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The Kathmandu Valley truly is the heart of Nepal and is the perfect introduction to Nepal. Almost all visitors will enter Nepal through the Kathmandu airport and most travellers will use it as a base as they journey to the Himalayas. In the month we spent in Nepal, we spend 10 days in total in Kathmandu. At first I thought that might be too long, but after two-months of fairly quick travel in Mexico and India, it was a great place for us to just be.
Kathmandu is the cultural and political heart of Nepal and there are a lot of great things to do with kids in the Valley. The tourist neighborhood of Thamel has everything you could possibly want and is a great place to prepare for trekking. After a month in India without seeing too many other tourists, it was shocking to see the amount of foreigners in Thamel. It reminded us of Khao San Road in Bangkok, the good and the bad.
You might also like to read:
- Our 10-day Trek in the Everest Region
- Trekking in Nepal with Kids FAQs
- What You Really Need for Trekking in Nepal
- Whitewater Rafting the Seti River
- Should You Visit Chitwan National Park?
- 1 What You Should Know Before You Visit
- 2 Kathmandu Map
- 3 The Best Things to Do in Kathmandu with Kids
- 4 Trip to Bhaktapur
- 5 Go Climbing
- 6 Treat the Kids to Milkshakes
- 7 Eat Some Momos
- 8 Where to Stay in Kathmandu
- 9 Where to Eat in Kathmandu
- 10 Getting Around Kathmandu
- 11 Travel Insurance in Nepal
- 12 Our Verdict
What You Should Know Before You Visit
Kathmandu has some of the worst air quality we have ever experienced. There is a constant haze that hangs over the city and walking the streets can feel like inhaling a million cigarettes. We have only ever encountered this poor of air quality in Cairo and we broke down and bought masks for walking around.
The evidence of the 2015 earthquake is still evident throughout Kathmandu. As an impoverished country, the rebuilding has been slow and sadly so many historical buildings collapsed beyond repair. However, it is encouraging to see the rebuilding even if it is slow and tourist dollars are very important to funding the rebuilding.
Kathmandu even more than other destinations in Asia, will bring you up close and personal with Nepal’s struggles. In Thamel, you will see street children as young as 5 sleeping alone out on the streets. You will walk under dangling electric wires knotted together above your head. At times, the air pollution will leave you hacking and your eyes watering. It may not be an easy destination to visit with kids, but that shouldn’t turn you off. We never felt unsafe in Thamel or Kathmandu and encountered so much warmth and hospitality.
We don’t want to turn you off visiting Kathmandu or Nepal with kids, but want you to understand the less-than-polished sights that you will see.
All of the things to do, hotels, and restaurants mentioned in this post are included on the map below.
Click here to find information on how to get to Kathmandu.
The Best Things to Do in Kathmandu with Kids
Many of the best things to do in Kathmandu involve cultural and religious sites, which we enjoy doing as a family, but to a limit. That is why, in addition to the cultural highlights, we want to tell you about some great Kathmandu finds that the kids will enjoy, between temple hopping and heritage buildings.
We visited in April when temperatures were very comfortable in the 20s. During the monsoon season, Kathmandu is very wet and sticky and during the winter months, quite cold. The two main trekking seasons (Spring and Fall) are definitely the best times of year to visit.
Wander in Thamel
Since most visitors will end up staying in Thamel, it makes sense to start your exploring here. We were preparing for our trek in the Everest region, and had quite a few things we needed to buy. The plethora of North Fake shops in Thamel offered up everything we needed, but it was also overwhelming to compare quality, negotiate prices and find gear for kids. Read more about our packing suggestions, including what to pack for trekking with kids in Nepal.
While Thamel may not be a great cultural introduction to Nepal, the narrow prayer flag-lined streets with outfitting shops, made us feel like we were in the gateway to the mountains. The low hanging electrical wires along the streets somehow seemed exotic and a million miles away from home.
Old City to Durbar Square DIY Walking Tour
Our Nepal guidebook had a walking tour that went from Thamel, through the Old City to Durbar Square. This was a great way to learn about the history of Kathmandu and it was our first time really experiencing Buddhist stupas and prayer wheels. Once you get outside of Thamel, you have the opportunity to observe local life and soak in the real Kathmandu.
Along the way, you will see Buddhist and Hindu temples, stupas, markets and historic buildings. Our kids especially loved spinning the prayer wheels (clockwise) whenever they encountered them.
