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6 Best old Cities to visit in Nepal

  • 29-Jul-2019
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Visiting historical sites has always been more than just exploration. It gives us a new insight on how to perceive things and process it. It teaches us how to deal with the uneven circumstances and decode a solution out of it. Therefore, if want to learn something new or logical or anything that makes sense, then nothing is as good as exploring the old cities.

Being one of the culturally and historically wealthy nations, Nepal has so many such ancient places- each of them superior in its own way. There are centuries old temples, brave forts, brilliant palaces, and outstanding monasteries all around the country. Many of these palaces are built in a traditional Newari style architecture. The windows, pillars and the doors of these edifices are intricately carved with the godly images of Hindus. Some of these designs are so precious that they narrate the mythical stories mentioned in the Vedic texts of Hindus in an imagery form.

To sum up, the old cities of Nepal are animated with the arts and architectural facets.

Patan (Lalitpur)


Around 5 km south of the capital city Kathmandu lies another beautiful city named Patan (in the Lalitpur district), the oldest city of Nepal. It is the 3rd largest city of Nepal, after Kathmandu and Pokhara, and is enriched with its rich cultural heritage. Despite being so close to the hustle and bustle of the capital, Patan has preserved its ancient culture of craftsmanship and artistry through generations of effort in transferring the skills to successive generations.

Sometimes, this city is also known as the “city of festivals and feasts”. The festivals and ritual ceremonies, particularly of Hindus and Buddhists, are so frequent in this town that you won’t be able to collect all of them in your memories. The melody of the Dhime (local musical instrument) and Bansuri (flute) never seem to put a halt in the air.

Above all, the delicious cuisines of Newars are one of the finest welcoming presents to you. In the past, these delicacies used to be prepared only on special occasions. Every occasion had its unique food identity. But now, these foods have been commercialized and can be eaten in the restaurants at any time. Having said that, those festivals and rituals are still practiced today.

Design of Patan

In the early days, the city Patan was designed in the shape of a Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness), according to which the four mounds (Thurs) were established in the four corners of the Patan. These mounds are said to have been built by the great Indian Emperor Ashoka when he, with his daughter Charumati, visited Nepal. Besides these, there are over 1200 Buddhist shrines of different structures dotted around the city. Some of them may have been destroyed by the Earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015.

What to see in Patan?

Patan is bedecked with the historical monuments of different times. The artistically superior, Patan Durbar Square, is the real charm of the city; however, it is not the only attraction that makes Patan a glamorous city. There are countless other unique and beautiful structures to gape on.

Patan Durbar Square (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)


Patan Durbar Square, built in the around 12th century, was the royal palace of Mallas. The delicate designs- carved on the outer and inner walls of this palace- are the works of indigenous Newars of Patan. This is why the architectural style of Patan Durbar Square is also known as “Newari styled architecture.” There are several courtyards, built inside the palace, for the amplification of the beauty of Patan Durbar Square. Now, the main palace is transformed into a museum which is one of the most beautiful historical museums in Asia.

The Golden Temple (Hiranya Varna Mahavihar)


Built in the 12th century by King Bhaskar Verma, the Golden Temple is an outstanding complex plated in gold. It is a three-story pagoda styled Buddhist shrine that is located within a walking distance from the main Durbar Square.

The Krishna Temple


Built in the 17th century by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla, the Krishna temple is a unique composition of intellect and design. The architecture of this temple is shikhara styled, and this temple is adorned with the fine artistic carvings of various Hindu gods. What is so interesting about this temple is that the pillars on the first floor recount the story of Mahabharata, while the second tier is bedecked with the visual carvings of Ramayana.

The Kumbheswor Temple


The Kumbheswor Temple is one of the two five-story freestanding temples, other being the Nyatapole, in the Patan of Nepal. The beautiful wooden carvings, inscribed on the roof of this temple, is bewildering. Being built in the 14th century, this temple is one of the many historical shrines, epitomizing the artistic revolution in Patan.

The other heritages to see in Patan are Patan Dhoka, Mahaboudha Temple, Banglamukhi Temple, Ratnakar Mahavihar, and many other shrines.


