Visiting Lhasa Tibet

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Visiting Lhasa Tibet, our experiences. What’s Lhasa like? Things to do in Lhasa, places to see, points of interest and a travel blog on Lhasa Tibet today. With photos and video. Lhasa is a fascinating place, very much worth visiting.

Our Lhasa tour was part of a longer 8-day tour of Tibet. We travelled overland from Kathmandu and returned to Nepal by air from Lhasa airport. Lhasa itself was an incredible highlight not just of this Tibet tour, but of a lifetime of travel. I knew a lot, feared disappointment in visiting Lhasa today, and was ready for the worst but Lhasa did not disappoint in any way.

Lhasa Tibet
Lhasa Tibet, entering the Potala Palace

Our two days in Lhasa blew us away and we would return in a heartbeat. We hope you enjoy learning more about Lhasa, Tibet below, watch our short video, save to Pinterest and make it to Tibet yourselves one day.

Tibet Tour 2 Days in Lhasa Tibet
Tibetans make their kora around the city of Lhasa. This is common, normal, very Tibetan and you will see this often in Lhasa Tibet.

From here on in, this post on visiting Lhasa is written by D, my elder son. We have several other posts on our time in Tibet, just check the related content section at the end. Don’t forget to share to Pinterest. Thanks.

Lhasa Tibet

Lhasa Tibet today
Lhasa today. The golden roof of The Jokhang and Barkhor square is to the left. Taken from a rooftop bar and pizzeria.

Lhasa, Things to Do

We were in Lhasa for two days so our “things to do in Lhasa” list is a bit short. As well as the Lhasa destinations below, we really enjoyed wandering around old Lhasa, visiting shops, restaurants, and parks. It would be easy to spend much longer in Lhasa. The places of interest we visited in Lhasa included:

Lhasa City
View of Lhasa City from the Potala Palace
  • The Potala Palace
  •  The Summer Palace
  •  Jokhang Temple
  • Sera Monastery
  • The Barkhor

We had the time to set out on foot and explore Lhasa in the evenings and even attended a major festival which I thought was incredibly interesting. Lhasa, in general, was almost like a hybridisation between the old and new eras of this great city, the beliefs still ran deep through the streets but there was that modernness coating the city like new paint on an old house. You can feel that Lhasa is ancient and see it here and there, but elsewhere it is cloaked.

The Palaces, Temples, and Monasteries steeped in history were breathtaking and emotional sights to see. I can’t say too much of course, eyes are on you in Tibet, sometimes obviously so, but I can give you a taste of what to expect in modern Lhasa.

Lhasa Tibet Video

D made you this little video to give you a taste of Lhasa and Tibet.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa

Lhasa Tibet Potala Palace
My brother, his unicorn hat and the Potala Palace. The unicorn hat made it to Everest Base Camp too.

The Potala Palace was built in 1645 and is only 5 years younger than the Great Wall of China. At 3,700 meters above sea level it comes in as the highest palace on the planet and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Palace itself is split into two segments, the White Palace which housed the Tibetan government and the chambers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the winter.

The Red Palace holds the chapels and the mausoleums of the previous Dalai Lamas. When I went there I saw that it was seen as more than just a building but rather a monument to a people’s beliefs embedded within every shrine and painting.  

The Summer Palace in Lhasa – Norbulingka

Lhasa Tibet The Summer Palace Dalai Lhama's Home in Lhasa
The Summer Palace in Lhasa Tibet. This was where the Dalai Lama lived and was educated. Freezes on the walls show what he was to learn. This is the only place in modern Tibet where you will see an image of The Dalai Lama, it’s painted on the walls at The Summer Palace. Local Tibetan people are almost always in traditional dress.

Norbulingka or The Summer Palace was the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the governments of Tibet during the summer. The Palace consists of a large park (360,00 square meters) and the Palace itself.

The Summer Palace is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the place that His Holiness Departed from in 1959. Inside the palace, there is a painting of the 14th Dalai Lama as a young man on the plaster of a bedroom wall and it’s the only depiction of him you’re likely to see in Tibet.

