Visiting Mongolia in winter isn’t unheard of but it’s also not very popular… and maybe that’s what makes it a beautiful time to visit. Just be aware that the temperature during a Mongolian winter drops down to -25 and sometimes below that.
There are roughly 3 million people in Mongolia and 1.5 million of them live in Ulan-Bator, which will help to paint a picture of just how busy it is. Ulan-Bator also holds the title for being the coldest capital in the world… and the timing of my visit couldn’t be better. I even chose to walk 4.3km wearing 22kg in -25℃ weather upon arrival. In my defence, I had spent 5 weeks in Belarus and Russia prior to arriving in Mongolia, so I was well acclimatised.
Nevertheless, I imagine that visiting Ulan-Bator in summer has many advantages as you can wander around and walk to various parts of the city; visiting National parks and outdoor markets at leisure. Unfortunately, during winter, you need to find refuge every couple of hours as your hair, nostrils and eyelashes are frozen and you realise that you can no longer feel your hands or feet, despite wearing ski gloves and 2 pairs of socks.
It’s also important to take note of the high rate of pollution in Ulan-Bator. The scale here is off the charts and beats even Beijing in terms of hazardous air quality.
But there are lots of things to do regardless and I didn’t let the low temperatures or pollution stop me.
Things to do:
- Walk along Peace Avenue and check out the various shops
- Genghis Khan Square (To see the parliament building and the statue of Sukhbaatar)
- Visit the National History Museum (It’s an excellent museum showing the history of Mongolia and its people in chronological order)
- Visit the Black Market (Just don’t take any valuables as there are pickpockets everywhere)
- Go and see the Genghis Khan Statue Complex (An hour’s drive outside of Ulan-Bator)
- Gorkhi-Terelj National Park (for some stunning snow covered views, the Turtle rock which is worth a climb and Aryapala monastery)
- Hustai National Park (An hour outside of Ulan-Bator, and a place to see the ancestors of the modern day horse. Przewalski’s horse, also known as a Takhi)
- Gandantegchenling Monastery (which is right in the city)
- Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs (small but worth a look)
Things to Eat and Drink:
Mutton and Noodles
Boiled Horse meat
Ayrag (bottled and bought from a supermarket at this time of year. In summer you can find the fresh stuff)
Salted milk tea
Ulan-Bator is a pretty cool city and the people that live there are just as brilliant. I personally recommend visiting for at least 3 days to see the city, before you venture further in Mongolia. But be aware that there are very few to no tourists around due to the time of year, so if you want to get to the Gobi you need to get organised. (Tips to get organised… Coming soon!)