Top 5 Famous Monasteries To Visit On Your Private China Monastery Tour

China has the distinction of being home to some of the world’s most famous Buddhist monasteries. The culture of monasteries in the country has played a profound role in the lives of Chinese people – influencing everything from art and architecture, to folk customs. Here are the top 5 famous monasteries to visit on your private China monastery tour.

Ganden Monastery

Located on top of Wangbur Mountain, Ganden Monastery was the first monastery of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect, established it in the early 15th century. Ganden is known as one of the “Three Great” university monasteries together with Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery. With stunning panoramic vistas of the surrounding valley, it provides a fantastic kora (pilgrim) route. Ganden Monastery makes for an unforgettable experience and is a must-see attraction on your private China monastery tour.

Ganden translates into “joyous” in Tibetan and is the name for “Tushita”, one of the heavenly realms and home to the Future Buddha. The monastery complex is situated at an astounding altitude of 3,800 m (12,467 ft), providing incredible views of the Kyi-chu Valley below.

Established in 1409, Ganden Monastery is comprised of over 50 buildings, including assembly halls, chapels, shrines, pagodas, and Buddhist colleges. In addition, the complex houses many precious cultural and historical relics. Ganden Monastery became a cultural relic unit subject to state protection in 1961.

Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery

Located north of the city of Zhongdian in Yunnan province, is Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery. Sometimes known as the “Little Potala Palace”, it is the most important monastery in southwest China. The monastery is a faithful recreation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, hence the name. It is a must on your private China monastery tour.

Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery was constructed between 1679 and 1681. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) the site was a small temple belonging to the Nyingma Sect of Buddhism. Kangxi Emperor (1662 to 1722) in the Qing Dynasty provided full patronage for the construction of the monastery complex.

Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery has two main structures, Zhacang Hall and Jikang Hall, which are surrounded by eight colleges. The monastery endured extensive damage during the Cultural Revolution, but in 1983 underwent a full restoration and renovation. Today, 700 monks reside in the monastery living in 200 associated houses on the site.

Drepung Monastery

Sitting at the foot of Mount Gephel, Drepung Monastery is the largest monastery in Tibet. Along with Ganden Monastery and Sera Monastery, is known as one of the “Three Great” university monasteries. With a history stretching 600-years coupled with the cultural relics housed within, this extraordinary complex is definitely a must-see monastery attraction on any China monastery tour.

Drepung Monastery is located 5 km (3.1 miles) from Lhasa. Covering an area of 20,000 square meters, it was once the largest monastery in the world, housing over 10,000 monks. Because the second to the fifth Dalai Lamas studied Buddhism at Drepung, it is considered to be the preeminent Buddhist monastery.

Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 by one of the main disciples of Tsongkhapa, Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden (1397–1449). Since its founding, many additions and reconstructions have happened at the monastery complex. The most important historical structures include Coqen Hall, Ganden Potrang, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges) and numerous Kamcuns, to name a few.

Sera Monastery

Along with Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery, Sera is regarded as one of the “great three” Gelug university monasteries. A renowned highlight of the monastery is the spectacle of monks debating that occurs in the courtyard behind the main temple. Sera Monastery is a must-see on your China monastery tour.

Founded in 1419, Sera Monastery was established by Jamchen Chojey (1355-1435), a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. In the following decades, it became greatly renowned as a seat of learning for the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. At its peak, the monastery complex housed over 6,000 monks.

Sera Monastery covers an expansive total area of about 28 acres (11 ha), housing several institutions within the complex. The main buildings include the Great Assembly Hall (Coqen Hall), the three Zhacangs (colleges,) and Kamcuns (dormitories) also known as Homdong Kangtsang. Additionally, several important cultural relics are housed within Sera Monastery.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

One of the most significant monasteries in Tibet is Tashilhunpo Monastery. Because of its cultural and historical importance, it is a must-see attraction on your private China monastery tour. Located on a hill in the center of Shigatse (the second-largest city in spectacular Tibet), monastery covers a total area of 70,000 square meters (753,473 sq ft).

Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in 1447 CE by Gedun Drub (1391-1474), who would later be named the First Dalai Lama. For centuries, this has been regarded as one of the most incredible monasteries ever constructed. Today, over 950 monks reside within Tashilhunpo, making it the largest functioning religious institution in Tibet.

The monastery complex houses numerous cultural relics and treasures. Some of the highlights of Tashilhunpo include the Stupas of Panchen Lamas, the Kelsang Temple, and the enormous Future Buddha Statue, which is the largest gilded statue in the world.

Recommended China Monastery Tours

8-Day Phenomenal Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, and Mount Everest Tour

Some of the tour highlights include the magnificent Potala Palace, the fascinating monk Sutra-debating in Sera Monastery, the beautiful holy lake, Yamdrok Lake, World-famous Karola Glacier and the summit of the world, Mount Everest.

7-Day Exquisite Luoyang-Shaolin Temple-Kaifeng-Anyang-Zhengzhou Tour

Some of the tour highlights include the fantastic Buddhist sculptures in Longmen Grottoes, the ancient Shaolin Temple, and its pagoda forest, relics of Shang City in Zhengzhou, the National Museum of Chinese Characters and Yinxu Relics in Anyang.

14-Day Exceptional Beijing, Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Shanghai Tour

Some of the tour highlights include Beijing, the capital of China and end in Shanghai, China’s emerging global financial hub. Explore the most important sites: the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Yuyuan Garden, and the Bund amongst other must-see attractions. Travel to Yunnan Province, literally meaning the “South of the Colorful Clouds”

Want to see more tours? View our China Monastery Tours page.


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Sarah Bauder

Sarah has been extensive experience as a scribe, from travel writer to screenwriter, to a writer short stories. When she’s not doing one of those three things, she enjoys traveling, cooking, adventuring, reading, and anything involved being in (or under) water.
Sarah Bauder