Kathmandu is one of our favorite cities in Asia. The food is delicious with a lot of variety and there is so much culture, art and history to explore. And of course the friendly Nepalese people make your stay even more enjoyable.
But Kathmandu is also one of our favorite Asian cities, because there is something to do for everyone. This colorful city offers a lot of cultural spots, historical buildings, temples and amazing views over the city. However, if you are looking for a relaxing time or just feel a bit too lazy to explore, there are enough great hotels to chill out or hip restaurants – often tucked away somewhere – where you can lounge and enjoy a good meal and have some drinks.
In 2015 the earthquake that struck Nepal had brought devastation to big parts of Kathmandu. Unfortunately, thousands were killed and many famous monuments were completely shattered. Yet, don’t let this keep you from visiting Kathmandu. In the city, you can see that it’s still booming and full of life. People want to move on with their lives, and don’t want to dwell in the past. They are rebuilding. Even after the earthquake, one can still find the most beautiful temples, authentic shops and colorful buildings in Kathmandu.
It is a busy city, and it may be overwhelming at times. Also, it may be somewhat dirty to some (although after our visit to Delhi, it seemed really, really clean), but there is still really so much beauty.
In this article you can read about all the things you can do in Kathmandu. Including activities, our favorite hotel and restaurants.
Things to do
1. Shopping in Thamel
This is an obvious activity for your visit in Kathmandu. There are a lot of great shops to get clothes, jewelry, artwork and so much more. We would have bought more if we would go home after Nepal. But, first world problem, we were still planning on traveling a lot longer and we can’t carry that much with us.
It’s not expensive to shop in Kathmandu, although you have to make sure to negotiate. What we noticed in Kathmandu is that they can be a bit more firm about their prices. In India they will try to keep negotiating, but in Kathmandu we were sometimes even waved away when they found the price we offered was too low.
Tips for negotiating
Ask for the price. If the price they offer is a little too high for you, just smile, say no and walk away. Often they will tell you that they will give you a discount. If the price is way too high for you, it probably will still be too high after negotiating (but you can try!). If it’s something you really want, and the price is too high, just keep on searching. Most items can be found in multiple shops.
Also, we found that it works if we tell them that other shops offer the same item for a lower price. This is actually often true, and then they will most likely give you the “real” price.
2. Visit Swayambhunath – or “Monkey Temple”
This place blew us away. Swayambhunath is a Buddhist temple and Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s covered by cheeky monkeys (watch out, they can be nasty) and is located above the city on a hilltop. The name comes from “Swayambhu” which means “self-arisen”. It comes from the legend that the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake, and the hill of Swayambhunath rose up from the waters out of nowhere. The temple was not hurt by the 2015 earthquake, even though surrounding buildings did not survive.
We went there by taxi from our hotel. Once you get there, you have to do the climbing yourself. The most popular and interesting way is via the Eastern Stairway, which includes colorful Buddha statues and other artwork. It is a little bit of a climb to go up, but it’s worth it. Once you are up, walk around the stupa clockwise.
Entrance fee: 200 rupees
3. Visit Pashupatinath
Another temple that was not touched by the earthquake. Even though only Hindus are allowed to enter the main temple, there is still enough to see for travelers. Catch a glimpse from outside, or walk up on the terraces and look down to see more.
What is most interesting in this temple is the Cremation Ghats on the Bagmati River. Pashupatinath temple is quite similar to Varanasi on the sacred Ganges River. As in Varanasi, funerals are held on a daily basis by cremating the bodies at the river. The bodies are wrapped in cloths and are put along side the riverbank, then they are cremated on a wooden pyre. Be sure to be respectful and don’t stand in their way. This can cause an awkward situation, like we found ourselves in. We made the mistake to not look where we were going, and ended up standing near the relatives and actually standing where the bodies were being burnt. Nobody looked angry at us and we quickly moved away, but we felt highly disrespectful for standing somewhere we didn’t belong. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you, and look where you are going.
Entrance fee: 1000 rupees
4. Visit the Garden of Dreams
The Garden of Dreams can be found East of Thamel. It feels like a little piece of serene heaven in busy Kathmandu. This small garden has lots of beautiful details, with a swing, gorgeous gate, fountains and ponds. It’s a nice place to stroll around and have a little picnic in the afternoon. It’s only a small garden, but definitely worth the visit. Especially if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, and a little bit of greenery.
There is also WiFi available. We didn’t try it out, but we do know you need to pay 50 rupees to get access.
Entrance fee: 200 rupees
5. Visit Kwa Bahal or “Golden Temple”
This unique Buddhist temple is located in Patan. As it is placed in a courtyard and you have to enter it via a narrow entrance, it’s not the most noticeable temple. We found that it looks a lot smaller from the outside than it actually is on the inside. The name comes from the gold metal plates that covers the place.
