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How to Spend 24 Hours in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s Capital City

Make the most of your 24 hours in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the right way.

Table of Contents

When you only have 24 hours in a destination, it’s easy to panic – how are you going to fit in everything in one day? (Spoiler alert: you aren’t.) How do you effectively prioritize the most important places to go and things to see? Well, everyone has different tastes, and different ways of exploring – go, you! – but we think this is a pretty great way to spend a day exploring Ulaanbaatar, a city that isn’t necessarily easy to figure out on your own without a little help from a local friend. (Hey, that’s us!)

So, while you’re probably jetlagged and gearing up for an adventure somewhere in the remotest parts of the Mongolian steppe (or just returning from one), this one day itinerary is relaxed and easy to take on, and will still give you a feel for Mongolia, and it’s urban dwellers. 

24-Hours in Ulaanbaatar: Quick Guide

Where to Stay: Zaya Hostel

Early Morning Coffee and Pastry: The Market by Rosewood

Walk to: Sukhbaatar Square, National Museum of Mongolia, Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery

Lunch: Green Zone

Afternoon: Mary & Martha Mongolia, taxi to Black Market

Dinner: Veranda

After Dinner Drinks: Sky Walker

What to Do

With only 24 hours in Ulaanbaatar, it can be overwhelming trying to decide how to spend your day. While the city is concentrated and you’ll find plenty to do within walking distance, there will be at least one occasion when you need the help of a taxi – like when you go to the Black Market. A taxi there should cost about 5,000 MNT, possibly more depending on the traffic and your starting point in the city, this estimate is based on grabbing one on Peace Avenue around Martha & Mary’s. Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable hailing an unofficial taxi off the street, you can always use the 1991 TaxiCaller app.

Sukhbaatar Square

With a new 85-meter-long musical fountain and urban park, Sukhbaatar Square is quite literally the center of town in every regard. Home to the Government Palace, where both the President and Prime Minister have offices, the square is also home to cultural events and festivals that come to the city. From free to the public concerts to arts and crafts shows to 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, the square is the pulse of the city.

You might also hear the square referred to as Chinggis Square, or “Saaral Ordon” – the “Gray Palace” – by locals.

Government Palace Ulan Bator

National Museum of Mongolia

As the first museum to open in Mongolia back in 1924 (three years after the country claimed its independence), the National Museum of Mongolia is the perfect place to start a trip. This is where you’ll really get a feel for the country, its people, and their traditional ways of living.

The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays and is just around the corner from Sukhbaatar Square.

Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery

Home to modern and contemporary Mongolian art, the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery’s unique collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, crafts, and other forms of art and artifacts are genuinely spectacular pieces to experience. Each piece tells a tale that you won’t find or experience anywhere else.

Featuring themes around nomadic life as well as the country’s Socialist past, and including one of Mongolia’s most prized pieces, a famous realist painting from artist Tsevegjav Ochir – the Fight of the Stallions – the museum is one of those places that will make you think beyond the common conceptions of what Mongolia is, and who it’s people are.

The gallery is open from 9:00 to 18:00 daily and is located near Sukhbaatar Square on the opposite side of the square from the National Museum of Mongolia.

Mary & Martha Mongolia

When it comes to souvenirs and buying gifts to take home in Ulaanbaatar, Mary & Martha’s is one of the most unique shops in town. They are a sustainable, fair, and ethical trade shop – something that has been a part of their mission since opening back in 2007 – and their business directly supports the growth of small and micro indigenous businesses in Mongolia. Every product in the shop is made by hand locally, making it a great place to find great, one-of-a-kind pieces.

They have two stores in the city – the original shop is off Peace Avenue a few blocks from the State Department Store (our preferred location), and the other is in Shangri-La Mall.

Black Market

To get to the Black Market, you’ll need to grab a taxi on the street, or look up the bus schedule (yeah, we’re confused by it too), but it’s worth the hassle to get over to Naran Tuul, as it’s called in Mongolian. With everything from cashmere to deels, bags and purses to handcrafted equestrian saddles and tack, riding boots, knives and anything else you can think of, the market is a chance to experience an authentic bazaar within the city – this is where locals come in from the countryside to do their shopping.

The Black Market is closed on Tuesdays.

Where to Eat and Drink

You’re in Mongolia, and you want to eat Mongolian food. Trust us when we say… there will be plenty of time for that. Opt instead for some of the city’s best cafes and restaurants, where you’ll find a little bit of everything (including vegetarian dishes) and even those Mongolian dishes you’ve heard so much about – khuushuur anyone?

The Market by Rosewood

No matter what time you find yourself rolling out of bed (hello jetlag), the Market by Rosewood is where you’ll want to start your day. Especially if you’re an early riser.

As one of the few places in the city that (reliably) opens at 9:00 am every day of the week – well before most other coffee shops and markets in the city – this is our go-to morning spot of choice. On Seoul Street, one block east of Beatles Square, the Market isn’t only our favorite spot for coffee, but pastries and snacks as well. Dehydrated mangos or freshly made chocolate cookies, anyone?

Green Zone

When it comes to café culture in the city and finding the perfect spot with the trifecta of café perfection – free Wi-Fi, a robust menu, and outdoor seating – Green Zone café is that place. With a kitchen serving everything from smoothies to salads and pizzas to lasagna, order a coffee or a beer and sit on the patio and appreciate where you are and your new surroundings before hurrying off to your next stop of the day.

Veranda

All cleaned up and famished from your adventures around town, Veranda’s patio is just the way to end the day. Your view of Choijin Lama Temple Museum (currently closed and undergoing renovations) will be a quiet escape from the sights and sounds of the city as you relive your day’s explorations over some of the best Mediterranean-forward food in Ulaanbaatar.

Sky Walker

We don’t know if it’s the jetlag talking or the energy of being in a new city, but whatever it is, you’re not ready to go to bed, and you need just one (or three) nightcaps before calling it a day. Sky Walker in the Shangri-La Mall is the place. Floor to ceiling windows, a smartly dressed crowd and a cocktail, beer, and whiskey list that will wet anyone’s whistle, Sky Walker is a solid choice for that end-of-day drink that’s calling your name.

Where to Stay

Now, we know what you might be thinking here – a hostel? Really? Yes, really. You’re in town for one night. Why spend 10x the price for a hotel room you’ll be too tired to enjoy anyways?

If hostels aren’t your style, the Best Western Premier or Shangri-La Hotel are two great hotel options we recommend as well.

Zaya Hostel

Clean, simple accommodations near the State Department Store – Zaya Hostel is a reliable, highly recommended place to stay in the city. With breakfast included and friendly staff, Zaya is not a party hostel but a solid home for travelers to collect themselves before the next leg of their trip.

Rooms can be private or shared and with or without an ensuite bathroom. Guests can have laundry done for a small fee, and the staff is happy to help arrange airport transfers, private drivers, English speaking guides, and just about anything else. They’re exceptionally knowledgeable on things like purchasing railway tickets, registering with immigration, and helpful in instances such as lost baggage – a steal for the value when you consider everything they’re able to help with.

Best Hostel Mongolia

Our Favorite City Tour

When it comes to booking a day tour in Ulaanbaatar, you have options. Do you want a standard overview of the city? Or do you want to check out something specific – street art tour, anyone?

We recommend a basic city tour to help you get your bearings, especially if it’s your first visit to Mongolia.

Zaya Travel’s Ulaanbaatar City Tour

If you’re staying at Zaya Hostel (and even if you aren’t – anyone can book one of their tours), they run a great day experience that takes travelers to the best spots in the city. They have English speaking guides and are flexible when it comes to timing and prioritizing what sights you’re most interested in seeing, even if it isn’t on their curated experience list. You’ll have both a driver and guide for the day, and the benefit of having a guide at your disposal is that you can ask as many questions as you like. Be sure to tell them you learned about their tours from Meanwhile in Mongolia.

Helpful Tips for Visiting

Download the 1991 TaxiCaller taxi app (Apple, Google) and maps.me for an offline map of the city before you start exploring.

Don’t forget to hydrate and wear comfortable shoes when walking the city – between jetlag and the 1,350 meters (4,430 ft) elevation; you might not exactly be feeling yourself for a few days.

Always carry Mongolian cash on you, including small 500 and 1,000 MNT bills; it’s not common to accept credit cards everywhere in the city, and taxis often won’t have change for larger bills.

Author: Breanna Wilson

Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.

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