Ulaanbaatar City Guide
Known as Ulan Bator to the residents, Ulaanbaatar is not only the capital and largest city of Mongolia; it is also the main tourist attraction for any foreigners to visit when seeing this sizeable country.
To further demonstrate the above point, the city holds 45% of Mongolia's population split between 9 districts. If all you did was visit Ulaanbaatar, odds are you would be quite busy with things to do every day.
For open-minded travelers, seeing Ulaanbaatar for the first time can be extremely eye-opening and fascinating.
You will find that the diversity of people is based on nearly every attribute you could think of from social class to appearance.
Walking around the city, the immediate distinction that catches your eye is the businessman and suits strolling along the footpath, only to be side by side to evidently poor nomads who have shifted their livelihoods to the city. If you take the time to observe and talk to the locals, you will find there is almost no judgemental tone or opinions to their different counterparts. Although there is immense diversification, the majority of people who live there are warm hearted, and will gladly demonstrate this to you in most cases when you visit.
The history of the city lives up to its current magnitude, going all the way back to 1639 when it was only a mobile monastery. Although Ulaanbaatar was not the official name back then, it did have several labels due to the constant change in locations.
Ikh Khuree became the dominant name that the city kept from 1778, during the Chinese Manchu control, till 1911 when the country of Mongolia proclaimed its independence from China. After several wars and invasion from the Soviets, Mongolia had a historic turning point when they were renounced officially part of Soviet Russia in 1924.
Following the above, the city became known as Ulaanbaatar which means red hero, to signify the communist victory.
The reformat of the towns aesthetics began almost immediately within the coming years. Soviets rebuilt Ulaanbaatar so it would be congruent to the Russian style. As a result, many tourist attractions came to fruition including performance centers, theaters, galleries and a rich nightlife.
What to do in Ulaanbaatar
Due to the vast diversity of the city, there is an abundance of things to do and see on an average Ulaanbaatar day. No matter what your interest or passion may be, chances are this city will showcase and offer something that nurtures it.
Theatre and Cinema
If you are someone who likes performances and movies during the day, then Ulaanbaatar will cater you in style. You will be glad to know that the region hosts year-round shows and performances that are highly anticipated and prepared for, when live action isn't enough, the city also features western style cinemas with the same selection of Hollywood blockbusters.
When visiting mid-year, make sure you attend the Naadam (see Naadam tours) for some real entertainment and Mongolian culture. Featuring three popular sports in the country- horse racing, archery, and wrestling. If you're a man who is missing your hometown sports fan culture, then attend the Naadam, held on July 10th-12th.
If your traveling with your family, then the National Amusement Park is your place to be. Locally it is known as “Children's Park”, everything that would entertain kids is featured here including mini-games, amusement park rides, and competitions. The season you go in will determine what they have open, during winter there is ice skating available for both kids and adults.
Being a Buddhism dominated country, there are many avid meditators and religious individuals in Ulaanbaatar. A worthwhile visit is to the Gandan Monastery, located northwest of the central square; you can visit during the morning as-as early as 9 am, ending during the afternoon based on the level of activity.
Within the Gandan Monastery lies one of Mongolia's most famous nation symbols, the statue of Megjid Janraisag. The sight was rebuilt In 1996 and now serves as a Mongolia's leading Buddhist landmark.
Chinggis Khan Square
A sight and famous Asian landmark, the Chinggis Khan Square not only is significant among Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia but is also in the top 15 largest city squares in Asia. Although the square serves an adamant purpose in educating viewers through their statues of Chinggis Khan and his sons, the available space and beautiful landscape also serves as a festival and concert ground where a wide array of events take place.
Located in the south of Ulaanbaatar, Zaisan Memorial dedicates its grounds to the Soviet soldiers that passed away during WW2. For history lovers who love sights that are attractive and informative, then visiting here will give you a pleasant surprise due to the elevated ground and visually portrayal of stories from the past.
The Zanabazar Museum
Perfect for a particular demographic of history lovers, the Zanabazar Museum contains items dating all the way back to the stone age, with a focus on the Buddhist culture. Located in Chingeltei district, the musuem contains roughly 500 pieces on display that are changing constantly. For anyone who loves prehistoric art and painting, you will love this musuem.
Bogd Khaan Palace Musuem
An ideal musuem for any traveler who is curious about the nations history, the Bogd khaan located in Khan-Uul District displays items that depict Mongolias religion, cultural and political history through predominately artistic language.
