So you’re headed to Nepal and have no idea what to do there? Don’t worry, that was our case, too. Here is our one-week itinerary in Nepal plus one more itinerary for 7-9 days that captures the top of spirituality, nature and Nepali people. The first one is as improvised and weird as it gets. The second will be loaded with lots of things to do and see in Nepal.
Both itineraries focus on cultural, festival and city tourism, we left hiking and trekking the Himalayas for our next visit to Nepal. Join us in Nepal and let’s find out what is hidden in the second-highest country in the world! In case you wonder, the highest is Bhutan.
What you can visit on a one-week Nepal itinerary
The capital of Nepal is a very busy city. You can find some peace at some of the temples, but once you hit the streets, it feels like the whole world is passing by. Cars, trucks, taxis, rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, animals – you will meet all that seems to fit in everywhere. If you can handle the traffic and the traffic jams, another issue appears – the air is polluted, heavy and really hard to breathe. I had a headache most of the time in Kathmandu. Many people wear masks, but I find it really hard to breathe with a mask.
Thamel is the touristy area of Kathmandu. You can go bankrupt from shopping in traditional and modern shops. They offer from Tibetan singing bowls and pashmina scarfs to various trekking equipment. Another thing people visit Thamel is to indulge in some of the many restaurants and bars or to book a trip or activity with some of the plenty of tourist agencies. It’s colorful, it’s busy, it’s bustling and it’s the “Nepal for tourist” concept. We stayed there as it has e relatively central location and it’s a good base to explore Kathmandu. But if you’re in Nepal for short, this neighborhood will give you the least of real Nepal, so you might want to limit your time there.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan is technically another town, and the “border” with Kathmandu is the Bagmati river. We bargained with a taxi driver and started traveling to Patan with the intention to skip the Durbar Square entrance fee. Our driver did his best to drop us at the right place for that, but eventually, he couldn’t. We don’t regret paying the entrance fee. Patan Durbar Square has some of the most well-preserved temples and shrines, two wonderful museums and some nice atmosphere. We chased pigeons with the kids, we bought a small Buddha statue from a smiling old lady, we wandered the clay floors of an old castle with tiny windows overlooking the busy market outside.
I picked this temple just because it’s on the river and the photos were so interesting. Pashupatinath is one of the most ancient temples in Kathmandu and its architecture is quite amazing. But it’s more famous for the cremation procedures they do over there. We witnessed preparation for the process, many people there sending their friends to a better place (hopefully), a lot of fire and smoke. It was so creepy to see all those bodies in bags, monks preparing for the ritual. Still, the whole place is an extraordinary mix of mystical, sad and spiritual. If you pass directly by the cremation slates, you can avoid the hefty entrance fee of 1000 Nepalese Rupee. But you have to have the guts…
Although it has many names and every taxi driver has a different idea of how to pronounce it, once you get to the Boudhanath Stupa, you’ll like it. People moving clockwise, rolling the prayer wheels, going around the huge stupa. The place has its own atmosphere and magic and it’s definitely worth the 400 NRS (ticket valid for a week). We went there to watch the sunset from a rooftop restaurant, even the mountains in the distance showed up. People praying to the setting sun, prayer flags dancing, and the whole majestic stupa changing its colors – it’s hard not to love Boudhanath Stupa.
We were longing for some relaxation after the jammed streets of Kathmandu, and we found some peace in the lake town of Pokhara. It is also a base for many hikes and treks, but most importantly – the traffic is just a fraction of the traffic in Kathmandu. So you can indulge in long lake-side walks, souvenir shopping, eating out, arranging your excursions in the area. Pokhara is another song and it’s more lyrical, chill and clean.
If you wake up really early, pay 1500 NRS for a cab to take you uphill and back, don’t mind the crowds but love amazing sunrise views from above, Sarangot is a good choice very close to Pokhara. Some people decide to hike up, but we heard is a tough hike to do in the dark. When we got there (together with tens of good views connoisseurs) it was very cloudy so we couldn’t actually see the rising sun, nor the snowy Himalayas. But views were still worth it.
