Use your feet
In the last decade or so, the number of vehicles on Kathmandu’s streets has increased at a rate well outstripping infrastructure development, leading to major congestion and an enormous environmental problem in the city. Unless it’s the middle of the night, traffic is pretty much guaranteed to be terrible, so if you aren’t going vast distances, consider exploring on foot. As you wind your way past dozens of workshops and bahals (courtyards), happen upon discreet, mysterious temples and walk through alleyways full of children darting in and out of billowing laundry, you’re bound to gain a better sense of everyday life in this bustling city.
Visit Durbar Square
This touristy but must-be-seen plaza in the heart of the old town is filled with medieval religious and royal buildings, interspersed with vegetable hawkers, sadhus (holy men), vendors selling candy floss on giant sticks and people clustered on the steps of the many-tiered ornate structures, watching the world go by. Set in front of the old royal palace, Durbar Square was once the home of the Shah and Malla kings, and its past grandeur is still profoundly resonant today.
Take in suburbia in Patan
Sometimes called “Lalitpur”, meaning “City of Beauty”, the refined suburb of Patan was once a fully independent kingdom. The pace of life here is a refreshing change compared with the feverishness elsewhere in Kathmandu. It’s also a major artistic and cultural hub, known for a rich metalwork history, evidence of which can be seen in the abundant temples and old houses in Patan’s own, less visited Durbar Square. The Patan Museum, full of bronzes, wood carvings and stone sculptures, is well worth a stop. For a real change of scene, take a walk through Patan’s western areas where affluent residents and expats reside, through peaceful streets lined with organic coffee shops.
Kick back in Thamel’s cafés
The constant heckling of “come look my shop” in the backpacker-filled warren of streets that constitutes Thamel may become quickly tiresome, but after a day’s sightseeing the dozens of relaxed cafés are sure to come in handy. Pilgrim’s Feed ‘n’ Read is a reliable choice for Nepali and South Indian options in a tranquil garden, or stop in at one of the city’s best bakeries, Pumpernickel – try the cheesecake.
Escape to the country
Perhaps surprisingly, considering that Kathmandu is expanding at an astonishing speed, escaping the exhaustingly clustered urban streets is quick and easy. About 4km west of Swayambhu lies the rustic, unassuming temple of Ichangu Narayan – but it’s the walk there that’s most impressive. Within minutes the city disappears, and the road winds through the pretty Ichangu valley. Meet curious villagers and enjoy lush views on route.
Book a trek
Many visitors book their treks from abroad before travelling to Nepal, but it’s often cheaper to book them from Kathmandu, and you can shop around. Agencies, which are two-a-penny in Thamel, skim a big chunk off guides’ wages in commission. If you’ve been recommended a particular guide by someone who’s trekked with them, cutting out the middle man can be a good option; it’ll be cheaper for you (in the region of US$30–35/day) and the guide will earn more. Always meet your potential guide beforehand, and don’t feel you have to go with the first one you speak to. You can also buy a great deal of your trekking gear in Thamel for a fraction of the cost it would be back home, though it will almost all be fake brands of varying degrees of quality. For more information, see our online trekking guide.