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A city guide to Ulan Bator, Mongolia

The name Ulan Bator (sometimes also spelt Ulaanbaatar) translates into English as ‘Red Hero’, in reference to Süchtebataar, one of the leaders of the Mongolian revolution. As Mongolia's capital city, Ulan Bator acts as the centre of Mongolian culture, economy, finances, politics and transport. Please note that Mongolia uses its own currency, the Tughrik, so be prepared to exchange money.

Ulaan Baatar
Mongolian Gers at Terelji National Park

Geography

Ulan Bator lies at an altitude of 1350 metres on the foot of the mountain Bogd Khan Uul and has grown around a junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. It divides Mongolia geographically, with the countryside south of the city mostly being made up of steppes while the north is covered by both forests and steppe. The area around the capital is one of the oldest natural reserves in the world, having been protected since the eighteenth century.

Ulan Bator population:

About 1.3 million people live in Ulan Bator which is nearly half of the country's population, making it the biggest city in Mongolia.

Ulan Bator time zone:

Ulan Bator is approximately 8 hours ahead of the UK (GMT +8) and is part of the Asia Time Zone.

Approximate distance from Ulan Bator to other major cities:

Ulan Bator to Ulan-Ude, Russia: 705km.

Ulan Bator to Beijing, China: 1167km.

Ulan Bator to Almaty, Kazakhstan: 3636km.

Ulan Bator to Moscow, Russia: 4635km.

History of Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator was first founded as a Buddhist monastic centre in 1639, though the city has since then changed its name and exact location several times before settling down in the current spot in 1778. In the middle of the nineteenth century Ulan Bator’s economic powers grew within the context of increased trade between China and Russia. The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by Mongolia’s struggles to separate from China. When the nation was finally able to gain full independence in 1924, the city became the capital of the newly established republic.

Things to do in Ulan Bator

Unfortunately, a strict, Stalin-orientated government has destroyed many of Ulan Bator's magnificent relics of the old days. Nevertheless, many traces of the rich history are still to be found, such as the monasteries, the Bogd Khan’s winter palace, and many museums trying to preserve the old cultural artifacts. There are also a number of worthwhile destinations for day trips around the city, including the Great of Wall of China. Friends of the outdoors will enjoy the nature surrounding the city. During the cold months skiing is also an option. We have included a list of some of the best things to do in Ulan Bator:

1) Bogd Khaan Palace Museum

The Bogd Khaan Palace Museum (formerly known as the Green Palace) is a must for tourists wanting to explore the history of Mongolia. Built between 1893 - 1903, the museum served as the official residence of the Bogd Khaan where affairs of state and religion were conducted until his death in 1924. The museum consists of the Winter Palace and 7 Wisdom Glorifying Temples which are home to priceless artifacts from 17th-20th century Mongolian culture.

2) Terelji National Park

Terelji National Park Mongolia
Terelji National Park, Mongolia

Offering beautiful scenic views and unparalleled landscapes, Terelji National Park is a frequently visited retreat from the hustle and bustle of nearby Ulan Bator. This national park is nestled in the Baga Khentii Mountains and offers and abundance of wildlife, flowers and even a local meditation centre. Perfect for hikers, backpackers and tourists who love nature.

See our Terelji National Park day trips for more information.

3) Choijin Lama Buddhist Monastery

A Buddhist monastery complex consisting of six temples, the Choijin Lama Monastery was completed in 1908 and was the home of the state oracle. The temple remained active until 1937, until it was closed at the height of communist repression against Buddhism and other religious traditions. The monastery hides a rich heritage of Buddhist artifacts including an 18th-century gilt statue of Buddha Sakyamuni.

View our Ulan Bator city walking tours page for more information.

Best places to stay in Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator has a wide range of hotels and bars dotted around the city that are easy to get to by public transport or using the underground metro service. You can pick up a hostel in Ulan Bator from around £10-20 a night with prices ranging up to around £200-250 a night for a top class hotel. We have included a few of Ulan Bator's best hotels and hostels to stay in based on budget, amenities and location:

1) The Blue Sky Hotel and Tower

A luxurious 5* hotel located in the heart of Ulan Bator, the Blue Sky Hotel and Bar is one of the best places to stay if budget is not a priority. This hotel is well located to shopping centres, monuments and several tourist attractions including the Choijin Lama Museum, and you only need to cross the street to get to one of the city's best bars, Sky 17. The hotel itself features an indoor pool, wellness center, on-site free parking and free WIFI in all areas.

2) Zaya Hostel

A perfect option for backpackers, the Zaya Hostel is located a short walk away from Ulan Bator train station and is approximately 8 miles away from Chinggis Khaan International Airport. The hostel is a short walk away from several tourist attractions including the National Museum of Mongolian History and Ulan Bator Opera House. The hostel offers a range of amenities including a shower, hairdryer, private bathroom, shared lounge and games room.

See our accommodation and hotels page for a full list of hotels and hostels in Ulan Bator.