Durbar Square is the most popular tourist site in Kathmandu with its concentration of temples, constant buzz of activity and old meets new ethos.
Our kids were most interested in the Kumari – a living child goddess that is chosen as a young girl and worshiped until she goes through puberty. The Kumari lives in a house at Kumari Ghar in Durbar Square with her family and you can sometimes catch a glimpse of her in the mornings. Kumari Ghar escaped major damage in the earthquake and the courtyard is definitely worth visiting for its intricate carvings.
Practical Information: Visitors have to pay an 1,000 rupees entrance fee to visit Durbar Square, which is collected at any of the entrances to the square. Children are free. If you will be visiting more than one day, you can buy a visitor pass for the same price. Bring your passport and two passport photos. Seven temples were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, so hopefully these fees are helping with the rebuilding efforts.
Most visitors refer to Swayambhunath Stupa as “Monkey Temple” and it is a must for all visitors to Nepal. You can walk from the Thamel district or take a rickshaw or taxi. Swayambhunath arose from a series of smaller temples on the hill that resulted in the stupa we see now. While there are monkeys that hang around the temple, they aren’t as aggressive as monkeys we have encountered in places like Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.
Plan to spend at least an hour at the top of the hill wandering among the prayer flags, stupa and other temples. Our kids really enjoyed the World Peace Pond where they could toss pennies at the Buddha statute in the pond for luck.
Another good option for visiting Swayambhunath is on a full-day Kathmandu tour that includes guided visits to Swayambhunath, Durbar Square and open-air cremations at Pashupatinath.
Practical Information: You pay an entry at the top of the hill of 200 rupees per person, kids under 10 are free.
Getting There: You can easily walk the 3 kms from Thamel to Swayambhunath. Alternatively, a taxi from Thamel costs 300 rupees.
TIP: There is an excellent vegetarian restaurant mid-way between Thamel and Swayambhunath, called Basuri Vegetarian Restaurant serving excellent Nepalese and Japanese foods. Everything we tasted was delicious from the momos to the tempura to the sushi to the pasta.
Trip to Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur is located 20 km from Kathmandu and it has the best preserved city squares and buildings in all of Nepal. It also has a Durbar Sqaure that is full of culture and history. It offers a glimpse into what Kathmandu might have looked like 30+ years ago without the pollution and chaos. The quiet laneways and old buildings are peaceful and lovely to walk around in.
Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square wasn’t affected by the 2015 earthquake to the same extent as Kathmandu’s, but there is still many buildings in various states of repair. There are many interesting temples, stupas and buildings to explore. We used our guide book to learn about each of the buildings, but this Patan and Bhaktapur guided tour would offer more information. Taumadhi Square is also very beautiful and worth exploring.
Getting There: You can take a private tour or taxi to Bhaktapur. We opted to take the local bus, which was an experience in itself and only cost 25 rupees per person. The Bhaktapur bus leaves from the Ratna Park bus station, which is about 1.5 km from Thamel.
Practical Information: There is a $15 USD entrance fee to enter the old city of Bhaktapur. You will encounter ticket booths at all roads leading towards the centre.
We understand that kids can only take so much cultural and historic exploring. We were excited to find a climbing gym in Thamel for the kids to burn some energy at. Astrek climbing wall is a great place to spend a few hours bouldering or climbing routes. We were impressed with the safety standards, climbing wall and climbing gear. There are some self-belay climbs or you can belay the kids or pay a minimal fee to have them belayed. The gym is outdoor, but covered and has a good cafe.
Practical Information: We paid 1900 rupees for three kids to climb.
Treat the Kids to Milkshakes
Among the gear shops of Thamel, we stumbled upon a sleek, air-conditioned milkshake shop. It was like stepping into a shop like we would find in Canada and sometimes that is just what you need when traveling in foreign countries. Kevetners is an uber cool Indian chain selling rich milkshakes and sundaes. Prices are expensive by Nepal standards, but the quality, taste and food hygiene make it worth it.
We went to Keventers every time we were back in Kathmandu for a special treat. The only thing we didn’t like is that they don’t reuse or recycle the glass milk jug that the milkshakes come in. Hopefully this is something they will look into in the future. If you have space in your luggage, you can always bring one home as a souvenir.
Getting There: Keventers is located almost right across from Shona’s Alpine in Thamel.
