Kathmandu, Nepal was a ride. It was the first trip that Natalie and myself ever went on. It was only the fifth country I had visited. It was an incredible introduction to that part of the world that I had never imagined myself in, but I was so happy I had a chance to visit.
Kathmandu will overwhelm your senses. Maybe not to the extent that cities in India will, but fairly similar. Honking, dusty roads throughout the city, animals, pedestrians, and smells and tastes to satisfy yourself for days, this city has so much to offer anyone. That is why it is with great regret that we only had one day in Kathmandu.
We had landed there and only spent the night before moving on almost immediately to Pokhara, another city in Nepal that we would highly recommend you visit especially to escape Kathmandu. We ended up returning to Kathmandu to leave the country at the end of our trip and spent an entire day in the city where we got to accomplish as much as we could while we were in the city.
In this post, we want to walk you through the perfect 1 day in Kathmandu and what you can do with your time.
1 Day in Kathmandu Itinerary
There are several famous places in Kathmandu that you need to visit. More places to travel in Kathmandu than the day that we had to fill. This made it incredibly difficult to pick and choose the places to fill our one day in Kathmandu, but we made it work. Here are the best things to do in Kathmandu in one day.
The easiest way to get around Kathmandu is by taxi. They are relatively inexpensive and convenient. To get there, we caught a taxi and asked to go to the Monkey Temple or Swayambhunath and it took about 10 minutes to arrive from the Thamel district. They will know where to take you. You are able to tour around the area and walk up the stairs to the top of the temple for free. However, before reaching the top you must pay about $2 USD. Do not be surprised when you are walking to the top and somebody stops you to ask you for money. They are asking for the admission fee. Locals are not required to pay this admission.
We did not stay long here. After walking around and beginning our ascent to the top, we were running short on time and money. Depending on how much you enjoy watching monkeys and seeing the view from the top, plan for about an hour of walking around the area.
Swayambhunath Monkey Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal is an interesting area to walk around and absorb the culture of the country. It is littered with monkeys, hence the name Monkey Temple, and it offers a commanding view of Kathmandu from the top. We arrived at the bottom of the temple. I was anticipating the spotting of monkeys. After paying the taxi, we began our walk up the stairs with my camera at the ready. It did not take long to spot the monkeys. They were EVERYWHERE! Monkeys with snacks in their hands, monkeys with babies on their backs, monkeys climbing around trees and statues, and monkeys doing things you would not want your kids to be seeing… It was monkey mayhem.
As we ascended, the view of Kathmandu became increasingly beautiful, though there was lots of smog on that day. Also, there were many stray dogs that traveled in groups along our walk to the top and back down.
Unfortunately, we never made it to the top. I had not known that there was an admission fee. We were stopped about 20 steps from the top, and were asked by a man for money. I brushed this off as someone asking for money, being ignorant of the admission fee. He became increasingly irritated with me when I tried to push past him, but it finally sunk in. We had only enough rupees for the taxi back to the hostel and had to go back to the bottom of the temple without seeing the view from the top. So, if you made it to the top and were better prepared for us, please post them! Post them on Instagram with the hashtag #TotheNationsWorldwide.
Swayambhunath Monkey Temple was an interesting site to see, especially if you are not use to seeing monkeys concentrated around these cultural statues. Although there is some damage from the earthquake in 2015, it is definitely worth a visit. In fact, now is more important than ever to visit Nepal if you were ever considering it. Tourism, that does not take away from the country, will help the economy of the earthquake stricken country.
This temple is a little bit further away from the other attractions on this list, but it was something that we definitely wanted to accomplish while we were in Kathmandu. The other religious structures that are popular tourist attractions in Kathmandu are Pashupatinath Temple and Boudha Stupa. They are the same distance in the opposite direction of the Monkey Temple from Thamel, the area where the remainder of the attractions are around. We suggest visiting the Monkey Temple over these other two due to the popularity and it being slightly closer to Thamel in Kathmandu than the other two.
Thamel is the tourist center of Kathmandu. It is the host to the main nightlife area in the city with bars and restaurants around every corner hosting backpackers and tourists alike. There are markets and shops lining the streets and more than enough things to occupy a full day of your time if you just want to hop from restaurant to restaurant and market to market to get that type of Kathmandu experience in your one day.
It is also the perfect place to stay in Kathmandu so you can return to Thamel after your day tour and be able to explore the markets and restaurants at night when other attractions would otherwise be closed. This will help you make the most of your time while in Kathmandu.
