A trip to Bhutan is often at the top of many bucket lists, especially for those who enjoy spiritual journeys, trekking through untouched wilderness, and admiring traditional architecture, monasteries, and temples. It’s an alluring place.
If you’re considering going, you’ll want to check out this list of the top things to do in Bhutan to see just how incredible the journey promises to be and so you’re ready to plan your itinerary.
When I went to Bhutan, I was captivated with the landscape and the traditional architecture. It’s very apparent that they take great pride in their country and want visitors to not only see and admire its beauty, but to immerse themselves in it too; to feel like you’re a part of it, so you can understand it from the inside. It was one of the most uplifting trips I’ve taken and I’d highly recommend it.
Of course, visiting Bhutan does come with challenges. The government has put into effect a daily tourist visa fee that you must pay. You also must have a tour guide while traveling in the country. There are special tour guides who have been trained and approved by the government that you can choose from. My personal recommendation is MyBhutan, which was the company I traveled with, and they were brilliant.
Things to Do & See in Bhutan
The Rinpung Dzong in Paro is an awe-inspiring sight. This grand fortress and Buddhist monastery is located on a hilltop overlooking the city, providing stunning views of the valley. Built in 1646, the dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history and still serves as the administrative center for Paro district.
Inside, visitors can admire its exquisite architecture, with many intricate murals and paintings, and take in the calming atmosphere of this sacred site. Every year, thousands come to Rinpung Dzong to celebrate the annual tsechu festival in the second month of the traditional Bhutanese lunar calendar, which is usually March or April.
National Museum of Bhutan
The National Museum of Bhutan in Paro is an incredible place to explore the culture and history of this unique country. Located in a former watchtower, the museum features a wealth of exhibits detailing Bhutan’s history, from ancient artifacts to modern items. There are displays highlighting the traditional handicrafts and textiles, Bhutan’s unique religious beliefs, and cultural masks used for festivals.
The Kyichu Lhakhang is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Paro. Founded in 659, it is one of the oldest and most sacred temples in the country and has been a prominent pilgrimage site for centuries.
Considered to be Bhutan’s most important temples, it was built by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo and was added onto by a number of Buddhist saints and gurus until it became the spectacular temple it is today.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
The Taktsang Monastery, aka Tiger’s Nest, is a legendary mountain monastery perched on the edge of a cliff in the Paro Valley. It’s one of the country’s most iconic sites. The hike to this majestic building is an amazing experience in itself and offers stunning views of the valley below. It’s not for the faint at heart though, as it’s a fairly grueling 3-5 hour hike to the top, depending on your stamina.
Here’s a photo of it from down below, which was as far as I went because I have lung issues that prevented me from doing the climb. My travel partner, Amanda from The Boutique Adventurer, made the climb.
The monastery tragically burned down on April 19, 1998, and was laboriously rebuilt with the help of many Bhutanese residents who came from all around to help. You can imagine how difficult it was to take the supplies needed to rebuild up to that remote location.
One of the most beautiful and iconic sites in Thimphu is the Buddha Dordenma, which was built in 2015 for the 60th anniversary of the 4th king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Located on the hillside in Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, this monumental 169-foot tall solid bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha radiates peace and tranquility. It’s the largest sitting statue of the Buddha. Inside the Buddha are 125,000 smaller Buddha statues, 25,000 12-inch statues, and 100,000 8-inch statues.
Tashichho Dzong, also known as the “Fortress of the Glorious Religion”, is located in Thimphu, Bhutan. This gorgeous Buddhist monastery and fortress is the largest in Bhutan, and serves as an administrative center for the country and the summer residence of the king.
The Tashichho Dzong has been home to the Bhutanese government since the 17th century and is one of the most important sites in the country. Inside its courtyard are two large statues of Guru Rinpoche and a majestic white stupa known as Kuen Karpo.
Royal Textile Museum
The Bhutan Royal Textile Museum is a must-visit to learn more about the country’s cultural history, particularly the textile arts. Located in Thimphu, it is the only museum of its kind in the world, dedicated solely to showcasing and preserving Bhutan’s traditional textile art.
Visitors can learn about the various processes involved in the production of Bhutan’s intricately-woven fabrics, explore the museum’s collection of rare and antique textiles, and admire the stunning works created by local artisans.
National Memorial Chorten
The National Memorial Chorten, also known as the Thimphu Chorten, is a stunningly beautiful Buddhist stupa and temple located in Thimphu.
Built in 1974 in honor of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, it stands as a monument to world peace and serves as an important spiritual center for the country. The four story structure has intricate mandalas and prayer wheels that visitors can spin to bring good luck. Inside are three chapels dedicated to the past, present and future Buddhas as well as paintings of important figures in Bhutanese history.
The Memorial Chorten also serves a practical purpose for locals, who come to the temple to make offerings and pay their respects. Every day, you can witness locals circumambulating the chorten as part of their daily rituals.
