Most popular tourist attractions are popular for good reason. But travelers who want to avoid crowds and tourist traps should also seek out some of these lesser-known attractions in Nepal. Here are a few beautiful and interesting places in Nepal that most people miss—but shouldn't.

Try Newari Cuisine in Ancient Kirtipur

Kirtipur, an off-the-beaten-path Newari town in the Kathmandu Valley

Kirtipur is an easy half-day trip from Kathmandu (to the north) or Patan (to the east), but this charming Newari town doesn't see nearly as many visitors as other towns in the Kathmandu Valley. The old part of the town is located on a hill, with a sweeping view of Kathmandu and the Himalaya.

One end of the town is predominantly Buddhist, and the other predominantly Hindu, as is typical for Newari towns. There are several fantastic temples, and throughout the town are some exquisite examples of Newari carving in the windows and doorways of homes. Kirtipur is renowned as having some of the best and most authentic Newari food of anywhere in Kathmandu. 

Visit a Hidden Temple in the Kathmandu Valley

Changu Narayan, north of Bhaktapur

In the east of the Kathmandu Valley, just north of Bhaktapur, is Changu Narayan. It's thought to be the oldest temple in Kathmandu that's still in use—parts of it date back to the 5th century. Its two-story pagoda is important to Nepali temple architecture, as it marks a shift between the styles that came before and after it. Changu Narayan is one of the Kathmandu Valley's several UNESCO World Heritage sites, but, perhaps because it's a little out of the way, it's far less busy than other such sites like Swayambhunath or Pashupatinath.

Changu Narayan is easy to visit from Bhaktapur, or incorporated into a multi-day trip around the Kathmandu Valley

Discover Perfectly Preserved Panauti

Panauti's Indreshwar Temple

Panauti—about a two-hour drive from central Kathmandu—holds an unusual claim to fame. It has never been significantly damaged by an earthquake, and that's believed to be because the town is built on an enormous piece of single rock. How scientifically or geologically true this is doesn't matter too much, as its beautiful, multi-tiered Indreshwar Temple was built in the 13th century and still exists today.

Panauti is a predominantly Newar town, which means there's lots of lovely temples and domestic architecture to check out. The town is also surrounded by fertile rice fields and hills, and hiking trails connect it to other nearby towns like Namo Buddha and Dhulikhel. As well as some modest guesthouses, Panauti is home to an extensive homestay network, run by local women, which provides comfortable, clean, and homey lodging and meals.

Spot Wildlife in Bardia National Park

Bardia National Park

Many travelers seeking a wildlife and jungle experience in Nepal head straight to Chitwan, as it's convenient from both Kathmandu and Pokhara. But in far western Nepal is a highly worthwhile alternative: Bardia National Park. Many say that Bardia is what Chitwan used to be like before it became so popular with travelers.

The park includes forest and grasslands, and the Karnali River—Nepal's last free-flowing river—runs through it. It's the Terai's largest national park. Like Chitwan, you can see elephants and rhinoceros here, plus there's a good chance of spotting the king of the jungle: the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Accommodation options are fewer and simpler, but still adequate, and are mainly based in Thakurdwara. Getting there from Kathmandu or Pokhara requires a flight (or very long bus ride—not recommended) to Nepalgunj, and then a two-three hour drive to the park. A fun way to visit, if you're up for a big adventure, is to join a white-water rafting and kayaking tour of the Karnali River, which ends near Bardia and can be extended so you can enjoy more time in the park.

For more details on both Chitwan and Bardia National Parks, check out Nepal's Jungle Region: Chitwan and Bardia National Parks

Go Birding in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve

Floodplain of Koshi Tappu

Bird-watching enthusiasts will especially enjoy a visit to the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, on the south-eastern Terai bordering India. It's located on the floodplain of the Sapta Koshi River and is made up of mudflats, reed beds, and freshwater marshes. Almost 500 species of birds can be found here, so bring a good pair of binoculars to spot watercocks, Indian nightjars, dusky eagle owls, the critically endangered Bengal florican, and more. Along with birds, the reserve is home to elephants, spotted deer, wild boar, and other mammals. Travelers rarely visit this wildlife reserve, but accommodations in the area can arrange bird-watching excursions.

Sip Tea in the Plantations of Ilam

Ilam, Nepal

While neighboring Darjeeling over the border in India is a household name in the tea world, the plantations of Ilam are not nearly as well known. You can pick up boxes of Ilam tea in Kathmandu, but for even fresher stuff, travel east to Ilam itself. The hilly landscape of tea plantations is ideal for moderate hikes, and the nearby forests are rich in biodiversity. Ilam is also a good starting point for much more challenging long treks in eastern Nepal, such as the Lumba Sumba Pass trek.

Check Out the "Taj Mahal of Nepal"

Tansen

Tansen, in the hills of Western Nepal between Butwal and Pokhara, is a surprising place in a few ways. As well as being a reasonably attractive hill town, it's home to the famous Nepali Dhaka cloth, the woven fabric that's used to make men's topi (hats) and many other traditional garments.

The Ranighat Palace is also near Tansen, a completely out-of-the-way but rather fascinating late 19th-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 a few years later, leaving the palace abandoned. The blue and white neoclassical structure has been undergoing restoration, and while claims that it's Nepal's answer to the Taj Mahal might be a slight exaggeration, it's certainly an interesting place to check out.

For ideas on how to build Tansen into your Nepal trip, read about this 11-day tour of the country's cultural highlights.

Shop for Handmade Crafts in Janakpur

Janaki Mandir, a neo-Rajput temple in Janakpur

One of the Terai's major cities, Janakpur is most certainly not on the Nepal tourist circuit, despite having some very special attractions. The late-19th-century Janaki Mandir (temple) is built in a neo-Rajput style, meaning it's totally different from any other temples you'll find in Nepal. It looks like it'd be more at home in the deserts of Western India than at the foot of the Himalaya.

Janakpur is also home to the Janakpur Women's Development Center, where local women create all kinds of art—paintings, pottery, textiles—to both make a living and keep their traditions alive. If you can't make it to Janakpur, these crafts are sold around Kathmandu, such as at the fair-trade Mahaguthi and Sana Hastakala shops on Patan's Pulchowk Road.  For more on where to shop (and what to buy) in Kathmandu, see this article.

Visit the Historic Hill Town of Gorkha

Gorkha

Despite being a rather out-of-the-way hill town nowadays, about an hour off the main Kathmandu to Pokhara highway, Gorkha is a historically important place. It's the ancestral home of the last royal dynasty to rule Nepal, the Shahs. The Gorkha Durbar, high on a hill above the town, remains as evidence of this.

When the weather is clear, the mountain views from Gorkha are extraordinary. Gorkha town is the headquarters of Gorkha District, which stretches all the way up to the Tibet border. Some of Nepal's best long-distance treks fall within Gorkha District (such as the Manaslu Circuit Trek) but few visitors swing by the town. Those who do can find some peaceful boutique accommodations set amid farmland.