There are many great places to visit in the Kathmandu valley; some can be done as day trips while others make refreshing weekend breaks from the capital. The majority of travellers do not explore any more of the valley than the well-known heritage towns of Patan, Bhaktapur and Bodhnath.
However, there is a wealth of off-the-beaten-track destinations that are perhaps more rewarding than the more popular places. It is in these small towns and villages that you can witness local Nepali life, cultural traditions and some stunning landscapes, and the best part is that you’ll likely be the only travellers there. See below for our top 11 off-the-beaten-track day trips in the Kathmandu valley.
1. CHANGU NARAYAN TEMPLE AND SANKHU VILLAGE
Changu Narayan Temple
Changu Narayan Temple, said to be the oldest Hindu temple still in use in the Kathmandu valley, is located in the small village of Changu just north of Bhaktapur. The village and temple are perched atop a ridge with stunning valley views. There is a NRs 350 entrance fee for foreigners to enter Changu Narayan Temple.
The beautiful and historic temple of Changu Narayan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covered in carvings from the Licchavi period. The courtyard is filled with many exquisite statues, which together with the intricate detail of the carvings, make this site a work of art.
Built in the two-tiered pagoda style, the main shrine houses a statue of Vishnu as Narayan – the creator of all life. The decorated metal doors are, however, only opened for rituals and even then only Hindus can enter. A one-storey Bhimsen Pati, with stone guardians, and the remains of a Malla-era royal palace can be found down the steps that lead east from the temple.
Hiking to Sankhu
From Changu Narayan, it’s possible to hike through beautiful countryside to the village of Sankhu; the preliminary turn-off is signed but you’ll need to ask locals for directions along the way.
The trail initially drops down to the Manohara River; after crossing the bridge you can pick up the Sankhu road and follow it up to the village. The route is around 6km and passes through some jaw-dropping rice field scenery and past some lovely rural homesteads.
The historic settlement of Sankhu was once an important stop on the old trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Wander the winding brick backlanes and traditional squares of the old town to discover small Hindu shrines and temples. The real highlight, however, lies on the hillside north of the village and is accessed by a pedestrianised pathway that turns into paved stone steps.
The hike up to Vajrayogini Temple is as enjoyable as seeing the temple itself, on the way passing sculpted water spouts, a shelter with carvings of a thin Kali and an orange Ganesh, and a small stone Buddhist stupa. When we visited in 2018 there was still much evidence of earthquake damage from 2015 and restoration was ongoing.
The image of Vajrayogini is only visible when a priest opens the doors for devotees. Also in the courtyard lies another temple that enshrines a large chaitya; its roof struts are decorated with images of protector deities. This site is a perfect example of how Hindu and Buddhist iconography are often fused in Nepal.
You can reach Changu village by bus from Bhaktapur (NRs 20, 30 minutes) and you can take a mini bus back to Kathmandu’s Ratna Park bus station from Sankhu (NRs 40, one hour). The last buses in either direction leave at around 6pm.
2. THIMI AND BODE
Situated on the road to Bhaktapur, Thimi (historically known as Madhyapur) was once the fourth-largest town in the Kathmandu valley. Today it is a quaint medieval village with narrow, winding brick-paved streets that are lined with many small colourful temples and shrines. Thimi is also a centre for pottery and paper-mâché mask production and you can see evidence of this throughout the backlanes.
The 16th Century Balkumari Temple is Thimi’s most well-known; it is dedicated to one of Bhairab’s shaktis. The goddess’s peacock vehicle sits atop a stone column in front of the temple, as well as at each corner of the tiered roof. From the temple a small lane leads to Thimi’s Potters Square, where you can see kilns made from straw and covered with ash.
Just one kilometre north of Thimi lies the even smaller hamlet of Bode; the villages are seamlessly connected. With minute Hindu temples and middle-of-the-road shrines, Thimi is a great place to wander; again you’ll see elements of Hinduism and Buddhism side by side.
