Whether scaling the slopes of Mt. Everest or paying homage at the birthplace of the Buddha, a trip to Nepal is a top destination for many travelers. Situated along the Himalayan mountain range between China and India in South Asia, the country boasts some of the most diverse landscapes on the planet, from snow-capped mountains to subtropical forests. Nepal’s culture is just as varied, filled with centuries-old temples and shrines, a profusion of colorful festivals and plenty of exotic wares to peruse and purchase.
From adrenaline-filled activities like mountaineering, kayaking and paragliding to serene strolls among medieval temples and hidden palaces, this country offers more memorable travel experiences than can be squeezed into a single visit. An overview of the best places to visit in Nepal:
Crowds of Buddhist pilgrims are an everyday sight in Lumbini, the traditional birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha. With archeological finds that date back to around 550 B.C., the legendary site attracts scholars, scientists and curious visitors as well. It was here that Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi, gave birth near a tree in the garden, which is now a temple bearing her name. Set in the center of a small park designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the complex also features multiple monasteries, sacred ponds, meditation centers and cultural facilities.
Located in south-central Nepal on the Terai plains, Janakpur was once the capital of a millennia-old Indian kingdom known as Mithila, and the Maithili culture still thrives here. Hindus believe Janakpur is the place where Lord Ram wed Sita, also known as Janaki, and thousands of Hindus from all over the world flock to the temple of Janaki Mandir each year to celebrate the anniversary of their marriage. With its three-story construction and 60 rooms, the massive 19th-century marble structure is the largest temple in Nepal. Janakpur is known for the more than 100 sacred pools and ponds scattered around the tranquil city as well.
Perfect for travelers who want to experience the beauty and majesty of the Himalayas without arduous physical activity, Nagarkot is best known for the views it offers of the mountains and the Kathmandu Valley. Perched on a high ridge to the northeast of Bhaktapur, the village of around 4,500 inhabitants commands views of eight Himalayan ranges. There’s a variety of appealing hotels in every price range in Nagarkot, many of which are located within walking distance of the Nagarkot view tower, known as the best place to visit in Nepal to view the sun rising over the Himalayas.
Each year, the determination to trek to the summit of Mt. Everest brings thousands of adventurous travelers to Khumbu, the Everest Region located in northeastern Nepal. The journey begins at the Lukla airstrip where a clear two-lane trail eventually leads hikers to Everest Base Camp. Located primarily within the Sagarmatha National Park, Khumbu is home to the Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar where most expeditions to the mountainous peaks are staged. The country’s foremost Buddhist center, the Tengboche Monastery, is located in the Khumbu as well. There’s a variety of comfortable accommodations available at the monastery, many of which offer stunning views of the tallest mountain on the planet.
One of the best wildlife-viewing destinations in Asia, the Chitwan National Park in south-central Nepal offers needed sanctuary for rare and endangered species like the Bengal tiger and one-horned rhinoceros. The chance for a close-up look at exotic wildlife, including elephants, leopards, Indian bison, rhinoceros and sloth bears, is the park’s greatest attraction. In addition to jeep tours, visitors can experience the park through jungle treks, elephant rides and canoe rides. Luxury lodging is available at the edge of the park, and the nearby village of Sauraha offers affordable accommodation.
With its tranquil lakes, verdant shorelines and mountain views, Pokhara is a popular resort destination for travelers from around the world. Known as the gateway to the Annapurna region in northwest Nepal, the lakeside city offers respite to weary hikers, and provides opportunities for outdoor adventures too, ranging from leisurely paddle-boat rides to white-water rafting. The largest of Pokhara’s three lakes, Phewa Lake is lined with luxury hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. The lake also features an island with a temple dedicated to the goddess Barahi Bhagwati where ceremonies are held nearly every weekend.
Situated across the Bagmati River from Kathmandu, Patan is as well known for its artisans as for its stunning display of Newari architecture. Built in the 17th century, the palaces, courtyards and temples of the Patan Durbar are the city’s star attractions. With its multi-columned façade and gilded spires, the recently restored stone Krishna Temple is particularly striking, as is the recently restored Sundari Chowk, a courtyard with an elaborately carved sunken bath as its centerpiece. Patan is one of the best places in Nepal to buy the gorgeous handmade silk saris that once were the garment of choice for the country’s royalty and aristocracy.
One of three ancient capitals in the Kathmandu Valley, beautifully preserved Bhaktapur experienced a fair share of damage during the 2015 earthquakes. Fortunately, most of the city’s temples and shrines, which are the main attractions in this place known as the City of Devotees, escaped unscathed. Less crowded and hectic than bustling Kathmandu, Bhaktapur invites leisurely walks through medieval squares, winding streets and pedestrian-only thoroughfares. The city’s Durbar Square, or “noble court,” features a must-see site known as the 55-Window Palace, a 15th-century structure that is now home to the National Art Gallery.
The Annapurna Circuit in northwest Nepal offers hikers an outdoor experience nonpareil. Showcasing the varied landscapes of the Annapurna Region, the classic trek leads travelers high into the Himalayas, across plunging gorges, over desert plateaus and through lush subtropical valleys dotted by terraced farms. The trek also passes by many religious sites and quaint villages. Starting just east of Pokhara, the journey takes about three weeks to complete though many trekkers walk half of it by flying out at Jomsom Airport. There is also the shorter but no less beautiful Annapurna Sanctuary Trek that takes around 8 to 12 days. Its one of the most popular treks in Nepal with lodges and tea stops at hourly intervals or less, until the highest sections at least.
The country’s cultural capital, Kathmandu is the place where most adventures in Nepal begin, as all flights from overseas land in the city’s airport. A crowded metropolis of more than 1 million inhabitants, Kathmandu is a chaotic mix of tourist shops, trekking agencies, hotels, restaurants, religious sites and artisan workshops.
The city’s famous Durbar Square is still undergoing restoration after the recent earthquakes, but there are many intact sites well worth exploring. Set atop a forested hill, the ancient Buddhist complex of Swayambhunath is a can’t-miss attraction that offers sweeping views of the Kathmandu Valley. Another popular spot with visitors is the Swapna Bagaicha, also known as the Garden of Dreams. This is a great place if you’re looking for a quiet spot in which to escape the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu.