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A local's guide to Kathmandu, Nepal | Insight Guides Blog

A local's guide to Kathmandu, Nepal

Local expert and Insight Guides trip planner for Nepal Mark shares his expert knowledge on the city of Kathmandu. His insights on this bustling metropolis can help you discover ancient rhythms of trade and worship, as well as myriad beautiful monuments.
A Nepalese Buddhist rotation prayer wheel. Photo: Nicram Sabod/Shutterstock
A Nepalese Buddhist rotation prayer wheel. Photo: Nicram Sabod/Shutterstock

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 Insight Guides' Exclusive Everest trip. There is nothing quite like it in Kathmandu. It’s as much a living museum as it is a luxury hotel. But, if deluxe accommodation is out of your budget, 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 just a 15-minute walk from the vibrant Thamel neighbourhood. 

Where is a great place for dinner in Kathmandu?

You’re spoiled for choice in Kathmandu when it comes to dining. 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 in Kathmandu. However, for something authentic and atmospheric the Bhojan Griha (House of Food) makes for a great holiday experience. They serve a traditional Newari style banquet, complete with Nepali folk music and dance. 

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. 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 with vegetables or meat. However, Nepalis have taken the humble momo to a new level... Try chili momos, if you can handle the heat.

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

Most travellers entrench themselves in the Thamel area of Kathmandu. It’s certainly exciting, with narrow, crowded streets lined by colorful shops, bars and courtyard cafés. 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 most visited areas 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 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, visiting can be a very moving and powerful experience. Several of the café bars encircling the Stupa itself have balconies from where you can observe and soak up the atmosphere.

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 stock a fine collection of books and maps. Here, you can find everything from artisan soaps to handmade luxury bedspreads. Everything has a fixed price too and invariably the goods sold here are of a much better quality than those in many of the street shops.

Ready to take a trip to Nepal?

Simply get in touch with us to share ideas for your trip and let us know when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create a tailor-made itinerary for you based on your personal preferences, which you can amend until you're completely happy with every detail before booking. Our existing itineraries in Nepal can offer inspiration, and remember that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to suit your specific requirements.