Exploring Ulaanbaatar: The Squares, Panoramic Views, and Hidden Gardens

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Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city. This is the real Mongolia

Exploring Ulaanbaatar: The Squares, Panoramic Views, and Hidden Gardens

This updated version of our old post (Exploring Ulaanbaatar) reflects the dynamic and fluid life in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, known locally and fondly as UB (although its name translates to “Red Hero”), where things frequently change. Ulaanbaatar comprises over 50% of Mongolia’s total population, with approximately 1.5 million people living in the city. Given Mongolia’s total population of only 3.2 million, this number highlights UB’s significance and underscores why, as an international visitor, it is important to spend time here—experiencing the way of life as it is for over half of Mongolia’s population.

Exploring Modern Ulaanbaatar

Looking across from south to north from Zaisan Hill. Image by EL guest, Nick Rains. Looking across from south to north from Zaisan Hill. Image by EL guest, Janette Asche.

‘… its monumental public buildings and its concrete blocks of apartment houses, their white monotony somewhat relieved by public gardens, bear no relation, architecturally or functionally, to the country’s past.’  Charles Bawden – The Modern History of Mongolia

From its origins as a nomadic city, Ulaanbaatar has evolved into a tough, modern, and cosmopolitan city full of contrasts and extremes. UB maintains a strong Mongolian identity and possesses a ‘frontier’ feel and vibrancy. It is the beating heart of Mongolia and the hub of contemporary Mongolian urban life. For many Mongolians, their reality unfolds in this urban context, in a city they are striving to develop and improve. Ulaanbaatar deserves to be appreciated and explored as the urban center that it is.

Here are some of our favorite places when out exploring Ulaanbaatar that allow us to people-watch, feel part of city life, and also take a moment to find some peace.

 

Tasgany Ovoo

Tasgaany Ovoo - a sacred stone shrine in Ulaanbaatar

An ovoo is a Mongolian sacred stone shrine, and this particular one is connected with Gandan Monastery, Mongolia’s principal monastery. Although the ovoo has been removed since our previous post, the hill remains. If you’re caught down in the traffic and bustle when exploring Ulaanbaatar, you can easily pop up here and gain a little perspective. From this vantage point, you can look north into the ger districts, some of which have been here since 1838.

Gandan Monastery

Gandan Monastery Ulaanbaatar

Gandan Monastery is Mongolia’s principal monastery. Short for Gandantegchinlen which translates approximately into ‘Place of Complete Joy,’ it is considered the centre for Buddhism in Mongolia. But, even if you’re not interested in religious buildings, visit it for the sense of history and the architecture. It is also a community space and spending time here you’ll mix with wedding parties, graduating students, and families looking to receive a blessing.

Choijin Lama Temple Museum

A short walk from Sukhbaatar Square, the Choijin Lama Temple Museum is a haven of peace, offering tranquility both within its temple buildings and on its lawn. Constructed in the first decade of the 20th century for the younger brother (and State Oracle) of the last religious leader of Mongolia, the museum is renowned for its display of incredible Buddhist Tsam masks and its religious architecture.

If you’re tired of sightseeing or feeling ‘templed out,’ there’s an alternative: sip on a cold drink as you relax and unwind on the balcony of the Veranda restaurant, which overlooks the Choijin Lama Temple Museum.

Exploring Ulaanbaatar, the Choijin Lama Temple Museum

Image: EL guest Nick Rains

Shashlik and beer stands 

In the high season months of July and August, look for the pavement cafes that pop up throughout the city. These simple setups—canvas tents with tables and chairs—are great places to watch the world go by. The cafes outside the State Department Store, overlooking Beatles Square, serve excellent shashlik (barbecued meat) and cheap cold beer. Many an hour can be pleasantly whiled away here!

Exploring Ulaanbaatar, the Beatles Statue

The Beatles Statue in Ulaanbaatar is in the shape of an apple, a nod to Apple Records, the record company founded by the Beatles in 1968 as a division of Apple Corps Ltd. Apple Records was initially intended as a creative outlet for the Beatles, both as a group and individually. The Beatles are cast in bronze on the south side of the statue—John, Paul (barefooted in tribute to the Abbey Road album cover), George, and Ringo. When you walk past Beatles Square, you might see members of the Mongolian “Uukhai” Skateboarding Association using the urban space. “Uukhai” was the battle cry of the Mongol warriors and now represents a different battle, one of the youth and creative classes of Mongolia against the toll of endemic corruption found throughout the country. See our blog post for more details – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/exploring-ulaanbaatar-the-beatles-statue/

