There aren’t many (or any) play areas for children in Kathmandu. There is a dreadful lack of playgrounds and green spaces, so most children simply stay inside or play on the roof. Visiting the historical and religious sites of Kathmandu is a way to escape the dust and smog of the city and find some beauty. There are lots of steps and monkeys and things to climb as well as shiny souvenirs everywhere which will definitely keep young children entertained.
This is a Tibetan Buddhist site located on a hill in the far Western part of Kathmandu, and dates back to about 500 CE. You can climb up the 365 stairs to the top, or cheat and drive up the road around back, and walk down the steps instead. They are steep, crumbling, and full of holes, which I’m sure the earthquake didn’t help, but walking down with young children is fine. The best part about the temple for kids may be the monkeys, who are considered holy but who also like to steal from tourists. They do adorable things like swing on little handmade monkey ropes and cart little baby monkeys around on their backs.
My daughter particularly enjoyed the souvenir shops (she’s totally a trinket shopper), spinning the prayer wheels, and offering incense to the Buddha.
This is one of the largest and oldest Tibetan buddhist stupas in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake (the entire stupa was destroyed) but it has been restored and looked to me like they were just putting on the finishing touches. Kids will love feeding the many pigeons (you can buy a bowl of bird feed) and spinning all the prayer wheels. There are always some lovely Tibetan mantras drifting over the square, and a lot of rooftop restaurants offering a great view while you eat.
This is actually one of the three ancient cities of Kathmandu Valley, but due to urban expansion, it’s being absorbed into the greater metropolitan area of Kathmandu, just like Patan and Old Kathmandu. It has the best preserved medieval winding streets and large royal and religious courtyards. Kids will enjoy petting (or chasing) the goats that are wandering around, trinket browsing, and watching the potters in Potter’s Square creating their wares with the clay. Also, you can climb up the many old temples which are very high up, intricately decorated, and dotted with large dragon and animal statues.
Much less exciting, and not in any way historical, is the zoo located in Jawalakhel, to the south of the city. Compared to zoos in developed countries, it won’t seem like much, but they have a lot of birds, rodents, a hippo, rhinoceros, ostriches, and one very old elephant. Perhaps the best part of the place is the playground, because like I said, there are NO playgrounds in Kathmandu. (If you know of any others please let me know!) So this very simple playground was a big hit with the kids and my daughter had a blast playing there. There are also some small children’s rides. They look like ancient fair rides, but since there are no alternatives, they entertain. The nicest thing about the place is that it’s a green space without vehicle traffic, so your young children can (finally) run around a bit.
This is the “tourist district” of Kathmandu, and the place where most trekkers arrive and finish their time in Nepal. You can find everything there (albeit for a hiked up foreigner price), including SIM cards and unlocked phones, tours and tour guides, modern hotels with Western style amenities, traveler friendly fresh food and restaurants, and thousands of souvenir and clothing shops. This place is the only area in the entire city that is lit up and busy at night, and there are a few unsavory activities happening there at all hours. I think it’s a great place for kids, though, because the shopkeepers are very friendly with them (including the nice man below who sold me a pair of pants for $5 and let M play with all his stuff for free!) and you can find other expats (and their children) to hang out with. Familiar foods are in abundance, including foods you might not be able to safely drink (like fresh fruit juice or lemonade and salads). Hotels will have everything you need to freshen everyone up, too, including cable and wifi.
Some other places to visit that would be similar to those above are Kathmandu or Patan’s Durbar Squares (similar to Bhaktapur), Pashupatinath Temple (large Hindu temple famous for it’s cremation ghats), and Assan Bazaar (very old market place, but it’s very crowded so hold your kids close).
Coming up: Daily life in Kathmandu with small children, and leaving the valley.