Kathmandu Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Nepal’s Capital

Wondering exactly how to spend 3 days in Kathmandu? This comprehensive Kathmandu itinerary contains everything you need to know to make the most of your time in Nepal’s vibrant capital.

If you’re planning a visit to Nepal, your trip will likely start in the bustling city of Kathmandu– it’s home to the country’s only international airport, so for most travelers, it’s the only way in or out. 

Most travelers will advise you to escape the city as quickly as possible, in search of the rugged landscapes and the majestic Himalayan peaks & trails that Nepal is famous for. Yes, it’s noisy, polluted, and chaotic– but it’s not to be missed! The city offers a unique insight into Nepalese culture, and as one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, there’s no shortage of incredible places to visit in Kathmandu from its historic Durbar Squares to secret rooftop bars.

I’ve visited Kathmandu countless times at the start and end of multiple trekking trips and in this Kathmandu itinerary, I’ll share all the best things to see and do in the city and its surrounding areas over 3 days.

Kathmandu city in nepalKathmandu city in nepal
Kathmandu City is busy, vibrant, & full of hidden gems!

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By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Day 1: Kathmandu City

Arriving in Kathmandu is a total onslaught on the senses, and it can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. The best way to acclimatize is to get straight out there and explore. That’s what day one of this Kathmandu itinerary is all about.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

After settling into your accommodation and dropping off your bags, head to Kathmandu Durbar Square (Hanuman Dhoka) as your first stop. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the heart of ancient Kathmandu; the square was originally crafted as a royal residence in the 17th century and contains over 55 major temples. 

There are a few particular attractions in Kathmandu Durbar Square that I definitely recommend: 

  • The museums inside the Hanuman Dhoka Palace are a great way to learn about the history of the Nepalese monarchy.
  • Kumari Ghar, home of the living child goddess. You’re only allowed into the courtyard, but this place was fascinating to me – the intricately carved stonework is breathtaking, and the atmosphere was almost quite eerie, with people staring into the shadows hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious child goddess. 
  • Taleju Bwahni is another temple that showcases the remarkable skill of traditional Nepali architecture, with ornate carvings and beautiful artwork on display. This is one of Nepal’s most important religious sites, and it’s worth stopping by to take a look at it from the outside (as non-Hindus aren’t allowed inside).

There’s an entrance fee of 1,000 NPR to get in, including access to all of the temples, as well as the museums inside the square.

Spend a bit of time here admiring as many (or as few!) temples as you’re interested in. The great thing about the concentration of temples here is that it’s easy to pick and choose what you spend time looking at.

Explore Thamel: The Tourist Hub of Kathmandu

After spending the morning in Durbar Square, head on foot to the nearby district of Thamel in central Kathmandu– it’s about a 15-minute walk. This is Kathmandu’s main tourist district, famed for its winding narrow alleyways, trekking stores, street vendors, and lively food and drink scene.

Thamel is a great place for your first taste of Nepalese food, and I’d recommend stopping here for lunch. You could opt to try a buffet of street foods. Look out for yomari, momos, and bara pancakes.

If you’re not quite ready to dive into street food just yet, there are lots of fantastic sit-down restaurants in Thamel to choose from. Thamel House Restaurant is a great choice for traditional Nepalese thalis, and Nepalya Rooftop Restaurant serves fantastic food with an incredible view over the city.

Street vendors in kathmandu, nepalStreet vendors in kathmandu, nepalStreet vendors in kathmandu, nepal

Following lunch, make a stop at the Garden of Dreams. This calm oasis, which is made up of manicured lawns and an array of plant species, offers a great respite from the bustling streets of Thamel. You’ll find it right near Himalayan Java, a great cafe where I’m sitting right now writing this Kathmandu itinerary!

Alternative: Make a quick detour to Patan Durbar Square, home to the Patan Museum and the famous Hiranya Varna Mahavihar, the Golden Temple, just 15 minutes from Thamel.

Swayambhunath Temple

The final stop for the day is at Kathmandu’s most iconic site, Swayambhunath Stupa. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the oldest religious sites in the city, and it’s incredibly unique in that it is used for worship by both Hindus and Buddhists.

The complex is perched atop a hill, overlooking the sprawling city below. It’s a 365-step climb to the top and the stairs are steep, but the ascent shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone with an average level of fitness.

Once you reach the top, before entering the complex there’s a little lookout point just in front of the ticket kiosk. This lookout point holds what might just be the best view of Kathmandu you’ll find when you’re in the city. It’s truly breathtaking. 

I would aim to get there about an hour before sunset so that you can spend some time exploring and admiring the stupa, shrines, and prayer wheels, before heading back to this lookout point to watch the sunset.

A word of warning: this temple is nicknamed the ’monkey temple’ because of the 400-strong troop of monkeys that call it home. They’re known to pinch things like sunglasses, snacks, and sometimes even cameras. So, keep a close eye on your belongings!

