For many people, stepping off a plane into Kathmandu is an exhilarating shock - the sights, sounds and smells can quickly lead to sensory overload. Whether it be buzzing around the crazy polluted traffic in a taxi, trundling down the narrow winding streets of the old town in a rickshaw, marvelling at Durbar Sq or dodging the tiger balm sellers and trekking touts in Thamel, Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place.
As the largest (and pretty much the only) city in the country, Kathmandu also feels like another developing-world city rushing into a modern era of concrete and traffic pollution. Take a walk in the backstreets, however, and the capital's amazing cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself in hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillis and rice, and tiny hobbit-sized workshops largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.
Kathmandu has been a travellers mecca since the 1960s but these days you're less likely to see a tie-dyed hippy in search of enlightenment than a well-heeled Gore-Tex-clad tourist in search of a good espresso. With tourist numbers down and political tensions up, the last few years have been uncertain, yet residents have retained a good-humoured self-respect.
Kathmandu is well worth a week of your time, but it's too easy to spend too much time stuck in touristy Thamel. Enjoy the Internet cafés, the Western music and the lemon cheesecake, but make sure you also get out into the 'real Nepal', before your time runs out.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Kathmandu
Nepal - Kathmandu to Pokhara (Chapter)
The journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara takes in the gorgeous countryside of the Mahabharat Range. Dotted with historic villages and ancient temples, the region is also home to the Trisuli River, perfect for whitewater rafting or lazing on a beach.
Durga Puja (Dasain) - world's best festivals
'RTW2009-1034Kathmandu' by plusgood. Creative Commons Attribution Location: Kathmandu, Nepal Dates: fifteen days ending on the full moon in late September/early October. 11-15 Oct 2013. Level of participation: 2 - steel yourself for mass sacrifices and a procession of swords...
Trekking gear and trinkets in Kathmandu
Nepal - Kathmandu (Chapter)
Whether you’re barrelling through the alleyways of the old town in a rickshaw, marvelling at the medieval temples of Durbar Sq or dodging trekking touts in the backpacker district of Thamel, Kathmandu’s riot of sights, sounds and smells can be...
Finding peace in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is an assault on the senses. It is a blend of fume-shrouded traffic chaos, clanging temple bells, cooing doves, the sticky scents of temple food offerings, wafts of incense and the sound of the ubiquitously piped Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum pouring from the shops in the tourist neighbourhood...
Trekking in Nepal Himalaya - Kathmandu (Chapter)
This is the Kathmandu chapter from Lonely Planet's Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guidebook.
Everest Base Camp & Kala Pattar
The classic trek through Sherpa villages to the base of Mount Everest and Kala Pattar
Everest Circuit & the Cho La
Spectacular traverse from Gokyo Lakes to Kala Pattar affording incredible views of Mount Everest
Kathmandu's alleys and temples
Kathmandu is enchanting. It’s medieval and spiritual and alive. And the only way to really see this chaotic cobbled maze is by foot. Start your exploring in Thamel – a traveller enclave with some great hotels and hostels. Thamel is loads of fun and crammed with touts and colourful stalls...
Nepal - Around the Kathmandu Valley (Chapter)
The Kathmandu Valley is a patchwork of terraced fields, medieval villages and sacred temple towns that showcase the glory of Nepal’s architects and artisans. Just beyond the valley rims lie Himalayan viewpoints and two adventurous roads to Tibet.