The heart of Kathmandu, the Kathmandu Durbar Square (Basantapur) is a vibrant public square was once the Kathmandu Kingdom royal residence. It has one of the world’s highest concentrations of well-preserved ancient buildings, making for a stunning open-air museum. Although the square was damaged during the 2015 earthquakes, there is still an array of architectural gems to see.
Durbar means “Palace” in Nepal, and the vibrant square is most known for its royal lineage, from hand-carved temples to the 16th-century Malla palace. Multiple royal dynasties in Nepal have all left their mark. Standout sights include Kalbhairav—a fierce, dagger-wielding Shiva statue—and Taleju Temple, a spectacular, multitiered pagoda. There are also multiple courtyards to explore and the Kumari Ghar, home of Kathmandu’s pint-sized living goddess.
It is recommended to allot as much time as you can to strolling around and soaking up the ambiance. Guided tours are also indispensable to getting much-needed context on the historic buildings, including the city’s ongoing renovations. Visit during the day on an excursion that also explores Bhaktapur, Pashupatinath Temple, and Boudhanath Temple, or enjoy an evening tour by rickshaw.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Kathmandu Durbar Square, or palace square, is the UNESCO-listed heart of Kathmandu’s Old City.
- Keep an eye out for the Kumari (living goddess); she appears periodically from her 18th-century palace home.
- Shoulders covered: Remember to dress modestly when entering religious sites.
- Ask permission before photographing locals, especially the holy men known as sadhus.
- Admission tickets are required for entering the square, which has multiple entrance points.
How to Get There
Kathmandu Durbar Square is a short, scenic stroll from Thamel, where most of Kathmandu’s hotels and guesthouses are located. Guided tours often arrange private hotel pickup and street taxis can also be hired, although you may need to bargain.
When to Get There
Kathmandu Durbar Square is a year-round destination, although be prepared for warm summers and chilly winters. One of the city’s largest festivals—Indra Jatra—kicks off with a lively procession of chariots through the square. Masked performers, known as Lakheys, stage traditional dances in honor of Nepal’s rain god. The resident child goddess, or Kumari, also makes an appearance—one of the rare times she leaves the palace.
Supporting the City’s Renovations
Many quake-damaged historical buildings in Kathmandu—like Taleju Temple—have already been reconstructed, but others remain in critical condition. Learn about the painstaking reconstruction process and the many talented artisans that have joined rebuilding efforts. The country has made great progress since the 2015 earthquakes and tourists can show their support for the multiyear plan by visiting the Kathmandu Durbar Square.