Day 2: Sunrise Hike, Bhaktapur, & Hidden Gems

Day two calls for an early start, but I promise you it’s well worth it. Start the day by watching the sunrise over the Himalayas, at the beautiful Nagarkot Hill Station.

Sunrise at Nagarkot Hill

Nagarkot is located about an hour and a half outside the City Center, right at the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. Sitting at an elevation of 2,175 meters, the viewpoint offers unparalleled mountain views over the highest peaks in Nepal, including Everest, Choyu, Mansalu, and Annapurna.

It’s the cheapest and most convenient way to say that you’ve seen Mt Everest. Although in my opinion, the distance means that it doesn’t actually look that tall from Nagarkot, and it’s quite hard to spot.

After the sunrise, there’s a nice 9.5 km hike through the countryside to Changu Narayan Temple. It’s one of the most popular day hikes around Kathmandu, and for good reason. It’s a pretty easy hike with some great views!

Explore Bhaktapur

Once you’ve finished the hike, head to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, about a 20-minute drive from Changu Narayan Temple.

This UNESCO World Heritage site shares similarities with Durbar Square in Kathmandu, but in my opinion, it’s much more charming. It seems to have been better preserved and is less chaotic than the square in Kathmandu; walking through the narrow streets surrounding Bhaktapur Durbar Square feels like taking a step back in time.

As with the Kathmandu Durbar Square, there are a lot of temples and historic sites to explore, so I’ll list some of my favorites below:

  • The Peacock Window is an ornately carved window considered to be one of Nepal’s national treasures. There are a few replicas of this dotted around Kathmandu, but the one in Bhaktapur Durbar Square is believed to be the original. This is one of those mind-blowing historical artifacts that it’s hard to imagine someone crafting with their hands, rather than a machine. 
  • A few winding streets away from Durbar Square you’ll find Taumadhi Square, which is home to the tallest pagoda-style temple in Nepal, Nyatapola Temple. It’s very impressive! 
  • The Golden Gate is renowned as one of the finest examples of Nepalese art ever created. It’s believed to have been built in 1753 and features intricate copper gilding – it’s honestly like nothing I’ve ever seen before. 
  • The city of Bhaktapur is known for its ceramics, and the epicenter of this industry is Potters Square. Here you can watch craftsmen working over potter wheels and see rows upon rows of ceramics drying under the sun. It’s a cool glimpse into local industry, and I really recommend stopping by to check it out. If you’re in the market for any handcrafted souvenirs, you’ll find plenty here!

If you have time, try to make it to Changu Narayan Temple, the oldest temple in Kathmandu.

Secret Rooftop Sunset Bar

The distance between Bhaktapur and Kathmandu is relatively short, but it can sometimes take over an hour to travel due to traffic.

If the sun hasn’t gone down by the time you’ve arrived back in Kathmandu, head to the rooftop bar at YOG Hostel for some sunset sundowners. I found this amazing hostel on my first trip to Kathmandu in 2019 and I always go back on every trip. The view over the city as the sun dips behind the mountains is one of my favorite sights in Kathmandu!

Day 3: Kathmandu Religious Sites

To make the most of your third day in Kathmandu, start bright and early by heading to Pashupatinath Temple. This is one of Nepal’s largest Hindu temple complexes, and it’s a highly sacred religious site. There are over 492 temples here, and the site is one of the four most religious sites in Asia dedicated to lord Shiva.

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath is spread over both sides of the Bagmati River; deemed as a holy river by both Buddhists and Hindus, this river is an important site for Hindu cremations. The belief is that cremation by a holy river ensures the spirit’s passage onto the next life, purged of all sin. For many Nepalese Hindus, being cremated here is an important wish. 

I really recommend paying for a guide when you’re at the temple. It’s the best way to learn about the history of Pashupatinath, the cremation procedures, and the Hindu religion as a whole. At first, I thought witnessing a cremation might seem like a really strange thing to do. But, I learned that it’s an incredibly insightful way of understanding the spiritual beliefs within the religion, and found it to be a very thought-provoking experience!

Tip: Non-Hindus aren’t allowed to enter the inside of the temple, but open cremations can be viewed from the outside areas.

Kopan Monastery

Following the morning at Pashupatinath Temple, head to the nearby Kopan Monastery, which is a 15-minute drive away. This Tibetan-Buddhist Monastery is open to the public and offers visitors a chance to learn about the customs of the monks who live there, as well as the monastery’s unique history and Buddhism in general. 

It’s a really welcoming and peaceful place; guests are invited to meditate, attend talks, stroll through the beautiful grounds, and eat at the vegetarian dining hall on site. Those wanting to devolve further into Buddhist practices can even attend a short course or retreat here, staying onsite for the duration.

Boudhanath Stupa

Downhill from the monastery, you’ll find Boudhanath Stupa, the final stop in this Kathmandu itinerary. The 45-minute walk is incredibly scenic so I recommend traveling on foot if possible. But, if you’re strapped for time, it’s about a ten-minute drive.

Stupas are dome-shaped structures used as Buddhist shrines, and Boudhanath is the largest in Asia, with a circumference measuring over 100 meters. It’s also deemed as one of the most important stupas outside of Tibet, making it an important place of worship.