The earliest chronicles of Kirant rulers show that the Patan became the capital of Kirant Dynasty, after Thankot, in around 2nd century AD. It was when King Yalamber came into power. At that time, he named this town from his name and called it “Yala”. Still today, the Patan is called by the name “Yala” by the indigenous Newars of this place.

Later, this city was expanded by the Lichhavis in around 8th-century and by the Mallas in the around 12th century. While a few transformation works were carried out by the Licchavi rulers in Patan, the majority of what we now recognize as Patan are the works of Mallas. They are the true author of this legendary city- Patan.

Mallas built temples, courtyards, shrines, palaces and countless beautiful structures within the city. One of their most important contributions is that they cultivated the culture of artistry; because of which, the wood carvings and metallic sculptures of those times are still built today.

Later in the 18th century, the great king Prithvi Narayan Shah, during his unification campaign, annexed the Lalitpur Kingdom (including Patan).

Kathmandu- A City of Diversity


Located in the central region of Nepal, Kathmandu is the largest city and one of the oldest of its kind in Nepal. This city had remained an eye of the emperors throughout different episodes of history. As a result, the arts and architectures prospered a lot in the past. Today, its diverse heritages and never-ending festivals make up an important part of the city. Like in Patan, the temples and monasteries within the Kathmandu are countless in numbers.

The people, living in Kathmandu, are not all indigenous people. They, in reality, belong to different parts of the country: different geography, different culture, different perspectives, and different religions. But, all of them share a common roof- a single city. They all live in perfect harmony- without overruling the rights of others- and it is the most stunning feature of Kathmandu.

Moreover, the city of Kathmandu celebrates several festivals, each year. Dashain, Tihar, and Buddha Jayanti are the major festivals here, and Jatras (traditions that are not centralized to a particular religion or culture but are being celebrated for decades) are unavoidable. These Jatras- such as Indra Jatra- are only celebrated within the Kathmandu valley and has very less importance out of the valley. These festivals and traditions are open to all for participation.

Therefore, it is quite obvious that Kathmandu is a great platform to learn harmony. It is the diversity and its history that makes Kathmandu one of the best old cities in Nepal.

Design of Kathmandu

The 8th-century rulers of Lichhavi Dynasty were very enthusiastic about arts and architectures. Eventually, they were also interested in the design of the city. Being inspired by the story of Manjushri in Swayambhu Purana, they constructed the city plan in the shape of a Chandrahrasa, the sword of the Manjushri. Plus, they established 8 major barracks, around the city, which were guarded by the Ajimas (the goddesses representing the female ancestors of the Newars). One of these barracks could still be seen in the Bhadrakali temple of Kathmandu.

What to see in Kathmandu?

Kathmandu has a long history of trading. In the past, it was the major commercial hub for the trade between Tibet and India. As a result, the arts and architectures developed rapidly in the city. In the Lichhavi dynasty itself, many resting houses and palaces were built that were destructed, unfortunately, by the earthquake that hit Kathmandu during the Malla era. Luckily, Mallas transformed the face of the city with new designs and architectures whose sparkle still reflects in the air of Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Durbar Square (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)


Originally built in the mid-16th century, Kathmandu Durbar Square is a huge palace complex that was resided by the royalties of Nepal until 1886. The whole square is spread over 5 acres with around 50 temples distributed within and in the periphery of the square. Much of these reformations took place in the 17th century that was carried out by the King Pratap Malla.

Pashupatinath Temple (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)


Pashupatinath temple is a 5th-century temple of Lord Shiva (also known as Pashupati). However, this temple was heavily destructed by the Mughal invaders in the 14th century. Consequently, the temple was reformed in the 19th century. Much of what we see today in the Pashupatinath is the reformed architectures and designs of the 19th century, except that the sculpture of Nandi must be over 300 years old.

Boudhanath Stupa (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)


Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest unique structure stupas in the world, whose date of origin is uncertain. There are a number of hypotheses that try to validate the establishment of this monastery, but none of them is supported by the sound evidence. The pyramid above the mandala (dome-like structure) of this stupa represents various Buddhist dogmas.

