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Ulan-Ude in Russia | Travel Guide to the Capital City of Buryatia

In the south of Russia, near the border of Mongolia, lies Ulan-Ude, Buryatia.

This city is an intriguing mixture of cultural diversity and wondrous scenery. Ulan-Ude is a hidden gem famous for Siberian Buddhism and so much more. 

Ivolginsky Datsan ulan-ude russia
Ulan-Ude and Ivolginsky Datsan is the center of Buddhism in Russia,

The Republic of Buryatia is a federal subject of Russia located on the outskirts of East Siberia. It sits just off the Selenga River, with fabulous attractions like Lake Baikal not too far away.

There are only around 404,000 inhabitants with very few foreign travelers, which makes this unexplored territory for even the most seasoned travelers.

Ulan-Ude is also the last stop along the Trans Mongolian railway in Russia.

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The largest Lenin head in the world is located in central Ulan-Ude.

Luckily, this guide will cover everything you need to know before your trip to Ulan-Ude, Siberia.

Whether you’re planning a trip with the Trans-Siberian Railway or backpacking across Far East Russia, keep reading to learn more about the city, where to stay, and what to see.  

Why Ulan-Ude Should Be on Your Bucket List

Ulan-Ude, Russia, is particularly special. Here, you’ll find a mixed bag of activities, culture, and lush green, isolated rural regions. While this may not be the best place for a tropical holiday, it is certainly a wonderful addition to the curious traveler’s bucket list.

Ulan-Ude was founded in 1668, originally named Udinskoye because of the Uda River that runs straight through the middle of the city. It is home to Russians, Buryats, Tatars, and Ukrainians, among a few others. 

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Archery is popular in Ulan-Ude.

Ulan-Ude is known as the heart of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia but is also a safe haven for people of all religious backgrounds. The city’s ethnographic museum showcases this unique range of history, culture, and spirituality, which makes this a must-experience destination. 

The lush foothills of the Ulan-Burgas and Khamar-Daban mountain ranges offer a space for cattle and traditional agriculture techniques to flourish.

The nomadic herding style ensures that animals are well-fed and healthy. 

This allows the city to boast delicious cuisine steeped in Mongolian and Russian influences. These influences are reflected through a combination of different flavors and techniques used when preparing the food. 

Besides the alluring history and delectable food, Ulan-Ude showcases a remarkable way of life connecting Russian and Asian influences that beckon to be explored.

Best Time to Visit Ulan-Ude City

Between the snow-covered mountains in winter and the sun-kissed, gushing river in summer, Ulan-Ude is a beautiful location at any time of the year.

The summer months present average temperatures of 62°F (16℃), with July being the hottest month and boasting highs of up to 77°F (25℃).

January is the coldest month of the year, and the cold season stretches from November to February with lows of -1°F (-18℃).

The best time of year to visit Ulan-Ude falls during the shoulder season from May to September. Off-season traveling to Ulan-Ude means that you can avoid the busier months of May, August, and October.

Luckily, you can expect temperate conditions, which make traveling all the more enticing and comfortable, as well as cheaper accommodation options. 

It’s always best to keep tabs on the weather forecast before planning your trip. Although, if you’re visiting in January, you can always pack your skis. 

Best Attractions in Ulan-Ude, Russia 

Many travelers adore the enticing attractions in Moscow or the thrilling things to do in St. Petersburg, but that is just a taste of what Russia has on offer. Here’s a look at some of the compelling pastimes available in Ulan-Ude.  

Historical City Center and The largest Lenin head in the world

The city contains over 200 sites that display its rich history and cultural heritage. If you’re walking through the city center, you’ll see miniature wooden houses that provide imagery of Russian folk tales as well as evidence of the city’s narrative. 

Ulan-Ude is also home to the Square of the Soviets. Nestled on the modern side of the city, you can see the largest monument of Vladimir Lenin in the world.

The bronze and granite bust of the leader is a cornerstone monument in Ulan-Ude. 

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The largest Lenin head in the world

Book this walking tour for the best sights coupled with knowledgeable commentary. 

Ivolginsky Datsan

At first glance, a Buddhist temple in Russia feels a bit out of place. Believe it or not, the Ivolginsky Datsan was formed in 1945 and became the spiritual center for the Soviet Union (USSR). 

