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Guide to Kathmandu City

Ancient streets, temples, cultures and traditions mixed with the gateway to the himalayas
Updated: January 8th 2018 | Nepal travel guides

My Rating:4.7  
must see highlights - map - itineraries - accommodation
Download my guidebook to Kathmandu (great for tablets, phones, laptops or print)

About Kathmandu city

Kathmandu city is over 2,000 years old resting 1,400 meters (4,600 ft) above sea level within a valley surrounded by four mountains. The city was once one of three royal city's that made up the Kathmandu Valley. This valley is historically important as it was once known as being "all of Nepal".

The city is a blend of ancient Newari, Hindu and Buddhist architecture, narrow streets, temples along with a developing sector of larger roads and modern buildings.

The population of Kathmandu city numbers well over 2 million and it's a largely Hindu population followed by Buddhist though Newari people were the first to settle there.

The 2015 earthquake took its toll on the city. However infrastructure and tourist services are running as normal.

Did you know?

The name "Kathmandu" came from a former wooden building in Durbar Square called Kasthamandap. Which in Sanskrit is Kastha (काष्ठ<) meaning "wood" and Mandap (मंडप/मण्डप) which means "covered shelter."

Kathmandu city is over two thousand years old. The first recorded building was in 185 A.D. However there are ancient legends dating further back when Kathmandu was only a lake called Nagdaha.

Throughout this guide to Kathmandu city are several more detailed travel guides to individual sights such as the popular tourist areas of the city like Thamel & Kathmandu Durbar Square. Individual sights like the monkey temple or day activities like Kathmandu heritage walks. For day trips out of the city do see my online guide to the Kathmandu Valley.

For more details, maps and things to do I highly recommend my Kathmandu city guidebook.

Must see highlights in Kathmandu City

There's lots to see and do in Kathmandu city and around the Kathmandu Valley. It's often a lot faster to see the city by walking so after looking through these highlights do see my suggested travel itineraries.

  • Get to grips with making your way around Thamel, the hustling and bustling tourist district of Kathmandu city filled with souvenir stores, hotels and cafes.
  • Visit the near never ending amount of trekking gear stores and Nepalese woollen craft stores. Most are located in Thamel but the local ones are near Ason Chowk and Indra Chowk.
  • Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of the oldest squares in the world.
  • Take a break and chill in 60s style Freak Street.
  • Climb the full 365 steps to the top of Swayambhunath also known as the monkey temple.
  • Visit the King's former palace which is now a museum.
  • Shop along Kings Road for designer goods and some Nepalese star spotting.
  • Visit one of the monasteries around the city.
  • Stop at the many smaller temples and stupas around Kathmandu city like Kathesimbhu Stupa.
  • Visit Boudhanath one of the worlds largest stupas.
  • Eat until you can eat no more in the massive array of restaurants and cafes around the city.
  • Take a taxi (or long walk) out to Pashupatinath to see the burning ghats.
  • Take a free old city heritage walk in Kathmandu
  • Though technically just outside of Kathmandu city you can also easily reach the Newari townships of Gokarna and Kirtipur.

For more, check out things to do in Kathmandu.

Arriving into Kathmandu City

Kathmandu city is serviced by Tribhuvan international airport. This airport also serves as its domestic terminal. This is also where there are flights departing for Everest view flights and flights to Lukla.

For a detailed description on what it's like arriving here check out my blog post about arriving into Kathmandu airport.

For those traveling by land check out my overland guide to Nepal.

If flying from outside Nepal save some time and check out the new flight routes and rates using my search tool below:

Try my custom flight search for the lowest priced flights to and from Nepal!

Eating out in Kathmandu City

Most of the good restaurants catering to tourists are located in Thamel. Please see my guide to Thamel for details on the recommended places to eat in Kathmandu.

Likewise if you'd like to see what type of food you'll be eating in Kathmandu check out my series on food in Nepal.

