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10 Must-See Places in Ulaanbaatar

10 Must-See Places in Ulaanbaatar

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For the first-time traveler to Mongolia, spending a couple days in the capital of Ulaanbaatar prior to visiting the Gobi allows you to first appreciate the history of Mongolia through visiting its rich cultural centers and museums. Within a brief drive of the capital there are also opportunities to get a glimpse of the broader natural beauty of the country.

Ulaanbaatar is a thoroughly contemporary city of with a busy downtown, a thriving art scene, great Asian and Indian restaurants, and the heady nightlife among bars and nightclubs. Yet this is the cultural seat of a traditionally nomadic people—a third of Mongolia’s population live as nomadic herders—and the breadth of cultural diversity to be explored here is intoxicating.

By no means a complete list, or a thorough accounting of each highlight, these are 10 stops we highly recommend to visitors.


NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MONGOLIA
From the Prehistory of Mongolia through the extravagant costumers of its antiquity and thrilling heirlooms of its great empires into today’s traditional life—this cultural, scientific and educational museum quickly gives you a rich understanding of the country. The nation’s largest museum, touring its collection of over 57,000 rare objects showcased in context of timeline will inspire a whole new appreciation for where Mongolia stands and how its people have shaped the world.


CHINGGIS KHAN STATUE COMPLEX
About 34 miles outside of Ulaanbaatar stands a magnificent monument to Chinggis Khan. A 131-foot-tall equestrian statue—set against the rolling pastoral landscape, it is a marvel to behold. By walking up inside the horse to its head, you have a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. An attached museum offers exhibits on his empire in the 13th and 14th centuries.


ZANABAZAR MUSEUM OF FINE ART
A marvelous fine-arts museum dedicated to the artist Zanzabar, the first supreme spiritual authority of the Gelupa (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism, and a prolific artist and sculptor among other cultural renaissance passions. The museum houses an astonishing collection of the intricate Buddhist sculptures. Also displayed are rare religious scroll thangka (paintings) and tsam masks (worn by monks during religious ceremonies).


HUSTAI NATIONAL PARK
Just under two hours drive from the capital, this large conservation area is a must-visit for its population of wild takhi (Przewalski’s horse). A rare and endangered subspecies, takhi are considered the last truly wild horse in the world—that is, one not descended from a domesticated horse. This park is a Specially Protected Area extending into the Mongolian steppe, and also allows you to view as many as 217 species of birds, including golden eagle, and 44 species of mammals, including gazelle, sheep ibex, grey wolves.


ZAISAN MEMORIAL
An immense thank you, this arresting circular monument stands for all of the Soviet soldiers who lost their lives fighting alongside Mongolians to defend Mongolia during World War II against attack from the Japanese at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol. The imagery painted inside the massive ring depicts the good relations between the two storied nations. Located atop a hill, hiking the 500 steps to the promontory also offers a gorgeous vista of the city. Recommended viewing is at sunset.


CHOIJIN LAMA TEMPLE MUSEUM
The name translates to Compassion Perfection Temple, a complex of six temples blessedly preserved from the destruction of Buddhist structures during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. While the different temples feature dedications to Indian yogis, or Mahasiddha, and the tantric gods Kalacakra, Mahamaya, Vajradhara, and others—the main temple features an 18th-century gilt statue of Buddha Sakyamuni.


NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MONGOLIA
The world’s largest collection of ancient rare Buddhist books, sutras and manuscripts, the more than three million books and publications housed in this collection possesses the great Buddhist canonic texts such as Kanjur—108 volumes containing holy didactical words told by Great Buddha himself; and Tanjur, an explanatory dictionary of Buddha teachings consisting of 226 volumes. These original texts are exceedingly rare due to the destruction of Buddhist texts and monasteries under Chinese Communism.


NATIONAL ACADEMIC THEATRE OF OPERA AND BALLET
The arts have forever been prized in Mongolia—from our unique forms of throat singing and traditional music and dance—to stirring world-class performances of classic opera and ballet. The repertoire theatre company regularly performs such staples as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.


GORKHI-TERELJ NATIONAL PARK
Only 43 miles northeast of Ulaanbaatar, this park provides tourists a glimpse of life in the greater wild places of Mongolia. You can visit a ger camp, ride Mongolian horses and Bactrian camels, and spot many different species of birds. The highlight however may well be Turtle Rock, an ancient outcrop that closely resembles a turtle climbing over the land.


NARAN TUUL MARKET
Known locally as Khar Zakh (Black Market) it is the best place to shop for quintessential souvenirs of Mongolia—from their exquisite wool clothing to handmade décor and leather boots. You will find textiles, ornate garments, snuff bottles—too many things to possibly bring home. Yet the point is as much the experience of the market as what you may find.


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