Swayambhunath Stupa (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)

Swayambhunath Stupa

Like Boudhanath, the origin of Swayambhunath temple is also a mystery. Its massive dome-like architecture provides this stupa the real beauty. Being situated on top of the hill, this stupa is a perfect vantage point to witness the incredible view of the Kathmandu valley. It is indeed a surreal glimpse.

Apart from these major structures, there are dozens of other shrines distributed randomly throughout the Kathmandu city.


Archaeological evidence of early civilization in Kathmandu suggests that the statue of Jay Verma with its inscription, found in the Maligaon, dates to 185 A.D. (as mentioned in the inscription). Plus, the inscription, Brahmi Script, excavated from the Dhando Chaitya, was dated to be around 2000 years old. These pieces of evidence suggest that the city of Kathmandu must have been there since the 1st century.

Many emperors ruled this city. The earliest known rulers of Kathmandu are the Gopalas, the cow herders, succeeded by the Mahispalas, the buffalo herders. Later, the city of Kathmandu got the new emperors from the multiple dynasties- Kirant dynasty, Lichhavi dynasty, Malla dynasty, and shah dynasty. The last King of Nepal was from the Shah dynasty, whose tenure longed until 2008 when the people’s movement dethroned the King’s reign.

According to the Swayambhu Purana, the Kathmandu valley was a vast lake, named “Nagdaha”, dominated by the snakes. Later, a Bodhisatwa named Manjushri cut the valley with this sword and drained all the water out of it. Again, the demon named “Banasur” closed the vent which again resulted in accumulation of water in the valley. Then, Lord Krishna is said to have come to Nepal, killed Banasur, and again reopened the outlet for the water to drain away. He brought some Gopalas with him and made Bhaktaman the king of Nepal.

Bhaktapur- A city of wooden artistry


Bhaktapur is the most beautiful city among the three cities in the Kathmandu valley. Located 8 miles east of the capital Kathmandu, Bhaktapur has preserved its historical assets for over many centuries. Earliest records show that the capital of Nepal was Bhaktapur until the mid-15th century, and it is believed to be the cause of extensive development of arts (particularly wooden craftmanship) and architectures (typical Shikhara style) in Bhaktapur.

Legend has that this city was once the most powerful kingdom of Nepal. When neighboring Kingdoms of Patan (Lalitpur), Kirtipur, and Kantipur (Kathmandu) needed suggestions, they sought assistance from the emperor of Bhaktapur (which was then called Khwopa or Bhadgaon). Plus, relative to the cultures and traditions practiced in other cities of Nepal, Bhaktapur presents a wide array of unique festivals and rituals all around the year.

Bhaktapur is dominated by the Hindus, particularly Newars who form the majority of the population. Because of their intimate connection with artistry and design works, Bhaktapur has been able to sustain its tradition of wood carvings. We can see the people carving various types of wooden sculptures and masks in the shops around Bhaktapur.

Design of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur had no typical design plans as was in Kathmandu and Patan. But every structure, built around this city, seems more planned than the buildings in other cities. The municipality of Bhaktapur encourages its inhabitants to build houses in the traditional Newari style. There are restrictions under the action, around the historical places, such as four-wheelers are not allowed within the Square arena and so on. To sum up, the culture and heritage of the Bhaktapur are preserved until today.

What to see in Bhaktapur?

Being the locus of wooden artistry, Bhaktapur has many historical sites, each of them boasting at least one wooden complex design- the most popular one being the peacock window. The delicate carvings, inscribed around the frame of this window, are simply phenomenal. Besides these, there are countless other brilliant heritage sites to visit in Bhaktapur.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square (UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites)


While the square arena was reserved for Royalties in the 12th century, the majority of architectural development- of what we see today- are the works of the 15th century to 18th-century rulers. Bhaktapur Durbar Square consists of four distinct squares (Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Square, and Pottery Square). Each of these Squares has a unique architectural design and is embellished with the wooden crafts. These wooden artworks are the major part of the Square.

