Considered to be the gateway to the Himalayas, Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu is located in the heart of Kathmandu Valley. It’s usually the starting (and finishing) point for most foreign visitors to this tiny kingdom in Asia, which is often thought to be just a part of India. With a rich history and culture, there is much to see and do in this beautiful country filled with smiling, genuine people and breathtaking scenery.
Before going, you should be aware that in April 2015, Nepal was stuck by two earthquakes of 7.9 and 7.3 magnitude. Whilst there has been much rebuilding and the tourist infrastructure has been minimally affected since then, and travel has been given the ‘all clear’ by most government bodies, we’d still recommend that you check your local government’s travel website such as the UK’s for advice before you visit.
At around 1,400m above sea level, Kathmandu is surrouded by a valley of mountains, with the mighty Himalayas to the north, and the tropical Terai region to the south.
Located in the ‘warm temperate zone’, Kathmandu mainly follows the following seasonal pattern:
- June – August: Monsoon. Wet, hot, humid. Not recommended.
- September – November: Autumn. Not too cold and much flora and fauna to see. It’s the peak season, so can be very busy.
- December – February: Winer. Cold. Very cold. Kathmandu can reach as low as – 8 Celcius at night. In December, however, it’s still warm during the day.
- March – May: Spring. Second peak season. Warmer and clear skies.
To avoid the crowds, we recommend November, December and March as the best month to visit Kathmandu. For the best weather, go in either October, April, or May.
Getting there and away
Air. Most tourists arrive in Kathmandu via Thibuvan International Airport (KTM) in eastern Kathmandu. An antiquated airport with relatively few international carriers flying in. Your best bet will be flying in via the Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar and Etihad, or via India or Bangladesh. As of now, no European airlines fly direct to Kathmandu.
Land. Buses run between Kathmandu and the Indian cities of Patna, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Lucknow. It also used to be possible to cross the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge into Tibet (China). However since the earthquake this isn’t a viable option, and it’s also very expensive.
Getting to and from Tribhuvan International Airport
Most hotels will offer free pickup to and from the airport. Needless to say, this is preferable because as soon as you reach arrivals, a hundred ‘taxi’ touts will be harassing you. If you don’t have a transport booked, book a taxi from the counter just before you exit the airport for 700-800 Rps ($7-8 USD). Failing that, don’t pay more than 1000 Rps and bargain hard. It should be around 300-500 Rps each way however due to the recent fuel crisis (as of Jan 2016), prices have shot up. Check the news before you fly.
Getting Around Kathmandu
Accept now that getting anywhere in Kathmandu is going to take longer than you’d expect. Traffic is terrible, roads are littered with bumps, potholes, and everything from cows to chickens crossing the roads. There are no train networks and there is no underground. So here are your options:
By foot. You’ll be doing a lot of walking around Kathmandu so we recommend bringing some very comfortable shoes. Most of your time will either be spent around Thamel and the central west of the city, or the eastern side near the airport. There are some pavements; however, please be aware of other vehicles on the smaller lanes.
Bicycle. Renting a bicycle is a great way to explore the city. There are many bikes on the road so it’s relatively safe. Having said that, traffic is INSANE so be careful and do watch out for potholes. You can rent bikes in most hotels and from several sports shops dotted around Thamel.
Rickshaw. Fun and environmentally friendly. However, expect to pay a taxi-level price for the service. It can be a good way to get around the central part of town. Just take a rickshaw from Thamel to Boudhanath (6km!). Most short trips will be between 50 – 250 Rps.
Micro and buses. The cheapest way to get around town. Also the least comfortable. Travelling by micro is an experience. Costing between 5 – 20 Rps, expect to be crammed like a sardine into the back of sort of motor-rickshaw-minibus hybrid. Otherwise regular buses go through most parts of Kathmandu.
‘Taking the 5 hour bus from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi (Langtang Himalayas)
Taxi. Taking a taxi at some point is pretty much unavoidable. Remember –
Always request the meter. If the driver says no, just move on to find another driver. There are plenty in Kathmandu. The only consideration to this (also applies to private cars) is that there is currently a fuel crisis (Jan 2016) so literally zero taxis will use the meter. Just suck it up and pay the increased price as this applies to everyone. Be sure to bargain though. Usually, a journey across town will cost around 150-200 Rps in non-fuel crisis time. With the fuel crisis, expect to pay 500-1000 Rps.
