When many people think of Mongolia, they think of Genghis Khaan, the endless steppe and nomadic herders living in yurts (or gers, in Mongolian). But there’s also an incredibly creative, vibrant and dynamic new generation of Mongolians shaping this often misunderstood country. The capital city Ulaanbaatar is brimming with venues where world-class musicians perform, bars serving incredible cocktails and stores full of inspiring designs. The city is seeing a resurgence that’s uniquely respectful to Mongolian culture, digging deep into their ancestral roots and staying true to who they are, while exhibiting a creative force that hasn’t been seen in the country before. So, while UB (as the locals call it) might seem rough around the edges at first, it’s full of hidden secrets and surprising gems.
Life in the city revolves around the Shangri-La Center. While the Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar is often considered the best hotel for its central location, five-star service and spacious rooms, it’s also the adjoining Center that makes the hotel worth seeking out and staying at. Just outside your hotel room door, some of the city’s best spots await. The hotel has all the amenities you could ask for—gym, spa, pool, restaurant, bar and more—making it the go-to place for diplomats, business people, musicians, actors and more.
Tucked behind the hustle and bustle of Peace Avenue, Little Heaven is so much more than your average café. You may stop for the coffee and sandwiches, but you’ll surely stay for the handmade ceramics, macrame and miniature flower bouquets. Sit outside and enjoy Ulaanbaatar’s mild summer temperatures and people watch as some of the city’s most stylish residents pop in and out.
Some of Ulaanbaatar’s best drip coffee is found inside Mongolia’s first vinyl shop, Dundgol Records. Browse the selection of records—everything from hip-hop to Russian and Mongolian classics—while waiting for your coffee to brew.
Bitsy & Co
A tiny space with a big cocktail (and mocktail) presence, Bitsy & Co inside the Shangri-La Center changed the city’s cocktail scene, shifting the Mongolian mentality of drinking straight vodka to imbibing something a bit more complex. While perusing the small food menu of salads, quesadillas and more, sit at the bar and be prepared to meet locals and travelers with an interesting story to tell.
Designed and made from natural felt—a resource Mongolia is in no shortage of—Baba’s felt shoes, along with their vests, jackets and deels (traditional Mongolian robes) made from 100% organic nonwoven fabrics are some of the most vibrant statement pieces you can find in the country. The Baba store is also centrally located at the Shangri-La Center.
Num Sum Speakeasy
As UB’s first speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Num Sum is another pioneer in the city’s cocktail scene. Down a flight of steps and into this dark and cozy hideaway, you find yourself immersed in Gatsby vibes. This is the place to order a Suntory Whisky over an ice sphere or a dry gin martini, while sitting back and letting the indulgence wash over you.
Fat Cat Jazz Club
The city’s original space for live music, Fat Cat Jazz Club rivals any spot in NYC, LA or New Orleans. With consistently great nightly jazz and even better cocktails, this unsuspecting underground space is a haven for music lovers. Reserve a table in advance or stop in and pull up a seat at the bar—this place is packed every night of the week.
Michel & Amazonka
Michel & Amazonka’s funky pieces mix traditional Mongolian cuts and designs with bright patterns and extra frills. Their garments are all one of a kind, and the brand was even tapped to design the uniforms for the Mongolian nationals competing in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. With limited releases and fashion shows that are always the event to be seen, Michel & Amazonka represents the city’s evolving attention to design. Being spotted in one of their pieces is the fastest way to fit in like a real UB local. Just around the corner from their Peace Ave location is Sakura Japanese Bakery, a no-frills go-to lunch spot known for its Japanese karaage, udon and cheesecake. Locals line up daily for lunch from this Japanese chef, so come early—they open at 10AM—as there’s a reason it’s nearly impossible to score a table here.
Hero image courtesy of Fat Cat Jazz Club