Targeted at buddhists, the Choijin Lama located in Chingeltei district displays in detail the history and art of Buddhism as a religion. It is likely that there is no other musuem in Ulaanbaatar that better explains the previous centuries Buddhist culture then this. Featuring over 5000 items, you can be sure to get more then what you came for.
Ulaanbaatar's nightlife is paradise for singles, couples or any groups wanting to have lots of fun. With an influx of nightclubs and bars that offer every type of music genre as well as stretching long after midnight in open hours, for a wild night, check out the below-
New Mass Club
Arguably one of the most famous and wildest nightclubs in town, New Mass includes live performances that are comprised of predominately traditional hip hop. Often you will find the crowd there to be either locals or Russians, with the occasional tourist groups. It goes without saying that it is pricey compared to some of your other options, but if you have the cash, then don't leave without visiting!
Grand Khaan Irish Pub
Although it is the largest Irish pub in the city, Grand Khaan serves a mix of international drinks which makes it a tourist favorite. Be sure to visit here to not only endulge in the alcohol, but also share stories with some of your fellow foreigners.
Although Mongolia isn't associated with a rich food culture in the eyes of foreigners, they still provide tasty dishes in the right places. Fortunately, Ulaanbaatar offers a broad range of options, and if you explore, you might just find your favorite one.
For a variety of foods, California is a good place for a delicious breakfast. It's not cheap, but a great treat after a tour through Mongolia.
The best burger in town. This restaurant is hidden in an back alley, but you won't regret it.
Ba Shu 888
For traditional food, the Ba Shu 888 is a great place to eat. The restaurant offers a range of Chinese and Mongolian dishes, for a relatively small price, making it optimal for the curious cultural traveler who is on a low budget.
The Ursgal Khuushar would be the equivalent of a western fast-food shop in Mongolia. At a fair price, you can purchase some of the most regular quick meals such as noodles, soup, and several continental choices. Do not refer to these options as these labels when there, they will often have traditional names for them, but just by observing you can work out which one is the dish your after.
Ideal for the big spender, the Ivy is arguably the most renowned and highly rated restaurant in Ulaanbaatar. The food choices do not include many Mongolian dishes, rather they give most of their focus and attention to traditional European Cuisine, making it worthwhile to check out if you have the money.
Due to the tourists that Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar attract, this was a must to mention. Vegan Lounge is an optimized venue for its target customers, offering a peaceful and relaxing space to sit in. Not only do they offer traditional dishes, but all meat dishes that are commonly loved are made from vegan guidelines and are available to serve.
For French food, French people, and French tongue, Le Triskell provides the whole trio. As you might have guessed, the price is quite high in this venue. If you are an expatriate, then give this restaurant a visit as it is a common favorite.
Ulaanbaatar being a diverse but compact city, transport is either going to be one of your biggest problems, or conveniences depending on whether you plan properly and decide what your primary method of moving around is.
Ulaanbaatar being a diverse city, using taxi's is going to be very convenient for the new traveler, and price friendly too. Although there are official taxi services, despite what your thinking before you arrive, you will end up taking the several lifts offers that will undoubtedly come from locals once realizing you're a tourist. Ensure that before you enter any cab, find out the average prices to determine whether you are being overcharged or not, which you will be at least once.
Both walking and the bus are applicable when visiting the cities attractions. Fortunately, most places that attract foreigners are also very close to each other, which is why Ulaanbaatar has designed a system where you can catch buses to each one, or just use good old fashion walking. I do not recommend the bus for extensive traveling, as methods like taxi's are much better considering the cost to service ratio, rather they should just be used for quick stops to sights.
I recommend using the above methods as they are the most convenient way to get around the city, if for some reason you choose not to, there are other options to choose from. If you are also traveling outside the city, hiring a car might be an option for you. Ideally, you should make this only a consideration if you're going to be traveling long distances.Also, a consideration to make when deciding transport options is a minivan. Unless you just want to blow money, hire these only in a situation where you will be sharing and splitting costs. Otherwise, you might as well just hire a car.
Safety in Ulaanbaatar
Fortunately Ulaanbaatar is relatively safe. Ensure that during the nighttime you are always in a group or crowded area, because of the active nightlife there is always the chance for robbery or theft in isolated areas and bus stops.
Besides the above, overcharging in taxis are the only caution, which can be avoided if you make friends with locals so they confirm that prices are safe, or do your research beforehand about average prices.
Ulaanbaatar is a city with an abundance of activities to see and do, to get the best and most fulfilling experiences out of these, make sure that you visit the places and sights mentioned.
Whilst taking safety measures, don't be afraid to venture out to new places. Due to the diversity of the structures and interests in Ulaanbaatar, there is something for literally everyone!