Situated in Eastern Siberia around 100km east of Lake Baikal, Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Buryatia Republic and the home of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia. The city is better known as one of the main stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway where tourists can choose to stay on the classic Trans-Russian route to Vladivostok or embark on the alternative Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Manchurian train routes through to Beijing.
Part five of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-hour journey of Ulan-Ude, exploring top tourist attractions and taking in the city’s diverse heritage.
Ulan-Ude is perhaps one of the most unusual places in the whole of Russia and has forged an identity almost unrecognisable with the principle cities of St Petersburg or Moscow. The city has established itself as the home of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia and this can truly be felt when wandering the city through the many shrines, temples and within local life. Aside from this, Ulan-Ude, is close to the Mongolian border and a short distance away from one of Russia’s most spectacular tourist destinations, Lake Baikal.
As a major tourist destination on the Trans-Siberian, Ulan-Ude 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 in the area North of Park Pobedy and typically surround the central train station; you will be able to get to most tourist attractions from here with ease. The Baikal Plaza hotel is popular with tourists and is well positioned to take advantage of the many museums and bars in the area.
Reflecting in Russia’s home of Tibetan Buddhism
Ivolginsky Datsan Temple Complex
A 20-minute drive from Ulan-Ude city centre, will take you to the home of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia and one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world, Ivolginsky Datsan.
This spectacular complex includes a mixture of wooden residences where monks and lamas reside alongside several temples including the Sockshin-Gugan and the Maidrin-Sume. Visitors will be able to participate in morning prayer and may even receive blessing from the Imperishable Body of Khambo-Lama Itigelov. Regular tours of the Ivolginsky Datsan take place throughout the day and the complex is open 8:00am until 17:00pm every day.
Discovering the secrets of the Old Believers
Old Believers Village in Tarbgatay
About an hours’ drive away from Ivolginsky Datsan, Tarbagatay is the perfect way to escape the bustling city centre and experience local life. Tarbagatay is a testament to the resilience of the many indigenous cultures found in Russia and is now known as the site of the Old Believers. The town is made up of a quaint village, ethnographic museum and temple upholding old traditions and beliefs that pre-date 17th century Russian Orthodoxy. This once secluded location is the perfect place to learn more about the origins of Buryatia culture first-hand.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to try traditional Buryatia food dishes such as shulen, buuza, and shchi.
Ambling around Park Pobedy
After a long day of sight-seeing outside the city limits, take the opportunity to unwind and discover some of the city’s bars, restaurants and parks. A sunset stroll through memorial Park Pobedy offers both history and a chance to relax, and what’s more, you are only a short 10-minute walk away from the heart of the city centre.
A short walk-south of the park through the shopping district brings you to the Reka Uda River where you will find a variety of restaurants and hotels. Restaurant Temulen is a great choice for couples and families, offering a range of Mongolian and Russian cuisine.
Exploring the roots of Ulan-Ude
Wooden Houses from Siberia in Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum
Opened in 1973, Ulan-Ude’s Ethnographic Museum is one of the largest open-aired museums in Russia covering of 37 hectares. The museum displays a wide range of architecture and consists of 7 separate complexes: Archaeological complex (open area with private pavilion), Buryat Complex (displaying gers), Cis-Baikal Complex (known for having a Buryat-Cossack house), Zabaikalsky complex (including peasant tools), and several other areas. The museum holds over 40 monuments and exceeds 11,000 objects taken from local life in Ulan-Ude and is open 9:00am until 17:30pm Wednesday to Sunday.
Learning more about Buddhism in Ulan-Ude
Heading back towards Ulan-Ude city centre, you will get to the Rinpoche Bagsha Datsan. Like the Better-known Ivolgisky Datsan, this temple complex is dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and is inhabited by Tibetan monks. The temple is located north of the city on an elevated peak and the complex itself includes a wide range of unique architectural embellishments, artwork and a 6m high gilt statue of the Buddha. Many visitors go to the temple for the incredible panoramic views you get overlooking Ulan-Ude.
There are a few restaurants and coffee shops a short distance away from the Datsan and we can recommend Restaurant Orda for lunch which specialises in Mongolian cuisine, but also has a variety of vegetarian dishes available.
Celebrating Buddhist art and culture
Located in the heart of the city centre is Ulan-Ude’s principle museum of Buryat culture. This museum is home to more than 100,000 artefacts and includes a unique collection of rare Buddhist art and scripture, including the Atlas of Tibetan Medicine which is a text consisting of 76 sheets in the style of thangkas, with over 10,000 drawings depicting Tibetan medicine. The atlas is one of only three is existence, the other two being in the Tibetan ancient capital of Lhasa. The museum is open 10:00am until 18:00pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Enjoying the best Mongolian cusine in Ulan-Ude
One of the best places to eat in Ulan-Ude is Restaurant Tengis. This restaurant is found within the Baikal Plaza hotel and offers an assortment of traditional dishes from Mongolian and Buryat cuisine. The restaurant has a casual, modern feel and is an easy option if you are planning to go into town for drinks afterwards. Restaurant Tengis is open 11:00am until 1:00am every day.
If you fancy a late cocktail, there is no better place to visit than Bar 12. Just a short walk away from the Baikal Plaza hotel, Bar 12 offers a modern, stylish lounge area with panoramic views overlooking the whole of Ulan-Ude. Although more costly than most bars in Ulan-Ude you cannot beat the bar for style and convenience, and you can find most international beers and spirits here and sample a wide range of home-grown cocktails.
We hope you enjoyed the fifth instalment from our Eurasian city-break series. If you have been inspired and want to visit Ulan-Ude yourself, we can help along the way! Real Russia can arrange everything from trains and Russian visas to tours that are personally tailored to you.