15 top things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal

A magnificent view of a white stupa adorned with gold, surrounded by colorful prayer flags against a partially cloudy sky.

Looking for the top things to do in Kathmandu? Here’s a full guide from my recent trip!

Kathmandu’s an effervescent city.

All day and most of the night, you’ll hear the buzz of motorcycles in the street, accompanied by bright prayer flags fluttering from virtually every building, the smell of momos (local dumplings) meeting your nostrils as you weave in and out of the streets. 

On my recent trip to Nepal, I spent longer than anticipated in Kathmandu (for medical reasons). While it’s a shame that I couldn’t see more of the country (we planned on going to Chitwan) it did mean that I saw more of the city – and was able to write this top attractions in Kathmandu post! 

So, without further ado, let’s go into the best things to do in Kathmandu. 

Things to do in Kathmandu

From temples to food to mountain views, here are the top Kathmandu attractions, both in and around the city!

1. Visit the historic Kathmandu Durbar Square

A dramatic temple entrance in Nepal, guarded by large, fierce-looking mythological creature statues, with locals and tourists milling about the area.

Durbar Square is to Kathmandu what Tiananmen Square is to Beijing.

This central square is a showcase of architectural ingenuity that dates back to the Malla dynasty. 

It is filled with palaces, courtyards, and temples, each telling a story of Nepal’s rich past. Key highlights include the Hanuman Dhoka Palace and the Kumari Ghar (House of the Living Goddess). 

Most of these buildings date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, although some of them were first built many years before. 

There are also plenty of rooftop restaurants and cafes, along with market stalls selling souvenirs around the square. 

Note: Durbar Square means “Royal Square” and there are a couple in the vicinity of Kathmandu. This one, which is most-visited, is “Kathmandu Durbar Square”. There’s also “Patan Durbar Square” and “Bhaktapur Durbar Square” which are a little way out of the city. 

2. Explore the Swayambhunath Stupa

A magnificent view of a white stupa adorned with gold, surrounded by colorful prayer flags against a partially cloudy sky.

“We don’t really like the name Monkey Temple” my guide Deepak told me on my last day in Nepal. “But everyone still calls it that!”. 

Swayambhunath Stupa, which you might hear also called Monkey Temple due to the abundance of creatures that call it home, sits on top of a hill, around a half-hour walk from Thamel. 

It’s thought to date back a whopping 1,500 years (some sources claim that it’s even older) and is a major pilgrimage site in Nepal. 

Nowadays, it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its remarkable history and cultural significance.

It consists of a stupa with Buddha’s eyes and nose painted onto it and several shrines and small temples. There’s also a Buddhist monastery and library here. 

You can also see a panoramic view of Kathmandu from the top. 

At just 400 NPR (around £2.30 or $3), it’s a bargain to visit this world heritage site!

Do mind out for the monkeys – they seemed relatively chilled out when we were there but I imagine they’d get excited if they saw somebody with food.

Don’t try to stroke them – monkeys can be aggressive, and there is the occasional case of rabies in Kathmandu! (Here’s my full guide to health and safety in Nepal).

3. Wander through Thamel

View of a bustling cityscape at sunset with red rooftops and modern buildings stretching towards hills in the distance under a glowing orange sky.

“You can buy anything in Thamel”, Bishnu, the owner of Nepal Hiking Adventure (who I hiked to Everest Base Camp with) told me. He’s not wrong… I thought, a couple of weeks later as I walked down the neighbourhood’s narrow alleys lined with market stalls. 

Thamel is the tourist district of Kathmandu; most visitors to the city will stay here. It’s well-known for its abundance of trekking shops – so if you are heading to the Himalayas and need to purchase some last minute clothes or gear, here’s where to look!

Along with the trekking shops, you’ll find lots of souvenir stalls. You can buy anything from Everest Base Camp t-shirts to prayer flags to tea to spices to toy yaks! 

Even if you don’t want to spend any money, Thamel is a wonderful district to amble around and spending some time here is a must-do in Kathmandu. 

4. Enjoy some serenity of the Garden of Dreams

While Kathmandu’s energy is positively buzzing, it certainly can be hectic! 

To get away from the hubbub of the city, head to the Garden of Dreams. 

A neo-classical historical garden located in the midst of urban Kathmandu, this peaceful enclave is a tranquil retreat with its pavilions, fountains and a variety of flora. 

It’s an ideal spot for a quiet afternoon away from the city’s hustle!

5. Take a day trip to Bhaktapur

Just a short drive from Kathmandu (officially 45 minutes, but traffic can make this much longer), Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage City. 

