10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nepal

Picture Credit: Stuti Shrimali

Heritage is a beautiful world and probably one of my favourites as a traveller. 

I believe it is heritage and culture is a reflection of the past which defines our present and future. Viraasat as we call it in Hindi, is what we get from our ancestors, whether it is the cultural or natural, tangible or intangible. And it is our duty to protect and preserve the same and let our future generation also enjoy and live the same.

All around the world, every country has many such sites, not all make it to UNESCO world heritage site but still, it is our duty to keep the legacy alive. 

Recently, I was in Nepal, a noun synonymous to the word 'adventure'. Nepal speaks the language of travellers. It is a paradise for adventure lovers but is also much beyond the mountain peaks and the famous Mount Everest which many travellers seek to experience on their trip to Nepal. Sandwiched between India and Tibet, this landlocked country has tons to offer and in fact, has many UNESCO World Heritage sites as well which one shall visit on their Nepal stint.

The UNESCO World heritage sites are categorized into two sections viz. Cultural and Natural. Kathmandu Valley and Lumbini comes under Cultural UNESCO sites and were declared so in the year 1979 and 1997 respectively. While Chitwan National Park and Sagarmatha National Park comes under natural UNESCO sites and were being declared so in 1984 and 1979 respectively. These four sites get further bifurcated into a total of 10 sites.

During my stay, I could explore a few. I also asked a few travellers about their favourite such sites and here is a collaborative ensemble for you on 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nepal.

Kathmandu Valley

In the foothills of Himalaya is seated incredible Kathmandu Valley which has seven distinct zones which oozes life, culture, history and artistic vibes and they are Durbar Squares of Kathmandu (Hanuman Dhoka), Bhaktapur and Patan, Swayambhunath and Boudhnath Stupas, Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan Temples.

Kathmandu Durbar Square 
Contribution by Abhinav Singh of A Soul Window 

Picture Credit: Nature Trail

Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nepal with many temples, a royal palace and other heritage buildings in the vicinity. This was where the Royal Nepalis lived in the 19th century. The main places to visit here are Mahendra Museum, King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum, Hanuman Dhoka, Taleju temples, Shwet Bhairav, Kaal Bhairav etc. 

Early morning is a great time to be here when locals pray at the temples or just stroll around the complex. The smell of incense and the sound of bells do wonders. The pigeons fluttering around the complex add to the charm of the atmospheric Durbar Square. The spellbinding Newari architecture compels you to crane your neck to check out the details. There are also many cafes, heritage hotels and shops nearby. There is also a Kumari Mahal which is built in the traditional Newari style, it is the residence of the Kumari, the Living Goddess of Nepal. Every year during Indra Jatra, Kumari is taken around town on a chariot and procession starts from Kathmandu Durbar Square.

If you enjoy navigating the narrow bustling lanes of Thamel, then a walk from the aforementioned backpackers' haven to the Kathmandu Durbar Square is delightful. You can also reach here by car or tuk-tuk.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Contribution by Madhurima Chakraborty of OrangeWayfarer

Picture Credit: Madhurima Chakraborty

Located at an easy distance of 13 KM from downtown Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is a favourite day trip spots for tourists. Bhaktapur testifies to the glorious reign of ancient Malla kingdom in the valley. It sits between the ancient trade route of India and Tibet and excelled in various artwork which can be seen expressed on the wooden struts and illustrated doorways that adorns the beautiful temples and palaces here. 

Though the Gorkha earthquake of 2015 rocked the area and reduced Bhaktapur to rubble, the world came together to help and rebuilt the beautiful ancient township to restore it for the present and future. The kings died and the kingdom fell, but the people of Bhaktapur carry on with the legacy in everyday life. 

The roads here are cobble-stoned, houses made of burnt brick and are red in hue and narrow lanes can only be accessed by foot walk by the tourists. It takes roughly 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other of Bhaktapur Durbar Square but a lot of time when you explore it. There are 4 major squares at Bhaktapur viz. Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Square and Pottery square. Every square is splendid and adorned with the palace, temples, market, cafe and culture and while there do not forget to feast on some Jeju Dahi, a thick crunchy yoghurt which is believed to be hailing from the royal kitchen. 

Patan Durbar Square
Contribution by Divyakshi Gupta of Quirky Wanderer

Picture Credit: Divyakshi Gupta

The hustle and bustle of Patan made me wonder if we could find a quiet spot for ourselves. There were cars honking, people shouting, markets in full business. The first thing I saw when we arrived at Patan was the huge, massive bell at the entrance of the Patan complex: the Taleju bell! The second of things that struck me were the intricately carved traditional Newari doors and the stunning architecture of this city. 

