Nepal's Cultural Highlights - 11-day Tour

In eleven days, learn about the rich Buddhist and Hindu cultural histories of Nepal by visiting sacred sites in Kathmandu and farther afield, in Lumbini. Balance the cultural attractions with outdoor scenic pursuits in Pokhara, such as hiking to vantage points for panoramic Himalayan views. If you’re feeling brave, you can even try paragliding above the lakes and mountains of Pokhara.

Highlights

  • Pilgrimage to the holy birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini
  • Enjoy panoramic views of the Annapurna Himalaya from Pokhara
  • Go paragliding in over Phewa Lake, one of the best spots in the world
  • Visit Kapilvastu, the ancient Shakya kingdom of Prince Siddhartha
  • Explore the famous sites of Nepal’s two major religions: Buddhism and Hinduism

Detailed map

11-day tour of Nepal
Detailed map of the 11-day tour, taking in the main cultural highlights of Nepal

Brief itinerary

Day Destination Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Kathmandu Kathmandu
Day 2 Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism Kathmandu
Day 3 Manakamana Temple by cable car Gorkha Beach
Day 4 Overland to Lumbini Lumbini
Day 5 Visit Buddhist Temples and the Peace Park Lumbini
Day 6 Visit Tilaurakot Lumbini
Day 7 Overland to Pokhara, via Tansen Pokhara
Day 8 Sightseeing and adventure in Pokhara Pokhara
Day 9 Fly back to Kathmandu, visit to Patan Patan
Day 10 Tour of Bhaktapur Bhaktapur
Day 11 Depart Kathmandu  

Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu 

Kathmandu's Durbar Square
Walk through the temples of Kathmandu's Durbar Square

After arrival at your hotel in Kathmandu, there may be time to head to the Kathmandu Durbar Square, about a twenty-minute walk from the tourist district of Thamel. This public space houses an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from sixteenth-century pagoda temples to the neo-classical Gadi Durbar Palace.

If you are up for a high-end culinairy experience, head to Krishnarpan for dinner. Located in the luxury Dwarika’s Hotel, Krishnarpan is possibly the finest all-round dining experience in Kathmandu. The staff dress in traditional clothing from Nepal’s various ethnic groups, and the food is equally diverse. Eating at Krishnarpan is a full cultural experience. Of course there are many other great restaurant options in Kathmandu as well. 

Day 2: An introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal

Boudhanath
Enjoy a rooftop meal before joining Buddhist devotees in circumabulating the holy stupa of Boudhanath

Today you will be introduced to the two major religions of Nepal—Hinduism and Buddhism—through two iconic sites. While the majority of Nepalis are Hindu, Buddhism also plays a large part in Nepali culture, and many people follow aspects of both religions.

In the morning, visit the Boudhanath Stupa. This is considered the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet, and the surrounding area is a hub of Tibetan life and culture in Nepal. The enormous white dome is topped with a gleaming golden top (rebuilt after being damaged during the 2015 earthquake), adorned with the piercing eyes of the Buddha.

After lunch overlooking the stupa, head to nearby Pashupatinath Temple. This is the most sacred Hindu site in Nepal, and is a riverside complex of temples, cremation ghats (steps) and the occasional eccentric sadhu (Hindu holy man). Pashupatinath leaves a deep impression on visitors due to its somber yet celebratory atmosphere, and exquisite architecture.

Day 3: Manakamana Temple by cable car

Manakamana
Take a cable-car up to Manakamana temple

To break up the journey from Kathmandu to Lumbini on Day 4, stop at the Manakamana cable-car and temple. From the highway town of Kurintar, about three hours from Kathmandu along the Trisuli River, is a long and scenic cable car leading up to Manakamana.

Although the Manakamana temple itself is being rebuilt after destruction in the 2015 earthquake, it still attracts many pilgrims from around India and Nepal. The ride up is very scenic, dangling above the river and rice fields terraced onto the hillsides, taking you up 700 meters above the river. On a good day you can see the Annapurna Himalaya from the town.

Along this stretch of river are a number of budget-friendly camps catering mainly to white-water rafters, such as Gorkha Beach and River Fun Beach Resort. For a more upmarket night’s stay, head instead to the Riverside Springs Resort in Kurintar.

