Travelling by train to Tibet is one of the most thrilling ways to get to the high-altitude plateau. The journey can take anywhere from 22 hours to almost three days, depending on where you depart from. With seven gateway cities across China to choose from, a station that has Tibet train is never far from where you are travelling, and the locations are found in the major cities of this vast nation. Trains are a cost-effective way to travel, usually costing less than half the price of an economy flight.
So whether you’re on a Tibet tour or going it alone, this guide can help.
Choosing your ideal departure city depends on your itinerary in both China and Tibet. You can depart from the following cities:
- Guangzhou in Guangdong Province
- The capital city of Beijing
- The seaboard port of Shanghai
- Home of the giant panda in Chengdu
- The capital of Gansu Province at Lanzhou
- The start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway at Xining.
Shortest Tibet train Journey—Xining-Lhasa train
For your Tibet travel, the train from Xining to Lhasa is the shortest trip from China. It takes 22 hours to cover the 1,972 kilometres from the Qinghai capital.
There is a chance of seeing wild yaks and donkey roaming the plains, as well as the rare Tibetan antelopes. Also, the white-lipped deer that are indigenous to the Tibetan plateau.
Xining is a beautiful place to stop for a visit as well. With plenty to see and do while you are waiting for your train to Tibet. Close by the city lies the stunning Qinghai Lake. It is the largest lake in China and one of the most stunning high-altitude lakes in the world. There is also the famous Ta’er temple, known also as the Kumbum Monastery, a unique monastery in Qinghai Province that was built in honour of the founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, Je Tsongkhapa. Constructed in 1577, more than 100 years after his journey to Parinirvana, the monastery lies just 25 kilometres outside Xining, in Huangzhong County.
The train to Tibet from Xining runs every other day to the Tibetan capital, leaving the Xining Railway Station at around 14:01. It arrives in Lhasa at about 11:20 the following morning. It passes onto the plateau while you sleep. The train enters Tibet across the Tanggula Mountains as you wake in the morning. This allows you to get the best early morning view of the northern area of Tibet before you reach the capital of Lhasa.
The train has three ticket types, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, and seats. While the seats are the cheapest option, spending 22 hours in a single seat can be uncomfortable, so the sleeper cabins are the best option. Soft sleepers are the first-class option, and cost from around 781 yuan per person, while the hard sleeper berths are the second-class option at around 495 yuan per person. There is little difference in the bunks themselves, and the main difference in the cabins is that the soft sleeper cabin has a lockable door, while the hard sleeper berths are open to the train corridor with just a curtain for modest privacy.
The Most Popular Tibet Train Journey —Beijing—Lhasa train
The route from Beijing to Lhasa is one of the original routes that opened with the opening of the Qinghai Tibet Railway in 2006 and is the most popular departure location in China for travellers to Tibet by train. An important hub for international air traffic in China, the capital city of this vast nation lies in the northeast of China and is one of the most amazing cities to visit for a brief spell before travelling to Tibet. The city is also the best place in which to visit the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure that can be seen from orbit. As one of the major imperial capitals of the last several hundred years, the city is the home to the famous Forbidden City, the home of the Chinese Emperors that once housed the imperial royal families of the Yongle Emperor, as well as the Ming, Shun, and Qing Dynasty Emperors.
The trains from Beijing to Lhasa across eight provinces of China to reach the Tibetan capital, and it is the third-longest train journey of the seven gateway cities, crossing around 3,757 kilometres in just 40 hours. The trains leave daily from Beijing West Railway Station, departing at around 20:00 and arriving in Lhasa at around 12:40 on the third day of travel. An epic adventure of train travel in China, the train from Beijing also stops at Lanzhou, another of the gateway cities to Tibet, as well as Xining, the start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway.
Trains from Beijing are a popular option for tourists heading to the plateau, and in the peak months of summer, the trains can easily be fully booked within a day or two of the tickets being released. This can sometimes be an issue, as there may not be tickets available when you book your tour for your date of travel, so it is essential to book your tour as early as possible so we can get the tickets you require as soon as the ticket offices open for those dates.
When the tickets are not available, there are other options for getting to Tibet from Beijing, such as flying from Beijing to Xining and then getting the train to Tibet from there. Xining trains are much longer than the trains from the rest of China, and with more carriages for all classes of tickets, you have a better chance of getting a ticket from Xining than from Beijing from June to October. Flights from Beijing to Xining cost from around 103 US dollars for an economy ticket, which takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the Qinghai capital’s international airport.
The major benefits of taking this route to Tibet instead of taking the train directly from Beijing is the time it takes, as well as the higher ticket availability. The train from Beijing takes around 40 hours to reach the plateau, while from Xining, it is just 22 hours, which means you can save around 15 hours of travel time. Ticket prices for the train from Xining are also cheaper than from Beijing, and although a flight to Xining is more than the difference, you will get the chance to acclimatize for a day in Xining before travelling to the plateau, which helps with acclimatization when you reach Lhasa.
