Travel Guide Asia China Tibetan Autonomous Region Lhasa



Potala Palace West View

Potala Palace West View

© Lavafalls

Lhasa is a city of roughly 255,000 people and is at an altitude of approximately 3,650 metres (11,975 feet). Lhasa has a been an important religious center for Tibetans for over a thousand years. The city was not made into the political center of Tibet until the fifth Dalai Lama conquered Tibet in the 17th century. From that point on Lhasa became the political and spiritual center of the world for Tibetans. Today, Lhasa is the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as well as its largest city.



Sights and Activities


  • Norbulingka Palace was the summer palace of the Dalai Lama.
  • The Potala Palace used to be the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, that ruled Tibet, until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India. Construction at the sight started in 637, but the modern Palace was build by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who started its construction in 1645, after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel, pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government. As it is situated between the Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. The palace rises more than 300 meters above the valley, and consists of many parts, including the White and the Red Palace, many Chapels, and the Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. At the moment the palace serves as a museum. If you want to visit be aware that the number of visitors that can visit is limited. It is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


  • Barkhor is a large market that follows the kora (pilgrim circuit) around the Jokhang temple. The market continues down many of the side streets.


  • Drepung is the largest monastery university in Tibet located on the fringes of Lhasa;
  • Ganden is a large monastery university located outside of Lhasa at 4,750 metres above sea level;
  • Sera is a large monastery university located 7 kilometres from the city centre of Lhasa.


  • Jokhang is the spiritual center of Tibet Buddhism.

Surrounding Area

  • Namtso Lake is a stunning high altitude holy salt water lake a few hours north of Lhasa.



Events and Festivals

Tibetan New Year (Losar) is celebrated every year sometime between late January and late February. Losar can be very colorful in Lhasa as many nomads take a pilgrimage to the city during losar.

China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.

Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.

The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.




Lhasa has four distinct seasons. In the winter it is cold with the occasional heavy snowstorms. From December to February the average daytime temperatures are between 7 and 9 °C while nights average around -10 °C. During the spring it can be quite cold and wet with nights still around zero and days of 12 to 15 °C. The summer is the monsoon season and has frequent thunderstorms. Temperatures from June to September are mostly between 20 and 25 °C while nights are mostly around 9 °C. The fall can be nice but winter always comes early and nights in October are already just around zero. Average annual precipitation is just around 400mm of which over 50% falls during July (the wettest month at 122mm) and August.

Avg Max6.9 °C9 °C12.1 °C15.6 °C19.3 °C22.7 °C22.1 °C21.1 °C19.7 °C16.3 °C11.2 °C7.7 °C
Avg Min-10.1 °C-6.8 °C-3 °C0.9 °C5 °C9.3 °C10.1 °C9.4 °C7.5 °C1.3 °C-4.9 °C-9 °C
Rainfall0.5 mm0.7 mm2 mm5.2 mm26.6 mm72.3 mm119.4 mm122.6 mm58.3 mm10.2 mm1.7 mm1 mm
Rain Days0.



Getting There

By Plane

Lhasa Gonggar Airport (LXA) is located about 90 minutes west of town and served by regular buses that leave just in front of the CAAC office, where you can purchase air tickets, just east and north of the Potala Palace just off of Beijing Lu. The Lhasa airport has regular flights to Beijing, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Chengdu, Xi'an, Qamdo, and Chongqing. There are also international flights to Nepal.

By Train

Qinghai-Tibet Railway



© Tarri

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is one of the newest train services in the world, officially inaugurated on the 1st of July, 2006 with the opening of the last leg from Golmud. Officially called the Qingzang Railway, it travels from Xining in Qinghai province, China, to Lhasa. There are, however, other cities in China, where you can get on the train and travel directly to the Tibetan capital, including all the way from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and even Guangzhou. From Golmud, it's 1,142 kilometre, from Xining about 1,950 kilometres. The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 metres above sea level, is the world's highest rail track. The 1,338-metre-long Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905 metres above sea level. Over 80% of the Golmud-Lhasa train is at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres and there are oxygen supplies are available for each passsenger in the train, hopefully preventing altitude sickness. It is expected that new lines and branches will open, connecting Lhasa with other places like Nyinchi, Shigatse and Xigaze and even on to the border with Nepal. Some of the constructions have begun already and most of them will be completed before 2020. Rumors about extensions towards India and other Asian countries are not more than rumors!

The Lhasa train station is just outside of town but you can buy tickets from offices in the city. Buying tickets in the high season can be very difficult. There are trains to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi'an, Xining, Lanzhou and Golmud (Qinghai).

By Bus

The long distance bus station is located in the southwest section of the city at the intersection of Jinzhu Xilu and Minzu Lu. There are many daily buses to Golmud (Qinghai), 24 to 30 hours.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

  • Cycle rickshaws are everywhere, though be prepared to bargain.
  • Taxis cost ¥10 for anywhere in Lhasa city. Hail them from the side of the street. Be prepared for taxi-sharing - the driver will often pull over if he suspects he can find other passengers heading in the same direction. Each will pay ¥10 and this is a way for the driver to make a better income despite the standard fare.
  • Public buses are numerous and cost ¥1. Non-Chinese nationals are permitted to travel on the buses within the city, although you make yourself an attraction by doing so, since this rarely occurs. The number of the bus is recognizable but the destination is in Chinese, so you need to know which bus line you need.
  • Minibuses operate to areas such as Norbulingka, Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, and other nearby sites. Most of these are also on public bus lines.
  • "Pilgrim buses" are available in front of Jokhang Temple or at the parking lot near the temple, departing at 6-7AM for destinations outside Lhasa, such as Tsurphu Gompa, Ganden Gompa, Nyemo (Dazi), Phenpo Lhundrub (Linzhou), Meldro Gungkar (Mozhugongka), Chushul (Qushui), Taktse (Dazi), Gongkar (Gongga), and other nearby areas. Tickets are available at the ticket office at the parking lot or when you board the bus. Whether or not non-Chinese nationals can travel on these is a bit of a grey area. Since you have to have a travel guide with you anyway as a non-Chinese tourist, you can ask them to enquire about this, since it is a more interesting way to travel than always in a private Land Cruiser. However, the rules for organising tourist tours require advance planning, so you probably won't have this chance.

By Foot

Walking Beijing Lu is the main east west street in the city and easy to walk on.

By Bike

Bicycle hire is available from some hotels or cycle shops and it's a good way to explore if you have half a day free on your tour schedule. Pollution is not as bad as in many Chinese cities but driving habits are. The best tactic is to stick close to a local cyclist or cycle rickshaw when negotiating busy junctions.




There are several Chinese and western restaurant located around Beijing lu and the Jokhang. Every night at the intersection of Mentsikhang lu and Beijing lu BBQ vendors set up shop selling tasty meats and veggies.




Walking west east on Beijing Lu there are several western style bars and cafes. Ask hotel and guest house owners about local Tibetan discos which can be fun.





  • Snowlands Hotel is a standard budget hotel with basic dorms and doubles. Snowlands is located on Mentsikhang Lu in the direction of the Jokhang. This is the hotel most people are booked into for their first few nights if on a budget tour. There is also a good travel agency located in the hotel on the second floor.
  • Yak Hotel is located on Beijing Donglu near the Jokhang and is a great budget hotel with good dorms and very nice double rooms. There is also a nice western restaurant located right next door. The only downside is there are no reservations for dorm rooms.
  • Oh Dan Guesthouse is a small hotel located at No 15 Ramoche Lu.
  • Phuntsok Kasang International Youth Hostel is located in the center of downtown Lhasa. It's in the middle of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple. It's within 10 minutes walk to the three main spots. Lhasa's largest supermarket is just opposite the street. The hostel is a typical Tibetan courtyard in downtown area. Located behind the front buildings, the hostel enjoys its convenience but stays quiet and comfortable. (MSN: [email protected])


  • Lhasa Hotel is located at 1 People Road and is a little outside the city. This is the nicest hotel in the city and was the former Holiday Inn before the chain decided to move on.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)





  • Tibet University offers semester and year long classes on Tibetan Language, music and culture.



Keep Connected


Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.

Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.


See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.

When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.

If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.


China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 29.650499
  • Longitude: 91.132011

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