Fewa (Phewa) Lake
The magical lake that attracts so many people – some would walk along the shore or take a quick bath; others will hire a boat to row and discover temples, forests and hidden gems; others will paraglide over it to absorb the views. Fewa Lake is the top attraction in Pokhara so you should give it some time to enjoy it.
The World Peace Pagoda
The World Peace Pagoda is a nice hike up mostly on stone trails. So you will sweat and you will stumble even better views after every turn. We arrived with the canoe at the bottom of the trail, and almost an hour of a chill hike up later, we were at the huge white pagoda. Everyone is supposed to keep quiet and appreciate the pagoda and its meaning in peace. Great place and a good reward for the hike.
Bhaktapur was the closest town to my yoga teacher training academy venue, so I’d visited it. We started on the wrong foot on our first visit with Nace. They requested us to pay the tourist fee for entering Durbar Square, although we didn’t want to sightsee just to get to our hotel. So we tried to find a smaller street and go around, but there was a guy waiting for us. Creepy and very frustrating. We paid the fee of 1500 NRS per person.
Things got better when we had some sleep and went out to explore the old town and become part of the biggest day of the Dashain festival. We forgot all the mishaps – music performers everywhere, religious and spiritual happenings, people blessing everyone, music, dance, party – it’s the biggest festival in Nepal. I got Nace a traditional Dhaka Topi hat and celebrated on a rooftop with a nice Gorkha and Everest beers and peanut sadeko. We love festivals and happy people everywhere!
We stayed at the traditional, yet affordable Siddhi Home Hotel, right next to Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur. We even saw a passing Kumari during the Dashain festival.
We had to cancel our stay with locals in Panauti because out of nowhere we decided to go to Bhutan. But we know we would spend an amazing time with a local family at their house, cooking traditional Nepalese food, walking in the village or up the mountain, or just talking with the family and helping them practice their English while sharing stories.
So next time, we’ll start with Panauti and their community homestay project. We have an article about community homestays in Nepal and why you should experience the Nepali people and culture this way.
The cultural, spiritual, and natural Nepal itinerary
Just some month after we returned home from Nepal, we received an invitation to attend Himalayan Travel Mart 2019 in Kathmandu. I couldn’t be happier to accept and visit more of Nepal on one of the FAM trips around the country. Nace, though, wasn’t able to travel to Nepal at that time so I was going alone. Without my travel buddy, I wouldn’t go for a hiking option. I chose the cultural, spiritual, and natural itinerary in Nepal.
*We brought this part of the post in partnership with Nepal Tourism Board and PATA Nepal Chapter, which organized the beautiful Himalayan Travel Mart 2019 and some exciting FAM trips before the event!
*Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, this article contains some affiliate links. If you book through those links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost for you. Thank you for helping us keep this website going!
Kathmandu to Chitwan
We started in Kathmandu and got on minibusses for almost a day-long drive to Chitwan. As the ride takes quite some time, you might want to check out flights between Kathmandu and Chitwan or make a stop somewhere on the road. We were supposed to stop for a quick rafting adventure, but there wasn’t enough time – our schedule was loaded! You can actually enjoy some pretty decent rafting on Trishuli river which gets particularly adventurous during monsoon season. We received very positive feedback on the experience from other travelers. Also, you can come from Kathmandu to Chitwan by rafting and camping (which takes 2-3 days) – what an adventurous way for A to B, right?
We stopped to take a photo of a suspension bridge and stumbled upon few pupils coming back from school. I like their uniforms – very neat and at the same time good-looking. One of the girls had such a warm smile that we took half an hour more (totally messed with the schedule) just to photograph her and chat with her and her friends. They could introduce themselves in English, it was just adorable!
I didn’t believe people when they were telling me there was a real jungle in Chitwan. How come in one of the most mountainous countries in the world, a place where the peaks are snowy and the treks are cold and lonely, how come a hot humid jungle? Well, welcome to Chitwan! Chitwan is a real-deal jungle in Nepal, with extremely hot and humid weather (in June for sure) and some very exotic flora and fauna.
