Old Durbar Square
This square is full of fascinating temples and palaces. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the center of many festivals. Check out the Kathmandu Durbar Square Museum. There are many temples to visit, but do not miss the architecturally interesting three-roofed Taleju Temple, which is one of the oldest in this area.
This is where most of the tourists, hostels, bars, Internet cafés and restaurants are. There’s food from everywhere in the world. As Nepal is a coffee producing country, you can find some excellent coffee here even though the locals are famous for drinking tea. Try Nepali beer Chang and wine Raksi.
When it comes to shopping, you’ll find some tiger palm, hemp clothing, silks and cashmere scarves, hippie stuff and mountaineering equipment. Travelers also buy carpets and rugs, surprisingly electronics is reasonable priced here. However, don’t get stuck in Thamel, there’s more interesting sites to explore!
Nearby King’s palace there is a peaceful and well-restored Garden of Dreams; a perfect place to take it easy.
To get a nice view of the city go to Swayambunath, which is only about a 20 min walk from Thamel. There’s an entrance fee, but it’s worth paying for. Only 8 km from Thamel, in altitude of 1420 meters, is Chobhar village and here you’ll get impressive views of Kathmandu Valley.
Freak Street is a popular remnant from the hippie days and it runs south from Basantapur Square. Here you’ll find some restaurants, cheap hostels and small shops offering products for your enlightenment.
The great Boudha Stupa is a real gem in Kathmandu. It is one of the most sacred sites for Tibetan Buddhism and by far worth a visit. The area consists of many Buddhist temples with Tibetan monks and nuns chanting mantras. The smell of incense is mesmerizing. A respectful way is to walk clockwise around the Stupa. You’ll feel the strong Tibetan and Sherpan cultural presence mixing to Himalayan. Try Tibetan specialities such as Momos and thukpa sold at restaurants and get some well-made handcrafts. Near Boudha Stupa is the beautiful Shechen Monastery with nice garden restaurant and a guesthouse.
Pashupatinath is an important temple to Shiva in the form of Lord of Animals. Head to this mystical place in the morning and be prepared to see some monkeys.
For trips to nearby areas, check out the Royal Chitwan National Park, where you’ll experience the jungle lowlands of the country.
Nagarkot lies in 2000m altitude and is located 30 km from Kathmandu. It is a perfect getaway from the city’s hustle and the sunrise never feels as touching as seen from here.
Festivals not to be missed
Most of the festivals are held in Durbar Square. Festival of Holi in March is really messy with color powder and water everywhere. The Festival of Lights, Tihar or Dipawali isa five-day Hindu festival, which takes place each year around the end of October and the start of November. The celebration consists of lanterns, candles, and fireworks. Bikram New Year's is in April and this is a day of pilgrimages. Harvest festival of Indra Jatra is 8 days each September. The women's festival Teej, is in September where unmarried women and girls stay up all night to celebrate and pray for their future husbands, while the married ones get dressed in their red marriage saris and visit their male relatives.
Kathmandu is a starting point for many adventurers. There’s a variety of agencies from where you can book extreme sports trips e.g. canoeing, trekking, rafting, jungle hikes etc. done in other areas of the country.
To get some impressive views without more demanding trek, you can always take a few days walking trip to see the Himalayas. Good destination is a walk to Nagarkot.
If you want to strengthen your mind and body, there are many yoga and meditation institutes. You can also learn Buddhism or just take massages.
To make the navigation more exciting, you’ll notice the lack of street names in most parts. If you ask, you’ll get advised by some landmarks like Thamel district or the Kathmandu Guest House.
Explore the city by walking or taking a bicycle driven rickshaw ride from Thamel. Taxis are available in major streets. Remember to agree on a price beforehand.
For tours to nearby areas, hire a car with a driver. There’s no train network, but you can use buses, they’re cheap and run to nearly all parts of the country. Check if the bus company is safe, because some of them are pretty dangerous. Delays are common, thanks to poor roads.
Bus connections run between India Delhi, Varanasi, Gorakpur, Lucknow as well as parts of Nepal such as National Park of Royal Chitwan and trekking hubs of Pokhara, Langtang and Jiri. Buses arriving from the Indian border, Pokhara and Chitwan stop at the bus station at Balaju at north or Kalanki at the south of the city. This is because buses are not allowed to enter the city due to traffic congestion. Kathmandu’s airport is the country’s only international airport.
Kathmandu is a relatively safe city. However, the military conflicts between the government and Maoist ended only in 2006, and the stability of the whole country is vague. Avoid any public demonstrations. It is recommended to follow the news. Violent crime towards tourists is not common, but be aware of pickpockets, and avoid walking alone after dark.
Check out current road conditions before leaving the city. And watch out the water in Kathmandu, it’s nearly lethal!