Best things to do in Nepal

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.03.2023

For most visitors, coming to Nepal is a chance to experience the great mountains. However, once here most people are quick to realize that Nepal’s artistic heritage and fascinating wildlife are all an equal draw to the mighty peaks. Here are some of the best things to do in Nepal, to give you a taste of why you should visit this beautiful country.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Nepal, your essential guide for visiting Nepal.

1. Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur, located east of Kathmandu's airport, has a rich atmosphere and looks similar to Kathmandu before modern times. Rising in a tight mass of warm brick out of the fertile fields of the valley, the city looks something like Kathmandu must have done before the arrival of the modern world.

It features many significant landmarks. Taleju Temple is a three-storey temple with elaborate wood carvings and a magnificent courtyard. It is one of the most important landmarks in Bhaktapur, dedicated to Goddess Taleju Bhavani.

There are two other important temples in the city - the Dattatreya Temple dedicated to Hindu trinity, and the Nyatapola Temple in Taumadhi Square.

Set in the heart of the Himalayas, the landlocked South-Asian country of Nepal is home to a wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From wild jungles to ancient civilisations, this tailor-made trip to Nepal offers a combination of history, culture and nature; perfect for the most well-seasoned of travellers.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal © Hakat/Shutterstock

Bhaktapur is UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal © Hakat/Shutterstock

2. Boudha

Clustered around the great white stupa, with its all-knowing Buddha eyes, is a thriving Tibetan Buddhist community and pilgrimage centre.

Early morning and dusk are the best times to visit. At these times of day, an otherworldly cacophony of music drifts from the monasteries that ring the stupa. Monks, locals, and pilgrims all perform kora together. Famed throughout the Himalayas for powers of wish fulfilment and blessing, you’ll see Tibetans, Nepali Bhotiyas (people of Tibetan ethnicity) and Tamangs from the central hills all perambulating en masse.


Kathmandu, Boudha © Shutterstock

3. Elephant bathtime in Sauraha

Spectacularly situated on the banks of the Rapti River, Sauraha (pronounced So-ruh-hah) is one of those unstoppably successful destinations at which Nepal seems to excel. A collection of lodges, cafés and shops spread out along dusty roads at the edge of the forest, Sauraha offers easy access to Chitwan National Park.

During elephant bathtime, some of Sauraha’s elephants are taken down to the Rapti River for a good scrub down, and tourists can join in the experience for a small fee. For most tourists participating in elephant bathtime is one of the best things to do in Nepal – you sit on the elephant’s neck while the mahout encourages it to spray you with cold river water.

Elephant bathing © adrenalinrnb/Shutterstock

Elephant bathing in Sauraha © adrenalinrnb/Shutterstock

4. Local cuisine

Nepal – and specifically Kathmandu – is renowned as the budget cuisine capital of Asia. Sadly, its reputation is based not on Nepali but on pseudo-Western food: pizza, chips (fries), “sizzling” steaks and apple pie are the staples of tourist restaurants. Outside the popular areas, however, you can discover a range of dishes.

Momo is arguably the most famous and popular of the Tibetan dishes. They are available throughout upland Nepal. The half-moon-shaped dumplings are filled with meat, vegetables and ginger, steamed, and served with hot tomato salsa and a bowl of broth.

Tea (chiya) is traditionally brewed by boiling tea dust with milk (dudh) and water, with heaps of sugar (chini). This is combined a bit of ginger, cardamom or pepper. In tourist restaurants you’ll be offered “black” or “milk” tea with a teabag – you have to specify “Nepali” or “masala” tea if you want it made the traditional way.

Nepalese traditional dumpling momos © diy13/Shutterstock

Nepalese traditional dumpling momos © diy13/Shutterstock

5. Dasain & Maha Shivaratri festivals

Stumbling onto a local festival may prove to be one of the best things to do in Nepal – and given the sheer number of them, you’d be unlucky not to. Though most are religious in nature, merrymaking, not solemnity, is the order of the day, and onlookers are always welcome. Festivals may be Hindu, Buddhist, animist or a hybrid of all three.

Dasain is the high point of the busy Nepali festival calendar. Masked dancers perform elaborate rituals in Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. Many will travel for days to be at home with their families, and children celebrate by playing on bamboo swings.

