Best things to do in Lhasa
Find out more about those top places in Lhasa
Perched on the roof of the world, Lhasa is the capital of the fiercely autonomous region of Tibet, which today still considers itself under Chinese occupation. Undoubtedly China’s hidden gem, the Tibetan capital, which is also the center of the Buddhist religion, is lorded over by the vast Potala Palace that sits astride Red Hill. While the palace, formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, is undoubtedly Lhasa’s premier attraction, the alluring Jokhang Temple and Sera Monastery are equally enchanting. Today, the city’s medieval core of winding alleyways and whitewashed buildings remains remarkably intact despite the continual encroachment of the booming Chinese metropolis sprouting up around it. What is more, Lhasa remains the most accessible gateway to the Himalayan Mountains and is within striking distance of iconic Mount Everest and the rugged Nepalese border.
Once the home of the Dalai Lama (who now resides over the Indian side of the Himalaya’s in exile) and seat of the Tibetan government, today the 1000 room Potala Palace is Lhasa’s premier landmark and an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Sitting astride Red Hill, the fortress-like complex contains various individual palaces, including those used by the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas, alongside numerous temples. Due to the high numbers of visitors, the palace can only be explored as part of a guided tour.
Constructed over 1300 years ago, the Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Exploring the vast gold-clad complex is one of Lhasa’s most memorable experiences as you will rub shoulders with countless awe-struck pilgrims who have traveled from across the globe and be enthralled by the burning incense and ringing prayer bells.
Located in the mountains around 5 kilometers north of Lhasa lies Sera Monastery, which was founded in the 14th century. Today the monastery is home to around 700 red-robed monks although the complex can accommodate an astounding 5000 people. For the best experience, arrive in the afternoon so you can catch the monks debating, which takes place in the evenings, and explore the kora (pilgrim’s walk) around the outside of the monastery.
From Sera Monastery hop in a short taxi to Pabonka, the Lhasa area’s most ancient Buddhist place of worship. Founded in the 7th century, the monastery is today overlooked by most visitors and pilgrims to Tibet and remains a hidden gem. Despite this, it has numerous sites of world-class significance, including the Rigsum Gonpo Temple, the Podrang and the Palden Lhamo Cave.
Lhasa sits on the roof of the world and is within striking distance of the world’s most iconic mountain range, the Himalayas. Regular tours from the city take you to breathtaking natural wonders, including the inland-sea of Lake Namtso and even the base-camp of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. Tours of the Himalayas are best done over the course of multiple days, as it can take time to acclimatize to the altitude.
Some 50 kilometers east of Lhasa lies Ganden Monastery, which was founded in 1417 as the first Gelugpa Buddhist place of worship. While the monastery itself is filled with the usual highlights of Buddhist temples, the real draw of Ganden is its jaw-dropping kora walks that offer astounding views of the Kyi-Chu Valley and the nearby Himalayan peaks.
While many of Lhasa’s big name temples throng with pilgrims and tourists, those at Meru Nyinba Monastery offer an insight into how regular Tibetans worship. Founded in the 7th century, the monastery is perfect for people watching and exploring its many temples is a perfect way to immerse yourself in authentic Tibetan culture.