Posted by Selena Travel / 11 30, 2023
What is the Naadam Festival?
The Naadam Festival is a national event in Mongolia showcasing excellence in the three games of the country: archery, wrestling, and horse riding.
The origins of the festival date back hundreds of years to the ancient times of Genghis Khan, and, today, it’s celebrated across the nation every July to mark Mongolia’s independence from China.
As Mongolia's premier holiday, the Naadam Festival attracts tourists curious about the nation’s history and culture. And since it’s so widely celebrated, it can be hard to pinpoint the top spots to take in the event.
So, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to see the Naadam Festival in Mongolia for your reference as you plan your adventure to China’s northern neighbor.
Where can you see a Naadam Festival?
As Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar is host to the biggest Naadam Festival in the country. Beginning annually on 11 July at the National Sports Stadium, it’s a multi day extravaganza featuring the three main sports, archery, horse riding, and wrestling, in addition to other fun and unique elements.
There’s an opening ceremony with ties to the reign of Genghis Khan, music and dance throughout the day, and elaborate ethnic wear displayed by the festival’s participants.
If you love a big group of people and all out celebrations, Ulaanbaatar is the place to be for the Naadam Festival in Mongolia.
To see the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar, you will have to book transportation and accommodation well in advance, as well as acquire tickets.
Don’t forget, this is Mongolia’s biggest celebration in their main metropolis. Hotels are going to fill up fast and buses will be crowded, but you’re sure to have the time of your life among the hustle and bustle of the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar.
The Ulaanbaatar Naadam Festival is the most intricately planned out, with the dates consistent year after year. Elsewhere, the best places to see the Naadam Festival in Mongolia are a bit more in flux in terms of organization.
The celebrations can take place anytime in the month of July, so keep your ears open for official announcement dates earlier in the summer.
In Murun, you can observe the Naadam Festival on a slightly smaller scale than that in Ulaanbaatar.
Murun is located in the Khuvsgul region in the north of the country. To get there, you’ll have to take a bus or a domestic flight from Ulaanbaatar.
Murun has a modest selection of hotels and other accommodations, meaning the crowd is going to be much smaller.
In general, Naadam Festivals outside Ulaanbaatar have fewer participants in each event, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be getting the full experience. In fact, you’ll be able to get even closer to the action!
Another one of the best places to see the Naadam Festival in Mongolia is in the town of Ulgii. Situated in the western reaches of the country, Ulgii is the capital of the province Bayan-Ulgi and a popular gateway to the many attractions of Western Mongolia.
Similar to Murun, the event here is no Ulaanbaatar Naadam, but you’ll still enjoy the main events and premier aspects of the festival.
The drive from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii can be over 48 hours long, so a domestic flight is recommended for traveling there.
You can stay in a hotel or try out a ger, which is a traditional Mongolian housing hut. Opting for the latter accommodation for your stay during the Naadam Festival would give your trip a well-rounded experience as you take in more of Mongolian culture.
Kharkhorin is centrally located in Mongolia. More nearby to Ulaanbaatar than the other towns, it’s a popular choice for attending the Naadam Festival outside of the capital city.
The small setting means you’ll get to see the action of the three games up close, and not behind rows of stadium seats.
To travel to Kharkhorin from Ulaanbaatar, you can take a bus. For accommodation, stay in a hotel, a guest house, or a ger camp.
Kharkhorin is close by to Khangai Nuruu National Park, and, as the festivities only last a few days, you can make time to venture out here and see what else central Mongolia has to offer.
Mini Naadams in Mongolia’s Countryside
In Mongolia’s countryside, there are a number of what’s called mini Naadams, or much smaller scale versions of the event.
If you’re hoping for a more intimate setting, these are some of the best places to see the Naadam Festival in Mongolia. They’re uncrowded and authentic events perfect for taking in the games alongside the locals.
The benefits of attending a mini Naadam are plentiful. For starters, unlike Ulaanbaatar, they’re often free of charge.
You can be rest assured that all food is local and genuine Mongolian cuisine, and, without the spectacle of a stadium between you and the action, you’ll be as close to the festivities as you could get. And you have a wonderful opportunity to mingle with the local community.
In the Mongolian countryside, one of the towns to observe the Naadam Festival in is Khovd, which is tucked away in western Mongolia. Or you can check out Khatgal near Khuvsgul Lake in the north.
To get to mini Naadams, you may need to combine your transit options. Perhaps a plane ride out west to Ulgii and then a bus to Khovd, or a bus and then a jeep to get far north in the country to the area around Khuvsgul Lake. Or you can get to the nearest soum center or village for observing this mini Naadam as it is celebrated throughout the country.
And, one amazing part of attending Naadam in the countryside is that it gives you an opportunity to explore more once the festivities have ended.
If you head out west, you can book a tour to observe traditional Mongolian eagle hunters at work. Or if you’re up north, you could mingle with the Tsaatan reindeer herders.
With the Naadam Festival just a few days in length, you really have no excuse to not venture further into Mongolia’s more off the map locations.
The Naadam Festival is a terrific event for getting better acquainted with Mongolia’s history, culture, and present-day customs. We hope this has been helpful for you as you map out the best places to see the Naadam Festival in Mongolia and enjoy the festivities!