Private Car. Whilst being the most expensive option, it will also be the most comfortable. If you stay in Thamel, there’s a load of private cars hanging out in the courtyard entrance at Kathmandu Guest House. Prices will be similar or slightly more than a taxi, however you are guaranteed a much nicer car and a nicer driver with local knowledge. This is our recommended way of getting around town if you want to do a whole day tour to Patan, Bhaktapur etc. Expect to pay around 1500-3000 Rps for a full day.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
There are many hotels around Kathmandu, however the majority are concentrated around Thamel (the backpacker, tourist area) and Boudhanath.
Budget Hotels (Less than US$25 per night)
Visiting Nepal is cheap and budget accommodation is very, very easy to come by with many hostels only costing $2-3 USD per night! Should you choose this option, we’d recommend travelling with a sleeping bag and/or sleeping bag liner as some of the cheaper options may not be so hygienic. Having said that, here are a few recommendations of genuinely good places on a shoestring budget:
- Hotel Dhargye Khangsar ($20-30 USD per night). One of the best value hotels in Kathmandu. If you are planning on staying near Boudhanath, this should be one of your top picks. Clean, simple, great location at Boudha-6, Ramhiti Marg, Boudhha, 09771 and excellent service all round.
- Andes House ($20-30 USD per night). Clean, simple. Great for couples and young backpackers looking for a central location. Located at Ga-Hiti Marg,Thamel- 29, Thamel, 00977.
- Mount Annapurna Guest House ($15-20 USD per night). Offering well-priced and basic rooms, the main draw here is the friendly staff and the great rooftop restaurant. Located at Jyatha Road, Thamel, Thamel, 44600.
- Elbrus Home ($15-20 USD per night). Located in the norther part of Thamel at 259, Thamel, Galkopha, 44600, Elbrus Home offers great value, clean rooms and some useful services such as dry cleaning and a hairdresser.
- Hotel Peace N Park ($12-20 USD per night). House No 702/31, . Fan cooled and well-kept rooms, Peace N Park offers a great standard of accomodation at a budget price. Located at Thamel Marg Thamel, 46000.
- Hotel Pokhara Peace ($5-15 USD per night). Located at Chibhal, Thamel, 44600, Hotel Pokhara Peace offers another simple yet clean option for the budget traveller. Great location.
Mid-range Hotels (US$25-100 per night)
- Tibet Peace Inn ($25-40 USD per night). Excellent value, clean rooms, air-conditioning and wifi throughout. Located at Paknajol, Thamel, 25221, it’s on the outskirts of Thamel, meaning it’s a little quieter as well. Recommended!
- Hotel Osho Home (35-50 USD per night). Conveniently located on Jyatha Marg, Thamel, 44600, this modern yet rustic hotel is within easy walking distance to Thamel and Durbar Square making it a great starting point for walking tours. Clean and comfortable.
- Avataar Hotel ($35-50 USD per night). Having just received a facelift, this modern and well located hotel is ideal for the mid-range. Hotel staff are superb and the rooms are very warm in winter. Located at Z-Street, Thamel, Kathmandu, Thamel, 44601.
- Kasthamandap Boutique Hotel ($50-100 USD per night). One of the most conistently highest rated hotels in Kathmandu, the hotel combined cleanliness, comfort with great service and location. Win win. Located at Chhusya Galli, Jyatha, Thamel, Thamel, 44600.
- Rokpa Guest House ($30-50 USD per night). Located at Boudha, 01 Baudhatinchule, just 200m from Boudhanath Stupa, its serene garden atmosphere is superb. Amazing value.
- The Life Story Guest House ($50-80 USD per night). If you’re planning on spending at least a day exploring Patan in southern Kathmandu, this is without a doubt your best option for accomodation. Clean, reasonably priced absolutely stunning decor. Almost worth the visit to Patan just to stay here for a night. Located at Lalitpur, Kathamadu, Patan, 44600.
