We’ve compiled the best of the best in Tibet - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Ganden Monastery

    If you have time for only one side trip from Lhasa, this rambling monastery with ocher-colored walls is your best bet. It was established in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect, and its abbot is chosen on merit rather than heredity. Of the six great Gelugpa monasteries, Ganden was the most seriously damaged by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. Since the early 1980s, Tibetans have put tremendous effort into rebuilding the complex; some 300 monks are now in residence. Pilgrims come daily from Lhasa to pay homage to the sacred sites and religious relics. The monastery comprises eight major buildings. The most impressive structure is the Gold Tomb of Tsongkhapa (Serdhung Lhakhang) in the heart of the complex, easily recognized by the recently built white chorten, or small shrine, standing before the red building. On the second floor is the chapel of Yangchen Khang, with the new golden chorten of Tsongkhapa. The original from 1629, made of silver and later gilded, was the most sacred object in the land. In 1959 the Chinese destroyed it, although brave monks saved some of the holy relics of Tsongkhapa, which are now inside the new gold-covered chorten. Be careful walking around this shrine: the buttery wax on the floor is thick and slippery. A path that circumambulates the monastery starts from the parking lot. From the path, which leads to the spot where Tsongkhapa was cremated in 1419, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the Lhasa River Valley. You'll need about an hour to complete the circuit. Photo permits cost Y20 extra.

    Tibet–Sichuan Hwy., Lhasa, Tibet, 856750, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y45, Daily 9–4
  • 2. Jokhang Temple

    This temple is the most sacred building in Tibet. From the gentle flicker of a butter-lamp light dancing off antique murals, statues, tapestries, and thangkhas (scroll paintings) to the air thick with incense and anticipation as thousands of Tibetans pay homage day and night, the temple contains a plethora of sensory delights. Most likely built in 647 during Songtsen Gampo's reign, the Jokhang stands in the heart of the Old Town. The site was selected by Queen Wengcheng, a princess from China who became Songtsen Gampo's second wife. His first wife, Princess Bhrikuti from Nepal, financed the building of Jokhang. In her honor, and in recognition of Tibet's strong reliance on Nepal, the Jokhang's main gate faces west, toward Nepal. Among the bits remaining from the 7th century are the four door frames of the inner temple, dedicated to different deities. Remember that photos are not allowed inside the buildings without a Y90 photo permit.Over the centuries, renovations have enlarged the Jokhang to keep it the premier temple of Tibet. Its status was threatened in the 1950s when the Chinese Army shelled it and the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution ransacked it. During this period, the temple was used for various purposes, including as a pigsty. Much of the damage has since been repaired, but a portion of it has been lost forever.Before entering the Inner Jokhang, you should walk the Nangkhor Inner Circuit in a clockwise direction. It's lined with prayer wheels and murals depicting a series of Buddhist scenes. Continue on to the large Entrance Hall, whose inner chapels have murals depicting the wrathful deities responsible for protecting the temple and the city. Straight ahead is the inner sanctum, the three-story Kyilkhor Thil, some of whose many columns probably date from the 7th century, particularly those with short bases and round shafts.The chapels on the ground floor of the Kyilkhor Thil are the most rewarding. The most revered chapel of the inner hall is Jowo Sakyamuni Lhakhang, opposite the entrance. Inside rests a bejeweled statue of Jowo Rinpoche—representing the Buddha at age 12—surrounded by adoring disciples. It was brought to Tibet by Queen Wengcheng and somehow has survived, despite a history of being plastered over and buried in sand. On busy days you may wait in line to enter this shrine, but it's worth it. On the second floor there are a number of small chapels, although many are closed to visitors. Before you leave, climb the stairs next to the main entrance up to the Jokhang's ornately decorated golden roof. You'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Barkhor, the Potala Palace, and the snowcapped mountains beyond Lhasa.

    Barkhor, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y85, Daily 7–noon and 3–6:30, but tourists can visit only in the afternoon
  • 3. Pelkor Chode Monastery

    One of the few multidenominational monastic complexes in Tibet—housing Gelugpa, Sakyapa, and Bupa monks—Pelkor Chode is home to the Gyantse Kumbum. Built in 1427, this building's glittering golden dome and four sets of spellbinding eyes rising over uniquely tiered circular architecture make it one of the most beautiful in Tibet. Inside there are six floors, each a labyrinth of small chapels adorned with Nepalese-influenced murals and statues. A steep ladder at the rear of the fifth floor provides access to the roof. Impressive in itself, you'll appreciate this complex even more after you've seen it from the heights of Gyantse Dzong.

