While Nepal is mostly associated with mountains and hiking, there are plenty of other cultural and natural attractions to visit. From palaces to beautiful lakes, here are 20 other must-visit sites around the South Asian country.
Located in the old royal palace at Patan Durbar Square, the Patan Museum has been voted as one of the finest museums in South Asia. As soon as you step inside, you can see why. The interior has been beautifully restored (with the help of Austrian funding) and the displays on the Hindu and Buddhist heritage of the Kathmandu Valley are as attractive as they are informative.
Lumbini is a small town in the Western Terai, on the plains bordering India, and according to archaeological evidence, it was the place where Buddha was born in 623 BCE. Now, Lumbini is home to monasteries and Buddhist centres built by various countries with strong Buddhist traditions, so touring the place is like taking a tour of Buddhist architectural traditions from around the world.
Asan (also spelled Ason) is an old bazaar in central Kathmandu that’s as famous for its amazing old temples and buildings as the trinkets, spices and clothing available here. Its history is long and dates back to when Kathmandu was an important hub on the India-Tibet trade route. It can get very busy at Asan, but it’s worth taking some time to meander through the crowds.
The Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu is the most sacred Hindu place in Nepal. It’s located on the banks of the Bagmati River and is where many cremations take place. Lots of devout Nepali Hindus come here to die. Be respectful of grieving families if hanging around or photographing the burning ghats.
The Chitwan National Park is Nepal’s most popular jungle national park, as it is easily accessible from both Kathmandu and Pokhara. Here, you can see all manner of bird life, gharial crocodiles, deer, elephants, but the main attraction is the one-horned rhinoceros, of which there are over 600.
The distinctive white dome and golden peak of Boudhanath Stupa is the holiest site for Tibetan Buddhists outside of Tibet itself. It was built in the 14th century and is one of the biggest stupas in the world. The Boudhanath area is a hub of Tibetan life in Kathmandu. It’s auspicious to go around the stupa clockwise (called a kora) and to spin the brass prayer wheels along the way.
The 16th century Gorkha Durbar is a fortified palace high on a hill above the town of Gorkha, in central Nepal. The kings of Gorkha once ruled the whole of Nepal, so this little place is more significant than it may initially seem. On a clear day, views of the Himalaya can be seen from the Durbar.
The Manakamana Cable Car connects Kurintar in the Chitwan District with Manakamana in the Gorkha District. It’s a fun ride as it’s really long and soars over the Trisuli River, rice terraces and small villages. The Manakamana Temple at the top is an important Hindu pilgrimage site.
The Shanti Stupa, or World Peace Pagoda, sits on a hill above Pokhara. While it resembles some of Nepal’s ancient Buddhist stupas, it was actually built in 1973 at the instigation of a Japanese monk. There are 80 such stupas around the world and this is one of two in Nepal (the other is in Lumbini).
Built in the 1960s, the Narayanhiti Palace may not be as beautiful as Kathmandu’s older palaces, but it is an imposing building nonetheless, with its design resembling traditional Nepali pagoda architecture. It was a lived-in palace until 2008 when Nepal became a republic. Now, it’s a museum, but a rather creepy one at that – the palace is where the massacre of the king, queen and other members of the royal family occurred in 2001.
While the Bhaktapur Durbar Square fared badly in the earthquake of 2015, the five-tiered Nayatapola Temple a few blocks away did not. The imposing structure, a classic of Nepali pagoda architecture built in 1702-03, stands proud with its large lion, elephant and other guardians. It’s worth climbing the steps to the top for the view of the square below.
Muktinath, at 3,710 metres altitude, is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. It’s located on the popular Annapurna Circuit trek and is a short drive (or a longer hike) from the village of Kagbeni in Lower Mustang. On a clear day, the views of the snowy Himalaya and the dry, rocky landscape of Mustang are incredible.
Swayambhunath is an ancient Buddhist stupa on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. It’s one of the most iconic sites of Kathmandu, with its white dome, ornate bronze spire and intricately painted Buddha eyes. It’s also surrounded by numerous statues, temples and stone chorten – as well as the creatures that give Swayambhu the nickname of ‘monkey temple’.
Janakpur’s Janaki Mandir (temple) is unique in Nepal, as it is designed in an architectural style that mixes Mughal and Rajput elements, features of some Indian architecture. The building is not as old as it looks, having been completed in 1910, but Janakpur has been a Hindu pilgrimage site for centuries, as it’s believed to be where Hindu Lord Rama’s wife Sita (also called Janaki) was born.
Fewa (also spelled Phewa) Lake is the kind of lake that, anywhere else in the world, would be a town’s crowning glory on its own. But this is Nepal, where any gorgeous spot is made that much better (on a clear day) by the phenomenal mountain backdrop. Paddle in a boat on the pretty forest-ringed lake with the Annapurna Himal in the background or take a stroll along its shores.
There’s colourful street art all around Kathmandu, but a large concentration of it appears in Kupondole, an area of Patan between Sanepa and the Bagmati River. A walk from the temple on the intersection with Pulchowk Road will uncover many beautiful full-wall murals and stencils done over the last few years by individual artists and collectives, such as Sattya.
Although known as the Golden Temple, the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar is actually a monastery (not a temple) made of bronze and brass (not gold). But it is an incredible sight, not only due to its golden-hued structure but its courtyard, statues and prayer wheels. Look out for the four monkey statues squatting in all four corners, offering different fruits.
Bhaktapur is a town-sized treasure trove of traditional Nepali crafts and one excellent place to see this is the Potters’ Square. Potters make items (mainly pots) in the workshops around the square and then, lay them out to dry in the sun. Once finished, you can find glazed and finished pots for sale all around Bhaktapur and Kathmandu.
Many of the colourful paintings on paper, textiles, papier-mâché products and hand-thrown pottery items that you find for sale around Kathmandu’s fair trade gift stores were made in Jankpur by the Women’s Development Centre. Skilled craftswomen from the Maithili Community make their products at this centre, where it’s possible to meet the artisans and buy directly from them. Proceeds go back into improving rural women’s lives.
The Ranighat Palace is on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River in the Palpa District, Western Nepal. It was built in 1893 by General Khadga Samsher Rana for his wife. It has been under ruin and disrepair for much of its existence because General Khadga was forced into exile in India in 1902. These days, the government of Nepal is putting more effort into restoring it to its former splendour and it can be visited via a short hike as there is no road access.