Ulaanbaatar might be one of your stops during your Transsiberian journey or your starting point before heading out to explore the fantastic Mongolian countryside. Either way, it is likely that Ulaanbaatar will not be the highlight of your trip. However, don’t let the looks of this city fool you, since Mongolia’s capital is full of life and has a lot to offer. You just have to know where to look. This is the ultimate guide of best things to do in Ulaanbaatar by a resident, me, who has lived here for 3 years and still loving it (despite the pandemic).
The following list is going to be organised from closest to the CBD, taking Sukhbaatar Square as our point of reference, to the furthest from the city.
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HISTORY AND CULTURE IN ULAANBAATAR
How much exactly do you know about Mongolia? One of the top things to do in Ulaanbaatar is learning about its history, something you can’t do in the countryside. The city offers a variety of museums where you can learn the history of the Mongols, from the very first steppe tribes until their recent independence in 1990. Here is a list of museums and temples that you can visit to learn more about Mongolian history.
Price: 10.000 Tugrik
Location: west side of Sukhbaatar Square, 2 minute walk
This is the best museum you can visit to learn about the history of Mongolia and it is my personal favourite. There are 4 floors with exhibitions displayed in chronological order. You can spend 2 to 3 hours exploring a myriad of historical and cultural artifacts and learning all about the Mongol people. Some of the exhibits include an amazing collection of Mongolian traditional costumes and ornaments from different ethnic groups and a display of Mongolia’s ancient nomadic lifestyle. And of course, learn all about Chinggis Khaan’s empire!
Price: 5.000 Tugrik
Location: west side of Sukhbaatar Square, 15 minute walk
Although this museum may be small it is well worth it if you love dinosaurs. Mongolia is a very important paleontological site due to the perfect conditions for fossil preservation in the Gobi desert. The highlight of the museum is a complete skeleton of the T-Rex Mongolian cousin: the Tarbosaurus Bataar. An hour to an hour and a half is enough to visit this museum.
Location: north of Sukhbaatar Square, 15 minute walk
I personally think it is a hidden gem in the city, I found out about it when my car broke down right in front of the gates and I had to park it in their parking lot. The temples are in the shape of gers and they are very colorful. If you have already visited the Gandan Monastery, then this might not be in the cards, but if you by any chance are passing by, I recommend a quick look around.
Price: 8.000 Tugrik
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square, 12 minute walk
A former monastery built in 1904 that survived the religious purges carried out by the Soviets in the thirties. It consists of 6 temples that exhibit some beautiful Buddhist artwork. Despite it being surrounded by skyscrapers, the atmosphere is cozy and relaxing. I personally find it quite a beautiful contrast of architecture and it makes for beautiful photos (that will cost you an extra 5000 T. fee). It is not as impressive as other temples that you may find, for example, in Bhutan, but it still is worth a visit if you have the time.
The Gandantegchinlen Monastery Complex
Price: free to walk around premises, 3.500 Tugrik to see Buddha statue
Location: west of Sukhbaatar Square, 30 minute walk
If you only have time to visit one Buddhist temple let it be this one. It is the biggest active monastery complex in the city and it is still active housing over 150 lamas. It was first built in 1809 with further additions throughout the century. It was later closed in 1938 and its Buddha statue dismantled. It became operational again in 1944 as a “nicety” from the Russians, allowing Mongolians to keep part of their traditional culture. Walking around its premises is free but there is a small fee to see the restored Buddha, which I totally recommend. One of the most popular things to do in Ulaanbaatar.
Museum of the Bogd Khan
Price: 8.000 Tugrik
Location: southwest of Sukhbaatar Square, 35 minute walk
This museum is a complex that houses a Buddhist temple and the palace where the last king and queen of Mongolia lived. It is a nice history complement to the National Museum of Mongolia, where you can learn a little more about Buddhism in the country and feudal life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
However, don’t let the word “palace” fool you. Don’t expect the European lavish architecture, this palace is a small building that looks like an old house. But considering that the whole country lived in gers (yurts), having a building to live in must have been the idea of luxury at the time. There is some Buddhist art to admire in the different temples (I personally like the ones in the Choijin Lama Temple better). Inside the palace, you can see some of the personal items from the Royal Family including a weird but cool exhibit of stuffed animals that belonged to the late Khaan.
Mongolian Military Museum
Price: 5.000 Tugrik
Location: west of Sukhbaatar Square, over 45 min. walk
This museum is quite far away from the city centre, but if you are into weaponry throughout history, I think this can be worth your while. The museum has a few different sections which showcase archeological artifacts, weapons used during the Mongolian Empire era, modern weaponry and armoured vehicles among other items.
Zaisan Hill Memorial
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square, over 1 hour walk
Although it is not a museum, this memorial depicts a beautiful mosaic to honour those lives who were lost in World War II. The views of the city are beautiful, but since Zaisan, the neighbourhood where the monument is located, is far from the city centre I would not go out of my way just for “the views”. However, if you feel like exercising and you are in the area, why not?