Tucked within the web of residents homes lies the Swayambhunath-style Bode Stupa and a small, fairly well-hidden Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
The 17th Century Mahalakshmi Temple is Bode’s most celebrated; there is a prominent image of Narayan reclining on his snake bed just behind. The village is famous for its annual tongue-piercing festival, which is believed to protect it from natural disasters.
Thimi and Bode make a great half-day trip from Kathmandu; you can continue on to Bhaktapur or, alternatively, stop by on your way back. Most buses will drop you at Thimi’s southern gateway on the Arniko Highway, though some may also stop on the back road at the northern end of the village.
Located 7km south of Banepa, Panauti lies at the sacred confluence of the Roshi Khola and Pungamati Khola. A third ‘Invisible River’, known as the Padmabati, is said to join the other two at Panauti, making the town particularly revered. At one point, Panauti was a major trading centre with a royal palace; today, however, the small town has a bustling new quarter and an atmospheric old town.
Within the old town you’ll find some lovely ornate temples that have withstood the test of time, as well as some striking Rana-era mansions that have been restored with the aid of the French government.
Some Key Old Town Sights Include:
- Indreshwar Mahadev Temple – Panauti’s most famous temple (NRs 300 for foreigners) lies within a vast courtyard full of statuary on the isthmus between the two rivers. The triple-tiered Newari temple was built in its present form in the 15th Century; the lingam inside is said to have been created personally by Shiva.
- Unamanta Bhairab Temple – This rectangular temple lies to the south of Indreshwar Mahadev; there is a statue of Bhairab inside, accompanied by goddesses. Within the courtyard you’ll see a small double-roofed Shiva temple, as well as a second shrine with a large black image of Vishnu as Narayan; there’s also the Panauti Museum within the compound.
- Brahmayani Temple – Situated on the north bank of the Pungamati Khola, this 17th Century three-tiered temple was built to honour Brahmayani, the chief goddess of the village.
- Krishna Narayan Temple – This temple consists of many shrines and statues, many of which are embellished with Rana-era stucco work. There are temples dedicated to various incarnations of Vishnu, including one with roof struts depicting Vishnu as the flute-playing Krishna.
- Civic Square – The Civic Square contains a music platform, a white Buddhist stupa, a Brahmayani Temple and classic Newari-style architecture.
You can reach Panauti by trekking trail from Dhulikhel and Namobuddha (highly recommended) or, alternatively, take a local bus from Kathmandu’s Ratna Park bus stand (NRs 70, 1.5-2 hours). The last bus leaves Panauti at around 5:30pm or there are accommodation options in town, including homestays.
Read more about Dhulikhel and Namobuddha in Nagarkot and Dhulikhel: Top Tips and a Hiking Guide.
4. SURIYA BINAYAK TEMPLE
Suriya Binayak Temple lies just south of Bhaktapur on the south side of the Arniko Highway; it can be reached on foot from Bhaktapur or visited on the way. From the highway it’s a 1km walk through village streets to where steps up to the temple begin.
Suriya Binayak is an important Ganesh temple that dates to the 17th Century. There is a white shikhara above the gold-roofed shrine and some interesting statuary in front, including figures of Malla kings and a large depiction of Ganesh’s vehicle, the rat.
The orange Ganesh in the shrine is surrounded by detailed figures and pattern-work that is embellished into the arched golden entrance. With its hilltop location, Suriya Binayak offers stunning panoramas over the Bhaktapur area.
5. NAGARJUN HILL
The main entrance to Nagarjun Hill is at Phulbari, located 2km north of Balaju on the road to Trisuli Bazaar. The reserve is part of Shivapuri National Park and is one of the last undamaged areas of woodland in the valley, providing a home for many species of bird and animal.
Due to a rather unfortunate incident that happened in 2005, foreign travellers are now forbidden to hike in the park without a guide. The entry fee plus the cost of a guide doesn’t make a visit cheap but the views at the summit are, on a clear day, wide and worthwhile.
