FAMOUS TEMPLES IN NEPAL: 10 MUST-VISIT LANDMARKS, MONUMENTS, AND SHRINES

Patan Durbar Square

When Nepal opened its doors to tourists in the 1950s, it was mostly hippy backpackers who ventured there to experience its wonders and magic. I remember listening to Cat Steven’s song ‘Katmandu’ and wondering what it would be like to visit such an exotic place. And sure enough, when I got to visit Nepal for the first time, it did not disappoint.

BURSTING WITH SPIRITUALITY AND CULTURE

Pashupatinath temple

Nepal is known as much for its mountains as it is for being a place of spiritual resonance. Do not worry if climbing Mount Everest is asking just a little too much of you. There is plenty to see and do without too much (maybe quite a bit!) strain on the leg muscles. Nepal offers breathtaking sites that will amaze you. Still, it is the deep sense of spirituality and harmonious interactions between different religions that make it such a unique place.

 

THE DEVASTATING EARTHQUAKE OF 2015

If you recall the devastating earthquake Nepal suffered in 2015, you will know that many of the top tourist sites sustained some damage. However, reconstruction has been taking place, and many sites have been restored and enhanced. I intend to describe 10 magnificent cultural sites, including some of the world’s most impressive temples and stupas you could visit on a trip to Nepal. I hope this whets your appetite if you plan an adventure to this welcoming, extraordinary place.

Famous temples and landmarks within Kathmandu city.

1) SWAYAMBHUNATH (MONKEY) TEMPLE 

Swayambhunath or the Monkey Temple

There is a reason why this temple tops the list. If you can only visit one site in Kathmandu, it should be Swayambhunath. The hippies renamed it “Monkey Temple” because it is a bit of a tongue-twister and because it is loved and frequented by humans and monkeys in equal measure. This temple is possibly the best sunrise/sunset spot in Kathmandu, with a view of the whole valley. Its massive stupa (Buddhist monuments venerating Buddha or other saints, and a place where holy relics are kept) is a place to absorb the peaceful atmosphere. Statues and shrines to Buddhist and Hindu gods abound here, and you will always see worshipers quietly stilling around the prayer wheels at the bottom of the statues.

Pro Tip: Wear comfortable shoes as there are 365 steps to climb to get to the top, but it is totally worth it! Also, you are supposed to walk clockwise around the prayer wheels, so please be sure to respect this tradition.

Opening hours: Swayambhunath is open 24 hours tickets cost NPR 200 (less than $2)

2) BOUDHANATH TEMPLE 

Boudhanath temple and stupa Nepal

You may be forgiven for not picking up that this is, in fact, the largest stupa in Asia and one of the holiest of Buddhist sites. At first glance, it appears to be a heaving mass of movement and noise. But, when you enter the great white dome of Boudhanath, you will be entering a “zen” zone. As the incense drifts around, and the soft chanting of the Tibetan monks who come here every year to observe kora (the ritual that involves going around the dome while spinning prayer balls.) Do not leave the stupa before visiting the many quaint souvenir stalls and coffee shops that surround it. There are also monasteries close by that offer Buddhism classes.

Pro Tip: It gets very crowded, as is usually the case for these kinds of sites. It’s best to visit early in the morning and watch the sunrise over the stupa.

Opening hours: Boudhanath temple is open Sunday to Saturday 24 hours. Tickets cost NPR 400 ( $4)  for foreigners

3) BHAKTAPUR

Bhaktapur city

Bhaktapur is an 1100-year-old Newari tribal city listed as a UNESCO World Heritage city. Situated in the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur has retained much of its traditional Shikhira architecture. Amongst the narrow-lined ancient streets, you enter a long-forgotten world of 18th-century pagodas, temples, statues, and palaces. Rulers of the Malla dynasty, who ran the Kingdom and patronized the arts, have left an abundance of exquisite architecture and artefacts to admire. While most of the structures survived the earthquake, some of the smaller pagodas and temples were destroyed and are undergoing reconstruction. A visit to Bhaktapur usually includes the following places:

