Nepal is a landlocked country between India and Tibet and only opened its doors to tourism in the 1950s. These days Kathmandu is a busy, bustling city filled with people from all over the world. Even with so much going and so many things to Do in Kathmandu, I always find the streets to be very peaceful and good for the soul!
I have traveled to Nepal seven times and think of it as such a special and unique place. Before I get into my recommendations on how to have the perfect day in Kathmandu, I’d like to share with you a few tips to ensure the Nepali culture is always being respected.
When addressing a male who is older than you, use the word Dai, this means ‘big brother’, for females you say Didi (big sister). This is also a polite way to get waiters attention in a restaurant.
When I meet someone for the first time in Nepal I always greet them by placing my palms together in a prayer position and say Namaste.
To respect the culture in Nepal I always choose to dress reasonably conservatively, I always ensure my chest is covered, I don’t wear tops with really thin straps and have my legs covered at least to my knees. I have seen many tourists wearing little shorts or low tops while traveling Nepal, I have just never felt it’s appropriate and many of my local friends have told me they find it disrespectful.
The tap water in Nepal is never safe to drink, I find even brushing my teeth with it can upset my tummy. Bottled water is very easy & cheap to buy in Kathmandu or you could bring your own water bottle and purifying tablets, to save on plastic waste.
Save Big on Your Dream Trip to Kathmandu
Check out the Best Tours & Day Trips from Kathmandu
Read Reviews of the Best Hotels in Kathmandu, Nepal on TripAdvisor
Now to a perfect day in Kathmandu
Most people who visit Nepal come for two main reasons, to volunteer or trek. These are both incredible experiences but I do recommend giving yourself at least a few days to explore Nepal’s capital city.
I love starting the day by waking up around 06:00 am and walking the streets of Thamel. At this time it’s very quiet, few people about and most stores are just beginning to open. It allows you to see Thamel from another perspective and before the streets are filled with people, rickshaws, bikes, and cars.
A popular bakery in Thamel and one that opens early is Pumpernickel. By now you’ll be hungry for breakfast and here you’ll find some of the best, freshly baked bread in Kathmandu and nicest coffee.
Once you’ve finished your breakfast, exit Pumpernickels and turn right. At the end of the street (2-minute walk), there’s a taxi rank, full of drivers keen for your business.
So my next recommendation would be to spend the first half of the day exploring some local sights. Have a chat with a few drivers and negotiate a price you are both happy with. I think it’s easier to stay with the same driver the whole time, he’ll take you to each place and it’s nice to know afterward there is a driver waiting for you.
Below are 4 of my favorite sites in Kathmandu, visually stunning and full of culture and history. I recommend visiting them in the following order as well, this will take you on a bit of a loop around the city and no back-tracking.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum
Only a few minutes’ drive from the center of Thamel is the palace that formally served as the residence and primary workplace of the reigning monarch of the kingdom of Nepal.
The history of the former monarch in Nepal is fascinating and devastating. 2001 was the year the palace massacre took place, killing nearly all members of the royal family. This visit is the closest you’ll ever get to the truth of what really happened that night, it was an eerie experience and hard to believe it really happened.
Boudhanath Stupa (or just Boudha)
This is one of the largest stupas in the world and a very important place to the Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhist. Upon entering the main gate you’ll see just how large and incredible this stupa is. Before you start browsing the shops, you need to walk around the stupa three times clockwise, Boudha is a very spiritual place & noise should always be kept to a minimum. I also think this is one of the most photogenic sites in Kathmandu, the colorful prey flags blowing alongside the white stupa is gorgeous.
This is a sacred Hindu temple and located on the banks of the Bagmati River. It’s the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and here you’ll see amazing architecture and possibly locals farewelling their loved ones. Cremations of Nepalese take place daily on the rivers ghats. It’s a very special place that you’ll want to take your time to experience.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
From here you could easily walk back to the center of Thamel, so you could say good-bye to your driver from here.
Kathmandu Durbar Square was, unfortunately, severely damaged in the devastating earthquake of April 2015. Even today, there is still a lot of damage to the area. During my last visit to Nepal (May 2019) it was good to see some rebuilding had begun but it’s still not nearly where it was before the earthquake.
There is an entrance fee into Durbar Square if you didn’t want to pay (which would be understandable with the current damage) there is still a lot to see in the area, many other temples and a few local markets.
From here you could make your way back towards your hotel. Follow the narrow streets, enjoying the sights and smells. It’s ok if you get lost along the way, it’s all part of the fun and I’m sure there will be plenty of locals who would be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Also, you’ll know when you’re heading back to the “tourist” area of Thamel when you start to see more and more signs written in English.