The young Dalai Lama’s rooms were painted with Tibetan history, which he learned from his tutors, and the murals on these walls. They are still intact but no photography is allowed inside the Potala Palace, Summer Palace, and most monasteries we visited.

Lhasa Tibet tourists and locals
Lhasa Tibet Tibetan people
The Tibetans wanted to take photographs of us kids everywhere we went. This was at the Summer Palace – Norbulinka. No photographs are allowed inside most places in Tibet but there was one monastery where my mum paid to take photos. That post is coming soon.

Everywhere we went Tibetan people were interested and pleased to see us, and we ended up in a lot of photos. Pilgrims had come from every corner of Tibet to see Lhasa and there was fascinating diversity in their costumes, hairstyles, and jewellery. The two photos above were taken in the gardens of the Summer Palace.

Jokhang Temple, Lhasa Tibet

Lhasa Tibet Jokhang Temple
The man on the platform is distributing barley wine to the huge crowd inside the Jokhang for the festival we attended. We queued for 3 hours to get in. It was intense and we’ll give it a full post soon.

Jokhang Temple is a temple located in the center of Lhasa and is encircled by Bakhor Street and Square. It is the holiest place in Tibet for Buddhists and its construction started in the 7th century with enlargements over the next millennium.

The monastery was built to house important Buddhist statues and scripts that were bought from Nepal and China as parts of the kings’ dowries. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jokhang Temple itself inside festival Lhasa Tibet
More photos, more blessings as we queued to lay eyes on The Protector inside the Jokhang

When I visited it I thought it was one of the most beautiful places on the planet. you could feel the history oozing from the bones of the age-old house of belief.

We moved through The Jokhang as one with the stream of pilgrims, taking our turn to lay eyes on The Protector and receive blessings from the monks.

The Barkhor in Lhasa 

Old Lhasa Tour. Barkhor street and barkhor square with the Jokhang in the centre
Old and new in the old part of Lhasa. The Bharkor encircles the Jokhang temple and Tibetans still make their kora. Fancy lighting, extreme cleanliness and police presence bring you right up to date.

The Barkhor is a street that has surrounded Jokhang temple since its founding. Since its inception, Buddhist pilgrims would walk clockwise or prostrate themselves in a kora around the Barkhor, holding their prayer wheels and chanting.

Once again it’s the sheer belief of the people that brings this place to life.

Lhasa Tibet shops shopping souvenirs
Small shops selling religious items, clothing, snacks and trinkets are plentiful in Lhasa Tibet. There is also a modern shopping mall nearby.

Now, the street houses many shops and stalls where you can buy religious items, trinkets, jewellery, Tibetan clothing, some for souvenirs for international tourists, some for local visitors. The street marks the edge of a whirlpool of spiritual life that is sucked into the Jokhang.  

Sera Monastery Lhasa

Debating Tibetan Monks Sera Monastery Tibet
Monks debating at Sera Monastery, Lhasa Tibet

We already posted a full blog post on Sera Monastery and the monk’s debate. There’s no need to repeat myself so I’ll send you to that post, with video, of the debating and a second ceremony we were lucky enough to catch at Sera.

This was a huge highlight of our time in Tibet.

Sera is just outside the centre of Lhasa Tibet, a short bus ride away.

Where Did We Stay in Lhasa Tibet?

The hotel we stayed at in Lhasa was characterful, to say the least.

The hotel was situated near the Great Mosque of Lhasa in a street packed with Muslim traders. This was the only bad hotel we stayed in during our time in Tibet, most hotels were really good, either modern or beautifully decorated in Tibetan style.

We were a short walk from the Barkhor, there were a couple of police checkpoints around the city but they were aimed at locals, not so much at Western tourists.

The hotel rooms were not nice at this hotel, they were filthy and I don’t want to know what the source of the mold was. Many of our group complained about this hotel.

There are a lot of modern high-rise hotels on the outskirts of Lhasa.

What Was Our Tibet Tour Vehicle Like

Unlike the hotel in Lhasa the bus was incredibly modern and even the roads were nice and smooth. Driving conditions are good in modern Chinese Tibet 

Tibet Tour Highlights of Lhasa

Lhasa, a Destination of a Lifetime

Lhasa Tibet street food stall
Street food in Lhasa Tibet, Tibetan bread. We found some great restaurants in Lhasa and really enjoyed yak sizzlers, momo soup and chilli fries.