Patan transports you back in time. You cannot miss the old-style architecture, the ancient charm of the place and the locals sashaying in and out of the Durbar square. There are so many pretty jharokha styled windows, wooden frames, metal archways. Try to get a feel of the place by having a Newari meal at a local cafe, or climb up a building to get a bird's eye view of the entire place. 

The Patan Museum is another must-visit, with several artefacts displayed across floors. The architecture of the place is stunning. If time permits, do also visit the royal baths: a wonderful glimpse into the Nepal royalty. Presently you will also see massive restoration work going on after the 2015 earthquake, but it is heartening to see the efforts made to preserve what is left and rebuild what was devastated. 

Patan is a heritage like none other.

Swayambhunath Stupa 
Contribution by Gerry Isabelle of Dominican Abroad  

Picture Credit: Gerry Isabelle
Swayambhunath Stupa is one of the most important and oldest Buddhist world heritage sites in Nepal; consisting of a stupa and different shrines and temples from over a 1,500 years ago and revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Swayambhu literally means "self-existent one" and it is believed that Swayambhu was born out of a lotus flower that bloomed in the middle of a lake that once spread across the Kathmandu Valley once was. 

Swayambhunath is also known as Monkey Temple due to various monkeys that live here. Although they may seem cute and friendly, it's important to be careful of these monkeys as they have been known to attack and steal from people.

The Swayambhunath Stupa rests on a tall hill in the Kathmandu Valley, about 15 minutes west of downtown Kathmandu. The base of the hill is almost entirely surrounded by prayer wheels and deities and devotees can be seen circumambulating the stupa at all times. To reach stupa there are many hundreds of steps to climb which are not difficult but if you have limitations, plan your visit accordingly. However, once you catch a glimpse of the breathtaking (pun intended) panoramic views of the city as well as the beautiful religious monuments, you will know it was well worth the climb. 

The calm spiritual atmosphere is also a sweet respite from exciting whirls and twirls of Kathmandu city living. Swayambhunath is a must-visit sight for travellers in Nepal.

Contribution by Stuti Shrimali of Me and My Suitcase

Picture Credit: Stuti Shrimali

On the busy street of Kathmandu bustling with vehicles and people in the same amount, the beautiful white jewel sits in the centre of circumscribing heritage like old buildings which are mostly cafes or shops. Boudhnath stupa is a delight to eyes and heart. 

At the ground level of the stupa, there is a brick wall with 108 images of the meditation Buddha inset behind the small copper praying wheels which you can rotate as you circumnavigate the stupa. On entering, you will see a huge praying wheel on the left which you can rotate before moving forward. The feeling is amazing. On top of the stupa, you can see big beautiful eyes incised, they are the all-seeing eyes of Buddha which symbolizes awareness.

Centuries-old Boudhanath Stupa is built in the shape of a mandala and is 36 m high which makes it one of the larger stupas in South Asia. 

Visit it during morning or evening for a better experience. It is always lit, in the morning by sunlight and in the evening with colourful fairy lights.

Contribution by Stuti Shrimali of Me and My Suitcase

Picture Credit: Stuti Shrimali

Pashupatinath is an epitome of out of the world experience. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the most important religious sites in South Asia. As believed in Hinduism, while covering 12 jyotirlingas it is very important to visit Pashupatinath as well to complete the circuit.

Though built in the 5th century, it is believed that the site of Pashupatinath is in existence since the day Shiva linga was discovered here that is from the beginning of the millennium. Located on the Bagmati river, it is a pagoda-style temple with the main shrine in the centre inside the bigger pagoda while many small pagodas dedicated to various Hindu and Buddhist deities can be seen around the main sanctum like beads in a necklace. 

The main pagoda has a gilded roof, four sides covered in silver and magnificent wood carvings. In front of the temple, there is a huge Nandi (the bull of Shiva) statue. The aarti happens every morning and evening both inside the complex and outside at Bagmati river which is a beautiful experience. In the same place right behind the temple, there is a raised platform on the river bank where cremation of Hindus is allowed. 

Before Bagmati reaches Pashupatinath, further east there is a temple Guheshwori which is dedicated to Sati Devi (consort of Shiva). Do visit Pashupatinath for an un-paralleled religious, cultural and spiritual experience and to see hundreds of shivalinga in the complex. It is mind-boggling; the architecture, construction and atmosphere.

