Set below the Himalayas and boasting some of the world’s highest peaks, Nepal is a deeply spiritual country, inspiring all who are fortunate enough to visit. Locals who are Hindus believe that the gods go to the Himalayas to meditate, while Buddhists view the mountains and lakes as sacred. Throughout the country, Tibetan prayer flags are strung from religious sites, trees, and mountains, bringing peace and harmony to the surrounding landscapes and people.
With such dramatic scenery, spiritual energy, and ancient history, Nepal is a wondrous and eye-opening experience. Here are 5 places you should visit on your first trip to Nepal.
Both the capital and the largest city in Nepal, Kathmandu is a jumbled network of narrow streets, shrines, rickshaws, and markets located 4,344 feet above sea level. Its historical and religious heritage are an everyday presence throughout the city, revealing itself in medieval temples, marigold-filled courtyards, and patios filled with drying rice.
One of the top places to visit is the Hanuman Dhoka, or Durbar Square, which functioned as the seat of royalty for thousands of years. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains the heart of the city, despite some of the damage during the 2015 earthquake.
At Kathmandu’s Durbar Square you’ll find:
Hanuman Gate, the entry point to the square where a statue of Hanuman, the monkey god, guards the palace.
Basantapur Tower, a nine-storied tower that offers panoramic views of the city.
Taleju Temple, which is decorated with a golden torana and dedicated Taleju, the goddess who made kings.
House of the Living Goddess, where the living incarnation of Taleju lives.
The Tribhuwan Museum, which has exhibits of items of the grandfather of King Birendra, including thrones, jewels, and weapons.
Hanumandhoka Palace Museum, which features Nepalese, art, architecture, and history exhibits.
Just outside Kathmandu, Patan, also known as Lalitpur, the ‘City of Beauty,’ was once the capital of an independent kingdom and is now considered the cultural and artistic capital of Nepal. The city is made up of dozens of courtyards, some residential, others monastic, all of which are full of Buddhist monuments - there are over 1,200 of them throughout the city - and craftsmen selling high-quality handicrafts.
While its Durbar Square suffered from significant damage during the 2015 earthquake, it’s still quite beautiful and popular with travelers. Its Krishna Temple is considered one of the most important shrines in the valley.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva and erected along the banks of the sacred Bagmati River, the Pashupatinath Temple is where Hindus go to find refuge the last few weeks of their lives. They believe those who are fortunate enough to die here will be reborn again as humans, despite their conduct during this current life.
While only Hindus are allowed to enter the main temple, travelers do have the opportunity to see an open-air cremation if they wish. It can be quite a unique and mind-blowing experience for foreigners who wish to learn about Hinduism and Nepalese beliefs in death and afterlife.
The first national park in Nepal, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chitwan used to be a favorite destination of Nepal’s royals and aristocrats, where they hunted rhinoceroses, tigers, elephants, and sloth bears.
By the 1950s, poor farmers, in search of arable land, ended up poaching many big game animals until the 1960s, when 70% of the land had been cleared and only 95 rhinos remained.
Between those two events, wildlife and forests were quickly being decimated. In response, borders were delineated and Chitwan became a national park in 1973.
Now, the area is flourishing. As of 2021, there were 694 rhinos and 128 Bengal Tigers, as well as more than 700 other species of wildlife. For nature lovers, coming here feels like you’re a kid at Christmas, being able to watch animals, reptiles and birds roam free.
Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, is most famous as the gateway to the Annapurna trek. Although there is so much more to do here.
Known as the ‘Jewel of the Himalayas,’ Pokhara is situated along Phewa Lake and features the snow-capped Himalayas as a spectacular background. There are numerous adventure activities, including mountain biking, white water rafting, golf, and paragliding.
Many travelers opt for a boat ride across the lake or hike to the World Peace Pagoda, which offers sweeping views of Fishtail, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, and Annapurna III. It’s also a lovely place to watch the sunset over Pokhara.
Are you ready to explore Nepal? Check out our 13-day trip from India to Nepal, or if you want to go beyond Nepal, explore India’s highlights from North to South. Even more itineraries of India and the Himalayas here.
The best times to visit India and the Himalayas
5 Indian festivals you simply can’t miss
Exploring the many flavors of Nepal