The Kathmandu Valley: beautiful places to visit near Kathmandu
This post is about the best places to visit near Kathmandu. Many tourists head straight to the mountains to explore the Annapurnas or to see Everest. As beautiful as they may be, the Kathmandu valley has its own charms that are often overlooked.
History of the Kathmandu valley
There are so many beautiful places to visit near Kathmandu that you could spend weeks in the Kathmandu valley. The Kathmandu valley is at the heart of the ancient Licchavi dynasty that ruled the valley from the 5th till the 8th century as well as the Malla dynasty from the 12th till the 17th century.
These ancient kingdoms have left behind hundreds of medieval temples, shrines and palaces. The indigenous Newar people still have their own culture and follow ancient customs that are very different from the Hindus that came to the Kathmandu valley later on. It was only in the late 18th century that Hindu king Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley and it became part of present day Nepal.
Kathmandu became the new capital of Nepal and changed tremendously. However, the rest of the Kathmandu valley kept its own ancient traditions. The Newari architecture with its intricate wood carvings and multi roofed pagoda style temples is still present in many of the villages of the valley. Some even say pagoda temples originated in the Kathmandu valley and inspired the construction of other pagoda temples as far as India, China and Japan.
Why explore the Kathmandu Valley
The beautiful Kathmandu valley with its small authentic villages full of historic Newari architecture is well worth exploring. I was lucky to be able to visit a lot of places near Kathmandu when I worked in Nepal. Every weekend I took my bicycle or jumped on a minibus to a new corner of the valley leaving behind the hustle and the bustle of the city.
Beyond the urbanized areas of Kathmandu, the Kathmandu valley is still dominated by rural villages and agricultural fields where farmers still plow the fields by ox or bull. There is always work in the countryside. Planting rice, for example, is a community effort done by hand in a festive atmosphere, despite the back breaking work.
The Kathmandu valley is the perfect combination of rural life with the culture and history of the ancient Newari villages and temples. The villages are all extremely picturesque and there are many historic temples that outshine those in Kathmandu itself. Most of them see very few tourists.
The Best Places to visit near Kathmandu
Patan or Lalitpur is among the oldest places to visit near Kathmandu. It was once the capital of a separate kingdom. Its glory days are still represented in the small but beautiful Durbar palace square of Patan.
Nowadays it is hard to see where Kathmandu ends and Patan begins. The cities have grown together forming one large urban area. Still, the historic center of Patan feels like a different world from the chaotic city center. Patan’s durbar square with its Newari architecture full of intricate wood carvings and ancient temples is in my opinion more beautiful than the ones in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur.
Patan is also famous for its arts and handicrafts like metalwork and pottery. If you are looking for unique handmade crafts then Patan is a great place to go shopping
How to get there: mini buses leave frequently from Ratnapark to Patan. The journey takes around 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
Bhaktapur was also one of the capitals of the three Newari kingdoms in the Kathmandu valley. It is one of the best places to visit near Kathmandu to see the ancient Newari architecture.
Unlike urbanized Kathmandu and Patan, Bhaktapur has kept its small town ambiance along with its rich cultural heritage. It was the capital of the Greater Malla Kingdom from the 12th till the 15th century. This is when most of its great monuments were built. Although there was a lot of damage from the 2015 earthquake, Bhaktapur is still famous for its well preserved elegant art and religious architecture.
It’s a town where you can spend hours exploring the quiet back streets with its hidden courtyards, temple squares, shrines and ponds. Bhaktapur has more temples per square foot than any other place in Nepal. The local Newari community call their town Khwopa, or city of devotees. With its traditional homes and traffic free alleys it feels like a journey back in time.
Bhaktapur is famous for its wood carvings and pottery as well as the delicious king curd called juju dhau. In April during the Nepali new year Bhaktapur sees large festivities during the local Bisket Jatra festival.
How to get there: Bhaktapur is 15 kilometers from Kathmandu. The local minibuses to Bhaktapur depart frequently from Ratnapark or Bagbazar in Kathmandu and the Lagankhel bus park in Patan. The journey takes around 45 minutes depending on the traffic. It is easy to combine a day trip to Bhaktapur with Changu Narayan.
