peace and harmony.
The best way to experience the temple is at sunrise, to watch the rays of the sun reaching across the Kathmandu valley. Yup, that means an early rise at around 5 a.m., to get there by 5.30. a.m. It’s painful but so worth it.
To get there, take a taxi to the main entrance or to the stone pilgrim stairway at the eastern side of the hill for an atmospheric – and physically demanding! – approach of the site. It will be quiet and peaceful as there will only be local people and monks doing their prayers, so you’ll get to experience the ‘real thing’.
That said: Be respectful! And if you want to walk around the stupa, remember to do it clockwise! Namaste.
Oh, and keep an eye out for these guys!
- Travel Tip: If you want to save your feet, you can book a private tour and visit all the attractions with a personal guide from the comfort of a vehicle. There is this private tour in an airconditioned van or this one in a rickshaw.
Experience Kathmandu’s Spiritual Side at the Boudhanath
I do not consider myself religious, but I would be lying if I would deny that Kathmandu has an unusual energy that really struck me.
Typically, being in an extremely bustling and chaotic Asian city drives me crazy and leaves me feeling exhausted after only a few days. Not so in Kathmandu. To the risk of sounding a little crazy, the best way to explain that feeling is by saying that there seemed to be a calm undercurrent vibe that kept you grounded.
The closest I got to feeling the direct impact of that energy was at Boudhanath, also called the Boudha Stupa. It’s Asia’s largest stupa and the thriving heart of the Tibetan community in Nepal.
A stupa is the most well-known example of Buddhist architecture in the shape of a dome that contains relics. Both the enormous white stupa and the various monasteries centered around the stupa, daily attract 1000s of Buddhist pilgrims and travelers alike from wide and far.
I also definitely recommend having a look inside the Guru Lakhang Monastery at the square for a unique view of a Tibetan Monastery, perhaps a chat with a monk or a listening to monks chanting along with a deafening (but majestic) meditative sound concert!
When I was there, I was told you need to stroll – clockwise! – around the stupa for 13 times to set an intention. However, depending on the month, the position of the moon or a religious event that’s taking place, you have to walk a different amount of times. Unlike the direction you must walk, this is pretty confusing, so it’s best to ask someone – such as, say, a monk – when you are there.
Fortunately, you don’t need to become dizzy from walking in circles to feel the energy of the place. I swear I felt lighter and happier when I was near that stupa, which is why I even ended up staying nearby for 4 days. Enlightenment purposes, you know.
- Travel Tip: The same rule applies as at other places, ask for a stamp with a date when you buy your ticket, if you want to visit Boudhanath multiple times.
If there is one place where you feel drawn to learn more about Buddhism, it’s in Kathmandu. Various places offer entry-level meditation courses for inner peace and host introductory lectures on Buddhist principles.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings from 9.30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the International Buddhist Academy near Boudhanath offers free 90 minute talks on aspects of Buddhism in daily life that are mostly oriented towards travelers and ex-pats.
If you want to get an introduction to Buddhism and Meditation, then head over to the Himalayan Buddhist Meditation Center near Thamel, most Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (at the cost of 1000 Nepalese Rupees which is about 9 USD).
Support Sustainable & Ethical Businesses
What if you could spend your money on fun things, while at the same time supporting a good cause? I know it sounds fluffy, but becoming a better person in Kathmandu is actually really simple!
It’s like scoring karma points for ordering a beer. No, really, that’s what this is about.
Kathmandu has a large number of creative entrepreneurs who successfully combine pleasure and social impact. I really enjoyed spending some time (and money!), in the places listed below.
- The café with no name: If you fancy a beer, you might as well drink it here. This hidden gem in the heart of Thamel serves beer, wine and food with live music on some days. The cherry on top of this nameless place is that they are part of the non-profit NGO Our Sansar that aims to support and empower street children through education and skill training. Cheers!
- Karma Coffee: Yup, karma is a real thing in Nepal, and so is organic Himalayan coffee. Karma coffee unites both and adds a social impact to the mix. By ordering a delicious latte, you support artisanal fair trade coffee farmers from remote corners of Nepal AND women empowerment training. Tip: buy some of their handwritten packages of ground coffee, they’re a lovely souvenir or gift to take home! You can find Karma Coffee at The HUB in Thamel.
- The HUB: This place is not only the #1 co-working space of Kathmandu but also an inspiring example of co-living as they combine multiple social businesses and activities under one roof. Need a moment to relax and restore? You can chill or read the afternoon away in this cozy place, in the excellent company of some feel-good coffee and wide array of healthy food options.
- Seeing Hands and Himalayan Healers: My favorite type of self-care is getting a good massage, especially after days of sightseeing. By booking your massage at one of these places, you support the training and employment of blind people, victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Seeing Hands has a basic interior while Himalayan Healers feels like going to a spa, but both offer heavenly massages that will make you feel brand new again.
- Fair-trade shopping in Thamel: If you’d like to buy some souvenirs or do some shopping, it’s worth checking out the following shops that each offer a large variety of clothes, bags, accessories, and jewelry in different styles. They have one thing in common: their profits largely contribute to the empowerment of women, (street) children and marginalized groups in society: Ekadesma, Shed the Light, Beni Handicrafts and Local Women’s Handicrafts.
Get a Nightcap at Kathmandu’s Best & Weirdest Bars
There are two nightlife experiences you must have in Kathmandu before you leave, and neither are what you’d expect to find in Nepal!
