Staying in Kathmandu? Check out our top 20 hostels in Kathmandu!
When I was younger I used to think that Kathmandu didn’t actually exist. I thought it was a place people refereed to only conceptually, like it was to world geography what “Umpteen” is to numbers. I guess I just found the name too fucking ridiculous to be real (I mean come on, Cat-Man-Do!) and the potential for punning is just endless (and yet the best I came up with was “Things To Do In Kathmandu”)!
Fast forward twenty years and countless miles travelled and not only do I now know that yes, Katmandu does exist, but also that its quite a funky place to spend a bit of time. We here at The Broke Backpacker have now clocked up quite a bit of time in Nepal’s capital so we know.
Perched at an elevation of 1,400m and set at the foot of the Himalayas, Nepal’s capital city offers an insight into Nepal’s history (with its ancient temples, monuments and palaces), its present (with its bustling downtown street life) and its future (through evidence of the constant development).
Contrary what you may have heard Kathmandu was not devastated by the 2015 earthquake. There are some visible signs of damage such as bent telegraph poles and a few collapsed buildings but by far the biggest sign of the earthquake’s devastation is the tent cities which have sprung up on playing fields and riversides to accommodate the refugees from the mountain areas which were far worsely affected. The city is very much as open for business as it ever was.
So without further ado let’s take a look at our list of things to do in Kathmandu!
Thamel is a neighbourhood of Kathmandu which has firmly established itself as the centre of tourism in the city and therefore rightfully earns its place on our list of things to do in Kathmandu. There are an abundance of guesthouses in the area and the chances are you that you will end up sleeping here. In addition to been a place to crash though, Thamel has now grown into something of an attraction in itself as there are numerous travel agents, some even arranging Tibet tours, cafe’s, bars and touristy shops and you could easily spend a day or two here strolling around, planning your trekking and buying souvenirs.
There are lodgings and eateries here to suit all budgets. A private room can cost you between 600 – 1500+ and a meal plus (non-alcoholic) drink will range from 300rps for a Daal Bhaat up to 1000Rps if you want something fancier.
Bartering is absolutely essential here whether for rooms, souvenirs trekking gear and taxi’s as trader’s here tend to particularly over inflate the prices. (Be sure to check out our full bartering guide here). As a general rule, your first offer should behalf of the vendor’s opening price and then work from there. However, on several occasions I found the vendors in Thamel to be so, erm, over-ambitious that I even had to shave 0’s of their initial figures. It really does pay to shop around here as you will regularly be quoted price differences up to 100% for the exact same item.
Shop keeper’s, taxi driver’s and street peddlers can be very annoying in Thamel although I did not ever find them intimidating. Don’t be afraid to be assertive say; “No!” like you mean it and be frank as this will save you a lot of time.
Kathmandu Valley Tour
Aside from the occasional medieval courtyard, shrine or lion statue, Kathmandu itself isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing. However, there are a number of sites of historic interest within a short distance of the centre so you can add sightseeing and culture to your itinerary of things to do in Kathmandu.
Patan and Bhaktapur
Patan is located a mere 8km of Kathmandu and was once an independent kingdom is in its own right before been drafted into the kingdom of Nepal in 1768. The Durbar Square is rightfully a UNESCO World heritage site. The temples and palaces here showcase some fantastic wood carvings depicting scenes from the Hindu & Buddhist epics.
Entrance is 500Rps although to be quite honest I think it would be quite easy not to pay as locals seem to cut across the square with no hassle. Just be mindful that your entry fee is going towards the essential maintenance and reparation of these ancient structures.
You should also be sure to seek out The Kumari of Patan (Living Goddess, a pre-pubescent child believed to be the mortal embodiment of the sacred feminine) for a blessing. Ask the locals to direct you by asking “Kumari?”.
Patan can be reached by bus from Thamel (30rps) or taxi (don’t pay more than 300rps each way and aim for less).
Bhaktapur located 13km from Kathmandu was once the capital of Nepal. Again, there are old temples and government centres and some stunning squares. This is a great place to stop for lunch as many of the rooftop cafe’s overlook the square. Of course, if you do dine here you will be paying for prime location so lunch may cost you twice what it would back in Thamel. It’s your choice.
Access to Bhaktapur is 50rps by bus and entrance to the site 1500rps which is quite expensive. If you are on a budget then I would elect to get your cultural fix and photo fodder from Patan instead.
Tragically, both Patan and Bhaktapur were damaged by the 2015 earthquake as their ancient structures were just not built to withstand those kinds of violent tremors. However, whilst the earthquake damage is visible both places are still utterly stunning and provide plenty of photo ops.
The Kathmandu area has three temples worth your time;
Swayambhnath is built on the site on one of the oldest religious structures in Nepal initially dating from 5AD. It’s a Buddhist stupa which is now home to hundreds of baboons hence its nickname. Swayambnath is a great place from which to watch the sunset. It is within walking distance of Thamel or 50rps by pedal rickshaw (though you will have to climb the hill yourself).
Pashupatinath is Nepal’s premier Hindu temple as well as the oldest in Kathmandu. The front end of the complex can be skipped in my opinion because you will have to remove your shoes and walk across dirty, hot floor stones only to find the Golden temple closed to non-Hindus anyway.
The back end is a complex of mini ashram’s where you will find beggars, baboons and holy men charging for photographs. There is also a collection of funeral pyres here and if you wait around you can witness a Hindu funeral and burning.
The temple can be reached from Thamel by bus (30rps) or taxi (pay no more than 200rps each way). Entrance is 1000rps and remember the golden temple itself is only open to Hindu’s.
