Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, a frantically busy yet beautiful part of the world. It now happens to be my favourite Asian city out of all that I have visited. I fell in love with the culture, the smells & the hustle and bustle. The people we met were friendly and welcoming, practicing their English and befriending us as we walked through the maze of Thamel. At night Thamel came to life with colour, lights, and offerings jumping out at us, it’s a good job we had a baggage weight limit otherwise I would have stuffed rugs, decorative cushions and most possibly a Yak or a couple of stray Dogs in my case.
We were lucky enough to have a few days pre and post our Everest Base Camp Trek to explore Kathmandu and although we didn’t plan a hectic itinerary, we managed to fit in everything we wanted. You could spend weeks here and just scratch the surface but with limited time and a whole lot of relaxing to do – here are the places I suggest you visit if you have three days in Kathmandu.
Welcome to Kathmandu, good luck with the airport, it’s a wild one. If you’re staying in Thamel – the main tourist area of the city you will need to get a taxi. This should cost around $10 USD; you can pay the driver in Rupees or USD. There are plenty of places to stay around Thamel for every budget, we stayed at the Fuji Hotel – this is the G Adventures hotel where most treks start and finish, we decided to tap extra days on to make it easier.
There is so much to explore in Kathmandu and it’s best to start right on your hotel doorstep. Thamel is a maze of trekking gear lined streets, rickshaws and beeping taxis. It’s easy to get lost around here, but who doesn’t love getting lost and having a tea break to help find your way again. Thamel is the perfect place to stock up on handicrafts, local souvenirs or last-minute gear. Take in the culture, drink plenty of chai tea and people watch to your heart’s content.
Thamel is also full to the brim of amazing eateries, sometimes difficult to spot from the road as the bottom layer of shops is reserved for the goods. Google will be your best friend, I regularly searched, ‘best vegetarian food in Thamel’ ‘Best Momo’s in Thamel’ & ‘Rooftop bar in Thamel’ you will be inundated with options and maps, good luck navigating the streets for the momos. Speaking of food, OR2K is hands down the best place to eat in the area. Middle Eastern style cuisine, huge cushioned seating areas and platters big enough to feed the hungriest of trekkers. I highly recommend this place for dinner – I’m still dreaming about the sharing bread and dip plate. We also ate an abundance of momos all over the city. Mitho café & restaurant is also a great place to fuel up. They have amazing buddha bowls, salads and of course veggie momos. We went here a few times as it was just a little out of the main hustle. On our final night we ate at a restaurant called Places restaurant and bar – these guys have an amazing vegetarian menu, can 100% recommend.
After walking around all day checking out the shops and the area you will be ready to hit the hay ready for a full day of exploring tomorrow.
I am always an early riser when on holiday, I love getting up and out before the world has properly woken up. In March the temperatures in Kathmandu were manageable, not to hot so walking around at midday was fine. We spent one whole day exploring the temples around Kathmandu and it was magical. The country is so rich with culture and history and the people we met along the way made this whole day one to remember.
Durbar Square just on the outskirts of Thamel is the most logical place to start. You can walk here from your accommodation and grab breakfast on the way. The guards arrive at around 9am, when they are stationed you will have to pay $10 USD to enter. There are plenty of locals inside who will want to be paid for their guiding services, we just researched what we wanted to see and happily walked around alone.
One of the main reasons people visit Durbar Square is to catch a glimpse of the Kumari – the living Goddess. She lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the centre of the square. Radical followers of the traditions believe that even a slight glimpse of the goddess will bring good fortune, you will find lines of people milling around in the courtyard below her window.
Kathmandu is relatively easy to navigate, and taxis are everywhere. You can get to all the hotspots by taxi hopping all day, or choose to pay one driver for the day and they will wait outside for you as you have a look around the temples – this is a great way to get local information, plus it helps the drivers practice their English, which they love.
The Buddhist stupa of Boudha Stupa dominates the Kathmandu skyline, it is one of the largest unique structured stupas in the world. Draped in prayer flags and surrounded by cafes you can sit for hours watching the world go by in the little square. If you’re lucky you might see the monks praying outside, stand back and be respectful as they go about their business.
Pashupatinath Temple is Nepal’s most sacred Hindu temple. Located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, near the airport, you will need to jump in a taxi to get here and pay the entry fee to walk around. The temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Nepal and people travel from afar to worship here, it also attracts elderly followers of Hinduism who come here to die & be cremated. The temple is an open-air crematorium, the podiums are prepared for the dead and families can hold a ceremony for their loved ones, their ashes are then pushed into the river. This river meets up with the Ganges in India, and ultimately paradise. When we arrived, we walked around, distracted by the monkeys and cows wandering the grounds. We also spoke to the beautifully decorated men who happily posed for portraits. While we were in the temple, we witnessed the beginnings of a ceremony, we watched the family cover the deceased in flowers and transport them to a podium, we left shortly after out of respect. It was a beautifully, humbling experience to see how other cultures celebrate life and death.
Possibly the most popular temple to visit in Kathmandu is the monkey temple – Swayambhunath. Jump in a taxi to get there, you will need to save your legs for the stone steps at the gate. The Stupa looks over the whole city, providing panoramic views and giving you a real perception of how huge the capital city is. Wander around, light candles for loved ones and watch the monkeys play. There is a small pool at the back, this is a great place to watch the monkeys. If you arrive early morning or late afternoon, then you will see them at their most active. You can opt to walk down into Thamel or save your legs and get dropped at your favourite Momo hut, lemon ginger honey tea goes down a treat before dinner.
For your last day in Kathmandu, you will most definitely need to relax a little, soak in that last bit of culture and prepare for your trek or onward journey. There is a heap of cooking classes in Kathmandu, some that don’t have a price, you just pay what you think. If you fell in love with momos as much as I did then learning to make them is the best gift you can give to yourself. ‘Social tours’ are a great company to use, simply email them the day before and meet in the morning. The ladies will show you around the markets, gather ingredients and teach you all the tricks of the trade to make your own delicious treats.
Be sure to wash your hands or take sanitiser when you can – our friend gave herself food poisoning by accident from not washing before she ate.
As you wander around Thamel, full of the homemade goodness you will notice the vast amount of spa and massage parlours. We walked in off the street and spent a few hours getting pampered. I had a full manicure, pedicure, one-hour massage, and green tea for only $45 USD… it was bliss!
To round off your day of relaxation take a short ten-minute walk away from the busy streets of Thamel toward the garden of dreams. A respite from the crazy traffic and people in the city. The Garden of Dreams is a beautifully designed and maintained space that is well worth a visit. Take your book or just sit and enjoy a coffee listening to the fountains and peace around you.
Kathmandu is an incredible city to explore, filled with the most wonderful sights, smells, sounds and people who will blow you away with their kind nature. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Go with the flow and embrace the beautiful chaos of the city, I for one can’t wait to return.