Must see attractions in Tibet

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gyantse

    Gyantse Kumbum

    Commissioned by a local prince in 1427 and sitting beside Palcho Monastery, Gyantse Kumbum is the town’s foremost attraction. This 32m-high chörten, with its white layers trimmed with decorative stripes and crown-like golden dome, is awe-inspiring. But the inside is no less impressive, and in what seems an endless series of tiny chapels you’ll find painting after exquisite painting ( kumbum means ‘100,000 images’). It costs a worthwhile ¥10 for photos (not included in the ticket, bring cash).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Samye

    Samye Monastery

    About 170km southeast of Lhasa, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River) is Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet. Founded in 775 by King Trisong Detsen, Samye is famed not just for its pivotal history but for its unique mandala design: the Main Hall, known as Ütse, represents Mt Meru, the centre of the universe, while the outer temples represent the oceans, continents, subcontinents and other features of the Buddhist cosmology.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lhasa

    Potala Palace

    The magnificent Potala Palace, once the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, is Lhasa's cardinal landmark. Your first sight of its towering, fortress-like walls is a moment you'll remember for years. An architectural wonder even by modern standards, the palace rises 13 storeys from 130m-high Marpo Ri (Red Hill) and contains more than 1000 rooms. Pilgrims and tourists alike shuffle open-mouthed through the three storeys, past the dozens of magnificent chapels, golden stupas and prayer halls.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lhasa

    Jokhang Temple

    The 1300-year-old Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibet: the continuous waves of awestruck pilgrims prostrating themselves outside are a testament to its timeless allure. The central golden Buddha image here is the most revered in all of Tibet.

  • Sights in Lhasa

    Sera Monastery

    About 5km north of Lhasa, Sera was founded in 1419 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa as one of Lhasa's two great Gelugpa monasteries. About 600 monks are now in residence, down from an original population of around 5000. The half-dozen main colleges feature spectacular prayer halls and chapels. Equally interesting is the monk debating that takes place from 3pm to 5pm in a garden near the assembly hall. Don't miss the fine, hour-long kora (pilgrim circuit) around the exterior of the monastery.

  • Sights in Lhasa

    Drepung Monastery

    Along with Sera and Ganden Monasteries, Drepung functioned as one of the three 'pillars of the Tibetan state', and it was purportedly the largest monastery in the world, with around 7000 resident monks at its peak. Drepung means 'rice heap', a reference to the white buildings dotting the hillside. The 1½-hour kora (pilgrim circuit) around the 15th-century monastery, 8km west of Lhasa, is among the highlights of a trip to the city.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Everest Region

    Everest Base Camp

    Everest Base Camp (5150m) was first used by the 1924 British Everest expedition. Tourists are no longer allowed to visit the climbing expedition base camp, so most people have their photo taken at the ‘Mt Qomolangma Base Camp’ marker instead. In February 2019 Tibet's Everest Base Camp was closed to all visitors to allow for continued clean-up and environmental restoration efforts, begun in 2018 with the removal of 8 tonnes of garbage. The climbers' base camp reopened in mid-2019 for those with climbing permits, and a new camp for non-climbing tourists has been put into operation beside Ronghpu Monastery, where the mountain views are essentially the same as those from the previous tourist camp. Tour vehicles are now allowed only as far as the new Everest Base Camp tourist centre in the Tibetan village of Chödzom, where travellers must change for government-managed eco-friendly buses (¥120 round-trip) for the remaining 20km to Ronghpu Monastery.

  • Sights in Darchen & Mt Kailash

    Mt Kailash

    Sacred Mt Kailash dominates the landscape of western Tibet through both its unique geographical allure and its sacred, metaphysical role as the religious focus of a billion people. Pilgrims show their devotion by walking around the mountain in three days; for nonbelievers it is simply one of Asia's classic treks.

