Truth in advertising. I haven’t met anyone that liked Katmandu. However, I did! Katmandu is a living, chaotic, vibrant city with character. It is a bit crazy and walking through the city was the most stressful I have ever encountered (more so than Hanoi or Marrakech). There is tons of pollution and there are people everywhere. But on the flip side there are layers of life and tradition at every turn is filled with color, noise and people.
Katmandu Valley is much larger than just Kathmandu and includes the surrounding area. And through the 15-18 century, the area actually had three kingdoms of Katmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur all very close together. Today they are all considered part of the Katmandu valley.
I would recommend a minimum of four days in the Katmandu Valley but truthfully think you could easily do six days.
I would say you need at least three days in Katmandu proper in order to visit the following areas: Thamel, Durbar Square, Monkey Temple, Kumari Palace, Pashupatinath Temple, and Boudhanath. Of these our group of five was mixed and Durbar Square, Monkey Temple, Pashupatinath and Boudhanath all made the #1 stop in Katmandu.
I also highly recommend trips to both Patan and Bhaktapur. We had half day in each but I would have preferred a full day. If choosing one as a “base” we unanimously recommend Bhaktapur. It is larger, great to roam around early or late in the day, and frankly the ticket to Durbar Square is for your entire stay while in Patan it is for the day only.
Durbar Square means royal palace and all three are laid out very similar but have distinct personalities. Of our group, two preferred Bhaktapur, two preferred Patan and one liked Katmandu!
If I’d had more time, I would have explored Nagarkot, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, Changu Narayan, and the Chandragiri Hills. Next trip I will also take some time to take a class and pain a thangka.
We stayed in three areas and different “hotels” while visiting the Katmandu valley.
Trekkers Home in Thamel was very friendly and helpful, affordable and noisy. It was rough around the edges with spotty electricity and hot water. But it was comfortable and clean, so if on a tight budget it is a great find.
Baha hotel in Bhaktapur was superb. It is a newly established boutique hotel inside of the old city. It has beautiful wood and a courtyard with views of the temple. Rahul (the co-founder) is always there and exceptionally helpful! This is one of my favorite places I’ve stayed – EVER.
We also stayed at Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath. The guest house is connected to a monastery and is a great location for exploring the neighborhood and the temple. The guest house is basic but comfortable with hot water and a calm atmosphere. I also must mention that the staff was very helpful and patient. I must have made changes to my reservation at least a dozen times! I recommend getting up early to visit the stupa and see the devotees and monks in prayer.
While in Katmandu we had some really fantastic food and frankly some really horrible food.
Rosemary Kitchen and Coffee shop had a wonderful breakfast with a peaceful inside garden. We also sought out their second café for dinner while in Pokhara which was just as good.
The Peacock Café in Bhaktapur had a great view, friendly staff and good food. Stick with their local specialties: Syavale and Dal Bhat were wonderful.
Tasneem’s for Indian in Patan was fabulous. Everything was great but the butter chicken was a favorite choice.
The Roadhouse Café in Boudhanath had fantastic pizza, pasta and burgers if you’ve had your fill of momos and Dal Bhat.
I do not recommend either Merhaba restaurant or Mahabir Café.
For Katmandu, a face mask, toilet paper, battery pack and hand sanitizer are all essential.