Kathmandu, Nepal is a grueling adventure of the senses. From its sprawling Thamel neighborhood with hip bars, electric nightclubs, and cozy cafes to its iconic Buddhist and Hindu temples at Boudanath Stupa or Pashupatinath, there are countless things to do and see in Kathmandu that will leave you feeling both overwhelmed and invigorated.
When I moved to Kathmandu in 2015, I went into a week-long culture shock. No joke! Monkeys jumped about the makeshift walls and fences. Cars squeezed in and out of the tiniest spaces. Smoke from the burning bodies at the Hindu temple rose and disappeared with the pollution in the air.
And while living in Kathmandu and simply visiting offer two very different experiences, a short-term visit will nevertheless leave you wanting more.
Kathmandu simply contains magic unlike anywhere else and it’s impossible not to fall in love. If you’re up for an adventure, you’ve come to the right place!
So if you want to truly step into the rich culture in Kathmandu while checking off the more touristy bucket list, then I’ve got you covered!
I’ve compiled some of my favorite and best things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal to create the ultimate Kathamndu bucket list so you, too, can take home epic memories of your time here.
The Ultimate Kathmandu Bucket List
How many of these top 20 things to do in Kathmandu are you going to check off your bucket list?? Here’s my Kathmandu bucket list roadmap to keep your wanderlust ablaze!
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1. Get Lost in Thamel’s Mayhem
I’d say at least 99% of tourists go directly to Thamel once they’ve arrived in Kathmandu. After all, Thamel is the famous “downtown” district that tourists flock to.
It’s got narrow, winding streets filled with hole-in-the-wall shops, cafes, pubs, nightclubs, intricate hotels, tattoo shops, tea shops, shady shops, you name it! With all the colors, noise, and activity, you might experience sensory overload—but in the best possible way.
Thamel just has to be experienced, so go get lost in its chaos.
Marvel at the twisted electricity cables, at the dusty, crooked shop signs, and at the locals’ smiling faces. Then enjoy a moment’s calm at your hotel before entering back into the mayhem.
2. Ride a Local Nepali Bus
If you’ve never experienced the stress and adrenaline and pure amusement of a local bus in a country, now is your chance! Taking the bus that runs the circle around Ring Road in Kathmandu is by far the cheapest way to get about in Kathmandu.
But not only does it save you hundreds of rupees from skipping the taxi fare, you truly get to peer into the local life beyond Thamel. You’ll likely get stared at, but it’s out of curiosity. Many a time we were stared at because we were, well, so white and noticeable.
One time, months after we’d been living in Nepal, a bus driver shook our hand and said something like, “I’m so happy. You’re the first whites to ever ride my bus!”
If you catch the bus to Boudhanath, for example, it’ll only cost you 20-40 NPR. Just listen carefully, or ask a local for the bus to “Boudha Stupa.” When the bus driver assistants yell as they hang out the bus, it sounds like “Boda boda boda boda boda.” Make sure to hop in fast!
3. Climb up to Swayambunath Temple and See the Monkeys
Entry cost: 200 NPR
Swayambunath Temple, better known as just the Monkey Temple, is a Buddhist temple with its iconic Stupa perched atop the hill overlooking Kathmandu Valley. Take the flight of stairs all the way to the top!
Swayambu has more to offer than just its dome. When you arrive, you’ll be surprised to see a whole array of hole-in-the-wall art galleries and shops, hidden plazas and statues, and more. Continue to skirt the pathway and let it lead you to quaint corners. Amid the hilltop are painted deities, small ponds, monkeys galore, and Tibetan prayer wheels.
Please remember to pack out all your trash. In fact, keep any sodas or food out of sight! I saw a monkey chase a man who was swinging his coke bottle, who got scared and dropped it. The monkey then chewed at the cap to get it open! They’re sneaky and can be aggressive if provoked!
4. Eat Dhal with Your Hands
With that being said, a typical experience to have in Kathmandu, or in Nepal in general, is to eat dhal bhat with nothing but your hands and fingers!
It is definitely strange at first, even a little messy and bizarre. But you’ll see that many local families eat this way and it is actually quite liberating from a foreigner’s perspective.
Eating dhal with your hands shouldn’t be done just anywhere, though. For example, you wouldn’t probably try this in any restaurant.
You might have to befriend a local and get invited over to their home. And even then, they’ll still likely offer you a spoon. I once asked my friend if she was “sure it was okay if I ate with my hands” in front of her and she just giggled at me.
If you ask a local about this practice, they’ll be more than likely to share their perspectives and thoughts. Nepalese love and appreciate it when you ask about their culture!
5. Observe a Ceremony & Holy Men at Pashupatinath Temple
Entry costs 1,000 NPR
Pashupatinath is another must-see temple in Kathmandu. However, this time you won’t see the painted Buddha eye’s on large domes that adorn the Buddhist Temples like Swayambunath and Boudanath.