Falling on the new moon of Phaagun, “Shiva’s Night” is marked by bonfires and evening vigils in all Hindu areas. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and sadhus from all over the Subcontinent gather for Nepal’s best-known mela. Fervent worship and bizarre yogic demonstrations can be seen throughout the Pashupatinath complex.


Festival dance in Nepal © Jelena Yukka/Shutterstock

6. The Himalayas - one of the top things to do in Nepal

Visiting the soaring Himalayas is, to many travellers, one of the chief things to do in Nepal. The country tumbles precipitously down from the 800km stretch of the Himalayan battlements that forms its northern border. Here no fewer than eight of the world’s ten highest peaks are located.

The cultures of highland-dwelling Nepalese peoples are rich and fascinating, and the relaxed, companionable spirit of trekking life is an attraction in itself. The Himalayas have long exerted a powerful spiritual pull, too. In Hindu mythology, the mountains are where gods go to meditate, while the Sherpas and other mountain peoples hold certain summits to be the very embodiment of deities.

Experience Nepal's hill villages and jungle lowlands as you embark on this tailor-made Himalayan family-friendly adventure of a lifetime. Expect mini mountain treks, overnight camps, river rafting and wildlife safaris. Come here for action, stunning mountain scenery and a look around bustling Kathmandu too.

Gorak Shep village with prayer flags, way to Kala Patthar and Mount Everest base camp, Khumbu valley, Nepal © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock

Gorak Shep village with Mount Everest base camp, Khumbu valley, Nepal © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock

7. Janaki Mandir

Worshippers flock to Janakpur’s Mughal-style Janaki Mandir to pay homage to legendary lovers Ram and Sita. A palatial confection of a building in the Mughal style, the Janaki Mandir is supposed to mark the spot where a golden image of Sita was discovered in 1657. The present plaster-and-marble structure was erected in 1911 by an Indian queen.

Its outer building encloses a courtyard and inner sanctum. This is where at least twice a day priests draw back a curtain to reveal an intricate silver shrine and perform rituals for attending worshippers. Non-Hindus are allowed to watch. It’s an enchanting place at night and early in the morning, when the devout gather in lamplit huddles.

Janaki Mandir temple in Janakpur © Xandra R/Shutterstock

Janaki Mandir temple in Janakpur © Xandra R/Shutterstock

8. Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a city of contradictions - a chaotic blend of medieval time capsule and environmental disaster, holy city and tourist trap, with countless layers of sophistication. Teeming with tourists and still recovering from an earthquake, Durbar Square is a must-see starting point, home to the old royal palace and other significant monuments.

Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal's holiest Hindu pilgrimage site and a major Shiva temple, is located 4km east of central Kathmandu near the ring road. Meanwhile, Swayambhu (Monkey Temple), situated atop a conical hill 2km west of Thamel, offers a sweeping view of the Kathmandu Valley and is an iconic landmark of Nepal, attracting pilgrims and monkeys alike.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Kathmandu

View of Swayambhunath Kathmandu, Nepal © Bon Appetit/Shutterstock

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Nepal © Shutterstock

9. White water rafting

Short rafting and kayaking trips are hugely accessible in Nepal, even for beginners. Some of the longer trips are world classics, offering the experience of a lifetime. If you can afford it, adding a rafting trip to the beginning or end of a trekking trip is well worth the extra time and money.

Not just for adrenaline junkies — this is one of the best things to do in Nepal for enjoying rural scenery. The eastern fringe of Pokhara is defined by the dramatic course of the Seti River, the “white river”, which gets its name from the thick glacial deposits that the water carries in suspension down from the mountains.

Take a thrilling rafting adventure in the Upper Seti, and ride class III and IV rapids on this half-day tour from Pokhara.


River rafting is one of the best things to do in Nepal for enjoying rural scenery © C. Na Songkhla/Shutterstock

10. Gorkha

Despite its beautiful hilltop location and its status as the cradle of the nation, Gorkha remains strangely under-visited by international tourists. Conscious of this and keen to change it, the government has spruced up Gorkha’s main monuments.

As the ancestral home of the Nepali royal family, Gorkha occupies a central place in the country’s history. Hunched on the hilltop above the bazaar is its link with that splendid past, the Gorkha Durbar, an architectural tour de force worthy of the flamboyant Gorkha kings and the dynasty they founded. Unless you’re setting straight off on a trek or just finishing one, you’ll have to spend the night in town.

