Regardless of whether Kathmandu is your main destination, your departure point for a trek, or you have a layover in Kathmandu on your way to another destination, this post will help you make the most of your one day in Kathmandu and provide a roundup of some of the best tourist places to visit in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is the capital and largest city in Nepal and has a population of roughly 1 million. Other cities make up the huge conglomeration that is considered all part of the Kathmandu valley. So some of the sites are listed as being within another city, however they may only be a few kilometers from one another. They are all easily reachable from Kathmandu proper.
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My one day in Kathmandu happened to be on a layover on the way to and from Bhutan. I was thrilled to be able to visit the country of Nepal, albeit short, and get a glimpse of the tourist attractions and places to visit in Kathmandu. True to form, I researched the top sites ahead of time and made great use of my one day in Kathmandu seeing most of the major tourist attractions.
- 1 The Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport, KTM
- 2 Where to Stay in Kathmandu
- 3 Tourist Places to Visit With One Day in Kathmandu
- 4 What to Pack for Kathmandu
The Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport, KTM
I say with lots of conviction, the Kathmandu airport was one of the worst airport experiences I’ve ever had. I found myself constantly shocked by the lack of organization and lack of size and structure to accommodate all those people passing through the airport at one time. There is only one domestic and one international terminal, as well as one single runway.
Arriving at Kathmandu Airport
When you first arrive with other disembarking passengers to the arrival area, you must fill out an arrival card. There’s a shortage of pens and countertops, so I’d highly advise having your own pen handy. Also have your passport and boarding pass from the arriving flight handy.
You will next get in line at one of the few kiosks to scan your passport. It will ask a series of questions, including your hotel phone and address, but apparently those aren’t important as the airport employee helping us had us just skip those.
Next, you get in a big line to purchase your visa at a counter. Yes, you can get your Nepal visa on arrival. The cost is $5 US for a 1 day transit visa (if you purchase a transit visa, make sure your duration in Nepal is less than 24 hours and have proof of your return flight), $30 for 15 days, $50 for for 30 days, $125 for 90 days. You must pay for your visas in cash. They take different currencies, but it’s a good idea to have US dollars, in crisp, newer, intact bills. If you pay with a different currency, you may not get change back. You can actually purchase your visa online ahead of time, but it expires after 15 days.
Then you get in line for the corresponding visa that you just purchased (transit, 15, 30, 90 day) and the immigration officer will inspect your arrival card, passport, and visa you purchased. With all these lines you must wait in, you can see why it helps to be prepared with a pen, boarding pass, and knowing where to go ahead of time.
There are tons of people with signs lined up across the street shouting when you exit the airport. Walk down the line looking for your name on a sign if you have prearranged transportation, which I highly suggest.
Departing the Kathmandu Airport
With KTM being a small airport, you may think you don’t need to arrive early. When we had a very early flight, this was true. It took a reasonable amount of time to get to our gate. However when we had a midmorning flight, we had to wait in a line outside to even enter the airport.
Bring a printed version of your boarding pass, airline confirmation, or something to show to even be allowed into the airport. For some reason they required this. You go through a basic security screening right there in the entrance of the airport, then go to the checkout counter.
After checking in, go upstairs. Once again, you need your pen to fill out a disembarkation card with your flight number and passport info.
Next, you go through what I felt like was the most awkward security check. There are separate lines for men and women, so families were split up. I saw poor mothers pushing strollers and trying to carry bags with multiple kids all by herself because her husband had to go through a separate line. It seemed rather sexist and pointless to me.
The airport may not even announce your departure gate until a few minutes prior to your flight. It will show up on a a single screen, which is crowded because everyone else is waiting as well. There seemed to only be a few departure gates with no rhyme or reason to where people waited for their flights, and not enough seating.
Where to Stay in Kathmandu
After researching the neighborhoods in Kathmandu, I settled on the area of Thamel for my one night and one day in Kathmandu. There are a large selection of affordable hotels, guesthouses, and hostels in the area but you won’t find 5 star luxury.
The bustling neighborhood is a labyrinth of vendors, shops, restaurants, and opportunities for bargaining for unique goods. I think this is an awesome area to stay to immerse yourself in the culture and energy of the city. I’ve listed some of the highest rated hotels in the area in different price categories.
Bodhi Boutique Hotel – I chose this hotel for my one day in Kathmandu on the way to Bhutan. It was a lovely little hotel on a quiet street, easy walking distance to the hustle and bustle, and a great breakfast.
Hotel Jampa – We stayed here on our way back from Bhutan and I preferred this hotel simply based on the location conveniently located in the middle of all the shopping in Thamel.
Kumari Boutique Hotel – This hotel was one of my top picks based on reviews, but it was fully booked for my dates.
The Glasshouse Hostel – A sophisticated looking hostel with private king bed rooms or shared hostel rooms.
Yakety Yak Hostel – Great reviews and location score if you’re interested in the hostel scene.
Kathmandu Marriott Hotel – If 5 star luxury is what you want, this modern hotel is one of the few 5 star hotels with good reviews and it’s not far from Thamel, although not technically in Thamel.
Tourist Places to Visit With One Day in Kathmandu
There are a number of different attractions in Kathmandu, but if you only have one day, these are definitely the highlights and places that impressed me.