It’s definitely worth the visit. The details and the artwork are gorgeous, like at most Buddhist temples, and it doesn’t take long to visit. Also, the entrance fee is very modest and when we were there, it was very quiet.
It’s also nice to walk around the area of Patan, go to the Durbar Square and other surrounding temples.
Entrance fee: 50 rupees
Other great places
We haven’t visited everything there is to see in Kathmandu, even though we visited this amazing city three times. There is just so much to see. Here are some of the spots we haven’t visited yet, but is certainly on our bucket list:
- Durbar Square
- Royal Palace
- Nyatapola Tole
- Itum Bahal
Where to sleep in Kathmandu
Thamel is the best place to stay in Kathmandu, if you’re looking for budget and midrange accommodation. Some people prefer to stay outside of Thamel, to escape the busy streets, pollution and shops. However, we actually really like staying in Thamel. That way, when we step outside of our accommodation, we can go to all the great hotels in walking distance.
If you’re looking for a place in Thamel, but still in need for some luxury, peace and quite, Gaju Suite Hotel is the place for you. It’s located only a ten minute walk from Durbar Marg shopping area, ten minutes walk from the King’s Palace, and 2.5 kilometer from the Swayambhunath and Durbar Square. The rooms are large with traditional Newari decor. The front desk has 24-hour service, there is free WiFi and it has an awesome restaurant.
Prices can be found here.
Where to eat and drink
Oh, man. We don’t even know where to start! We could actually write a separate article only with places to eat in Kathmandu – maybe we will. There are really so many great places for food in Kathmandu. Not only the food is fantastic, the restaurants are often nicely decorated with awesome interior. How often I thought “this restaurant should be in my hometown!”
Before we tell you our favorite restaurants, we want to mention our favorite street in Thamel: Mandala Street. Most of the restaurants we name are located here, and it’s really a cute street.
We made a list with a few of our favorites, but I think we probably forget a lot of good ones. Most of these places have breakfast, lunch, dinner AND (alcoholic) drinks there too. They are all located in Thamel.
Click on the names for their websites or Facebook pages.
This is a great restaurant where you can lounge and enjoy the live music. Not only good for grabbing dinner, they also offer a large variety of cocktails. We really liked the interior of this place.
If you are craving some Western food – their pastas and pizzas are really awesome. The food relatively expensive for Kathmandu, but still cheap if you compare it with European prices.
Phat Kath is such a cute French restaurant and bar, with partly indoor and outdoor seatings. This place is located in Chaksibari Marg, and is hidden from the busy streets of Thamel. We came here for lunch two or three times, and we liked it every time. It’s a great place to hang out for a while, while enjoying a nice smoothie, playing cards or one of their boardgames. My favorite thing on the menu was the croque vegetable sandwich and Jeff loved the burgers they served. YUM.
We visited this restaurant way too often, but it’s just so good. They have excellent Indian food – you should try their delicious Butter Chicken or Palak Paneer with garlic naan and rice. If you’re into spicy (like us) then you should tell the waiters, as they like to play it save with tourist.
Another place we have visited way too often, but their interior, good WiFi and Isreali food kept us coming back. The interior is cute with cushions on the floor for seating. We visited this place quite some time during our first visit to sit down, relax, eat, drink and use their WiFi. At that time we didn’t have a very solid WiFi connection at the hotel we were staying, so that was really nice.
This place is in the same street as Or2k and apparently is run by the same people. We liked the interior of this place too, although very different than Or2k. Jeffrey had a great burger here, and I ordered way too much. Soup, bread and some sort of momo stew. It was brilliant though.
We walked past this restaurant a few times and we always thought it looked very cute. Eventually we went in on a day we were craving some good Italian food. Well, it was brilliant. Jeffrey had a good pasta and I had a very tasty risotto. It was a bit pricey, but it was well worth it.
We were lured into this café, because it had a big WINE BAR sign hanging outside. So we went inside and had some wine! We absolutely liked the vibe in this restaurants, with all the pretty fairy lights and awesome background music. Although it was a bit pricey, the wine was good. We didn’t have dinner here though.
Visit a quiet Kathmandu
We loved it there, but we can imagine some people might experience it as being too busy, loud and kind of dirty. The first time we came it was festival season and it was so, so busy. Still, we had a great time exploring the temples and it was not too crowded in the tourist attractions. Yes, the streets of Thamel can be a bit overwhelming when it’s busy. But because there are so many nice restaurants, you can easily hide away from the hectic.
If it’s really too busy for you, there is a solution. We returned to Kathmandu last December and it was really very quiet. The streets in Thamel were almost empty. This is probably because it’s not the high season and it’s getting colder. A lot of people go to Nepal and Kathmandu to do a trekking, and in the winter time it’s a little bit too cold in the mountains, so less tourists arrive. The weather was still pleasant, around 18 degrees Celsius.
Have you ever visited Kathmandu?