Pashupatinath is “THE place” to see Sadhus—holy men who are typically known for their iconic ashy-white appearance and for always smoking hash.
The Pashupatinath Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, and as such, you’ll see jagged stone-cut temples with inner chambers that typically house deities and idols which devotees come to worship and give blessings to. What’s more, this sacred place sits on the holy Bagmati River, which is believed to be sacred.
Many Hindu families will cremate their dead loved ones, whose remains will be pushed into the Bagmati River. As you can imagine, the ceremony is beautiful and sacred, and should be observed with privacy should you happen to be touring the Pashupatinath Temple complex at the same time as a burial ceremony is going on.
6. Hang Out in the Garden of Dreams
Entry cost is 200 NPR
The Garden of Dreams is a retreat within the hustle and bustle of crazy Kathmandu. It sits just before you enter Thamel on the main street and offers young locals and tourists to simply lounge about on large pillows and mats on the grassy lawn.
There’s a cafe (where I ordered my first cappuccino in my entire life!), a restaurant, a fountain, and a neat and tidy lawn with animal statues and trimmed trees and bushes. It’s named the Garden of Dreams for a reason, it feels dreamy!
If you’re seeking peace and a little bit of quietness from Kathmandu, then a visit to the Garden of Dreams is just what you need.
7. Walk the Full Circle (Clockwise) Around Boudhanath Stupa
Entry costs 400 NPR
Boudhanath Stupa (Bo-da-nat) is a location I visited time and time again, either for my weekly yoga class or just to grab lunch from one of the panoramic roof-top restaurants. But that’s when you could walk in and out freely, but now you have to pay to enter.
The Buddhist dome and mandala of the Boudhanath Stupa are one of the largest, if not THE largest, in all of Nepal. In fact, thousands of monks and Buddhists from around the world come to visit the Boudha Stupa!
You’ll no doubt see several red-robed monks from surrounding monasteries touring Boudha clockwise as part of their Buddhist practice known as circumambulation—walking 3 or more times around clockwise to show respect and to remind themselves the centrality of Buddha’s teachings in their lives.
As you go to stroll around Boudha, consider walking meditatively yourself. Touching the Tibetan prayer wheels clockwise also brings good karma, and you’ll notice many monks and locals doing so as they walk.
The Boudha Stupa plaza houses a number of delightful stores, restaurants, cafes, and studios. It’s a truly special place that’s constantly in motion, yet so very tranquil. Startled pigeons speckle the sky, incense floats out from all the corners, and a constant chiming and chanting hums gently around the dome.
8. Eat at the OR2K Israeli Vegetarian Restaurant
What I’d give to eat on the floor cushions of OR2K right now! This place has the best vibes, vegetarian food, and atmosphere. It was already popular in 2015, I simply cannot imagine what it’s like now!
You have two options here. 1. Grab a mouth-watering Falafel pita on the go (on the corner), or, 2. go inside the restaurant for a backpacker’s boho atmosphere where you sit at small tables on the floor and get served trays of falafel with different types of pita, naan, hummus’ and more.
Each time we had friends or guests visit, we’d always take them here. Everyone loves it!
9. Go WWOOFing at a Local Farm
Have you ever heard of WWOOFing? If not, it stands for World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms. Basically, you can volunteer at these WWOOF locations around the world and generally get free accommodation and meals in exchange for your volunteerism and labor. In short, they’re homestays!
When Paul joined me in Kathmandu in August 2015, he started volunteering at an organic farm. It was there that he first ate dhal with locals with his hands after working in the morning on the organic farm. He slept in a tent outside and had access to the local facilities. While it probably wasn’t the best in terms of comfort, Paul always talks about it now as being one of the highlights/most memorable experiences in Kathmandu.
As always, moments with locals are usually the best encounters when traveling somewhere new anyway. So if you’re looking for off-beat things to do in Kathmandu, consider a homestay.
10. Visit the Three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley
There are three notable Durbar (Palace) Squares in the Kathmandu Valley. All three have ancient stories to tell and are classed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All were also badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake.
Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathamndu
Entry cost: 1000 Nepalese rupees
A visit to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is a must-do activity in Kathamandu. Even if you know nothing about Kathmandu’s insanely complex history, you’ll be mesmerized by the intricate designs, ancient towers, statues, and pagodas—many of which were badly damaged from the 2015 earthquake.
At the core of Kathmandu Durbar Square is the Hanuman Dhoka, the site of the Old Royal Palaces which housed kings from the Shah and Malla Dynasty. Kathmandu Durbar Square also houses the Kumari Devi, a young girl deity who is said to be the living manifestation of divine female energy.
Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur
Entry cost: 1000 NPR
Without going into too much detail, Patan Durbar Square in Lalitpur is another must-see location in Kathmandu.
There are large, 16th-century courtyards and museums, and a countless number of godly idols, artwork, statues, and wood carvings adorning the ancient stone buildings from the King Malla’s dynasty.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Bhaktapur
Entry cost: 1500 NPR
If you have time to travel to the nearby ancient city of Bhaktapur, you’ll discover one of the most prized Durbar Squares. While many of the structures were severely damaged, the tallest tower of Nyatapola Temple, with its 5-tiered stories, remained incredibly in-tact. Bhaktapur City deserves a whole day of its own to explore, so be sure to set time aside to visit.
11. Haggle (Nicely!!) with Local Shop Owners in Thamel
Haggling, or negotiating the price, in Nepal is a cultural custom. It took me many weeks to learn this, but I finally did and was able to, at one point, haggle in broken Nepali.
However, because of so many tourists warning other visitors to “only pay 1/2 or even 1/3 of the offering price” many tourists get offended at the thought of haggling. Or they often haggle to the death, leaving the shop in a fury over a meager 10 NPR.
DON’T BE THAT TOURIST!
Instead, haggling is actually a conversation and relationship between you and the shop owner. Yes, you need to be careful not to get scammed into buying shit. But you need to remember the shop owner is a human and can be negotiated with respectfully.
I once haggled over the price of a shirt for my nephew for probably 20 minutes or more. In the end, we were both smiling and laughing and we met halfway. Sometimes all they want is to just draw it to see who is going to win first!
Now, when it comes to haggling for taxi prices that’s a different story. You’ll always pay more because you’re a tourist and even after 10 months living in Kathmandu, I could barely manage to haggle down to a truly local price. So I just always took the bus!
12. Smoke at a Shisha/Hookah Bar
Whether you smoke anything or not, going to a hookah bar in Thamel is a fun way to spend the evening along with some live music.
Hookah bars in Thamel: Shisha Terrace Cafe, Buddha Bar
13. Carpool/Hitch a Ride on a Local’s Scooter
During my time in Kathmandu, there was a huge fuel crisis. Long story short, carpooling became the next best solution to people’s problems to get around. It really took off, and so many scooters and cars were asking on Facebook if anyone needed a ride.
Though I don’t suggest you just hop on anybody’s scooter, you should take up the opportunity if you happen to make friends with a local who you trust.
Riding on a scooter in Kathmandu was one of my highlights. It may sound silly until you try it!
14. Celebrate a Festival Like Tihar, Dishain, Holi, Etc.
Kathmandu comes alive during the festivals—of which there are dozens if not hundreds in just one calendar year! Some of the biggest festivals to celebrate in Kathmandu are:
Tihar – Light Festival
Tihar is a 5-day long Hindu festival that worships Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. During this celebration, people light up many lanterns and candles. The 5 days also honor crows, dogs, cows, the Newari New Year, and brothers and sisters are also celebrated.
Dashain is one of the longest Nepali festivals with celebrations taking place across 15 days. During this time, it’s very common for families to take off work or return home to be with family. And since Dashain falls in September/October, it’s the perfect time to take a trekking trip in the Himalayas.
Holi – Festival of colors
Everybody knows Holi! Holi is the festival of colors that’s become world-famous. During this day, immense crowds form in the streets and plazas to throw color powder all over each other while screaming, “Happy Holi!” Celebrating Holi in Kathmandu was one of the highlights of my time there.
15. Eats Lots and Lots of Momos!
Momos are very much a staple of the food in Kathmandu, especially comforting street food.
What are momos, you ask? They’re delicious steamed (or fried) dumplings filled with spicy cabbage, veggies, or some have chicken, pork, buffalo, mutton, etc. They come in all shapes and sometimes colors (like spinach momo).
You can’t go to Kathmandu without eating a plate of momos! You can find momos practically anywhere, but you don’t want to eat them just anywhere.
Best restaurants serving momos in Kathmandu:
- Cafe du Temple near Boudhanath Stupa (Our go-to place for momos but they are spicy!)
- Newa Momo Restaurant in downtown Thamel
- Yangling Tibetan Restaurant
- Utse Restaurant
- Alice Restaurant
Eating street food in Kathmandu isn’t for everyone. Some people get horribly sick eating street food because sanitation is less regulated and it’s just more local.
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid street food. In fact, some of the best snacks we had were street food.
There are also very highly recommended restaurants that serve momos so if you want to try them, but just not outside of one of the Bhatbhateni shopping centers, going to a restaurant is a good compromise.
16. Dive Into Thamel’s Nightclub Scene at Purple Haze
Thamel has an electric night scene! The streets empty out with tourists and the local Nepalis come out to party. I remember so many bars being jam-packed with people and the vibes were just so much fun. You can find live music playing in Thamel virtually anywhere.
