12 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Tibet

Jul 22, 2021

When Chinese travelers first began making their way to the Himalayan regions of Tibet, they were amazed by what they found. This Tibetan region is the second largest country in the world, but its towns and villages had very little in common with the rest of China.

Since then, however, the impact of the world's first direct commercial flight from Beijing has changed Tibet forever. Driven by pilgrims and tour groups, the numbers of visitors each year to this landlocked, mountainous region has swelled tremendously. Meanwhile, China's rapid industrialization has brought vast resources of both money and people, transforming the most remote villages into boomtowns brimming with factory workers and modern amenities.

So it's easy to see why Tibet is so dramatically different from the rest of the country. Indeed, Tibet itself is only one of the numerous sub-regions of China where the unusual can be found. Other intriguing destinations include Beijing, the Marco Polo Bridge, and Wuhan.

Discover the incredible natural beauty of Tibet with our guide to the best tourist attractions in Tibet.

Jokhang Temple

Photo of Jokhang
Jokhang: en.wikipedia.org

The Jokhang Temple, located in the county of Xizang (Tibetan: Kham), is the most sacred place of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It is here that the reincarnation of the Gesar of Magnificent Virtue, Sangyum Ngedi Sajchung Pelzangpo (d. 1602), was recognized in 1655. The Dalai Lama's chief representative in Tibet, the Serthar Tulku, is entombed in the Jokhang. Built around 1100, the Jokhang consists of a four-hall temple and is an extension of the Jowo Gompa in Tsokye. Here is a cave temple with a circumambulatory, built in an irregular plan with doorways on the south and west sides. Its five roofs have 33 decorative protrusions known as chörtens. These are said to symbolize the 33 great vows of the Tibetan Lam-drei (or three yanas). The upper body is reconstructed of dressed stone blocks brought from the Buji Mountains in southern Qinghai Province. The main entrance is a large wooden double door, carved in the conventional manner, with a yak head above the lintel.

Drepung Monastery

Photo of Drepung Monastery
Drepung Monastery: en.wikipedia.org

Located in Tibet's southwest region of Sichuan, a two-hour drive from Chengdu, this Tibetan monastery dates back to AD 800, and the surrounding city lies at the heart of a fertile plateau. With heavy influences from Bön, a unique philosophy prevalent in Tibetan Buddhism, the Gönpa ruins here remain as lively and colorful as they were in its heyday. The ongoing pilgrimage in honor of an ancient hermit is popular with Chinese pilgrims. Apart from the basic amenities you would expect from a monastery in China, the Gönpa ruins offer a few intriguing sights, like a secret passageway with a Buddha throne, a black-walled chamber known as the Kuorwa Cave, and a 600-year-old palace featuring a massive ornate chandelier. For anyone who hasn't had the chance to visit a Buddhist monastery, Drepung is an unparalleled introduction to the way of the Buddha and is perhaps the most famous place in the region.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Photo of Sakya Monastery
Sakya Monastery: en.wikipedia.org

Tashilhunpo Monastery (Tashilhunpo Ling) is a famous Tibetan Buddhist monastery and was established in 1187 by Padmasambhava, a major teacher and guardian of Tibetan Buddhism. Founded by Padmasambhava, the monastery is named after the two golden mountains (Tashilhunpo) at its center. The monastery is situated on the eastern bank of the Tsangpo River on a large bend in the river just after it enters the Paro Valley. It is roughly 60 kilometers from the capital, Lhasa. At Tashilhunpo Monastery, you will see a replica of the magnificent five-tiered golden pagoda which was a part of the original building. On your way to the monastery, you can visit a large number of smaller gompas and other monastic sites. A taxi to the monastery will cost around $60.

Potala Palace

Photo of Potala Palace
Potala Palace: en.wikipedia.org

The Potala Palace (Chédrin Gong, in Tibetan) was the winter residence of the Dalai Lama from 13th to 19th century. Situated in the great capital city of Lhasa (Tibet), it was once the largest palace in the world. Built as a residence for the 14th Dalai Lama in 1419 by Songtsen Gampo, the first king of Tibet, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1639 and again in 1937. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the Dalaï Lama and began receiving tourists in 1966.

Ganden Monastery

Photo of Ganden Monastery
Ganden Monastery: en.wikipedia.org

Ganden Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Nyingtri Autonomous Prefecture of Tibet, was founded in 1792 by the first Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. It is one of the most magnificent monasteries in the world and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984. The site includes the four temples of Thubten Chöling, Ganden Chökhor Ling, Ganden Chökhor Monastery, and the Library Chökhor Ling, which houses over a million and a half Buddhist texts. Ganden Chökhor Ling is the largest of the four temples, dating back to the 13th century. One of the buildings in the monastery features a rectangular patio that has three doors leading to three separate buildings. One of the doors is a secret. Through this door, pilgrims would first be received and then taken to a small room that contains a thirteenth-century statue of the first Dalai Lama. They would leave the room through the main door. The various buildings at the Ganden Monastery are lined with inscriptions listing the names of people who have donated money to the monastery, illustrating the great role that donations play in monastic institutions. The main temples of the monastery are constructed of white stucco with carved and painted gilded wood work.

