Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is a bundle of surprises, with its strange but thrilling mix of the traditional with the contemporary. A city of contrasts, well groomed businessmen and executives vie for attention with simple nomads and Buddhist monks.

Ulaanbaatar-MongoliaFlickr/Francisco Anzola

 The latest models of cars can be seen zipping past the streets of this bustling, but somewhat chaotic city. Originally a nomadic monastery town which kept changing locations, Ulaanbaatar stabilized and grew into a commercial and industrial centre only in the last century. It is connected by rail with Russia and China.

Apart from its monasteries and temples, Ulaanbaatar boasts of several museums, some shopping districts, a skiing resort, and an amusement centre. Keeping pace with its rapid growth and development is the steadily increasing number of recreational facilities and international food chains, which have contributed to the city’s nightlife.

Where to stay in Ulaanbaatar

Best Ulaanbaatar Attractions

1. Choijin Lama Temple

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Choijin-Lama-TempleFlickr/Enkhtuvshin

Located in the heart of Ulaanbaatar, amidst the modern skyscrapers, is the Choijin Lama Temple. It is one of the few remaining specimens of Buddhist architecture of the pre Communist period. The temple was initially the home of a famous Buddhist monk called Choijin Lama, after whom it is named. It was later converted into a museum.

The temple complex is made up of five temples which house the museum. It is known for its architecture and fine sculptures. Statues of Sakyamuni or the historical Buddha, Choijin Lama and several other wooden and bronze sculptures of various gods are found in this museum.

The museum has a wonderful collection of the famous Buddhist “thangkas” or paintings on cloth and silk depicting Buddha or some aspects of Buddhism. It is also a treasure house of a rich and varied assortment of the “tsam masks” used in the ancient mask dances and religious rituals in Mongolia.

2. Mongolian Natural History Museum

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Mongolian-Natural-History-MuseumWikimedia/Susynoid

Also known as the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, the Natural History Museum, though old and dilapidated, is an interesting place to visit. It has an interesting collection of fossils, rocks, flora and fauna of the country. There are more than 6,000 exhibits in this museum which provide an overview of the natural history and natural wealth of Mongolia. The stuffed and embalmed birds, animals and fish are a great hit, especially with children.

The museum’s main attraction is the section on dinosaurs. There are two complete dinosaur skeletons, along with the remains and fossils of reptiles found in the Paleolithic age. The museum also functions as a centre for research on topics related to geology, anthropology and other branches of natural history.

3. Gandantegchinlen Monastery

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Gandantegchinlen-MonasteryWikimedia/Brücke-Osteuropa

Gandantegchinlen is a Tibetan word, which when translated literally means “the great place of complete joy”. This Tibetan style monastery is the most significant attraction for visitors in Ulaanbaatar, as it is a typical specimen of ancient Buddhist culture and religion.

Gandantegchinlen Monastery has two temples, the walls of which are decorated with images of Ayayush, the Buddha of Longevity. The main attraction here is a beautiful 26.5 metre high copper statue of Avalokitesvara, which is gilded with gold, covered with rich brocade and adorned with more than 2,000 precious stones. Inside the statue are kept medicinal herbs and millions of ‘mantras’ or holy chants. At present, the monastery is fully functional and is the abode of 150 monks.

4. Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Winter-Palace-Bogd-KhanWikimedia

This is the only remaining palace out of the four palaces of the Bogd Khan or Emperor of Mongolia. This ancient palace stands as a reminder of the past, in a city where modernization has created so many shopping malls in place of the historic sites.

The palace complex has six temples, which are decorated with ancient thangkas and other artistic creations pertaining to Buddhism.

The palace has been converted to a museum where many of the Bogd Khan’s personal belongings have been put on display. These include his throne, bed, ceremonial boots and works of art. A vast collection of stuffed animals is also housed in the museum. It is believed that these animals must have been a part of the Bogd Khan’s private zoo.

5. Sukhbaatar Square

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Sukhbaatar-SquareFlickr/Alastair Rae

Sukhbaatar Square is of special historical significance. It was in this huge square, in July 1921, that Damdin Sukhbaatar, the leader of the Mongolian Revolution, declared his country’s independence from Chinese rule. A bronze statue of the hero is placed in the centre of the square. Near it is a large plaque, which is interesting to read as it contains all the earlier names of Ulaanbaatar.

In 2013, although the name of this square was changed to Genghis Khan Square, most of the locals still call it Sukhbaatar Square. This impressive square is prominently located in the centre of Ulaanbaatar.

In the northern side of the square, is a huge marble monument with a statue of Genghis Khan, flanked by a statue on each side. Behind it is the Government HouseThe eastern part of the square is dedicated to art and culture. The National Modern Art Gallery, the State Opera House and Ballet Theatre are located here. The extremely modern Central Tower, where many high end international fashion brands are found, is also located near the opera house.

