Stretching from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains down to the tropical lowland jungles of Chitwan National Park, Nepal is a land of culture and adventure. The best Nepal destinations include the birthplace of Gautama Buddha at Lumbini and the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, together with an abundance of UNESCO World Heritage-listed architectural landmarks in the Kathmandu Valley. There are spectacular multi-day treks and exhilarating white water rafting to satisfy adventure-seekers, not to mention incredible wildlife encounters, unique ethnic villages and fascinating festivals to discover.
1. Kathmandu Valley
Surrounding the former royal city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the Kathmandu Valley is packed with fascinating cultural sites. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed region is up there on the list of Nepal destinations not to miss, set within picturesque rural landscapes which are dotted with small Newari villages. The Bodhanath Stupa lies just outside of Kathmandu and is one of the largest of its kind in the world, dating to around the 6th century. Also of note is the shrine of Swayambhunath, affectionately known as the “Monkey Temple” for its resident primates, which dates to the 5th century. Today it still plays an important role in the lives of Nepal’s Vajrayana Buddhists and the Newari Buddhists living in the Kathmandu Valley.
2. Annapurna Conservation Area
Nepal’s most popular trekking destination is the breathtaking Annapurna Conservation Area, with treks from a few days to a few weeks on offer. Its rhododendron-swathed hills, high-altitude mountain passes and wildlife encounters with snow leopards and blue sheep are all part of the draw, as are the friendly villagers and homestays where you can bunk down in comfort each night. For those with enough time, the 21-day Annapurna Circuit is the most encompassing trek, while the 7-day Muktinath route follows the Kali Gandaki Valley on Annapurna’s eastern edge.
3. Everest Base Camp
Nestled on the southern side of the world’s highest peak, Everest Base Camp has long been the ambition of trekkers from around the globe. It is located within Sagarmatha National Park and reached along a spectacular, but challenging multi-day trek which follows gushing rivers and passes through remote villages while taking in some of the Himalaya’s most unforgettable scenery. The base camp itself is a cluster of yellow tents at the base of the Khumbu Ice Fall and although Mount Everest cannot be glimpsed from this position, it is the launching point for pre-dawn treks up Kala Phatthar (5555 meters) to watch the sunrise over this record-breaking mountain.
4. Chitwan National Park
Standing in stark contrast to the high-altitude streets of Kathmandu and the mountainous scenery of the Himalayas are the tropical lowlands of Chitwan National Park. Translating as ‘Heart of the Jungle’, Chitwan’s forests, marshes and grasslands are home deer, monkeys, leopards, sloths, one-horned rhinos and the elusive royal Bengal tiger, making it Nepal’s premier wildlife viewing destination. Freshwater dolphins and crocodiles inhabit the rivers, while more than 500 different species of birds make it a bird watcher’s paradise, with walking, safari and elephant-back safaris on offer.
Believed to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, or Lord Buddha, Lumbini is one of the Buddhist religion’s most sacred pilgrimage sites. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is another on top of the Nepal destinations list, featuring ancient ruins and historic temples, including the Maya Devi Temple which is dedicated to Buddha’s mother and built on the spot where Buddha is said to have been born. An ancient 2nd century stone relief depicts this momentous event, while monasteries built by Buddhist countries from across the world exhibit unique architectural styles throughout the site.
6. Langtang National Park
Offering incredible trekking across high altitude passes and to remote monasteries, Langtang National Park lies on the border with Tibet to the north of Kathmandu. It’s home to the sacred Gosainkund Lake and the towering peak of Langtang Lirung, with expansive views across to Annapurna and Makalu. The trails are less crowded than some of Nepal’s other popular trekking regions, with options ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Nepal’s capital and its largest city, Kathmandu is the cultural and political heart of the nation. It nestles within the Kathmandu Valley where (along with Bhaktapur and Patan) it served as one of three rival royal cities. Today the remains of its illustrious past can be seen in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square where ancient temples, palaces and monuments are exhibited, surrounded by atmospheric alleyways and lively markets to explore.
Situated just outside of Kathmandu on the old trade route to Tibet, Bhaktapur’s charismatic cobblestone streets are lined with traditional red-brick houses and Hindu temples. It’s known as the “City of Devotees” and perhaps the best preserved of the Kathmandu Valley’s three medieval city-states, centered around Durbar Square where its royal palace and a cluster of temples can be found. The city is renowned for its indigenous Newari culture and pottery workshops, together with lively festivals held throughout the year.
Surrounded by the towering peaks of Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna, Pokhara lies on the edge of Phewa Lake in the Himalayan foothills. It’s the gateway for hikes to the Annapurna region but a relaxing place to explore in its own right, with tranquil waterfront hotels and restaurants to soak up the views. For those looking for more of an adrenaline rush, it’s also Nepal’s adventure sports capital, offering outstanding paragliding and white water rafting adventures.
Once an independent city-state which rivaled Kathmandu, today Patan is more like a suburb that has been enveloped by the capital but remains a Nepal destination not to miss. Known in Sanskrit as Lalitpur or “City of Beauty”, it still displays a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square with some of Nepal’s most impressive temples and palaces. There are atmospheric traditional guesthouses to stay in, as well as numerous fair trade handicraft shops selling unique souvenirs.
Located just 30 kilometers outside Kathmandu, Nagorkot is a small hill station which boasts some of Nepal’s most spectacular mountain views. There are numerous guesthouses where you can relax on the balcony while taking in the sweeping panoramas which stretch from the Annapurna Range to Kanchenjunga or you can opt to trek or mountain bike there from the Kathmandu Valley to take in the picturesque scenery along the way.
More Nepal Destinations
There are endless Nepal destinations to visits…these are just a starting point. When you are in-country, there will likely be nearby destinations to the ones mentioned above. It’s up to you to explore and find hidden gems throughout the country!