Kathmandu or Pokhara? Which City Should You Visit in Nepal?

From the tallest mountains in the world, to the heritage and culture that shapes the country – making a trip to Nepal has a lot to offer tourists. The vast number of things to do and places to visit, often confuse tourists on what they should prioritize during their trip. Living in Nepal as an expat, I often find people asking if it’s better to spend time in Kathmandu or Pokhara?

When it comes to answering the question of Kathmandu (KTM) or Pokhara (PKR), it is important to know that each city has its own distinct features and are drastically different from one another. Depending on what type of adventure you are looking for, will dictate which city will be best for your vacation in Nepal.

To help with deciding which city is better, I’m going to provide a first hand experience of the two, and give insight about each. In the hopes you can easily decide if Pokhara or Kathmandu is better for you!

Which is better, Pokhara or Kathmandu? 

Pokhara is better than Kathmandu. It is preferred by many tourists and Nepalis as well. Pokhara has less pollution, it is open and less congested, is full of outdoor tourist activities, and is home to Fewa Lake (Lakeside Pokhara). 

Pokhara is by far the preferred tourist destination city in Nepal. So much so that the new Mayor of Pokhara has petitioned the Government of Nepal to declare Pokhara as the ‘tourism capital of Nepal’. 

It’s not just Nepalis that believe Pokhara is the best tourist city in Nepal, it is also international critics as well. Whereas, in 2016 Forbes ranked Pokhara number one on their 20 Best Value Cities For Budget Travelers!

So why is PKR so much better than KTM in terms of places to visit in Nepal? Well, for one, it is the gateway to the Annapurna Base Camp Trek, which is one of the most popular trekking routes in the world. This means that trekkers find themselves in transit in Pokhara before heading north to the Himalayas.

During transit at lakeside, trekkers typically end up falling in love with the city and all it has to offer. From adventure sports like paragliding and ziplining, to taking the Annapurna Cable Car up to Sarangkot for the sunrise and sunset, there is a little of something for everyone in PKR.

To dive a little deeper into the discussion, let’s compare the two cities together on everything from entertainment, cost of stay, negatives and positives of each.

Comparing Kathmandu and Pokhara:

KTM and PKR are distinctly different. They appeal to tourists for different reasons, and what you can find in one city may be difficult to find in the other. In this section I want to break down the differences between Kathmandu and Pokhara, and provide insight from my perspective of living in both of the cities.

Let’s start by looking at a quick summary table of the two cities.

Cost of LivingPokhara is more expensive than other cities in Nepal to live in. From food options to apartments/hotels it can get pretty pricey the closer you get to Lakeside.
EntertainmentPokhara has a lot of options when it comes to outdoor activities and relaxing. Fewa Lake is by far the biggest form of entertainment, as there is paragliding, ATV, Ziplining, boating and more in the area. There is also a booming nightlife in Pokhara as well!
Culture and HeritageThere are a few temples in PKR, as well as other important areas in terms of heritage and culture. However, there are considerably fewer options, and much less known than areas in Kathmandu.
RestaurantsLakeside is full of amazing restaurants serving an array of cuisines. To top it off, from most of these places you have a clear view of Fewa lake. There is nothing better than a great view and delicious food. Additionally, many of the restaurants on Lakeside are brand new, or scheduled to open soon. I have noticed a significant increase in the quality of restaurants – from their food to ambiance. Check out my list of best restaurants in Pokhara!
Table providing a summary of Pokhara
Cost of LivingKathmandu can be extremely cheap if you are living on a budget. It easy to find cheap food options as well as apartments/hotels
EntertainmentKathmandu has some hiking opportunities around the city. Most of the city’s entertainment lies in the ability to visit places of heritage, culture and religion.
Culture and HeritageThere is a joke that you can’t go 500 meters in KTM without passing a temple. Where it comes to experiencing the culture and heritage of Nepal, there is no better place than Kathmandu. It has temples and shrines that date back hundreds of years and some of the most famous temples in Nepal.
RestaurantsKTM has a lot of traditional food options, as well as street food. These provide a unique experience for tourists wanting to taste a variety of foods in Nepal. In addition to traditional foods, there are a lot of options for continental food in Thamel, Durbar Marg, Jawalakhel and Sanepa areas.
Table providing a summary of Kathmandu

I tried to highlight the positives of each of the cities in the table above. By examining my comments above you may be wondering why Pokhara is so much better. To help with this, I would like you to take a look at the list below. Where I highlight the negatives and positives of living in either Kathmandu or Pokhara. I also highlight some of the best tips for living in these cities in my blog: Travel Nepal tips.

