Visit Potala Palace, Tibet
The cultural significance of Potala Palace radiates over the Lhasa valley, as it casts its steadfast silhouette against the Himalayas. Official residence of many incarnations of Dalai Lama, and historic seat of government, Tibet’s most iconic building holds within its thick walls the narrative and political solemnity of the region. Stepping inside this mind-boggling feat of engineering and architecture, you’ll find an archive of treasures that goes deeper than gilded artifacts alone.
What to expect at the palace...
Holding tight to a hilltop, 130 m above the Lhasa valley, the fortress-like Potala Palace was commissioned by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645 to commemorate the mythical Mount Potalaka, dwelling place of bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in Buddhist tradition.
Incorporating the remains of the original 7th century building into its foundations, the instantly recognisable palace has become one of Tibet’s most important landmarks. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1994, Potala Palace is now a museum of the very finest Tibetan architecture, artwork and religious relics.
With the steep, flat walls of the outer White Palace surrounding and sheltering the sacred Red Palace, there is no doubt that it’s one of the world’s most impressive buildings. Rising 13 storeys, and measuring 400 by 350 metres, Potala contains over 1,000 rooms and a mind-boggling 10,000 shrines, including those of past Dalai Lamas.
The palace was built to last - the tapering walls are an average of 3 metres thick, with copper reinforced foundations to protect against earthquakes - and casts an intimidating shadow. The magnitude of the political history held within the palace is tangible, but not pervasive: this is a place of scholarly archives and historic preservation, where order and serenity reign.
Despite being built at such a height, the palace is relatively easy to access thanks to a series of wide staircases designed to ascend gently up the hillside, allowing for rest breaks along the way to acclimatise to the altitude.
The effort is well worth it, as once at the top you can enjoy an hour exploring the wealth of treasures within the palace walls. See the mausoleum stupas of past Dalai Lamas, including that of the palace’s original patron, the 5th Dalai Lama, encrusted with gold and gems, and wander past the hundreds of colourful murals that line the walls and corridors, depicting significant events from Tibetan history, along with thousands of statues and examples of traditional Tibetan craft.
Head to the upper floors to see the revered portrait of Qing Emperor Qianlong, and eventually out onto the ‘Golden Roof’ to gaze out over the gilded stupas and enjoy panoramic views of the valley.
Location: Lhasa, Tibet
Duration: 1 - 2 hours (limited during peak season)
Accommodation: Your choice of accommodation in Lhasa
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'It was a genuine honour to be walking through the rooms and corridors exchanging smiles with the resident monks.'
Although the steps are relatively gentle, there are still over 1000 of them to climb before you reach the palace, so please consider any specific health or physical needs which may be relevant. Visiting times are assigned when we book, which means there is no flexibility, so if you’re looking to include this in your itinerary make sure it’s on your wishlist from the outset. During peak season (June to August) visitor numbers are at their highest, so times are restricted to one hour inside the palace itself (not including the climb). During low season, over the winter, it’s less crowded and you can stay inside much longer.