Boudnath is another Buddhist stupa and the surrounding area has become the home of Nepal’s Tibetan exile population. The area immediately surrounding the Stupa is a pleasant, circular marketplace now populated by restaurants, cafes and little souvenir shops where the vendors don’t hassle you quite as much as they do back in Thamel.
The Boudnath can be reached by bus for 30rps or taxi (200rps). Entrance is a refreshing 350Rps.
The Kathmandu valley and sights can easily be seen in a day if you plan correctly and know where you are going. Your biggest danger will be getting lost or stuck on buses so for that reason it may be worth arranging a driver either by booking out a taxi for the day (be very clear about itinerary, price and don’t pay until they drop you off back home) or by booking a valley tour through a reputable travel agent.
Where to stay
There are innumerable guesthouses, hotels and hostels in Kathmandu spanning all ranges of price, quality and cleanliness. Most are situated in Thamel which is a convenient location to base yourself. Popular hostels include Firefly’s and Alobar 1000 although both are somewhat overpriced. Good guesthouses are Puskar for a budget option and Om Tara for something nicer.
Bars and Restaurants
There is no shortage of eating and drinking options throughout the city and you may even be overwhelmed by the choice. However, most are pretty similar and will offer a selection of traditional Nepalese & Indian food along with Chowmein, Pasta, Pizza and Burgers. The food is generally of a pretty similar standard and most of the vast differences in prices you will see tend to reflect the location and presentation of the diner rather than the quality of the fayre. Our pick in Thamel is the legendary Western Tandori for Indian Food, Potali Kitchen for Nepalese and Or2K for something more western and pricey.
Alcohol is widely available throughout the city but is comparatively expensive. You can buy bottles or can’s of beer for 200 – 250rps in stores and supermarkets and will pay 350 – 400rps in a bar or restaurant. The Nepalese brands are actually pretty good (my pick is Nepal Ice) and far superior to the Tuborg and Carlsberg which traders will presume you want. Most beers come in two strengths, “Premium” which is around 5% and “Strong” which is 8% and is strongly advised against.
Bar and clubbing culture hasn’t really caught on in Nepal yet and whilst there are a number of bars and late cafe’s around Thamel these are primarily targeted at Westerners. Seek our Purple Haze to see Nepalese covers bands. The notable exception is the phenomenon of the “Dance Bar” which is the local answer to a strip club.
Staying in Kathmandu? Check out our top 20 hostels in Kathmandu!
Top 7 Things to Do
Whilst Kathmandu is Nepal’s largest city, with a population of only 2.5 million it is hardly a sprawling metropolis. Therefore if you are short on time most of its attractions can be taken in in one long day especially if you book a valley tour where a guide will taxi you straight to and from the various sights.
Your time in Kathmandu should begin with a wander around your neighbourhood (presuming you are staying there) and some bartering for souvenirs. Remember to carefully check the quality of items (zips and buttons on clothes etc) and drive a hard bargain to ensure the best bang for your buck.
2. Patan Square
Take a trip to Patan Square and watch the morning sun play on the square as school kids hurry along for their day’s lessons. Bring some seed to feed the birds, it’s good karma.
The Hindu temple. By this time the afternoon will have made the stones hot so consider skipping the front end and head straight for the funeral pyres and ashrams. You will be almost certain to catch a cremation. Remember to bring some small value notes to give as alms for the needy and to the Sadhu’s if you want to take their photograph (barter with them as you would a taxi driver).
4. Monkey Temple
The monkey temple is by far the best place to catch the sunset from. The monkey’s themselves can be territorial and don’t seem all that afraid of humans so either keep your distance or bring a stick!
5. Food and Drinks
By now night will have fallen. Head back to Thamel for some cheap eats in any of the many restaurants, cafe’s and bars. If you have the appetite we recommend Dal Bhat, Nepal’s national dish which is a bottomless platter of rice, curry and sauce. Be sure to wash it down with a cold Nepal Ice (premium not strong).
The Hindu festival of Holi occurs annually usually around March. It is essentially a giant orgy or powdered paint throwing where even foreigners are welcome to join in. If you can make your trip to Kathmandu coincide with Holi then be sure to.
There are a growing number of volunteering projects in and around Kathmandu and these have swollen since the earthquake in 2015 which forced countless refugees to descend from the hills and set up camp in Kathmandu’s plains, playing fields and riversides. As ever, we advise that you research any project as thoroughly as you can especially if you are been asked to hand over money.
As we said, there is a Kathmandu to suit all budgets. Our price guide though reflects The Broke Backpacker ethos of foregoing all unnecessary luxuries and paying no more than is absolutely necessary.
Accommodation – 300rps for a dorm bed or 700rps for a basic single room.
Food – Budget 500rps a day for 3 meals and make the most of this by having a filling Dal Bhat for lunch (200rps) and getting momo’s of the street (60rps) as a later snack.
Souvenirs – Allow yourself 800rps to pick up the obligatory “I love Nepal” T-shirt as well as some local arts and crafts.
Tours – By far your biggest expense. Entry into the attractions will set you back nearly 4,500rps and the cost of hiring a driver for the day the same again. Split the driver’s cost by sharing with other travellers and consider skipping Bhaktapur as the architectural styles are similar to Patan which is both cheaper to enter and nearer to Thamel.
Well, that’s our full round up of things to do in Kathmandu. If you lucky enough to find yourself in Nepal be sure to tp follow our itinerary and let us know what you think. Was it helpful? Did we miss anything? Either way, we are sure you will agree that there truly is much ado in Kathmandu!
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