Located near Thamel, it is the best place to start your tour from where you are staying or to finish your tour on your way back to your accommodation. However, due to its hours of operation it may be difficult to fit it within your one day visit.
The palace was the principle of the monarchy and was the setting of the 2001 massacre of the Royal Family. This makes this an unusually intriguing place to visit when you are staying in Kathmandu and a glimpse into modern history of the country.
It is open every day 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For 500 Nepalese Rupees, you can enter without your electronic devices to see this incredible piece of history. These electronic devices can be left at the entrance in a controlled room.
Garden of Dreams
In the Thamel district of Kathmandu is a walled area, this is the Garden of Dreams. It is one of the best places to visit in Kathmandu for couples. It would not be hard to find if you were just asking for directions, but we got a taxi from the Monkey Temple to it. Open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, the Garden of Dreams has a 200 Nepalese Rupees per person or less than $2 USD entrance fee.
We walked around the area for about half an hour, then sat down for dinner for close to an hour, and finally had a drink at the bar for another half an hour. We spent a total of nearly two hours in the garden. The Garden of Dreams is a beautiful oasis in the noise and dust polluted city of Kathmandu, Nepal. Once you enter this garden, you will feel as if you left the city.
Upon entering and paying admission, we walked to the courtyard where the neo-classical architecture was lit up with warm lighting and people were sitting in the grass. This was truly something I did not expect to see in Kathmandu. The noise pollution from outside the walls was drowning into the backs of our minds. Everything was peaceful all of a sudden. It was as if we had stepped outside of Kathmandu. Not to say that Kathmandu doesn’t have it’s hidden beauty throughout the culture-rich city, but you will feel a little bit overwhelmed by the dust filled air from the cars and motorbikes cruising through the dirt roads of the city, as well as the noise pollution, if you have not yet traveled to a similar place.
The Garden of Dreams provided us with what Pokhara had a few days before. It was calming. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. We walked around the gardens and just enjoyed our newly found environment for a while. After exploring the grounds, we sat down at the restaurant within the walls of the garden and had a small meal of a hamburger, sandwich, and french fries. We ate outside with a nice view of the courtyard from our table. Following our dinner, we walked to the bar. Though there was nobody there when we first entered, including the bar staff, we sat at the bar and made ourselves at home. After a few minutes had passed, the bar staff had returned. We ordered our drinks and sat at the bar for the remainder of our time at The Garden of Dreams.
Finally, our time had expired and the garden was soon closing. We made our way towards the exit, said our goodbyes to the garden, and passed through the gate. Our escape from Kathmandu had come to an end, but it supplied us with enough energy to continue on. It was truly an oasis. If you are ever in need of that recharge when in Kathmandu, seek out this place and relax for a moment.
Freak Street, Hanuman Dhoka, and Durbar Square
All located near one another just a 20 minute walk away from the Thamel area of Kathmandu, this makes for the perfect finish to your one day trip in Kathmandu. Visiting these three during your one day tour of the city will help keep you within a small vicinity of the area without needing to take any transportation and allow you to see a lot of what the city has to offer.
Freak Street is a small street near Durbar Square and refers to the hippie trail of the 1960s and 1970s. It is a little past its prime in the present day, but still worth while for a stroll when you are in the area. Nowadays it is a street filled with vendors, restaurants, and guesthouses similar to that of Thamel.
Hanuman Dhoka is a series of structures with the Royal Palace of the Malla Kings and also of the Shah dynasty near Durbar Square. Though it was severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, there has been an ongoing restoration project that has worked to get it back into top shape and there is still a lot to see in this beautiful area. It is well worth exploring this square while you are in the area.
Durbar Square is the main square in this area and home to many beautiful structures including monuments and temples. It is great to book a guide or get somebody local to show you around to learn as much as you can about the area and the significance of the square itself. Alternatively, you can wander the area for yourself and visit the many restaurants and markets in the area at your own pace.
Kathmandu City Tour
With so much to do in Kathmandu and the surrounding area and little time to do it, we always recommend booking a tour to make the most of your time in a city that you are not spending a lot of time in. Whether you want to spend your time taking a Kathmandu walking tour or wanting to get out of the city to see some of the beautiful surrounding cities within a one day time frame, there are several for you to choose from.
For first time visitors or people that have not traveled to too many countries may feel overwhelmed by Kathmandu when they first arrive. These tours are the perfect way to ease into the city when you first arrive and to get to know more about what the city has to offer and how to get around in the city. It is always nice to have a local take you around from place to place and to explain things that you would otherwise not really know.