  • Bhaktapur Durbar (Durbar means a palace) Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

There is so much to see here, beginning with the 55- window palace whose walls include tantric carvings teaching the Kamasutra. The Golden Gate which is is the last piece of artwork made by the Malla king. The Pashupatinath Pagoda, the Royal bath which is adorned by snakes symbols as they believed that water never dries in places where there are snakes. Other temples you will visit here include; Chyasalin Mandip, Siddhi Lakshi, and the Vatsala. A stunning 600-year-old wooden carved door that consists of the hand carvings of nine different gods is also located here. However, you are not allowed to photograph it. A statute of the famous Bishnu gunisha Ganesh god where the aristocrats performed sacrifices is also found here.

  •  Nyatapola Temple – Nepal’s tallest pagoda.

 

Bhaktapur_ancient_city

Besides the ancient architecture, Bhaktapur is still a lived-in city with the accompanying hustle and bustle. You can participate in the local economy by purchasing local artefacts and admiring memorable souvenirs, like pottery, painting, and woodworks available to buy straight from the craftspeople. If you would like to evoke some of your inner creativity, you can take a traditional Thanka painting lesson which costs about 10 dollars per day for foreigners.

Interestingly, Bhaktapur is known for its famous yoghurt, juju dhau, which originates from there and is a delicacy served during many Nepali festivals.

Pro Tip: Some of the temples within the city are not accessible to non-Hindus, and photography is forbidden in specific sites.

Unlike the previous sites, it’s worth getting a guide here to learn about its culture and the different sites it has to offer.

Bhaktapur opening hours: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. tickets cost $1500 ($15)

4) KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE

Kathmandu_Durbar_Square

Sadly, Kathmandu Durbar Square bore the brunt of the 2015 earthquake. However, it still deserves a place on the list as it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The only downside to visiting it is that it’s right in the middle of Thamel, Kathmandu’s busy city centre, making it difficult to access. It also houses its own share of ancient shrines and beautiful statues. The Jagannath Temple is considered one of the most beautiful, with its erotic carvings that date back to 1563.

If you have done some basic research on Nepali culture, you will have read about Kumari Ghar, the picturesque home of the girl chosen to be a living goddess. She is believed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu warrior goddess and represents female spiritual energy in Hinduism. It is unlikely that you will see her, but the lovely house and courtyard make for a great photo opportunity. Kumari Ghar is located at the Southern end of Durbar Square. I would be remiss if I did not mention here that there are diverse views regarding the extraordinary life of Nepal’s living child goddesses. They are effectively stripped of the title when they get their first period and cannot marry.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to visit the goddess, the best chance of seeing her are between 9 and 11 a.m. and between 4 and 6 p.m.

Kathmandu Durbar Square entrance fee is NPR 1,000 ($10)

5) PATAN DURBAR SQUARE

Patan_Durbar_Square

By far the most famous one on the list, Patan Durbar Square is known as “City of Beauty.” Like the other Durbar squares, Patan is also a UNESCO World Heritage site with a unique assortment of temples, statutes, and a palace. The Square has 136 small courtyards and 55 temples. But what sets it apart is its collection of over 1,500 traditional artefacts, including sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities. One of the important landmarks to see is the Krishna Mandir, a stunning shrine to Lord Krishna.

Pro Tip: Try to arrive there at sundown to experience the lighting up of the temples and monasteries.

  • PATAN MUSEUM

Patan Museum

Situated in the old palace, built on the site of a Buddhist monastery, Patan Museum exhibits rare treasures from Nepal’s glorious history. There are bronzes, mainly Hindu and Buddhist deities, copper casts, and many examples of traditional Patan craftwork. The museum is considered one of the best restoration efforts in South Asia. A visit to this showcase of Nepal’s rich cultural history must find a place on your “must-see” list.

Patan Durbar Square tickets cost NPR 1000 ($10) and an additional NPR 500 ($5) for the museum.