Luxury Hotels (US$100+ per night)
Despite Nepal’s relative poverty, there are some luxury hotels. And you’ll find excellent value in the 4- and 5-star range should you decide to ‘live it up’.
- Dalai-la Boutique Hotel ($120-200 USD per night). With an excellent location in the very heart of Thamel, the gorgeous decor and outdoor courtyard makes for a very memorable experience. Beautifully designed rooms and reliable. Located at Chaksibari Marg, Thamel,, Thamel, 44600.
- Hotel Yak & Yeti ($150-250 USD per night). An institution of a hotel, the Yak and Yeti offers a luxurious yet uniquely Nepali experience. The location is excellently located at Durbar Marg, 44600 near Thamel and Durbar Square. It also has its own casino, which is well worth a visit.
- Royal Penguin Boutique Hotel & Spa 2 ($80-120 USD per night). With a great location in central Thamel and super modern interior, the Royal Penguin really stands out. Modern and clean, this is a great place if the hustle of Thamel is too much for you. Located at Thamel, Thamel, 11856.
- The Dwarika’s Hotel ($350-450 USD per night). One of the most expensive hotels in Nepal, with a museum-esque architecture showcasing Nepal’s rich history. Centrally located at P.O.Box-459, Battisputali, 45900 in eastern Kathmandu, this place is worth the splurge.
- Hotel Tibet International ($140-200 USD per night). Located just outside Boudhnathan Stupa, the views here are absolutely stunning from the rooftop. Clean and bright rooms with a bit of Nepali chic. Great if you’re planning on staying relatively near the airport and or Boudhanath. Located at Boudha, Tusal, Boudhha.
- Gokarna Forest Resort ($100-140 USD per night). Located on the outskirts of northeast Kathmandu, this is the place you come to if you like the outdoors. With a golf course and horse riding options as well as a beautiful swimming pool, this place offers some serious luxury. Located at Rajnikunj Gokarna, Thali, 20498.
Places to visit in Kathmandu
Nepal is one of the wonderful places that has something for everyone in terms of attractions. There are museums, UNESCO World Heritage sites, beautiful areas, temples and squares as well as some breathtaking scenery outside of Kathmandu. Here are our must-see’s:
The centre of Kathmandu tourism. The streets are lined with book-shops, restaurants, bars, handicraft shops, and travel agents catering to visitors who are planning anything from white water rafting to a cultural tour of Patan. Much to do, just watch out for the never-ending touts trying to sell you something (often drugs).
Durbar Square is one of Nepal’s most iconic attractions. An ancient square dating back over a thousand years, it is populated by palaces and temples. For a more information on the different temples, click here.
Durbar Square is also home to the ‘Kumari’, the ‘living goddess’ – a young girl who resides here until the age of puberty, her feet never touching the ground. When she appears in public, she’s carried (we’re not kidding).
The ‘Varanasi of Nepal’, this Hindu temple to Shiva straddling Kathmandu’s east river is where many Nepali are cremated once they die. A very sombre place with Sadhus (holy men), monkeys roaming freely, and of course, the funeral pyres. So it goes without saying to be be respectful and aware of what’s going on before you. The entire place is another World Heritage site. Entry is 1000 Rps per person. However if you go in via the north entrance, you might be able to skip it if you’re lucky.
One of the most iconic places in Kathmandu and a site of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. Walk the streets and breathe in the smell of the spiritual this UNESCO world heritage site – built in the 5th Century CE – practically exudes. Well worth exploring the narrow lanes and the surrounding Buddhist monasteries which are almost all open to tourists. Entry for foreigners was 200 Rps at time of writing.
Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)
Another breathtaking Buddhist temple. The so-called Monkey Temple sits atop the 350 step staircase and is overcrowded with (relatively friendly) monkeys. The views over Kathmandu are incredible and this is really one of the must-do tourist sites in Kathmandu.
Located just south of Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur) is Nepal’s third largest city and the entire city is part of the UNESCO World Heritage complex. Sporting incredible architecture (although much was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake), this city that dates back to the 3rd Century BCE is loaded with rich history and monuments. We’d recommend to allow a full day to explore the city properly.
