From trekking in the Himalayas and exploring historic cities to wildlife safaris and high-adrenaline rafting, kayaking and mountain biking, Nepal offers an incredible range of experiences, activities and adventures.
With so many options, it can be tough to know where to start. Whether you’re a first-timer or a repeat visitor, there’s always more to see – here’s our guide to some of the best things to do in Nepal.
Trek through the Himalayas
Nepal is synonymous with trekking: trips are easy and inexpensive to organize and there is a mind-boggling range of trails, from easy self-guided day hikes to epic multi-week expeditions. They provide both dramatic Himalayan scenery – Nepal boasts eight of the 10 tallest mountains on Earth – and a fascinating insight into the diverse cultures of the highlands.
The most popular treks are the Annapurna Sanctuary, Everest Base Camp, and Langtang Valley routes, but there are lots of other less-well-trodden options, too.
Sample Newari cuisine in Kathmandu
As befits one of Asia’s leading backpacker hubs, the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, has an impressive variety of street food vendors, cafes, bakeries, restaurants, bars, and pubs serving food from across the globe, as well as local standards such as daal bhaat tarkari (dal, rice, and vegetable curry) and momos (steamed or fried dumplings).
But don’t leave without trying the traditional Newari cuisine of the Kathmandu Valley. Although most Nepalis are vegetarian, meat – including buffalo, goat, and wild boar – features strongly in many Newari dishes. Try choila (spicy grilled buffalo strips) and baji (beaten rice, with a similar texture to rolled oats).
Admire the Janaki Mandir
The Terai city of Janakpur – a major pilgrimage destination thanks to its association with Hindu epic the Ramayama – is home to one of the most eye-catching temples in Nepal. Built in the baroque Mughal style and boasting a wealth of domes, turrets and arches, the marble Janaki Mandir is dedicated to the goddess Sita, who is believed to have been found as an infant on the site.
The best time to visit is in the early evening when the temple is illuminated with lights and hymns drift gently through the air.
Spot one-horned rhinos in the Terai
By the early 20th century, the greater one-horned rhino had been hunted to the verge of extinction in the Indian subcontinent, but dedicated conservation efforts have since helped the species to recover.
These majestic creatures can now be spotted in the forests, marshes, and grasslands of Chitwan and Bardia national parks in the Terai – a stretch of lowlands running the length of southern Nepal – alongside tigers, wild elephants, gharial crocodiles, and hundreds of species of birds.
Climb up to Swayambhunath
High on a hilltop in the west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is a glorious Buddhist stupa, a dome-shaped monument featuring the painted eyes of the Buddha, topped with a gilded spire and surrounded by a complex of temples, shrines, rest houses, and statuary.
In the morning and evening, devotees climb a long stone stairway to the lofty site to make a kora (ritual circumnavigation) of the huge stupa, which is thought to date back some 2000 years. With commanding views across the city and beyond, it is a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset.
Go mountain biking
An extensive network of back roads, tracks, and trails – some of which have been used for centuries – allow mountain bikers to reach little-visited parts of Nepal. Although you can strike out independently – rental bikes are widely available in the major tourist centers – many routes are unmapped and best explored on a guided tour, particularly if you’re an inexperienced cyclist.
The two-day Scar Road from Kathmandu, six-day Muktinath to Pokhara, and 12-day Jomsom to Lo Manthang routes are all excellent choices.
Watch the sunrise in Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, or Daman
The Kathmandu Valley’s fringes are dotted with villages and towns whose elevated locations offer sublime views of the Himalayas, particularly at sunrise. They include Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, and Daman, which are all easy to reach from Kathmandu.
Many of their guesthouses and hotels are oriented to allow you to gaze out at the world’s highest mountains from the comfort of your room or balcony, though there are also numerous viewpoints that can be accessed for free or a small fee. To maximise the likelihood of clear, cloud-free skies, visit from October to December or from March to April.