Sera Monastery

Photo of Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery: en.wikipedia.org

Stupas, frescoes and bell towers are scattered across Tibet in a patchwork of brown, blue, green, orange, pink and purple. There are temples, monasteries and dzongs (the fortress-like buildings and administration centers of Tibetan kings) that you may even get to visit on a trip to Lhasa. But the jewel in the crown is the Sera Monastery, an imposing structure founded by a 15th century recluse, Ngawang Chögyal, and thought by some to be the embodiment of the Buddha. The monastery is best known for its huge gilded statue of the Buddha and to enter it, you need a permit, which you can arrange by appointment before arrival in Lhasa, preferably at the Sera Monastery itself. However, at the entrance to the compound is an inscription where it is declared that all visitors to the monastery must write their names. So, in theory, no one is allowed inside without giving a name. This can be a problem if you are traveling as a family or as part of a group and want to go in together. You can, however, always say you are not at all religious and just want to pay your respects, and that may prove to be the problem solver.

Mount Everest

Photo of Mount Everest
Mount Everest: en.wikipedia.org

You are at the best possible place to visit, right on the doorstep of Mount Everest. Not many places have got to be the right distance from the Himalayan border to be able to practically stand in the shadow of the highest mountain on Earth. And none, surely, have had the glory of having been here when the event actually happened. We are talking about when the Everest climbed at its highest during the spring and summer months of the spring of 1996. You can see some of the locations at some point during your visit: Base Camp, the Chinese Village, Lhotse Glacier, the Hillary Step, the Khumbu Icefall, the South Col and Camp II.

Gyantse

Photo of Gyantse
Gyantse: en.wikipedia.org

Gyantse is one of the most beautiful towns in all of Tibet. It is not really a touristy town as Gyantse is just as famous for the enormous monastery that lies at the center of the town as it is for its remarkable landscape. It is easy to appreciate why this area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site as the landscape around Gyantse is simply unworldly. Most of the country's most historic sights are located in Gyantse and are easily accessible. You can get a good sense of the scenic vistas by driving from the airport directly to the old town. To visit the Potala Palace or the Drepung Monastery it is best to take a tour from Lhasa. Both of these are immense complex of monasteries which are open to the public.

Mount Kailash

Photo of Mount Kailash
Mount Kailash: en.wikipedia.org

In the Himalayan region of northern India, Mount Kailash is the most sacred mountain in Tibetan Buddhism. To the Tibetans, it is the abode of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and is considered the entrance to Heaven itself. In truth, the mountain is little more than a low volcanic peak that stands about 16,167 feet above sea level, with some higher areas to the west of the mountain towering above. It is a spectacular area that's a spiritual center for Tibetan Buddhists all over the world, but especially in Tibet and Nepal. For Tibetans, the holy city of Katmandu is a short flight from the capital city of Lhasa and a five-hour bus ride from Nepal's border, making it possible to visit in a few short days. On the way there are spectacular ancient Hindu and Buddhist sites to see, with sacred monasteries still in use and, depending on your religious beliefs, you can still walk across the forbidden bridge. The most important sites to see on your visit to Mount Kailash are: the Phung Chu Valley, the Kalachakra Temple, and Manjushri Temple. The Phung Chu Valley is the gateway to the Mount Kailash and is where the Indians worshipped their god Shiva.

Lhasa

If there is a more beautiful city in all of Asia than Lhasa, the "Queen of the Snows," it is hard to imagine. While it is the capital and cultural center of Tibet and an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, Lhasa is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country, with an endless stream of foreigners descending on its fascinating cobbled streets. Since the Chinese Communists took over in 1951, Lhasa has been under strict control. Although it is easier to visit than it has ever been, access is limited. Most foreign tourists visit in the spring and fall, when the political turmoil is at a minimum. Visiting in these times allows you to enjoy a window of a Tibetan Buddhist culture that is otherwise closed to Westerners. Things to do in Lhasa include a visit to the famous Potala Palace, the royal residence of the Dalai Lama. Although the city's old sections are not open to tourists, you can still wander the fascinating alleyways, visit the local market, and purchase prayer flags to take back home.

Lake Manasarovar

Photo of Lake Manasarovar
Lake Manasarovar: en.wikipedia.org

Nestled at the foot of Mount Kailash in the Tibetan highlands, Lake Manasarovar is as stunning a sight as it is sacred to Buddhists. Covered by impossibly high glaciers, the glacial lake is filled with glacial melt water, but the source of the water remains a mystery to most. Lake Manasarovar lies in the middle of the Kailash Range and is one of the holy sights of Tibet, not only because it is a natural beauty, but also because it is believed to be the second most holy site in Tibet after Mount Kailash, the abode of the Himalayan gods, as well as the birthplace of its reincarnation, the Buddha Sakyamuni. Lake Manasarovar is the largest of the lakes in the region and is often referred to as "The Holy Grail of Tibet." Visitors can stay at several hotels and camps on the shores of the lake. Some of the best hotels in the region are set on the shores of the lake. You can take day trips from Lhasa, stay at local homestays, or take a trekking route to the source of the lake.

Sichuan Province

Photo of Sichuan
Sichuan: en.wikipedia.org

Sichuan Province, part of Southwest China, has attracted the attention of many tourists for its picturesque landscape and history, and its spicy cuisine. Its mountain range, the magnificent Emei Shan (Land of Thunder), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the ancient city of Chengdu, Sichuan's capital. Chengdu's pedestrian-only Tianfu Square area contains many notable old buildings, such as the former French Concession hotel, the Japanese Concession, the former People's Hospital and two modern hotels: the Kings Garden and the Park Inn. Also here are many street shops and a market selling Chinese arts and crafts. Before or after Chengdu, visit the Tangka Monastery, dedicated to Guanyin and Kunqu Opera. You can also visit Kangding in western Sichuan, where Tibetan culture is celebrated.