Lunch & Shopping in Kathmandu
I’m sure by now you’re starving, don’t worry as you head back you’ll see many restaurants serving delicious local and western meals.
After lunch continue to head in the direction of Kathmandu Guest House (this is one of the biggest hotels in Thamel and everyone will know where it is), along the way enjoy some shopping. Nepal isn’t well known for it’s shopping but I love it. Home-wears, clothes, bags, wall hangings, paintings, just to name a few, everything I have purchased over the years has been great quality and reasonably cheap in price.
Once you get to Kathmandu Guest House, keep walking past it and follow the road around to the left. I’m now taking you to my favorite restaurant in Thamel for a nice cold drink!
Electric Pogoda is tucked away, basically behind the guest house and has the most beautiful and peaceful atmosphere. Located away from any main roads, making it one of the quietest places in Thamel. Sitting on the floor with plenty of cushions & the little table, order a drink and a little snack if you’re still hungry. I’ve sat in here for hours before, drinking beer, reading my book while enjoying the chill-out out music playing in the background.
I’m sure your feet will enjoy this rest.
Dinner and Nightlife in Kathmandu
I hope you’re not too exhausted because there’s still dinner and nightlife to experience. After EP head back to your hotel to freshen up. For dinner, I’d recommend Roadhouse (variety of options) or OR2K (Middle-Eastern). Both serve delicious food and are very close to the nightlife.
After dinner head to the streets, the night time vibe in Thamel is awesome. There will be so many people out and about, you’ll hear music playing from all directions and I have always felt very safe.
You’ll see so many options of places to go, a few of my recommendations are;
Shisha Lounge & Bar – I’ve seen some INCREDIBLE local bands live here.
Tom & Jerry’s – Fun atmosphere and pool tables.
Sam’s Bar – More chilled out with only seating, not much standing space but still a great vibe.
And I think that’s a wrap….. I hope you love Kathmandu as much as I do and today hasn’t been to full-on! After you have explored Nepal’s capital city if you’re interested in trekking, check out my article on Annapurna Base Camp.
Kathmandu FAQ’s and Fun Facts
Kathmandu, also known as “City of Temples”, stands at an elevation of approximately 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level in central Nepal.
Monsoon begins in late May or early June in Kathmandu and continue until late September or early October. The coldest temperatures are generally in mid-November through mid-February, and the hottest ones are in May. The wettest month is July with an average of almost 12 inches of rain.
Time in Nepal Kathmandu
Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT, because it sets the meridian of Nepal Standard Time at Gaurishankar, a mountain east of Kathmandu. Kathmandu, Nepal is 10 hours and 45 minutes ahead of New York, USA and 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of London, UK. The odd time difference between Nepal and India has resulted in a national joke that Nepalis are always 15 minutes late (or, Indians are 15 minutes early).
Fun Facts about Kathmandu
- Kathmandu was orginally called Kantipur’
- Namaste is the standard greeting in Nepal. It can mean Hello, Good Bye, Thank You but translates to “I salute the God in you.” People put their palms together and then bow their forehead, and say “Namaste.”
- The Nepal flag is the only national flag that is not quadrilateral in shape. It is made of two triangles. The triangles are said to represent Hinduism and Buddhism. They also represent the Himalayan Mountains.
- Touching anything with your feet is considered an insult and thus, is highly offensive. This rule applies to all of Nepal but it is most stringent in the capital city.
- Freak Street is the most famous street in Kathmandu.
Hotels in Kathmandu
Hostels, Bed and Breakfast Hotels and Guest Houses are as little as $1 per night in Kathmandu. Famous House Kathmandu is the 2nd highest rated Kathmandu hotel on TripAdvisor and rooms start at $2 per night.
Kathmandu Guest House One of the biggest hotels in Thamel. It’s famous for it’s beautiful garden and central location. Rooms start at $40 and you can read reviews on TripAdvisor to make sure it’s a good fit!
If you are looking for a luxury option, The Dwarika’s Hotel is considered the nicest hotel in Kathmandu as well as an authentic experience of Nepal’s ancient cultural heritage. It was originally established as a heritage restoration project, and has become known as Nepal’s premier property, and a model for heritage preservation in Nepal and beyond.
Tours and Day Trips from Kathmandu
I love to do a combination of exploring on my own as well as a few organized tours when I travel. I love to learn about the history and culture in a new location and tours with local experts is a great way to do this. I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages.
A few Top Tours in Kathmandu, Nepal
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Kathmandu Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
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