6) PASHUPATINATH

Pashupatinath Hindu temple

Pashupatinath Hindu temple is a famous temple in Kathmandu. It is also one of the seven UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley. It is thought to be the oldest temple in Nepal

and has unusual spiritual energy. One of the holiest sites in Hinduism, it is also a sacred cremation place, where Hindus perform the last rites. Cremations take place in the open on raised platforms along the banks of the river. Foreigners may find this practice interesting and disturbing in equal measure.

Pashupatinath Hindu temple

Dedicated to the god Shiva, Pashupatinath rests on the banks of the Bagmati River, which separates Kathmandu and Patan cities. Only Hindu devotees are allowed into the temple, but there is much to see around it. This temple is constructed in the pagoda style and has a gilded roof and beautiful, intricate wood carvings. There is an enormous golden statue of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi outside and the shining Shivalinga in the courtyard.

Pro Tip: There are free yoga classes offered at the temple every morning. And each evening at 6.30 p.m, the Aarti ceremony a vibrant event that is a delight of colour, chanting, and light in honour of Lord Shiva. You will never forget this unique experience.

7) BABER MAHAL

The Baber Mahal is not an ancient temple like the ones listed above, but it is still worth mentioning on this list. Located north of the Bagmati River, Baber Mahal is a spectacular example of the architectural style of the Rama prime ministers. They were the rulers of Nepal from 1846 to 1951. The Baber Mahal complex is a tourist magnet. You will find fabulous restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and accommodation, including Baber Mahal Vilas’s luxury hotel. The complex is an oasis in the centre of bustling Kathmandu.

8) KAILASHNATH MAHADEV SHIVA STATUTE

KAILASHNATH MAHADEV SHIVA STATUTE

If you fancy a trip out of Kathmandu’s hustle and bustle, drive up to Sanga (about 20 km from the city). Here they had to create the tallest statue of Shiva in the world to rival the surrounding views! It is 44 meters high and shows Shiva presenting the mudra offering peace (the classic Hindu hand gesture). Like almost everywhere in Nepal, it is so worth the effort of getting there!

Temples and monuments outside of Kathmandu

9) JANAKI TEMPLE

janaki temple

If you are familiar with the Hindu story, the Ramayana, you will know that Janakpur is the birthplace of Sita, and as such, it is a holy city. It is also the place where she married Lord Ram. For this reason, the Ram Janaki Temple was built at the heart of this city, and it is a favourite pilgrimage place for many Hindus. Constructed over a 15-year period between 1896 and 1911, the beautiful temple mixes Mughal and Hindu architectural styles. It is made of stone and marble with latticed windows resembling Islamic architecture because most artisans involved in its construction were Muslims.

janaki temple

An annual festival, in memory of the marriage of Sita and Rama, takes place in November and December. There are many sacred rituals and arts and festivities that you would expect at such an important event. Try to time your visit to Janakpur for this period, and you will be in for a treat! It is also the best time to visit for clear skies!

Pro Tip: Janakpur is in the Terai region, Southeast of Kathmandu. The easiest way to get there is to fly.

The temple is open 24 hours but gets very busy. You need to get there before 7 a.m. to avoid the crowds.

10) LUMBINI, BIRTHPLACE OF BUDDHA

Lumbini_ meghraj-neupane-unsplash.jpg

(c) Meghraj Neupane_unsplash

What better way to culminate Nepal’s list of UNESCO Heritage sites than with an archaeological site that attracts thousands of travellers every year. There are many reasons why Nepal is a place of such spiritual resonance. One of these reasons is the historical city Lumbini, an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists worldwide. Lumbini is not only the birthplace of Lord Buddha, but it is also one of the only four Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world.

In contrast to the other temples constructed by Nepal’s former rulers, Lumbini is a melting pot of numerous temples and stupas built by a host of other countries to honour Buddha. From Myanmar to Vietnam to Thailand and Tibet, even Germany.

