02/09/2016 04:25 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 05:12 EST

A First-Timer's Guide To Kathmandu


Photo credit: SCILLA KIM

Kathmandu, Nepal's City of Temples, is unlike any other city in the world. It's crowded, it's noisy, it's sacred, it's overwhelming, and it's a place that every traveler should visit. From the world-famous Swayambhunath Temple to Durbar Square and extravagant nights out in the Thamel tourist district, the following are five places every first-time visitor to Kathmandu should see.

Durbar Square


Photo credit: Jerome Bon

Durbar Square, where the Nepali royals once lived centuries ago, is considered one of Kathmandu's main tourist attractions. The entrance fee for foreigners increased from roughly $2 to $7 for foreigners, but it's a small price to pay to admire so many temples in one small space. Take in the sacred feeling of the complex of royal palaces, Hanuman Dhoka and temples that date back to the 1500s.

Unfortunately, many of Durbar Square's famed temples crumbled in the April, 2015, earthquake, but visitors can still experience the majesty of the square, its temples and the unique shopping area just outside.

Swayambhunath Temple


Photo credit: Jorge Lascar

Also known as the "Monkey Temple," the Swayambhunath World Heritage Site is a place that every tourist in Kathmandu should see. Follow the steep stone stairway up 365 steps, beyond mild-mannered monkeys and handicraft vendors, to the temple's platform, where you'll find the towering stupa, thousands of prayer flags, and picturesque views of Kathmandu from above.

A Night in Thamel


Photo credit: Cheryl Marland

Thamel is Kathmandu's bustling tourist center, and you don't have to enjoy wild nights out to take in the best that it has to offer. Accommodations range from backpacker-friendly to five-star, and the Nepalese restaurants are some of the best in the country. Fill up on momos (Nepalese dumplings) and shop for knock-off mountaineering gear, yak wool hats, ponchos, Nepalese handicrafts and more.

Those who do enjoy a night on the town will find plenty of places to indulge in a flavorful hookah, sip an Everest beer, and catch local live music. Purple Haze offers live rock music on a raised stage nearly every night of the week, and a more cozy, low-key night time atmosphere can always be found at the Buddha Bar, where you'll find the locals enjoying themselves too.

Boudhanath Stupa


Photo credit: Jean-Marie Hullot

It's easy to get caught up in wandering the winding, tourist-friendly streets of Thamel, but it's Kathmandu's temples that have earned it its nickname (City of Temples) and have made it one of the world's most bucket list worthy destinations. The Boudhanath stupa, named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is one of those must-visit places.

The massive stupa, located on the northeastern side of the city, was also damaged by the 2015 earthquake. You'll be a little disappointed that the iconic point of the stupa was destroyed, but the crowds of worshippers circling the stupa and the unique souvenir and antique shops surrounding it make every visit a spiritual and enjoyable experience.

A Day in Patan


Photo credit: Iryna Kuchma

Cross the brownish Bagmati River to reach the Kathmandu suburb of Patan, where you'll find another stunning Durbar square, courtyards, fair-trade shops and local handicraft makers. Escape the crowds of Thamel and the Kathmandu center and enjoy a night or two exploring Patan's Golden Temple (a must-see Buddhist monastery), the Mul Chowk square and its temples, the Patan Museum, and the countless other draws of the town once known as Lalitpur, or the "City of Beauty."