Nepal is mountains, jungles, rivers, and ancient culture. This diversity means that you could spend a lifetime exploring the small Himalayan nation, but if you only have five days, you can get a taste for some of its best sites and experiences. From white-water rafting to chilling out beside a lake, here are some ideas for where to go and what to do with five days in Nepal.

Trip planning and tips

  • Although Nepal is geographically not very big, due to poor roads and mountainous terrain, the travel times can be longer than you'd guess based on distance. Don't over-stuff your itinerary or you'll regret it--and maybe even miss your flight.
  • When your itinerary is short, flying between Kathmandu and Pokhara saves valuable time. It's a very scenic trip, too.
  • The season should determine (at least in part) what you see and do in Nepal. If traveling during monsoon (June-August), stick to the cities and cultural sites. Trekking and water sports are best in the spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November). The jungle national parks get seriously steamy for much of the year, so visit in the winter (December-February).

Option #1: Cultural Kathmandu

Boudanath Stupa in Kathmandu

The Kathmandu Valley is so full of historical, architectural, and religious treasures that you don't need to leave (or go very far) to have a rich experience in Nepal. Spend the first three days checking out the most famous sites of Kathmandu: the Kathmandu and Patan Durbar Squares, Swayambhunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa. Head to Bhaktapur and spend the night there, to experience the peace and quiet after the day-trippers leave. From Bhaktapur, take a trip up to Namo Buddha for breathtaking mountain views, fresh air, and a delicious organic lunch at the Namo Buddha Resort.

  • Day 1-3 Visit Swayambhunath Stupa and the Kathmandu Durbar Square on one day, the Pashupatinath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa on another, and old Patan on the third.
  • Day 4 Explore Bhaktapur and stay there overnight
  • Day 5 Make a day trip up to Namo Buddha, in the hills just outside the Valley, returning to Kathmandu in the late afternoon.

Option #2: Short trek

Villages on the Balthali Trek

While five days isn't long enough to undertake any of Nepal's truly epic treks, it's certainly enough time to stretch the legs and get your blood pumping in the hills, with spectacular views. By sticking close to Kathmandu you can eliminate lengthy travel days. And you may be pleasantly surprised how quickly the city turns to scenic hills and pretty villages.

  • Day 1 Travel to Dhulikhel, on the edge of the valley, by vehicle and enjoy a scenic sunset
  • Day 2 Trek to Namo Buddha, a sacred Tibetan Buddhist site
  • Day 3 Trek to Balthali, through picturesque villages and farmland
  • Day 4 Trek to Panauti, an ancient Newari town, then return to Kathmandu by vehicle
  • Day 5 Sightseeing in Kathmandu

For more details on this itinerary, see Balthali Village Trek via Namo Buddha and Panauti

Option #3: Adrenaline rush in Pokhara

Tandem paragliding above Pokhara
Tandem paragliding above Pokhara

Nepal is famous for its outdoor activities, and travelers who want a bit of a thrill should make a bee-line to Pokhara. Five days is plenty of time to enjoy kayaking on the lake, paragliding, white-water rafting and camping under the stars.

  • Day 1 Fly Kathmandu to Pokhara; enjoy an afternoon paddle on the Phewa Lake, either in a rowboat or a kayak
  • Day 2 Head up to Sarangkot to go paragliding with stunning lake, mountain and village views
  • Days 3-4 Go white-water rafting on the Seti River, camping overnight on the beach
  • Day 5 Return flight to Kathmandu; sightseeing in the city

Option #4: Chill out in Pokhara

Phewa Lake in Pokhara
Boats on Pokhara's Phewa Lake

Although Nepal is (justifiably) famous for its active adventure sports, you don't need to be a super-fit athlete to enjoy the country. Pokhara is a super-chill city (especially in the Lakeside area) that rewards a bit of laziness with spectacular views and good food and shopping. Plus, there are enough sites of interest nearby to mix up the chilling out with some sightseeing.

  • Day 1 Kathmandu sightseeing
  • Day 2 Fly to Pokhara; spend afternoon taking a walk along the lakefront and enjoying happy-hour cocktails with a sunset view
  • Day 3 Drive up to Sarangkot lookout and walk back down for a gentle hike through traditional villages with impressive mountain and lake views
  • Day 4 Sightseeing around Pokhara, including Davi's Falls, Tibetan refugee colony and market, and the International Mountain Museum
  • Day 5 Return flight to Kathmandu, sightseeing in the city

Option #5: City, river, and mountains

Rafters floating through the hills of Nepal
Rafters floating through the hills of Nepal

If you want to experience some of Nepal's highlights--the culture of the city, the rush of the river, and the majesty of the mountains--then that is possible on a well-planned five-day itinerary. Start by sightseeing in Kathmandu--take your pick of a couple of its heritage and religious sites. Then, raft along the Trisuli River, which runs parallel to the main highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara; a river trip minimizes the need to travel the whole way by road. Chill out in the hilltop Newari town of Bandipur, before driving to Pokhara. There, chill out by the lake, opt to go paragliding, or take a day hike into the hills. Return to Kathmandu by air, and enjoy the scenic flight (as long as you're sitting on the left-hand-side of the airplane!)

  • Day 1 Kathmandu sightseeing
  • Day 2 Raft along the Trisuli River; drive to Bandipur
  • Day 3 Spend the morning in Bandipur; drive to Pokhara later in the day
  • Day 4 Sightseeing and/or activities in Pokhara
  • Day 5 Flight to Kathmandu

Map

Map of 5 Days in Nepal: 5 Great Itineraries
Map of 5 Days in Nepal: 5 Great Itineraries