Kathmandu: Nepal’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Nepal is best known for its exciting trekking routes. After all, the country lies in the middle of the Himalayas – the highest mountains in the world. Now that’s a great backdrop for hiking! Of course, the absolute highlight is the world’s highest – and probably most famous – mountain: Mount Everest. With clear weather conditions, you can even see it from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu!
There is more than just the view of Mount Everest that makes this city a must-see on your bucket list. The diverse culture, with its breathtakingly beautiful temples and the colorful hustle and bustle on the streets, is also worth a visit!
As with most trips, preparation is essential – that’s why we’ll provide you with the basic information about Kathmandu. On top of that, we’ll give you our top 10 sights. Enjoy!
Kathmandu in a Nutshell
Also known as the “Roof of the World,” Nepal is located in a valley of the Himalayan Mountains in South Asia. Nepal’s nickname speaks for itself – after all, it is the world’s highest-located country. It borders Tibet to the north and India to the south.
Nepal isn’t particularly large. Nevertheless, the country can rather easily be divided into three climate zones, mainly due to the differences in altitude. In Kathmandu, it is quite mild all year round, with an average temperature of about 16 °C. Winters are also drier than summers. For a more detailed overview of the best travel times, take a look at our climate guide.
Nepal is the highest country on earth, thus Kathmandu must be the highest city in the world, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The capital is “only” 1,400 meters above sea level. The highest city in the world is La Rinconada in Peru – at an altitude of 5,100 meters. However, Kathmandu has a surprisingly large population, with over one million inhabitants! Now that’s what we call a metropolis.
So many people in one place – that means there are many cool festivals. Probably the most important festival for the locals is Dashain, where they celebrate the victory of good over evil for 15 whole days. While this festival is incredibly fascinating, travelers usually aren’t really interested in the entire spectacle.
In spring, the Holi Festival – called Fagu Purnima in Nepal – is a different matter. People cover themselves and the entire city in breathtaking colors by throwing colored powder and splashing water on each other. You’ve likely heard of this festival before! After all, the Holi Festival has already made its way to Germany. However, in Kathmandu it has a completely different charm – you should definitely witness it for yourself!
We can’t forget to mention the culinary specialties. You don’t know what Nepalese cuisine is like? We will help you out! Generally, the neighboring, i.e. Tibet and India, have greatly influenced the local cuisine. You are probably more familiar with Indian cuisine. On your trip, you should absolutely try dal bhat, a lentil soup served with rice and vegetable curry. It’s really delicious, especially with some bread and spicy chutney.
Traffic in Kathmandu is chaotic, to say the least. There are no real traffic regulations and no street signs. In addition, people drive on the left, which makes it twice as confusing for those used to driving on the right. Lots of scooters and motorcycles squeeze past the cars while honking their horns. Driving by yourself is way too dangerous. Taking the bus doesn’t work either, as there are no timetables and no numbers on the vehicles.
In order to get around Kathmandu, we strongly recommend taking a cab, a traditional rickshaw or using your own two legs. On the bright side, you will surely discover exciting places on this excursion!
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Kathmandu
Nepal and its capital are truly fascinating destinations. You can immerse yourself in a completely different culture here. Before anything else, you should take a look at the countless temples. However, there are other sights as well, which we will present to you now!
The Most Important Landmark of Kathmandu: Bodnath Stupa
Let’s start with one of the most important landmarks of the city, the Bodnath Stupa. A stupa is a construction of great religious significance in Buddhism. Significant or sacred objects are kept in there.
This particular stupa is very special – apparently, its origins to date back to the 5th century! Unfortunately, the stupa was damaged by the devastating earthquake in 2015, but it was rebuilt. For decades, believers from surrounding towns have been making pilgrimages to practice their rituals here.
This place is very popular among travelers, too. No wonder, because the stupa looks really impressive! A 15-meter-high dome is perched on three terraces, and the facade is always whitewashed for the New Year. Combined with the colorful flags and pennants, which stretch from the tower out of the dome all the way to the ground, the stupa looks beautiful! The different elements of the stupa represent the four elements earth, water, fire, and air.
The Most Popular District of Kathmandu: Thamel
During your stay in the Nepalese capital, you are sure to have found a place to stay somewhere in Thamel. It is, after all, the most popular district among travelers, with many hotels and hostels, international restaurants and colorful souvenir stalls. From here, you can easily visit all the major sights. However, the district itself is well worth a stroll, too. We recommend you take a break in one of the beautiful cafés, where you can enjoy Nepalese food and let the happenings of the past days sink in.