But some of the best hangout spots for nightlife in Thamel were at Sam’s Bar, Purple Haze Rock Bar, Buddha Bar, Tom & Jerry’s, and Paddy Foley’s.
Local Gem: One of my favorite places to go out at night in Kathmandu that our dear friend Sanjay introduced us to was called the Lhasa Bar.
On Google Maps it’s called Lhasa Restaurant & Bar but the Lhasa Bar is on the second floor. You sit on cushions on the ground with low-tables and can order beer, shisha, and just hang out! I have such good memories from there.
17. Get Fitted for a Nepalese Kurti/Kurta
While traveling in Nepal you’ll see many women wearing kurtis or kurtas around. These are typical waist or knee-length shirts that are worn with a pair of matching pants or leggings.
I got fitted for a kurti for the Teej Festival in Kathmandu and it was so much fun picking out my top and then getting it custom tailored. And as you can guess, it doesn’t cost but just a couple of dollars to get fitted. Men can get a kurta as well!
18. Write on the Wall at Sam’s Bar (And Grab a Drink)
Going out for drinks in the pubs around Kathmandu should be on your bucket list, along with eating momos, riding a local bus, and all that.
I highlight Sam’s Bar because this bar has a special atmosphere where a ton of backpackers and locals go to hang out or get drinks.
Also, you’ll notice Sam’s Bar is covered in writing from all of its visitors! It’s kinda a must-do when you end up at Sam’s. Reading all of the comments are so entertaining, too.
If you do go to Sam’s, look for the quote that I wrote in the back right corner in big letters! It reads,
“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”
It came to me at a time that I needed it when I was dealing with corruption and patriarchy from the institution I was working at at the time.
19. Discover the Royal Family’s Bloody Past at Narayanhity Palace Museum
Entrance fee costs 500 NPR
The royal family of Nepal once lived and thrived in the Narayanhity Palace. At least until the 2001 Nepalese Royal Massacre in which ten members of the royal family were shot down during a mass shooting by Prince Diprenda.
Still today, the rumors surrounding the massacre divide some Nepalis. Many believe it was the jealous prince who wanted to become the king who ended up dying days later in a coma. But who really knows!
20. Shop for These Iconic Nepalese Souvenirs
Before you leave Kathmandu, make sure to pick up some iconic Nepalese souvenirs. If you didn’t get to shop around in Thamel before, make sure to carve out time to do so.
Specifically, look around for these typical souvenirs that are reminiscent of the Nepali culture!
Traveler’s Tip: Spread your wealth at several small shops rather than at one big souvenir shop. I usually look for certified fair-trade stores that have give-back programs like Local Women’s Handicrafts which sells handicrafts made by women to support women. Definitely make a stop by their store when shopping for souvenirs in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is teeming with pashmina scarves. With that being said, don’t buy just any you see. Check for quality as there are many knock-off scarves.
Nepali / Tibetan prayer flags
Grab a handful of colorful Tibetan prayer flags on your shopping-spree in Kathmandu. Not only are they affordable, but buying in bulk will also probably land you a fair discount. Plus, they make the best gifts as they’re extremely lightweight!
Tiger balm is pretty popular throughout Asia in general. And that’s not any different in Nepal. Tiger balm is used for achy joints and pains. It’s small and handy as a souvenir to take home.
Loose-leaf tea or spices
Nepal is a country of spices, aromas, incense, teas, you name it! There’s a couple of tea shops in Thamel like Teafresho and Nepali Tea Coffee & Spice Shop that sell a wide variety of black, green, and white teas.
I also took home a handmade tiny backpack, several t-shirts, shoes, earrings, a lantern, pashminas, flags, and loads more. But then again, I stayed for a year so I gathered all this overtime. 🙂
Recap of Prices for Each Heritage Site
To recap on the prices for each heritage site, here’s a table listing the most updated prices for international tourists (foreign nationals). Prices are current via WelcomeNepal.
[su_list icon=”icon: rupee”]
- 200 npr Swayambunath Monkey Temple
- 200 npr Garden of Dreams
- 400 npr Boudhanath Stupa
- 500 npr Narayanhity Palace Museum
- 1,000 npr Pashupatinath Hindu Temple
- 1,000 npr Kathmandu Durbar Square
Wrapping Up: Best Things to Do in Kathmandu, Nepal
As you can see, Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu is on the rise of becoming a #1 adventurer’s destination! With so many things to do including rich cultural experiences to share in, it’s no doubt it’ll continue to gain in popularity. I just can’t wait to get back to Kathmandu for even more adventures!
Thanks for reading and I hope enjoyed this ultimate Kathmandu bucket list for things to do and see! I poured my heart into writing it so I’d so greatly appreciate any reshares, pins, or comments!