Himalaya Views—Without the Hike
Nepal has plenty of high-altitude trails, but not all travelers want break a sweat in exchange for Himalayan views. Those who are short on time, traveling with young kids, or simply prefer not to walk uphill don't need to miss out on the country's signature mountain vistas. Go to the right place, and you can take it all in from the comfort of a hotel room, balcony, viewing platform, or airplane seat.
Note that visibility in Nepal is very dependent on weather. Check out this article to better understand the different seasons in Nepal. In general, the air is haziest between March and September. During Nepal's peak tourist seasons (October-November and March-May), you'll likely be able to see mountains from the viewpoints listed below—but nothing is guaranteed. Winter is actually the best time for clear Himalayan views around Pokhara and Kathmandu, although this is a cold time to visit.
Chandragiri Hills: Take a Cable Car into the Clouds
Chandragiri is one of the hills that forms the southern perimeter of the Kathmandu Valley—at 8,369 feet, it would be considered a mountain in its own right anywhere else in the world. Operational since 2016, Nepal's newest cable car ferries passengers from the town of Thankot to the top of Chandragiri. The journey is 1.5 miles long, and at the top, there's a temple, dining facilities, and sweeping views of the capital, the surrounding valley, and the Himalaya to the north. You can also hike if you wish, but will definitely break a sweat doing so.
Namo Buddha: Sacred Monastery with Spectacular Views
Namo Buddha is one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites outside of Tibet, as it's believed to be the place where the Buddha (in an incarnation of a prince) sacrificed himself to save the life of a starving tiger and her cubs. You might expect a more built-up town around such an important spot, but Namo Buddha is a small village with a grand monastery, lovely guesthouse accommodation—the Namo Buddha Resort, which serves delicious organic, home-grown food—and spectacular Himalayan views on a clear day.
Namo Buddha is a great place to incorporate into a short trek around the Kathmandu Valley rim, but as it's only a 2-hour drive from Kathmandu, you can do it in a day trip or a relaxed overnight.
Nagarkot: Best Place to see the Himalaya at Sunrise
Nagarkot is famous for having some of the best sunrise views of the Himalaya near Kathmandu—it's about 17 miles, or a 1.5-hour drive, from the city center. If you're short on time, it's easy to go in the early morning, making it in time for sunrise and breakfast, and return to Kathmandu before lunch. There are also lots of places to stay, if you want to stick around. While Nagarkot quite touristy in parts and popular with domestic visitors, it's easy to escape from the bustle with short walks outside of town to the surrounding countryside.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Manakamana: Visit a Hindu Temple Perched Above the Jungle
If you're traveling overland between Kathmandu and Pokhara or staying somewhere along the Trisuli River for a couple of days, it's worth making a detour up to the Manakamana Temple in Gorkha District. Almost exactly half-way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, it's easy to find the Manakamana Cable Car because of the large NCell sign emblazoned across the hills.
The cable car makes the long journey from the steamy, jungle-lined Trisuli River Valley up to the 17th century Manakamana Temple, at a much cooler altitude. Manakamana is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage spot, and people come from as far afield as India to worship here. While the original temple was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake, the atmosphere around here remains distinctly holy. On clear days there are impressive views across Gorkha District to Himalchuli and Manaslu.
For more on the Trisuli River Valley, see this 2-day rafting and kayaking itinerary.
Gorkha: See Manaslu Peak from a Hilltop Palace
Another hour or so up the road from Manakamana is the now small, once important city of Gorkha. It's here that the last ruling dynasty of Nepal, the Shahs, originated. The modern parts of the town are nothing special, but uphill is the hilltop Gorkha Durbar, the palace of the kings. You might break a slight sweat walking from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill up the path to the Durbar, but it's not a hike. On a clear day, you can look north and west to the snow-capped Himalaya, including Himalchuli and Manaslu peaks.
Lakeside Pokhara: Paddleboat on Phewa Lake with Himalaya Views
There's nothing exerting at all about chilling out in Pokhara's Lakeside area and enjoying the spectacular mountain views. Machapuchare, or Fishtail, rises behind the lake. Grab a happy hour cocktail from a waterfront bar, take a paddleboat out onto Phewa Tal, or stroll along the paved lakefront at sunset. There's hardly a city in the world with a more spectacular backdrop. For more ideas on what to do in Pokhara, check out this article.
Kirtipur: Get Off the Beaten Path in a Newari Hill Town
To the southwest of central Kathmandu is the Newari town of Kirtipur, once a proud separate kingdom but now a suburb of the city. Much of the old town area is high on a hill. There are attractive temples, pagodas, and traditional streets to stroll around, with some fine traditional Newari wood carving on display. From the Uma Maheshwar Temple, there are sweeping views of the Kathmandu Valley, which are impressive even with the Himalaya aren't on display. When they are, it's the icing on the cake of one of the best vantage points in the city.
Sarangkot Hill: Epic Views, An Easy Drive from Pokhara
If you want to get a little closer to the Annapurna ranges than Lakeside Pokhara, take a taxi up Sarangkot Hill. This is the hill between Phewa Lake and Fishtail. Once you get to the top, the whole panorama of mountains opens up to you, with some of the highest mountains in the world on one side, and Phewa Tal and Pokhara on the other. Adventurous types like to paraglide from Sarangkot, but an early morning trip in time for sunrise is equally exciting.
Bandipur: Newari Architecture & Easy Hikes
Bandipur, about 2.5 hours east of Pokhara, was once an important and prosperous Newari town on the Tibet-India trade route. Nowadays it's a small village with a lot of lovely Newari architecture, including well-renovated homes that you can stay in. There are some hikes around the town, but the major drawcard of Bandipur is sitting on the terrace of your charming guesthouse with a good book and a Himalayan panorama in front of you. Bandipur is a delightful respite between adventurous Pokhara and chaotic Kathmandu, and is also conveniently located for travelers journeying between Chitwan and Pokhara.
Scenic Flights: Ultimate Birds-Eye-View Panorama
If you're not up for trekking to Everest, a scenic flight from Kathmandu is the next best thing. Scenic flights leave every day, early in the morning (weather dependent), and take in an enormous sweep of the Himalaya. While you won't fly very close to Everest (it's not safe), you will probably have a good view of it and its surrounding giants. Everyone gets a window seat either on the way or the way back, and information cards let you know which mountains you're seeing along the way.
In fact, most domestic flights within Nepal offer great views when the conditions are right. Flying between Kathmandu and Pokhara not only cuts a 6-9 hour bus journey to just 30 minutes but offers views of the Annapurna range as well. When checking in at the airport, ask for a seat on the right-hand side between Kathmandu and Pokhara, and the left-hand side between Pokhara and Kathmandu.