Maddeningly chaotic but never dull, Kathmandu is a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and religions. Not merely a jumping-off point for a Himalaya trek, it's also a worthwhile destination in its own right, with a legacy of myths and legends seen in the historic pagodas lining its dusty streets. Even if you're here for just one day you can profit from the highlights of this uniquely beautiful metropolis.

Planning Your Trip to Kathmandu

Most visitors choose to make Nepal's capital a brief stopover point on their way to trekking the Himalaya. The reasons for this are simple: there are many beautiful country villages outside Kathmandu, and the capital itself is hectic, with constant traffic congestion and no public metro systems—or even traffic signals—anywhere in sight. But spend some time here and you'll be surprised at how fast Kathmandu grows on you. Many come for a day and wind up staying six months.

You'll understand the appeal once you hit the streets. There's a spirit you sense when strolling the Hindu pagodas of Durbar Square, and which you smell in the incense smoke wafting from the Buddhist stupas. And we defy you to be anything less than enchanted after witnessing your first Nepal sunset from a rooftop. As the sun disappears behind the green foothills of the Himalaya, Kathmandu and its attendant chaos seems to vanish below your feet, leaving you at peace with the world.

This mini-guide exists to help you get the most out of Kathmandu whether you're here for one day or five. And if you're curious when's the best time of year to plan your Nepal adventure, check out our expert tips here.

24 Hours in Kathmandu

Historic Durbar Square, in Kathmandu

If you're in Kathmandu for just a day that likely means you're stopping over on your way to a more remote Nepal adventure. No worries, as you can enjoy a "greatest hits" walking tour that covers the city's many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And despite Kathmandu's imposing size, it's actually an easily walkable city.

If you're here during the day, embark on a walking tour to Durbar Square and the royal palace, Hanuman Dhoka, which is complex of structures over a few acres in the city center. It was founded in the 4th century in the Licchavi period but its legacy continued into the Malla and Shah dynasties as well. This is the historic and cultural heart of the city, but like many other areas it was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and building renovations are ongoing even today.

Also in Durbar Square is an unassuming house called the Kumari Chen. This is the home of the Kumari, a child who is said to be the embodiment of the warrior goddess Durga. If you pass through a tiny doorway here at 4 pm, you'll enter a little courtyard and catch a glimpse of Nepal's "living goddess" when she peaks her head through a second-story window. The Kumari is chosen as a young child and raised here, away from her family, until she reaches adolescence, when a new Kumari is chosen.

Other sights around Durbar Square include Nasal Chowk, the expansive courtyard inside the main entrance, where you'll find Narsingha Statue (the deity Vishnu), the Sisha Baithak audience chamber of the Malla Kings, and the five-story Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple. No doubt you'll notice the impressive architecture of these Hindu temples. They were created by Newar people, who were the earliest inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. Today, the Newars comprise about half the population of the valley. 

After exploring Durbar Square on foot all day, you'll likely be hungry. There's one neighboorhood above all else that features the most diverse array of quality restaurants: Thamel. There are some famous Thai, Indian, and western-style eateries here, plus endless local Nepali restaurants serving incredible homemade thukpa (chicken soup) and momo (Nepali dumplings with savory fillings like buffalo).

And if you want to give your feet a rest, you can always opt for a Vespa tour of Kathmandu. Not only do you get to zip around the city with expert guides pointing out the relevant sights, but, should you choose, you can also visit the outer villages.

2-3 Days in Kathmandu

The most famous of Nepal's five-story Hindu temples is in Bhaktapur

Three days is a comfortable amount of time to enjoy a city tour of Kathmandu's famous sights plus make day trips to other historic landmarks just outside the city. If you manage your time wisely, you could even squeeze both city tours and day trips into just two days. Or make it a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu Valley.

Regardless, on day one you should visit Durbar Square and enjoy Thamel. Do some shopping and pick up souvenirs like handcrafted Nepali leather bags and/or Tibetan singing bowls. Perhaps visit the well-manicured Garden of Dreams, a walled-in courtyard and green space adjacent to Thamel that's designed in the style of a garden in Edwardian England. Filled with ponds, fountains, and pavilions, it makes for a tranquil escape from hectic central Kathmandu.

The next day you should visit Kathmandu's Buddhist stupas. There's Boudhanath, located on the city's northeastern outskirts. Dating to the 6th century during the reign of King Mānadeva, Boudhanath is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. Even older is Swayambhunath Stupa, which dates to the 5th century and is located within the city. Also known as Monkey Temple, it's famous for being the hangout for large groups of rhesus monkeys. 

If you have the extra time, embark on a day tour to other Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley. There are two more and both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One is located in the historic city of Patan (now called Lalitpur), just south Kathmandu, and the other is in Bhaktapur, to the east of the capital. Along with Kathmandu, these three cities were once dynasties of the ancient Malla kings. In Bhaktapur, you can visit Nyatapola, the most impressive five-story Hindu temple in Nepal.

With three days you could also get out of the city for overnight trips around the Kathmandu Valley. There are many options, from yoga retreats to farm-stays at eco-friendly country resorts to family-run accommodations where you'll enjoy delicious home cooking and peaceful mountain views.

4-5 Days in Kathmandu

Stunning views of the Himalaya from Nagarkot

If you're only planning on staying in and around the capital yet have a few extra days to spare, then you can both see the city and also embark on a short trek around the Kathmandu Valley. With this plan in mind, spend the first day in central Kathmandu exploring Durbar Square as well as doing some souvenir shopping and eating out in Thamel. 

The next day you can tour the Buddhist stupas and make day trips to historic Bhaktapur and Patan. In the latter, start your sightseeing in Durbar Square around the largest plaza, Mul Chowk. Be sure to also visit the Golden Temple, a 12th-century Buddhist monastery, plus the Krishna Mandir Hindu temple, which was built by King Siddhinarsingh Malla in 1637.

After enjoying the cities for two or three days it's now time to head out and engage in that most popular of pastimes in Nepal: trekking. There are a number of short hikes that make for excellent day trips, including a 6-to-8-hour hike up Phulchowki, the highest hill near Kathmandu (9,127 feet/2,782 meters).

A different excursion, and one you can complete in as little as three hours, involves hiking from southeast Kathmandu Valley through the pine forests of Dollu Valley, passing stupas and monasteries up to the summit of Champadevi, the third-highest hill near the capital (7,378 feet/2,249 meters).

One of the best intros to hiking in Nepal comes in the form of the Balthali Village Trek. It's a brisk hike that lasts around three days and covers some beautiful locales in the Kathmandu Valley rim. You'll travel to traditional towns like Panauti, which are rich in Newari culture, before ascending higher to farming villages and Buddhist stupas that feature incredible views of the Himalaya.

You could also opt for a combined Kathmandu/Nagarkot trek. This involves traveling 20 miles (32 km) east of Kathmandu to the village of Sakhu, and from there embark on a four-hour hike up the hill to Nagarkot. This little village is known for having some great views of the snowcapped Himalaya, including the Annapurna range and even Mt. Everest. You'll want to stay overnight to enjoy the gorgeous sunrise over the mountain ranges. The