Looking for things to do in Kathmandu? The capital of Nepal is still a shining beacon of Nepali heritage.
Kathmandu was once known as the Kantipur, “The City of Glory.” Prior to the 2015 earthquake, it had the densest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Now only two of the seven found in the city center still stand. When complimenting Nepalis on the beauty of their country, most respond dolefully, “it used to be more beautiful than this.” This was my first time visiting a country post-natural disaster. It’s been eye-opening and humbling to say the least. There is still so much to behold and one thing’s for certain — the hearts of Nepalis, though challenged, remain unchanged: full of happiness to share their beloved homeland with anyone who would venture here.The day we arrived in Kathmandu, an unofficial oil embargo paralyzed the nation. Streets that were usually overrun by vehicles were eerily empty. The reason behind the oil embargo is enmeshed in so much political drama that I don’t feel informed enough upon to convey. However, I do know seeing and experiencing it firsthand that the country is suffering, and even as resilient as the Nepalese are, they don’t deserve any more heartache.
1. Pay Your Respects to the Dead at an Open Cremation
One of the most sacred Hindu temples in all of Nepal, Pashupatinath is dedicated to the deity Pashupati (a manifestation of the Lord Shiva and Lord of Animals). The temple was built besides the Bagmati River, which is a source of immense spiritual power since it feeds into the holiest river of the Hindu faith, the Ganges. Everyday, funeral pyres of upperclass and common folk alike burn fiercely and their ashes are swept into the river in order to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the main temple but can watch the cremations and explore the temple grounds.
Where? Pashupati Nath Road 44621
Cost: 1000 NPR (approx. ~$9 USD)
2. Look out on the Whole of Kathmandu
On the western edge of the city lies the religious site of Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple. The Tibetan Buddhist shrine is perched on a hilltop overlooking Kathmandu in all its splendor. You have to ascend 365 steep steps that are guarded by intimidating, “holy” monkeys in order to see the golden stupa painted with the all-seeing Buddha eyes. Despite some damage caused to the surrounding temples, the actual stupa remains intact and stands proudly atop the white dome.
Cost: 350 NPR (~$3 USD)
3. Try Every Preparation of Momo
I AM ADDICTED. No, seriously, every day in Nepal holds the possibility of finding my next favorite preparation of momos and I make it my mission to find the very best before I leave. What are referred to as the Nepalese equivalent of dumplings, momos (originally from Tibet) have made their way onto Nepalese menus. Pan-fried, steamed, drenched in sweet chili sauce, half-moon, round, stuffed with minced chicken, veggies, cheese or even buffalo! Every place I’ve ordered momos has a different method of preparation and I love how this seemingly-simple dish has not tasted the same once. But one’s thing for sure: it cannot be eaten without the spicy chutney dipping sauce! The best I’ve found so far is at Rama’s Kitchen in Thamel. Their take on vegetable momos is rolled in bread crumbs and deep-fried. You won’t be disappointed!
Where? Rama’s Kitchen is located at Thamel Marg 26
4. See What’s Left of Durbur Square
Durbur Square, the royal plaza in the heart of the capital city, contains many architectural masterpieces of historical importance. Sadly, it became Ground Zero of the recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal this past April. Within the square, the temple that Kathmandu was named after, Kasthamandap, has been reduced to rubble along with the Maju Dega & Narayan Vishnu, Trailokya Mohan, and Krishna structures. What still stands remains a window into the past.
My favorite building in the square is the Kumari Bahal (The House of the Living Goddess) where the world’s only living goddess resides during her reign. Walking past the small entryway, you step into a square courtyard surrounded by downward facing ornate windows. From these windows, it is said that you can catch a glimpse of the Kumari which is highly auspicious.
Cost to enter Durbur Square? 1000 NPR (~$7 USD) The cost is 750 NPR and I suggest getting a guide but make sure you discuss a price first before proceeding.
5. Go Souvenir Shopping in Thamel
No major city is complete without its own touristy neighborhood and Kathmandu is no exception. Thamel, the commercial center of Kathmandu, is a labyrinth of shops that sell everything from stone carvings to discounted North Face jackets and Reese’s peanut butter cups for the starved hiker. It is the base for all foreigners in Nepal with everything catering specifically to tourists. You can find whatever you need here be it a cheap room or a great Mexican breakfast and even a yak wool blanket if you so fancy.
