Kathmandu is the gateway to Nepal, boasting a vibrant city center that’s alive with history, heritage and culture. Nepal’s capital was once thought to be the fabled Shangri-La, and is one of the top legendary destinations for visitors from around the world. This treasure trove of Nepalese culture is a hub not just for international travelers, but for religious pilgrims and adventure-hungry explorers as well.
The Royal Palace, converted into the Narayanhiti Palace Museum, is a great place to start a learning tour of Nepal. The palace is located across the street from Durbar Square, an area of temples, idols, open courts and water fountains that’s well worth a visit. Some facets of Durbar Square date back to the 12th century! Pashupatinath Temple, the country’s most important Hindu temple, is located on the banks of the Bagmati River. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Shivaratri festival takes place each year. The Boudhanath Stupa is another world heritage site, being the largest stupa in Nepal, as well as the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. The Garden of Dreams is a neoclassical garden that encapsulates the serenity and beauty of Kathmandu. The attraction is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. In complete contrast to the peaceful garden, Asan Tole is the busiest square in the city. Asan Tole is a great site to get a feel for the local culture, and the place to go for interesting eats, from foreign spices to yak tails to fresh coconuts.
The Himalaya mountain range spans five countries including Nepal. A trip to Everest base camp isn’t for everyone, but the two-week trek is the most popular mountain activity for thrill seekers. For those looking for a shorter adventure trip, a seven to ten day trek will get you to Annapurna base camp. More of the regional flora and fauna can be found in Langtang, Nepal’s first Himalayan National Park. Langtang is the third most popular trekking site, after Everest and Annapurna, for good reason. Visitors might spot red pandas, Himalayan Tahrs and even the occasional Yeti, if lucky. For peace and quiet outside the city, head for the town of Bhaktapur, located 10 kilometers from Kathmandu. There’s a “no car” rule inside the town center, and tourists must pay an entrance fee to enter Bhaktapur.
However, the town’s varied temples, timeless aura and exquisite architecture are more than enough reasons for visitors to set up camp in Bhaktapur, and take day trips into Kathmandu instead. Cross the Bagmati River into Patan, you’ll find the region with the greatest concentration of temples per square meter than either Kathmandu or Bhaktapur. Here, you’ll find an assortment of interesting attractions, from the Golden Temple, with golden tortoises in the courtyard, to the seated Buddha, which dates back to the 12th century.
Travelers will find a large selection of accommodations in the Thamel and Durbar Marg neighborhoods. Hotels on Durbar Marg tend to be more upscale than lodging sites in Thamel. But visitors may find a surprising variety of low budget options. There are a number of guesthouses with opportunities to sample local cuisine: a cozy guesthouse that offers cooking classes, a hostel with a rooftop restaurant and a dormitory that arranges local trips to the local food market. If your budget allows a bit more flexibility, you might want to consider some of Nepal’s landmark accommodations. Staying at a hotel built on the site of an old palace might be just the treat you need.
There’s only one international airport in Nepal, called Trubhuvan International Airport, located 5.5 kilometers east of the Thamel neighborhood. From the airport, you can take a regular taxi, prepaid taxi or bus to get to your next destination. Some hotels offer airport pickups that can be prearranged. For traveling in the city, tourists can hire rickshaws or taxis. Buses are another option, especially for longer trips within Kathmandu Valley.
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