Pro Tip: Located in the Terai region, south of the country, the best way to get to Lumbini is to fly. However, you can drive there from either Pokhara ( 5 hours) or Kathmandu.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to say that I have not done the famous temples of Nepal

justice in this review. It just has to be experienced to be believed. When you plan your trip, leave all your “baggage” behind (remembering that you need to dress respectfully at all times) and relax into the spirit of Nepal.

As Cat Stevens said:

Kathmandu, I’ll soon be seein’ you

And your strange bewilderin’ time

Will hold me down.

If you want to want to see more than Nepal’s traditional and cultural heritage read this post about Amazing attractions in Pokhara if you are not a hiker.  

If you are a culturally-inclined traveler seeking inspiration to another Asian city bursting with spiritual resonance read this post about Pakistan, Lahore’s stunning old city.

 

 

46 Comments

  1. February 9, 2022 / 10:12 pm

    Stunning photos..and wonderful inspiration for what I hope will be a future visit..thank you for the reminder of the earthquake and the chance since then…

  2. Elle Burne
    February 9, 2022 / 10:28 pm

    I am in awe of how gorgeous these temples are! Reminds me a lot of Myanmar! I must admit, outside of Everest I hadn’t given much thought to travelling in Nepal – thank you so much for opening up my eyes <3

    • February 9, 2022 / 10:35 pm

      I didn’t realize Nepal resembled Myanmar, I would really love to see the temples in Myanmar

  3. Aireona
    February 9, 2022 / 10:35 pm

    This is such a lovely guide; I hadn’t seen a lot of these before, but I would like to visit all of them now. I also think that your photography is really beautiful.

  4. February 9, 2022 / 11:04 pm

    Wow oh wow I have never seen as beautiful temples as the one in this post. I would love to make it to Nepal one day and see those for myself in person. Some of them could be straight out of a movie.

    • February 10, 2022 / 3:31 pm

      I really do believe Nepal is one of the places that have to be seen to be believed

  5. Faith
    February 10, 2022 / 1:12 am

    I appreciate your humility about not doing these remarkable temples justice. Your photos are so beautiful, and have opened up a part of the world that I haven’t considered. Thank you.

  6. February 12, 2022 / 11:05 pm

    I loved visiting the monkey temple in Nepal but there are so many beautiful temples that I missed. I’d love to go back & explore further. Thanks so much for sharing this inspiring list!

  7. February 13, 2022 / 2:37 am

    Wow. I love your photography style. Absolutely stunning!

  8. February 13, 2022 / 4:34 am

    Oh wow! I love visiting temples in general and these ones look incredibile! I have never been to Nepal, but it has always been on my bucket list, I hope to get there soon and I will definitely follow your suggestions! Thanks for sharing.

  9. February 13, 2022 / 4:45 pm

    I would love to do a road trip visiting all of these temples. Thanks for the great tips!

  10. Jan
    February 14, 2022 / 4:52 am

    Your images are stunning! I have been to Nepal many years ago and remember many of the names of the temples you listed. Nepal is a destination everyone should have on their travel bucket list. Thanks for a lovely blog. 🙂

  11. February 14, 2022 / 3:46 pm

    Nepal has always been one of those destinations that fascinated me. I love the variety in the architecture of the temples. Interesting that some temple sites even offer yoga in the morning. I am sure that is a peaceful experience.

    • February 14, 2022 / 5:38 pm

      The yoga sessions are indeed an added benefit

  12. February 14, 2022 / 4:58 pm

    Wow! These temples in Nepal look magical!

  13. February 14, 2022 / 7:12 pm

    Nepal looks like such a beautiful country! The architecture looks spectacular! These temples all look so majestic. I love the colourful flags. Swayambhunath looks like such a magical place. Thanks for the great guide!

  14. February 14, 2022 / 10:35 pm

    My bucket list includes trekking in Nepal. Seeing your photos is motivating me to think seriously how I can turn my goal into a reality! Thanks for the motivation.

