Day 1: Kathmandu to Nagarkot, overnight in Nagarkot
Early morning is the best time to wander the streets of Kathmandu, as they are quieter, less congested and you can witness people performing their daily worship at temples and shrines. Take a pre-breakfast walk from Thamel to Indra Chowk, traditionally a cloth market that is home to some impressive temples.
Later, head to Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal. The place is a collection of temples dedicated to Shiva, as well as riverside ghats on the Bagmati—steps where people bathe and the deceased are cremated.
From Pashupatinath, travel to Nagarkot, about a two-hour drive from Kathmandu. This town is situated on a ridge northeast of Bhaktapur. It is a popular place to visit for sunrise and sunset views of the Himalaya (especially the Langtang range), so an overnight stay is ideal. Although the main stretch of hotels in town is quite busy, the Nagarkot Farmhouse is a renovated Newari ranch set in spacious gardens away from the hustle.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little less crowded (but in the same area as Nagarkot), with similar panoramic views of the Himalaya and nearby hiking options, try one of these towns, instead:
Dhulikhel. Although a bustling modern town now, Dhulikhel still retains a well-preserved Newari core of buildings. It is also home to one of Nepal’s finest boutique hotels, Dwarika’s Dhulikhel, as well as plenty of cheaper options.
Namobuddha. This is one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, and a colorfully painted, golden-roofed monastery sits at the end of a ridgeline. The homely Namobuddha Resort prepares all meals from its organic garden.
Day 2: Nagarkot to Bhaktapur, overnight in Bhaktapur
Hopefully, you enjoyed a sunset view of the mountains from Nagarkot the night before, but if the weather didn’t cooperate, you’re more likely to be treated to views in the clear early morning light.
After breakfast, you can either choose to drive straight to Bhaktapur from Nagarkot (about an hour) or hike there, instead. Hiking is downhill and takes around four hours, and passes through Changu Narayan. The temple in this small town is a UNESCO World Heritage site but is the least-visited such site in the Kathmandu Valley. The temple dates from the thirteenth century and is believed to be the oldest temple in Nepal.
If you drove to Bhaktapur, you will have plenty of time to tour this medieval Newari city in the afternoon. The town is known as a producer of fine Newari crafts, especially pottery, which you can see drying in the large town squares.
Day 3: Tour Bhaktapur, tour Patan, overnight in Patan
If you took the hiking option on the previous day, you’ll get the chance to explore Bhaktapur this morning. Although the town was extensively damaged in the 2015 earthquake, most of the impressive religious buildings—including the tallest temple in the Kathmandu Valley, the five-story Nyatapola Temple—remain standing.
After, head to Patan, about an hour by car. Like Bhaktapur, Patan was once an independent kingdom that rivaled Kathmandu. This importance is still evident in its fine Durbar Square, a collection of temples and palace buildings. In one wing of the palace is the excellent Patan Museum, made with the help of Austrian aid, which showcases the religious arts and architecture of the Kathmandu Valley.
Around the Patan Durbar Square are a number of other visit-worthy places, such as the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar, called the Golden Temple even though it is neither made from gold (the golden colored metal is brass!) nor a temple (it’s a monastery!).
If souvenir shopping is in your plan, Patan is a great place to do this. The town is full of traditional Newari craftspeople, so you can find shops selling Buddhist thangka paintings, metal statues, all kinds of jewelry and brass and copper cookware.
Patan doesn’t contain as many hotels as central Kathmandu, but that’s to the discerning traveler’s advantage. A number of local heritage buildings have been turned into boutique guesthouses with a lot of charm:
- The Inn Patan, a traditional brick-and-timber Newari house that has been converted into ten highly in-demand guest rooms;
- Tajaa Pha Heritage Home in Pimbahal, a quiet neighborhood just ten minutes’ walk from the Patan Durbar Square, overlooking a large water tank;
- Swotha Traditional Homes is just around the corner from the Patan Durbar Square. Downstairs is the high-quality Cafe Swotha.