Visit the birthplace of the Buddha
In 563 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama – who later became known as the Buddha – was born in Lumbini in the western Terai. The spot is now marked by the Maya Devi Temple, which is named after his mother and is thought to date back some 2200 years. Alongside Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha found enlightenment, it is the holiest site in Buddhism.
The Maya Devi Temple is part of a huge complex that includes a range of temples built by Buddhist communities across the globe, including China, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as gardens, a museum and cultural center, and a gleaming peace pagoda.
Kick back in Bandipur
A picture postcard bazaar town perched on a ridge, Bandipur is the perfect place for a spot of idle relaxation. It is packed with attractive 18th-century townhouses, several of which have been turned into elegant boutique hotels, guesthouses, and homestays.
Although you could head out for a walk, go rock climbing or even visit a nearby silkworm farm, it’s hard to beat simply ordering a coffee and watching the world go by or losing yourself in the superlative Himalayan views.
Go white water rafting
Although most famous as a trekking destination, Nepal also offers world-class white water rafting (and kayaking), with plenty of options for novices and pros alike. For an economical introduction, take a one- or two-day trip along the Trisuli river, which is close to Kathmandu.
Alternatively, test yourself on the more challenging Bhote Kosi, Nepal’s steepest rafting river, which surges down from the Tibetan border, or try a week-long journey through the wilderness on the Sun Kosi or Tamur rivers.
Explore the Kathmandu Valley’s medieval architecture
The historic quarters of Kathmandu and the neighboring cities of Patan (also known as Lalitpur – “City of Beauty”) and Bhaktapur are famous for their evocative medieval architecture. Despite being badly affected by the devastating 2015 earthquake, their Durbar Squares (royal plazas) are still lined with well-preserved or restored palaces, temples, shrines, and pavilions, many of which are open to the public.
They collectively form a Unesco World Heritage Site, alongside several Buddhist and Hindu temples and monuments in the Kathmandu Valley, including Swayambhunath.
Go birdwatching in Koshi Tappu
In the eastern part of the Terai, the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is a birdwatching hotspot. At least 527 avian species can be spotted in its wetlands and grasslands, many of which are rare or at risk. They include the swamp francolin, the Bengal florican, and the red-necked falcon.
You may also see some of the last surviving arnas, endangered wild water buffaloes with giant sets of horns.
Paraglide in Pokhara
For adventure sports enthusiasts there are few better places on Earth than the chilled-out lakeside city of Pokhara. Nestled in the shadow of the Annapurna and Manaslu ranges, it offers everything from trekking and rafting to bungee jumping and canyoning.
Pokhara is also an incredible place to go paragliding: after taking off from the nearby peak of Sarangkot and soaring through the azure sky on thermals you’ll be rewarded with mountain views of heart-stopping beauty.
Learn about Tibetan Buddhism in Bodhnath
The Kathmandu Valley village of Bodhnath (also known as Bouda) is home to a thriving community of Tibetan Buddhist exiles. Its focal point is a monumental whitewashed stupa, which was built around 600 CE and draws pilgrims from far and wide. The surrounding streets and plazas are filled with monks and students in maroon robes, strings of colorful prayer flags, and stores selling butter lamps.
Numerous monasteries and institutes in Bodhnath run courses for foreign visitors on Tibetan Buddhist theory, practice and meditation, ranging from introductory seminars to advanced study programs.
Stop off for tea in Ilam
In the far east of Nepal, the lush hills around the pretty mountain village of Ilam produce exceptional tea. They share the same climate and geography – though not the scale or international renown – of nearby Darjeeling, which lies just across the border in India. Visiting the tea gardens, which are hives of activity during the April–November picking season, and sampling a brew is a must.
You might also like:
The Nepali mountaineer reclaiming the Himalaya
6 must-visit day-trip destinations from Kathmandu
Pick your peak: discovering Nepal's best trekking regions
Nepal is on our 2022 Best of Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.
Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.