Many types of food are available in Kathmandu city restaurants from continental cuisine, Chinese, Tibetan and of course local dishes.

Coffeehouses and cafes are becoming more popular in Kathmandu do check out the best places to get a coffee in Nepal. For tea lovers here's the best place to buy tea in Nepal.

Street food is not recommended in Kathmandu! Though plentiful the little pushcarts filled with barbecue meats are not at all sterile. Local food is better eaten at a mid level or budget restaurant. If you do try to eat at a food cart then make sure they cook the food very well and it's very hot when you get it! Check out my Thamel guide for some recommendations otherwise They are all listed and reviewed in my guidebook to Kathmandu city.

Travel Tips for Kathmandu city

Traffic is crazy

with very little concern for rules of the road. Where possible walk (with caution) or take a taxi. There are old rickshaws for hire if you wish to be environmentally friendly!

The one positive aspect in all this is that in late 2017/18 parts of Thamel were made vehicle free. It means a more leisurely walking experience in this area.

Hopefully the old city will one day be vehicle free too. Meanwhile, Saturdays are quietest if you want to take a heritage walk.

Wear a dust mask

Pollution is high in Kathmandu so many people where face masks to protect against high levels of dust and pollution (especially in the dry season). These are available in most supermarkets in Thamel. Avoid the surgical masks as they do little. Purchase one that covers your nose and mouth completely. Yes, you might look strange but it will protect you from heavy dust particles which can lead to respiratory infections.

Electricity blackouts

Electricity shortages are frequent and is known as Load shedding. In 2016 load shedding was greatly reduced, but don't expect it to always be there. If charging batteries is important to you then choose a hotel with a working generator. Bring a torch (head torch is good) and don't get frustrated. There's a load shedding time table printed every week if things get bad again. Otherwise you can download an app with loadshedding timetables.

Bad Internet

Kathmandu's internet is very slow. Though many guest houses and hotels promise 24 hour Wifi it rarely works. When it does, the internet is woefully slow. The best option for those who need to be connected is to purchase an NCELL sim card which has data packages up to 10GB. It's still not going to be super fast though. Do read my guide to WiFi and Internet in Nepal for more.

Personal safety in Kathmandu

Kathmandu and Nepal as a whole are very safe city's. While India has a bad reputation among solo travelers and women, Nepal's reputation is very safe. Most thefts happen in budget backpacker hostels among travellers themselves!

Solo female travel in Kathmandu

Solo female travelers to Kathmandu will be glad to know it's a very safe city for traveling in. It's a conservative society so just like men shouldn't wear "short shorts" or revealing clothes women shouldn't either. Feminine hygiene products (pads) are easily available in Kathmandu but tampons are hard to get. Women should be careful about Casanova like Nepali men who do try very hard to charm the ladies! It's not dangerous per se, but broken hearts are commonplace these days. Do read my guides on solo travel in Nepal and solo female travel in Nepal.

Travel out of Kathmandu

Do read each section of this travel guide to Nepal for transport to different areas of Nepal. Meanwhile for the most popular route there's a guide on how to take a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.

Accommodation in Kathmandu can be good no matter what people say

Over the years Thamel has gotten a bad reputation for being a noisy dirty place to stay in. The truth is there are many really good places to stay in Thamel for budget, mid-level and high-end accommodation. No matter where you are in Nepal most budge and mid range hotels struggle with international standards.

Noise is an issue if your room faces the main road. So do ask for a room not facing the main road! Dog's barking at night is an issue everywhere in Nepal. The more remote the area the worse it seems to get. Thamel is actually quieter than most.

There are other areas you can stay than Thamel. Paknajol is blossoming into a new accommodation zone. The Freak Street area south of Durbar Square has several good budget options while many people often choose to stay in Bhaktapur!

Do see my pages on accommodation in Kathmandu for more.

