Top 10 Must-Visit Tibetan Monasteries for Your Tibet Travel
If you are the kind of traveler that journeys to enrich not just the mind and body, but also the spirit, then Tibet is the perfect place for you. The monasteries of Tibet are incredibly beautiful, and their deep, spiritual atmosphere just adds to the unique experience.
This does not mean that you have to be a religious person to appreciate the wonders of Tibet’s many monasteries. Even someone with no religion can understand and appreciate the importance of these stunning monasteries to Tibetan Buddhists. Here we list the top 10 recommended Tibetan monasteries to visit for a spiritual trip in Tibet.
Potala Palace - A UNESCO World Heritage and World's Highest Palace
The Potala Palace was founded on Moburi in Lhasa, the provincial capital of Tibet, and lies at an altitude of around 3,770 meters above sea level. It was once the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, but is now more of a museum to Tibetan Buddhism.
Music fountain in front of Potala Palace in the evening
Architecturally, the Palace closely resembles a fortress, and is indeed built on the site of an ancient fortress from the 7th century. Inside its formidable walls, you will find numerous halls, prayer rooms, and galleries.
The structure is an immense architectural feat with magnificent art and artifacts inside. To understand the most spiritual meaning of the palace, visit some of the many prayer rooms and halls. These are perfect for you to get some quiet 1 hour time to contemplate and communicate with the universe.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 8-day Lhasa Everest Base Camp Small Group Tour
Jokhang Temple - The Most Sacred and Important in Tibetan Buddhism
Also in Lhasa, Jokhang Temple is located in Barkhor Square. The beauty of this building comes from its mixture of several different architectural styles, including Tibetan, Indian, and Nepalese designs. The temple was built on a former lake, which, according to legend, was converted into land just to build the temple.
Tibetans prostrating in front of Jokhang Temple
It is home to one of only three statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, thus giving it even deeper spiritual meaning for Tibetan Buddhists. Believed to be the most sacred temple in Tibet, the site is managed by the Gelug School, though all sects are welcomed at the temple, as it is the true heart of Buddhism in Tibet.
In the streets surrounding the temple and inside it, you will find quite a mixture of people. Many Tibetan monks line the streets, and other devoted Buddhists from across Tibet and beyond are here to visit the site.
Along with spiritually minded Tibetans, you will see tourists snapping pictures, and locals selling wares in the streets. The quiet hubbub of the city is infected with a deep tone of spirituality, making this a truly unique site. This beautiful temple requires at least half a day to explore it properly.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 8-day Lhasa Everest Base Camp Small Group Tour
Ganden Monastery - The Origin of the Word 'Gelug'
The name of the Gelug School in Tibet comes from Ganden Monastery, and is a simple abbreviation of the term “Ganden Lug”, which means Ganden Tradition. Despite the painful history of this beautiful place, it still stands as a testament to the unfailing devotion of the truly spiritual. This university monastery was once destroyed, but it has since been partially rebuilt.
Bird's eyes view of Ganden Monastery
Today, it is truly a sight to behold. Every year, the annual Buddha Thangka Unfolding Festival occurs at Ganden Monastery, attracting thousands of Tibetan Buddhists, as well as visitors from all over the world.
Ganden Monastery was built in the 17th century and lies around 40 kilometers to the northeast of the center of Lhasa. Sitting on Wangbori Mountain, the monastery is easily reached by bus or car from the city, or as part of the classic Ganden to Samye trekking Tour.
At least a half day is required to get around the monastery and its long halls and corridors, preferably in the morning when there are usually less tourists, and the best time of year to visit is from May to October.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 9-day Ganden to Samye Trekking Tour.
Drepung Monastery - Once The World's Largest Monastery
Drepung Monastery was once the largest monastery in Tibet, home to the Dalai Lama as well as up to 10,000 monks. This monastery now serves as one of the main universities for Buddhist monks, and you will still find it to be bustling with activity.
Drepung Monastery Buddha Unfolding
The monastery can be visited on the 4-day tour of the city of Lhasa, or as part of a longer tour. Our stunning the 5-day Shoton Festival Experience Tour gives you the unique opportunity to sit before the 26-meter gold Maitreya Buddha during one of the most important festival times in Tibet.
Drepung Monastery, on the outskirts of Lhasa, is a place that was built for spiritual pursuits, and the wide open spaces of the Tibetan plateau that surround it give you a fresh perspective on your place in the world. Make sure you visit the statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is truly inspiring. Take a sip of holy water when you are there and drink in the spiritual meaning of this ancient monastery.
>Recommended Tibet tour: 5-day Shoton Festival Experience Tour.
Sera Monastery - Noted for Tibetan Buddhism Debating
Located a short distance to the north of Lhasa, this monastery is named after the wildflowers that would bloom on the spot where the monastery was built. The monastery is another Gelug university monastery, and it is known for being the parent monastery to several hermitages and nunneries.
Monk debate in Sera Monastery
More than 3,000 monks reside at Sera Monastery, and seeing them live their lives so simply is humbling. If you want to witness the famed philosophical debates of Tibetan Buddhist monks, then Sera Monastery is the ideal place to be.
The monk debates occur every afternoon in the debating courtyard, and you will walk away from the experience with a new-found appreciation for the spiritual commitment of a simple life. If you are traveling on the 5-day Lhasa Small group Tour With Three Major Monasteries, this is included, as well as Drepung and Ganden.
>Recommended Tibet tour: 5-day Lhasa Small Group Tour With Three Major Monasteries.