The Best Tibet Train for a Cultural Tour—-Xi’an—Lhasa train
If you are a lover of Chinese culture and history, then there is no better place to start your tour of China and Tibet than in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China. Xi’an is not only famous for being one of the ancient capitals of China, and one of the oldest cities in the country, but it is one of the most exciting cities to visit to explore the ancient architecture of the most important imperial dynasties in history.
Xi’an is also the home of the famous Terracotta Warriors, an entire army of clay figures of soldiers, horses, and wagons that were created to accompany the Chinese Emperor, Qin Shu Huang on his journey to the afterlife. Created in the 3rd century BC, the warriors lay undiscovered for almost 2,300 years, until they were uncovered by a farmer ploughing his fields in 1974. One of the most famous of all the ancient sites in China, this unique monument to the ancient Chinese emperors is just one of many sites in Xi’an that are worth a visit.
After all your touring of Xi’an, you can get the train to Lhasa from the local station in Xi’an, despite it not being one of the seven gateway cities to Tibet. Trains from Guangzhou and Shanghai pass through Xi’an on their way to Lhasa. If tickets are available, they can be purchased to start your epic adventure in this centre of ancient Chinese history. Note that ticket availability in the summer months is low. A huge volume of travellers depart from these major transport hubs for the Tibetan plateau. If you are determined to start your train journey from Xi’an it is best to book as early as possible. You can also travel off-season, to ensure better availability of tickets.
The train leaves Xi’an at 9:45 am for the train from Guangzhou and at 11:24 am for the trains from Shanghai. The train from Xi’an takes around 30 hours to cross the 2,864 kilometres to Lhasa, arriving in the late afternoon of the second day of travel. Tickets for the soft sleeper berths, the first-class option, cost around 970 yuan per person, while the hard sleepers are a little cheaper at around 611 yuan per person.
The Top Tibet Train from Southwest of China— Chengdu-Lhasa train
One of the most popular departure locations for trains to Tibet is the capital city of Sichuan Province, Chengdu. Home of the giant pandas, Chengdu is one of the most beautiful cities in southwest China. It is a great place to start your Tibetan adventure from. One of the most populated cities in western China, Chengdu is the best place in the country to view and visit the giant pandas. This unique type of panda is in small areas of Sichuan Province, Gansu Province, and a very small part of southern Shanxi Province.
Chengdu has four centres for visiting the giant pandas in the area, the most popular being the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, in the northwest of the city. The centre, which has been open since 1987, is the main site for the breeding and re-release of giant pandas into the wild and has been hugely instrumental in the process of removing giant pandas from the endangered species lists.
Sichuan Province is well known around the world for its unique cuisine, a spicy food with the extravagant use of the local Sichuan peppers, which are well known for their spicy flavours. One of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine, Sichuan cuisine is widely acclaimed for its unique diversity and bold flavours, and is often described as spicy, hot, fresh, and fragrant. Sichuan dishes, also known around the world as Szechuan cuisine, is one of the most popular Chinese foods around the globe, and there are very few people in the west that have not tried some form of Sichuan cooking in their home countries.
Outside Chengdu, the area to the west, which is the first and easternmost part of the Tibetan plateau, is one of the most outstanding areas of natural beauty in the world and includes some of the most popular valleys in China for trekking and tourism. One of the most famous is the Jiuzhai Valley, part of the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area that is the home of some of Sichuan’s highest and most sacred mountains.
Most Popular Route
The train from Chengdu to Lhasa is one of the most popular routes to take for foreign travellers, as the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is a major hub for flights from around the world, including direct flights from the United States and Europe. Trains to Tibet leave every other day, on even days for six months of the year and odd days on the other six months. The trains leave at 21:37 and arrive at Lhasa at 09:55. It takes around 36 hours to reach the Tibetan capital, crossing 3,070 kilometres of China to get there in a roundabout route through Xining. Soft sleepers on the train cost around 997 yuan per person, while the hard sleeper tickets are around 627 yuan per person.
The trip is one of the most popular because it is not too long. The gradual ascent to the Tibetan plateau, running through Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, is one of the most beautiful journeys of all. Adding the stunning beauty of the eastern end of the Himalayas to the unmatchable beauty if the journey from Xining to Lhasa.
This city could soon become the most important city for trains to Tibet. The construction of the Sichuan Tibet Railway already well underway, and expected t open within the next four years, making the train trips to Tibet as short as a flight from Beijing.
Travelling to Tibet can be done from several places across China. The trick to knowing where to start your tour is knowing what you want to see in China first. Allocating your budget for travel, as well as the time you have available, is also key. While there are eight places from which you can start, some are more preferable than others. Some have better options for travel, as well as some sights to see while you are waiting for your train.