The Best Things to See and Do in Nepal

Namche Bazar village is a key stop on the Everest base camp trek
Namche Bazar village is a key stop on the Everest base camp trek | © Dave Porter / Alamy Stock Photo
Elen Turner

Contributor

Nepal is arguably the world’s most spectacular destination for mountain hiking, with eight of the world’s ten highest peaks – including, of course, Mount Everest. But while venturing into the Himalayas is one of the highlights of any trip to Nepal, it’s just one of many unforgettable experiences you can have. From wildlife safaris to white-water rafting and cultural festivals, you won’t be short of options. To help you plan your trip, we’ve selected the best things to see and do in Nepal.

Keen to visit Nepal? You can do so with Culture Trip in the company of a Local Insider by joining our specially curated 11-day Nepal adventure, which includes visits to Kathmandu, Pokhara, Nuwakot and the Chitwan National Park.

Climb a mountain

Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 mountains exceeding 8,000m in altitude: Everest (8,848m), Kanchenjunga (8,586m), Lhotse (8,516m), Makalu (8,485m), Cho Oyu (8,188m), Dhaulagiri I (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,156m) and Annapurna I (8,091m). There are also plenty more mountains in the 6,000 – 7,000m range that would be the highest peaks almost anywhere else in the world, but, because they’re in Nepal, tend to be outshone by their taller brothers and sisters.

Many of these mountains are climbable and many don’t require a prohibitively expensive permit, as Everest does. Nepal also has a category of mountains called a “trekking peak”, which essentially combines the best of two worlds: trekking and climbing. Trekking peaks, such as Island Peak (6,189m) or Mera Peak (6,461m), require some mountain climbing experience, but you don’t need to be an expert to give these a crack. If you’ve climbed lower peaks in other parts of the world and want to level up to a Himalayan peak, climbing one of these trekking peaks is a good place to start.

Cho Oyu as seen from the summit of Gokyo Ri in Sagarmatha National Park

Go trekking

If mountain climbing isn’t your cup of tea, try trekking instead. Treks in Nepal come in all lengths, difficulty levels and degrees of ruggedness and luxury. If you’re short on time or not sure if you’re up for an epic multi-week trek, check out some shorter trails around the Kathmandu Valley, such as Dhulikhel to Panauti via Balthali, or within the Shivapuri National Park. Around Pokhara, the Panchase trek is a beautiful trail that’s ideal for families.

However, if you’re up for a mammoth adventure deep in the mountains, you’ve come to the right place. The classic Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Sanctuary treks are renowned for good reason: the views are incredible, the infrastructure is good, and the cultures and traditional villages you’ll pass enrich the experience.

If an off-the-beaten-path adventure is more your thing, check out Upper Mustang, Upper Dolpo, the Nar-Phu Valley or Far-Western Nepal. You’ll need a few weeks for a trek in these regions and shouldn’t scrimp on support or logistics – hiring a good guide is essential. These places are remote, with limited infrastructure, communication and places to pick up supplies, but the panoramas, unspoilt nature and solitude will be worth it.

Namo Buddha Shrine is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site near Panauti

Take a mountain flight

Sure, it’s possible to go on a scenic Everest flight from Kathmandu and the experience can be wonderful. But you needn’t fork out for a specialist scenic flight to experience the thrill of flying in the mountains. Regular flights that get you from point A to B can be breathtaking in Nepal, as you have the Himalayan range spanning the north of the country.

Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara (or vice versa) to save yourself a tiresome eight-hour bus journey between the two cities and make sure to sit on the correct side of the plane for Himalayan views (right-hand side if heading to Pokhara, left if heading to Kathmandu).

If you’re planning on trekking in the Everest region, a flight to Lukla is usually necessary (unless you want to trek all the way from Jiri). This little airstrip that is cut straight into the side of the mountain is notorious as ‘the world’s most dangerous airport’, but in reality, the vast majority of flights to and from Lukla are without incident. It’s a thrilling ride over the terraced farmland and hill country of Nepal, and before you can even worry about how short the runway is, you’ve already landed.

If you’re heading to, or from, Mustang, a flight to or from Jomsom is the recommended way to avoid the gruelling bus ride from Pokhara. The 20-minute flight through the Kali Gandaki gorge, with the highest mountains in the world looming on either side, is awe-inspiring.

Attend a festival

Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country, with a significant Buddhist minority, so the festivals are varied, colourful and fascinating. Some, such as Dashain, when practically the whole country shuts down, are largely family affairs, but others are more visible in the streets of Kathmandu and elsewhere.