    Northwest end of Pelkor Lu, Gyantse, Tibet, 857500, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y60, Daily 9–7
  • 4. Potala Palace

    The awesome sight that is the Potala Palace is quite rightly considered a wonder of the world. However, virtually nothing remains of the original 11-story Potala Palace, built in 637 by Songtsen Gampo. What you see today is a 17th-century replacement. The Fifth Dalai Lama, anxious to reestablish the importance of Lhasa as the Tibetan capital, employed 7,000 workers and 1,500 artisans to resurrect the Potala Palace on the 7th-century foundation. The portion called the White Palace was completed in 1653. The Red Palace was not completed until 1694, 12 years after the Dalai Lama's death (which was kept secret by the regent in order to prevent interruption of the construction). The Potala Palace has been enlarged since then, and has been continually renovated. Once the headquarters of Tibet's theocracy, the vast complex is now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage site.The Potala Palace was the world's tallest building before the advent of modern skyscrapers. Towering above the city from the slopes of Mount Marpori, the structure is 384 feet high; its 1,000 rooms house some 200,000 images. The outer section, the White Palace, was the seat of government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lama until 1951. Inside you can pass through the Dalai Lama's spartan quarters. On either side of the palace are the former offices of the government. The Red Palace, looming above the White Palace, is filled with murals that chronicle Buddhist folklore and ancient Tibetan life. Interspersed among the chapels are eight spectacular tombs covered in nearly five tons of gold. These bejeweled rooms contain the remains of the Fifth through 13th Dalai Lamas.Only 2,300 visitors are allowed in each day. Your ticket allows you up to 90 minutes at the site. To limit the number of visitors, starting in 2012 the ticket price almost doubled. The legions of Chinese soldiers don't take kindly to being photographed. If they spot you taking pictures in their direction, they're likely to approach and want to see your camera.

    35 Beijing Zhong Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: May–Oct., Y200; Nov.–Apr., Y100, May–Oct., daily 8–4; Nov.–Apr., daily 8:30–3
  • 5. Sera Monastery

    This important Gelugpa monastery, founded in 1419, contains numerous temples filled with splendid murals and icons. Originally it was a hermitage for Tsongkhapa and a few of his top students. Within a couple hundred of years it housed more than 5,000 monks. On the clockwise pilgrimage route, start at the two buildings that will take up most of your visit. Sera Me Tratsang, founded in 1419, has a dukhang (assembly hall) rebuilt in 1761 with murals depicting Buddha's life. Among the five chapels along the north wall, the one with its exterior adorned with skeletons and skulls is unforgettable. The complex's oldest surviving structure, Ngagpa Tratsang, is a three-story college for tantric studies. Here you'll find statues of famous lamas and murals depicting paradise. Continue to the four-story-high Sera Je Tratsang, where Manjashuri, the God of Wisdom, listens to monks engaged in philosophical debate in a courtyard just beyond the temple walls. The extremely animated debates—during which emphatic hand movements signify agreement or disagreement—take place daily starting at 3 am. Whatever your feelings are about the excitement of debates, this is one you don't want to miss.

    At the base of Mt. Phurbuchok, Lhasa, Tibet, 850005, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y50, Daily 9–5
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  • 6. Ani Tsangkung Nunnery

    This small, colorful convent has a livelier atmosphere than what you'll find at Lhasa's monasteries. Beaming nuns encourage you to wander through the courtyards, listen to their chanting, and watch them make ornamental butter flowers. There's a simple outdoor restaurant—popular at lunchtime—where nuns serve up inexpensive bowls of noodles and momos (dumplings). The chief pilgrimage site is the meditation hollow where Songtsen Gampo concentrated his spiritual focus on preventing the flood of the Kyi River in the 7th century. You're free to take photos here without charge—an option not available at many monasteries.

    Linkuo S Alley, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y40, Daily 8–5:30
  • 7. Barkhor

    Circling the walls of the Jokhang Temple, the Barkhor is not only Tibetan Buddhism's holiest pilgrimage circuit but also the best spot in Lhasa for people-watching. Look for monks sitting before their alms bowls while the faithful constantly spin their prayer wheels. Unless you want to shock the devout with your blatant disregard for tradition, flow with the crowd in a clockwise direction. This wide pedestrian street is also souvenir central, crammed with stalls where vendors sell prayer shawls, silver jewelry, wall hangings, and just about anything that screams "I've been to Tibet!" Don't even think about paying what the vendors ask; many of the items can easily be bargained down to less than a quarter of the original price.