 Sky Views 

One of our favorite panoramic views of Ulaanbaatar is from the Edge Bar on the 17th floor of the Ramada Hotel (on Peace Avenue to the west of the State Department Store). This bar features an outside area that is perfect for watching the sunset during the summer months. Other great spots for panoramic views include:

  • Cielo – Galaxy Tower
  • The Blue Sky Lounge – on the 23rd floor of the Blue Sky Hotel
  • The Premier Lounge – Tuushin (Best Western) Hotel, just to the east of Government / Parliament House

Zaisan Hill

Exploring Ulaanbaatar, the view from Zaisan Hill

Located at the southern foot of Bogd Khan is Zaisan Hill, a circular memorial of modern Socialist art depicting scenes of friendship between the people of the USSR and Mongolia. Zaisan Hill offers panoramic views over Bogd Khan Mountain and the city, and it’s also a great spot for hanging out with local families and students.

You can combine a visit to Zaisan Hill with the Buddha Garden, a peaceful area nearby that features an 18-meter-tall standing Sakyamuni statue. When it was erected in 2007, five tons of juniper were placed inside. Below the statue is a small room containing thangkas, sutras, and images of the Buddha and his disciples.

Sukhbaatar Square

Sukhbaatar Square Ulaanbaatar

A firm favorite, Sukhbaatar Square is right in the heart of downtown Ulaanbaatar and is great to visit by day, by night, or even if just passing through. If you’re short on time, a visit here offers a snapshot of Mongolia’s history. It’s all here—statues of Chinggis, Ogodei, and Kublai Khan fronting the Parliament Building, and Sukhbaatar, the revolutionary leader, astride his horse.

But the square also has a more human aspect, with flower displays, men playing competitive games of chess by the Peace Bell (yes, you can join in, but be prepared to lose!), and children riding remote-controlled cars.

Gardens and Parks

Interspersed throughout the construction noise and traffic chaos of the city are small gardens, which are delightful places to sit on a bench, read, or watch the world pass by. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Tsedenbal Square Park – Located outside the National Academic Drama Theatre, this park often has food stalls, and you can always take your photo against the Ulaanbaatar sign.
  • Yavuukhulaan Park – Named after a poet whose works are deeply respected by the Mongolian people, this park features a map in the northwest corner with the words “Where I Was Born” from one of the poet’s famous verses.
  • Central Tower Public Park – Situated close to Sukhbaatar Square, this park is another great spot for relaxation and people-watching. As you wander through this peaceful enclave, take the opportunity to stroll down towards the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, where you’ll find the statue of Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj. He is revered as one of the pioneers of modern Mongolian literature, making this spot not only a place for leisure but also a tribute to Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage.
  • Set up in 2021, UB’s Morning Streets are seasonal pedestrianised areas open from 6am onwards for breakfast and community gatherings. The one located next to the Asashioryu garden (Асашёорюүгийн цэцэрлэгт хүрээлэн) is a favourite.

The National Park

The National Park may not be the best park space in the world, but remember that this is Ulaanbaatar, one of the coldest capital cities in the world, which impacts the flora and fauna that can grow here. Still, consider what they’re trying to achieve: a green urban space that is accessible to the local community.

You can hire bikes, run the trails, have a coffee, and enjoy the atmosphere of this popular urban park. The National Park is located south of the Shangri-La hotel and Narnii Zam on Ikh Khuree Street. This popular park also offers athletic fields and courts, open green spaces, a playground, and a picnic area.

The National Amusement Park

The National Amusement Park, located in the heart of Ulaanbaatar, offers a delightful and informal alternative to the traditional amusement park experience. While it may not be Disneyland, it provides a range of attractions, including amusement rides, paddle boats, and lively entertainment shows—making it an ideal spot for families with young children. Beyond the rides, it’s a wonderful place to simply wander, enjoy a coffee or ice cream, and mingle with the locals. The park remains open throughout the year, offering ice skating during the winter months to enhance its seasonal appeal. While the main entrance is on Narnii Zam, there are additional gates for convenient access.

For every guest who joins an EL experience, we offer a complimentary, informal, and relaxed tour of Ulaanbaatar, along with our free guidebook, showcasing a more local side of the city. Our city walking tour is designed to provide a contrasting insight into urban life compared to the rural population. The day isn’t about museums or shopping—it’s about getting out, exploring, and discovering. However, if you’re not traveling with us but would still like to experience a more personal side of UB, why not try one of our Mongolia one-day experiences? https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-tours/mongolia-one-day-tours/

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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