Chitwan National Park covers almost 1000 square meters of dense forest and grassy plains. People go to do jungle and river safaris, but also to indulge in hot weather (some actually enjoy it) and have vacations. We stayed at Green Mansions Jungle Resort and couldn’t be happier with the AC (never turned it off) and the green meadows around, as well as the proximity to Sauraha village and the opportunity to meet locals (many of them from the Tharu tribe). We watched traditional dance and customs from a male group of Tharu performance, which was the best thing to do in the evening, in the jungle.
The next day we did a river safari, we did a jeep safari in the jungle, and we did a walking safari. Most of the wildlife was hiding (it’s wildlife after all) so we managed to spot a black rhino (Chitwan’s specialty) in the distance, few shy crocodiles in the Rapti river (great as we were close to losing our canoe balance so many times), and some birds and monkeys. Unfortunately, they have an elephant breeding center where they domesticate elephants for tourism usage (riding) and the usage of the military. The king of the jungle – the tiger – we didn’t meet. Some also managed to spot a sloth bear.
Here are some very useful Chitwan jungle tour surviving rules. If you meet a sloth bear, don’t try to climb trees. Get together with the group, shout and scream, clap your hands – the sound might chase them away. If you meet a rhino, stay behind the trunk of a big tree. If you have to run, run in a zigzag, if you have to fight -hit its lip – the most sensitive part. If you meet a tiger, do a Namaskar gesture and pray to all the Gods. And stay together as a group, and keep eye contact with the animal. Hopefully, you’ll never ever have to practice the above!
Here’s a gallery of all those amazing Nepali people and visitors that we met in Chitwan National Park.
Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha
Even if you’re not a follower of Buddhism, you might want to check out Lumbini. Again, the whole town revolves around the huge Buddhist pilgrimage site. Again, instead of spending the whole day on the roads of Nepal, you might want to check the flights to Gautam Buddha International Airport.
The temple complex of Lumbini is no joke. You can spend few days sightseeing all the temples, moving in between with a car minibus, or for shorter distances – by a rickshaw. We spent an afternoon wandering around all the old Buddhist temples, the Maya Devi Temple (where Lord Buddha was born), and newer temples built by Buddhist organizations in different countries. Here is a list of some of the temples in the Lumbini.
World Peace Pagoda, Japan
Royal Thai Monastery
Myanmar Golden Monastery
Sri Lanka Temple
The Great Lotus Stupa, Germany
Lihn son French Temple Monastery
We managed to absorb the atmosphere around the World Peace Pagoda, listen to Buddhist prayers and mantra chanting, and at the end, we even stuffed all 7 of our group into one rickshaw. That kind of miracle happens only in sacred places. We observed some young monks praying in the sacred garden of Maya Devi Temple. We watched the hundreds of prayer flags and the sunset kissing the golden statues. All that was right before the big storm hit and the wind took all the dust from the streets into the air.
Luckily, we were already at our hotel, at the pool, so nobody got wetter than they wanted. It was time to refresh from all the heat of the previous days and get ready to hit the road again. We stayed at the luxurious Buddha Maya Garden hotel which has an amazing swimming pool. And those were the most interesting Buddhist Nepali people I managed to take a photo of.
That would be one of those places where you’d go only if a very close friend or a person who you really trust recommends it. We want to be that person! Trust us, community homestays in Nepal are the ultimate way to experience Nepali culture and meet the most amazing Nepali people.
The bumpy road with getting lost not just once was well worth it. The people in Tansen were so welcoming that we wanted to stay for more than just a few hours. After the welcoming ceremony and a lunch with local families, we walked down the main street of Tansen to observe locals doing their professions as well as some of the bustling atmosphere of the town.
This visit to Pokhara was all about a more chilled and relaxed view of the city. We weren’t lucky (again!) to see the magnificent sunrise in Sarangkot, but the massage, reading in the garden, the cultural show, and some good food, it was all perfect. There are so many things to do in Pokhara, that you might want to stay there longer.
On this visit to Kathmandu, besides the Himalayan Travel Mart conference, I focused on choosing where to go at the very last minute. Like the amazing Aarti ritual at Pashupatinath Temple. Or wandering around Thamel in search of local produce souvenirs. Or skipping the Kathmandu Durbar Square (again!) because I’m not quite sure if I support the whole Kumari Goddess concept. I ventured to my favorite Boudhanath Stupa for a matcha tea with a view and then visited the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal.
