- Enjoy panoramic views of Kathmandu Valley from Swayambhunath
- Explore the sacred traditions of Hindu culture at Pashupatinath
- Shop for crafts in Patan's local markets
- Visit Namo Buddha, one of Nepal's most importan Buddhist sites
- Escape the Kathmandu Valley with a hike into Shivapuri National Park
Day 1: Swayambhunath, Boudhanath & Pashupatinath
Start the day with a walk to Swayambhunath, half an hour from the main tourist district of Thamel. Swayambhunath offers great views across the city, and is a particularly holy place for Nepal’s Tantric Buddhists. You’ll soon discover why the place is nicknamed the ‘monkey temple’.
In the afternoon head to Boudhanath, to the east of central Kathmandu. This is the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site in Nepal, and the area is a centre of Tibetan culture. The huge white and gold stupa has been restored to perfection after damage in the 2015 earthquake. A half-hour walk away is Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu site in Nepal. The ancient temples and cremation steps are lined up along the edge of the holy Bagmati River. It is a very atmospheric place, with worshippers, mourners, Hindu holy men and tourists all congregating there.
Note: If you’re fortunate enough to be in Kathmandu during a full moon, add a full moon Nepali music concert to one of your evenings. Nepali classical music is played and sung in the Kirateshor Temple courtyard above Pashupatinath. Everyone is welcome. The performance starts around 4 pm (Nepali time), but arrive on time for a good seat. To enter the Kirateshwar Temple, don’t enter the main Pashupatinath complex (that is, don’t pay the entry fee). Instead, take the steps to the west of the riverside temples.
Day 2: Patan and shopping for crafts
Patan is one of the three major ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley (Bhaktapur and Kathmandu being the other two), and houses a wealth of cultural and craft traditions. Taking a craft-focused tour of Patan will allow you to visit the workshops of wood carvers, metal workers and painters, and learn about these traditions that are not only surviving in twenty-first century Nepal, but actually flourishing.
Visit the superb Patan Museum, housed in a wing of the renovated palace in the Patan Durbar Square. The collection houses numerous sacred artefacts and informative displays on Nepali art and architecture.
If souvenir shopping is on your agenda, 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 jewellery and brass and copper cookware. You can also pick up fair trade crafts and high-end Nepali clothing on nearby Pulchowk.
Day 1: Panauti to Namo Buddha hike
Just outside the Kathmandu Valley are two lovely little towns worthy of visiting in their own right. Linking the two with a day hike adds some activity to the mix. Forty kilometers from Kathmandu is the historic Newari town of Panauti. It is said to have been built on a single rock, and therefore has never suffered from an earthquake, so has well-preserved architecture. From a path beside the riverside temples, head uphill and towards Namo Buddha, which you will be able to see in the distance.
The little town of Namo Buddha is the second most important Tibetan Buddhist site in Nepal, and has long attracted pilgrims. A colourful monastery and stupa is perched at the end of a ridgeline.
If you want to stay in Panauti or Namo Buddha before/after the hike, the women-run Panauti Community Homestay offers the most interesting accommodation in that town. You live with the local people and get an insight into their daily lives. At Namo Buddha, accommodation is available at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, or at the more upmarket and supremely peaceful Namo Buddha Resort, with famously delicious organic food.
Day 2: Cycle the ‘Magical Marijuana Loop’
It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to cycle the ‘magical marijuana loop’! Despite its name, this is a family-friendly activity: mountain biking through the small villages on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It’s a physical challenge but not too difficult, with just a few short uphill stretches.
Cycling is the perfect way to enjoy the rice fields in the countryside, as well as visit a number of smaller places that you probably wouldn’t make it to otherwise. As for the name? Marijuana grows like a weed in much of Nepal, and you will be riding through fields abundant with the plant.
Day 1: Motorbike, cable car and Garden of Dreams
Morning: join a motorcycle tour of Kathmandu’s highlights. One of the quickest ways of getting around this city, which is often choked with traffic jams, is on the back of a motorcycle. Visit small villages around the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley where the pace of life is slower, and farmland replaces concrete buildings.
Afternoon: One of the Kathmandu Valley’s newest attractions is the Chandragiri Cable Car. Located in the south-west of the city, impressive views of Kathmandu and the high Himalaya beyond are visible from the top, which sits at 2551 meters.
Evening: Head to the Garden of Dreams, a peaceful garden oasis in the middle of cluttered and noisy Thamel. The perfectly manicured gardens and fountains are edged by neoclassical style Rana-era palace buildings. It’s a calm spot for dinner and drinks, and avid gardeners will love it.
Day 2: Hike in Shivapuri National Park
The Shivapuri National Park is located on the northern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, and feels a world away from the urbanization of the city. Easy (but uphill) hikes of a couple to several hours are possible within the park. Although you’re unlikely to see the leopards that live here (they mainly come out at night), you will see a lot of bird life and a variety of flora.
Start at the town of Budhanilkantha, at the bottom of the hill, where there is a very unusual statue of Shiva floating on his back in a pond, surrounded by serpents (of the stone variety). Head uphill to the park entrance. If you’re up for a longer hike, keep going up past the prayer-flag adorned monastery, all the way to the sacred Hindu site of Bagdwar, where holy men live in the caves, and water springs from the serpent-shaped taps in the side of the mountain.