The 6km hiking route (around 3 hours return) up to the 2095m summit is very straightforward; if it were not compulsory, a guide would not be necessary. It’s also possible to reach the top by vehicle on a winding paved road.
The site is a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site; at the summit there’s a small white stupa and a shrine to Padmasambhava, covered in fluttering prayer flags. The viewing tower offers an extensive mountain panorama, stretching from the Annapurnas to Langtang Lirung; a plaque identifies the peaks. Views over the Kathmandu valley are also impressive.
6. BUDHANILKANTHA AND SHIVAPURI NAGARJUN NATIONAL PARK
Budhanilkantha is a Hindu pilgrimage site that attracts many devotees; the focal point is a large reclining statue of Vishnu as Narayan, who slumbers on the coils of Ananta – the 11-headed snake god who symbolises eternity. Only Hindus can approach the statue to leave offerings but visitors can view the figure through the fence that surrounds the sacred water tank on which the statue rests.
The 5m-long Licchavi-style image was created in the 7th or 8th Century from one monumental piece of black stone; devotees then hauled it to its present location from outside the valley. Narayan holds one of the four symbols of Vishnu in each hand: a chakra disc (representing the mind), a conch shell (the four elements), a club (primeval knowledge) and a lotus seed (the moving universe).
With few foreign visitors, it’s a great place to soak up the spiritual buzz that is so prominent in Nepal. On a busy day butter lamps flicker in the breeze, incense fills the air and devotees swarm around the statue, tossing tika powder and performing ritual offerings.
To reach the site, you can take a taxi or there’s a mini bus that runs from the northern end of Kantipath to the main junction in Budhanilkantha (NRs 30, 35 minutes). Tempos and buses also make the trip from Sundhara and Ratna Park bus station respectively; the shrine is around 100m uphill from the junction.
Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park
From Budhanilkantha it’s a wonderful hike up through Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park to Nagi Gompa, a Tibetan nunnery in a peaceful shaded setting. The route up takes around 1.5-2 hours, climbing steadily through pine forest and on open trail; stunning vistas over the valley, clean air and the quiet natural surroundings make the trip wholly worthwhile.
If you are lucky you’ll be able to witness the mesmerising chanting of the nuns at prayer time; around 100 are resident at the complex. You can complete a circuit, returning to Budhanilkantha via the main national park entrance; be aware, however, that you may be asked to show/buy an entrance ticket, which entering the national park via other trekking paths does not entail.
From Nagi Gompa it’s possible to continue up to Shivapuri Peak (2725m) in around 3 hours; make the necessary preparations though and consider taking a guide. You can also continue south along the ridgeline to Kopan Monastery and Bodhnath or follow the track east to Mulkarkha and Sundarijal in the Helambu region.
7. BUNGAMATI AND KHOKANA
Surrounded by lush countryside and terraced rice fields, which were golden in October when we visited, Bungamati and Khokana are very pretty villages. You can reach Bungamati from Kathmandu, changing buses at Patan’s Lagankhel station; the journey is around 40 minutes from Patan.
Bungamati was badly hit in the 2015 earthquake and there is still much evidence of the destruction; reconstruction is ongoing. The village is the birthplace of Rato Machhendranath, the patron god of Patan, but the large Shikhara temple that used to house the deity in Bungamati’s main square was completely destroyed. Luckily the sacred idol of the god was recovered from the wreckage. The historic Bhairab Temple in the same square was also devastated.
Many people in Bungamati are wood-carvers and there are several workshops around the main square. The loss of the village’s two main temples is felt keenly by the local people; they played a very important role in the religious life of the valley. When we visited, reconstruction of the Rato Machhendranath Temple had begun. The village is still a delight to explore, however, with a series of smaller temples hidden within the backlanes.
- Bungamati Culture Museum – A low-key dusty museum displaying cultural objects from the area; NRs 25, open 10am-4pm.
- Dey Pukha – Leaving the main square by its northern gate, you’ll pass a Buddhist courtyard monastery and numerous chaityas and shrines. Then, on your right, you’ll see Dey Pukha, a brick-lined water tank. Two more water tanks lie a little further along the road, opposite one another.
