A local's guide to Kathmandu, Nepal

Local expert and Insight Guides trip planner for Nepal Mark shares his local knowledge on Kathmandu, to help you discover the true heart and soul of this incredible city
A Nepalese Buddhist rotation prayer wheel
A Nepalese Buddhist rotation prayer wheel

When should we plan our holiday to Kathmandu and why?

The main season in Nepal begins mid-September and ends mid-May. Towards the end of May to early September, it’s monsoon season. People do visit Nepal during this time, however, it can and does rain heavily.

Where would you recommend we stay?

Our favourite hotel is Dwarika’s, and it's included on my Exclusive Everest itinerary with Insight Guides. There is nothing quite like it in Kathmandu. It’s as much a living museum as it is a luxury hotel. But, if a deluxe hotel is out of your budget, the Hotel Shanker is an ideal base from which to explore. It’s located in a quieter part of the city and has its own gardens complete with an outdoor pool to relax by. Plus, it's only a 10-15 minute walk to the touristy Thamel area. 

Where is a great place for dinner in Kathmandu?

You’re spoiled for choice in Kathmandu, quite literally. There’s everything from top-end gourmet restaurants to street food, pizza parlours to burger joints, Thai to Szechuan and Indian... You name it, you'll find it. However, for something authentic and atmospheric the Bhojan Griha (the house of food) makes for a great end-of-holiday experience.They serve a traditional Newari style banquet, complete with Nepali folk music and dance. You can book this restaurant experience as part of your tailor-made Nepal holiday: submit a trip request and I can create your itinerary.

Nepalese sadhu man meditating on the street of Kathmandu. Nepalese sadhu man meditating on the street of Kathmandu. Photo: Shutterstock

Is there a ‘must-try’ dish while we’re here?

Yes. Dal Bhat: the national dish of Nepal and staple diet too. It’s a spicy lentil curry with rice and vegetables. Just about everywhere serves this dish and no two Dal Bhats are the same; everyone has their own version. 

However, the ‘latest thing’ is the rise of the Momo. It’s a Tibetan dish originally: a stuffed dumpling, usually meat or vegetables. However, the Nepali’s have taken the humble Momo to a new level... Try Chilli Momos, if you can handle the heat.

Is there an ‘unmissable’ experience while we’re in this region too?

Most tourists entrench themselves in the Thamel area of Kathmandu. It’s certainly exciting with narrow, crowded streets with colourful shops, bars and courtyard cafes. A bit like Glastonbury (but without the mud and rain). It’s artificial, of course, and most people never venture into the real Kathmandu. 

Away from the touristy area are hidden temples, secret courtyards and exotic street markets that exist solely for the local people. It all comes alive at nighttime and is incredibly atmospheric as well as entirely authentic. But, it’s very easy to get lost among the labyrinth of the real Kathmandu. It’s best to take a guided night walking tour of Kathmandu, which can be organized on your trip with Insight Guides.

Where is the most romantic spot?

Kathmandu isn’t Paris and, generally speaking, public displays of affection aren’t the done thing here. However, in the truer sense of romance although more a place of spirituality we’d suggest visiting the massive Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath on the outskirts of Kathmandu, particularly from late afternoon onwards when the local Tibetan population come to the Stupa to perform their daily prayer rituals. It’s a very moving and powerful experience, which can be best observed from the balcony of one of the several cafe bars encircling the Stupa itself.

Streetlife near the Boudhanath temple, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Streetlife near the Boudhanath temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Shutterstock

Where can we hang out with locals?

The Nepalese are renowned for being one of the most friendly people in the world, so pretty much anywhere other than the Thamel area of Kathmandu you’ll find more local-type places.

Do you have any additional ‘insider’ tips?

Crossing a busy road in Kathmandu can be quite a hair-raising experience. Firstly, unlike back at home, don’t assume that the traffic coming towards you as you are crossing will actually stop for you. Watch how the locals cross a road. They usually don’t walk across in a straight line, more like zig-zagging and avoiding confrontation with oncoming vehicles.

What souvenir should we bring home from our trip?

Pashmina scarves cost a fraction of what they would cost back at home and seem to be on sale at just about every street shop in Thamel. But, often they are not 100% Pashmina. We’d suggest you visit Pilgrims Book House as a ‘one stop souvenir shop’. They have more than just books, although they do indeed have a fine collection of books and maps. Here, you'll find everything from fancy soaps to hand-made luxury bedspreads. Everything is a fixed price too and invariably the goods sold here are of a much better quality than the gamut of street shops.

Ready to book your trip to Nepal? 

Browse Insight Guides' suggested itineraries online or submit a trip request now

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