Samye Monastery - The First Monastery in Tibet
Renowned as being the first true Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye Monastery was built in Lhoka Prefecture, overlooking the Yarlung Tsangpo River, by the 8th-century king, Trisong Detsen.
Samye Monastery was built in the shape of a Mandala
Destroyed many times over the course of the last thousand years, the monastery is a Mandala replica of the Buddhist Universe, with the main temple representing Mount Meru. Bounded by an oval wall, which has four gates at the four compass points, this unique wall is topped by 1,008 chortens representing the ring of mountains that surrounds the Universe.
An important monastery for the original Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, this unique structure can be visited at any time of year, and has come under the influence of three of the four major schools over the centuries. Getting there from Lhasa is best done as part of one of our amazing tours, or you can take a separate day trip to Samye Monastery to get the most out of your visit.
Palcho Monastery - The Only Tibet Monastery with Three Sects in One Temple
Often referred to as the Pelkor Chode Monastery, Palcho Monastery is the only monastery in Tibet that encompasses three of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism under one roof.
Palcho Monastery and Gyangtse Kunmbum
Built as an attempt to continue the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibetan Kings, following the assassination of King Langdarma, the monastery was originally a Sakya monastery, with parts of the main monastery being built by various local nobles. Several buildings were constructed as religious colleges of Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelugpa sects.
The famous Gyantse Fortress, which sits on the hill nearby, was built in the 13th century, and was an important addition to the area. The monastery is also home to the stunning Gyantse Kumbum, a nine-tiered stupa that is the only one of its kind in Tibet.
If you are planning a trip to Gyantse, then you should really take a full day to explore and enjoy the monastery and its surroundings, and it can be visited at any time of year. Travel from Lhasa is best done as part of a longer tour, such as the stunning 15-day Mount Kailash Tour, which passes through the town and monastery on its way west.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 15-day Kailash and Manasarovar Tour.
Tashilhunpo Monastery - Home of Panchen Lama
Founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama of Tibet, Gedun Drupa, Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the most historic and culturally important monasteries in Tibet. The seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest Buddhist incarnation in Tibet, the monastery contains the largest statue of the Maitreya, or Future Buddha, in China.
Inside of Tashilunpo Monastery
Located on the hill in the center of Shigatse, Tibet’s second city, Tashilhunpo was perhaps the least damaged monastery in Tibet.
Getting there from Lhasa can be done easily by train from the capital to Shigatse, along the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, or you can travel there as part of a longer tour. For the best experience at Tashilhunpo, our the 8-day Tashilhunpo Festival Tour gives you an unrivaled experience of this vast monastery.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 8-day Tashilhunpo Festival Tour.
Rongbuk Monastery - The World's Highest Monastery, Must-Visit for EBC Travelers
One of the best places from which to see the stunning sight of Mount Everest, Rongbuk Monastery is listed as being the “highest monastery in the world. The monastery lies at 4,980 meters, close to the base of the northern slopes of Everest, below the tongue of the famous Rongbuk Glacier.
Viewing the imposing Mt.Everest from Rongbuk Monastery
One of the few monasteries where monks and nuns live under the same roof, this Nyingma monastery was once an important temple for the Sherpa people that live on the southern slopes of the world’s highest mountain.
Located in Tingri County, it is best visited from May to October, when the weather is not too cold. Our amazing 8-day Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour is the best way to get to the monastery from Lhasa. You can also find other choices to tour Mt. Everest here.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 8-day Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour.
Sakya Monastery - The Dunhuang in Tibet, Must-Visit for Art Lovers
The principal monastery of the Sakya School, Sakya Monastery lies in Sakya County of Shigatse, on a small hillside on the road to Tingri. Constructed in the 11th century on the site where Atisha had an important vision, there was originally a small shrine at the site, which is now part of the northern part of the monastery.
Sakya Monastery is famous for its artwork
The monastery actually contains many Thangka paintings and sacred statues, as well as the stupa that contains the remains of its founder, Khon Khonchong Gyalpo. Known as the “second Dunhuang”, the monastery has a collection of more than 40,000 books, including thousands of volumes of the sacred Buddhist scriptures, many thousands of scrolls and folders, as well as books bound with wood.
This is also the place where you can find the world's largest scripture, known as the Burde Gyaimalung, a sacred scripture that measures six feet long, four feet wide, and two feet thick, and weighs more than 500kg. You can enjoy the magnificent monastery on one of our Tibet to Nepal tours.
> Recommended Tibet tour: 8 Days Tibet-Nepal Highway in-depth Travel.
Travel Tips for Visiting Tibetan Monasteries
If you are planning a visit to the monasteries of Tibet, then you should know a few rules on entering these sacred buildings. If you are walking around, walk in a clockwise direction, the same as when walking around a kora route, and refrain from taking photos of the interior of the monastery, unless you have permission from the monks. This usually comes with a monetary “donation”.
Hats, headscarves, and glasses should be removed to allow your face and head to be free of interference, and one should never point at statues, monks, and artifacts within the monasteries.
Monasteries can be found all throughout Tibet, and there are around 85 fully functioning monasteries in the region. Some of the main monasteries, as mentioned above, can be visited during a classic Tibet tour, while there are also many that you can find on other tours and trips to the plateau.
If you are planning a trip to Tibet with Buddhist monastery visit, you can join in our Tibetan monastery tour to award yourself a perfect itinerary. Or, you can just contact us for a customized trip from our professional travel consultant.