I found Lhasa and Tibet to be an amazing and beautiful trip. It wasn’t my favourite, but without a doubt it will be the one I will remember forever.

It’s not the kind of place you go to on a dainty little holiday but it will be my most emotional travel experience, the place has a depth to it, unlike any other country I have ever visited.

I don’t think that anything is going to trump the feeling of being submerged so deeply in culture, I wouldn’t give up that memory for anything. That’s my opinion and everyone should be able to formulate their own opinions through experience. 

A final word from me, Mum, my son wrote all of the above about Lhasa, and all opinions are his own. I’m amazed by how deeply he was touched by Tibet and this work of his just confirms what a great idea it was to travel the world with our kids. I’d like to say that Tibet was gut-wrenching, beautiful, harsh, and raw. It was a dream come true for me but hard on my younger son, he was just 11 when we visited. Do I recommend a tour of Lhasa Tibet? Yes, but be ready for what you will find, expect some hardships and know how to deal with altitude and acclimatisation in Tibet. We hope you found our post on Lhasa and the many things to do in Lhasa interesting. If we had to pick between Lhasa, Tibet as a whole, and Bhutan. Tibet wins, but Nepal is undoubtedly the easiest most travel-friendly destination nearby. We also have a full Tibet trip round up post, plus a post about food in Tibet. Now for some FAQs to add to this Lhasa travel blog.

Can Foreigners Visit Lhasa?

Yes, foreign tourists can visit Lhasa, but in order to do this they must obtain a Tibet Travel Permit from the Chinese government. It is easier to use an agent to get this permit and the process takes about 10 days. We were able to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit via our agent in Kathmandu.

We were Australian and British tourists, travelling with German nationals and American citizens. We were all able to enter Tibet without difficulty.

Independent travel in Tibet is not allowed, you can only visit Tibet as part of a tour group, with an approved guide. Guides may be Tibetan or Chinese, we’d suggest you try to find a Tibetan Guide. Guides speak good English.

What guides are allowed to say is heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. There are police and undercover security guards everywhere and sometimes we were obviously followed when visiting large tourist attractions, particularly the more controversial monasteries.

You must be very careful in what you pack for Tibet. No books, photographs, or any literature relating to The Dalai Lama are allowed into Tibet. Tibetan flags and material relating to the Chinese occupation is also not a good idea. Your bags will be searched and the offending material will be confiscated.

Border security was very thorough. Only take a carry-on bag if possible, and leave your main luggage at your hotel in Kathmandu if travelling this route. Many items are prohibited in Tibet.

You will hear a different official version of history and events from the Chinese than you will have heard in the West. Be ready to just go along with everything said. On the other hand, we saw Chinese police doing a very good job managing crowds at the festival in Lhasa.

How to Get to Lhasa?

You will need to fly to Kathmandu or a major city in China before catching a connecting flight to Lhasa Gonggar Airport, (LXA) Tibet, one of the highest airports on Earth. Lhasa Airport is at an altitude of 3,570 m, 11712.6 feet. For comparison, Lukla Airport in Nepal is at only 2,846m, 9,334 feet. You can also travel overland to Lhasa from Nepal.

Is Lhasa a “Forbidden City”

No, Lhasa is not The Forbidden City today and never has been. The Forbidden City is a palace complex in Beijing China, it still exists today and is a popular tourist attraction. We’ve been there, it is not forbidden to tourists today.

Is it Worth Visiting Lhasa Tibet?

Yes, Lhasa is an incredible place to visit. It is a deeply spiritual, historic, and sacred place blighted by controversy and pain. I found visiting Lhasa to be far more “real” than visiting Bhutan, another heavily controlled destination. I consider myself deeply privileged to have seen Lhasa for myself in order to gain an understanding of the situation today. You can never trust media reports fully, so going somewhere to see the reality with my own eyes is important to me. Lhasa was incredibly moving and emotional, it is part modern part ancient and it was not destroyed, as I have read elsewhere. It was astounding to actually be inside the Potala Palace and I’d love to spend more time in Lhasa. If you’d like to learn more about what living in Lhasa as an expat is like, read this book, as I did, some 20 years ago.