The Durbar and its agreeable surroundings can easily soak up a day, and hikes around the area could keep you busy for another couple.


Gorkha Palace, Nepal © Josephine Billeter/Shutterstock

11. Phewa Tal

Phewa Tal, Pokhara’s sparkling lake, is highly valued by Nepalis as a holy site. This is due to its peaceful and gleaming water, which can reflect the entire Annapurna range on its surface during clear and still days. However, such serene and shining bodies of water in the Western Hills are rare and may become rarer in the future.

Among the various activities offered around Pokhara, rowing on Phewa Tal is one of the best things to do in Nepal, as it provides a simple and peaceful way to relax. Unlike many other adrenaline-pumping activities, boating is a serene experience. It is advisable to swim from a boat since the shores are mostly muddy and some hotels and restaurants along Lakeside discharge sewage into the water.

Get a glimpse of heaven as you fly high into the heavenly Nepal skies on a hot air balloon! On this guided journey you will witness spectacular panoramic views of Phewa lake as you ascend and glide through the air.


Pokhara lake, Nepal © danm12/Shutterstock

12. Yoga and meditation

Kathmandu and Pokhara are spilling over with yoga classes, meditation sessions and retreats, inspired by both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Many spiritual centres last only a season or two in Lakeside, and your best bet is to get personal recommendations from people who’ve just come back from a retreat.

Courses can easily be found by checking notice boards or online, and yoga enthusiasts are fairly easily found in Lakeside’s chatty guesthouses and cafés. There’s little doubt that some Lakeside places are fairly commercial, but then that’s true of many yoga centres back home, too. Introductory classes are sometimes free.

If you're looking for a spiritual experience, check out our guide to Nepal yoga retreats: the best places for some R&R or our guide too meditation centres and retreats in Thailand.

Yoga and meditation

Western tourists taking a yoga class in the Himalayas, Everest region, Nepal

13. Visiting Chitwan National Park - one of the best things to do in Nepal for wildlife lovers

The Chitwan National Park boasts over five hundred rhinos, with sightings pretty much guaranteed. The park authorities have felt confident enough to relocate some to Bardia National Park. Tiger conservation has also proved very successful recently, and there are now thought to be significantly more than the 120 tigers counted in the park in 2013.

Altogether, 68 mammalian species are found in the park, including sloth bear, leopard, langur and four kinds of deer. Chitwan is Nepal’s most important sanctuary for birds, with 544 species recorded. The park also has to two types of crocodiles and more than 150 types of butterflies.

Explore the wildlife diversity of Chitwan National Park while you go on a jungle walk, boat in the Rapti river, and Jeep safari. Explore the unexploited trails through the hills in the lap of the Himalayas on this guided Wildlife Jungle Safari.

Rhinoceros grazing in a forest clearing in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park © Shutterstock

Rhinoceros grazing in a forest clearing in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park © Shutterstock

14. Annapurna Region

The Annapurna Region is a popular destination due to its varied scenery and hill culture, with simple logistics. However, road construction is damaging some trekking routes.

Treks can start or end near Pokhara, which has guesthouses, rental shops, and easy transportation. Short treks with great views are feasible, and tourism is sustainable thanks to the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. But staying on the popular treks means more bottled beer than home-brew with locals.

Experience the great Nepalese outdoors in all its glory with this tailor-made trip to the Taste of Annapurna. Pass through picturesque mountain villages like Ghorepani and soak up a stunning sunrise from Poon Hill. Finally marvel at the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, all with this unique adventure trek!


Trekking in Nepal, Annapurna © Shutterstock

15. Bardia National Park

With Chitwan becoming increasingly mass-market, Bardia National Park beckons as an unspoiled alternative. This National Park is northwest of Nepalgunj and the largest area of undisturbed wilderness left in the Terai.

Bordering Bardia to the west is Banke National Park, which was created in 2010 and stretches over 550 square kilometres. Together the two parks now form the biggest Bengal tiger conservation area in Asia and have the highest density of tigers in the world. Tourism has not yet developed at Banke, but may well do so in the future.

With its vibrant culture, rich heritage and diverse nature, Nepal is one of the exotic destinations for travel. If you are on the lookout for just such travel destinations, read our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world.