- Karya Binayak Temple – This historic Ganesh temple lies halfway between Bungamati and Khokana; turn left onto a larger track just before the water tanks. The temple is especially popular on Saturdays, when locals flock here to enjoy a feast and devotional music.
It’s a pleasant short walk into tiny Khokana, a traditional Newari village that backs onto the Bagmati River. Exploring the peaceful winding lanes offers a window back in time with farmers baling straw, tailors stitching and women spinning wool and sorting through harvested crops. The main village square is home to the triple-tiered Shekala Mai Temple (also known as Sri Rudrayani Temple), which has a small white Buddhist stupa beside it.
There is a bus stand in Khokana though buses are not as frequent as those from Bungamati; it’s best to walk back out to the main road and flag down one passing through; again you’ll need to change in Patan to get back to Kathmandu.
8. ICHANGU NARAYAN TEMPLE AND WHITE MONASTERY
There’s a wonderful day hike that you can do from within the city centre; if you like you can take a taxi to your chosen start and end point but we did the whole circular route on foot. The loop starts on the other side of the ring road, near Swayambhunath, and climbs up to Ichangu Narayan Temple on quiet residential roads.
Depending on your route, you’ll likely pass a series of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, which can be visited on route. The views over Kathmandu become ever more impressive as you ascend.
Ichangu Narayan is another important temple dedicated to Vishnu in his incarnation as Narayan. Built in the two-tiered pagoda style, the temple was founded in around AD 1200; the courtyard contains ancient Garuda statues and other Vaishnavite symbols. The area around here is peaceful and almost rural; it’s hard to believe central Kathmandu lies just a couple of kilometres away.
From the temple, continue walking around the edge of the slim side-valley, which is lined with terraces of crops and other plants, as well as a scattering of greenhouses and homesteads. Follow the road as it curves round; it will eventually bring you up onto a ridge-top where the route continues to the White Monastery. This monastery receives few visitors but it’s possible to enter the prayer hall within the inner courtyard, where you may be lucky enough to witness the chanting of the resident monks.
With striking views over the Kathmandu valley, the final few kilometres of the route see you head downhill to the Aadeswor Temple, which is worth a brief stop. From here micro-vans head back into the city to Ratna Park or New Road Gate; you could also start the hike by taking a taxi or micro-van to this point – Ichangu Narayan Temple is just 2km from the Aadeswor Temple. You can also walk from here back into Kathmandu, as we did; it’s around 2.5km to the ring road.
For a peaceful day trip from Kathmandu, head to Godavari; this small, quiet village is home to nurseries that supply the capital with flowers and potted plants. There is enough to see and do in Godavari to keep you busy for a whole day.
- National Botanical gardens – A lovely escape from the city, the 82-hectare National Botanical Gardens deserve at least two hours. In the middle of the grounds lies the decorative Coronation Pond with a 7m-high commemorative pillar. Other points of interest include the cactus, orchid and tropical houses. Over 550 species of plant, 290 species of bird and 250 species of butterfly call the park home; with such rich biodiversity the gardens are used for conservation, scientific and educational purposes. There is a NRs 226 fee for foreigners; the gardens are open 10am-5pm or until 4pm Nov-Jan.
- Godavari Kunda – Near a cluster of local restaurants, Godavari Kunda is a sacred spring whose waters attract many young men and children. On the opposite side of the road lies a pretty blue water tank bordered by a line of five Shaivite shrines. The large O Sal Choling Godavari Tibetan monastery can also be seen nearby.
- Godavari Kunda Community Forest – In the same area lies this 30-hectare woodland, which is managed by local people and provides a home for 300 species of bird; it’s also a popular place for picnickers, especially at weekends.
- Naudhara Kunda – This three-tiered temple is dedicated to one of the Tantric mother goddesses; the two large pools just before the compound are fed by nine spouts (the Naudhara Kunda) that represent the nine streams that come from Pulchowki Mountain.