Nyatapola Temple


Built in the 18th century by the King Bhupatindra Malla, Nyatapole temple is dedicated to the goddess Siddha Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity. It is a 5-story pagoda styled temple with profound crafting works. The inside of the temple consists of a number of brilliantly carved wooden sculptures that adds further charm to this temple.

Bhairavnath Temple


Dedicated to the Lord Bhairav (the fiercest disguise of Lord Shiva), Bhairavnath Temple was originally built by the King Jagajyoti Malla. Later on, this temple was further embellished by the King Bhupatindra Malla, who was in competition with the neighboring kingdoms of Patan and Kathmandu.

Dattatreya Temple


Dattatreya Temple, of the 15th century, was built by King Yaksha Malla in the Malla era. It is a three-tiered temple, pagoda-style, that consists of intricate wooden carvings around the walls and roofs of the temple. Inside the premises, there are the statues of the Hindu trinities.

55-window palace


The construction of 55-window palace (aka Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar) was started by the King Bhupatindra Malla in the early 18th century but was not completed during his reign. Later, his successor, Ranjit Malla finished his father’s unfinished project. This palace, by its name, consists of 55 windows- each of them delicately carved with beautiful wooden designs.

Pujari Matth (School of Hinduism)


Pujari Matth is a 15th-century structure, built in the Malla Era. The peacock window, as I mentioned earlier, is on the outer wall of this structure. Now, this Matth is transformed into a museum where visitors can enter and stumble across the artistry of ancient Nepal.

Changunarayan Temple


Built in around the 4th century by King Mandev, this temple is the oldest among the discovered temples in Nepal. It is located on top of the hill and overlooks upon the wide views of the settlements in Kathmandu valley. It is the pagoda-style temple with intricate carvings of godly images on the walls and wooden pillars of the temple.

Besides these temples and palaces, there are dozens of other temples dotted around the city of Bhaktapur.


The city of Bhaktapur was officially established in the Malla Era in the around 12th century. At that time, Bhaktapur was the most powerful kingdom of all. The arts and architectures flourished rapidly inside the city. Plus, the neighboring kingdoms- Kantipur, Kirtipur, and Patan- were in competition with each other. Because of this artistic rivalry, the emperors of Bhaktapur began constructing multiple structures within the city. The Nyatapole temple, which is the tallest temple of Nepal, is said to have been finished in 7 months only.

The city Bhaktapur has other names as well such as Bhadgaon (the city of rice), and Khwopa (the city of devotees). Both of these names address the true features of Bhaktapur because many people are involved in agriculture in this region. Plus, with the never-ending number of temples and monasteries, Bhaktapur validates its name of being “the City of Devotees”.

Bandipur- The Forgotten Land


Located around 150 km Northwest of the capital Kathmandu, Bandipur is perched silently on top of the hilly settlement. Its rich cultural history and sublime classical settlements enhance the charm of this city. These classical Newari buildings, temples, and resting houses form an impeccable setting of the medieval period.

In the past, the village of Bandipur was resided by the Magars of that region. But later, as it got developed into a commercial center, the people from all over the country started migrating to this place. As a result, not only this place got developed into a trading hub, but also the arts and architectures of different regions flourished rapidly in Bandipur. The Newars of Bhaktapur, one of the largest immigrants of Bandipur, were one of the great influencers of arts in Bandipur who greatly assisted this city to grow as an artistic center.

Alongside its historical importance, Bandipur is also a naturally blessed city. The views of incredible mountains of Annapurna, Everest, and many other peaks could be witnessed from the hilltop of Bandipur. Visitors often get to the viewpoint by cycling along the narrow pedestrian lane, fenced by lush paddy fields on both sides. Unlike other old cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan, Bandipur is less populated and also, receives very few tourists. Now, it is your turn to visit this ancient land.


This city is not the product of a masterplan. But as it appears, Bandipur is quite a well-managed city. The houses of this region are lined parallel to one another- the separator being the wide highway. As you proceed towards the hilltop, you could see only a handful of houses- each of them surrounded by a vast land of paddy fields.

