Getting a SIM card, where to exchange money, the best restaurants and shopping for when you’re staying at the Best Western, Blue Sky, or Shangri-La Hotel near Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar.
Traveling to Mongolia is daunting enough. Long flights. A confusing currency. And an even more confusing language means your first 24 hours here will be nothing short of overwhelming.
An often misunderstood city, Ulaanbaatar is easy to navigate, if you know the ropes.
Use my travel tips below and find your way around Ulaanbaatar in no time. From where to exchange cash to the best restaurants and shopping.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you can always book a 30-minute Mongolia travel consultation with me. I’m always happy to answer your questions.
These are some of the best tours to book in Ulaanbaatar I recommend checking out.
Before you pack your bags, read my guide on what to budget for a trip to Mongolia first.
Spoken locally as “Sukhbaatrin Talbai,” Sukhbaatar Square is Ulaanbaatar’s most central point.
The square is most notable for the Parliament Building that calls it home, one of Ulaanbaatar’s most recognizable buildings. It’s here where a giant statue of Genghis Khan sits proudly overlooking his empire, a can’t miss sight when visiting Ulaanbaatar.
Additionally, during the summer, concerts, book fairs, graduation ceremonies, basketball tournaments, and more all take place here. Basically, there’s always something to see in Sukhbaatar Square.
Choosing a hotel that’s in the Sukhbaatar Square area is a great idea if you want to be central to the city’s museums, theaters, and best restaurants. All of which are within walking distance.
Ulaanbaatar’s centralized layout means you might not have an overwhelming number of options when it comes to choosing a hotel. But, of the options you do have, there’s something for everyone.
An art hotel in Mongolia? Yeah, I didn’t believe it either. But the Edelweiss Art Hotel lives up to the name, making it one of the city’s coolest – and undiscovered – places to stay in Ulaanbaatar.
If Ulaanbaatar had a MVIP of hotels, the Best Western Premier Tushin Hotel would be it. A solid choice for its location, service, and price point, this isn’t the Best Western we’re used to in the United States. This is a real 4-star hotel experience.
With views overlooking Sukhbaatar Square, Blue Sky Hotel & Tower is also one of Ulaanbaatar’s most recognizable views itself.
If you’re looking for the hotel to stay in when you visit Ulaanbaatar, the Shangri-La is it. Known for it’s service, restaurants, and it’s two-story gym and indoor pool, this Shangri-La lives up to the brand’s reputation.
Looking for something a bit more local? Check into the Hotel Nine. This quirky boutique hotel has reasonably priced rooms that are clean, comfortable, and central to everything.
Exchanging cash in Ulaanbaatar is often more complicated than it should be. Currency exchange stalls won’t accept bills that are too old and more recently they won’t accept bills that are too new either.
I also ran into an issue this last weekend where some currency exchange stalls wouldn’t even exchange USD at all. Which was a first, even for me.
Because of both these issues, my recommendation is to pull out Mongolian tugriks from the ATM instead.
However, if you do need to exchange cash, the rates at the exchange stalls are usually on par with the exchange rate at the banks. Exchange your cash at the bank instead of on the street where the likelihood that they’ll accept all your bills is higher.
My preference is to go the TDB Trade and Development Bank on the ground floor of the Blue Sky Hotel & Tower. The tellers are English-friendly and used to dealing with tourists. Especially in the case of large exchanges.
If you prefer, be sure to double check the exchange rate at the currency exchange stalls. There is a high concentration of them located behind the State Department Store near the Ikh Naiman Sharge Center.
The best place to compare cell plans and purchase a SIM card is on the 5th floor of the State Department Store. Here you’ll find Unitel, Skytel, and G-mobile all next to each other.
It’s the easiest place to compare plans and get a SIM card activated in one go. Go early in the morning to avoid waiting in line to purchase your SIM card and cellular plan.
You can purchase both for around 33,000 Mongolian tugrik, or about $10 USD, or less.
When jetlag hits, it hits. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3 am or 3 pm, your body is confused.