    Bakuo St., Lhasa, Tibet, China
  • 8. Drepung Monastery

    The largest of the Gelugpa monasteries was the residence for lesser lamas. Founded in 1416, it was enlarged in the 16th century by the Second Dalai Lama. By the era of the Fifth Dalai Lama it had become the largest monastic institution in the world, with 10,000 residents. During the Cultural Revolution it suffered only minimally, because the Army used the building as its headquarters and therefore didn't ransack it as much as other temples. The monastery was reopened in 1980, although the number of resident monks has been severely depleted. The monastery's most important building is the Tshomchen, whose vast assembly hall, the Dukhang, is noteworthy for its 183 columns, atrium ceiling, and ceremonial banners. Chapels can be found on all three floors, as well as on the roof. In the two-story Buddhas of Three Ages Chapel (Düsum Sangye Lhakhang), at the rear of the Dukhang on the ground floor, the Buddhas of past, present, and future are each guarded by two bodhisattvas.

    Southern slope of Genpeiwuzi Mountain, Lhasa, Tibet, 850010, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y55, Daily 9–1 (afternoon often closed to visitors)
  • 9. Gyantse Dzong

    In the 14th and 15th centuries Gyantse rose to political power along with the rise of the Sakyapa monastic order. To get an idea of the amount of construction during this period, make the steep 20-minute climb to the top of this old fortress on the northern edge of town. The building isn't in great shape, but you'll be treated to staggering views of the town and the surrounding Nyang Chu Valley. Signs reading "Jump Off Cliff" aren't making a suggestion, but pointing to the location where Tibetan warriors jumped to their deaths rather than surrender to British troops in 1904. The best way to see everything here is to wind around the fortress clockwise toward the top, using the long concrete staircase to descend. Be careful, as there's a slippery bit of concrete at the bottom of the stairs. The Anti-British Imperialist Museum, just inside the front gate, is worth a visit for a distorted yet amusing account of the British invasion, sprinkled with obvious propaganda.

    North end of Yingxiong Lu, Gyantse, Tibet, 857500, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y40, Daily 9–6:30
  • 10. Kundeling Monastery

    This monastery is often overlooked by tourists, so it's less crowded than others around Lhasa. If you arrive in the morning, climb to a second-floor chapel to see monks chanting, beating drums, and playing long bronze prayer trumpets. This temple also contains examples of sand painting, in which millions of colorful grains of sand are arranged in a complex pattern over the course of hours or even days.

    Beijing Zhong Lu and Deji Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y10, Daily 9–8
  • 11. Muslim Quarter

    In perhaps the most Buddhist of cities, the Muslim Quarter—centered on Lhasa's Great Mosque—is a bit of an anomaly. The district was originally intended for immigrants arriving from Kashmir and Ladakh. The Great Mosque (Da Qingzhen Si) with its green minaret was completed in 1716, but very little of the original structure remains. The area is now primarily of interest for its distinct atmosphere, thanks to its Hui Muslim residents and the large concentration of pork-free halal restaurants.

    Lingkor Nan Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China
  • 12. Nechung Monastery

    Many people skip this 12th-century monastery, but that's a big mistake. With a strong focus on beasts, demons, and the afterlife, Nechung is unlike anything else you'll see in Tibet. Murals on the monastery's walls depict everything from humans being dismembered by dogs and vultures to demons wearing long belts of human skulls and engaged in passionate sexual intercourse. Until 1959 this monastery was home to the highly influential Nechung Oracle. Every important decision by a Dalai Lama is made after consulting this oracle, which currently resides in Dharamsala as a member of the government-in-exile. The monastery is 1 km (½ mile) southeast of Drepung Monastery.