Once the largest of the Newari kingdoms and a former capital city of Nepal, Bhaktapur is located some 12 km east of Kathmandu. Making an excellent day trip from Kathmandu, a visit here is a great chance to visit exquisite stone craftwork, beautiful ancient temples, as well as its Layaku Square. To get the most out of a trip here, we’d recommend hiring a tour guide for the day to fully understand the history.
Where to eat and drink
Whilst nowhere near as globally popular as Indian or Chinese cuisine, Nepal’s delicious food and drink is something well worth looking forward to. No trip to Nepal would be complete without at least trying daal bhat (rice and lentils tarkali set) and Tibetan momo. However, you’ll also find excellent international cuisine from Italian to Korean and even some Japanese.
Most of the restaurants you’d be likely to encounter are in Thamel, Boudhanath or in the larger hotels around town.
Here is our top picks of the best of both local and international cuisine in Kathmandu:
- OR2K – An institution of Kathmandu, this Israeli-hippy-chillout lounge meets restaurant bar is one of the top spots. Take of your shoes, order some of Kathmandu’s best hummus and nann bread and enjoy the trippy music. Also does superb Shakshuka! Located in Thamel.
- Fire and Ice Pizzeria – This place gets packed every night and quite possibly does the best pizza in Nepal. After a week or two of trekking in the mountains, the Fire and Ice Pizza special can feel like manna from heaven. Located by Thamel Chowk.
- Roadhouse Cafe – A Western restaurant with some good coffee, wood-fired pizzas and other comfort foods. Address: Chaksibari Road, Thamel.
- Hankook Sarang Korean – Hidden down the alley, this al fresco restaurant offers some genuinely delicious Korean food, from bibimbap to grilled bulgogi. Great spot and excellent value. Thamel.
- Yin Yang – Possibly Kathmandu’s best Thai restaurant. Expect standard Thai fare, great noodles and curries. Thamel.
- Yangling Tibetan Restaurant – Considered by many to have the best momos in Thamel, Yangling is a bare and basic restaurant specialising in Tibetan cuisine. The momos are well worth the visit. Thamel.
- Tharkali Kitchen – If you’re looking for a safe and reliable (and incredibly filling) daal bhat restaurant, this is a great option. At 200 Rps per person, the price is right and food just keeps coming. Thamel.
- Chez Caroline – A gorgeous al fresco French bistro serving up some surprisngly good classic French dishes as well as some excellent local ones! Located at Baber Mahal Revisited.
- Momo Star Restaurant – Just epic momos. Go here. Located at Z Street, Thamel.
- La Dolce Vita – Sitting in La Dolce Vita, you could forget you’re in Nepal. Surprisingly excellent handmade pasta and a decent wine list! Thamel.
- Utse Restaurant – said to be the oldest Tibetan restaurant in Thamel, Utse offers classic Tibetan cuisine in comfortable atmosphere. Jyatha, Thamel.
- Double Dorje – Classic Tibetan cuisine, this is a top spot favoured by locals and tourists alike. Located in Boudhanath.
All of the below bars are located in Thamel.
- New Orleans Cafe – A chilled outdoor atmosphere with cool seating and a pleasant selection of drinks, New Orleans Cafe also plays host to some great live music.
- Tom & Jerry’s Pub – One of the only sports pubs I have ever liked. There’s big screens for sports fans, pool tables at the far end, and some decent drinks. Try their rum punch to warm you up.
- Buddha Bar – take off your shoes, smoke some nargillah/shisha, and zone out to some great music as you sip on a fruity cockail concoction. Great, friendly spot.
- Pub Maya – One of the best drink selections you’ll find in Kathmandu. Great seating inside and the balcony offers a chance to people watch if you so desire.
- Sam’s Bar – If you like reggae, this is a great option. Also be sure to check out (and add to) the writing which is all over the walls from fellow travellers from around the world.
- Himalayan Java – Probably the best cafe in Kathmandu. Great fruit shakes, hearty breakfast, and good coffee. Located just outside Thamel at Thamel chowk, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds.
- Revolution Cafe – Whilst I won’t hugely recommend the breakfast menu (which is decent, just unimpressive), their coffee is very respectable and it’s a great spot to hang out and catch up on email. Thamel.
