Mongolia’s Top 10 Destinations
Nearly every traveler knows it would be impossible to condense a country into ten definitive bucket list items. Yet this list of top 10 things to do in Mongolia demonstrates the array of cultural and adventure highlights to be found here. Some sites offer a deep connection with the people and their cultural traditions. Other destinations provide a dose of excitement or relaxation. Whatever you’re looking for in a journey, this vast country offers a unique experience to satisfy your search from diverse terrain to astonishing wildlife to pristine temples. Here are ten of the most incredible things to do in this rich country, yet there is still so much more to see and do.
The capital, Ulaanbaatar, is more than a city. It is a fusion of tradition and modernity in the strictest sense. Though travelers do not usually come to Mongolia to experience its urban culture, they typically experience both that and a strong nomadic influence here. Travelers can view glimpses of the country’s ancient and recent history through day trips to the remnant monasteries, Soviet-style apartments and public buildings, modern glassy skyscrapers, and the ger districts, along with sites like the National Museum, Natural History Museum, Government House, and Zaisan Hill to name just a few. A place like Narantuul Market, a covered market with stalls selling traditional Mongolian lifestyle needs, is one that no other city can offer. In short, there are dozens of fantastic things to do within this must-see city.
The Orkhon Valley
The seat of many ancient states established on the territory of Mongolia, the Orkhon Valley Complex was recognized by UNESCO World Heritage as a cultural landscape in 2004. Old Turkish Orkhon inscriptions from the 8th century, the ancient 8-9th century Uighur capital of Khar Balgas, Tuvkhun Monastery established by the great Mongolian sculptor and politician Zanabazar in 1648, and the present Erdene Zuu Monastery are some of the highlights of a visit. The landscape here is natural, undeveloped, and enchanting—providing a glimpse of ancient Mongolia.
Bayanzag (The Flaming Cliffs)
This gorgeous site should be on every explorer’s Mongolian bucket list. American paleontologist and then-head of the American Museum of Natural History (NYC), Roy Chapman Andrews, discovered the first nest of dinosaur eggs here and alerted the world on his return home. He named the site the Flaming Cliffs (Mongolian: Ulalzah Tsonj) for their fiery orange-red glow at sunset. These cliffs are essentially Mongolia’s Grand Canyon and provide a gorgeous backdrop for photography, as well as thrilling hikes. Travelers can also scour the Cretaceous layer of sediment for fossils that readily appear right upon the surface—so watch where you step.
Tsagaan Suvarga (White Stupa)
Located in Dundgovi Province, Tsagaan Suvarga—or the White Stupa—boasts towering buttress-like structures with clear exposures of limestone bedrock from ancient sea beds. Of all the things to do, this is definitely worth the bucket list visit, especially for the eyes of a geologist. This site offers incredible hiking to explore the towering rock formations that seem to flow like oceans of multicolored rock. Truly a photographer’s paradise.
Uvur Hoshoot (Uushgiin Deer Stone Complex)
Also known as the Uushgiin Deer Stones are one of the key features of our journey to Archaeological Treasures of Mongolia, this is an entire complex of 14 stones dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages on the way from Lake Hovsgol (Huvsgul) to Murun, Huvsgul Province’s capital. These megaliths are carved with ancient symbols and animals, mainly reindeer (from which they received their name). The vicinity of the stones provides a number of adventurous things to do, including experiencing number 6
Lake Hovsgol (Huvsgul)
Also called the Mother Ocean or Blue Pearl among Mongolians, this freshwater lake contains as much as 1-2% of the world’s freshwater, and is considered the younger sister of the two Sister Lakes (Lake Baikal and Lake Hovsgol). Here you can enjoy many activities, including kayaking, hiking around the lake, horse trekking, camping, and viewing the miraculous landscapes of mountains and pristine waters.
Altai Tavan Bogd
Harboring the highest peak Huiten in Bayan-Ulgii Province, the westernmost part of Mongolia, the Altai Mountain Range stretches southeast, terminating in Umnugovi Province. Golden eagle hunters, Mongolia’s second-largest ethnic group (Kazakhs) reside in Bayan-Ulgii Province and are the focus of our Golden Eagle Festival journey—our most popular journey—which provides so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like holding a golden eagle, learning falconry from Kazakh eagle hunters, experiencing the famous hospitality and foods of local families, and witnessing the contests of the festival. The mountain provides additional things to do, such as hiking, horseback riding, and
Khorgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park
Located in what is known as the ‘Switzerland’ of Mongolia, Arkhangai Province, this national park hosts extinct volcanic craters, numerous karst (landscape with limestone underneath which has been eroded and produces ridges, towers, fissures, sinkholes, and other characteristics) formations with speleothem (stalactite or stalagmite) formations, along with a magnificent lake.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
If time is an issue for you, Terelj National Park—located 70 km away from Ulaanbaatar—is a good choice. Terelj (Rhododendron) provides you with spectacular views of rock formations, many of which are famed for their animate shapes. Things to do here include visiting natural hot springs, experiencing a rustic ger camp, and riding a Bactrian camel.
Hustain Nuruu National Park
Home to the wild Przewalski (Mongolian takhi) horses that can be spotted easily, this park is rich in biodiversity with endemic flora and fauna. Guests of the park can also find gazelle, deer, wild sheep, grey wolf, red fox, and golden eagle.
Travel to Mongolia with us!
Experience these majestic sites and historic landmarks with your own eyes. Browse through our various itineraries thoughtfully designed for adventure-seekers and culture-appreciators. Or, reach out to our travel experts to walk you through the planning process, help pick between journeys or curate a custom-tailored trip to Mongolia, just for you.
This post was constructed by independent blogger Setsen Altan-Ochir.