It’s a city of temples, Nyatapola Temple of which is the most famous, and also has a Durbar Square. 

I’d recommend seeing Bhaktapur on a guided tour – there are some excellent deals available on Get Your Guide, such as this Private 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites Day Tour (which also goes to Patan Durbar Square and Swayambhunath Stupa). 

Click here to read more about the day trip.

Powered by GetYourGuide

6. Enjoy authentic Nepalese cuisine

Sample traditional dishes like momo (dumplings), dal bhat (lentil soup served with rice), and Newari cuisine, which offers unique flavours that reflect the indigenous Newar culture of the Kathmandu Valley.

My favourite restaurant in Kathmandu, by far, was Third Eye which served up delicious curries and South Asian food.

7. Visit Nagarkot 

One of the best side trips from Kathmandu is Nagarkot

Situated about 40 kilometers east of Kathmandu at an altitude of 2,200 meters, Nagarkot is the best places near Kathmandu to see spectacular views of the Himalayas – including Everest and Manaslu. 

Generally, trips here stay a night, so you can enjoy the incredibly sunrise from Nagarkot Hill, followed by a day of exploring the lush green landscapes through a hike to the Nagarkot Tower. 

This area is not only known for its scenic beauty but also for its cultural richness – you’ll meet locals in Tamang Villages and enjoy a bonfire under the starlit sky! 

The best way to see Nagarkot is on a tour like this one –  the package includes a round-trip in a private car, entry fees, a hotel stay with breakfast, and a scenic drive that ensures you soak in every bit of the natural beauty on your way to and from Kathmandu.

Click here to read more about the tour.

Powered by GetYourGuide

8. Scenic Himalayan Flight

Want to get a bit closer to the mountains? From Kathmandu, you can take a scenic flight that offers views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. 

These flights typically last about an hour, following a route around the peaks to ensure you see them from every angle (and don’t worry, everyone gets a window seat!). 

You can book these flights on Get Your Guide. Once you book, your tour company will keep in touch with you about any changes to the tour (these can happen due to unpredictable weather). 

Click here to read more about them!

Powered by GetYourGuide

9. Join a Food Tour

On our last day in Kathmandu, we joined a food tour with local guide Deepak, who took us to some of the city’s best local eateries. 

“We’ll eat until you’re full!” he told us – he can customise the tour to particular requests and we tried lassi, local noodles, momos, breads and much more. 

We also visited a few local temples and markets that we wouldn’t have explored otherwise. 

Here’s the tour we booked – I highly recommend it!

Powered by GetYourGuide

10. Momo Cooking Class

A stainless steel tray divided into compartments filled with various spices and seasonings, including whole and ground forms.

Another Kathmandu experience that we loved was a momo cooking class. 

We love momos – the aromatic Nepalese dumplings that are stuffed with either vegetables, chicken or buffalo meat. 

So we had to add a momo cooking class to our Kathmandu itinerary! 

Nepal Cooking School is a cooking class with a difference – all profits go into their social enterprise, Journey Nepal, which helps to improve social welfare in the country. 

Since 2015, their efforts have been focused around rebuilding after the earthquake, but they also help women and girls escaping violence, sponsor children and aim to fund teachers and nurses in remote schools. 

The cooking school is a fantastic way to support them! We learned to make momos from scratch – including the sauce – using fresh, delicious ingredients. While momos in Kathmandu are amazing, a lot of them are actually cooked from frozen, but these were gloriously fresh and delicious. 

If you have more time, you can do a full cooking class and learn how to make dishes like Thukpa, Dal Baht and Chatamari. Vegetarian and vegan diets can easily be accommodated to. 

11. Visit Narayanhiti Palace Museum

Panoramic view overlooking a lush green park and a large water body in the foreground, with an iconic building featuring a unique dome and tall, slender tower, set against a cityscape backdrop under a clear sky.

Narayanhiti Palace, once the royal palace of the Shah kings of Nepal, has been turned into a public museum. 

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the royal history of Nepal, although it’s also a bit of dark tourism – it was where the Nepali royal massacre took place, when nine members of the royal family were shot. 

Nonetheless, the palace’s architecture and the personal artefacts of the former royal family housed within its walls make it a significant stop for those interested in the country’s monarchy and political history. 

12. Helicopter Tour to Everest Base Camp

Looking at Everest from the plane not enough? 

For the ultimate Himalayan experience, you can take a helicopter tour to Everest Base Camp (and you don’t need to trek for eight days to get there like we did!). 

On this tour, you’ll fly first from Kathmandu to Lukla (where you’ll stop for refuelling) and then soar over the Everest region before landing at Everest Base Camp.