Top tip: if you want to skip a few steps, get inside the mall (Zaisan Hill Complex) and take the elevator.
ART IN ULAANBAATAR
When I moved to Mongolia I quickly realised how skilled Mongolians are when it comes to art. From singing to dancing or painting, you will be simply amazed.
Price: 4.000 Tugrik
Location: eastof Sukhbaatar Square, 7 minute walk
Interesting display of pieces of art, some of them depicting traditional imagery with a modern twist. Alternatively, you can visit many free art galleries around town, they are usually free and they have all sorts of types of paintings. Some of the established ones are the Art Gallery of Union of Mongolian Artists just south of Suhbaatar Square near the Bluefin restaurant, 976 Art Gallery inside the Choijin Suite Building, and, on the same street, Altan Khaan Gallery. If you go to Millie’s restaurant, have a look at the Mazalai art gallery right next door.
The Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum
Price: 8.000 Tugrik
Location: west of Sukhbaatar Square, 9 minute walk
Zanabazar is one of the most prominent figures of the country both historically and artistically. Not only was he considered the Michelangelo of Asia but he was also the spiritual leader who propagated Tibetan Buddhism across Mongolia in the 16th century. If you really like religious art, you cannot miss Zanabazar’s work.
State Opera and Ballet Academic Theatre
Price: depending on performance
Location of Ballet and Opera Theatre: east of Sukhbaatar Square, 1 minute walk
Believe it or not, Mongolia has world-class ballet dancers and opera singers as a result of its common history with its neighbors Russia and China.
One of the things the USSR left as a legacy to the Mongolians was their taste for ballet. During the period in which the USSR had control over the Mongolian government, hundred of Mongolians went to Russia to study, many of them learnt classical arts. In turn, the Soviets built theaters and conservatories in Ulaanbaatar. On the other hand, opera is a direct influence of China. In Ulaanbaatar, you will find a repertoire of both Mongolian and classical operas.
Traditional folklore concert Tumen Ekh
Price: around 12.000 Tugrik
Location: Tumen Ekh Theatre, south of Suhbaatar Square, 20 minute walk
If you are more interested in traditional arts do not miss the Tumen Ekh ensemble. I saw them in my first year here and my jaw dropped at such a show. You will hear how the horse fiddle can sound exactly like a horse, marvel about throat singing, and wonder how contortionists can do the things they do. The best collection of Mongolian performances. This is one of the top things to do in Ulaanbaatar, so be sure not to miss it!
EASY ENTERTAINMENT IN UB
Perhaps you are the type of person who likes to see locals go and just observe daily life pass by. These activities are not directly related to history and culture, and they are easy to enjoy. Just relax and discover what’s around you.
Go to the amusement park (aka children’s park)
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square, 20 minute walk
Very close to Sukhbaatar Square, just right behind the Shangri-la mall, there is a quite decent amusement park that is full of life during the summer months. The entrance is free and you only pay for rides you want to ride.
Rent a bike
Price: cheap to moderate
Location: various locations
A must thing to do in Ulaanbaatar to maximise your time in the city is to rent a bike, especially during summer, when it is too hot to be walking around in the middle of the afternoon (yes, Mongolia gets hot). UBike is a company that used to have bike rentals just right on Sukhbaatar Square but with the pandemic, they haven’t restarted business and I don’t know when or if they will resume business. There are other companies that rent bikes but they are in the outskirts of the city so you would have to contact them directly and see what options you have.
International intellectual museum
Price: 8.000 Tugrik
Location: east of Suhbaatar Square, 30 minute walk
I have personally never been to this museum but everybody I talk to finds it super interesting, so it is on my UB bucket list. This museum displays traditional wooden puzzles and games from all over the world and some artwork too. By the reviews on Google, it is a fun place to visit and it is highly recommended.
Walk around the national park
Location: southwest of Sukhbaatar Square, 45 minute walk
The national park is a bit far away from the city centre but in summer it is delightful to go there for a walk around, away from traffic and the city hassle. You can rent bikes and grab a bite at some of the vendors at the entrance.
Bogd Khan hike
Location: southwest of Sukhbaatar Square, 25 minute drive
The hills south of Ulaanbaatar provide for an easy getaway from the city at just 30 minutes away by car. If you miss hiking and cannot wait to get out of the city, spend half a day at the Bogd Khaan mountain. If you go there during summer you will witness how colourful Mongolia can be with its wide variety of wildflowers.
NIGHTLIFE IN UB
Unless you want to go to a specific venue that’s out of the city centre, you will find that there are many things to do in Ulaanbaatar city centre.