Bad roads are everywhere in Kathmandu

Nepal suffers from terrible infrastructure an bad roads. Many are not sealed and very dusty - hence the need for dust masks. There's not getting around any of this other than to leave early in the morning if you are taking a trip somewhere. There are new taxis in Kathmandu and old Suzukis, though they won't like it you can ask the new taxis to turn on the air-conditioning - they'll probably add a surcharge to this!

Don't hire a bicycle unless you are going out to the Kathmandu Valley

Hiring out a bicycle in Kathmandu city is not a good idea. The pollution plus the bad roads and crazy traffic can make it incredibly stressful, unhealthy and borderline dangerous. Save the bicycle idea for getting out into the countryside on a mountain bike!

Two tier pricing or over charging is normal

Kathmandu has a barter system that's been around for thousands of years. Just because someone gives you a price doesn't mean it's the actual price. This is very true in Kathmandu's souvenir stores. Shop in a few and get a rough price, or shop in a place you don't plan to buy and see how far they will bargain down. The one exception to this is taking things too far. Post 2015 earthquake many stores are just trying to break even and sell at cost. If you feel something is priced too low or the person is struggling then why not offer a better price.

Kathmandu's taxis have a meter but they don't use them

Don't bother asking for a taxi to put on the meter. Though it is a legal requirement for a taxi to have a meter none of them actually "use" the meter. If by some miracle you do come across a taxi who will use it the cost will be a lot more than that bargaining method. To take a taxi simply ask them how much? If you don't know the prices ask at your hotel the approximate price to a destination before leaving. Then decline your hotels offers to get you a taxi because it too will be inflated. Just get the price, go outside, flag down a little white Suzuki taxi and ask them. Now do some math and figure out who is cheaper? The hotel price taxi or the taxi in front of you. If there's a huge difference bargain your taxi price down.

Free things to do in Kathmandu

Many people don't realize it but there are lots of free things to do in Kathmandu. While popular attractions like Durbar Square, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath all charge entry fees there are so many places that don't. Do see my heritage walks in Kathmandu page as an example of things to see and do that don't cost a thing. Likewise places like Kirtipur have no charges at all.

Map of Kathmandu city

In the map below I've marked out the main highlights of Kathmandu city. See the recommended itineraries below for more.

More maps: Here are some much more detailed and dedicated maps for places around Kathmandu city:

Kathmandu city travel itineraries

What to do in Kathmandu city? Walking day trips to week long stays here are my recommendations.

One-day itinerary for Kathmandu city

Only got one day in Kathmandu city? Make the most of it with a few well placed taxi rides. Wake early to hearty breakfast of Nepalese pancakes to fill you up. Depending on where you are either walk or take a taxi to Swayambhunath monkey temple, avoid shopping at the top just enjoy the view on a fine day. Making your way back down the steps hail a taxi to Durbar Square for a few hours of temple spotting. Enjoy a traditional lunch of Dal Bhat to keep your energy levels up. Now experience Kathmandu city by taking a walk back to Thamel. Stop along the way at the countless souvenir stores selling everything from paintings, to singing bowls and trinkets. Wind off your evening with either a light meal of Nepalese momos or take in a massive Everest Steak. For a late evening try out one of the many live bands in Thamel that seem to have been playing the same tunes since the 80's.

Two-day itinerary for Kathmandu city

With an extra day you can fit in a lot more. Enjoy a more leisurely version of the one-day itinerary spending more time in Durbar Square by visiting the museum there, or the side temples and markets surrounding it. On the way back to Thamel stop off at the many smaller stupas along the way such as Kathesimbhu Stupa. On your second day enjoy a slap up bacon and egg breakfast with Nepalese hash browns - it's the most filling breakfast in the country. Bargain well with a taxi for a trip out to Pashupatinath. While you are not allowed into the main temple, you can wander around the burning ghats and other temples in the area. Mixed this in with mysterious sadhu holy men known to hang out there - it's a good trip. Grab a taxi and head straight out to Boudhanath stupa which is relatively nearby. Enjoy another lunch of dal bhat but try to find some royal curd for dessert if possible. Then spend some time exploring the stupa and Thamang Monastery opposite it before taking a taxi or if adventurous a micro van back to Thamel for the evening.

