Nepal is the destination with everything: towering Himalayan peaks and world-class trekking, sacred religious sites and wildlife-rich forests – not to mention well-preserved medieval architecture, tranquil hilltop towns and impressive culinary diversity.
Almost everyone visits Kathmandu, and most people take a trek through the Everest or Annapurna ranges – if you’re not sure where else to go in Nepal, try our list of places that shouldn’t be missed, from national parks patrolled by one-horned rhinos to hotspots for mountain adventure sports.
Kathmandu, Nepal's historic, foodie capital
Best for eating out
An atmospheric old town, countless temples, shrines and religious sites, buzzing markets and several fascinating museums and galleries – plus a fair share of traffic and pollution – combine to make the Nepali capital a riot for the senses.
History and culture are the main draws for visitors to Kathmandu, but the city also has a remarkably varied dining scene, catering to visitors from across the globe. Alongside excellent Nepali cuisine, you can find everything from Korean bulgogi (barbecued beef), Japanese sushi and Thai curries to French crêpes, Austrian schnitzel and Middle Eastern falafel.
The Himalayas, the world's favorite trekking destination
Best for trekking
Dominated by eight of the world’s ten highest mountains, the Nepali Himalayas stretch the length of the country and offer unparalleled trekking opportunities. The scenery is awe-inspiring – soaring snow-covered peaks, gin-clear lakes, terraced green hills, remote villages, chains of fluttering prayer flags. Best of all, you can hit the trails with minimal admin, beyond obtaining a Trekkers’ Information Management Systems (TIMS) card and paying any national park fees.
The Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit and Langtang Valley treks are the most popular routes for travelers, but there are many other less-trodden but equally spectacular routes to follow. The dramatic two- to three-week trek to the base of the third tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga, in the far east of Nepal, is a stunning route that sees just a handful of trekkers.
Bodhnath, Kathmandu's most spectacular stupa
Best for Tibetan Buddhist culture
The largest stupa (dome-shaped Buddhist monument) in Asia sits in the heart of the Kathmandu Valley, in the village of Bodhnath (also known as Boudha) on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The shrine is a hub of Tibetan Buddhist culture in exile, and thousands of pilgrims travel here daily to make a kora (ritual circumambulation) of the resplendent white stupa, which is best visited in the late afternoon after most tourists have departed.
Bodhnath is also a popular place for travelers to study Tibetan Buddhism, with a wide range of courses, seminars and talks on offer. Duck into the backstreets to see Nepal's most skilled repoussé metalworkers in action.
Meet tigers and rhinos in Chitwan National Park
Best for spotting rhinos
A royal hunting ground in the 19th century, Chitwan became Nepal’s first national park in 1973 and has since earned international recognition for its conservation efforts, with growing populations of rhinos and tigers in the marshlands and forests flanking the confluence of the Rapti and Narayani Rivers.
Located in the western Terai, the thin ribbon of low-lying land running across southern Nepal, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the finest places to view wildlife in South Asia. Its forests, grasslands, marshes and rivers are home to a profusion of animal and bird species, most notably a large population of one-horned rhinos, which have recovered from the brink of extinction thanks to some smart conservation practices.
Bhaktapur, Nepal's best-preserved medieval town
Best for medieval architecture
Although badly affected by the devastating 2015 earthquake, the Kathmandu Valley city of Bhaktapur remains an architectural treasure trove, with an astonishing collection of well-preserved buildings dating back 600 years or more, including temples, palaces and traditional brick and timber homes.
There are three main squares flanked by temples and palaces, a maze of cobbled alleyways lined with red-brick shops and houses and innumerable tucked-away courtyards, shrines, pagodas and pavilions. A walk through Bhaktapur, which was once an independent kingdom, feels like a journey back in time, particularly if you stay overnight and see the city after the daytrippers have gone home.