Bengal tiger in Bandhavgarh, India © Shutterstock

Bengal tiger © Shutterstock

16. Lumbini

For the world’s half a billion Buddhists, Lumbini is where it all began. The Buddha’s birthplace is arguably the single most important historical site in Nepal. The Sacred Garden, where the Buddha was reputedly born, was by all accounts a well-tended grove in his day. Centrepiece of the Sacred Garden, the Maya Devi Temple contains brickwork dating back to 300 BC, making it the oldest known structure in Nepal.

North of the Cultural Centre, the white-and-gold Lumbini Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) soars 41m over the parkland. The impressive monument was finally completed in 2001 by Nippozan Myohoji, a Japanese Buddhist organization that is also responsible for the World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara, as well as around eighty others across the world.

Buddhist temples in Lumbini, with statues illustrating the life of Siddharta © Alessandro Zappalorto/Shutterstock

Buddhist temples in Lumbini, with statues illustrating the life of Siddharta © Alessandro Zappalorto/Shutterstock

17. Sagarmatha National Park

While Everest isn’t as heavily trekked as Annapurna, its high-altitude environment is even more fragile. Khumbu, with less than four thousand inhabitants, receives anything from ten to twenty thousand trekkers a year, and probably twice as many porters. Lodge-building almost destroyed the Blue Pine and Silver Fir forests around Lukla, and the demand for firewood is many times the regeneration capacity of the area.

Near trekking villages, up to half the juniper shrubs have vanished in smoke. The Sagarmatha National Park, which covers most of Khumbu, has done some fine work in reforestation (funded by the Rs3000 entry fee).

Tengboche Monastery with stupa and mount Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam, the best monastery in Khumbu valley, trek to Everest base camp, Sagarmatha national park, Khumbu valley, Nepal © Shutterstock

Tengboche Monastery with stupa and mount Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam in Khumbu valley, trek to Everest base camp, Sagarmatha national park © Shutterstock

18. Patan-Lalitpur

Now largely absorbed by greater Kathmandu, and easy to reach from the centre of town, Patan was once the capital of a powerful independent kingdom. Today it still maintains a defiantly distinct identity.

Smaller and less monumental than its equivalent in Kathmandu, Patan’s Durbar Square comes across as more refined and less touristy. The formula is, however, similar to that in Kathmandu, with a solemn royal palace looming along one side and assorted temples grouped in the remaining public areas.

The Royal Palace’s northernmost wing, Mani Keshab Narayan Chowk, once served as the palace of another noted seventeenth-century king, Yoganarendra Malla. It was badly damaged in the 1934 earthquake, and was only clumsily rebuilt in the aftermath. With assistance from the Austrian government, however, it was later restored to house the splendid Patan Museum.

Find more useful information for visiting Patan in our first-timer's guide to Patan-Lalitpur.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Patan


Patan Durbur Square © Shutterstock

19. Bandipur

Bandipur, once a prosperous centre for garment-making and a trading stop along the India-Tibet route, is now a sleepy town with only a single high street. The town's grand Neoclassical mansions, remnants of its past glories, and stunning views of the Himalayas make it a peaceful and popular tourist destination.

Despite the decline of business due to the eradication of malaria in the Terai and the completion of the Prithvi Highway, tourism is providing a new economic mini-boom with numerous boutique hotels and homestays available.

Here youll find limestone peaks that rear up romantically, as if they’d tumbled out of a Chinese brush painting, and facing breathtaking views of the Himalayas.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Bandipur

Bandipur Bazaar, Nepal © Shutterstock

Bandipur Bazaar, Nepal © Shutterstock

20. Panauti

Built on a single stratum of rock, legend has it that Panauti is the safest place in the valley when an earthquake hits. This is the best-preserved Newari town after Bhaktapur, and an enticing place. Panauti is leading a self-sufficient existence in a small valley 7km south of Banepa.

Its centre is a nugget of family dwellings, temples and public meeting houses, all built in signature Newari brick and carved wood; a cluster of riverside temples and ghats lies at the bottom end.

Wedged between the Punyamati and Roshi streams, Panauti forms a triangle, with a serpent (nag) idol standing at each corner to protect against floods. The oldest and most interesting sights are concentrated at the streams’ confluence at the east end of town.

Panauti, Nepal © Shutterstock

Panauti, Nepal © Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Nepal? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Nepal.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Nepal without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image © Jelena Yukka/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.03.2023

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