The best places to stay, see, eat, and shop for visitors with an eye for beauty in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Many would-be visitors to Kathmandu imagine a charming Himalayan town at the foot of the tallest mountains in the world, where yaks graze in the shadow of Mount Everest, and an ancient blend of Hindu and Buddhist cultures coexist in scenic harmony. Arriving in the overpopulated, over-polluted jumble of the 21st century city of more than a million inhabitants can be quite a shock.
Most travelers get out as soon as they can, to the trails and teahouses of the “real” Nepal. But Kathmandu is the kind of place that hardier travelers fall in love with, much to their own confusion, and some end up staying for decades.
“Kathmandu offers a concentration of old-meets-new art and design.”
Kathmandu offers a concentration of old-meets-new art and design, cuisine, and architecture that define the country’s contemporary creative spirit. It’s where young and forward-thinking Nepalis bring ideas home from their foreign education and meld them with centuries of accumulated cultural knowledge.
Visitors with a keen aesthetic eye shouldn’t overlook Kathmandu; in fact, they should settle in. (Just don’t forget your face mask to protect against dust and smog.)
Where to Stay in Kathmandu:
Located in a renovated Rana-era (1846-1951) palace, 3 Rooms by Pauline offers antique-filled quarters, French-inspired breakfasts, and a peaceful night’s sleep away from the touristy areas of Kathmandu—and now there are actually four unique rooms instead of just three. While many boutique hotels in the capital are inspired by the architecture and design of the Newars—the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley—Pauline’s rooms are notable for their more Indian Raj-leaning aesthetic, a reflection of the tastes of the Rana rulers of Nepal. Plus, the rest of the palace—Baber Mahal Revisited—houses high-end boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries, so even though Pauline’s 3 Rooms are away from the main drag of Thamel, guests don’t feel isolated.
Where to Go in Kathmandu:
The Patan Museum should be among your first sightseeing stops in the city to contextualize the religious and architectural significance of the Hindu and Buddhist sites you’ll see in Kathmandu. The excellent little museum occupies the old royal palace in the Patan Durbar Square, the best-preserved of Kathmandu Valley’s three medieval Durbar Squares, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Highlights include brass Buddha statues, tantric paintings, and line drawings of Kathmandu’s Ashoka stupas, hemispherical structures containing relics that are used for meditation.
Offering a calm and much-needed respite from the clamor of Thamel outside, the Garden of Dreams is a well-maintained, neoclassical-style garden that reflects Nepal’s six seasons—spring, summer, rainy, autumn, pre-winter, and winter. Built in 1920 in the grounds of the Kaiser Mahal Palace, there are ponds, fountains, a terraced amphitheater, and even cushioned mats to lounge around on.
Where to Eat in Kathmandu:
With a loyal following of French expats, Chez Caroline serves what must be the finest and most authentic French cuisine south of the Himalaya. The menus are in French, the Nepali waitstaff speak French (as well as English and Nepali), but the décor is a delightful mix of European touches inside an elegant, renovated Nepali palace (within the same complex as 3 Rooms by Pauline). Their weekend brunches are worth crossing town for.
When Of Silk and Salt opened in 2018, the dining scene around the Patan Durbar Square went up a few notches. The laid-back restaurant-come-design-boutique-come-hotel serves hybrid Asian cuisine inspired by the French owners’ travels across the continent, from Afghanistan to Vietnam. Relax on the cushions inside while browsing their inspiring collection of coffee-table books, and browse the adjoining boutique for screen printed t-shirts and upcycled sari clothing after enjoying a light chicken larb salad or a hearty kofta burger.
Where to Shop in Kathmandu:
Since 2017, Timro Conceptstore has been providing a platform for designers and manufacturers of high-quality, traditionally inspired Nepali clothing, accessories, and homewares to display and sell their items. Dutch founder Anouk is a champion for ethical manufacturing in Nepal, and you can be sure that shopping at Timro (which means ‘yours’ in Nepali) means supporting the local artisans who design and produce the items. Items change with the season, but items that are easy to wear (and to travel with) include mala bead necklaces, leather bags incorporating the colorful striped pangdens worn by Tibetan women, and cotton and silk dresses in contemporary styles.
Stationary aficionados won’t be able to walk past the Marina Vaptzarova shop, just beside Chez Caroline in the Baber Mahal complex, without being drawn inside. Traditional handmade lokta paper journals, notebooks, cards, and bookmarks seem almost too good to use, but they’re also really practical. The fabric-covered journals with brass clasps are perfect for inscribing your travel tales from the Himalayas.