Kathmandu is where every hiker starts their journey into the Nepali mountains – whether it be Everest, Annapurna Circuit, or something in between. Kathmandu offers an overload of sights, sounds and tastes ranging from intricate temples adorned with colorful prayer flags, peaceful gardens, spicy dal bhat, and a sea of hiking stores.
But before you start your trek, here’s five things to see in Kathmandu before you head out on your next adventure.
1. Explore the Thamel Neighborhood
Most likely you’ll be staying in Thamel during your stay in Kathmandu, or you’ll head there to shop for hiking gear or souvenirs.
The streets of Thamel are full of hiking gear shops; cafes down every alley serving traditional and Western cuisine; and shops selling a blend of handicrafts, tea, yak wool blankets and pashminas.
Tip: Thamel is a good place to simply wander. You’ll find cool cafes, beautiful temples, and lots of shops to choose from to get that perfect souvenir.
2. Climb up to the Swayambhunath Temple
Swayambhunath or the Monkey Temple is a Buddhist temple set high on a hill above Kathmandu. You can walk there in about 30 minutes from Thamel but be warned that it does involve a few flights of steep stairs. As you walk up to the temple, you’ll see where it gets its nickname from as dozens of wild monkeys jump from statue to statue and run up the stairs. As you reach the top of the stairway, you’ll be met with a white tower (stupa) painted with the eyes of the Buddha. You’ll then be greeted by the smell of incense as this is one of the places in Kathmandu where locals come to pray.
It’s customary to then walk clockwise around the prayer wheels at the base of the stupa. The detail embossed into each building and structure within Swayambhunath is beautiful, and you’ll be sure spend some time wandering around, breathing in the incense and taking lots of photos.
Tip: Make sure you take in the view of Kathmandu below from the top of the temple stairway. Entry costs 200 Nepali Rupees.
3. Relax in the Garden of Dreams
The Garden of Dreams is located in the Thamel area on Tredevi Sadak near the North Face store. It’s filled with fountains, flowers, and beautiful pathways, and is the perfect place to escape the chaotic streets of Kathmandu for a few hours. You can wander around the garden, take a seat and catch up on some reading, or also enjoy a coffee or tea at the garden’s café.
Entry into the garden is 200 Nepali Rupees. The garden is open from 9am to 10pm.
4. Wander through Durbar Square
Durbar Square would certainly have been a sight to behold in its heyday. These days Durbar Square is still a beautiful part of Kathmandu but the devastating earthquake in April 2015 took its toll. Many of the square’s buildings remain off limits, some are supported by scaffolds, and some were reduced to rubble. Durbar Square is located outside the old Royal Palace and is Kathmandu’s best example of traditional buildings with many of the temples dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Durbar Square is located about a 30 minute walk from Thamel. Entry to the site is 1000 Nepali Rupees which includes entry into the old Royal Palace.
5. Try the local food
Feeling hungry? Momos, dal bhat and banana lassi are among the local food you have to try when in Nepal. Momos are dumplings filled with meat or vegetables, dal bhat is a lentil soup served with rice and vegetables on a metal dish, and banana lassi is a delicious yogurt drink usually flavored with banana or mango.
Every meal should also be accompanied by masala tea – a spiced milk tea. You’ll find all these menu items in most restaurants and cafes across Kathmandu.