Officially known as the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibet lies on the high-altitude Qinghai Tibet Plateau in the western end of China. Fringed on two sides to the west and south by the mighty Himalayas, and to the north and east by other provinces of China, this vast plateau land only has two routes in and out. You can either travel from mainland China, or you can enter from Nepal, across the Himalayas. Which route you choose is up to you, but both have various options for how to get to Tibet.

Getting to Tibet from China

The most common and most popular route to Tibet is from mainland China, and you have a variety of options for doing this. Flights run from all over China, and trains run across the plateau to the ancient Tibetan capital. You can even travel overland, driving the long roads to get into Tibet. Each method of travel has its attraction, but you should choose the method that is right for you.

By Air

You can travel by flight to Tibet from more than a dozen different departure locations across China. The flights all range from 1 hour 15 minutes to as long as 8-9 hours, depending on where you travel from. Flights are a great and convenient way to travel to Tibet, as the shortest distance by car or train is almost 2,000 kilometers long.

The main concern with flying to Lhasa from one of the departure cities in China is normally the cost. Domestic flights in China are rather expensive, compared to domestic flights in other countries in Asia, with the cheapest flight, from Chongqing, costing around US$127 per person. This can rise to more than US$426 per person for longer flights from Shanghai or Beijing. However, with the cheapest flights from Southwest China taking just 2-3 hours at most, this is the fastest way to get to the plateau.

By Train

Trains to Tibet are an increasingly popular way to travel to Lhasa and depart from seven different gateway cities across China. You can choose to take the trains from Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining. The trains depart daily from Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing, and every other day from the other stations.

The trains do take a long time to get to Lhasa, though. And for those in a hurry or with little spare time for traveling, they are not ideal. However, if you are not rushing, traveling by train is a relaxing and comfortable way to get to Tibet. Xining is the shortest distance to Lhasa, and the trains take around 21 hours 28 minutes, while the trains from Guangzhou, the longest journey, take as long as 52 hours 41 minutes.

Cost is also a good measure of the popularity of the trains to Tibet, with all of the trains costing less than a flight from the same city. Trains from Beijing cost around US$171 per person for the most expensive soft sleeper cabin berths, while trains from Chongqing can cost as little as US$105 per person for the cheaper hard sleeper cabin berths.


Overland travel, which normally consists of driving to Tibet, is a long and expensive means of travel to the plateau capital. You can enter Tibet via one of four different routes, traveling from either Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, or Xinjiang. However, at present, this option is not available for international tourists to Tibet.

Getting to Tibet from Nepal

Nepal is renowned as the only country with international access to the TAR, which makes it a popular place from which to enter Tibet for international travelers and Hindu pilgrims. You can either fly to Lhasa direct from Kathmandu or take an overland trip over the border to drive to the Tibetan capital.

By Air

Flights to Lhasa from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, run daily, with two airlines offering direct flights. Air China, the flagship Chinese airline, offers direct flights to Lhasa seven days a week, departing at around 12:10 pm. Sichuan Airlines also offers flights to Lhasa from Kathmandu on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which depart at around 11:10 am.

The average cost of a flight to Lhasa from Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport is around 230 US dollars per person for one-way economy flights, which take just 90 minutes to reach the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport. The flight crosses directly over the summit of Mount Everest, so you can get a good view of the mountain from the windows of the plane.


If you are planning an overland trip to Lhasa from Kathmandu, then you will travel to Lhasa from the border with your guide and driver. The overland journey is the actual tour of Tibet and follows the classic Lhasa to Kathmandu tour in reverse order.

The overland trip begins with the trip from Kathmandu to Gyirong Port, the Chinese border checkpoint to the northwest of the Nepali capital. The route passes through the Langtang National Park and ends at the border checkpoint at Rasuwa Gadhi. Once you cross the Resuo Bridge into China, and exit from the Chinese immigration, your driver and guide will meet you and begin your tour.

From Gyirong Port, you will travel first to Gyirong Town for the night to acclimatize, before taking the long drive to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) the following morning. Unfortunately, due to the massive increase in altitude in such a short time, you will not be able to stop overnight at EBC and will finish the day in Tingri, around 100km north of EBC on the Friendship Highway.

The rest of the tour takes you from Shigatse to Lhasa via the town of Gyantse and passes alongside the famous Lake Yamdrok. In the Tibetan capital, you will spend the last days of the tour sightseeing around the amazing attractions of the City of Sunshine. At the end of the tour, you can either fly back to Kathmandu or take a train or flight into mainland China.


For anyone traveling to Tibet, there are multiple routes you can take, with several travel options in each. The best option for many people is the trains to Lhasa and the overland journey from Nepal, though you can choose the best option for you from the many available. Whether fast or slow, from east or west, you can be guaranteed that your trip across the Roof of the World will be the best journey you have ever taken.

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Author's Bio: 

I am traveling around Tibet for almost five years and writing travel articles for a few Tibet Travel Agency in Tibet.