The western side of the square houses all the important government buildings, such as the Mongolian Stock Exchange, the Ulaanbaatar Bank and the Central Post OfficeThe old Lenin Club building occupies the southern part of the square. Next to it is a modern high-rise building called the Blue Sky Tower.

Sukhbaatar Square is actually the focal point of Ulaanbaatar. It is used for processions, rallies public events and cultural shows. It is also a popular place for recreation for the young and old alike.

6. National Museum of Mongolian History

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-National-Museum-Mongolian-HistoryWikimedia/Exsanguinator

This is an interesting national museum which is dedicated to the preservation of the country’s cultural heritage. The museum has a wide collection of artefacts and exhibits which date back from the pre- Mongol Empire period, the Mongol regime, the Chinese rule and the 20th century.

The ethnographic collection is fascinating and informative, as it exhibits the traditional dress and jewellery of the different ethnic Mongolian tribes

The section on Mongolian armour is also very interesting as it displays some real specimens of 12th century armour and horse saddles. Sukhbaatar’s famous hollow horsewhip, in which he had hidden a secret letter from the Bogd Khan to the Russians, is exhibited here.

7. Erdene Zuu Monastery

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Erdene-Zuu-MonasteryWikimedia/Bouette

The Erdene Zuu Monastery is believed to be the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Erdene Zuu means ‘hundred treasures’. The monastery originally had 100 temples and about 1,000 monks living in it.

The construction of this monastery started in 1585, and thereafter, it has been damaged several times during the course of the country’s history of changing regimes and rulers. Close to the ancient city of Karakoram, Erdene monastery is now a part of the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape World Heritage site.

Today the monastery functions both as a monastery and as a museum. Several artefacts such as tsam masks, thangkas and statues which could be saved from the ravages of plunder and devastation form a part of the treasures of this museum. They belong to the period around the 18th century and are in a fairly good condition.

8. Zaisan Memorial

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Built on a hill close to the southern part of Ulaanbaatar, the Zaisan Memorial is a tribute to the Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the Second World War. A circular shaped painting on this structure highlights the friendly relations between the countries of Russia and Mongolia. The memorial also has murals depicting Russian achievements, such as their space missiles and space flights.

The high location of the Zaisan Memorial makes it a little strenuous to access, as the only way you can reach it, even from the highest parking place, is a climb of 300 steps!  However, the spectacular view from here of the city of Ulaanbaatar down in the valley below, with the River Tuul meandering through it, is well worth the climb!

9. Genghis Khan Statue Complex

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Genghis-Khan-Statue-ComplexWikimedia/Steffen Wurzel

The Genghis Khan Complex comprises a 10 metre high structure, supported by 36 pillars which stand for the 36 Khans who ruled Mongolia, from Genghis Khan to Ligdan Khan. It is a gigantic and impressive structure, built on the bank of the River Tuul.

The predominant feature of this complex is the statue of Genghis Khan sitting on a horse and holding a golden whip in his right hand.  This is a 40 metre high statue which is built on top of the complex, right in the centre on a site where, according to popular belief, Genghis Khan found a golden horsewhip. At the back of the horse is an elevator, which passes through the body of the horse and takes you to its head, from where you can get a picturesque view of the surrounding area.

The complex also houses a museum. It has a collection of exhibits from the Bronze Age wherein articles pertaining to daily life, such as utensils, belts, knives etc are displayed.

In addition to the Bronze Age artefacts, the museum has an exhibition of the ancient tools, crosses, rosaries and other goldsmith items pertaining to the period around the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Great Khans ruled the country.

Close to the museum, is a recreational centre for visitors. The Genghis Khan Complex is a remarkable monument, and the statue of Genghis Khan is an icon for Mongolia.

10. Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Ulaanbaatar-Attractions-Gorkhi-Terelj-National-ParkWikimedia/BáthoryPéter

This Mongolian National Park is a very popular destination because of its beautiful scenery, its fresh cool air, and the many opportunities it offers to sports enthusiasts. Hiking, rock climbing, swimming, rafting and riding are some of the options it offers to adventure lovers.

The National Park can be accessed from Ulaanbaatar through a paved road. Several camps for tourists have been provided along the Terelj tourist zone.

Part of the park has been developed as a recreational centre. It has eating places, souvenir shops, and facilities for camel and horse rides. Also located in the park complex is a Buddhist monastery which remains open for visitors.

The Khaglin Kahar Lake, which is a deep lake formed from a glacier, is a special attraction of this place. Another popular attraction here are the Yestii natural hot water springs. Brown bears and over 200 species of birds are the pride of the park. The wild life and the River Tuul flowing past create a beautiful landscape.

A very special attraction of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is the unique formation of the rocks in this area. Some of the rocks here are named according to their structure and formation. One particular rock is called the ‘Turtle Rock’, since its shape is like that of a turtle. Another rock is popularly known as an ‘old man reading a book’ because of its distinctive resemblance with an old person bending over to read a book.

With so many varied attractions, the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is a must visit destination for you while holidaying in Ulaanbaatar.

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