Nepal is well-known for its countless trekking routes, but culture is also a strong feature that makes the country so diverse and authentic. Aside from Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, most of the UNESCO cultural sites are clustered in the Kathmandu Valley, so you can easily explore some during a stay in Kathmandu. The cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley includes monuments and buildings that display the historic and artistic achievements in this part of Nepal. Check out these UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites in Nepal the next time you’re in the country.
Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha
Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Lumbini in 623 B.C.E. The place soon became a place of pilgrimage and many people started to visit the place on cultural journeys, including the Indian Emperor Ashoka.
The site was re-discovered over a century ago, and the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Buddha form a central feature. Many other monasteries belonging to different Buddhist branches were built in Lumbini, and the place is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal, and in the world.
Hanuman Dhoka & Durbar Square, Kathmandu
The Durbar Square is the heart of the historic center in Kathmandu, and is comprised of monuments of artistic and historical importance. It features a valuable architectural collection of pagoda temples, palaces, shrines, and statues from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the buildings in the square are even older than that, especially the ancient temples.
The kings of Nepal were crowned in the public space of the square and they lived in the palace (durbar) with many courtyards (chowks) sitting on one side of the square. Adjacent to the square, there’s also the house where one of the Kumari – the living goddess, lives.
On the southern side of the Bagmati River, Patan (Lalitpur in Sanskrit) has its own Durbar Square, with temples and a palace, a network of interconnected courtyards, and hidden temples. The medieval town was marked by four stupas at its corners. It developed as a valuable urban center with representative monuments of Newari architecture.
Even though Patan is generally considered a part of Kathmandu nowadays, it has a different feel and atmosphere than its twin. Patan also has its own kumari and a vast collection of international restaurants.
Only 25 kilometers from Kathmandu, medieval Bhaktapur is a typical old Newari town, with tiered pagoda temples, winding streets and squares where locals winnow rice or make pottery. It is arguably the best-preserved town in the Kathmandu Valley, and the collection of exceptional religious architecture with towering temples is among the finest in the country. The Durbar Square in Bhaktapur has a vast collection of temples and buildings, statues of Hindu deities, and gilded shrines.
Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa
The religious complex of Swayambhunath includes the oldest Buddhist stupa in the Kathmandu Valley. The gleaming whitewashed stupa, topped by a gilded spire, stands at the end of a steep staircase and is surrounded by hundreds of colorful prayer flags, shrines, and Buddhist statues. The place is teeming with monkeys, is also a great spot to admire Kathmandu at dusk, and is very popular with young locals.
Boudhanath Buddhist Stupa
The Buddhist enclave of Boudhanath includes the largest stupa in Nepal, as well as the whole of Asia. It was an important place on the route between Lhasa (Tibet) and Kathmandu, and Tibetan traders came to pray here before embarking on a journey. Nowadays, the stupa is the center of the Tibetan community that has developed around it, with a multitude of Buddhist monasteries. Pilgrims from all over the world come to the stupa every day and circumambulate the dome clockwise, spinning prayer wheels with mantras at the same time. Tibetan monks or nuns with shaved heads teem around the stupa and the nearby monasteries, and there are also many meditation and yoga centers in the neighborhood.
Pashupatinath Hindu Temples
The religious ensemble at Pashupatinath includes an extensive Hindu temple precinct dating to the 15th century, making it the oldest Hindu temple in the Kathmandu area. The complex was extended with funeral ghats (steps) on the riverbanks of the holy Bagmati River, a place used for cremations to these days. The tiered temples made of brick and mud mortar feature timber structures, while the doorways and roof struts have rich ornamental carvings of Hindu deities. The site is packed with sadhus and pilgrims who come for religious ceremonies and to worship Lord Shiva, creating a colorful and lively atmosphere.
Changu Narayan Hindu Temple
The complex of temples at Changu Narayan (close to Bhaktapur) is less known than the other UNESCO sites in the Kathmandu Valley, but this makes it all the more appealing. Besides a traditional Newari settlement, this little town comprises a Hindu temple that features one of the earliest inscriptions in the valley, dating from the 5th century C.E. Also, the carvings of the two-tiered-pagoda temple date back to the Licchavi period, and are a true work of art, representing mythical and Tantric deities.