Must see attractions in Qinghai

  • Top ChoiceSights in Guide

    Guide National Geological Park

    In the stunning multicoloured clay scenery of Danxia Canyon (丹霞峡谷, Dānxiá Xiágǔ), this geopark offers walking trails in among red and orange hills that have eroded into otherworldly shapes. Set against the contrasting blue Qinghai skies and teal waters of the Yellow River, this is a lovely spot to spend an afternoon wandering and taking photos, or exploring the peculiar geology of this part of the Tibetan Plateau.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Qinghai

    Kanbula National Forest Park

    The desert scenery outside of Tongren comes to a pinnacle in this national park where flaming-red mountains meet the turquoise waters of a reservoir created by the damming of the Yellow River. A nervous-sweat-inducing road snakes up through the park’s peaks, past sleepy Tibetan villages and colourful prayer flags waving high on the wind.

  • Sights in Qinghai Lake

    Chaka Salt Lake

    Located 25km west of Qinghai Lake past Heimahe, this salt lake is a popular side trip for a stunning optical illusion that occurs between noon and 4pm daily where, on a clear day, you can capture amazing photographs of skies and people mirrored onto the lake's surface. In order to get the best portraits on the lake, wear something bright (yellow, blue and red are great). Black and grey are hipster cool but they don't show up very well in images.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Xining

    Tibetan Culture & Medicine Museum

    Exhibitions in the north hall focus on Tibetan medicine, astronomy and science. Many visitors come for the 618m-long thangka scroll in the south hall – the world’s longest – which charts most of Tibetan history. Completed in 1997, it’s not very old but it is unbelievably long and took 400 artists four years to complete. There's a decent amount of signage in English. A guided tour in English of the north hall is ¥200 and for the south hall it's ¥360.

  • Sights in Qinghai Lake

    Erlangjian Scenic Area

    The closest Qinghai Lake tourist spot to Xining, this site 150km west of town consists of a Chinese-style sightseeing village backing on to the shores of the lake. A long pier allows you to walk out over the calm waters, and on a clear day there are glorious views of the surrounding mountains and the huge sand dunes of Sand Island (沙岛, Shādǎo) on the far shore.

  • Sights in Yushu

    Princess Wencheng Temple

    Dedicated to the Tang dynasty Chinese Princess Wencheng, who was instrumental in converting her husband and Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, to Buddhism in the 7th century, this small, sacred and age-seasoned temple marks the spot where the princess (and possibly the king) paused for a month en route from Xi'an to Lhasa. It's said to be Qinghai's oldest Buddhist temple; the inner chapel contains a rock carving (supposedly self-arising) of Vairocana (Nampa Namse in Tibetan), the Buddha of primordial wisdom, which allegedly dates from the 8th century.

  • Sights in Qinghai

    Youning Monastery

    Well known throughout the Tibetan world, this 17th-century hillside monastery in the Huzhu Tuzu (互助土族, Hùzhù Tǔzú) Autonomous County is considered one of the greats of the Gelugpa order. The monastery lies at the edge of a forested valley, and many chapels perch wondrously on the sides of a cliff face. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore the entire picturesque area.

  • Sights in Qinghai

    Kumbum Monastery

    One of the great monasteries of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Kumbum Monastery was built in 1577 on hallowed ground – the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, founder of the sect. It’s of enormous historical significance, and hundreds of monks still live here, but the atmosphere can feel a bit overrun, perhaps because it’s such a big tourist draw. The artwork and architecture, however, remain impressive.

  • Sights in Maduo

    Zhaling & Eling Lakes

    Closed to sightseeing at the time of research, these lakes are the widely accepted source of the Yellow River, and most Chinese tourists drive or hire a vehicle to take them to níutóubēi (牛头碑), an engraved stone tablet that marks the 'source'. There’s nowhere to stay or eat, so most people visit as a day trip from Maduo. SUVs or minivans will take you to the lake and back for ¥800 to ¥1000 per vehicle (four to five hours return).

  • Sights in Tongren

    Wútún Sì

    This two-monastery complex is the place to head if you’re interested in Tibetan art. The Upper (Yango) Monastery (吾屯上寺, Wútún Shàngsì) is closest to Tongren, while the Lower (Mango) Monastery (吾屯下寺, Wútún Xiàsì) is larger and may offer the chance to see monks painting. The monks will show you around and you can usually ask to see a showroom or workshop. The resident artists are no amateurs – commissions for their thangka (scroll paintings) come in all the way from Lhasa.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Guide

    China Fortune Wheel

    This enormous, gold-plated Tibetan prayer wheel is turned with the aid of rushing water from the Yellow River. The prayer wheel is 27m tall, 10m in diameter and weighs 200 tonnes, earning it a spot in the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest prayer wheel. On a clear day it is quite a beautiful sight, positioned above a recently built rectangular pool of shimmering, sapphire water, with the line of sublime mountains behind and the Yellow River sandwiched between.