Eat Some Momos
Momos are dumplings popular in Tibet, Nepal and Northern India and are a kid favourite. They are usually stuffed with minced vegetables or meat and can be served steamed or fried. They are served with a delicious dipping sauce and a hardy food in the Himalayas. Momos are available at almost every restaurant in Nepal, but each restaurant will have a slightly different take on them.
When ordering them for kids, make sure to ask for “non-spicy” as sometimes the filling or dipping sauce can be spicy.
Where to Stay in Kathmandu
Some may prefer quieter areas of Kathmandu, but we enjoyed the action of Thamel and the ease of preparing for our trek there.
Holy Lodge (Budget) – we came back to this place every time we were back in Kathmandu. They have good family rooms with 4 single beds, free filtered water, a delicious breakfast included and good WIFI. The owner, Santosh, became a friend and helped us organize our guide and porters for our trek. Nothing was too much trouble for the friendly staff who would rush our laundry or deliver drinks to us in our room when we were all sick. Click here to check the latest prices.
Oasis Kathmandu (Mid-range) – this hotel offers comfortable and modern rooms, including good options for families. Our friends stayed here and they can definitely attest to the excellent reviews found online. The restaurant serves great food and is a great escape from the craziness outside. Click here to check the latest prices.
Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu (Luxury) – this brand new hotel is located right next to the Oasis, and offers the best accommodation in Thamel. Rooms come with all amenities you would expect from a large western chain, including a complimentary breakfast buffet. Click here to check the latest prices.
Where to Eat in Kathmandu
All adults who visit Kathmandu should try the staple Nepalese meal of dal bhat (rice, dal and curried vegetables or meat). Children will enjoy Tibetan dumplings called “momos” (sometimes they can be spicy) or Thukpa, a traditional noodle soup. You can find all of these Thamel places to eat on the map above.
Thamel Doner Kebab – absolutely amazing and cheap shawarma, this was our favourite restaurant in Kathmandu. Yummy veg options, cheap fresh juices and super friendly owner. The shawarmas are huge and only cost 250-300 rupees ($3-3.50). At first it looks like a takeaway, but there is a seating area in the back.
Pumpernickel Bakery – right in the centre of Thamel, this bakery makes great baguettes, pastries and good coffee. It is a great meeting place to get together to plan your Nepal adventures.
Basuri Vegetarian Restaurant – we stumbled upon this gem walking back from Swayambhunath Stupa. It had just opened, but their menu of delicious Japanese foods like tempura and sushi, as well as delicious pastas and sweet potato fries, lured us in and didn’t disappoint. The outdoor garden setting was a lovely respite from the busy street. Dishes cost 200-400 rupees.
Keventers – the amazing milkshakes mentioned above are definitely worth at least one visit.
Shop Right Supermarket – this large shop located in the centre of Thamel is a great place to stock up snacks and imported foods you may not have seen in awhile. This store knows how to appeal to foreigners and has popular European, Australian, and American products.
Getting Around Kathmandu
Walking – most of the major sites in Kathmandu are easily accessible from Thamel by walking. In fact, you will often get places quicker walking because the traffic is horrendous. However, the air pollution can be so terrible that you might want to invest in a cheap mask for walking around.
Taxi – the taxis in Kathmandu are old, but prices are reasonable. We stuck to taxis in Kathmandu and didn’t use Uber or Ola.
Local Bus – they certainly won’t be the quickest way to get around, but for visits to Bhaktapur or Patan, the local bus is an interesting experience.
Private Vehicle – through your hotel, you can easily hire a private vehicle to get around Kathmandu or beyond. We organized cars to take us to Pokhara and back from Chitwan. While they were more expensive than taking the bus, it was much more comfortable.
Travel Insurance in Nepal
As soon as you start booking your trip to Nepal, make sure you have good travel insurance. We use and recommend World Nomads because they know and understand travel in developing countries. They offer medical, evacuation and baggage coverage in 130 countries for adventurous travelers.
Our whole family really enjoyed the time we spent in Kathmandu. Kathmandu offers up so many different dimensions: its rich cultural history, the trekking focused Thamel, and an east meets west feel. Our kids loved the opportunity to eat some Western foods and indulge in some family-friendly fun like climbing. When planning your trip to Nepal with kids, don’t rush out of Kathmandu; there are lots of activities to engage the whole family. Remember to check out our map above for all locations mentioned in this post.
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