    • February 15, 2022 / 2:50 pm

      I hope you get to tick that bucket list Michelle

  15. February 15, 2022 / 6:56 pm

    Gorgeous photos from these incredible temples! I feel like each one of them is so unique, you could have a whole post about every single one! I am glad to hear Nepal is slowly rebuilding and that lots of these avoided the destruction.

    p.s. I am also loving your outfits throughout the post. You look fabulous.

    • February 26, 2022 / 7:57 pm

      Thanks Cosy, and you-re right about the temples each has so much history and cultural relevance you can indeed write a post about each

  16. Rhonda
    February 16, 2022 / 1:45 am

    The temples in Nepal are breathtaking. I do remember the earthquake and it was painful to see the destruction. I am happy that the reconstruction is proceeding.

  17. Marianne
    February 17, 2022 / 1:24 am

    What incredible photos! I have heard such great things about Nepal. Would love to visit some time.

  18. February 17, 2022 / 10:21 am

    i had forgotten about the earth quake in 2015. It’s so devastating the impacts it can have on places. Glad to know the top sites have been restored. It’s hard to choose a favourite from your list- they all look like they are must see sites.

    • February 26, 2022 / 7:55 pm

      Most of the them really are, and the list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what there is to see

  19. February 17, 2022 / 9:38 pm

    This makes me want to explode with wanderlust! So freakin amazing, every single photo and location. I really want to go to Nepal and I’ve heard it’s now open for tourism. Honestly, may just take the leap. How is the wifi there? Would it be possible to work remotely and travel there?

    • February 26, 2022 / 7:54 pm

      Yes Jacquline Nepal is home to many a wanderlust and wifi is great as is general cost of living- not too high there are also many quaint little cafes from which to work from

  20. February 17, 2022 / 11:53 pm

    You have so many incredible photos. Nepal is my favorite country in the world so this guide brought back so many beautiful memories. I’ve visited everywhere except Janaki Temple, so this is now on my list for my next trip! Thanks heaps for sharing

    • February 26, 2022 / 7:51 pm

      So glad you share so many fond memories from Nepal, it is really a unique place

  21. March 2, 2022 / 9:57 pm

    These are all so beautiful, I do not think I could choose to visit just a few of them…so it looks like I will just have to visit them all!

    • March 17, 2022 / 2:40 am

      Luckily almost all of them are in Kathmandu and hence very easily accessible

  22. March 2, 2022 / 10:24 pm

    I love that you share not only a helpful list but your pro tips too! It’s so important to remember to dress respectfully and a great idea to visit these sites at off hours so you can truly take in the magic. Thank you for sharing!

    • March 17, 2022 / 2:39 am

      Thanks Chelsea, you get a completely different perspective when you visit sites outside of rushed tourist hours

  23. March 2, 2022 / 10:50 pm

    Wow, what beautiful photographs. You have really opened my eyes to the beauty of Nepal – a place I’ll admit I know nothing about. I will definitely be planning a trip there in the future because of this post. the 1100 year old heritage city is eerily stunning.

    • March 17, 2022 / 2:38 am

      Thanks Michelle, completely agree about the heritage city 🙂

  24. March 3, 2022 / 7:16 am

    May I just say that your photos are absolutely stunning? Just wow!

    And Nepal is a place I’ve been dreaming of visiting for a very long time. Hoping my dream can become reality soon. Thank you for this beautiful and insightful inspiration.

  25. Cristina
    March 3, 2022 / 7:19 pm

    It is amazing to learn about Nepal. It isn’t a destination that I have heard of a lot, but it seems such a beautiful place to visit and explore. I am adding it to my long bucket list 🙂

  26. March 29, 2022 / 1:23 pm

    I love visiting temples of the world. There is so much history, and they are always so beautiful!

    • March 29, 2022 / 7:25 pm

      Me too, you learn so much from the history

  27. Shafinah
    March 29, 2022 / 4:04 pm

    this is so beautiful and it makes me miss Nepal so much!! absolutely loving that pic of you at the Boudhanath Temple!

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