Negatives and Positives of Kathmandu and Pokhara:

Peace Pagoda in Pokhara - One of the positives of visiting!
Peace Pagoda in Pokhara – One of the positives of visiting!

When it comes to KTM and PKR, there are many great things about each of the cities. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of negatives as well. Some of the biggest positive and negative aspects of each of the cities or listed below:

Positives of Pokhara:

  1. Clean city, environment and air quality
  2. Plenty of outdoor recreation activities and adventure sports to keep you busy
  3. Higher standard of living
  4. Less chaotic, much more relaxed and easy going lifestyle
  5. Lakeside and Fewa lake!
  6. Easy access to trekking routes
  7. High quality restaurants and places to eat – typically more hygienic food as well

Negatives of Pokhara:

  1. More expensive
  2. Weather is unpredictable
  3. Rains more frequently
  4. Less options for indoor recreation
  5. Easy to get over charged as a tourist

Positives of Kathmandu:

  1. A strong culture and heritage – Provides plenty of historic temples and auspicious places to visit
  2. More economic opportunities
  3. A larger expat community – almost all international organizations have their country offices here
  4. Kathmandu is a relatively cheap place to live – food, shopping, and apartments can be found for extremely cheap. Making it easy to live there on a budget
  5. Greater variety of indoor activities
  6. More options for restaurants and places to eat

Negatives of Kathmandu:

  1. Pollution (absolutely the worst part of KTM!)
  2. Traffic and noise
  3. Poor city planning, and difficult to navigate
  4. Over crowded
  5. Trash and litter is a problem in some regions of the city
  6. Less green areas in the city
  7. Lack of personal space
  8. Rooms are typically smaller, with little to no natural lighting
  9. Higher chance of crime – pick pocketing and sexual harassment

These are just some of the positives and negatives of living in these two cities. Of course, depending on the individual, they may find more or less of each. However, overall, I believe most will agree that the standard of living in Pokhara is far better than Kathmandu. And it makes a much nicer place to visit and stay longer term. If you want to see where to go in PKR, then check out my 20 best places to visit in Pokhara blog!

To wrap everything up, I think it is also important to answer the question of: is Pokhara cheaper than Kathmandu? Even though I have already alluded to it, I want to provide a little more detail regarding it.

Is Pokhara cheaper than Kathmandu?

Pokhara, and specifically Lakeside, is more expensive than Kathmandu. You will find that the cost of living is more expensive when it comes to apartments, restaurants, and consumer goods. A single person can live in Kathmandu on about $200 compared to Pokhara which will take about $300.

These numbers may seem extremely low, but these are for people living a very frugal life in Nepal. This means paying for just the basics, without going out for recreation or to eat.

I, for example, was able to live on $160 in Kathmandu during 2017. This was because I was living in a one bedroom flat that cost $60 for rent and utilities. The rest of my money I used for food.

This is not to propose you do the same, but it is possible. 

That being said, I believe that Kathmandu is cheaper than Pokhara, and that you can live a comfortable life in Kathmandu for about $500, compared to $600 in Pokhara.

If you want to live on a small budget, then check out my blog that talks about how to travel in Nepal on a budget!

Key Takeaways: Which is better, Kathmandu or Pokhara?

When asked which is better, Kathmandu or Pokhara, I always answer Pokhara. As someone that has lived in both cities for an extended period of time, I consider PKR to be a much more relaxed and enjoyable place to visit and stay.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend time in Kathmandu as a tourist, as the city has a lot to offer in terms of culture and heritage. Not only do historical temples demand attention, but also the countless festivals in Kathmandu.

However, once you have experienced the festivals in temples, it may not be worth it to stay long term as the pollution, chaos and overall hustle and bustle of the city may get to you. Therefore, if you have the option, make sure to check out Pokhara while traveling in Nepal – even if it’s only for a few days. You never know, you may fall in love with it!

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