  • Sights in Lhasa

    Red Palace

    You start the tour of the main Potala building from the top and descend through the bowels of the building to exit on the ground floor. The gilded buddhas, intricate mandalas and towering funeral stupas you pass en route rank as the highlights of the Potala.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shigatse

    Tashilhunpo Monastery

    One of the few monasteries in Tibet to weather the stormy seas of the Cultural Revolution, Tashilhunpo remains relatively unscathed. It is a pleasure to explore the cobbled lanes twisting around its aged buildings. Covering 70,000 sq metres, the monastery is now the largest functioning religious institution in Tibet – home to around 950 monks – and one of its great monastic sights. The huge golden statue of the Future Buddha is the largest gilded statue in the world.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Samye

    Ütse

    The central building of Samye, the Ütse comprises a unique synthesis of architectural styles. The ground and 1st floors were originally Tibetan in style, the 2nd floor was Chinese and the 3rd floor Khotanese. The corner parapets with green and gold dorje (thunderbolt) designs are also unique. There's a lot to see here, so budget a couple of hours and carry a torch (flashlight) for the darker spaces.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sakya

    Sakya Monastery

    The immense, grey, thick-walled southern monastery is one of Tibet’s most impressive constructed sights, and one of the largest monasteries – home to about 200 monks. Established in 1268, it was designed defensively, with watchtowers on each corner of its high walls. Inside, the dimly lit hall exudes a sanctity and is on a scale that few others can rival. Morning is the best time to visit as most chapels are closed over the lunch period.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tsurphu Valley

    Tsurphu Monastery

    Tsurphu has four main buildings and you could easily spend half a day here – longer if you plan to do the excellent outer kora (pilgrim circuit). If you're short on time, concentrate on the large central assembly hall and the upstairs former living quarters of the Karmapa. Completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the current structures date back from 1982 and reconstruction is ongoing. The monastery is home to 370 monks, with around 50 more living in seclusion in the surrounding mountains.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Drepung Monastery

    Main Assembly Hall

    The main assembly hall, or Tsogchen, is the principal structure in the Drepung complex and is the one chapel you must not miss. The hall is reached through an entrance on the western side, just past a wonderful medieval-looking kitchen, whose hot-tub-sized cauldrons and giant ladles look like props from the film The Name of the Rose. The butter-tea churner alone is 6ft tall.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Samye

    Chim-puk Hermitage

    Chim-puk Hermitage is a collection of cave shrines northeast of Samye that grew up over the centuries around the meditation retreat of Guru Rinpoche. Chim-puk's Tantric practitioners were once famed for their ability to protect fields from hailstorms. It is a popular excursion for travellers overnighting at Samye. Make sure your agency knows in advance that you want to visit or you'll have to haggle over the return 20km trip.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tsaparang

    Lhakhang Marpo

    This large building was constructed around 1470. The beautiful murals were repainted around 1630, shortly before the fall of the Guge kingdom. The original chapel door, with its concentric frames and carvings of bodhisattvas, elephants and the syllables of the 'om mani padme hum' (‘hail to the jewel in the lotus’) mantra in six panels, has survived and is also worth close inspection.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bayi

    Lamaling Temple

    The centerpiece of a large walled complex, the colourful Lamaling Temple is a rare example of the Zangtok Pelri style of building. This style, which imitates the 'Glorious Copper Mountain Paradise' of Guru Rinpoche with a three-storey pagoda-like temple, is unique to the Nyingma order. As with all such temples, the ground floor has a statue of Guru Rinpoche, the second Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara), while the top chapel is for Sakyamuni.

  • Sights in Gyantse

    Palcho Monastery

    The high red-walled compound in the far north of Gyantse houses Palcho Monastery, founded in 1418. The main assembly hall is of greatest interest, but there are several other chapels to see. There’s a small but visible population of 80 monks and a steady stream of prostrating, praying, donation-offering pilgrims doing the rounds almost any time of the day.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yarlung Valley

    Tradruk Monastery

    Dating back to the 7th-century reign of Songtsen Gampo, Tradruk is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Tibet. It was founded at the same time as Lhasa's Jokhang and Ramoche to act as one of Tibet’s demoness-subduing temples (Tradruk pins down the demoness’s left shoulder). In order to build the monastery here, Songtsen Gampo had first to take the form of a hawk (tra) in order to overcome a local dragon (druk), a miracle that is commemorated in the monastery’s name.

  • Sights in Sera Monastery

    Sera Me College

    Follow the pilgrims clockwise, past the Tsangba Kangtsang and Tsowa Kangtsang residential halls and several minor buildings, to Sera Me College. This college dates back to the original founding of the monastery.