If you’re up for a good night of dancing and partying, then just head over to Thamel and follow the tunes of the music you hear on the streets. Every night, different venues have live bands playing.
But here’s where things get weirder: did you know Kathmandu has a thriving jazz scene?
I didn’t. And I had no idea what a live jazz band with Nepali and South Asian influence would sound like. So I headed over to Jazz Upstairs, one of the oldest and most famous jazz bars in Kathmandu, on a Saturday for a live performance at (they also host live performances on Wednesday nights).
The music was surprising, refreshing and unique! In short: I loved every minute of it and I definitely recommend going!
If you happen to be around in October and you love jazz, then it’s also worth visiting the Jazzmandu Festival to let me know what I missed!
The second must-visit bar in Kathmandu is a mountaineering tradition that will bring you just a little bit closer to the Himalayas. After all, Nepal is the country of Mount Everest, famous mountain climbers, and the mysterious yeti.
And that’s what the Rum Doodle Bar and Restaurant is all about.
The place derived its name (and the names of the dishes on the menu!) from a trek up to the world’s tallest fictional mountain, from a parody mountaineering book.
After its opening in 1979, the bar quickly became a meeting point for climbers and trekkers before they started their expeditions. A tradition emerged – and continues to this day – among climbers who managed to summit the world’s tallest mountain to come to this place to sign a paper footprint of a yeti, including famous climbers like Sir Edmund Hillary and Junko Tabei (the first women to summit in 1972) and many, many more.
Unfortunately, the 2015 earthquake completely destroyed the original bar. It has since then changed location, but it’s completely restored in the way it looked before.
You will probably not be allowed to sign your own paper yeti footprint, but it’s a unique place to observe a tradition that is as old as it is weird!
Where to Stay in Kathmandu
We’ve got 2 very different recommendations for where to stay in Kathmandu, depending on whether you want to be right in the middle of the action, or a little bit further from the nightlife and closer to Kathmandu’s spiritual center.
Thamel, Kathmandu’s Backpacker District
Thamel is Kathmandu’s backpacker’s district, a chaotic jumble of souvenir shops, markets, tons of restaurants, and plenty of nightlife.
During my first days in Kathmandu, I stayed in the cozy International Guesthouse, which was established in 1980. It feels like an authentic architectural trip back in time, minus the toilets, electricity, and wifi, of course.
It’s built in the traditional Newari style, adorned with beautiful Tibetan and Nepalese art and design and wood-carved windows of more than 100 years old. There’s also a lovely (!) garden to relax and let all your impressions sink in after a busy day of sightseeing (read: to escape from the air pollution and honking).
The International Guesthouse is located at the northern edge of the pedestrian zone of Thamelbordering Paknajol Road, just a few minutes walking from Thamel’s busy hub which means that it’s quiet at night and you actually get to sleep!
- More Options: The nearby Hotel Himalayan Oasis really is a little oasis in the madness of Thamel. If Airbnb is more your vibe there is this Soundproofed Apartment for the ultimate peaceful stay in Thamel or this Stylish City Crib full of modern-day comforts.
Near Boudha Stupa
Perhaps partying isn’t really your thing (I get you) and you’d instead like to experience Buddhist culture and spirituality. In that case, I absolutely recommend a stay at Rokpa Guesthouse. It’s a charming place, tucked away in a small alley a minute away from the Boudha stupa.
They have bright and clean rooms and a cute garden with a nice restaurant. Definitely splurge on all the different juices and the healthy food (they also have sweets – try the cheesecake!), as every single dish I tasted was delicious (like, vegetables were an actual part of the meal and not just decoration).
There is weirdly positive energy around the Boudha stupa that somehow triggers happiness and inner balance (I know this sounds floaty, but it’s really true! Go find out for yourself, if you dare). My stay at Rokpa complimented all this beautiful energy perfectly.
On top of that, Rokpa is also a social project that trains former street kids to work in hospitality. The money you spend on accommodation goes to their education. You can experience the result yourself as they prepare your food and serve you in the restaurant! And believe me, they are rocking it. I highly recommend staying here for a few days!
- More Options: If you prefer an Airbnb, check out the Khasti Apartment with a private terrace in a quiet residential area. For a little more luxury – at reasonable Nepalese prices – check out this Penthouse Apartment with incredible views of the Boudhanath and the Himalayas!
About Our Guest Poster: Yana Pannecoucke is a Belgian semi-nomadic adventurer and foodie. She’s passionate about sustainability and is on a self-proclaimed mission to turn travel into a force for good. When she’s not traveling, she’s probably hiding somewhere to read a book or she’s trying some kind of new food. Iced coffees, French fries, sunshine and adrenaline-involving activities always put a smile on her face. During the day, she offers eco-friendly retreat planning services to coaches who organise retreats through her project Ecoscapes and she works as a sustainable travel advisor at a Swiss startup. Curious for more? Follow her adventures on Instagram or on her blog Wander Aware.
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Ready to go to Kathmandu? Which of these places to visit in Kathmandu most intrigues you? Let me know in the comments below!
Psst: Looking for more travel tips? Take a look at some of our other posts.
- Virtual Nepal Trip: Guided Virtual Vacation to Nepal
- How To Visit Bali On a Budget: 8 Money-Saving Tips
- 42 Backpacking & Travel Essentials for Hot Climates
- 12 Long Haul Flight Essentials & Travel Tips For Economy Fliers
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