Shivaratri (usually in March) is a traveller’s favourite and the only day of the year when marijuana possession and use is legal. That’s because Shivaratri celebrates Hindu Lord Shiva, who was known to imbibe marijuana, so devotees follow suit in his honour. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) from around India and Nepal congregate at the holy Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, but it can get pretty crowded there. You won’t have to look far wherever you are in Nepal for signs of Shivaratri being celebrated. Holi is another favourite (also usually in March) and welcomes the warmer weather at the end of winter. It’s celebrated with water fights and coloured powders, so leave your valuables at home and expect to get wet.

A lesser-known festival, meanwhile, is the Rato Machindranath Festival in Patan, held in April/May. This is celebrated by Patan’s ethnic Newari community. For a few weeks leading up to the festival, a tall chariot is built on the side of Pulchowk Road. On the first day of the festival, thousands of locals gather to witness the pulling of the enormous chariot and the god statue inside through the streets. It is pulled through the streets for the next several days (and contributes to many a traffic jam and power outage around Patan).

The Hindu festival of Dashain is celebrated throughout Nepal

Spot rhinos

The Chitwan National Park, in the southern plains of Nepal, bordering India, has run a highly successful one-horned rhinoceros breeding program, with a population of over 600 today. If you embark on a safari here, you have a very good chance to spot at least one rhino. Lodges in Sauraha and Barauli can arrange jeep, foot or bullock cart safaris in the national park and the buffer zone surrounding it. Along with the mighty rhino, you can also see elephants, deer, crocodiles, an abundance of birdlife, and very occasionally, Bengal tigers or Indian leopards lurking amid the long grass.

Go white-water rafting

As well as mountain hiking, Nepal is one of the best destinations in the world to go white-water rafting. There are many long rivers that pass through stunning hill and mountain landscapes, with plenty of rapids varying in intensity, and white sand beaches on which to camp – all at a relatively low cost.

If you’re after some quick thrills, try a single-day trip from Kathmandu (the Bhote Kosi or Trisuli Rivers) or Pokhara (Upper Seti). Rafting companies based in the cities will arrange transfers to the put-in point, and you’ll be provided with a filling meal afterwards.

For a more extreme adventure, join a multi-day trip, where you’ll camp on beaches overnight, eat three meals a day prepared by your guides, and bob, splash and race down the rivers all day. Highlights include the Sun Kosi (eight days) through eastern Nepal, the Tamur (12 days) that combines trekking and rafting, the Karnali (10 days) in far-western Nepal, which ends at Bardia National Park, and the Seti River (two days), which you can raft down as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive small-group Nepal tour, led by our Local Insider.

White water rafting on the Bhote Kosi River is a rite of passage for adventure travellers in Nepal

Learn to kayak

Those rivers are just as good for kayaking as they are rafting. Numerous white-water companies run four to seven-day kayak clinics on the Trisuli, Bhote Kosi and Lower Seti Rivers, which can be altered to cater to learners’ needs. Once you’ve honed your skills, you can put them to use on a combined rafting and kayaking trip.

Go on a yoga or meditation retreat

Fancy taking things at a slower, more spiritual pace? Then join a yoga or meditation retreat. Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu runs well-regarded meditation and Buddhist retreats, while popular yoga school, Pranamaya, runs regular yoga retreats in idyllic locations around Kathmandu, such as Hattiban and Pharping. There are also places in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, where you can retreat from the world and enhance your spiritual education.

Visit the birthplace of the Buddha

There’s more than just meditation going on in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Whether or not you’re spiritually inclined, Lumbini is a fascinating town on the Terai, near the border of India. Archaeological evidence supports the belief that Prince Siddhartha Gautama (better known as the Buddha) was born here in 623 BCE. The site was lost for centuries but is now a Unesco-listed site. At the Peace Park, you can tour monasteries that have been constructed by Buddhist organizations and governments from around the world, each in the architectural styles of the home countries.

The World Peace Pagoda in Lumbini is an important symbol of Nepal

Tour Kathmandu’s World Heritage Sites

Nepal isn’t all about extreme sports and adrenaline-inducing adventures; there are many cultural and historical attractions to enjoy at a more sedate pace. The Kathmandu Valley, a necessary stop for most visitors, is home to the only international airport in the country, and seven Unesco-listed World Heritage Sites. These include the Kathmandu Durbar Squares, Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas at Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, and the ancient Hindu temples of Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan. They’re all worthy of your time and geographically spread out, so don’t be in so much of a rush to get out into the mountains of Nepal that you miss the treasures of the capital city region.

Patan Durbar Square is a key meeting point in Kathmandu

Go paragliding in Pokhara

While running off the side of a mountain with nothing but a piece of fabric keeping you up may not seem like a great idea, trust us – in Pokhara, it is. Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city, is one of the best places in the world to try paragliding. This is because of the pretty consistent thermals, which make it possible to fly for a long time. The views of Phewa Lake on one side and the Annapurna mountains on the other, plus the villages and farmland below, are spectacular. Numerous operators run trips that will pick you up lakeside and transport you up to the take-off point at Sarangkot.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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