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Eurasian city-breaks: 48 hours in Ulan Bator, Mongolia

Part four of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-hour journey of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

Situated in the Mongolian heartlands, Ulan Bator is the capital and largest city in Mongolia with almost half of the country’s population living in the city. The city is nestled in a valley on the Tuul River and is flanked by the scenic Terelj national park to the East and over-looked by the magnificent Bogd Khan mountain to the South. Mongolia has been the focal point for many of the world’s greatest empires and is best known as the home of Genghis Khan who led the infamous Mongol empire that would go on to stretch from the Sea of Japan to the Carpathian mountains in Eastern Europe at its zenith.

Part four of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-journey of Ulan Bator, exploring top tourist attractions and taking in the city’s spectacular heritage.

Why visit Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator offers a rich, unique experience to travellers wanting to explore off the beaten track. Despite its time under both Chinese and later Soviet occupation, the city has retained much of its unique Mongolian cultural heritage harking back to the days of the Mongol empire. The city is home to a variety of exciting attractions with natural history museums exhibiting rare fossils from pre-history, art galleries housing works of art from Mongolian painters and spectacular Buddhist temples. Just outside the city, travellers can enjoy exquisite national parks with panoramic views and even take a trip to one of Mongolia’s best ski resorts, Bogd Khan Uul.

Arriving in Ulan Bator

Where to stay in Ulan Bator

Ulaanbaatar Hotel
Ulaanbaatar Hotel

Ulan Bator has plenty of hotels within the city centre and is well connected with bus routes and taxis which can be found at all major airports and train stations. Most hotels are found around Sukhbaatar Square and you will be able to get to most tourist attractions from here with ease. The Ulaanbaatar hotel is popular with tourists and has Bagshiin Deed Bus Stop just outside which can get you across the city quickly.

Ulan Bator Street Map
Ulan Bator Street Map

Day one:

Morning: 6:00am – 11:00pm

Hiking in Terelj national park

Terelj National Park, Mongolia
Terelj National Park, Mongolia

Located 1 ½ hour away from Ulaanbaatar, Terelj national park is the perfect way to escape the bustling streets of Ulan Bator city. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife including over 250 species of bird and brown bears, while sheer cliffs and rolling hills create a spectacular yet challenging terrain that is ideal for hikers and outdoor adventurers. Various rock formations can be found within the park that are regularly used for rock climbing including Turtle Rock and Praying Lama Rock, although many daring rock climbers aim to reach the Buddhist temple at the park’s peak. Keen explorers may also want to take a stroll over to some of the parks well-known landmarks such as Khagiin Khar Lake and the Yestii natural hot water springs.

A tourist zone has been developed south of the park that includes restaurants and this is the perfect time to stop and grab a bite to eat before continuing with your journey.

Afternoon: 12:00pm – 15:00pm

Standing with the Great conqueror

Genghis Khan Equestrian Monument
Genghis Khan Equestrian Monument

An hours’ drive south of the park over will bring you to the site of the famous Genghis Khan equestrian monument. Located on the bank of the Tuul River, this 131-foot tall statue dominates the skyline and points eastward towards the great conqueror’s alleged birthplace. The complex is open every day of the week between the hours of 9:00am and 18:00pm and visitors can climb the many stairs up to the horse’s mane for spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.

Late afternoon: 15:00 – 18:00pm

Celebrating Mongolian art and culture

After a busy day exploring the outer reaches of Ulan Bator, a trip to see the works of one of the country’s most celebrated artists offers a welcome change of pace. The Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city displaying masterpieces from Mongolian artists, masters and craftsmen throughout the country’s history. The museum has 12 exhibition galleries, that span from the arts of ancient civilizations up to the 20th century.

The Zanabazar museum is open every day from 9:00am until 17:30pm April to September and 10:00 until 16:30pm October to March. The entrance fee includes an English audio guide and costs around T8,000 for an adult ticket, T2500 for students and T1000 for Children.