- Naudhara Community Forest – The above temple sits on the edge of this 147-hectare forest; you may be charged the NRs 100 forest admission fee to access the temple. Guides can be arranged for around NRs 500 for a 2-3 hour hiking tour, which allows you to explore the woodland’s many trails.
- Shanti Ban Buddha – A large golden Buddha statue situated on the hillside above Godavari; it was built by local Buddhists inspired by the Japanese Peace Pagoda movement. We couldn’t find it… let us know if you have better luck!
For a full-day hike you could attempt to summit Pulchowki Mountain (2760m); it’s the highest point around the valley. The mountain is home to the sacred Pulchowki Mai Temple, as well as over 570 species of flowering plant; it’s especially famous for its springtime flowers, including red and white rhododendrons.
The trail to the summit starts near Naudhara Kunda; bring supplies and don’t attempt the hike alone! Also enquire locally before you set off as some trails may have changed.
To reach Godavari you can take a bus or minibus from Patan’s Lagankhel station (45 minutes).
10. BODHNATH TO GOKARNA MAHADEV TEMPLE VIA KOPAN MONASTERY
The Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodhnath pulses with life as thousands of pilgrims make a kora (ritual circumnavigation) of Asia’s largest stupa. The large white dome is topped by a gilded central tower, painted on all four sides with the watchful eyes of the Buddha; prayer flags radiate out from the top of the spire.
Bodhnath has a spiritual energy that is immediately palpable. It is one of the few places in the world where Tibetan Buddhism is free and unhindered, evidenced by the many Tibetan pilgrims who have made their home here. Maroon-clad monks wander the prayer-flag decked streets and devotees spin prayer wheels as they chant Buddhist mantras.
Radiating out from the stupa are enchanting backstreets, lined with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, workshops and shops selling all manner of items from crafts and thangkas to votive objects, butter lamps and prayer flags. There are also numerous guesthouses and restaurants tucked within the winding lanes, as well as more tourist-oriented rooftop restaurants overlooking the stupa itself.
The best time to visit Bodhnath is early in the morning or at sunset when, lit up against the darkening sky, the site is at its most magical. If you visit on the night of the full moon, the plaza surrounding the stupa is illuminated by thousands of butter lamps.
Read more about Bodhnath in: Six Places You Should Explore in the Kathmandu Valley.
From Bodhnath continue through the tangle of backstreets to the hilltop Kopan Monastery, founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe. It’s a peaceful place to explore with well-maintained gardens and daily dharma talks at 10am.
It’s also possible to study Buddhist psychology and philosophy at Kopan; seven or ten day courses are generally held 6-7 times a year by foreign teachers. There’s also an annual one-month course held in November, with an optional seven-day retreat afterwards.
From its lofty location, Kopan offers wide-reaching views over the Kathmandu Valley, with terraced rice fields in the immediate vicinity.
Gokarna Mahadev Temple
From Kopan Monastery continue along the ridgeline, on a forested trail lined with prayer flags, down to the Gokarna Mahadev Temple on the banks of the Bagmati River. This three-tiered Newari temple is dedicated to Shiva as Mahadeva and there is an enormous Shiva lingam inside the main chamber. The highlight of a visit are the intricate stone carvings dotted around the courtyard, some of which date back more than a thousand years.
Sculptures of Hindu deities range from Aditya (the sun god) and Chandra (the moon god) to Indra (the god of war and weather) and Ganga (the goddess from whose head pours the Ganges).
Behind the temple, near the river, is the Vishnu Paduka, a low pavilion enshrining a footprint of Vishnu on a metal plate. Nearby, you’ll see an image of Narayan reclining on a bed of snakes, similar to that at Budhanilkantha.
From Gokarna Mahadev you can pick up a minibus back to Kathmandu’s Ratna Park bus station (NRs 25, 45 minutes).