Jigme Dorji National Park
The Jigme Dorji National Park is another popular attraction for nature-lovers, offering spectacular vistas of the Himalayas and an abundance of flora and fauna to explore. It is the second-largest national park and was established in 1974.
My favorite fact about this park is that it is the only park in Bhutan where the national animal (takin), flower (blue poppy), bird (raven) and tree (cypress) exist together.
If you can catch a glimpse of a takin, you should. It’s a really unique looking animal (pictured above). Like a mix between a horse and a mountain goat. It’s associated with Bhutan’s religious history and mythology, so it’s a special animal in many ways.
Folk Heritable Museum and Restaurant
Founded in 2001, this award-winning museum takes visitors back in time to experience Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage and traditions. Boasting a collection of over 3,000 artifacts, the museum also offers traditional Bhutanese dance performances and educational programs.
The museum has a few exhibits that you can look at, featuring items from Bhutan’s history, as well as a glimpse into the rural way of life, so it can be preserved for future generations. While we were visiting, a monk was performing an incantation in the traditional house on the property.
Punakha Traffic Conductor
There are no traffic lights in Punakha, despite it being a fairly large city center with a strong flow of traffic. Instead of a traffic light, they have installed a traffic-control police officer who directs traffic from a stand in the center of the intersection. It’s a really fascinating thing to watch.
They control traffic expertly with hand gestures, much as a music conductor would direct the musicians in an orchestra. You’ll definitely want to stop by the intersection to watch this take place.
Dochula Pass, located in Bhutan, is a stunning site of natural beauty and cultural significance. The pass is situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet, offering breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountains and the sprawling valley below.
It’s also known as Druk Wangyal Chortens because of the 108 stupas that line the pass, which were built in memory of Bhutan’s soldiers who fought in the 2003 India-Bhutan war. The Druk Wangyal Chortens are a popular tourist attraction and an important symbol of Bhutanese pride and culture.
Punakha Dzong is one of the most iconic landmarks in Bhutan. Built in 1637, it has become an important symbol for the nation and is one of Bhutan’s most sacred sites. The dzong stands on the confluence of two rivers – Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (where we went rafting later in the day). A 17th century covered wooden cantilever bridge leads over to the dzong.
This Dzong is the second-oldest and second-largest in Bhutan and it’s considered the most majestic as well. It’s gorgeous inside and out. Though you can’t go inside all parts of it, you can admire the architecture from the outside and
In the spring, the lilac-colored jacaranda trees start to bloom around the Dzong and it’s an incredible sight. If you plan to visit in the spring, you’ll see a lot of these jacaranda trees throughout the country, but you’ll also be giving up the clear view of the mountains, which happens more in the fall.
Khamsum Yuelley Monastery
Khamsum Yuelley Monastery is an awe-inspiring structure nestled on a hilltop overlooking the Mo Chu River. Built by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in 2004, the monastery was constructed with a unique blend of traditional Bhutanese and Tibetan architecture.
The monastery is home to many religious artifacts, ancient manuscripts and murals depicting the life of Buddha and it is meant to drive away evil spirits and bring peace and harmony. It takes about a one-hour hike to get to the monastery. At the top of the monastery is a rooftop with a spectacular view of the valley and the river.
Chimi Lhakhang is a unique fertility temple located in the Punakha valley of Bhutan. The temple is a popular pilgrimage site for people who are seeking divine intervention to have children. Many visitors have come here as a couple to be blessed with a child and there are plenty of stories of it working.
Legend has it that in the 15th century, a Tibetan monk Drukpa Kunley (also known as the ‘Divine Madman’) subdued a demon using his ‘Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom’ (aka his penis). The thunderbolt is said to unnerve demons and demonesses, thus rendering them into submission. Must have been one powerful penis.
To this day, giant phalli are painted on the side of the building, and throughout Bhutan, to ward off the evil eye and malicious gossip. It’s part of many rituals and is a powerful symbol in Bhutan. You might be tempted to snicker at it when you see it, but try to embrace it.
Cooking class with Kesang Choeden
At the Folk Heritage Museum there is a traditional restaurant helmed by chef Kesang Choeden. We received a very informative cooking demonstration by her and her staff, introducing us to many of the traditional dishes of Bhutan, as well as ingredients that are part of the cultural heritage of the country.
Choeden is a great ambassador of food culture for Bhutan, having received many recipes from her grandmother, who recalls making these dishes growing up in rural Bhutan. Choeden is capturing these recipes so they can be preserved and shared with future generations, even as the food culture becomes more modern in Bhutan.
You can eat at her restaurant, or ask MyBhutan to set up a cooking class with her while you’re visiting. We learned so much about the cheese, the vegetables, and cooking methods from her.
Hot Stone Bath
A traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath is another experience you must have when visiting. The water, known as menchu, or medicine water, is the powerful element of this ritual bath that Bhutanese have been doing at home for centuries.