Three-day itinerary for Kathmandu city

You'll have plenty of time to get everything in. Try the one and two day itineraries. On your third day try an Everest mountain view flight in the morning. Book these flights the day before and be prepared for a cancellation due to weather just in case. You should be back by lunch-time so treat yourself in Thamel before winding off your day with some last minute shopping for cashmere, kukri knives or singing bowls.

What to do in Kathmandu with additional days?

Got more time to spare around Kathmandu city? Great, it's time to venture out into Kathmandu Valley. Spend a day or more in Bhaktapur or spend a full day out in Patan. For those who want to explore a little bit more try a quick trip to Kirtipur just 20 mins from the city or for a full day trip try visiting Panauti.

Take some Kathmandu city tours

If time is against you or you want to plan ahead it's worth noting that Kathmandu has plenty of tours originating from it. Do check out this list of adventure tours in Nepal.

Accommodation in Kathmandu city

I've written up a dedicated page to recommended accommodation in Kathmandu city from budget to luxury class hotels and the districts to find them in. Meanwhile if you'd like a quick search try my search tool here to find the best rates:

Search for Hotels in Kathmandu

To see individual hotel reviews, user ratings and pricing visit my dedicated page on hotels and guest houses in Kathmandu City

Download my guidebook to Kathmandu City

Liked this page? You'll love my book! It's a guidebook that's better than the rest. Yes, really! In it I cover all of Kathmandu cities attractions (including Durbar Square) with well researched information, photographs and travel tested walking tours.

It's an interactive & printable guidebook like no other.

Kathmandu city travel guidebook
Find out more!


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Kathesimbhu stupa in Kathmandu City

Kathesimbhu Stupa in Kathmandu City
Click photo to see a larger photograph of the Kathesimbhu Stupa!
Big photo of the way to Everest Base Camp sign Take a boat ride on the Rapti River in Chitwans jungle Nepal Om mani padme hum written onto stone Streets of Kathmandu
Huge photo of a Baby Elephant in Chitwan Learn more about Nepalese food starting with Dhal Bhat Visit the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple with this free guide See a huge photo of Mount Everest

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Full guide:
» Guide to Patan    
Central Patan
  - Patan Durbar Square
 South Patan
  - Mahaboudha Temple
  - Uku Bahal
  - Machchhendranath temple
North Patan
  - The Golden Temple
  - Kumbeshwar Temple Complex
West Patan
  - The Kumari Living Goddess
East Patan
  - The Balkumari Temple

Make the most out of your journey:
» Get my full guidebook to Patan!


Full guide:
» Guide to Bhaktapur City
Inside Bhaktapur city:  
» Guide to Bhaktapur Durbar Square
  - Erotic Elephants Temple (Shiva Parvati)
  - Basantapur Chowk (Sculptures)
  - National Art Gallery / Museum
  - The Golden Gate (Sundhoka)
  - Taleju Temple (Mul Chowk)
  - Naga Pokhari 
55 Window Palace
  - Siddhi Lakshmi
  - Stone Lions
  - Pashupatinath Temple (Bhaktapur)
  - Vatsala Durga Temple & Taleju Bell
  - Chyasalin Mandap
Near Durbar Square
» Taumadhi Square
» Pottery Square
» Dattatreya Square
Just outside Bhaktapur
» Kailashnath Mahadev (Tallest Shiva statue)
» Nagarkot

Like to know more?
» Get my full guidebook to Bhaktapur!

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The Sadhus are real life holy men that wander throughout Kathmandu city and Nepal. There's bright colorful body painting is just one curiosity that will intrigue you as much as their lifestyle read more ... Street Children in Kathmandu
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