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Nestled between four towering mountains, Kathmandu provides a gateway to Nepal's trekking terrain. You can stop by a Buddhist stupa or Hindu shrine – the city has the highest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage sites of any capital. And you don't have to be a mountaineer to come here. Instead, grab a glass of lassi, a traditional yogurt drink, and watch the spectacle of daily life in Kathmandu and the diverse people who live here.
Think of hostels in Kathmandu as retreats: somewhere to unwind and take life at a slower pace. Outdoor space is common: you could be sipping a beer on a rooftop terrace as the sun goes down, joining an al-fresco yoga session or taking a dip in an outdoor pool. To really get under the skin of the country, stay in a Nepalese family home. You'll usually find free breakfast and free Wi-Fi in a Kathmandu hostel (although speeds are slow here). Many hostels also have a bar where you can gather before a night out.
The historic heart of Kathmandu is Durbar Square, home to the royal palace and UNESCO temples. Tragically, the square suffered major damage in the 2015 earthquake, but you can still appreciate the majesty of the place. Head north and you'll find yourself in the vibrant backpacker district of Thamel, with shops selling trekking essentials and Nepalese crafts. Thamel is also the city's nightlife hub. If you're craving a little peace, catch a river taxi over the Bagmati River to Patan district. The former Buddhist city was the historic rival to Hindi Kathmandu.
With so many pilgrimage sites to visit, pick just a couple and take your time to explore the spiritual surroundings. Kathesimbhu Stupa is a popular Buddhist site in a hidden courtyard a short stroll from Thamel. For a flavour of Hindu architecture, visit Pashupatinath Temple. At full moon, behind the temple, an open-air music concert is held every month. At Kumari Bahal each morning, Kathmandu's own Kumari waves to her devotees from the window – the locals believe that she's a living goddess.
The narrow streets of Kathmandu are best explored on foot. For longer distances, or if you're heading out of the central districts, taxis are a good option. If you're arriving into Tribhuvan International Airport, it's a short taxi ride to Thamel. From here, Gongabu Bus Station is a 30-minute walk. Private operators run services from Gongabu Station to Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan National Parks.