Places to Visit in Bhutan
From trekking the Himalayan routes of Druk Path and Jhomolhari to experiencing the cultural landscape in Thimpu and Paro, the places to visit in Bhutan are as exhilarating and entertaining as any in South Asia.
Mysterious and remote, Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is endlessly fascinating. The mountains are carpeted in diverse forests that sing with birds, while its cities and towns are filled with amazing festivals, spectacular monasteries and temples as well as engaging people. It’s the opportunity to explore this relatively untouched corner of the Himalaya that attracts many visitors to this exotic destination.
Visit Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most famous monastery, marvel at the dance routines of the tsechu festivals in Thimpu and Paro, or trek through the mountainous regions of remote Bhutan.
Find out below our list of the best places to visit on your next trip to Bhutan.
Best Places to Visit in Bhutan
10. Jhomolhari Trek
Bhutan’s treks are physically demanding but hugely rewarding. They generally reach high altitudes and remote regions, and several are justifiably renowned in international trekking circles. The Jhomolhari trek is to Bhutan what the Everest Base Camp route is to Nepal: a trekking pilgrimage. The trek takes you within an arm’s reach of Jhomolhari and Jichu Drakye, two of Bhutan’s most beautiful summits. It crosses a high pass and visits the remote village of Lingzhi, then crosses another pass before making its way towards Thimpu. It also affords an excellent opportunity to see yaks.
The valleys comprising Bumthang make up the cultural heartland of Bhutan and are ideal for day hikes to monasteries. Bumthang’s ancient monasteries and temples figure prominently in Bhutan’s early development as well as in the foundation of the unique aspects of Bhutanese Buddhism. Witness the imprint of Guru Rinpoche, hoist Pema Lingpa’s 25kg chainmail, and stare into the churning waters of Membartsho, where Pema Lingpa uncovered hidden treasures.
8. Kyichu Lhakhang
Kyichu Lhakhang is one of Bhutan’s oldest, most venerated and most beautiful temples and it sits just a short distance from the gateway town of Paro. The oldest temple in this twin-temple complex is believed to have been built in AD 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. The outside grounds hum with prayer and spinning prayer wheels, while inside a treasured 7th-century statue of Jowo Sakyamuni sits in the sanctuary. Easy day walks can be commenced in the vicinity of this serene lhakhang.
7. Thimpu Valley
Thimpu valley delights with its cultural attractions, including the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, which celebrates its tsechu in autumn. Bhutan’s capital also provides many out-of-town sights. There are good walks not far from the capital, taking in a handful of perfectly positioned monasteries with excellent views down the valley. And just west of Thimpu’s centre at Motithang Takin Preserve is your best bet for spotting Bhutan’s national animal, the takin.
Paro is one of the nicest Bhutanese towns to explore and is worth an hour or two’s stroll at the end of a day of sightseeing. Paro’s Rinpung Dzong is a hulking example of the fortress-like dzong architecture that glowers protectively over the valley and town. The colourful Paro tsechu is held here in spring; the festival culminates with a thondrol (huge religious picture) depicting Guru Rinpoche being unfurled. Above the dzong is an old, round watchtower, the ta dzong, home to the excellent National Museum, which has an informative and eclectic collection.
5. Druk Path Trek
The Druk Path is the most popular trek in Bhutan. The main draws are monasteries, alpine scenery, a convenient length, and a compelling sense of journey that comes from walking between Paro and Thimpu, Bhutan’s most popular destinations. On all treks you’ll be expertly guided and your pack will be carried by ponies. Trekking takes you beyond the roads and reach of modernisation. Meeting traditionally dressed locals tending their crops and animals according to century-old traditions will be a highlight of your trip.
4. Punakha Dzong
Superbly situated where two rivers converge, Punakha Dzong is postcard perfect and serenely monastic. Built by the Zhabdrung in 1637, it is the winter home of the Je Khenpo and the venue for the coronation of kings of Bhutan. Visit in spring to see the jacaranda trees splash lilac flowers down the whitewashed walls and red-robed monks wandering on a sea of purple petals. The fortress-thick walls are cold and silent one moment, then warmed with the echoes of giggles in another as a horde of young monks head off for a meal.
Sprawling down a ridge towards a gorge, Trongsa Dzong sits in a central position in Bhutan’s geography. Both the first and second kings ruled from this strategic position and inside is a labyrinth of many levels, narrow corridors and courtyards. Overlooking the dzong, the Tower of Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum is housed in the watchtower. It is dedicated to the history of the dzong and the royal Wangchuck dynasty and has exhibits ranging from personal effects of the royals to Buddhist statues.
As the 50-year-old capital of one of the world’s most unusual countries, Thimpu has a youthful exuberance that constantly challenges the country’s natural conservatism. The city is as close to Bhutan gets to being urban, but never feels more than a friendly over-sized village. As a big town, it offers expresso bars and Thai restaurants beside protector shrines and hillside hermitage retreats. Thimpu’s bustling weekend market is the biggest and brightest in the country. Finding a balance between monasteries and museums – the old and the new – is the key to getting the most out of this intriguing city.
1. Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang Goemba)
Bhutan’s most famous monastery, Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang Goemba) is one of the most venerated religious sites. Legend says that Guru Rinpoche flew to this site on the back of a tigress to subdue a local demon; afterwards, he meditated here for three months. miraculously perched on the side of the a sheer cliff 900m above the floor of Paro valley, where the only sounds are the murmurs of wind and water and the creaking of the prayer wheels. The steep walk to the monastery is well worthwhile, providing tantalising glimpses of the monastery, views of the Paro valley and splashes of red-blossom rhododendrons.