    Off Beijing Xi Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850010, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y25, Daily 9–4
  • 13. Norbulingka Palace

    The Seventh Dalai Lama (1708–57), a frail man, chose to build a summer palace on this site because of its medicinal spring, and later moved his whole government here from the Potala Palace. Successive Dalai Lamas expanded the complex, adding additional palaces, a debating courtyard, a pavilion, a library, and a number of landscaped gardens, which are at their best in summer months. The most recent addition, built by the current Dalai Lama between 1954 and 1956, is an ornate two-story building containing his private quarters. It turned out to be the place from which, disguised as a soldier, he fled to India on March 17, 1959, three days before the Chinese massacred thousands of Tibetans and fired artillery shells into every building in the complex. The repair work in the aftermath of the March 1959 uprising is not of high caliber, and much of Norbulingka feels run-down. That said, a collection of the Dalai Lama's carriages and automobiles housed in the Changsam Palace are worth a look. More fascinating are the personal effects of the current Dalai Lama housed in the New Summer Palace, including his radio and phonograph. You can even peek into the Dalai Lama's bathroom. No photos are allowed inside, unfortunately. There is also a small zoo full of pitiable animals, which is worth avoiding.

    21 Luobulingka Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: May–Oct., Y80; Nov.–Apr.,Y60, Mon.–Sat. 9–12, 3–6
  • 14. Palha Lupuk Temple

    Religious rock paintings dating from as early as the 7th century can be seen at this grotto-style temple. On the third floor you'll find an entrance to a cave with sculptures carved into the granite walls, mostly by Nepalese artists more than a millennium ago. Very few tourists visit, so if you're looking to escape the crowds, head here.

    Beijing Zhong Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y20, Daily 9–8
  • 15. Ramoche Temple

    This temple was founded by Queen Wengcheng at the same time as the Jokhang Temple. Its three-story structure dates from the 15th century. Despite restorations in the 1980s, it lost much of its former grandeur after the Chinese used it to house the Communist Labor Training Committee during the Cultural Revolution. The Ramoche Temple was intended to house the most revered statue of Jowo Rinpoche. A threat of a Chinese invasion in the 7th century induced Queen Wengcheng to hide the statue in the Jokhang Temple. Some 50 years later it was rediscovered and placed within the Jokhang Temple's main chapel. As a substitute, Jokhang reciprocated with a Nepalese statue of Jowo Mikyo Dorje—representing Buddha as an eight-year-old—richly layered in gold and precious stones. It was decapitated during the Cultural Revolution and its torso lost in Beijing. Both head and body were found in 1984, put back together again, and placed in a small chapel at the back of the Ramoche Temple's inner sanctum. Be sure to climb to the temple's roof for a spectacular view of the Potala Palace perched high above the rooftops of Lhasa.

    Xiao Zhao Si Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y20, Daily 9–5
  • 16. Rongbuk Monastery

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    You can visit the world's highest monastery, Rongbuk Monastery, on your way to Base Camp. There were once 500 monks living here, but now there are only 20 monks and 10 nuns, who delight in the company of visitors. It is 8 km (5 miles) along a dirt road from the monastery to Base Camp. The 15-minute drive from the monastery is no longer officially allowed, but plenty of jeeps get through with a little cajoling and perhaps a bit of cash. It's more thrilling, however, to make the three-hour walk, even if it is just to say that you trekked the Everest region. Horse-drawn carts are also available for Y30 per person one way, making the trip in about an hour.

    Zhufeng Rd., Everest Base Camp, Tibet, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y35
  • 17. Tashilhunpo Monastery

    One of the six great Gelugpa institutions, this monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lama and one of the few religious sites in Tibet not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The Chapel of Maitreya houses an 85-foot-high statue of the Future Buddha—the largest in the world—covered with 600 pounds of gold. More than 1,000 more images are painted on the surrounding walls. You will also be able to visit the Panchen Lama tombs, many of which are lined with photos and sculptures of their later reincarnations. The beautiful stupa of the 10th Panchen Lama, built in 1990 after his death in 1989, is topped with a remarkable likeness of his unmistakable fat, jocular face done in pure gold. As this is the largest functioning monastery in Tibet, the police presence can be a bit heavy at times, especially since the 2008 riots. Refrain from discussing politics or the Dalai Lama. Camera fees are Y75 per temple. Don't try to take unauthorized photos, as monks here have been known to manhandle those unwilling to pay for a snapshot.

    7 Jijilangka Rd., Shigatse, Tibet, 857000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Y80, Daily 9–5 (closed to tourists noon–2)
  • 18. Tibet Museum

    For the Chinese interpretation of Tibetan history, politics, and culture, visit this modern museum. The Y20 personal audio guide provides commentary on important pieces from prehistoric times, Chinese dynasties, and traditional Tibetan life. If you are a scholar of history, you may find some of the explanations intriguing. It often hosts temporary Tibetan art exhibitions.

    Corner of Luobulingka Lu and Minzu Nan Lu, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Tues.–Sun. 9–1 and 2–6

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