  • Sights in Yushu

    Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall

    Completely rebuilt after suffering extensive damage in the 2010 earthquake, this site is thought to be the world’s largest mani wall (piles of stones with Buddhist mantras carved or painted on them). Founded in 1715, the mani comprises an estimated 2.5 billion mantras, piled one on top of the other over hundreds of square metres. It’s an astonishing sight that (literally) grows as you circumambulate the wall with the pilgrims.

  • Sights in Qinghai Lake

    Bird Island

    This island (a peninsula, in fact) on China’s largest lake is the breeding ground for thousands of wild geese, gulls, cormorants, sandpipers, extremely rare black-necked cranes and other bird species. Perhaps the most interesting are the bar-headed geese that migrate over the Himalaya to spend winter on the Indian plains, and have been spotted flying at altitudes of 10,000m. In 2019 Bird Island was closed indefinitely to allow ecological regeneration, so check with your hotel to see if it has reopened.

  • Sights in Tongren

    Gomar Gompa

    Across the Gu-chu river valley from Wútún Sì is the mysterious 400-year-old Gomar Gompa, a charming monastery that resembles a medieval walled village. There are around 30 monks living in whitewashed mud-walled courtyards with a few temples you can visit. The huge chörten (Tibetan stupa) outside the monastery entrance was built in the 1980s and is the biggest in Amdo. You can climb it, but remember to always walk clockwise.

  • Sights in Qinghai

    Huzhu Beishan Forest National Park

    If you don't have time to explore further into the province, this exhilarating forest park in the foothills of the Qilian Mountains – at an elevation between 2200m to 4000m – will give you a taste of the range of landscapes that dwell within Qinghai. This is superb hiking territory, with forest panoramas, chilly waterfalls, shimmering lakes, sublime valleys, mountain panoramas, mountain goats and all the fecundity of nature. Your ticket includes a tourist car that you can hop on and off.

  • Sights in Xining

    Dongguan Grand Mosque

    As becomes quickly evident to even the most casual observer, about one-third of Xining’s population is Muslim, and although the city's biggest mosque may not be the prettiest, it’s one of the largest mosques in China and is certainly an imposing sight. Friday lunchtime prayers regularly attract 50,000 worshippers, who spill out onto the streets before and afterwards. And, during Ramadan (斋月), as many as 300,000 come here to pray, with police closing off the streets to traffic.

  • Sights in Tongren

    Lóngwù Dàsì

    Tongren’s main monastery is a huge and fascinating maze of renovated chapels and monks’ residences, dating from 1301. It’s a superb place to wander and explore, and you’ll need one or two hours. Your ticket includes entry into eight main halls, although you may be able to peek inside others, too. There are more than 500 resident monks, and every day dozens of them go into the courtyard outside the Hall of Bodhisattva Manjusri (文殊殿, Wénshū Diàn) to take part in animated, hand-clapping debates on Buddhist philosophy.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yushu

    Jyekundo Dondrubling Monastery

    First built in 1398, the Jyekundo Dondrubling Monastery suffered heavy damage from the 2010 earthquake (the main prayer hall was completely destroyed and a number of resident monks were killed). The monastery has since been rebuilt and it’s dramatically located on a ridge perched above town. It's a very active place: you may see young monks playing football. Hike up north into the hills above the temple to follow the clockwise kora through a huge encampment of prayer flags.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yushu

    Yushu Museum

    This huge and excellent museum is a must-see to put some of the region's history and culture into perspective, including informative and well-presented sections on the geography, rivers, fauna and flora as well as religious culture and folk history. Don't miss the fascinating photographic exhibition on the ground floor that catalogues the history of the local people by way of photographs reaching all the way back to the early 20th century and through the dark days of the Cultural Revolution.

  • Sights in Nangchen

    Gading Gompa

    Nestled on a piece of land within a horseshoe bend in the Dzichu River, Gading makes for one of the most stunning photos you could take in the region. The monastery itself is nothing special, but hike up the hill opposite for views across both sides of the valley. When you're done, pitch a tent and have a picnic along the river. The monastery is 15km from Nangchen (a car will cost ¥350 return).