A small country compared to its neighbors India and China, Nepal owns its unique setting to the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas. While in the southern parts of the country you find steamy jungles with wildlife, the northern mountain regions are home to small villages, with Buddhist stupas, colorful prayer flags, and sherpas. If you have decided to travel to this part of the world, this comprehensive list of best places to visit in Nepal and a few suggestions of popular treks around these destinations might help.
1. Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
The capital of Nepal, Kathmandu is a bustling city, full of smells, colors, rickshaws, and cows – the sacred animal. Kathmandu is definitely one of the places to visit in Nepal because of its nearby international airport. If you are planning a few days in Kathmandu, there are some of Nepal’s best places you shouldn’t miss.
The historic Durbar Square lies in the heart of the city, with its Royal Palace and Hindu temples. Half-an-hour walk from this square, Thamel is the touristy neighborhood, packed with a wide range of hotels, restaurants, and shops with good bargains. There are many religious sights around Kathmandu, among which the UNESCO listed Swayambhunath is the most worthy to visit. Also called the ‘Monkey Temple,’ the whitewashed stupa is literally assaulted by friendly monkeys and it features one of Nepal’s most sacred Buddhist shrines.
2. Kathmandu Valley
One of Nepal’s best places to visit, the Kathmandu Valley is a patchwork of rice paddies, old towns with sacred temples, Buddhist stupas, and Newari villages. On the outskirts of Kathmandu, Bodnath is home to Asia’s largest stupa and a center of the Tibetan community. On the flip side, Pashupatinath is Nepal’s most important Hindu temple. As a visitor, you cannot enter the courtyard of the main temple, which is open only to Hindus. But you will have a more authentic experience if you walk along the Bagmati’s riverbanks where Hindus burn their deads on a pyre as part of a funeral ceremony.
Besides Pashupatinath and Bodnath, don’t forget another UNESCO listed world heritage site, the town of Bhaktapur. It is the best preserved medieval town in Nepal and has cobblestone backstreets, towering temples, and intriguing wooden statues.
Almost considered a suburb of Kathmandu, Patan is an independent town on the murky Bagmati River and one of the must-see places to visit in Nepal. The Newari town has its own Durbar Square (the main square), with a Royal Palace, and even its own Kumari (a Living Goddess).
Wandering the winding streets of the town, you will have an insight into the local lifestyle and layout of the Newari towns. You will also find Hindu temples built in the pagoda style and numerous fair-trade shops. Don’t miss the four stupas that mark the boundaries of the old town, the Ashoka Stupas. There, Buddhist pilgrims walk clockwise around the stupa and create a lively atmosphere with their chants and prayers.
4. Pokhara and Surroundings
Nepal’s second biggest tourist town, Pokhara features less historical sights but has a spectacular setting nearby the Phewa Lake. Situated at the foot of the Himalayas, Pokhara is the starting point for multi-day treks in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The Annapurna Circuit (12-19 days), the Ghorepani Trek (4-5 days), or the Ghachok Trek (2 days) are among the most popular ones. Poon Hill (a ‘hill’ imposingly standing at 3200 meters altitude) is well known for morning hikes. From there, you witness the spectacular scenery of the over-8000-meter peaks – Dhaulagiri (8167m) and Annapurna (8091m).
5. Everest Base Camp
Everybody has heard about Everest, the world’s highest mountain, right? If the 8848-meter high summit is a dream for most of the Alpinists, the Everest Base Camp (EBC) is a more realistic target and one of the challenging places to visit in Nepal. If you are a curious person, you will want to admire the iconic peak during your visit to Nepal. The EBC is pretty accessible and on many people’s travel bucket list, even if it’s situated at 5364 meters altitude. The starting point of the trail is in Lukla, where you can fly or take a bus from Kathmandu.
The trek lasts 14 to 20 days and it mainly follows the long valley preceding the Khumbu Glacier. You have to pay attention to acclimatization and take one day or two of rest if needed. Along the trek, you will see not only Everest but also some of the other famous Himalayan peaks, such as Pumori (7161m), Nuptse (7861m), Lhotse (8516m), and Ama Dablam (6812m). After reaching the Everest Base Camp, you will backtrack to Lukla but this time, you will only have to descend.
Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lumbini is one of the most famous religious sites of Nepal. The Buddha was born here 2500 years ago.
The Maya Devi Temple was built on site to commemorate the important event. Pilgrims from all over the world come to Lumbini and worship in the stunning white temple with a sacred pond. In the new part of the town, Buddhist monasteries and spiritual centers have opened to travelers and pilgrims. These places offer meditation retreats, Buddhist teachings, or simply a quiet space where to reconnect with your inner peace.
7. Chitwan National Park
In the humid plains bordering India, Nepal seems a completely different world than the dramatic serrated line of the Himalayas.
A jungle walk or kayaking with professional guides are ways to have a safe insight into the local wildlife. It’s easy to see elephants walking down the main street in the Sauraha village. However, call yourself lucky if you glimpse a tiger in the dense jungle for a few seconds. Plenty of crocodiles stay along the riverbanks of the Rapti River and rhinos come to the nearby bathing spots, too. So you can track wild animals even from ashore, without venturing too much into the jungle.
8. Langtang Valley
Bordering Tibet, the Langtang Valley is one of Nepal’s best destinations when it comes to trekking in the Himalayas. Approximately 200 kilometers from Kathmandu, Syabru Besi small town is the starting point for numerous treks in the area. The Langtang Valley Trek (7-8 days) features high alpine scenery, glaciers, and yak pastures. The Tamang Heritage Trail (6-7 days) explores traditional mountain villages of the Tamang ethnic group while staying in local homestays. Eventually, if you prefer remoter treks, the Gosaikunda Trek (7-8 days) includes sacred, high-altitude lakes as well as Himalayan panoramas.
Tip: The best times of year to visit Nepal are in spring (March/April) – before the monsoon starts, or in autumn (October/November) – after the monsoon has ended.
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