Tibet

Tibet: Weather & when to go

When is the best time of year to visit Tibet?

Tibet might be known as ‘the Land of the Snows’, but strangely enough there’s not always much of the white stuff around, beyond that clinging to the high mountain peaks. The vast Tibetan plateau is actually quite mild for most of the year, basking in sunny and dry weather. It’s generally considered that the best times to visit Tibet are the spring months of April and May, and between September and October in the autumn, avoiding the short rainy season in summer and the freezing winter weather, and coinciding with many cultural and religious festivals. But really Tibet is a year-round destination, and when to go will often depending on what you want to do.

Important to note

Due to several politically sensitive anniversaries around the Tibetan New Year (Losar), Tibet is entirely closed to foreign travellers between mid-February and early April. Visas cannot be issued for this period, and notice of when the borders will reopen is not usually given until shortly beforehand.

Weather overview

Bounded by the mighty Himalayas that run south to west, and the Tanggula mountain range in the centre and north of the country, Tibet is largely shielded from extremes of weather. The climate is generally similar to that of mainland China, though the plateau is so large that there can be substantial differences in conditions between Lhasa in the south east, for instance, and the alpine landscapes of the northern regions. Another factor is the immense fluctuations in altitude between destinations. Day and night-time temperatures in the same place tend to vary significantly.

Lhasa, the capital, has a well-earned reputation as ‘the sunlit city’, enjoying over 3,000 hours of sunlight annually. That makes it the perfect place to spend a few days acclimatising on arrival before exploring further afield. Even here though, the air is moisture-free and very thin, at an altitude of more than 3,600 metres above sea level. 

Tibet is blessed with myriad spiritual landmarks and ancient religious sites that are at their busiest during the peak season between June and October. Those who brave the winter weather are rewarded with a more peaceful ambience and authentic experience.

Trekking in Tibet is most popular during the spring and autumn, when the scenery is painted with brushstrokes of vivid colours, and the skies are brilliantly clear. Summer has a modest rainy season that makes the going more difficult, and frequently obscures the views. The awe-inspiring Mount Everest is best seen between April and June, or September and December.

UV radiation

As the highest plateau in the world, Tibet endures extremely high levels of UV radiation. Whatever time of year you’re travelling, it’s essential to be prepared by staying hydrated, regular applications of sun cream, and wearing protective sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

Spring

Spring is a glorious time of year to holiday in Tibet. The mountain slopes are generously carpeted in beautiful wildflowers, the snows of winter are gradually melting away under the bright sunshine, and the panoramas are nothing short of sublime. April sees the beginning of climbing season in Mount Everest National Park, and trekking around the sacred Mount Kailash is very popular.

Autumn

Autumn is another ideal month for trekking in Tibet, or exploring the exquisite Holy Lakes, with fantastic visibility, and fiery shades throughout the landscape. Occasional spells of rain do occur, but for the most part it will be sunny, dry and fairly cold. The Ongkor harvest festival is a highlight of September, while October sees an influx of Chinese holidaymakers celebrating National Day.

Summer

Tibet’s summer months are warm, and you can regularly get away with just a t-shirt in Lhasa during the day, although temperatures still drop precipitously after dark wherever you are. The rainy season begins from late June, peaking in August, but the main annoyance is clouds blocking the views. Most rain tends to fall at night, though short afternoon showers are not unknown.

Winter

From December onwards much of Tibet slows to a standstill beneath a glistening blanket of snow and ice. Many parts of the country are unreachable, with mountain passes blocked, so if you’re visiting in winter you will be mostly confined to the cities. The skies however are a brilliant blue, punctuated with little puffs of cloud. Nights can be bitterly cold, worsened by the wind chill factor, but the days are often pleasantly mild, and with fewer other travellers around, this can be a good time to discover Tibet at its most tranquil.

Key Festivals & Religious Ceremonies

Losar (Tibetan New Year)

Losar (Tibetan New Year)

February

Monlam Prayer Festival

Monlam Prayer Festival

February-March

Butter Lamp Festival

Butter Lamp Festival

Final day of Monlam, in March

Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival

Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival

March

Saga Dawa Festival

Saga Dawa Festival

May

Zamling Chisang (Universal Prayer Day)

Zamling Chisang (Universal Prayer Day)

June

Choekhor Duechen

Choekhor Duechen

July

Shoton Festival (yoghurt festival!)

Shoton Festival (yoghurt festival!)

August

Nagchu Horse Racing Festival

Nagchu Horse Racing Festival

August

Bathing Festival

Bathing Festival

August

Ongkor (harvest festival)

Ongkor (harvest festival)

September

Lhabab Duchen

Lhabab Duchen

October

Palden Lhamo Festival (Women's Festival)

Palden Lhamo Festival (Women's Festival)

November

Gongbu New Year Festival

Gongbu New Year Festival

November

Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival

Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival

December

Best time to visit Tibet - weather by month - climate - seasons