- Mike’s Breakfast – an institution. Great drip coffee and their superb selection of breakfast is well worth the visit. To get there, either walk about 1km from Thamel or just take a taxi. Most people know it. Located in Baluwatar.
- Pumpernickel Bakery – This place has been around for decades and still consistently produces some of the best fresh baked bread in Nepal. Their coffee ain’t too shabby either. Thamel.
- Circle Street Coffee – located in the heart of Boudhanath, this superb coffee joint is a little hipster but we won’t hold it against them.
Due to Nepal’s conservative culture, there isn’t much in the way of pumping nightlife. There are some pretty nice bars (mentioned above) for live music and chilled out vibes, however if you’re looking for a night on the town and dancing, you should be careful. Kathmandu dance clubs are often populated with prostitutes and less than savoury characters. We honestly wouldn’t recommend it.
In many ways, Kathmandu is a shopper’s paradise. Just don’t expect luxury brands or electronics – shopping here is all about local handicrafts, clothing, and art work.
Cashmere and other wool items. From terrible quality fake cashmere to authentic cashmere that is utterly divine (and pricey). First things first, know your cashmere. Read several articles such as this Wikipedia entry to fully understand what you are buying, what it’s made of and what you should expect. Sadly there are many sellers dotted around Kathmandu who sell simply inferior quality cashmere. Also, remember, you pay for what you get, a top quality pure cashmere scarf can easily cost over $100 USD while you can pick up a relatively comfortably blend or lesser quality (though still nice) for around $10 USD. There are some great bargains to be had, just make sure you know that you’re doing.
Warning: Do not believe any sign labelling a shawl or blanket labelling the material as yak wool. It’s 100% of the time actually sheep wool and purely a marketing gimmick. They are super warm and comfortable however, unlike genuine yak wool which is course and itchy. Expect to pay between 200 – 800 Rps for one of these shawls depending on size.
Thangka Paintings – Utterly enchanting Buddhist themed paintings, painstakingly painted over weeks or months (often using liquid gold) with the finest brushes you’ll find anywhere on delicate cotton or silk appliqué. Common themes are the wheel of life, mandalas, the various Bodhisatvas in Tibetan Buddhism and other religious symbols. Prices range hugely so be careful. The cheapest and smallest ones (usually painted by novices) should only cost $5-10 USD, however larger and more expert paintings by locally famous artists will run in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Gurkha Khukuri Knives – You cannot miss these huge, menacing curved weapons used by the legendary Gurkha soldiers. Prices and sizes vary hugely. They make great ornamental presents, but those sold in tourist shops are mostly made of low quality metal.
Trekking & Hiking Equipment – If you’re visiting Nepal for more than a week, the likelihood is that you have a trek planned. The plethora of shops (mainly in Thamel) are a great place to pick up anything you may have forgotten; from wool socks, sleeping bags to full-on down jackets and water bottles. Prices are very, very reasonable and quality is often much better than you’d expect for ‘North Face’ knock-offs and the like. If you want the real deal, however, there is one genuine North Face shop at Thamel Chowk, but it’s international prices so don’t expect a bargain there.
Jewellery – There are no shortage of silver, gold and semi-precious stone jewellers in Kathmandu (especially in Thamel) offering custom designs and stones from cheap coral and turquoise to Burmese rubies and bright sapphires. Our personal suggestion (like everything here); know your product. Eg. If you want to buy a 2 carat smokey topaz ring, go and check the price online for the market rate before you commit. Jewellers are notorious in Kathmandu for grossly overcharging. You can of course get some gorgeous pieces at great prices, just do your homework first okay. You’ll thank us.
With a plethora of religions and cultures combined with a rich history, it’s no wonder that tourists often try and tie in their visit with some of Kathmandu’s many festivals:
Maha Shivaratri (February) – Shiva’s birthday. Watch out for the Sadhu’s in all their colours on parade.
Holi (February/March) – The festival of colours. Big street parties and colour dye flying everywhere. Amazing!
Losar (February/March) – Tibetan new year. Expect a full and colourful display of Tibetan culture in all its glory.
Buddha Jayanti (April/May) – Buddha’s birthday! Check out Boudhanath Temple for all the festivities, sights and sounds.