Ivolginsky Datsan ulan-ude russia
Ivolginsky Datsan

It later became the residence for Russian Lamas and specifically the head of the Russian Buddhist Lamas.

The temple also houses Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov, a Buryat monk who died mid-meditation and upon exhumation was found not to have decayed much at all. 

Itigelov is said to have chanted the prayer of death while sitting in the lotus position and died during that meditation.

He was buried in the same position. Itigelov told his followers to exhume his body 30 years later, and once they did, followers found that he had not decayed as much as would be expected. 

Ivolginsky Datsan ulan-ude russia
Ivolginsky Datsan

Followers at the time hid his body in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until 2002 that he was exhumed once more and housed in the Ivolginsky Datsan.

The well-preserved body was never mummified or embalmed and is still a mystery to pathologists and scientists alike. 

Ivolginsky Datsan ulan-uda russia
Ivolginsky Datsan

Explore this spiritual center for pilgrims with an English guide by booking this tour. 

The Odigitrievsky Cathedral

Odigitrievsky Cathedral is the oldest stone building in the region, dating back to 1714, is one of the easiest buildings to recognize in Ulan-Ude.

The Odigitrievsky Cathedral ulan-ude russia
The Odigitrievsky Cathedral

While it might not look too impressive compared to other Cathedrals in Russia, but in this part of Russia, it´s impressive.

The Odigitrievsky Cathedral ulan-ude russia
The Odigitrievsky Cathedral

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum

This outdoor museum can be found just a few miles north of Ulan-Ude in the village of Upper Berezovka. There are 40 architectural monuments and over 11,000 exhibits. 

It is considered the largest open-air museum in Russia and explores everything from the Buryat people to the Baikal and Evenki heritage. 

Book a skip-the-line ticket for a private tour of this impressive establishment. 

Buryat Village

The Buryats are believed to be indigenous to Mongolia. Historical records also suggest that Genghis Khan was the first to subjugate the Buryat people. Hundreds of years later, they were then absorbed into the Russian empire.  

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Colorful traditional local houses

The roots of the Buryat people start in Mongolia, and they have since been exposed to Buddhist and Christian ways. While the 19th century saw an increase in Buddhist beliefs, the ancient ways of agriculture and isolation are still prevalent in rural Ulan-Ude. 

The deep cultural and historical heritage is prevalent in the Buryat village of Ulan-Ude, also called Dom Muzey Agvana Dorzhiyeva.

Here you can get acquainted with the locals, learn about their nomadic herding lifestyle and immerse yourself in the diverse customs and traditions. 

Book this tour for a traditional dinner and a chance to explore the museum and Datsan Buddhist temple. 

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is just a few miles away from the city. It’s a definite must-see, either on your way to or from Ulan-Ude. This ancient lake is arguably one of the deepest in the world and is also considered the Earth’s largest freshwater lake. 

You can access the lake through hiking trails. After a long trek, you can sit back and watch the Baikal seals in the lake. In winter, it is used for ice-skating, and in summer for wildlife observation. 

Book this tour crossing Lake Baikal, where you’ll visit Olkhon island and camp in the middle of the lake. 

Accommodation in Russia’s Ulan-Ude

The city may be small, but the lodging options are quite broad. You can choose between luxury resorts, backpackers, or 3-star hotels.

Here are some of the most esteemed accommodation options in Ulan-Ude, suited to any kind of traveler. 

Perfectly Located: Hotel Mergen Bator

This hotel is perfect for on-the-go travelers. You can expect to pay a little less to get around, with a train station right next door and convenient shuttle services to boot. The hotel is near the Sovetov Square as well as the Ballet and Opera theater, and just 5 minutes from the city center. 

Click here to book accommodation at Hotel Mergen Bator

Budget Luxury: Baikal Plaza

This gorgeous 4-star hotel is great for budget luxury travelers. You can expect vibrant decor that welcomes you into a hotel with all of the best amenities like a sauna, fitness center, and several international restaurants. The restaurants offer Uzbek as well as Siberian dishes with a delectable breakfast buffet and a modern bar area.  

Click here to book accommodation at Baikal Plaza.

