As the only International Airport in the whole of Nepal is in Kathmandu, pretty much all tourists to Nepal will pass through this city – many of them choosing to spend at least 1 day here before they head off to Everest and the other mountains. Kathmandu shouldn’t be missed on any Nepal itinerary and is certainly a busy city full of life, bursting with interesting and unique things to do. You can visit temples, visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites or visit museums or local villages. There’s a lot to experience in Kathmandu and 24 hours here will only scratch the surface. If one day is all you have though, you can certainly make the most of it. Here are some of the things you can get up to in 1 day in Kathmandu, as well as some useful tips for your travels here!
Kathmandu is very crowded and it can give you a sensory overload with it’s wide range of sounds, smells and sights. First time visitors to the city might find it overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been to similar neighbouring countries such as India. You’ll find congested traffic jams, rickshaws and people everywhere. But there are also some incredibly peaceful temples and beautiful areas to be found.
Thamel is the downtown bustling area of Kathmandu and so you will definitely spend some time here during your 24 hours in Kathmandu. You’ll see prayer flags hanging everywhere, you’ll hear live traditional music and smell the incense along the streets. Walk along the hidden alleys and backstreets and fall in love with the unique vibe here. The main part of Thamel is pedestrianised so no vehicles are allowed here, which makes it a great place to stroll around leisurely and explore whilst absorbing the rich atmosphere.
In Thamel you will find everything from luxury hotels to hostels, bars and restaurants to souvenir shops, to tour agencies and outlets selling hiking/mountaineering gear. It is a very lively place and is popular especially with backpackers.
ACCOMODATION IN THAMEL
I recommend you book your accommodation in Thamel or within walking distance to Thamel during your time in Kathmandu. This will save you a lot of time waiting in traffic jams and will mean you can walk to a lot of places. If you stay further out you can sometimes spend hours in a traffic jam trying to get somewhere. Thamel is also a really fun place for nightlife if you want to finish your 1 day in Kathmandu in style! Other areas of Kathmandu are pretty dead by 8pm, whereas Thamel stays open until the early hours of the morning! Click here to book accommodation in Thamel!
From Thamel you can either walk to Kathmandu Durbar Square or get a taxi. It is about 1.5 km so you may prefer to walk and see all the temples along the way, in which case just head straight down Thamel Marg and Chandraman Sing Marg until you get to Durbar Square.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
A 20 minute walk from Thamel will take you to Kathmandu Durbar Square. Kathmandu Durbar Square is also known as Basantapur Durbar Square. Durbar means ‘Royal Palace‘ so Durbar Square in effect means: Royal Palace Square. The square sits infront of ancient the old royal palaces where the kings ruled. There are also lots of ancient temples and museums here. To enter Durbar Square you must buy a permit that costs 1000 Nepalese Rupee (£6.70). Unfortunately after the devastating earthquake on April 25th 2015 many buildings in the square collapsed and are still being reconstructed but it is still absolutely worth it to visit.
There are actually three Durbar Square in the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. They were all places where the Nepali Royal Family would meet and they are now all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All were damaged by the 2015 earthquake but are all equally worth exploring.
Right next to Durbar Square is Old Freak Street, or Jhochhen Tole as it is officially called. Named so because it was here where hippies came in the 1960’s and 70’s. The area is full of life and you’ll find so many restaurants here. It is a nice place to stroll, particularly in the early evening.
Swyambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
Swyambhunath Stupa is one of the holiest Buddhist stupas in Nepal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it a must see even if you only have 1 day in Kathmandu! Swyambhunath Stupa lies on a hilltop 3km from Kathmandu, which means it provides an incredible panoramic view of the whole of the Kathmandu Valley.
The stupa is one of the world’s largest dome shaped stupas. This is a very sacred place so please be respectful – you will see lots of Buddhist monks here and lots of prayer flags.
Here you can feed the monkeys too – just buy some biscuits from one of the nearby stalls and feed them. The monkeys here are quite good, unlike the ones in Bali’s Monkey Forest if you have ever been there!
Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest buddha stupas in the world. It has an eye painted on each corner so it is able to keep an eye out in all directions. Boudhanath Stupa stands tall over the city and is a beacon of the Buddhist belief and peace.
Bhaktapur is one of Kathmandu’s older districts that is definitely worth exploring if you still have the time on your 1 day in this city, although Bhaktapur is over 20km from the centre of Kathmandu. Bhaktapur has a Durbar Square too (Bhaktapur Durbar Square) and it also has a really nice vibe.
What to wear in Kathmandu
Modest dress is recommended in Kathmandu, especially for females.
How to get to Kathmandu
Most tourists will arrive into Nepal at Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) as this is the only international airport in the whole of Nepal.
Landing into Kathmandu will most likely be an experience you won’t forget! And not just because of the incredible views. You will probably land with a very big bump! As a flight attendant I operated a flight to Kathmandu once and the Pilot needed to give us a full briefing before the flight as to what to expect for landing. Kathmandu is one of the most challenging airports to land in as it lies as the foot of the Himalaya Mountains. There have been many plane crashes here over recent years as due to all the mountains, bad weather and resulting turbulence it can be extremely difficult to land safely. Pilots actually need special training to land here in Kathmandu due to all the challenges.
I’m just giving you this information to prepare you, not to scare you! The Captain will often do a PA saying the landing may be rough, but I’m just informing you so you are pre-prepared and don’t get scared during landing. Try to forget about any turbulence and just enjoy the out-of-this-world views from the plane window.
Transport in Kathmandu
If you only have 1 day here I would definitely advise against taking public buses in Nepal. Not only are they time consuming as the traffic can get pretty bad in Kathmandu, but as a traveller you will find it much more comfortable and convenient to just hire a driver for the day. It won’t be expensive and you’ll be able to get everywhere you want to go as quickly as possible. Especially if you are a female travelling alone and don’t speak the language I do not advise taking a bus in Nepal.