The street shops in Bandipur are mostly coffee vendors, where you could catch the brilliant views of the snowy pinnacles, rising far above the lush hills. There are also many traditional resting houses to stay and enjoy the surreal views of the Himalayas.

What to see in Bandipur?

Being the historical city, there are many places to see in Bandipur. There are ancient temples, sacred caves, and wonderful libraries to pay a visit to. Let us catch a quick glimpse on few of the many historic sites in Bandipur: -

Khadga Devi Temple


It is the historic temple, built in the ancient architectural design, that can be reached by climbing along the stone stairs. This temple preserves the sword of the King Mukunda Sen, of the kingdom of Palpa, as a symbol of Lord Shiva’s gift. This temple is opened only once in a year, at the time of festival Dashain (mid-October).

Siddha Cave


Siddha Cave is the largest cave of Nepal that extends to over 500 m in length. Inside the cave, there are Shiva Lingams, the sculptures of Ganesh, and the carvings of several Hindu godly images. Walking inside this cave is often acclaimed as one of the adventurous journeys in Nepal.

Mahalaxmi Temple


Built in the pagoda-style, the Mahalaxmi Temple had been there since the medieval period. The carvings around this temple are unique and beautiful, with the images of Bhimsen and other animals carved on the wooden walls of the temple.

Padma Library


Padma Library was built in times of autocratic Rana regime with special permission from the Rana administrators. It is, therefore, one of the most privileged libraries in Nepal with books of the Ranas administrative policies kept on the shelves of the library.

Besides these, the Bindabasini Temple, Thani Mai Temple, Silkworm Farm, and Chantithan are the interesting historical hotspots to visit.


In the late 1700s, when the King Prithvi Narayan Shah captured Bandipur, the Newari traders from Bhaktapur fled to Bandipur to promote their relationship with the traders from India and Tibet. As it lay on the main trading route to Tibet, Bandipur had the high prospect of development. So, Newars took advantage of it and developed this town as a trading center. These Newars had also been responsible for introducing their unique arts and architectures in this town of Bandipur.

The other reason why this town became an eye of the traders was its climatic condition. The climate of this region was unsuitable for the malarial parasites to grow. Therefore, the people of Terai- the hot section of Nepal- absconded to this place to avoid the unstoppable parasite attacks.

Furthermore, in the 19th century, this town got high recognition from the Ranas (autocratic rulers of Nepal), who granted special permission for the construction of Library in this place. Later, because of the several reasons, the population of this place started to decrease, and this privileged town of ancient Nepal got lost in the pages of history.



Located close to the capital city of Kathmandu, Nuwakot is a sublime hill station to witness some reminiscing views of the Langtang moraine. The majority of the population of Nuwakot are the Tamangs, while the historical sites are surrounded by the Brahmins, Magars, and Chhetris. The Nuwakot Durbar Square, standing on the hilltop of Nuwakot, is a pristine heritage of medieval period, which was later renovated by the King Prithvi Narayan Shah after conquering the Nuwakot.

The cultures and rituals of this region are still preserved by the locals. They are proud of their golden history that shaped the face of Nepal today. It was the first Kingdom that was conquered by the Prithvi Narayan Shah during his unification campaign. He built several barracks and forts to strengthen his military force in the Nuwakot, which are preserved till the date. Because of these strongest nine (Nawa) forts (Kotta), this place was called Nuwakot.


The design of Nuwakot has not been mentioned in any inscription or historical text. But in the past, when King Prithvi Narayan Shah was preparing for the battle with other neighboring kingdoms, he built 9 strong forts to strengthen his defense. These forts were so thoughtfully placed that when one of them gets attacked, the other one would be able to support it. Therefore, to speak about the design of Nuwakot, it was built to defend all kinds of attacks from the foes.

Plus, the position of Durbar Square is also well thought. It is built on top of the hill from where one could see the valleys that are very away. It was a complete military-based design.

What to see in the Nuwakot?

Nuwakot is, particularly, famous for its 7-story tall Durbar Square overlooking the entire Nuwakot valley. This durbar square was originally built by the Mallas but was later renovated and extended by the King Prithvi Narayan Shah. You may grab a cup of local tea, sit in the stone and stumble upon the artistry of the temples that are built around the durbar arena.