The good news is that since you’re already near Sukhbaatar Square, you’re near the University and Parliament building. That means you’re in the company of some of Ulaanbaatar’s earliest risers.
For an early morning cup of coffee, these coffee shops are some of the most popular.
While many of Ulaanbaatar’s best restaurants are located near Sukhbaatar Square, these ones are a few of my favorite.
Fine dining is making its way to Mongolia and Boyan’s Professional Cuisine, also known as Five Up, is leading the way. Located at a new address near Sukhbaatar Square, Five Up’s interior, plating, and menu aren’t what you’d ever expect to find in Mongolia. And, because of that, I won’t post any photos. Instead, you’ll just have to go check it out for yourself.
Agnista Vegan Restaurant is another favorite of mine. With a simple but cozy interior, the menu here proves that Mongolians can cater to vegans – and they can do it well.
On what the city calls Tourist Street in Chingeltei District, Route 22 has been a staple in the city for a few years now. Their outdoor patio is one of the best in the city, especially for lunch. The buddha bowls are my favorite in town when I’m craving something healthy. The service is notoriously slow, but it’s hard to be mad once the food arrives.
When I’m looking for something that leans more fast-casual than formal, Arig & Anya is always high on my list. Great for when you’re jetlagged, or after you’ve had a few too many shots of Chinggis Gold the night before, their ramen always hits the spot.
When your time in Ulaanbaatar is short, you won’t have time to see everything. To help narrow down which museums are worth visiting, and which can be skipped, I’m listing my two favorite museums below. Including what’s to see and expect at each.
Ulaanbaatar’s newest museum, the Chinggis Khaan Museum is worth visiting for many reasons.
First off, the 8-floors of exhibitions cover life in Mongolia since the time of the country’s first civilizations. It’s the best of the best when it comes to artifacts displaying what life in Mongolia has been like through the centuries.
Next, the museum’s central location means you can easily pop in for an hour or three (they recommend at least three). Whether you’re between meals or you have a free afternoon after returning from the countryside, you can easily visit the museum anytime.
Finally, the museum marks a new era in Mongolia’s focus on cultural preservation and heritage. Supporting the museum allows them to bring in more exhibitions and bring back priceless artifacts to the country from around the world.
Read more about visiting the Chinggis Khaan Museum and things to know before you go.
My second favorite museum to spend a few hours at is the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery.
Inside, you’ll find some of Mongolia’s most famous pieces of art and learn about the different styles of painting here, including Mongol Zurag. A visit to the National Gallery surprises most visitors who visit in in the best way possible.
For more information on my favorite museums in Ulaanbaatar, read the full guide linked here.
So, you need to buy some souvenirs. Here’s where to go – and what to buy at each store.
There’s a reason Gobi Cashmere is Mongolia’s most sought after cashmere brand around the world. Stepping into the store in the Galleria Mall also means you’re crossing another must-do thing off your list – this is the world’s largest cashmere store.
While it pains me to ever add a mall to any list of must-do things in a city, even I can’t deny Shangri-La is one of the best places to shop in Ulaanbaatar. Head to Baba on the 3rd floor for a pair of those felt slip-on shoes you see everyone wearing.
Tsagaan Alt Wool Shop is another favorite for their felt and wool craftsmanship. Their store is located in Beatle’s Square, a square that every tourist needs to see to believe, making this visit a two-for-one.
Written in Cyrillic as Алтанзүүлт дэлгүүр, it’s easy to spend hours in both Altanzuult Delguur and Mungun Zawya next store. This area is known for the gold jewelry sold here, priced by the ounce, but it’s the ceremonial bowls and tea carriers that will most likely catch your eye.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the jewelry stores mentioned above, set your sights on Mungun Goyo instead.
After leaving Mungon Goyo, pop across the street and into Dundgol Vinyl Café. While a lot of the records you’ll find will be stuff you already know, ask which vinyl’s they’re carrying by Mongolian artists. Nothing says I came to Mongolia like taking home a Magnolian record.
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