Welcome to Ulaanbaatar,
the door to Mongolia!
Most likely you’ll start your journey around Mongolia from Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital. Ulaanbaatar originally was a nomadic Buddhist center, later growing into a permanent city. It got its current name in 1924 along with the proclamation of the Mongolian People’s Republic. The word “Ulaanbaatar” actually means “Red Hero”. Now this is the biggest and most populous city in Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar is home to around 1.6 million people (2022 data), half of the country’s total population. And this is also the central transportation hub, you will reach other places in Mongolia starting from here.
How to get to Ulaanbaatar?
Mongolia is still not a popular tourist destination, therefore flights to this country are a bit pricey. The cheapest way to reach Ulaanbaatar is from China (if you already happen to be here. Some nationalities can enjoy a visa-free China visit for a week).
- From China, the cheapest option is to get to Inner Mongolia’s capital Hohhot (use trains!), and then get on the train to Erlian/ Erenhot. That’s China’s – Mongolia’s border. After that get to the bus station in Erlian/Erenhot and get on the bus to Zamiin-Uud. There are several buses a day, the first one leaves at 8 a.m. In Zamiin-Uud, the best way is to take the train to Ulaanbaatar which takes a night-long journey, leaving at around 6 p.m.
- From China, you can also take the train from Beijing but that’s much more expensive than traveling from Hohhot! So, we’d recommend going from Beijing to Hohhot (there are cheap daily flights as well), and then following the steps mentioned above.
- From Russia, you can enter by the Trans-Mongolian (Trans-Siberian) train that starts its journey from Moscow, stopping in several places along the way. Just check if you’ve taken the right train – one route leads from Moscow to Vladivostok, the other turns southwards to Mongolia, and you need the last one.
- By air. You can reach Mongolia by air, there are flights to and back from several countries. The cheapest flights are from South Korea and Japan. You can fly from Asia and also from Europe, but it would be cheaper to plan several transfers.
There are several places recommended by many travelers, we picked out the most interesting ones, and these are the ones we’d recommend for you to visit.
1. Gandan Khiid Monastery
Gandan Monastery is the central and the largest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, one of those that survived the religious purges of the 19th century. The full name of the monastery is Gandantegchinlen which means “the great place of complete joy”. Today more than 600 monks live in this monastery. There are ceremonies held, usually in the morning. Monastery itself is very beautiful, and definitely a place to visit in Ulaanbaatar!
2. Zaisan Memorial Hill
There’s a hill in the south of the city, reachable by bus or taxi. As it’s written on the signs around the monument: “The monument itself resembles the Mongolian fireplace, symbolizing life. This life was brought by the sacrifice of fallen Soviet heroes, and the independence of Mongolia owes a great deal of debt to the Red Army soldiers who are epitomized by a 27-meter tail statue, holding the banner of victory in the right hand and the machine gun in the left hand.”
The monument is nice but the nicest thing is the panoramic view of the city. This is a common place for locals and tourists to gather. A warm tip – reach the trail to the monument through a shopping mall built just there: “Zaisan Hill complex”. Use the elevator and an exit to the hill. It will save you some climbing!
3. Less walked trails
This will not be in any must-see article except ours. We love to explore cities and find our own special places, and we managed to do so in Ulaanbaatar. Our first thought was to hike around mountains in the south of the city – like Zuun Orgil trail. Turned out that many hikers enjoy these hills, and so are the mosquitos. We lost the battle with the last ones and slowly started walking back to the city when we saw these random reachable hilltops all around and climbed Soyombo Hill. Not very far from Zaisan Hill, but the views are much more stunning!
4. Sukhbaatar square
Sukhbaatar Square is the central square of the city, built in honor of Damdin Sükhbaatar who declared Mongolia’s independence from China. In this square, you’ll find several interesting statues, including a huge Chingis Khaan Statue, and a Parliament of Mongolia just behind it. This is the place, you’ll see most of the tourists and souvenir and art sellers. They’d be happy to accept any currency you have.
5. Mongol Art Gallery
Mongol (or Mongolian as in Google Maps) Art Gallery is just on the east side of the Sukhbaatar square. As it’s written on the official homepage of Mongol Art Gallery: “Since being established in 2019, Mongol Art Gallery has been continuously working with both Mongolian and International artists organizing exhibitions, research seminars, art auctions, workshops, and other marquee events. We exhibit historical artworks from iconic Mongolian artists as well as new artists just beginning their careers. An essential function of our gallery is to garner more recognition for our artists by sharing their vision and creativity with the public.”
These are our TOP 5 to visit in Ulaanbaatar.
This art gallery was worth visiting, we paid 2,000 Mongolian Tugriks which is around 0.50 euros.
We did some extra as well, and it was:
6. The Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs / Natural History Museum
It was heavily raining outside, and this was the place we ran into to wait till the rain passed. Well, we have never been huge fans of museums but this was quite nice, too. We got to know that there were hundreds of dinosaurs living in Mongolia’s territory, some of whose fossils can be seen in this museum. As the Dinosaur Museum was merged into the Natural History Museum in August 2019, you can also get to know different animals and even butterflies that live in Mongolia.
For entrance, we paid 5,000 Mongolian Tugriks which is around 1.5 euros.
Tips and Recommendations
Eat! We are vegetarian and going to Mongolia scared us a bit as nomadic people love their meat and dairy products. To our surprise, Ulaanbaatar was packed with vegan eateries! Wow! We could find one on almost every corner! The menus usually are in Mongolian language, so it was a struggle till we found Vegan Hut restaurant where prices are around 12,000 Mongolian Tugrik which is around 3 euros per meal. And the dishes in Vegan Hut are so yummy! Plus, so many local people choose vegan restaurants, making us think we’re at the right place trying the right things!
Drink! Mongolians have their traditional drinks like airag (fermented mare milk); suutsei tsai (milk tea); chatsarganii shuus (sea-buckthorn juice); and arkhi (milk vodka). Well, to be honest, our favourite was just simply Mongolian beer. In Ulaanbaatar, there are plenty of restaurants and bars serving beer on tap, MB Beer Plus bar was the best for us. They have several beers on tap, price is around 9,800 Mongolian Tugrik per cup which is around 2.6 euros. The bar itself is very pretty and comfy.
Sleep! Same as vegan restaurants and bars, there are plenty of hotels to stay in and we tried a couple of them. The most comfortable was Danista Nomads 2-star hotel. The rooms are super-comfy, and there are all the necessary facilities – towels, toiletries, wifi, plus breakfast in the kitchen with a built-in yurt. The staff is super friendly and so are the prices.
And, most importantly, enjoy Ulaanbaatar!