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Ulan-Ude: A city guide

Located to the East of Russia's popular tourist destination Lake Baikal, Ulan-Ude is a city bustling with tourist activity and is the gateway for the Trans-Mongolian Railway that travel from Ulan-Ude to Beijing via Ulan Bator. The city's close proximity to the Mongolian border and well established transport links in to Asia have allowed the city to form a unique cultural identity as the center of Buddhism in Russia.

Ivolginsky Datsan, Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude geography

Located on the famous Trans-Siberian train route, Ulan-Ude has been a city of strategic importance to the Russian Federation for centuries and now acts as a principle half-way destination for tourists travelling the Trans-Siberian. The city has a growing population of around 430,000 people made up from many ethnic backgrounds with around 62% Russian, 32% Buryat, 0.5% Tartar and others.

Ulan-Ude physical geography

Ulan-Ude is approximately 2000 feet above sea level and is located at the foot of the Khamar Daban mountain range. The Selenga River and tributary, the Uda divide the city.

Ulan-Ude time zone:

Ulan-Ude uses Irkutsk Standard Time which is GMT +8.

Approximate distance from Ulan-Ude to other places of interest:

Ulan-Ude to Lake Baikal: 200km.

Ulan-Ude to Ulan Bator: 600km.

Ulan-Ude to Vladivostok: 3480km.

Ulan-Ude to Moscow: 5655km.

History of Ulan-Ude

The area of Ulan-Ude was first settled by the Evenks between the 5th and 9th centuries, and later the Buryat Mongols whose descendants still make up a third of Ulan-Ude's population today. In 1666, Ulan-Ude was settled by Russian Cossacks who constructed Udinskoye fortress. The favourable geographical position of the region meant that the area grew rapidly, and as of 1690, the area became a large trade and administrative center for the Transbaikal region which connected Russia with China and Mongolia.

Destruction and development:

By 1775 the city had become known as Udinsk, however it was renamed Verkhneudinsk in 1783 and granted city status. A large fire destroyed much of the old city and in 1878 the city most completely rebuilt. In 1900 the Trans-Siberian Railway reached the city causing a huge population boom from 3500 in 1880 to around 126,000 in 1939.

Things to do in Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude has a rich history and diverse culture that is unique in Russia. Tourists will find various architectural marvels when walking around the city from the famous Lenin statue to the Siberian Baroque masterpiece. Odigitrievsky Cathedral. The city is also home to many museums including the Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum and the Ivolginsky Datsan a short distance to the West of the city.

Ivolginsky Datsan

Founded in 1945, the Ivolginsky Datsan is the largest Buddhist complex and is the spiritual capital of the traditional Buddhist Sangha in Russia. The temple is a museum of religious architecture for tourists and pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world. It became the first functioning Buddhist temple in Russia after the ban prohibiting religious Buddhists rites was lifted and is currently the residence of two Khambo Llamas.

See our Ivolginsky Datsan excursions for more information.

Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum

Located just North of Ulan-Ude, the Ethnographic Museum is one of the largest open-air museums in Russia spanning 37 hectares split into seven complexes. Tourists can glimpse into the local history of the region through archaeological remains, graves and everyday objects from the sites first settlers, the Evenki as well as see spectacular Buryat Cossack houses and gers constructed from wood and felt.

See our Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum excursions for more information.

 

Browse our Ulan-Ude Excursions page for more information about the different tours we have available.

Ulan-Ude nightlife

Ulan-Ude has a variety of clubs, bars and cocktail lounges specially designed for tourists wanting a welcome break from the Trans-Siberian. Harat’s Pub is one of the most popular places to go for Western tourists wanting to experience nightlife in Ulan-Ude. This traditional Irish pub is packed with character with a comfortable, cosy décor and a wide range of Irish whiskey and beers to enjoy. Bar 12 is attached to Ulan-Ude’s Mergen Bator hotel and offers the most spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains. This luxury cocktail bar is connected to a rotating platform that rotates 360 degrees every 30 minutes, so you never need to worry about getting the best view.

