Ulaanbaatar may not be the most visually appealing city in Asia, but what it may lack in beauty it more than makes up for it in providing visitors with a welcoming, enlightening and culturally-rich travel experience as well as an ideal base for exploring the breathtaking Mongolian landscapes beyond.
A somewhat contradictory city, where industrial progression and modern attitudes contrast with ancient traditions and neighbourhoods brimming with gers, Ulaanbaatar (also known as Ulan Bator or just UB) is a fascinating place to get acquainted with whether passing through on the Trans-Mongolian train to Beijing or as part of a tour of Mongolia.
Ulaanbaatar’s famous annual Naadam Festival, where colourful competitors take each other on in a series of fiercely contested events covering the three traditional Mongolian sports of archery, horse racing and wrestling. Book early as the festival, which takes place in July, is extremely popular among travellers and Mongolians alike
Look beyond Ulaanbaatar’s intimidating Soviet edifices and you will discover a plethora of historical, religious and cultural delights to explore. The impressive Gandan Monastery is usually the first thing visitors head for, the largest and most important monastery in Mongolia it is home to over 150 monks and holds captivating prayer ceremonies every morning between 09:00 and 11:00.
For an in-depth glimpse into Mongolia’s past head to the Museum of Natural History and National Museum of Mongolian History which between them contain many fascinating exhibits from complete dinosaur skeletons to 12th-century Mongol armour to Mongolian art and ethnographic displays. Also well worth a visit is the majestic Bogd Khan Palace which houses a series of temples brimming with interesting scroll paintings, costumes, icons and musical instruments as well as some peculiar taxidermy.
Despite covering only 0.3% of Mongolia’s total surface area, Ulaanbaatar is home to about a third of the country’s population.