Many Buddhists take pilgrimages to Boudhanath, and I love watching and photographing the monks and worshippers walking around the stupa in clockwise circles, spinning prayer wheels as they move along. The spiritual energy here is palpable, and it’s a great spot for quiet reflection as you watch the ritual of worship take place.

How to Visit Kathmandu in 3 Days 

Most of the stops on this 3 day Kathmandu itinerary have been planned around attractions close to each other, and a lot of the travel can be done on foot. Day 1 for example, can be done entirely by walking from place to place.

However, Days 2 and 3 head a bit further afield, so you might be wondering how to get from place to place. Here are your options.

  • By Bus: Kathmandu has a fairly expansive public bus network, and using this is the most affordable way to get around. It’s a pretty entertaining experience – but I wouldn’t recommend it as the most efficient way of getting to the Kathmandu attractions. The buses run on set routes which often require a few changes, and figuring out the correct route can take a bit of legwork. Additionally, the bus stops aren’t usually signposted, and finding them is often a case of looking out for groups of people standing at the side of the road. Tip: If you do choose to travel by bus within Kathmandu, the app ‘Baato Maps’ is a helpful tool. 
  • By Taxi: Taxis (both motorbikes and cars) are a fantastic way of getting around Kathmandu. Ridesharing apps have gained a lot of popularity over recent years; these are great for tourists as you don’t have to stress about haggling or being overcharged. The main apps used are Taximandu, Patheo, and Indrive, and they all work in a similar way to Uber. I mostly use Patheo & book motorbike drivers as the quickest way to avoid traffic jams.
  • By Private Driver or Tour: Hiring a driver for the day can be a great way to hit up lots of Kathmandu tourist spots in one go, without worrying about traveling in between. Usually, you’ll agree on your stops and the price in advance, and the driver will drop you off and wait for you at each place. This costs more than using buses or taxis, but if you’re trying to see a lot in a short period, it can be the most stress-free way of doing so. Just ask the reception at your accommodation for driver recommendations, or use websites like Viator and Tripadvisor to search for yourself. Below are some great tour options to explore the city.

Where to Stay in Kathmandu

The trekking and tourist hub in Kathmandu is called Thamel. This is where you will find all of the best trekking shops, hostels, restaurants, bars, and hotels in Kathmandu.

If you’re planning a trek in the Himalayas, you’ll want to find a hotel or hostel that allows you to leave your luggage there until you return. Read my guide to Kathmandu’s best hotels, or take a pick from the three best accommodation options below that offer this service.

1. Aloft Kathmandu Luxury

Overlooking the city from the heart of Thamel, this is “the place” where climbers including myself stay before big expeditions. It’s a luxury pick with epic amenities like a gym, rooftop pool, and an EPIC buffet breakfast.

2. Flock Hostel Budget

Best backpacker hostel in Thamel with very clean dorms with curtains & private rooms with excellent views. Amazing on-site cafe & restaurant serving delicious coffees & international meals.

3. Nirvana Boutique Hotel Mid-Range

A peaceful boutique hotel to escape the hustle & bustle. Best mid-range pick with a 9.7/10 rating on Booking.com.

How Much Will I Spend on this Kathmandu Itinerary?

Generally speaking, Kathmandu is a very reasonably priced destination. Budget travelers can get by on less than $25 per day, and more mid-range travelers can travel comfortably for around $50 per day.

Below is a table of average daily costs in Nepal:

Budget Mid-Range Luxury
Food (3x meals per day) $8 $15 $35+
Accommodation $5 $15 $40+
Transport $6 $8 $15+
Activities/Entrance Fees $4 $8 $12+
Total $23 $47 $102

Kathmandu Travel FAQs

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Kathmandu? 

October – December is the most pleasant period to visit Kathmandu, as during this time of year the sky is clear and the weather is dry and sunny. This is the high season in Nepal though, so you can expect things to book up further in advance and prices can be slightly higher during this time. 

Can I See Mount Everest from Kathmandu?

Technically, it’s possible to see Everest from a handful of locations in Kathmandu. But, the chances of this happening are very slim, due to the smog and pollution over the city.  If you want to see the world’s tallest mountain while you’re in Kathmandu, your best bet is to book an Everest Scenic Flight. This is exactly as the name suggests – you take off, fly alongside the mountain, and then head back down to Kathmandu. Pretty cool, right?

Is Kathmandu a Safe City?

Nepal is a very safe country for tourists, and Kathmandu is no exception to that. On the whole, Nepalese people are very hospitable and welcoming. And, as long as you remain respectful and mindful of local customs, you shouldn’t run into any issues. 

As with any destination, it’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings, particularly at night and in more remote areas.

As you can see, there is plenty to get up to during 3 days in Kathmandu! Hopefully, this itinerary will help you make the most of your trip to the capital of Nepal!

Below are some more useful Nepal travel guides I’ve written to inspire you to explore beyond the popular Everest Base Camp Trek!