Bhaktapur, once medieval Kathmandu Valley’s seat of power, earns its accolade as Nepal’s best-preserved city. The earthquake of 2015 claimed many historic buildings, but the one-time flourishing kingdom is still packed with old-world charm. Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and heart of the city, is well-worth a visit.
The former city-state of Bhaktapur, the most powerful of the three Malla Kingdoms in the Kathmandu Valley, retains a medieval ambiance. Unlike Kathmandu and Patan, it is mainly car-free, so the stunning heritage city gives visitors a sense of centuries-ago lifestyles during royal times in Nepal. Durbar Square, now an open-air museum, contains impressive ancient royal landmarks, including the intricately wood-carved Palace of Fifty-Five Windows and the 17th-century Lion Gate.
Independent travelers can soak up the ambiance with a stroll through Bhaktapur’s cobblestoned streets and red-brick lanes, but visitors wanting more in-depth background information on the one-time kingdom’s history and culture should opt for a guided walking tour. Most excursions have morning or afternoon options and cover all the top heritage sites in Durbar Square—plus little-known corners of the city favored by locals.
Things to Know Before You Go
Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square is a must-see for history buffs and heritage enthusiasts.
Don’t forget to taste juju dhau, or “king’s yogurt,” a Bhaktapur delicacy.
Dress comfortably with proper footwear for cobblestoned streets and uneven surfaces.
Be prepared for a lot of walking, since the UNESCO-listed Old City is mainly vehicle-free.
How to Get There
Taxi rentals are available from Kathmandu and can be arranged through most hotels. But, the majority of sightseeing tours offer round-trip car transfers, usually with private hotel pickup—by far the easiest way to travel to Bhaktapur. Some tours to Nagarkot, including trekking excursions, also cover sightseeing visits to Bhaktapur en route.
When to Get There
Kathmandu Valley has a mild climate, making Bhaktapur an ideal year-round destination. Time your visit for October to catch Tihar, the Nepali festival of lights, when the city lights up with clay candles to honor the Hindu goddess of wealth, Laxmi. The Nepali New Year every April is celebrated with street processions led by gilded chariots.
For a complete cultural immersion, take a hike through stone villages and terraced farmlands in the Kathmandu Valley, home to multiple Nepali ethnic groups, but mainly the Newars. Trekking routes that begin in Bhaktapur usually ascend to the hilltop resort of Nagarkot, famous for its sunrise and sunset panoramas over the Himalayan mountain chain (on clear days, this even includes Mount Everest).