Pokhara, gateway to the Annapurna range
Best for adventure sports
Located on the shore of shimmering Phewa Lake, gazing up at the jagged Annapurna and Manaslu mountain ranges, the city of Pokhara is Nepal’s adventure sports capital. Travelers come here in droves to relax on the lakeshore and indulge in exhilarating activities in the surrounding mountain valleys.
As well as being the jumping-off point for some of Nepal's most popular treks (including the famous Annapurna Circuit), Pokhara is an excellent place to organize whitewater rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, canyoning and paragliding trips in the surrounding countryside, as well as straight-up adrenaline-charged activities such as bungee jumping and ziplining.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha
Best for a Buddhist pilgrimage
A short drive west of the Terai town of Siddharthanagar (also known as Bhairawa), Lumbini is one of Buddhism’s holiest sites. In the middle of the Sacred Garden, the Maya Devi Temple marks the precise spot where Siddhartha Gautama – better known as the Buddha – was born in 563 BCE.
This intensely sacred site is surrounded by a vast complex filled with temples built in a wild variety of architectural styles by Buddhist communities from around the world, alongside a museum, cultural center and a towering white-and-gold peace pagoda in a park often visited by Sarus cranes.
Encounters with royal history in Gorkha
The best for hilltop palaces
In the Middle Hills, Gorkha was the hometown of Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified the warring kingdoms of Nepal in 1769 and founded a long-lasting royal dynasty that endured (with one short period of disruption) until Nepal became a republic in 2008.
The king was born in the 16th-century Gorkha Durbar, a spectacular palace-temple-fort complex in an elevated position high above town and accessed via a steep, meandering trail. Although Gorkha was close to the epicenter of the powerful 2015 earthquake, its buildings survived relatively unscathed and most damaged structures have since been restored.
Bandipur, Nepal's most charming hill getaway
Best for a relaxing getaway
An enchanting town perched on a ridge in the Middle Hills, high above the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Bandipur has been described as a “living museum” thanks to its array of 18th-century Newari mansions and temples.
Once an important stop-off on the lucrative India-Tibet trade route, it offers a captivating mélange of attractive guest houses, charming cafes, pedestrianized streets, dotted shrines, sublime vistas and numerous day hikes, making it an ideal spot for a break from the crowds.
Bardia National Park, for quieter nature encounters
Best for safaris without the crowds
Around 400km (249 miles) west of Chitwan, Bardia National Park is larger, covers a greater range of habitats and receives far fewer visitors than its more heralded counterpart. Accessed from the quiet village of Thakurdwara, the reserve has one-horned rhinos, tigers, elephants and leopards, as well as gharial crocodiles and rare Gangetic dolphins.
Although spotting these creatures may require a little more time and patience than in Chitwan, Bardia’s pristine landscapes and the absence of crowds of visitors disturbing the wildlife are more than ample compensation. Early morning and late afternoon safaris offer the best chances of animal encounters.
Janakpur, Nepal's other sacred city
Best for Hindu temples
In the eastern Terai, the city of Janakpur is often overlooked by travelers, yet its glorious Janaki Mandir is an architectural masterpiece and has huge significance in Hindu mythology. Dedicated to the goddess Sita – who, according to legend, was born and married the god Rama here – the baroque Mughal-style temple draws pilgrims from across Nepal and India.
Janakpur is also renowned for its exquisite Maithili paintings, an ancient art form that depicts stories from Hinduism, as well as scenes from everyday life in the Terai. You can buy works from local painters at the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre just outside of town.
Get Himalayan views without the hard work in Nagarkot
Best for watching the sunrise
On a ridge just outside the Kathmandu Valley, the village of Nagarkot has one huge selling point: it offers panoramic views of eight Himalayan ranges, including Everest. It's one of the best spots to come for mountain views without the effort of trekking.
If you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear, cloud-free day – these are most common from October to December and March to April – the sight of this magnificent sprawl of snow peaks is mesmerizing, especially at sunrise.
Nepal is on our 2022 Best of Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.
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