Day 4: Overland to Lumbini

Lumbini
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, in the south of Nepal

The drive from Kurintar to Lumbini is about four hours, and takes you from the high mid-hills of Nepal to the flat, hotter plains.

Lumbini is the town on Nepal’s plains is where Prince Siddhartha Gautam, otherwise known as Buddha, was born in 623 BCE. The sacred place was marked by a stone pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BCE, and although the site was lost for centuries and had fallen into ruin, it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a place of pilgrimage and a symbol of world peace. 

Day 5: Visit Buddhist Temples and the Peace Park of Lumbini

Lumbini
A sacred flame that is always kept alight at Buddha's birthplace

Today, visit the Lumbini Peace Park, with its many monasteries and monuments built by various nations. Each reflects the architectural traditions of its respective culture, so a tour around Lumbini is a way of learning about Buddhism around the world.

Day 6: Visit Tilaurakot

The ruins of Tilaurakot are 24 kilometers west of Lumbini, and while they do not get as many visitors as Lumbini, they are equally interesting and as culturally important. The Tilaurakot ruins are believed to be the remains of the ancient city of Kapilvastu, the centre of the ancient Shakya kingdom, and the home of Buddha. Archaeological excavations in 2000 unearthed remnants of pots and beads from Buddha’s time.

Day 7: Overland to Pokhara, via Tansen

Tansen
Tansen's Durbar Square in the Palpa District

On the journey to Pokhara, stop at Tansen, back in the hills. This town is famous for the Ranighat Palace, a late nineteenth century palace on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River. Built by General Khadga Shamsher Rana in 1897 for his wife, he and his family were forced to flee Nepal for India just five years later, leaving the palace abandoned. Now the blue and white neoclassical structure has been somewhat restored, and is worth a detour on the way to Pokhara.

Arrive in Pokhara in the evening, and enjoy a lake-side dinner and drinks. Pokhara offers some of the finest international cuisine in Nepal, and great happy-hour cocktail specials at the bars beside Phewa Lake.

Day 8: Sightseeing and adventure in Pokhara

Phewa Lake
Boats floating on Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Sightseeing in Pokhara means finding the best vantage points for panoramic Himalayan views. Drive or hike (about one hour) up to the Shanti Stupa, built by a Japanese Buddhist organization in 1973. You can enjoy amazing views of the Annapurna Himalaya and down to Pokhara and Phewa Lake.

If you’re feeling adventurous, Pokhara is the perfect place to try paragliding. It is often rated as one of the top paragliding spots in the world, thanks to the stable thermals, convenient take-off and landing spots, and the incredible views.

If paragliding isn’t your thing, you can rent a paddle-boat (with someone to paddle for you) or kayak on serene Phewa Lake.

Day 9: Fly back to Kathmandu, stay overnight in Patan

Patan is to the south of central Kathmandu, and was once an independent kingdom that rivalled Kathmandu. This importance is still evident in its fine Durbar Square, a collection of temples and palace buildings. Inside the palace building is the excellent Patan Museum, which showcases the religious arts and architecture of Kathmandu and Nepal.

While in Patan, don’t miss the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar around the corner from the Durbar Square—although it’s nicknamed the ‘Golden Temple’, it is actually neither golden nor a temple! But the metal statues and ornamentation are exquisite nonetheless.

Day 10: Tour of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur
Enjoy the ancient temples of Bhaktapur, the oldest city in the Kathmandu Valley

You’ll travel from one ancient Newari kingdom to another very different one: Bhaktapur. This town, sixteen kilometres east of central Kathmandu, is an open-air museum of Newari crafts. You can see terracotta pots drying in large sunny courtyards and the exquisite stone and wood carvings of the temples.

As dusk and dawn are the best times to be in Bhaktapur, stay the night in one of the small guesthouses near the Durbar Square to really appreciate the religious atmosphere and golden sunlight of the setting and rising sun. Don’t forget to try some famous juju dau, or ‘king curd’, while in Bhaktapur—a creamy yoghurt served in clay pots.

Day 11: Depart Kathmandu

Dolls for sale in Thamel
Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, is lined with hundreds of handicraft and clothing stalls

If you have time before leaving Kathmandu, head for the lanes of Thamel for some souvenir shopping. Handmade paper, silver jewellery, and felt and cashmere products all make excellent souvenirs, and will provide reminders of your eleven days in this beautiful country.