Low-Budget: Ulan Hotel

Wake up to a delightful breakfast at Ulan Hotel, where you can explore the tastes of traditional specialties right around the corner. The hotel is ideally located near several cafés and offers great value for money with amenities like airport shuttles and close proximity to a bus stop and major Sagaan Morin shopping center. 

Click here to book accommodation at Ulan Hotel

Ultimate Luxury: Reston Hotel and Spa

This hotel is perfect for anyone yearning for some luxury relaxation. From plush white robes and slippers to the spacious suites and indoor swimming pool, the Reston Hotel and Spa understands hospitality.

You can explore the local cuisine at the on-site restaurant and dine with the best views of the city, heightened by welcoming room service and super spa services. 

Click here to book accommodation at Reston Hotel and Spa

Where to Eat In Ulan-Ude

The best way to learn about any country is through the culture that their food presents. With a distinct history and unique cultural influences, the cuisine found in the Buryatia region differs from that of other Russian cities. 

You can expect a mixture of cuisines, from Russian food to Asian as well as Italian and other European influences. While you’re in Ulan-Ude, you’ll have to try delicacies like buuzy, which comprises meat wrapped in a soft dumpling.

Also, taste bukhuler, which is a meat broth, and of course, finish it off with a delicious glass of fermented mare’s milk called airag. 

Get the best experiences and the tastiest dishes at some of Ulan-Ude’s best restaurants: 

  • Tengis Restaurant
  • Marco Polo
  • Pub Churchill
  • Orda
  • Bar 12

Getting to Ulan-Ude

There are a few airports in and around Ulan-Ude, so traveling here should not be an issue. You can easily make your way to international airports in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

From there, you could also fly into Ulan-Ude in just under six hours. 

If you’d prefer a more scenic route, you can make use of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which is the longest railway in the world.

This train starts in Moscow and travels through Russia. It joins the Trans-Mongolian line as well as the Trans-Manchurian line. It will take around 3 days from Moscow to Ulan-Ude by train. 

You can also complete a 12-day tour along the Trans-Siberian Railway that will take you from Russia, through Ulan-Ude, around the Gobi desert, and into Beijing.

While this tour doesn’t spend too much time in Ulan-Ude itself, it’s still a great way to explore the Russian, Mongolian and Chinese regions.  

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Taking the Trans Mongolian railway

Since Ulan-Ude is the last stop in Russia along the Trans Mongolian railway, so is this the last stop for you to pick up some Russian souvenirs.

NB. It´s both faster and cheaper to take the local bus from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar, the Capital of Mongolia, than to take the train across to Mongolia.

There´s a daily bus leaving at 7:30 AM from Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar, the journey takes around 10-12 hours.
I did this bus journey, however, while it´s both cheaper and faster than the train, it´s definitely not more comfortable, this bus journey is personally one of the worst I’ve ever taken.

Tickets can be purchased at travel agency offices, or ask your guesthouse to buy them for you at 1100 Rub.

There are also daily shared taxis going to Mongolia.

Ulan-Ude Mapped Out

Whether you’ve decided to travel through the urban city or rural wilderness, an Ulan-Ude map will help you find your way. Just in case you’ve gotten disconnected from your GPS, there are a few things to remember. 

Ulan-Ude is on the south side of Lake Baikal, a mere 85 miles (136km)  away. If you’re driving from the neighboring city Irkutsk (around 280 miles/450 km), you’ll travel along the P-258 highway and stay on that road. 

Once you’re at the foothills of Ulan-Ude, the A-340 highway will take you down into Mongolia.

So, if you’re planning on staying in the country, you’ll want to continue along the P-258 highway onto the AH6 highway, which will direct you to other cities like Chita and lead to Yakutsk. 

Russia is vast, and travel times between neighboring cities are quite lengthy. So, be sure to keep these major highways in mind, and you’ll easily find your way back.    

Final Say on Ulan-Ude, Republic of Buryatia

Ulan-Ude is a fabulous addition to any traveler’s bucket list. There are so many enriching experiences to be had here that there is no doubt you’ll leave the city richer. 

Between the excellent accommodation options and culturally diverse experiences, there is a unique adventure waiting to be explored. So, go ahead and book your visa, and get ready for an exciting journey. 

Ulan-Ude in Russia | Travel Guide to the Capital City of Buryatia
Travel guide to Ulan-Ude the last stop along the Trans-Mongolian Railway in Russia