Ulaanbaatar On a Budget
Ulaanbaatar sits at about 1,350 meters above sea level. The higher elevation and high latitude make it the coldest national capital in the world. The summers are short and warm while the winters are cold and dry. The lows in January can drop to -40 degrees Celsius. Rain is most common between June and September. The average annual temperature is 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
SightsIf you have a few days in Ulaanbaatar, there are some interesting sights worth visiting. Head to the Gandan Monastery, or Choijin Lama Monastery. Gandan Monastery is the main monastery in the city and about 5,000 monks live here. There are services at 10:00 every morning. Choijin Lama Monastery has a museum that has religious art on display. It's really quite impressive. Also make sure you check out Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Zaisan Memorial, the International Intellectural Museum, and the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts.
NeighborhoodsAs a tourist, you're likely to stay on or around Peace Avenue. This is the city's main street that passes through the center of town. There's plenty of shopping along the street, as well as many restaurants. Chinggis Square is at the center of the city. This is where you'll find the tourist information office and several famous statues including a seated statue of Chinggis Khaan and his sons and generals.
There are a small handful of hostels in Ulaanbaatar that are quite affordable. Most will arrange tours of the country for you, but do read reviews ahead of time. You'll find it challenging to find a mid range hotel, but there are some more high end, western chain hotels around town as well. During peak season you should definitely make reservations in advance.
ActivitiesNaadam is the largest festival in Mongolia. The event takes place between July 10th and 12th and includes the three traditional Mongolian sports of wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
Also make sure you see a cultural show, which is quite interesting with its music and very impressive contortionists.
A hike in the Bogd Khaan Uul Strictly Protected Area is also enjoyable. The area is just south of Ulaanbatar.
If you're looking for souvenirs to purchase, head to Peace Avenue and the Circus area. The State Department Store has a few interesting paintings, but this is the best place to stock up on supplies for your tour. If possible, it is best to pick up some fresh fruit and snacks before you head out, as the food provided on the tours is highly variable.
Food and DiningMongolia isn't really a foodie's destination, but the capital city does have a range for local and international restaurants. Most restaurants are reasonably priced and you can get a pizza for about US$3. It's worth eating some good food before you head out on your tour, as food options in the countryside are quite limited.
Most restaurants around town are either Korean or Chinese, but western restaurants are also easy to find. If you're on a tight budget, head to a local Mongolian eatery or cafeteria. Meals are cheap and the food is good and filling.