- Shop Right Supermarket in Thamel has everything you would ever need, all under one roof. Part grocery, part convenience store, this psedo-department store has the most impressive is the variety of snacks, and even a gluten-free items aisle, a one stop shop for those who need to stock up before a long hike up the Himalayas.
- Plant-based eaters, rejoice! You can get your vegetarian fix on while contributing to a good cause at Sarangi (29 Thamel in the Shiva Complex, next to Kathmandu Guesthouse,) a vegetarian restaurant with a stunning rooftop terrace serving both vegetarian and vegan options. At night, you can enjoy a special musical performance by members of the Gandharba tribe, an indigenous group who has long suffered discrimination in Nepal, and who benefit from every plate you eat at the restaurant.
- For prime people watching, travel to Asan Tole Bazaar, an authentic snapshot of everyday life in Nepal. Watch the market goers come and go in this vibrant marketplace, and pick up some cheap produce from the bashful vendors.
- Thamel is also the place for inexpensive grubbing down. There’s a spectacular selection ranging from traditional Nepali fare at The Kathmandu Kitchen (29 Thamel Marg) that won’t cost you more than 400 for a full-course meal to a breakfast joint, The Northfield Cafe and Jesse James Bar that serves the most generous portions of Huevos Rancheros (my plate was overflowing with salsa). That, sprinkled in with some cheap German bakeries and you are good to go.at Fresh, Eat Slow, Eat Local
- Held twice a week on Saturday mornings from 8 AM – 12:30 PM and Wednesday evenings from 3 -7 PM, you can rub shoulder’s with Kathmandu’s expat community at the Le Sherpa Farmer’s Market (on Maharajgung Next to the President House) with high-end goods from all over Nepal. From artisanal chutneys to wheels of cheeses, soaps, and and fabric-covered notebooks, this chill gathering is a great place to schmooze around and procure neat finds from over 40 vendors.
- Purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs at Paper Park (Chaksibari Marg), a shop that specializes in traditional Nepalese papergoods. Nepalese paper is made from the pulp of the lokta tree, producing a lightweight, yet textured paper, decorated in stunning Nepali cultural illustrations.
- Coming back from the Annapurna circuit? Reward yourself on a personal wood-fired pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe (Chaksibari, Kathmandu), an Italian restaurant that feels blissfully indulgent and can accommodate most dietary restrictions.
- Tons of well-kept bookstores brimming with new and used books are found all over the Thamel area such as Pilgrims Book Shop, Summit Book Store, and Paradise Booksellers.
- During the month of October, Nepal’s largest holiday, Doshain, keeps the streets quiet. But on the 8th day of the festival in Durbur Square, a mass slaughtering of animals meant as a sacrifice for the Hindu gods is performed. It is gruesome so prepare yourself.
- Learn how to make the staple Nepali dish known as dal baht at the Nepal Cooking School, a cookery who donate a portion of their proceeds to female education initiatives, as well as the rebuilding of schools decimated in the 2015 earthquake. Learn more about the class here.
Where To Stay
Nomad’s Apt (at the end of Bhramma Kumari Marg in Ranibari, Maharajgunj) Staying with Samil was our first impression of Kathmandu’s unique hospitality. When we stayed there back in 2015, the boutique apartment had been only opened for one month, but today, this six-room property has a manicured garden, complete with edison lights and a small fountain, where you can take your morning brunch in peace. The artful apartments are all colored themed (there’s the white, green, red, blue, orange, and violet room) and each feature a kitchenette and ensuite bathroom. Amenities like a flat screen TV, towels, and even a kettle are provided. It’s only a 5 to 10-minute walk to Thamel. Rooms start at $31 per night, come with brunch.
Fujia Guest House (No. 233 J.P. Road, Thamel) Another place close to our hearts is this Thamel hotel. The rooms don’t have a lot of personality, pretty good wifi (by Nepal standards), free bottles of water, air conditioning, and guaranteed cleanliness, there’s not much more you can ask for. Standard room starts at $25 per night. Family rooms start at $60 per night.
Tip: For those who hate the thought of planning ahead, you can easily walk into hotel properties and negotiate discounted rooms, especially in low season. A heads up: there are a lot of touts advertising hotels, but if you find yourself walking down a dodgy alleyway, make a U-turn to save you the time of previewing sub-par rooms at more rundown properties.