Mongolia’s UlaanBaatar, Beyond Naadam

Mongolia’s UlaanBaatar, Beyond Naadam

The city of UlaanBaatar, capital of Mongolia, is best known for hosting the ancient Naadam Festival, a Genghis Khan-era competition of strength and prowess demonstrated in wrestling, archery, and horse racing.

Wrestlers contend to be the best at Mongolia's ancient Naadam Festival games <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Wrestlers contend to be the best at Mongolia’s ancient Naadam Festival games
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Heart of MongoliaBut beyond Naadam, UlaanBaatar is also known as the “heart of Mongolia” in politics, culture, and business, an important commercial center between Beijing and St. Petersburg, strategically located along the Trans-Siberian Railway. This high-in-the-sky city (elevation 4,300 feet) is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Khan Khentii Mountains, with the Mongolian steppe its backdrop. The city itself is a mingling of old and new architecture, public squares and private courtyards, history and modern hubbub.

UlaanBaatar is also a popular place to live: More than 1 million people call this capital home– nearly a half of Mongolia’s population. (It doesn’t seem so long ago that 90% of Mongolians were nomadic.) For such an ancient country, Ulaanbaatar is relatively new: a mere 350 years old.

Once nomadic, it's estimated half of Mongolia's population lives in UlaanBaatar <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Once nomadic, it’s estimated half of Mongolia’s population lives in UlaanBaatar
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

City HighlightsHere are several UlaanBaatar highlights:

  • Gandan Monastery: Founded in the early 1880s, this Buddhist monastery is restored as the “Great Place of Complete Joy,” the meaning of its name. Some 5,000 monks live and practice here.
    • Can’t miss: 20-ton gilded statue of “the Lord Who Looks In Every Direction.”
      A showcase for foreigners, Gandan Monastery was spared from destruction in Communist times Photo credit: Andrew Barron

      Showcase for foreigners, Gandan Monastery was spared from destruction in Communist times
      Photo credit: Andrew Barron

      Hard to miss: this is a section of the 65-foot Buddha statue in UlaanBaatar Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

      Hard to miss: this is a section of the 65-foot Buddha statue in UlaanBaatar
      Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

  • National Mongolian History Museum: This remodeled museum highlights Mongolia’s history and culture, including ancient artifacts, and historical clothing and costumes of Mongolia’s many tribes.
    • Can’t miss: displays of everyday nomadic life and sacred relics.
  • Natural History Museum: The halls display specimens of indigenous Mongolian animal and bird species, including the wild camel and the wild ass, or khulan.
    • Can’t miss: the dinosaur bones and nests discovered by the many expeditions that have combed the Gobi Desert.
  • Stainless Steel Genghis Khan, near UlaanBaatar: Genghis Khan’s atop his steed, towering 131 feet above a complex dedicated to his adventures and conquests. The tallest equestrian statue in the world, it’s also a bit heavy: 250 tons.
    • Can’t miss: the elevator ride to the horse’s head for sweeping views of the Mongolian steppe.
      This gigantic stainless steel Genghis Khan statue points east, towards his birthplace <br>Photo credit: Olivia Durham

      This gigantic stainless steel Genghis Khan statue points east, towards his birthplace
      Photo credit: Olivia Durham

  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, outside UlaanBaatar: The alpine landscape of temperate grassland and small pines is dotted with gers and grazing livestock.
    • Can’t miss: The opportunity to visit a nomadic family’s ger (portable home) on the endless steppe.
      Ger is the Mongolian word for 'yurt,' portable homes of nomads and semi-nomads Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

      Ger is the Mongolian word for yurt, portable homes of nomads and semi-nomads
      Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Mongolian TreasuresBeyond Naadam, UlaanBaatar is a must-see stop along the Trans-Siberian Railway: a taste of traditional Mongolian values, a glimpse into Mongolian nomadic life, and a chance to more deeply appreciate Mongolian arts, music and crafts in its museums and everyday life.

Sukhbaatar sits astride his horse in UlaanBaatar's main square. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Sukhbaatar sits astride his horse in UlaanBaatar’s main square
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Travel to UlaanBaatar with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of experience handcrafting tours to Mongolia. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

You can view many of Mongolia’s majestic sites on MIR’s small group tours and rail journeys by private train:

Small Group Tours

Rail Journeys by Private Train

You can also opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on a private journey to Mongolia, customized to your desired dates and style.

Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-111-111-1111 to start planning your travels today.

(Top photo credit: Martin Klimenta – Beyond Naadam it’s a day like any other in UlaanBaatar, here monks moving furniture.)

PUBLISHED: September 19, 2014

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