Changu Narayan is a small village north of Bhaktapur. The main attraction here is the oldest temple near Kathmandu.
The Changu Narayan temple is beautiful with unique wood carvings and stone elephants guarding the entrance. Its hilltop location makes it even more picturesque with nice views over the Kathmandu valley.
How to get there: To get to Changu Narayan you can take a minibus from Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is 15 kilometers from Kathmandu. The local minibuses to Bhaktapur depart frequently from Ratnapark or Bagbazar in Kathmandu and the Lagankhel bus park in Patan. The journey takes around 1 hour depending on the traffic. It is easy to combine a daytrip to Bhaktapur with Changu Narayan.
Nagarkot is a popular weekend getaway for people in Kathmandu. This small town in the foothills is one of the best places to visit near Kathmandu to see spectacular panorama views of the Himalayas. On a clear day you can see the Annapurnas, the Everest mountains and Langtang.
You need a bit of luck to see the views as they are often obscured by the clouds. The best times are early mornings or evenings and therefore it is best to spend the night in Nagarkot. This is not a problem as Nagarkot is a town full of hotels and resorts all promising the best views. Weekends are busy as people from Kathmandu come here for a bit of nature and to escape the city.
How to get there: Nagarkot is 30 kilometers from Kathmandu. Buses leave from Bhaktapur frequently so you first need to get to Bhaktapur. The local minibusses to Bhaktapur depart frequently from Ratnapark or Bagbazar in Kathmandu and the Lagankhel bus park in Patan. The journey takes around 1 hour depending on the traffic.
Accomodation: Hotel Everest Window View
Kirtipur is one of the oldest Newari settlements in the Kathmandu valley. Although it was not a capital of one of the old Malla kingdoms, it was a wealthy independent town. Kirtipur translates as city of glory and is home to a number of ancient temples and stupas that are well worth a visit.
Together with Bhaktapur it is also one of the best places to visit near Kathmandu to see the ancient Newari architecture and taste Newari food. The town is located on a ridge with beautiful views over the valley. The main attraction is the ancient buddhist Chilancho stupa and the Bagh Bhairav temple.
Every year around August Kirtipur is home to the colorful Bagh Bhairav jatra. There will be a procession through town together with traditional music and masked dance performances.
How to get there: Kirtipur is 10 kilometers south of Kathmandu. mini buses leave from Ratnapark or Lagankhel to Kirtipur. The journey takes between 30 – 45 minutes depending on the traffic.
Accomodation: Green Eco resort
The Dakshinkali temple is one of the main temples in Nepal where people pray to the goddess Kali and is an important Hindu pilgrimage center. Kali is the bloodthirsty wife of Shiva. Every Tuesday and Saturday devotees visit the temple to sacrifice animals to the goddess.
You can see the pilgrims with their chickens and goats waiting in line for the animals to be ritually slaughtered by the temple priests. The head and blood is given to the goddess and pilgrims bring back the meat for a picnic barbecue in the nearby forest.
Only Hindus can enter the shrine where Kali resides, but there are plenty of spots for visitors to watch the ritual sacrifices. During Dashain, the biggest festival in Nepal, the temple is soaked in blood.
How to get there: The temple is 22 kilometers south of Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Daksinkali and Pharping. You can easily combine Dakshinkali and Pharping on a single day trip.
Pharping is an ancient Newari town that is nowadays more famous for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. In a way, Pharping reminded me of Bylakuppe in India. A small Tibetan settlement surrounded by the forests and farmlands of the predominantly Hindu Kathmandu valley.
Most Buddhist monasteries in town are relatively new. Buddhists believe that Guru Rinpoche reached enlightenment in Pharping and the area is home to a number of sacred caves that facilitate medication.
Pharping isn’t very touristic. You need a bit of luck to be able to visit the monasteries. When I was there they were closed for visitors, but when the monks are around they may let you in to have a look inside.