A hot stone bath uses rocks from the river that are heated in a fire until they are extremely hot. When the stones are placed in the bath water, they crackle and steam, releasing minerals and healing properties into the water. You then climb into this luxurious water and receive the benefits which are said to alleviate various aches, pains, and aliments.
You can partake in a hot stone bath in many places throughout the country, though perhaps the easiest to set up is at your hotel. I did the hot stone bath at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, a 5-star spa resort in Paro, and it was magnificent – albeit VERY hot.
If you want to experience the mountain setting, MyBhutan has a Comfort Camp that they set up for their visitors, where you can camp in the wilderness in relative comfort. It’s not exactly glamping, but the tents are set up with nice amenities, comfortable cots in the tents, a kitchen tent, and lots of fun things to do.
They arranged for an archery lesson, a whiskey tasting, and a performance of the festival dances by local dancers that was put on just for us. It was magical. All a very unique and incredible experience for us.
River rafting in Punakha is an adventure that no traveler should miss! This valley offers some of the world’s best white water rafting experiences. While there are exhilarating rapids during the spring and summer, you can also have a gentler experience, as we did, during the fall, when the rapids aren’t so exhilarating.
Along the river, you’ll have the most spectacular views of the mountains, you’ll see some wildlife along the banks of the river, and be able to see some of the monasteries high up in the mountainside.
Since the 7th century, archery has been a traditional sport in Bhutan and is deeply embedded within Bhutanese culture. The game of archery is played by two teams of twelve players, each team shooting from either end of a field that is roughly 140-150 meters long.
Each player has three arrows, and the goal is to hit the target, which is a round wooden board with a diameter of about 1 foot. It’s a great place to watch an age-old tradition in action and take part in some friendly competition with locals!
If you like to bring back something from your trip or buy souvenirs for your family, there will be plenty of options for places to do that. My favorite store was at a traditional textile factory. You can see the workers making the textiles downstairs, and purchase their wares upstairs. So much time and skills goes into making everything from clothing to bags and tapestries.
Our Recommended Tour Company
To travel in Bhutan, you must have a tour guide. While in the past the visa fee paid for a tour guide, it no longer does, so you’ll need to find the right guide for you and your budget.
I worked with a company called MyBhutan to plan my trip. They are very well connected and organized within Bhutan, so I felt they could provide the best experience overall. Full disclosure, they subsidized part of my trip in exchange for this review, but all of my opinions expressed here are my own.
I was in touch with MyBhutan numerous times throughout the planning process. My travel companion and I were able to choose what type of activities we wanted to do, level of accommodations we wanted, food preferences, and the level of physical activity we preferred. They thoroughly explained all of the activities they had planned for us.
Bhutan has something for everyone. Whether you’re an adventure seeker looking to explore the country’s stunning forests and mountains, or a cultural enthusiast keen on experiencing traditional Bhutanese culture. Typically, tourists choose between a trekking or cultural itinerary when spending a week, or combine the two when staying longer.
With MyBhutan as your tour company, you are in control of your trip as much as you want to be. If you want to leave it up to them, that’s possible too.
When you book a trip with MyBhutan using coupon code SAVORED, you’ll receive a free traditional hot stone bath with your booking!
Tips for Traveling in Bhutan
Traveling to Bhutan can be both exciting and overwhelming. It’s a completely different culture than you’re used to, different foods, different customs, different challenges. It’s a good idea to be aware of these things and take the proper precautions.
To make sure you have a successful trip abroad, understanding the visa process of each country you travel through is essential; this way, you can avoid any headaches down the line.
Another important factor is understanding what type of currency you will need. It’s always helpful to do your due diligence ahead of time. In Bhutan, you can use Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN). Currently $1USD is equal to 82 BTN. I like to consider it a 1:10, so 100 BTN is like $10 (~$12). That makes it easy to remember how much you’re spending.
Tipping is expected in Bhutan. Tourism is one of the main industries there, so they rely on tips. For this reason, you should have small bills of BTN or USD to leave tips.
Driving & Car Sickness
I would highly advise that you take motion sickness pills with you to Bhutan. Many of the roads are windy and mountainous, with switchbacks like you’ve never seen before. I only usually get mildly car sick and usually only if I’m in the back seat and reading, but I was sick every time we got in the car in Bhutan.
It’s nothing to laugh at. If you have pills with you, you can avoid the sickness. Take them 30 minutes before you go on longer car rides between regions.
Where to Stay
- In Paro, we stayed at the amazingly luxurious Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary.
- In Thimphu, we stayed at the Zhiwaling Ascent. They also have the gorgeous Zhiwaling Heritage hotel in Paro.
- In Punakha, we stayed at the rustic modern Dhumra Farm Resort with an incredible view of the valley.
Also check out these guides from my friend and travel partner, Amanda, from The Boutique Adventurer:
- What It’s Really Like to Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
- 27 Best Tourist Places in Bhutan
- Best Times to Visit Bhutan
Be Prepared For Travel
Planning is the most important part of any successful trip. Do it the easy way:
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited over 75 countries.