Kathmandu can always surprise you in a good or in not so good way. The point is to stream the whole crazy energy somehow into positive experiences. If you want to go for a nice stay in Kathmandu, we suggest Traditional Comfort Boutique Hotel. If you’re on a budget, then Alobar 1000 hostel has a very cool vibe.
If you decide to visit Bhaktapur on a day trip from Kathmandu, you can check in the above Nepal itinerary what you can do for less than a day. If you have more time or you’re into different activities to immerse yourself in local Newar culture, then you can check out some different tours in Bhaktapur.
For all the foodies and those who just love cooking, you can try a cooking workshop in Bhaktapur, or even better – a momo cooking class! Pottery is a famous thing to do in Bhaktapur, so why not get yourself dirty and try a half-day pottery workshop? Or, for those interested in fine arts, the Thangka painting workshop is a very beautiful idea.
Experiences in Nepal that we loved
No matter how long you will stay in Nepal, it’s the quality of experiences that will matter. Speaking of amazing experiences to have in Nepal, here are our suggestions – all of them happened within a week or two. So it’s guaranteed you won’t get bored in this country.
Survive in crazy Kathmandu traffic
Traffic and traffic jams in Kathmandu were really frustrating to us. But this is how the city vibrates so you better get used to it. We don’t recommend driving in the capital, but we do recommend bargaining with the cab drivers – they tend to exaggerate the fare when they see your foreign face. So as soon as you negotiate the price, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride (or the traffic jam).
Take the scenic touristy bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara (or vice versa)
Nepal is one of those places in the world where you can drive 200km for 10 hours. It’s what happened on the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara. And while tourist bus fares are negotiable, the curvy roads, lack of lanes and asphalt, and other obstacles are not. Roads are always a work in progress, trucks, and cars are all over. With the first mountain crossing, we stumbled upon some sublime views and some scary abysses. Scenic, but long and dangerous at places – that’s riding a bus for “a long distance” in Nepal is. Any extreme adventurers here? 😃
Paddle the lake in Pokhara and hike the mountains for some amazing views
Pokhara, especially compared to Kathmandu – is a piece of heaven. The peaceful Fewa lake. long walks along the coast, eco-green restaurants, and local delights. It’s hard to resist the slow and chill pace of this town. Our favorite experience was rowing a boat, leaving it at the bottom of the trail, and hiking up to the World Peace Pagoda.
The views towards the Pagoda were mesmerizing, as well as the view from Sarangot. It was cloudy so we didn’t see the rising sun, but still, we were surrounded by good views. So any hike nearby Pokhara is usually rewarded with some indulgence for the eye. Rice fields, playing kids, misty mountains – you name it.
Fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu to say hi to the majestic Himalayas
We really hoped we could catch a glimpse of the majestic Himalayas. We didn’t plan to hike to Everest base camp or the Annapurna Circuit, so our best chance was the flight between Pokhara and Kathmandu. That’s why we asked to be seated on the left side so we can see the mountains all the way to Kathmandu (if you’re flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara, then ask to be seated on the right side). After the morning fog, the sun managed to appear and clear most of the clouds. We were so lucky to see the Himalayas for almost the whole length of the flight (25-30 minutes).
Stay in a community homestay
Find new friends, dive into Nepali culture, and see how real Nepali people live. You won’t regret a homestay experience in Nepal, that’s for sure.
Browse the jungle in Chitwan
Search for black rhinos, crocodiles, birds, and monkeys, see the sloth bear or just sail down the river and wait for the sunset. Jungle in Nepal is something that really exists and you can go for both adventure and relaxed experiences.
Find out where Buddha was born
You’ll be amazed by the beauty of architecture and the spirituality of Lumbini. Buddhism follower or not, the place is worth a visit and you might even want to go for something unconventional like the Buddhism marathon.
