48 Hours In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Above: The Zaisan Memorial
Above: The Zaisan Memorial

With a population of just under 3 million people, and a total area of over 1.5 million square kilometers, Mongolia boasts the lowest population density of any country on earth. Roughly a third of the country’s population, however, is crammed into the bustling capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

Ulaanbaatar is a hectic zoo of a city, where traffic laws are treated more like guidelines, and everything seems to be named after the country’s world-conquering hero, Chinggis Khan. That said, it is also a city of tremendous beauty and unique charm, and a can’t-miss destination for anyone traveling through east-central Asia.

Here’s everything you need to know before visiting the Mongolian capital.

What to do?

First and foremost, we recommend you visit Ulaanbaatar in the summer months as the city’s winters are among the most bone-chillingly cold in the world.

During the warmer months of the year, visitors to Ulaanbaatar flock to the city’s many monasteries. The most popular of these is Gandantegchinlen (Gandan) Monastery, which you’ll find, not surprisingly in the city’s Gandan Monastery district. On the monastery grounds, it’s recommended that visitors check out the statue of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara which, at 26.5 meters tall, clocks in as the tallest indoor statue in the world.

Other Ulaanbaatar attractions include the city’s Chinggis Khaan Square, and the poignant Zaisan Memorial, a monument to the soviet soldiers killed in World War II that sits atop a hill in the south end of the city. Then, finally, there are the Gobi Desert excursions offered by many local companies—a must for all adventurous visitors.

Where to eat?

Ulaanbaatar is peppered with a multitude of great dining choices. For coffee, pastries, and light meals, try Coffee Kid on Zaluuchuud Avenue or Café Amsterdam on Peace Avenue. If you’re looking for lunch or dinner, you’ve got plenty of options. Try Silk Road Bar & Grill or Veranda for western dishes, Namaste for mouth-watering Indian food, or Luna Blanca for award-winning vegan plates. Finally, to sample traditional Mongolian dishes—which are often based on fattier meats, including horse—wander into one of the city’s 6 Modern Nomads locations.

Where to drink?

This may come as a surprise, but Ulaanbaatar is actually home to several great breweries. Visiting beer-lovers should check out the Chinggis Club off Sukhbaatar St or the APU Company, a 90-year-old beer, vodka and soft drink producer whose headquarters sit on Chinggis Avenue. Visitors to Ulaanbaatar can also try locally-loved watering holes like the Detroit-themed D Bar (yes, there’s a Detroit-themed bar in Mongolia), or the Grand Khan Irish Pub. Be warned, however: most of the city’s drinking hotspots close around midnight, so nights out tend to start a little earlier than you’re probably used to.

Where to shop?

Ulaanbaatar’s shopping hub is undoubtedly the State Department Store on Peace Avenue, where you’ll find clothing outlets and plenty of souvenirs. For more traditional Mongolian items, try the city’s cashmere stores, such as the Gobi Cashmere factory outlet, or GOYO Cashmere on Peace Avenue. And then, of course, there’s the chaotic Narantuul Black Market, where you’ll find knockoffs of all your favorite brands for absurdly low prices—not a great choice for anyone who takes fashion seriously, but certainly a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Just be sure to keep your wits about you and hang onto your wallet, as Narantuul is a hub for pickpockets and other tourist-targeting hustlers.

Where to stay?

When it comes to accommodations, visitors to Ulaanbaatar have several great options. If you’re budget allows for it, try the 5-star Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar, which overlooks National Amusement Park. For a more affordable option, try the famous, 4-star Chinggis Khaan Hotel on Tokyo Street, whose proximity to Peace Avenue makes it an excellent starting point for explorations of Mongolia’s enigmatic capital city. Finally, for a budget choice, try one of the city’s many hostels.

Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor is a globetrotting writer currently based in Ottawa, Canada. He covers mixed martial arts for Fightland and Vice Sports, and freelances for a number of other publications. Follow him on Twitter @TomTayMMA.

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