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Strung out along the Wang Chhu, Thimphu is Bhutan's own mini-metropolis, an expanding bubble of shopping complexes, monasteries and chalet-like apartment buildings that reverts quickly to blue-pine forest at the city limits.

Travelers expecting a medieval mood may be disappointed – Thimphu's traditional houses are fast being replaced by multi-storey towers – but linger a while and the capital's Bhutanese soul will shine through. Climb up to Changangkha Lhakhang early in the morning, or wander around the Weekend Market in the late afternoon, and you'll see the Bhutan you were expecting: devotees in traditional garb, crimson-robed monks and farmers from the hills coming into town to trade.

For the visitor, Thimphu offers an opportunity to break away from a rigid tour itinerary and enjoy Bhutan's best dining, shopping and nightlife. In place of the traditional, Thimphu offers the realisation of the Bhutanese dream: contented people embracing the modern world, but doing so on their own terms.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Thimphu.