Booking a tour will also ensure that you are able to see exactly what you booked. No wrong turns or getting lost which causes your one day trip to Kathmandu to become a wasted trip. Instead, you are able to experience what you wanted to when you are in the city.
Best Restaurants in Kathmandu
The best restaurants in Kathmandu tend to be within the Thamel area of the city. These are the restaurants that cater towards tourists and travelers alike while offering traditional Nepalese dishes. You cannot go wrong just wandering the streets of Thamel and looking for a place serving incredible Nepalese cuisine or whatever it is that you are looking for. If you are wanting to know what to eat while in Nepal, visit our food tour of Nepal post.
Bars and cafes are not hard to find within this area either and it is the perfect place to visit at night time to enjoy a cold beverage or in the morning to enjoy a coffee and wake up.
Get to the Newa Momo Restaurant to get your taste of momos or the Yela Cafe and Coffee Shop to enjoy the cafe atmosphere or enjoy a meal in peace and escape the city in the Garden of Dreams and enjoy a meal in tranquility. Either of these are excellent choices, but make sure you visit a restaurant that serves dal bhat to get a traditional Nepalese meal within the city.
Best Area to Stay in Kathmandu
When considering where to stay in Kathmandu, there is one area we always recommend to all travelers alike. Thamel is where we recommend first-time visitors to Kathmandu to stay. It is the tourist center of the city and it holds several hostels, hotels, and guesthouses of all sorts. Backpackers pass through here and all travelers alike to stay and enjoy a beer in one of the many bars or a meal in many of the fine restaurants that surround this area. It holds many souvenir shops lining the roads and is all around one of the best areas within the city of Kathmandu which makes it an easy suggestion of where you should stay when in the city.
Finding a place to stay in Thamel is an easy task. There are several hostels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and guesthouses for you to choose from. If you choose accommodation in this area of the city, you have a place with prime location to complete everything on our list. It is also the best place to return to at night and wander the surrounding area. It is safe and offers a lot of choices to enjoy a night out on the town as well.
The Kathmandu Merry Hotel and Hotel Bihani offer a great place to stay that is well reviewed and in perfect location while also being incredibly affordable. If you are willing to spend a little bit more than what most places are worth in the area, then Hotel Roadhouse offers an excellent setting and atmosphere within the area and is a wonderful option. You can also find several hotels offer breakfast included in their stay. Make sure to also see whether or not you can schedule an airport pick up as this is valuable when arriving at Kathmandu airport.
Getting Around Kathmandu
If you follow our one day Kathmandu itinerary above you will not have to worry too much about transportation. When you book accommodation, you should be able to request airport pick up through your host. This will take the headache away from the airport which is a very hectic scene. You will have to tip somebody who handles your luggage as there are hoards of people outside of the airport trying to get your luggage to put it in the vehicle you are driving and then demanding a tip. Even though we gave our luggage to our driver, somebody in the crowd snatched it from him and passed it to somebody on the roof to tie it down to the vehicle. We were getting into the vehicle while he was demanding money. With the door shut, he opened it and demanded money. The travelers sharing the ride and the driver insisted I give him some money.
Imagine this if you are trying to get a taxi at the same time while at the airport. Save yourself the hassle and schedule that airport pick up with your host. From there, if you are staying in Thamel as we suggested, you can walk to everywhere that you want to visit. Unless you want to visit the Monkey Temple, you can walk through Thamel and to Durbar Square without much difficulty.
Taxis are everywhere in Kathmandu and not in the best condition, but still usable. Make sure that you are getting into an official looking taxi. One time we did not, but it was still fine and the gentleman offered us a good rate. It was a little bit weird when his friend hopped into the passenger seat though. You should always haggle with the drivers when discussing the rate or go by the meter if it is available.
If you do not want to haggle or feel uncomfortable trying to get a taxi on the street, you can book a taxi through your host. We did this on our way to the Monkey Temple and also on our way back to the airport when we were leaving Kathmandu.
We thoroughly enjoyed our very short stay in Kathmandu. There was still so much we wish we could have done and there is no way that we could have fit it in to our full day itinerary. The best way to get as much done as you can on your list is to book a guided tour. You will not have to worry about getting lost or having to figure out how to get from one place to the next. That will all be taken care of for you. These are the situations in which we enjoy being on a tour.
Yet Kathmandu is the perfect place to get lost. An incredibly overwhelming city that will take control of you from the time you arrive in the airport to the time you leave the airport. It was a place in constant movement and we really were pleased with our one day in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Have you ever been to Kathmandu? We would love to know what you did there and answer any questions you may have. Leave a comment below.