Nuwakot Durbar


Nuwakot Durbar is an isolated mansion, far from the modern influences of pollution and westernizing culture. The people of this region are proud of their heritage, which is the primary reason why this heritage is so classic and unblemished. It is over 300 years old.

Taleju Bhawani Temple Complex

This temple of goddess Taleju Bhawani was built by the King Mahendra Malla in the 16th –century. At that time, Goddess Taleju was the royal deity, which was why the design of this temple was given extra attention.

Forts of the Nuwakot

The name Nuwakot itself comes from the name of 9 strong forts. Only a few remains of these forts are left to this date as they had been attacked several times by the Chinese forces and other invaders. Its historical significance is what makes these forts alive until today.

The history of the Nuwakot makes it one of the best old cities in Nepal.


Nuwakot lay in the ancient trading route between India and Tibet. As a result, this place developed as a commercial center which in turn helped Nuwakot grow economically strong. The king, then, purchased the military weapons and established several forts so as to defend the outside attacks.

All the expenses were spent to boost the strength of a military base. Later, this place helped the King to get victory over the other neighboring kingdoms. To conclude, it was the Nuwakot that brought the whole Nepal together.



Located close to the tourism capital Pokhara, Palpa is enriched with its exquisite cultural and artistic history. From the delicate complex of Rani Mahal to the enchanting markets of Tansen, Palpa has all the reasons to keep you engaged in its beauty. The artistically superior souvenirs and handicraft items, displayed around the vendors, are the unmissable sections of Palpa for an at least one-time visitor. Plus, the architecturally astounding temples of Hindu deities are sure to keep you in awe.

Besides its aesthetic development, Palpa is also a natural hotspot to see the views of mighty snowy ranges, lingering in the sky. In this view, the pinnacles of Annapurna, Macchapuchre, and Dhaulagiri appear distinct in the cluster of snowy buttresses, all soaring parallel to touch the sky. It is just a heavenly experience.


Tansen of Palpa is a historical town, where the traditional Nepali houses are lined elegantly on both sides of the highway. The wooden props, below the roof of these houses, are carved with the classic Newari designs. Plus, the local shops display a vast array of souvenirs and handicraft-items.

Beyond Tansen, the settlements grow sparse in number. So, it is difficult to distinguish the pattern of arrangement of houses. Nevertheless, there is more beauty in randomness than any patterns.

What to see in Palpa?

As I mentioned earlier, Palpa is a cultural hotspot. Besides the intoxicating market of Tansen, there are many historical places to see in Palpa

Ranighat Palace (Rani Mahal)


Rani Mahal is an elegant palace built by the Khadga Shumsher Rana in late 1800s in the memory of his beloved wife. The architecture of this mansion is classic and refined with the modern taste of that time.

Bhairabsthan Temple


With its huge Shiva trident, Bhairabsthan temple claims its position as one of the most beautiful Shiva temples in Asia.

Rishikesh Temple


Built by the King Manimukunda Sen, the Rishikesh temple is revered as the holy site where one part of the Goddess Satidevi was cremated.

Besides these edifices, the Rishikesh Complex of Ruru Kshetra, Rambha Devi Temple, Ramdi, etc. are the places you might want to visit.


From the 16th-century, the Sen Kingdom ruled Palpa for almost 300 years. It was during his reign that the Rishikesh temple was built. He emphasized trading and played a crucial role in establishing Tansen as a commercial center.

After the Shahs got victory over Palpa, the trading activities began to peek in Tansen. Because of that, some Newari Traders from the Bhaktapur migrated to Palpa in order to trade with the Tibet and India. They brought along their arts and designing skills which, later on, were used in the temples and royal edifices. Tansen became a town of arts within a few years of their entry.


Among the above 6 best old cities of Nepal, you may go anywhere to truly experience the thrill of passing by the historical sites. We have tried to make this blog as informative as possible by extracting out the information from multiple sources on the internet. Please feel free to comment if you have any queries.

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