Nevertheless, Pharping is a scenic rural town. Some of the ancient Newari temples such as the Vajra yogini temple are still around as well. It is also a great place to go hiking in the countryside.
How to get there: Pharping is 20 kilometers south of Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Daksinkali and Pharping. You can easily combine Dakshinkali and Pharping on a single day trip.
Accomodation: Hotel Swiss
Bungamati is one of the most picturesque Newari villages in the Kathmandu valley. Its rural location makes it a peaceful and tranquil place. Bungamati is a small farming community. Yet the town was important enough to have its own living goddess kumari.
Bungamati is also the birthplace of Rato Machindranath. This is the patron god of the valley and every year there is a large festival when the god is taken in a procession from Bungamati to Patan.
The main square with its ancient temples saw a lot of damage from the earthquake in 2015, but restoration efforts did much to restore its former glory using traditional techniques. Most people in Bungamati are either farmers or wood carvers. If you like you can visit some of the wood carving workshops.
How to get there: Bungamati is 6 kilometers south of Patan. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark or Lagankel to Bungamati. You can easily combine Bungamati and Khokana on a single day trip.
Not far from Bungamati is the even smaller Khokana. This farmers village has a small square with temples and ponds. The village is famous for its ancient tradition of making mustard oil.
How to get there: Khokana is 7 kilometers south of Patan. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark or Lagankel to Bungamati. You can easily combine Bungamati and Khokana on a single day trip.
Panauti is another old Newari settlement in the Kathmandu valley. Dating all the way back to the 13th century. This town was built at the confluence of three rivers and therefore considered sacred by Hindus. We can see the Rishi and Pungamati rivers, however the third Lilawati river is only visible to true believers.
At the confluence is the ancient Indreshwar temple. This temple is also from the 13th century and therefore among the oldest pagoda style temples in the country. It attracts hundreds of Hindu pilgrims that believe taking a bath at the confluence of the three rivers will wash away all their sins.
The temple alone makes Panauti worth a visit, but the small town itself is also nice to wander around in. The ancient Newari architecture, ancient temple squares and lack of tourist crowds offer an authentic experience.
Being such an important religious Newar town it is also home to several local festivals. Every year around June you can witness the Panauti Jatra. The biggest festival in Panauti is the one month long Makar Mela. This festival is held every 12 years and attracts pilgrims from all over Nepal and India.
How to get there: Panauti is 30 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Panauti. Some with a change in Banepa. The journey takes around 1 hour depending on the traffic.
For the best views over the Himalaya most people head to Nagarkot. Few people know about Dhulikhel that is actually a much nicer place to enjoy the views as there are a number of other things to do.
Unlike Nagarkot, Dhulikhel is also an ancient Newari town with traditional architecture and a couple of temples. It is also the start of a number of nice hiking trails through the villages of the Kathmandu valley such as Panauti and Namobuddha.
How to get there: Dhulikhel is 32 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Dhulikel. Some with a change in Banepa. The journey takes around 1 hour depending on the traffic.
The views are best in the early mornings before the clouds rise. On a clear day you can see over 20 peaks including Langtang Mountain and the Annapurnas.
One of the most popular hikes is the hike to the nearby Namobuddha monastery. The Thrangu Tashi Yangtse monastery is located on the place where buddha, in one of his lifes as a prince, gave his life to a starving tigress. Therefore it is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal.
How to get there: Namobuddha is 34 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Namobuddha. You probably have to change buses in Banepa or Dhulikhel. The journey takes around 1 hour depending on the traffic.
North of Kathmandu and just south of the Shivapuri forest national park lies an old and mysterious Hindu temple. It has the largest stone carving in Nepal.
The reclining Vishnu is 5 meters long and carved out from a single block of basalt. Its origin and age are unknown although the first records mentioning the statue is from the 6th century. Devotees believe that the statue floats in the water without any support.