Join the Dashain (or any other) festival on the streets
Our second arrival in Kathmandu was something was different. There was almost no traffic. It was high-festival time. We headed to Bhaktapur to enjoy the town and its Durbar square. Celebrations were already in their full power – people singing, dancing, playing instruments, and performing rituals in the streets. Some of the temples were decorated and surrounded by believers. It was like we were part of a fairytale. We joined the celebrations, browsed the streets, almost received some blessings, and closed some good deals (festival price 😃). Under our window in the Nepali-style furnished room, we saw a Kumari Devi living goddess passing – she was carried by a few people because she’s not supposed to touch the ground.
Stay nearby a monastery and meet Buddhist monks
We chose a guesthouse nearby the Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu for our last night. It was close to the airport so we could save time in traffic (starting to think like real Nepalis). In the guesthouse garden, we met a group of kid-Buddhist monks, drinking Fanta and playing games. It was the first time we saw monks in Nepal that were not praying. Being so close to the temple, we could absorb the holy atmosphere and even join the morning prayer with the young monks. Goosebumps!
Useful for your visit to Nepal
Local sim card
It will be extremely easy to plan the next steps of your trip if you can be online in Nepal. There are two major telecoms, Ncell and Nepal Telecom. I chose the latter. But still, none of the telecoms had nice coverage in rural Nepal, where I was for the yoga teacher training. In cities and towns, it was ok and helpful for arranging things. Or checking the route so the confused taxi driver doesn’t get lost…
Local sim cards can be issued at the airport in Kathmandu, or in bigger stores. You have to provide a passport. Topping up your credit depends on the mood and the greediness of the person in one of the many shops that do that – it could be as close to the official prices as possible, but it could also be containing a huge tip for the local seller.
Lots of patience
You must develop a thick layer of patience (if you already haven’t) if you want to enjoy Nepal. That’s it – people live a bit slower than what we’re used to in Europe. Everything happens slowly and the way it goes. So don’t rush and don’t have big expectations – and you’ll love it.
Transportation – taxi, bus, flight
Getting around cities and towns in Nepal is best done on foot (when possible) or by taxi (in case public transportation is too slow and impractical for you). Taxi fare needs to be negotiated. The airport has an official taxi stand that gives fixed rates from it to many places in Kathmandu and towns outside the capital.
If you’re riding the local bus, forget about schedules. Ask around where you can find the nearest to your location bus stop and wave your hand to stop the bus. Fares are really low (e.g. Telkot – Bhaktapur costs 25 NRS) but you have to have a lot of time to spend on the bus. The buses between major destinations (e.g. Kathmandu and Pokhara) can be booked in any of the many tourist offices (don’t forget you can bargain there, too).
We decided to fly one way from Pokhara to Kathmandu – to save a day of bus travel and to hopefully spot the Himalayas. There are two major airlines that cover that route – Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines. Yeti Airlines were quite responsive with their online support, but we chose Buddha Air as they had free seats on a flight on the date we wanted to fly. We couldn’t be happier – we requested a change of date later, at it was free of charge!
A tourist visa for Nepal is received on arrival for nationals of many countries, including Bulgaria. You can choose how long you want your visa for and pay the respective price. But be mindful – if you want to save some money by getting a visa for a shorter period and then extending it, you should know extending takes time and money too. If you have to travel to Kathmandu, to the Immigration Department (address here), wait in the line (it took 2 hours), and pay the extension fee – it might get even more expensive than buying a visa for longer in the very beginning.
Food delights in Nepal
Whatever you try in Nepal would probably be amazing! Here are some of our favorites: momos, peanut sadeko, vegetable pakoras, dal bhat, chapati bread, thukpa. We couldn’t really photograph the food because it disappeared in the blink of an eye as soon as it was served to us. We managed to snap a photo of a typical Nepalese breakfast of hash browns (potatoes boiled with veggies), scrambled eggs, bananas and pancakes, and some delicious pakoras with sauce and peanut sadeko. Yummy!
Our favorite beers are (in no particular order): Gorkha, Everest, and Nepal Ice.
So those were our one-week cultural itinerary and 7-9 days spiritual, cultural, and nature itinerary in Nepal, full of amazing views, extraordinary experiences, and friendly Nepali people. It is a fact, that there are so many things to do in Nepal without even getting closer to trekking. Do let us know other inspiring spots in the country so we can enrich our next visit to Nepal!