11. CHOBAR TO KIRTIPUR VIA PANGA
The tiny village of Chobar lies 6km from Kathmandu, atop a hill overlooking the Bagmati River; here the river flows through the Chobar Gorge. A tangle of streets surrounding a famous temple, the village makes an enjoyable wander; the gorge itself, however, has been ravaged by mining, supplying cement for construction in Kathmandu.
- The bus from Kathmandu will likely drop you opposite the Manjushree Park and Cave complex, which is said to contain the longest cave in South Asia (3250m). Only 350m of it is open to visitors.
- Jal Binayak Temple – Set beside the Bagmati River, this temple is accessed by steps that descend beside Manjushree Park then continue over the road. When we visited in late 2018 the three-tiered temple had not yet been reconstructed following its demise in the 2015 earthquake. The main deity (Ganesh) was being protected in a make-shift shelter whilst other statues and shrines still filled the courtyard. From the temple you can go down to the riverside at the base of the gorge, where a crumbling white building adds to the general atmosphere of decay.
- Head back up to where the bus dropped you and take the track to Chobar village; on the way admire the views over the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding hills. A set of stairs provide a short-cut.
- Other than wandering the timeless village lanes, the two highlights to look out for in Chobar are the Amitambha Buddha Stupa and the Adinath Lokeshwar Temple.
- Adinath Lokeshwar Temple – A three-tiered Newari temple that is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. What makes it unique is that its roof struts, walls and courtyard are decorated with hundreds of metal plates, cups, dishes, knives, ladles and ceremonial vessels, nailed in their places by newlyweds to ensure a happy married life.
The winding streets of Chobar will lead you down, past traditionally built homes, to the Vishnu Devi Mandir. The temple lies within the small hamlet of Panga, which also has several other old temples.
From the Vishnu Devi Mandir, it’s just a short walk on to Kirtipur, a sleepy town with numerous medieval temples scattered about its backstreets. The old town is where you’ll want to head; climb the hillside up a wide flight of steps to explore the following highlights:
- Bagh Bhairab Temple – Set in a courtyard off the main square, this temple features an impressive armoury of swords and shields that belonged to the soldiers defeated by Prithvi Narayan Shah. Animal sacrifices are made here early on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
- Main Square – The Main Square is ringed by the former residences of the Kirtipur royal family; a large tank lies at the centre, as well as a whitewashed Narayan Temple, guarded by lions and griffons.
- Uma Maheshwar Temple – Go right at the Main Square, heading through the village to a Ganesh shrine and a stone stairway that climbs to the three-tiered Uma Maheshwar Temple. The temple is flanked by two stone elephants that are topped with spiked saddles, discouraging children from sitting on them.
- Lohan Dehar – Lohan Dehar is a 16th Century stone shikhara-style temple that is still in use for religious ceremonies.
- Chilanchu Vihara – Take the narrow alleyway left behind Lohan Dehar, descending down to Chilanchu Vihara, a Swayambhunath-style stupa built in 1515. The lower part of the stupa’s tower, where the eyes of the Buddha are painted, is unusual in that it is bright blue, instead of white! The stupa is surrounded by chaitya and fronted by a giant dorje symbol.
- Nagar Mandap Sri Kirti Vihar – At the bottom of the hill, follow the road around to this classic Thai-style wat, a temple and monastery that was inaugurated by the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand in 1995. A golden pagoda sits beside the wat.
To get a deeper sense of life in a Newari town, you can stay at a local homestay in Kirtipur, arranged through the Kirtipur Guide Association. There are no direct buses to Chobar but any bus to Pharping or Dakshinkali can drop you at the turn-off, a 10-minute walk below the village. From Kirtipur you can take a minibus back to Kathmandu’s Ratna Park bus station (NRs 20, 30 minutes).
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase through our site by clicking a link, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting Ollie and Lynette on the World!
Looking for more inspiration WITHIN the valley? Check out: Two Little-Known Gems of the Kathmandu Valley: Nuwakot and Kakani!
Or, if you’re looking for a quiet escape OUTSIDE the valley take a look at: Why You Should Visit Gorkha and Tansen!