Go for a stroll along Seoul Street
Location: southwest of Sukhbaatar Square, 10 minute walk
Seoul street is the heart of the nightlife in Ulaanbaatar, full of bars and karaokes as well as a few restaurants. My favourite spot is easily the street that links Seoul St. and Peace Ave with a high concentration of little and cute restaurants. If you go there don’t forget to take a snapshot of the Beatles monument!
Enjoy the water fountain music show in Sukhbaatar square
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square, 1 minute walk
If you are nearby Sukhbaatar Square during the evening you will for sure be immediately drawn by the sound of a Mongolian melody. This new water show features a choreography of water streams accompanied by light and sound. Not nearly as big as the Bellagio Fountain Show but still quite a pleasant experience. One of the things to do in Ulaanbaatar that is free and quite pleasant.
Jam session at the Fat Cat
Price: depends on show
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square, 10 minute walk
One of the trendiest music clubs of the moment. The intimate, yet exciting atmosphere, fantastic cocktails, and talented musicians are a great combination for the perfect night out in the city. For specific shows, you will have to book online, but I am sure if you pass by and ask in advance, the friendly staff will be able to help you.
Price: depends o show
Location: southwest of Sukhbaatar Square, on Seoul Street, 15 minute walk
The only stand-up comedy venue in UB and highly rated by locals. Sometimes they have shows in English, which I hear are equally fun.
Enjoy the summer night at one of the rooftops
Price: moderate to expensive
Mongolians summers are short and we know it so here in the city we try to spend as much time outdoors as we can. Indulge yourself in fancy establishments, nice views, and decent food on one of the rooftops in the city. A few established ones are Cielo in Galaxy Tower, Limani Lounge in Encanto Tower, and Swagat, in Zaisan area.
Go to a karaoke bar with some friends
Price: moderate for the ones in the city center
Location: you will find plenty of options in the city centre and Seoul Street
You probably already knew that some Asian countries as crazy for Karaoke and Mongolia is no exception. For those of you who didn’t know, the karaoke experience is quite different than Western culture. In Mongolia, much like any other Asian country, you have to rent a whole room which makes karaoke night very much a group activity. In here, you will not have to be embarrassed by singing in front of a strange crowd and can be silly just with friends.
SHOPPING IN ULAANBAATAR
I wouldn’t consider Ulaanbaatar a shopping haven
State Department store
Location: west of Sukhbaatar Square , 15 minute walk
The top floor of the SDS is dedicated to Mongolian souvenirs. This is a nice stop if you don’t want to go spend a whole day walking around different places to get gifts. I recommend, though, that you go to the smaller, local shops which will benefit from your direct purchase.
Price: moderate to expensive
Location: south of Sukhbaatar Square , 10 minute walk
Shangri-la is a high-end shopping mall with expensive designer brands but you can also find some Mongolian-themed shops. There are a couple of cashmere shops, and a few popup stores (kiosks) of Mongolian-made items, including the beauty brand L’hamour.
Price: moderate to expensive (but less expensive than buying overseas)
Location: various locations
This is your chance to buy a luxury product at a decent price, so if I were you, I would make room in my luggage! There are many cashmere shops in town, all of them local, just type cashmere on google maps and take your pick. Gobi Cashmere is the top brand in Mongolia but there are many other brands that are good too. if you intend to buy several pieces of clothing go to the Gobi outlet store to catch some deals. One of the must things to do in Ulaanbaatar is unique to the country.
Narantuul or Black Market
Location: southeast of Sukhbaatar Square, 40 minute walk
The Narantuul is a massive outdoor market where locals can find about anything you need. As a visitor, it is interesting to see the historical artifacts section and traditional Mongolian clothing like boots and hats. you can buy some items allegedly from Mongolia, like woolen socks or gloves, but there is no guarantee that they are local or Chinese products. It is closed on Tuesdays.
FOR THE FOODIES
Ulaanbaatar is foodie heaven, even though it may not look like it. The city offers a wide range of cuisines, from Italian and French to Georgian and Indian. Just do a quick search on Google and take your pick. These are some recommendations:
Vegan options: Lohas Cafe in Shangri-La mall and Loving Hut, by the same owner. Their food is exquisite!
Trendy spots: La Rosa, with its tapas-style Mexican and Spanish fusion cuisine, is killing it this year. Nasca, a modern Peruvian restaurant with amazing pisco sours is the place to go for Friday Salsa nights.
Expats faves: Millies, Rosewood, Namaste, Veranda, Green Zone, Rebelle, Sakura are a few faves and are reasonably priced.
If you have read this far, congratulations! You will be one of the visitors who does not complain about the city and has a clear idea of what to do around here. If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments. I hope you enjoy your time in Mongolia and make the most of Ulaanbaatar. Let me know how many things to do in Ulaanbaatar from this list you are interested in.
Disclaimer: This post has been written during a period of restrictions due to the Covid pandemic. Check if businesses are open before you go. For the same reason, prices are subject to change, and will not always be updated on this post, however, it can give you an idea of the cost of things in Ulaanbaatar.