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About the author
D for World Travel Family
D is a very young writer and content creator just starting out for World Travel Family. He is a blogger, video editor, graphic designer and aspiring social media and YouTube ninja. He is home educated and is currently taking A Levels in Biology and History. Unlike most bloggers, he doesn't drink coffee. Like most teenagers, he loves gaming which made him an instantly awesome drone pilot and is largly responsible for his huge and imaginative vocabulary. Most videos on this site are his work.

17 thoughts on “Visiting Lhasa Tibet”

  1. Interesting blog, it reminds me of Barkhor Street. “Barkhor” in Tibetan means “Holy Path”, as it has been the pathway for pilgrims. I tried to write a blog about it, hope you also like it in

  2. Tibet and Lhasa both are super high on our list especially after seeing the Leh palace which is the replica of Potala Palace. And thanks for letting us know that is just 5 years younger than wall of China. Your son has written really well and have tried covering all details.

  3. The way you described Lhasa made me feel like I was there myself! There is so much to see there and experience! I would love to see the Summer Palace! xo – Kam

  4. I think perhaps “characterful” is the best word I’ve read to describe a hotel someone disliked. 🙂

    It sounds memorable, to say the least. I think I would enjoy visiting, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

    You should mention in the post that the only way to visit Lhasa is as part of a tour.

    • That hotel was the only bad one in Tibet, don’t be too put off! The majority of the hotels we used in Tibet were nice. One, in particular, was beautiful with traditional decor. Just that Lhasa one – Oh My Word!!

  5. Tibet is high on my wish list of places to see. I am so glad I have found this blog post as I have enjoyed reading every single sentence.
    I believe you D. when you say that Lhasa has a depth, unlike any other place you have visited. Hope to check Lhasa and Tibet off my list soon!

  6. This is such a neat post and such a wonderful text! It’s funny that people abroad always find kids even more fascinating than adults and want to take pictures – it happened to me when I was travelling with my little daughter – people seemed always totally mesmerized.

  7. Great job on the post, D! You have a wonderful storytelling gift and a way with words. Lhasa wasn’t on my list but after reading your post I’m intrigued.

  8. Your images are striking. The one of the monks debating at Sera Monastery is powerful. How wonderful that your son wrote the post. It is clear that Lhasa made a deep impression on him. I’d really love to see the Summer Palace and learn more about the history. I’d love to take this Lhasa tour at some point. Great article.

  9. The Jokhang was one of the most beautiful places on the planet… Wow, lofty words. When you can get that kind of engagement and connection from your kids, it makes travel all worthwhile. It sounds like they had a memorable experience.

    • Yep. I’m actually surprised he said that when he’s been to so many other places and we were in the midst of thousands of people for the festival. But his call!

  10. So much history in Tibet. I would love to see the Dalai Lama’s summer palace. Sera Monastery looks just how I would imagine it

  11. This is amazing – how wonderful to have exposed D to so much of the world. It really is reflected in his writing. Lhasa sounds sometimes confronting and harsh… but I think it’s good to experience these in measures. I was amazed to learn that Potala Palace is only 5 years younger than the Great Wall!

    • Thank you Hannah – D is still in bed – typical teenager – or I’d get him to respond. The Potala Palace started as little more than a sacred cave, structures grew around it. We went inside, right back to that original part. I will do a full post on the Potala Palace and all of the places above in time. No photos were allowed inside and they say the Chinese will close it from next year. As it was visits were strictly controlled and every word listened to. We feel incredibly priveledged to have been and learned so much.

  12. Wow D, this is some very good writing – I like the images you used (the cloaked painting metaphor just gets us all there with you!)
    I like the balance between your personal opinion and objective info.
    As you didn’t like your hotel, where would you recommend us to stay?

    • You have no choice Talitha, you have to book a tour. There’s no other way to do it. Maybe a more expensive tour, but this one was thousands of dollars.


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