Once home to the Tibetan government and winter residence of the Dalai Lama, the magnificent Potala Palace is Lhasa’s most important landmark. The first glimpse of the towering fortress-like walls is a moment that will be remembered for years to come. An architectural marvel even by modern standards, his 13-storey palace rises 130 meters above his Marpo Ri (red hill) and has more than 1000 rooms. Pilgrims and tourists alike shuffle across the three floors, past dozens of magnificent chapels, golden stupas and chapels.

The site was first recorded in the 7th century when King Songtsen Gampo built a palace here. Construction of the current building began in 1645 during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama and took over 50 years of labor and craftsmanship to complete. It is impressive enough that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai sent his country’s army to protect the country from the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

The layout of the Potala Palace includes the rooftop White Palace (the eastern part of the building) used as the residence of the Dalai Lama and the central Red Palace used for religious purposes. Among the Red Palace’s most impressive chapels are the jeweled golden chortens (Tibetan stupas) tombs of several past Dalai Lamas.

The 13th Dalai Lama and his 14th apartment in the White Palace offer a more personal glimpse into palace life. Potala tickets are limited and guides must book timeslots several days in advance. Arrive at the palace approximately 1 hour before your scheduled time. After a security check (no water or lighters allowed), follow other visitors up the stairs to enter the palace. On the way, you will pass a ticket office where you buy tickets. If you arrive later than the time stated on your voucher (or forget your voucher), your ticket may be refused. Photography is prohibited inside the chapel.