To get from location to location, we hired a taxi for the entire one day in Kathmandu, organized by our hotel. Our driver waited for us by each tourist place we visited in Kathmandu, and the price for the day was quite reasonable. If you opt to do this, make sure you remember where he parked and what his vehicle looks like. I took a picture of our driver’s car and license plate in case we had a hard time finding him among all the taxis.
Alternately, you could hire a different taxi driver to each attraction, as they are waiting in hordes near the sites. However you’ll have to deal with negotiations and wondering if you’re getting scammed each time. But you would likely save some money this way.
Traffic in Kathmandu is horrific, so we definitely wasted plenty of time sitting in the car. Rickshaws are another option for shorter distances.
It’s also a good idea to have the proper names of the tourist sites in Kathmandu written down for your taxi driver. Also bring a business card for your hotel to make sure you can find your way back easily.
Anyone can appreciate this important ancient site, but it is particularly important to Buddhists and Hindus. It is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal dating back to the 5th century. The large stupa overlooks much of the Kathmandu valley.
Your driver can drop you off at the lower entrance to the site, also known as the Monkey Temple. If you call it this, taxi drivers will know what you’re referring to. From the monkey temple, you should follow the path uphill, up a long staircase until you reach the ancient site. From here you can wander around, see the view of the city from above, or go shopping.
If climbing steep stairs is too difficult, ask the driver to take you to the top entrance. Here, it is a shorter distance to walk to the main site. The entrance fee is 200 rupees (approximately $3 US).
Patan Durbar Square
This stunning ancient site is very well worth the visit. The bustling area around it felt very authentic and non touristy. The site consists of 3 main courtyards, one of which was the ancient royal palace.
The entrance fee is quite high compared to some of the other sites at 1000 rupees (approximately $14 US). It includes entrance to the museum and the temples. There is a little booth at the entrance where they charge you.
We did not have time to visit the temples and the museums, rather we just wanted to have a walk through and grab lunch at a restaurant. Our taxi driver, who spoke very little English, knew we wanted to eat. He motioned for us to follow him away from the entrance booth. Steering us through a back alley to circumvent the entrance, he delivered us to a restaurant inside the square, skipping the entrance fee.
The view over the square was jaw dropping and we had a nice meal for the cost of the entrance fee. If you have time though, definitely pay the entrance fee and explore the historical site. We ate at the restaurant called Third World Restaurant, but there are others in the area with rooftop views as well. After lunch we wandered around the narrow alleys and shops by the square.
Located near the banks of the Bagmati River, this sacred Hindu site had a different vibe than the others for me. It was the only site where we were harassed by a local guide trying to force his services on us. He tried to act like he was doing it to be nice, but certainly would have asked for a fee if we’d accepted. He left us alone sufficiently to roam the huge complex once we insisted we didn’t need a guide.
The main ancient temple dates back to 400 B.C. and is one of the most important sites to Hindus in Nepal. The entrance fee to the entire site is a little steep at 1000 rupees. Also, the main temple does not allow non-Hindus into the temple, and even prohibits Western Hindus from entering.
One of the unique things to witness at Pashupatinath are the Hindu open cremations along the river banks. Family members gather along the raised platforms to witness the ceremonies and the ashes are released into the river.
Boudhanath (Boudha) Stupa
This was my favorite of the tourist places to visit during our one day in Kathmandu. The massive white stupa dominates the area as a central gathering place for throngs of tourists and locals alike. It has the distinction of being one of the largest stupas in the world and can be seen dominating the skyline.There are a number of legends concerning the origins of the site, but it was probably built around the 14th century and serves as an important religious and meditative site in Buddhism.
I completely recommend saving this destination for the end of your one day in Kathmandu. Golden hour and sunset here from a rooftop restaurant is unmatchable! We found an absolute gem of a restaurant for a drink and dessert that someone else had recommended to us called La Casita.
The entrance fee is 400 rupee and a little tip: walk the circle around the stupa in a clockwise direction, following the crowd. There is also another beautiful spot where you can light a candle on a second level building and the view is stunning.
What to Pack for Kathmandu
Aside from your typical necessities (passport, visa, camera, etc.), make sure you have a bank card to withdraw cash for shopping and for taxis. There are plenty of bank ATMs around Thamel, just be cautious. Do it during the daytime or preferably not alone. Hotels will accept credit cards and some upscale restaurants.
How about an extra bag for shopping? I know it sounds crazy, but Thamel has so much cheap stuff (hiking gear, jackets, backpacks, etc.), you’ll want to buy it all and bring it home. Like North Face down coats for $25. You can haggle over prices and end up with some awesome stuff for real bargains. Who cares if it’s knock off? Or you could buy a cheap duffel bag when you get there.
I also think this a place where a money belt makes sense. There are tons of crowds, and you may not want to have your personal bag visible.
If you don’t want to contribute to the plastic problem by purchasing bottled water, bring yourself a reusable bottle. I love my Katadyn water bottle with a built in filter. Filtration will protect agains bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses.
Consider bringing something to purify your water, like the Steripen, which kills bacteria AND viruses.
Also, before you go, download Google offline maps of Kathmandu. You never know when you’ll need it. I use offline maps every time I travel anywhere.
Also, don’t forget travel insurance. Flights to Nepal can be expensive, and cancellations or delays are not unrealistic. Better to be safe than sorry. Many regular travelers use and prefer World Nomads. Click the Banner Below:
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