Indra Jatra / Yenya (September) – Festival honouring Indra, the rain god. Think masked dancers in the street. A sight to behold.
Dashain (September/October) – A 10 day festival in honour of Durga’s slaying of the demons.
Deepavali (October/November) – The festival of lights. My personal favourite holiday in Kathmandu. Expect beuaituful mandalas and lights to line the streets and gorgeous processions to take place. Stunning.
Tihar (October/November) – A 5 day long festival celebrating honouring certain animals.
Needless to say, Kathmandu is not the only draw of Nepal. Aside from the majesty of the mountains in the north, there are beautiful cultural sites all around the country. Here are a few key ones which we’d recommend most on a Nepal visit:
32km east of Kathmandu sits Nagarkot. A Newari town that is well known among travellers for its rich cultural heritage and for its stunning dawn views of the Himalayas to the north. Best to book an overnight stay via a travel agent, there are various tourist lodges which will provide traditional local food and entertainment such as dance and music performances.
A quiet town about an hour’s drive outside of Kathmandu sits Pharping (pronounced far-ping), home to the Asura and the Yangleshö caves blessed by Guru Rinpoche, who is attributed with bringing Buddhism to Tibet. Littered with monasteries and pilgrims, Pharping makes for a great day excursion from Kathmandu to explore a different side of Tibetan Buddhism.
Chitwan National Park
One of the most underrated national parks in the Asian subcontinent. Tigers, One-horned Rhinos and amazing elephant treks are possible here at a very reasonable price. Best to book via a travel agent. It takes about 4 hours by jeep/bus each way to Chitwan.
White Water Rafting
Two words. Bhote. Khosi. If you love rafting, rapids and a generally a thrill seeker, this is without a doubt one of the highlights of a visit to Nepal. While there are many beginner and intermediate rapids here, the more advanced are just incredible. Best to be fit, and a good swimmer as there’s a real chance you could be launched into the water. Overnight trips can be arranged easily from most local travel agents in Thamel.
What would a trip to Nepal be without an excursion to the rooftop of the world?
With Mount Everest standing tall at 8,848m in the East, the gorgeous Langtang Himalayas north of Kathmandu and the utterly stunning Annapurna sanctuary near Pokhara, this is something that you absolutely MUST DO at least once in your life. The views are just breathtaking (literally, the altitude makes it harder to breathe) and any hike more than a few days is a true test of physical and mental determination. Quite simply, there is nothing like it.
As trails tend to be very well marked, you really need a guide or porter. Personally, I have completed 4 treks in the Nepal Himalayas over the years and only 1 of those times hired a guide and porter (at the request of my travel buddy). If you’d like to hear more about those trips, the itineraries can be found in our travel section.
Food and Drink
As established above, Kathmandu has some great restaurants. However, things like food poisoning and stomach bugs are very common with travellers. DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER. Use mineral water even for brushing your teeth, to be on the safe side. As for food, stick with the rule to only eat food that is freshly prepared and hot. Know the origins of prepackaged and perishable foods. Avoid salads unless it’s somewhere you really trust.
The first language of Nepal is Nepali, a sanskrit-derived language similar to Hindi. However, English is widely spoken, as is Hindi.
Religion & Culture
Nepal’s religious makeup is primarily Hindu, however there is a large Buddhist, and a small Christian and Muslim minority, primarily based in Kathmandu. It should be noted that Nepal is a relatively conservative society so be warned that public displays of affection are frowned upon.
Nepal’s unemployment is very high and poverty and corruption is rife. General infrastructure is very undeveloped. Eg. No traffic lights and very bad roads. Having said that, most people are wonderfully warm and welcoming and you’ll often hear the phrase ‘ke garne?’ meaning ‘what to do?’. You’ll find that most people are honest and just trying to get by, however travelling does pose certain risks so do be on the look out for charlatans trying to con you.
Due to its geographical location and poor infrastructure, you many find the air very dusty so we’d recommend purchasing a face mask to avoid excess inhalation of particles. Outside Kathmandu Valley, the air is beautifully fresh and crisp.
Recommended length of stay in Kathmandu: 3 – 4 days.
We hope you’ll enjoy Kathmandu and Nepal as much as we did. Best of luck!