Best restaurants in Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude’s convenient location on the Trans-Siberian and near the border of Asia has led to a culmination of restaurants specialising in Russian, Mongolian and Asian cuisine. It’s position on the eastern edge of Lake Baikal has also made it a great destination to enjoy unique Russian seafood seasonally sourced from the Lake. Here we have included a few of the best places to eat in Ulan-Ude for tourists:

Orda

Located in Ulan-Ude city centre, Orda is a great option for tourists wanting to try local cuisine offering classic Mongolian and Russian favourites. The restaurant has a cool, modern interior and regularly hosts live music to keep it’s guests entertained until the early hours.

Restaurant Orda, Ulan-Ude
Restaurant Orda, Ulan-Ude

Restaurant Tengis

Restaurant Tengis is the top choice for tourists visiting Ulan-Ude offering a top-class menu of modern Siberian, Buryat and Mongolian cuisine. The restaurant has an elegant yet comfortable atmosphere and is famed for its signature dish created specially for Vladimir Putin, Baikal fish stuffed with porcini mushrooms and pine nuts.

Chaikhona Sakhar

Chaikhona Sakhar is a great place to go if you are looking to eat late, doubling as both a restaurant and cocktail bar. The restaurant serves up traditional Eastern-European cuisine with a contemporary twist from light-bites to sharing platters, perfect when travelling as a group.

Best places to stay in Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude’s prime location at the half-way point on the Trans-Siberian Railway has made it crucial destinations for tourists. The city offers a wide selection of accommodation options from luxury hotels to low-cost hostels. The Mini Hotel Sova is a perfect option for backpackers and travellers on a budget, with all rooms featuring a private bathroom, kettle and flat-screen TV. The hotel has a variety of amenities available for guests including free WIFI, a shared kitchen, 24-hour front desk and optional airport transfers. Located 5 minutes away from Ulan-Ude city centre, Hotel Mergen Bator is perfect for guests wanting that little bit extra from their stay in Ulan-Ude. The hotel has plenty of amenities for guests to enjoy including an on-site restaurant, free WIFI, pool, spa and fitness center while offering a shuttle service to and from the airport. All rooms feature a minibar, electric kettle, air conditioning and a private bathroom.

Browse our full list of hotels in Ulan-Ude using our hotel selector tool.

Double Room in Mergen Bator Hotel, Ulan-Ude
Double Room in Mergen Bator Hotel, Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude climate

Ulan-Ude has a continental Steppe climate characterised by dry, cold winters and short, hot summer months. Precipitation is typically low and this tends to occur in the warmer months of the year between June and August.

 

How to get to Ulan-Ude

The most common way to get to Ulan-Ude is via the Trans-Mongolian Railway which passes through the city on the way to Beijing and Moscow. It is also located on the M55 section of the Baikal Highway which continues on to Vladivostok in the far east of Russia. Ulan-Ude also has its own airport and travellers can get domestic flights from Moscow and St Petersburg to the city.

Why you should visit Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude has a rich cultural heritage that is unique to other places in Russia. Aside from it's beautiful mountain landscapes and closeness to Lake Baikal, it is a popular pilgrimage spot and is the acting center of Buddhism in Russia. It's proximity to Mongolia as well as its position on the Trans-Mongolian Railway make it an ideal choice for a short break.

Sunset in Ulan-Ude
Sunset in Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude frequently asked questions

We have included a list of the most frequently asked questions about Ulan-Ude, however if you have a question not covered in this guide, please get in touch by email at info@realrussia.co.uk.

How far is Lake Baikal from Ulan-Ude?

Ulan-Ude is around 200km away from Lake Baikal and takes around 3 hours to travel to by bus, taxi or car. Tourists can find regular day tours to Lake Baikal that leave from Ulan-Ude.

Is Ulan-Ude expensive?

Ulan-Ude is less expensive than Moscow and St Petersburg although can often be more expensive than other cities in Siberia due to its connections with the Trans-Siberian Railway and closeness to the popular tourist destination Lake Baikal. You will often need to travel out to major tourist destinations which will inflate costs, however food and drink is fairly standard; an average meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in Ulan-Ude will cost around 1200 roubles which works out to around £14.

Can I get a bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulan Bator?

You can get a bus between Ulan-Ude and Ulan Bator daily which takes around 12 hours each way. A direct bus from Ulan Bator Dragon Bus Terminal will depart around 07:30am arrives in Ulan-Ude at approximately 20:00pm.