Changu Narayan Temple
Contribution by Bistra Yakimova of The Magic of Traveling

Picture Credit: Bistra Yakimova

Changu Narayan Temple is the oldest Hindu Temple in Nepal. Bistra says, "Honestly, I would have never found it if we hadn’t decided to take a hike during a day off of our yoga teacher training."

The best way to get to Changu Narayan is to hike from Nagarkot (about 3 to 4 hours) or from Telkot (2 to 3 hours) - both places are in the Bhaktapur area. This way you will experience the mesmerizing views towards Kathmandu valley, absorb much fresh air and meet many friendly Nepalis on your way including students coming back from school. On the way, you will also pass small villages and traditional houses with friendly goats and dogs while the surrounding is a forest of Champak trees.

After the moderate-level hike, a bigger settlement will appear and then you’ll notice the Changu village sign. People from the Newar community live in the area. Passing the streets full of crafts shops and reconstruction works, you will eventually reach the Changu Narayan Temple.

It is amazing how it was almost destroyed during the horrible earthquake in 2015 and how people are still working towards restoring it. You can feel the history in the old but preserved wood carvings. The shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Locals still go to the temple to pray and find peace.

Contribution by Stuti Shrimali of Me and My Suitcase

Picture Credit: Mihai Luca

This peaceful city is the birthplace of Shakyamuni Buddha which attracts pilgrims from all over the world. This spiritual site is a place of worship for both Buddhists and Hindus. 

The main temple here is Mayadevi temple where Gautam Buddha was born, though the name of the temple it belongs to is still unknown. In the inner sanctum, you can see the ruins from that period. The birth location is covered with glass. It is a beautiful green temple complex with many gardens, Asoka Pillar in front and a pond right beside the temple which has many colourful fishes. Also, the continuous chanting by young and/or adult monks and praying flags fluttering with the wind is soothing to all your senses. The focal point of this temple is the feeling of content. Spend some time here before heading towards the other 25 Buddhist monasteries built by various countries like India, Vietnam, Japan etc. Each monastery is influenced by the architecture of the country it is built by.

It takes time to visit and explore all the monasteries, you can either do on foot or on tuk-tuk easily available there. Don't forget to visit the Sokyo Japanese temple in the evening and be a witness to the evening prayer.

Everything about Lumbini is incredible and mesmerizing. If you have a few days in hand you can even stay here study Buddhism or meditate in the peaceful atmosphere.

Chitwan National Park
Contribution by Pradeep Chamaria of Exatraveller

Picture Credit: Pradeep Chamaria

Boat rides on a river near jungles can give you a pleasant shock. Consider yourself lucky victim if you see Rhino chilling or crocodiles relaxing in the river.  

It is the heart of Chitwan National Park where endangered one-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and the royal Bengal tiger roam freely like their early predecessors did. It is a privilege of getting up close to them here. 

Chitwan National Park, spanning over 932 sq km of riverine forests, honey-toned grasslands and marshlands, is part of the vast Terai region at the Himalayan foothills across India and Nepal where about 600 wild one-horned Rhinos reside peacefully along with the two big cats; the tiger and the leopard, four species of Deers, Bisons, Jackals, Dhole/Asiatic wild dogs, three species of bear, over 540 species of birds, over 40 species of reptiles including the Marsh Mugger and the critically endangered Gharial, etc.

Chitwan National Park recently celebrated 365 days of zero poaching which is a feat in itself. It can be reached by local flights to Bharatpur airport from Kathmandu and also by road.

Sagarmatha National Park
Contribution by Stuti Shrimali of Me and My Suitcase (Disclaimer: Since I did not personally visit it, the information about the place has been obtained from the internet)

Nepal UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Picture Credit: Nepal Sanctuary Treks

Declared World Heritage site in the year 1976, Sagarmatha is the home to Mount Everest. The park has many other peaks and it ranges from the altitude of around 2000 m above MSL to over 8000 m (approx) with Mt. Everest at 8848 m.

Sagarmatha is home to 118 species of birds and animals like snow leopard, red panda, musk deer, wolf, Himalayan black bear to name a few. If lucky one can also sight Nepal's national bird, Impeyan Pheasant here. The forest here is covered with a variety of trees like silver fir, birch, rhododendron and juniper. 

I am sure visit to this National Park, in fact, a trek would be once in a lifetime kind of opportunity including the sighting of rare species of flora and fauna.

How many of these UNESCO Heritage sites have you visited or plan to see? I suggest doing them all. 

Go back in time and let the magic begin.

Happy travels,
Me and My Suitcase


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