Evening: 18:00 – 00:00am

Culinary creations from the Capital

Ulan Bator has a wide range of restaurants to choose from, and while many specialise in meat dishes, the city does still have a selection of vegetarian options for tourists including several Indian and European restaurants. Just across the road from the Fine arts museum is Luna Blanca, which has been noted as one of the best restaurants in Ulan Bator for vegan and vegetarian food. The restaurant specialises in Mongolian cuisine and serves a variety of dumplings, pasta dishes and stew using authentic local produce. We recommend booking a table at Luna Blanca in advance as they can get busy!

Day two:

Morning: 9:00 – 11:00am

Exploring the Gadan Monastery

Gadan Monastery, Ulan Bator
Gadan Monastery, Ulan Bator

Initially constructed in 1809 by order of Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the Gandantegchinlen Monastery (simply known as the Gadan monastery) is a Mongolian Buddhist monastery consisting of various temples. It has become a frequent destination of pilgrimage for Buddhists across the globe and it currently has around 150 monks in residence. The complex also features a 26.5-meter statue of AvalokiteĊ›vara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas which is well worth a visit. The Gadan monastery is open 9:00am – 17:00pm every day.

Afternoon: 12:00 – 16:00pm

Discovering the wonders of the Winter Palace

Bogd Khan Winter Palace, Ulan Bator
Bogd Khan Winter Palace, Ulan Bator
https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeowatzup/ [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

A 25-minute drive south of the monastery lies the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, once home to Mongolia’s spiritual leader and last emperor. The palace is a fusion of European and Chinese architectural styles with pagodas adorning the palace entrance. The museum showcases some of the finest artefacts of Mongolian culture with a wide variety of Buddhist art, royal objects and taxidermy housed in ornate exhibition halls.

The Winter Palace is open 10:00am-17:00pm Thursday to Monday and costs 8000 MNT for an adult ticket, 3000 MNT for students, and 500 MNT for Children over the age of 5.

Early evening: 16:00 – 18:00pm

Unearthing the past at the National Museum of Mongolia

The National Museum of Mongolia is the ideal place to discover the history of Mongolia and its people and is a perfect ending to any trip to Ulan Bator. The museum is home to nine permanent exhibitions that explore the history of Mongolia from the Stone age to the early Iron age and all the way through to the 12th century and beyond. Tourists can learn about the four ancient states in Mongolia (Hunan, Turkic, Uighur and Chinese) diving into the rich customs of nomadic life.

The National Museum of Mongolia is open 9:00am until 18:00pm Tuesday to Sunday and closed Mondays.

Hazara restaurant is one of the best Indian restaurants in the city, offering various meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes along with typical western favourites such as dahl, paneer and jalfrezi. The restaurant is open from 12:00pm until 22:00pm and is the perfect choice when stuck for options.

Indian food at Restaurant in Ulan Bator
Indian food at Restaurant in Ulan Bator

If you are looking for an after-dinner drink, we can recommend going to Fat Cat Club which is Ulan Bator's best Jazz club. Open from 18:00pm until midnight Monday-Saturday, this is a favourite of locals and tourists alike who want a more relaxed end to the evening.

Closing tips and good-to-knows

  • Ulan Bator is particularly cold in Winter and the best times to go are often late May to early October.
  • The Naadam Festival takes part in the city between July and August and the city can get busy during this period.
  • Ulan Bator us a mid-way destination on the Trans-Mongolian Railway and therefore the city is easily accessible by train from Beijing and Moscow.
  • Buses cost MNT500 for all journeys so long as you have a U-money card (you can pick up this card at street kiosks around the city)
  • If you intend to leave the city to explore you will likely need a 4x4 vehicle to deal with the challenging terrain, therefore consider hiring a vehicle or avoiding this by taking advantage of private tours to these tourist attractions.

Sukhbaatar Square, Ulan Bator
Sukhbaatar Square, Ulan Bator

Book your trip to Ulan Bator with Real Russia!

We hope you enjoyed the fourth instalment from our Eurasian city-break series. If you have been inspired and want to visit Ulan Bator, we can help along the way! Real Russia can arrange everything from trains and Mongolian visas to tours that are personally tailored to you.

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