The Heart of Kathmandu: Durbar Square
Durbar Square is the heart of Kathmandu, historically speaking. The Palace of Kings is located here, from which the king used to rule. Besides the significant palace, there are dozens of other buildings to admire in the square. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There isn’t only much to see here, but also to photograph. Unfortunately, during the earthquake, many of the temples and other buildings were partly damaged. They have all been restored and rebuilt, though. Merely a few scaffolds are left as a reminder of this disaster. And don’t worry, they won’t ruin your photos.
The Palace of Kings – also called Narayanhiti Palace – is located at Durbar Square, too. However, do not settle only for the outside view. The inside of the building is way too interesting for that!
The king used to reign from here. However, Nepal’s monarchy was abolished in 2008, thus the palace has been converted into a museum. In addition, a tragedy is said to have occurred in this palace. The crown prince at the time, Dipendra, is said to have committed a massacre in 2001, killing the king, the queen, seven other relatives and then himself.
Swayambhunath Temple Complex
After raving about the beautiful temples of Nepal, we can’t disappoint you now. Therefore, let us introduce you to the Swayambhunath temple complex, one of the oldest temple complexes in the world. The stupa is definitely the highlight of this temple. In order to see it, you first have to climb one of several staircases with more than 350 steps. But the effort is worth the sight!
You will have a magnificent view over the city from the Swayambhunath Stupa! Admittedly, it is difficult to pronounce the name of this temple, so we will stick to its nickname, the Monkey Temple. The name derives from the many monkeys that live on the grounds of the temple. Watch out for them, because they will steal anything they can their grabby little hands on.
Crematorium at Pashupatinath Temple
Next up is the most important sanctuary in Hindu culture. The temple complex Pashupatinath is located at the holy river Bagmati, which flows into the Ganges in India. On its banks, believers burn the bodies of their deceased loved ones and throw their ashes into the river. This is supposed to break the cycle of rebirths, for only then can the dead find their final rest.
Tourists musn’t enter the temple, as only Hindus have access to this sanctuary. However, it is possible to observe the burial ceremonies from the other side of the river.
This structure is visually different from the other temples in the Nepalese capital. The temple Seto Machhendranath catches your eye with wood carvings and other extraordinary decorations. However, the temple’s appearance is not the only thing that makes it so special. It is considered a sacred place by both Buddhist and Hindu believers. Additionally, the structure is said to have been built as early as the 10th century!
Garden of Dreams
Time for a little breather from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Garden of Dreams is the perfect place to do that. Thick walls surround this place, protecting you from the noise of the city. In this blissful silence, you can take a nap or read a book on the many benches or mats on the grass. And the park is only a few minutes walk from Thamel. How convenient!
Strictly speaking, Lalitpur is not part of the capital city. It is actually its own city in the Kathmandu Valley – and even the third-largest in Nepal. However, the transitions between the two cities are fluid, forming a so-called twin city.
Lalitpur – also called Patan – is predominantly Buddhist, making it an exception amid all the Hindu places. The Durbar Square is definitely worth a visit. Wait a minute, didn’t we mention that already? Yes, the one in Kathmandu! Durbar Square simply means King’s Square – of which there are several. Here you will also see some beautiful temples. Unfortunately, many of them were damaged or even completely destroyed by the strong earthquake in 2015.
Besides Lalitpur and Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is one of the most important cities in the valley. These three cities are also called royal cities. Visiting this city will undoubtedly be worth your while! After all, Bhaktapur was once the capital of Nepal. Even today, it is considered the cultural capital of the country. The traditional architecture, including the enchanting temples, is simply amazing.
Did we exaggerate? At first glance, Kathmandu may seem a bit confusing and chaotic. The trick is to just go with the flow. Stroll through the city and let all the colorful and new impressions sink in.
The best place to start is Thamel, where most travelers reside. After a short time, you will probably have acclimatized a bit – then you are ready to visit the many other sights, mainly temples and so-called stupas. These holy places are unique because of their appearance!
You should also venture outside the capital city. Then you will be able to enjoy the cultural treasures of the other two royal sites, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. They are astounding! All the insights into the extraordinary Nepalese culture are absolutely breathtaking. So, get a move on! Kathmandu is waiting for you!