The name can also cause confusion. Budhanilkantha means blue throat. And although it is a Vishnu temple, it was Shiva that had a blue throat after drinking from the sacred Gosaikunda lakes. The name refers to the pond that the statue floats in. People believe this water is from Gosaikunda which makes the place even more sacred.
Nowadays, Budhanilkantha is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. On the 11th of the month Kartik hundreds of pilgrims come to celebrate the Haribondhini Ekadashi festival. You can easily combine a day trip to Budhanilkantha with a walk in the Shivapuri forest national park
How to get there: Budhanilkantha is 10 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Budhanilkantha. The journey takes around 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
The serene Kopan monastery near Kathmandu is one of the best places near Kathmandu to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery welcomes foreign visitors to come for a day visit or a longer retreat and also offers courses.
Day visitors can attend the daily dharma talk, visit the library or simply enjoy the tranquil environment or meditate in the gardens. Do check if the monastery is open. It sometimes closes down such as for the annual one month long meditation course in November-December.
How to get there: Kopan is 10 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Kopan village from where it is an uphill walk to the monastery. The journey takes around 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
Sankhu is a nice rural newari town in the north eastern corner of the Kathmandu valley. It was an important religious town as the sanctuary of the goddess Vajra Yogini and the place of powerful caves where important buddhists reached supreme accomplishments through spiritual practice.
Sankhu’s history as a powerful spiritual place goes all the way back to the 5th century, making it one of the oldest places to visit near Kathmandu. Unfortunately over 65% of the buildings collapsed in the 2015 earthquake. The important Vajra Yogini temple barely survived and had to be renovated.
Sankhu is still worth a visit, despite the impact of the earthquake. It is also the start of the enjoyable Sankhu to Nagarkot hike if you are looking for an easygoing hike in the Kathmandu valley.
How to get there: Sankhu is 16 kilometers from Kathmandu. There are frequent mini buses from Ratnapark to Sankhu from where it is an uphill walk to the Vajra Yogini temple.
Kathmandu Valley Travel tips
Accomodation in the Kathmandu Valley
All of the places above are easy to visit as a daytrip from Kathmandu. The other way is true as well. From most villages it is easy to get to Kathmandu.
Some of these villages have excellent homestays and are a good way to learn more about Nepali culture and family life. If you are looking for a more quiet place to stay and a more immersive experience, staying in a homestay in the Kathmandu valley is a good alternative to staying in Kathmandu itself.
You can scroll back for some accomodation tips in the Kathmandu valley. If you choose to stay in Kathmandu you will find some tips below.
Thamel: Holiday hostel is a good option if you want to be in the center of thamel. If you prefer more peace and quiet you can look into Elbrus home, Birds Nest Hostel, Kathmandu Peace home and Best hostel. All of these are clean budget options within walking distance of Thamel, but in a more quiet area close to the more busier areas.
Boudhanath: There are plenty of options to choose around Boudhanath. I stayed a couple of times at Lotus guesthouse. A nice place with affordable and clean rooms. Aarya Chaitya Inn also has great reviews.
Transport in the Kathmandu Valley
The Kathmandu valley is among the most densely populated areas of Nepal. Therefore mini buses go from Kathmandu to almost every village in the valley. Most minibuses leave from the Ratnapark bus station near Thamel.
It can be a challenge to find the right minibus. People are very helpful though. Ask for help and tell them where you will want to go and people will point you in the right direction.
I was lucky to have a bicycle at my disposal when I was in Kathmandu. Cycling through the crazy traffic of Kathmandu was a bit scary at the beginning, but I got used to it. Once you leave the city behind you it is wonderful to cycle through the rice paddies and farm lands of the Kathmandu valley.
When to visit the Kathmandu Valley
The best time to visit the Kathmandu Valley is during the autumn season (September to November) or the spring season (March to May), when the weather is generally pleasant with mild temperatures and clear skies. The autumn also sees lots of festivities around Tihar and Diwali, while spring has the new year celebrations like Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur.
The summer season (June to August) has a lot of rain as the monsoon season brings frequent showers and occasional flooding. During the winter season (December to February) it can be quite cold in the Kathmandu valley.
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