Most travelers to Nepal choose to visit the country for the culture and some of the world’s best outdoor experiences. And, while Kathmandu is worth a visit in itself, many visitors simply spend a night or two here before taking off to other areas of Nepal. At least, this is what we did when we came to Kathmandu. While I was looking forward to getting out of the city and seeing the rest of the country, I still felt that 24 hours was just enough time to scratch the surface of Kathmandu.
If, like me, you’re only going to be in Kathmandu for a short time, here’s what you can do to maximize your day, especially if you’re not too familiar with the city.
WHERE TO STAY
For our one-night stay in Kathmandu, we slept at Traditional Comfort. Though it’s a little outside Thamel, it’s only a 30-minute walk, which is actually makes for a pleasant stroll. You can also take taxis around town, as well as cycle rickshaws for short distances from Thamel, but walking is ideal.
This hotel is perfect if you’re about to embark on a trek and want some luxury before you go. You can have a nice hot shower here, and the cozy rooms offer peace and quiet, as well as delicious breakfasts. You can also grab a meal or a drink on the rooftop, which has a great view of the city. And, don’t forget to get your welcome watermelon drink upon arrival!
WHERE TO EXPLORE
There are plenty of places to see in Kathmandu proper, but with such little time on your hands, you’re going to want to make sure you hit the best places. If you’re new to Kathmandu, you must visit Thamel. While it is certainly touristy, you will also see plenty of young locals hanging out here, too. Buddhist prayer flags hang across narrow streets, tangled with twinkling Christmas lights.
All around Thamel are hundreds of little shops, selling everything from Tibetan-inspired jewelry to hiking clothes and gear, to camera shops and clothing boutiques. You have to bargain hard here. Prices are also higher here than at similar markets in many other major Asian cities. If you like cheap (enough) books, stop at the Tibet Bookstore, which accepts cards.
If you’re looking for a little more of a cultural experience, there are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley. Close to the center is Pashupatinath Temple, the most important Hindu Temple in the country. Take a day to visit the Patan Durbar Square, which recently featured in the movie Dr. Strange.
WHERE TO EAT
Like any big city, finding restaurants in Kathmandu is not difficult. But, finding a place that has multiple options that will be gentle to your stomach can be more challenging. To be safe, eat at a sit-down restaurant in Thamel, where there’s a good mix of both Nepali and international food. When we were there, we were craving something besides dal bhat, especially because we knew we’d be having a lot of it at our upcoming homestays. So, we ate at a Japanese izakaya-style restaurant called Momotarou, which was delicious. Although we didn’t get a chance to eat there, we did grab a drink at the Yak Restaurant. This place is touristy, but the atmosphere is so cozy and unique. Here, you can try authentic Nepali food, but the menu has a variety of different options.
Note: At most sit-down restaurants there will be a 13% VAT and a 10% service charge added to the bill. Don’t be alarmed if you see this as it’s the law, but do do the calculations yourself.
WHERE TO RELAX
Kathmandu may feel chaotic to some people, but having just arrived from Delhi, it provided a huge sense of relief for us. Just being in Kathmandu made me feel relaxed, and if you need time to recuperate after your flight and before you begin trekking, this is a good place to do it. However, if you want to get out of your hotel room a bit and you don’t necessarily feel like “trekking” through Thamel, then visit the Garden of Dreams. We didn’t get the chance to do a picnic here as we would have liked, but just by peeking inside, the place looked incredible. The garden was once the private garden of Kaiser Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana (a former Prime Minister of Nepal), and today it’s filled with fountains, buildings, pavilions–and even Wi-Fi access!
WHERE TO DRINK
Beer is expensive in Nepal, as are many other similarly imported products. But, what’s not very expensive is millet beer, called tongba. It has an interesting, alcohol-y taste, but it’s warm and fun to try. You can order it at many different restaurants throughout Kathmandu, but we tried it at the Yak Restaurant.