Best places to eat in Ulan Bator

During the modernisation process western restaurants have established themselves on every corner. However, it is also possible to experience a more traditional Central Asian cuisine that is rich of dairy products, meat and animal fats to match the unruly climate. The national drink in Mongolia is airag, which is fermented horse milk and is somewhat similar to kefir, but with a higher alcohol content.

We have put together a short list of some of the best restaurants in Ulan Bator:

1) Namaste

Established in 2010, Namaste has been hailed as one of the best restaurants in Ulan Bator. The restaurant specialises in Indian cuisine and offers a wide selection of dishes, including traditional favourites of the UK such as Masala and Vindaloo. Namaste also boasts an impressive range of vegetarian and vegan options which are notoriously hard to come by in Mongolia.

2) Luna Blanca

In an attempt to oppose the norm of Mongolian cuisine, Luna Blanca has positioned itself as the place to go for vegan food in Mongolia. The restaurant combines Asian cuisine with western classics and is well known for its vegan burger, selection of fresh fruit smoothies and a vegan-take on traditional Mongolian Khuushuur and Buuz dumplings.

3) Mongolians

Mongolians is a favourite of many visitors to Ulan Bator, the restaurant offers a variety of traditional Mongolian food dishes, including milk soup and dumplings, barbecued mutton and even steamed lamb head for those feeling brave. Mongolians is a must for tourists, especially for groups wanting to sample traditional Mongolian cuisine.

Nightlife in Ulan Bator

Although not well known for its nightlife, Ulan Bator has an assortment of bars and clubs to suit any occasion from cosy tavernas to sheek hotel club lounges. We have included a short list of some of Ulan Bator's best bars and clubs for you to enjoy:

1) Ice Bar

Ideal for Summer, Ulan Bator's Ice Bar maintains a constant temperature of -9 degrees Celsius and has an interior entirely sculpted from ice. The concept focuses on Mongolian heritage and culture, with a variety of ice sculptures with integrated light design depicting Mongolian life; a perfect setting for photos!

2) Chinggis Beer Club

The Chinggis Beer Club is a German-styled tavern renowned as one of the few places in Ulan Bator that offers Mongolia's finest premium beer, Chinggis. This cosy restaurant-bar is the perfect place to relax with a group of friends.

3) Sky 17 Bar

Offering panoramic views of the city, Sky 17 Bar is Ulan Bator's premier place to go for a cocktail after a busy day exploring. Sit back, relax and watch the city go by from the comfort of this luxurious lounge.

Ulan Bator Climate

The climate is heavily influenced by the Siberian anticyclone, which means that winters are extremely long, cold and dry with temperatures falling down to -40°C in January. The summers are warm but relatively short and marked by a monsoon climate. The average annual temperature is below -2°C, making Ulan Bator the coldest capital city in the world.

Weather in Ulan Bator

 

When to visit Ulan Bator

Those who are not used to the hardships of a Mongolian winter will probably enjoy Ulan Bator most during July and August. When visiting in July, the Naadam Festival is a must-see; a Mongolian sports festival that was established by Genghis Khan and includes competitions in the traditional sports of Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse racing.

How to get to Ulan Bator

Chinggis Khaan International Airport is Mongolia’s major airport and only located thirty minutes’ drive from the downtown district. It can be reached from many Russian and major Asian airports, but there are also flights available from Istanbul and Berlin. Ulan Bator also lies on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which is connected to the Trans-Siberian and Chinese railway systems, making it accessible from all directions.

Why you should visit Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator offers a memorable travel experience unique to Central Asia. While the city is host to many grey, Soviet-style building blocks, there are some true architectural gems hidden amongst them. Travellers interested in history, Mongolian culture and religion will especially enjoy exploring the city’s beginnings as a nomadic monastery. Ulan Bator is particularly special for the genuine heart-warming hospitality of the Mongolian people.

Ulan Bator common questions

We have included a list of some of our most frequently asked questions about Ulan Bator:

Is Ulan Bator safe?

Ulan Bator is safe when compared with many other major cities across Asia, although petty crime is still a risk in busy areas such as train stations or airports just like any city. Mongolia has one of the lowest crime rates in Asia.

What is the pollution like in Ulan Bator?

Air pollution is considered a serious problem in Ulan Bator, particularly in Winter where pollution levels are known to exceed the World Health Organisation’s maximum safe limit 12 times over. The city’s location the center of a valley restricts to movement of pollution let off by many coal-powered plants operating nearby.

What is Ulan Bator’s former name?

Ulan Bator had several names prior to 1924, official names included Nomiin Khuree, Ikh Khuree and Bogdiin Khuree. The city was often called Urga in Western languages.

Is Ulan Bator expensive?

Ulan Bator is affordable when compared with European cities and many of the museums and restaurants are inexpensive. You can expect to pay around 15,000 Tughrik for a typical lunchtime meal which works out to around £4.35. It can be expensive to travel around since you may need internal flights, trains or fuel costs if taking your own vehicle to visit remote attractions.