Travel from Xining to Tibet: More than the Qinghai-Tibet Train

Last updated: September,22 2023

The capital city of Qinghai Province in Western China, Xining is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. It is now the main gateway city in China for the trains to Tibet. As the start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway, Xining is a good staging point for acclimatization to the higher altitude of the plateau.

Situated in a fertile basin of the Huangshui River Valley, Xining is the last city in mainland China before entering Tibet. The city has been connected to the main Chinese rail network from Lanzhou since 1959, and in 2006, the extension of that line was opened, finally connecting the rest of China with the Tibetan Plateau and Lhasa.

Though it is the start point of Qinghai Tibet railway, there are more ways to travel to Tibet from Xining. Here we introduce you all the ways to Tibet from Xining.

Travel from Xining to Lhasa via Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The most popular way to travel from Xining to Lhasa is to take the Tibet trains. The start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway, trains from Xining are shorter than those from other gateway cities across China, with more soft and hard sleeper carriages so that more passengers can travel. Trains leave the station in Xining for Tibet every other day, and trains from across China pass through the city’s railway station several times a day. All railway traffic must pass through Xining to get to Tibet.

Travel from Xining to Lhasa by trainTravel from Xining to Lhasa by train

The railway line from Xining to Lhasa is 1,972 kilometers long, and the trains take around 22 hours to traverse the huge distance across the plateau to Lhasa. Crossing high mountains and passing by holy lakes, the trip by train to the Tibetan capital is an amazing journey of adventure and discovery, with something new and even more wonderful around every bend in the tracks.

The trains from Xining depart every other day at around 2:01pm, and arrive in Lhasa the following day at around 11:10am. The trains have the same soft and hard sleeper cabins as all the trains from China to Tibet. The trains also have the usual hard seats for passengers, which are the cheapest option to travel, although they are not recommended for tourists to Tibet. However, with only a 22 hour journey from Xining to Lhasa, the seats are not that bad, and can make for a more affordable option if you are traveling on a budget.

Overland from Xining to Lhasa via Qinghai-Tibet Highway

Before there was a railway link to Lhasa, there was a road. The Qinghai Tibet Highway, also known as the G109 National Road, starts at Xining in Qinghai Province and runs up to the higher part of the plateau, passing through Hainan, Golmud, and Ho Xil Nature Reserve, and passing close by holy Lake Namtso on its way to the Tibetan capital.

The longest and highest tarmac road in the world, it is also the safest road to take to get to Tibet, and has been used by travelers and truck drivers since the 1950s. 1,937 kilometers long, the road is ten meters wide along most of its length, with an average elevation of around 4,000 meters. At its highest point, at the Tanggula Mountain Pass, the road reaches an elevation of 5,320 meters, and crosses several other mountains at elevations above 5,000 meters.

For many years, the Qinghai Tibet Highway, along with the Sichuan Tibet Highway in the south, were the only routes into Tibet overland, and the Qinghai Tibet Highway was responsible for transporting more than 85 percent of the goods that were shipped to Tibet every year. It has also been an important route for pilgrims to Lhasa and other sacred places around the region, and it is not uncommon to see pilgrims along the roadside, walking or prostrating their way to the holy sites of Tibet.

Travel overland from Xining to Tibet via Qinghai Tibet HighwayTravel overland from Xining to Tibet via Qinghai Tibet Highway

For tourists, the road is a nine-day adventure of travel through some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, winding its way over the Kunlun Mountains and Tanggula Mountain, crossing vast plains and prairies, and spanning huge rivers along its route to Lhasa. For foreign tourists, it is possible to travel this route, with a guide and private vehicle, though it is not usually recommended due to the length of time traveling and the cost of the trip. However, it is one of the most amazing road trips in the world, and is a journey of discovery and amazement that will leave you breathless with awe.

Non-stop flights between Xining and Lhasa

While there is the railway and the road to take you to the roof of the world, for many people, time is of the essence. Flights to Lhasa from Xining allow travelers to get to the Tibetan capital in a very short time, although it is not the cheapest option for travel. Flights run from Xining Caojiabao Airport to Lhasa Gonggar International Airport daily, with around five separate flights per day, though not all are direct flights. Flights along this 1,558-kilometer route normally take around two and a half hours, and cost from around 1,850 CNY (US$ 290) for a one-way economy ticket.

Xining City Tour before Getting to Tibet

While Xining may be the start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway to Lhasa and beyond, the railway is not all there is in the city. A lively provincial capital, Xining is the center of culture for the province, and a good place to base oneself for a tour of Qinghai Province and the wonders it holds. Not only is the area a multi-cultural place in China – cultures include the Hui, Salar, and Uighur Muslims, as well as Tibetans and Han Chinese – there are many wonderful and amazing places to visit for tourists spending a few days in the city before your Tibet tour.

Dongguan Grand Mosque in Xining CityDongguan Grand Mosque in Xining City

The 14th century Dongguan Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosques in China, and while it may not be the prettiest, more than 50,000 people go there to worship every day. And during Ramadan, that number goes up to as many as 300,000 people.

To the south of the city, perched on the top of Phoenix Mountain, lies the Buddhist temple of Nanchen Si, the oldest Chan Buddhist temple in Qinghai, while on the north side of the city is Beichan Si, a 1,700 year-old pagoda that is the northern counterpart to the Nanchen Si temple. Overflowing with other natural sights around the province, including the nearby Qinghai Lake, Xining is more than a railway station, and is worth visiting before you head to Lhasa. If you have any plan to take a Xining city tour, please feel free to contact us, our professional travel expert can help you arrange your trip in Xining.

Tips for Traveling to Tibet from Xining

For travelers driving to Tibet along the Qinghai Tibet Highway, it is a good idea to take some foods and snacks with you, as well as plenty of water. There are some restaurants along the route, which serve mainly Sichuan cuisine, although many of them are not accessible to foreign tourists.

Xining is an intermediate altitude city, which means that it is a good place to stop for a day or two to acclimatize a little before heading to Tibet. At an elevation of 2,275 meters, Xining has the ideal altitude for acclimatization along the way.

There are 45 stations along the Qinghai Tibet Railway line to Lhasa, 38 of which are unstaffed. However, there are few places where you will be able to leave the train, as it stops for only a few minutes at a time. However, there are viewing platforms at nine stations to allow a short opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The platforms are at Yuzhu Peak Station, Chumaer River, Tuotuo River, Buqiangge, Tanggula Mountain, Lake Namtso, Nagqu, Damshung, and Yambajan, but can only be used during the daytime.

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