Although it has been a few years since I traveled overland to Tibet and Nepal, I think about Tibet on a regular basis. My experiences in Tibet are edged in my memory and they pop up at any random occasion. And I don’t mind at all. I jotted down my favorite memories and the things to do in Tibet. Is Tibet on your bucket list? No idea what you can see or do in Tibet? Check my list below and be inspired!
#1. Travel by train to Tibet
As you know by now, I love train travel. The opening of the Qinghai–Tibet Railway was the root of my initial plan to travel overland to Tibet and Nepal. Leaving Beijing and traveling through China onwards to the Tibetan plateau by train is a remarkable experience. The mountains outside the train windows get taller and taller, the landscape becomes harsh.
There are a few options to get off the train and walk around at the highest train station in the world before the lack of oxygen forces you to take it easy. After 2 days on the train, you’ll arrive at the modern High-Tec Lhasa train station and wonder where the traditional Tibet is!
Things to do in Lhasa – Tibet
Most people will arrive in Tibet and come to Lhasa. As the capital of Tibet, it is truly a unique place and you have to spend several days in Lhasa. Roam the streets, get lost and take in the smells and sounds of this amazing city. Although the city is changing, you can find traditional Tibetan life everywhere in this expanding city. Below are my top recommendations for what you can do in Lhasa.
#2. See the Potala Palace in Lhasa
Once you go to Lhasa city center, you’ll see more traditional Tibetan houses and people. One of the highlights of a visit to Tibet is the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The red-white palace of the Dalai Lama is a sturdy landmark in the skyline of Lhasa. I doubted for a few moments if I should go in or not.
As the Dalai Lama lives in exile, the palace is governed by the Chinese that doesn’t do justice to the once spiritual character of the place. I did go in and although the climb up the Potala Palace is (quite literally) breathtaking, the interior is dead. There is no spirit or vibe inside.
Nevertheless, a visit to the Potala Palace must be one of the things to do in Tibet as it is iconic of Lhasa and Tibet and the exterior is stunning.
#3. Visit the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa
If you want to find more spiritual meaning, then a visit to the Jokhang temple is right up your alley. In front of the temple, you’ll usually find Tibetan pilgrims praying and prostrating on the floor. The interior of the temple is a set of rooms and courtyards that will lead you via prayer wheels to the holy shrine of Buddha.
I was quite overwhelmed by everything. Most courtyards are empty but around the shrine, it was a whirling mass of people, all crying and shouting in admiration. I quickly gave room to the faithful people and tried not to bother them too much with my presence.
On the roof, you’ll find the golden deers and the Dharma wheel and one of the best views of Lhasa. Find more Buddhist temples in Tibet here.
#4. Walk the Barkhor in Lhasa
One of the things to do in Lhasa is walking the Barkhor. This route of streets, shops, and stalls circumnavigate the Jokhang temple. It is mostly used by locals and pilgrims and is part of their devotion to Buddhism. For travelers and tourists, it is a visit to the old city centre and market in one. Here you’ll find everything a pilgrim might need, from saddles to prayer flags, from prayer wheels to dried Yak meat.
Make sure to walk the Barkhor clock-wise, but when in doubt, just follow the crowd.
Other things to do in Tibet
It doesn’t matter where you go in Tibet, stay in Lhasa or explore the countryside, here are some other things to do in Tibet that I certainly recommend you experience.
#5. Engage with locals
During my time in Tibet and Lhasa, one of the most fun I had, was to engage with locals. At least, attempting to engage with Tibetans. When I walked around Lhasa, I was often stopped by children and their mothers, looking at me or putting a hand on my arm.
I found Tibetan people to be very curious and friendly. I was not successful in having a conversation with Tibetan people, but occasionally we managed to exchange a few words. During my travels through Tibet, we encountered a few groups of school children who were all too eager to practice their English or be our photo models!
#5b. Get into a friendly argument with monks
One of the best people to engage with are the monks and nuns in Tibet. Engaging and learning about Buddhism from Tibetan Monks is one of the most unforgettable experiences to have in Tibet. If you can, you should visit one of the monasteries outside of Lhasa or on your route.
Everywhere you go, you’ll find a friendly (group) of monks or nuns who are all eager to strike up a conversation or argument!
#6. Eat a Yak burger or steak
I’m not really a foodie and I don’t pretend to be. But one of the most tasteful things to do in Tibet is eat a Yak Burger. The Yaks are everywhere, roaming the mountains and grasslands. This sturdy animal is kept for her milk and fur, but also makes a mighty fine burger.
#7. Shop for unique souvenirs
I loved browsing the streets around Barhor square. Beautiful brass ornaments, jewelry, gorgeously decorated combs. All kinds of trinkets and nick-knacks for the house. I bought 2 strings of prayer flags and I settled on some brass candlelight holders. That was all I could carry, but I could have bought the half of Lhasa, so many nice things to take home!
#8. Explore Lake Namtso
Although Lhasa is the hearth of Tibet and for most travelers the starting point of their travels through Tibet, there are many other things to do in Tibet. I took a 2-day tour to nearby Lake Nam-Tso.
This can be done on a day trip from Lhasa, but I thought it would be cool to experience the lake without the busloads of tourists and decided to stay overnight.
The emerald lake is edged between mountains and provided a spectacular view of the Tibetan Plateau. Lake Namtso can be reached after climbing a pass of 5,186 m (17,014 ft.) which cause for dizzying headaches. The lake itself is located at an elevation of 4,718 m (15,479 ft.).
#9. Explore the smaller towns
As we wanted to see more of Tibet and needed to make our way overland to Nepal, we left Lhasa and explored other things to do in Tibet. We explored the little towns of Shigatse, Lhatse and Tingri on the Friendship Highway.
Each of these towns are not world class attractions, but if you’re this close, it is worth to stop and explore. These towns and the road leading up to them, make for excellent opportunities to find friendly locals and giggling kids to exchange candy with.
#10. Visit Everest Base Camp
One of the highlights and top things to do in Tibet, is a visit to Everest Base Camp. The EBC on the Tibetan side, is much easier to reach than the Base Camp on the Nepalese side. We were able to drive up to Everest Base Camp and only had to walk the last couple of miles. Not saying that was easy for someone out of shape, overweight and struggling with altitude sickness, but you don’t need climbing gear to get there.
I didn’t expect much of my visit to Everest Base Camp, but my personal struggles, the overwhelming nature and the harsh condition left a lifelong impression on me. As I went out at night to pee, I witnessed a pitch dark sky with gazillion stars and one shooting star after another.
What would you have wished for?
Top Things to do in Tibet
Have you ever been to Tibet? What were the most exciting things to do in Tibet for you? Are you considering to travel to Tibet? I hope you found some inspiration. Let me know in the comment section below.