Ulaanbaatar (Улаанбаатар), the capital and largest city in Mongolia, is home to 1.5 million people (50% of Mongolia’s total population). It is a sprawling city complete with high buildings, more coffee shops than you’ll likely see anywhere in Asia, fashionably-dressed residents and yet still hold a strong nomadic culture.
The city was founded as a nomadic Buddhist centre and has been under Russian control in the past. You’ll notice a mix of collection of old Soviet buildings among Chinese oriental-styled ornaments, a definite lack of trees. However, it’s fascinating. It’s different, nothing like any other capital in the world.
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Walk around Sükhbaatar Square
A large square in the heart of the capital, Sükhbaatar Square (Сүхбаатарын талбай) is one of the most visited attractions in Ulaanbaatar. Standing in the middle, you can spot modern buildings like the Blue Sky Towers, representing a sharp contrasting between history and modernization of the city. Sükhbaatar Square is a good starting point to explore the city – most of the museums, monasteries and cultural places are located in this area.
Learn about the history of Mongolia at the National Museum
The National Museum of Mongolia is a must-visit in Ulaanbaatar. It was established in 1924, with a wide range of collection containing about 56,000 historical, archaeological, and ethnographic artifacts from prehistory through the contemporary era. There are total 9 halls separated among three floors where exhibits are displayed chronologically and most information signs are translated into English. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, as there is so much to learn about Mongolia in this wonderful museum.
Opening Hours: Daily, 0900 – 1900 hours
Entrance Fee: Adult – 8,000 MNT (US$3); Camera – 10,000 MNT (US$3.50)
How to go: 5-minutes (400-meters) walk from Sükhbaatar Square
Awed by Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs of all shapes, sizes and appetites once roamed the Gobi Desert. Today, you can come face-to-skull with some of the best examples of Mongolian dinosaur fossils in this museum. While the museum itself is a bit shabby, you can find protoceratops skulls, dinosaur eggs, and a full skeleton of Tarbosaurus bataar (a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex)!
Opening Hours: Daily, 1000 – 1900 hours
Entrance Fee: Adult/Student – 3,000 MNT/1000 MNT (US$1/US$0.40); Camera – 5,000 MNT (US$1.80)
How to go: 25-minutes (1.3-kilometers) walk from Sükhbaatar Square
Enjoy happy hour at Blue Sky Tower
An ultra-modern 25-story, 105-meters tall giant shark fin skyscraper, the Blue Sky Tower is currently the tallest building in Ulaanbaatar. It offers the most spectacular views in every direction, particularly the cool hangout spot on 24th & 25th floor. The Lounge offers happy hour from Mondays to Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm.
Marvel at Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan
For about twenty years, the Winter Palace (Богд хааны ордон музей) had been serving as winter residence for the eighth Buddhist leader of Mongolia, Bogd Khan. Today, the palace turned into a museum, housing Buddhist artwork, sculpture, embroidered silk tapestries and cotton paintings known as “thangka”.
Opening Hours: Daily, 0900 – 1900 hours
Entrance Fee: Adult/Student – 8,000 MNT/3000 MNT (US$3/US$1); Camera – 50,000 MNT (US$18)
How to go: Catch Bus No 7 or 19 from Sükhbaatar Square
Visit the beautiful Gandantegchinlen Monastery
Gandantegchinlen Monastery (Гандантэгчинлэн хийд) is one of the most important monasteries in Mongolia and one of the few which survived the religious purges of 1937. Its name roughly translates into “the great place of complete joy”. Within the main temple, there is an impressive 26-meters tall Buddha statue. Today, there are over 150 monks living at the complex.
Opening Hours: Daily, 0830 – 1900 hours
Entrance Fee: Adult – 4,000 MNT (US$1.50); Camera – 7,000 MNT (US$2.50)
How to go: 30-minutes (2-kilometres) walk from Sükhbaatar Square
Satisfy your caffeine urge from trendy coffee shops
There’s no Starbucks, or at least I didn’t see any, but there are loads of trendy local and Korean chains coffee shops in Ulaanbaatar. You could spend days trying them out.
- UBean Coffee House & Roasterie
- Caffe Bene
- Millie’s Espresso
Watch a Throat Singing Cultural Show
If you are interested in the local culture, the unique Mongolian throat singing (khöömii) will be one of the best things to do in Mongolia. There are performances held every night at the State Youth and Children’s Theatre. Tickets are sold at 30,000 MNT (US$11), and an additional 20,000 MNT (US$7) for camera.
I visited during the Naadam Festival period, and was lucky enough to catch the cultural performance at Sükhbaatar Square for free.
Witness the opening ceremony of Naadam Festival
Naadam Festival (Наадам) is Mongolia’s national celebration of national independence and it combines both arts and sports. The main events at the Naadam festival are: wrestling, horse racing and archery. The main event in Ulaanbaatar last for 3 days usually in July. There are also smaller Naadam events out in the countryside which can last as long as 1 week.
Read More: Experiencing The Naadam Festival Without Joining A Tour
Enjoy delicious vegan food at Luna Blanca
I was actually quite surprised to see a few vegan restaurants around Ulaanbaatar. Famous for being the first vegan restaurant in Mongolia, Luna Blanca remains very popular for its consistently tasty and healthy food. Aside from serving up yummy vegan meals, Luna Blanca is also a not-for-profit business with a mission of educating Mongolians on healthier diets.
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, Lunch: 1200 – 1500 hours; Dinner: 1700 – 2000 hours
How to go: 15-minutes (900-meters) walk from Sükhbaatar Square
Have fun at National Amusement Park
If your traveling with kids, then the National Amusement Park is the place to be. Locally it is known as “Children’s Park”, there are indoor and outdoor rides, carnival games and even an ice skating rink during Winter.
Opening Hours: Daily, 1100 – 2300 hours
Entrance Fee: Adult – 1,000 MNT (US$0.40); each ride cost between 4,000 MNT – 6,000 MNT (US$1.50 – US$2.20)
How to go: 20-minutes (1.8-kilometres) walk from Sükhbaatar Square
Hike at Terelj National Park
Located about 80-kilometers northeast of Capital, Terelj National Park is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. You can choose to do a day-trip or stay overnight in the national park.
Read More: Gorkhi-Terelj National Park – A Day Trip From Ulaanbaatar
Admire the largest Genghis Khan Statue
The Genghis Khan complex has two Guinness Book of World Record awards – Tallest Equestrian Statue and Tallest Boot. It also houses 2 museums which exhibit the archaeological cultures during Bronze age and another during the Great Khan period. You can even go to the top of the horse’s head to have a close-up with Genghis Khan.
Volunteer with the locals
During my last 1-weekish in Mongolia, my plan was to head to Gobi Desert. I chanced upon a leaflet looking for volunteers for an English Camp and I made that call right away. It was one of the best things I did in Mongolia.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!