Here, you’ll see the Khumbu Icefall and – if you’re visiting at the right time of year – witness the tents set up to house summiteers. 

You’ll also stop at the Everest View Hotel, the highest luxury hotel in the world, for tea or breakfast.

As you’re up for a short time, don’t run the risk of getting serious altitude sickness (which can happen on the Everest Base Camp trail), but you might feel a bit short of breath due to the lack of oxygen in the air.

Some of my friends did this and absolutely loved the experience! 

Click here to read more about the tour!

Powered by GetYourGuide

13. Kick back in a rooftop bar in Thamel

An outdoor café decorated with eclectic furniture, numerous plants, and unique ornaments, under a rustic metal roof with exposed beams.

If you’ve been hiking in Nepal, you’re going to want to schedule some time to chill out and enjoy Thamel’s rooftop bar scene!

There are tonnes of excellent rooftop bars in Thamel – they’re like oases in the middle of the hectic city. Here, you can order a cold beer or fresh juice and relax! 

My favourite rooftop bar (although it’s more like a balcony bar) was La Bella Cafe & Aqua Bar. Opposite, you’ll find Nana’s Hotel, which also has a great rooftop (this one’s actually on the roof!). 

In the evening, Fat Duck Grill & Wine Bar was fun, and we also went to The Cool Bar

14. Find some zen with yoga

Yoga comes from this part of the world, so it’s one of the best places to do a class!

I hadn’t done yoga in a while, but while I was recovering from my illness, I decided it would be better to try that than any more intense exercise. 

I went to a class at Pranamaya Thamel Yoga Studio (which is right next to the Garden of Dreams) and loved the airy, clean space – and my local instructor was excellent! It was an hour-long class, and I felt wonderfully relaxed after. 

You can book direct with the studio by Whatsapping them on X – I paid 1,000 NPR for a one-hour class. I’ll definitely return when I’m next in Kathmandu! 

15. Get a massage or reiki treatment 

If you want to find some inner peace, but don’t fancy a yoga class, there are tonnes of places in Thamel where you can have a massage or healing reiki treatment. 

I didn’t actually do this while I was there – I intended to and then realised it probably wasn’t the best thing to do considering my illness – so I don’t have a personal recommendation. 

But Vedic Healing seems popular for reiki, and Seeing Hands Nepal looks like a good place to get a massage. 

Where to stay in Kathmandu

A grand pink-hued building with ornate white trimmings and balconies, set against a blue sky and surrounded by a well-manicured lawn.
Yak and Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu

I ended up staying in four places in Kathmandu! Here’s everywhere we stayed and my honest opinions of them. 

  • Hotel Barahi – This was without a doubt the best hotel in the city. It’s 5* luxury, but not ridiculously priced, and has a glorious (albeit small and cold!) rooftop pool. The rooms are modern and stunning. I highly recommend booking – click here to see how gorgeous it is! 
  • Yak and Yeti – Another 5* hotel, although parts felt a little dated. It has stunning grounds and feels like a haven away from the chaotic city. The rooms are decorated in period design and are very elegant, although the bed was really small! Breakfast was good – ask waitstaff to bring you out a dosa! Click here to see it. 
  • Kailash Kutee Hotel – This was where we stayed before and after our Everest Base Camp trek. It’s a 3* hotel right in the heart of Thamel, and while it was okay, the second time we stayed there we were woken up at 5am because of building work! There’s no pool or relaxing spaces to chill out. I would recommend Hotel Barahi every time over Kailash Kutee, but if you’re on a budget it’s a feasible option. Click here to see it.
  • Manag Hotel – This hotel says it’s 4*, but it seemed pretty similar to Kailash Kutee (other than it does have a pool). The beds were huge, but the bathrooms are wet rooms and I did find a few bugs in the room. Like Kailash Kutee, it is in prime position in Thamel. Click here to see it.
A modern hotel room featuring a large bed with white linens and a large, framed map above the headboard, against a dark gray wall.
A room at Hotel Barahi in Kathmandu

The most luxurious place to stay in Kathmandu is The Dwarika’s, an elegant hotel with stunning rooms. It comes with a hefty price tag, however! Take a look at it here.

If hostels are more your vibe, Kwabahal Boutique Hostel is highly rated. Take a look at it here.

Are you ready to visit Kathmandu? 

While Kathmandu is a hectic city, I thought it was safe and welcoming, and it’s well worth spending a few days on any trip to Nepal. 

I’ve been posting about my trip to Nepal on TikTok and Instagram, and will be posting videos on YouTube, so do follow along!