It takes a bit of pre-planning to get to Lhasa (nicknamed the "Roof of the World"). Travelers headed to Tibet must use a Chinese travel agency to apply for a Tibet Entry Permit—independent travel to Tibet is not allowed, so travelers must be part of an organized group. Tibet Entry Permits are not issued for travel during Tibetan New Year (late February or early March), and Tibet is often closed to visitors January to March, but entry may be halted at anytime.
Note that the Tibet Entry Permit is in addition to a Chinese Tourist Visa—travelers must have a Chinese Tourist Visa first before a travel agency can apply on their behalf for the Tibet Entry Permit. The Tibet Entry Permit is for travel within Lhasa only; travelers wanting to explore other parts of Tibet need to have their travel agency apply for additional permits.
Travelers can only reach Lhasa from within China or via Nepal. Options include flying, which is the quickest option, or taking the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. While flying to Tibet is the fastest travel option, it gives travelers virtually no time to acclimate to Tibet's high altitude. Most travelers opt to take the train to Lhasa, not only because of the incredible scenery, but it can also make it easier for travelers to acclimate to the extreme altitude, and then fly back from Lhasa.
Our recommendations for Tibet trips range from a few days like the 4-Day Highlights of Lhasa Tour, to multi-city trips like the 7-Day Discover Tibet's Cities Tour, 9-Day Ultimate Tibetan Experience, and the 11-Day Tibet Train Journey & Everest Base Camp Tour.
Duration: 4.5 hours by plane; 41 hours by train
There are a couple daily flights, including one nonstop flight from Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport to Lhasa Gonggar Airport. The two-day journey on the Beijing-Lhasa train departs once daily from Beijing West Railway Station, and travels 2,334 miles (3,757 km) through eight provinces before arriving at Lhasa Railway Station.
When the train ascends Tanggula Pass, the highest point of the journey—and at 16,640 feet (5,072 meters)—the highest point on a railway in the world, oxygen is pumped into the train cars. Passengers can also use the individual oxygen masks in their sleeper compartments.
Along the way, travelers can marvel at the contrasts in landscape: Qarhan Salt Lake, Yuzhu Peak, Kekexili Nature Reserve, Tuotuo He River, Tsonag Lake, and Qiangtang prairie.
Duration: 20 hours and 55 minutes
Travelers concerned about altitude sickness may consider breaking up the journey and spending a night or two in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, which is 7,464 feet (2,275 meters) above sea level, before taking the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest railway, to Lhasa Railway Station.
The Xining to Lhasa train is the shortest train ride to Lhasa. Along the route, passengers can marvel at the Gobi Desert and the Tanggula Mountains. Options on the train include soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin), hard sleeper (there are six beds in each cabin), and hard seats.
The train has a dining car serving simple fare and snacks like instant noodles, potato chips, crackers, cookies, bottled soft drinks, beer, and water, and there are hot water dispensers to use for making instant noodles, coffee, and tea.
Duration: 2 hours and 25 minutes by plane; 36 hours and 18 minutes by train
There are a dozen or so daily nonstop flights from Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport to Lhasa Gonggar Airport, but there is little to see along the journey so most travelers take the train from Chengdu to Lhasa and then fly back from Lhasa.
The train from Chengdu Northern Railway Station to Lhasa Railway Station departs every other day. There is not much to see during the first part of the journey, but once the train passes Xining and enters the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, there is plenty to admire.
Options include soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin) and hard sleeper (there are six beds in each cabin). The train has a dining car serving simple fare and snacks like instant noodles, potato chips, crackers, cookies, bottled soft drinks, beer, and water, and there are hot water dispensers to use for making instant noodles, coffee, and tea.
Duration: 6 hours and 35 minutes by plane; 47 hours by train
There aren't any nonstop flights from Shanghai to Lhasa, but travelers pressed for time can take connecting flights. There is one daily train from Shanghai to Lhasa, which departs from Shanghai Railway Station.
The 2,717-mile (4,373 km) journey takes days, so many travelers opt to shorten the journey by flying from Shanghai to Xining and then taking the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Lhasa. Not only does this cut the train journey in half, but travelers can also explore Xining and get used to the change in altitude before continuing onward to Lhasa.
Options on the train include soft sleeper (there are four beds in each cabin) and hard sleeper (there are six beds in each cabin). The train has a dining car serving simple fare and snacks like instant noodles, potato chips, crackers, cookies, bottled soft drinks, beer, and water, and there are hot water dispensers to use for making instant noodles, coffee, and tea.
From Kathmandu, Nepal
Duration: 1 hour and 25 minutes by plane; 8 to 9 hours by private car transfer
There are a couple of flights each week from Tribhuvan International Airport to Lhasa Gonggar Airport. The quick flight offers a breathtaking glimpse of Mount Everest and is the only alternative to entering Tibet from outside China.
Travelers coming from Kathmandu must have both a Chinese Tourist Visa and Tibet Entry Permit, both of which—along with the plane tickets—can be arranged with a Chinese travel agency.
It was possible to take a private overland transfer from Kathmandu to Lhasa via the Gyirong border, but the roads on the Nepalese side are rough. Driving affords the opportunity to visit Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side.