Mongolia is a very special place. Families who don’t mind stepping outside the familiar can explore nomadic lifestyles, see pristine nature, and try all sorts of adventurous activities with children.
Horse and camel riding, historical and cultural museums, and myriad national parks will help you create unforgettable memories with your children in Mongolia, but long trips along dirt roads, the lack of modern sanitation facilities in rural areas, and the meat-dominated food can be challenging for tiny travelers.
Mongolian families travel a lot with their children, usually in their own vehicles, but in a country where tourism is still developing, foreign tourists need to be prepared for some difficulties when traveling with children in Mongolia.
However, with a bit of preparation and planning, you can easily overcome any problems. Here is our guide to exploring Mongolia with children, including the best indoor and outdoor activities for kids, the best places to travel and the key things to consider.
The famous Chinggis Khan statue near Nalaikh is an easy family detour from the capital © Maykova Galina / Shutterstock
Is Mongolia good for kids?
Yes, if you are in the right place, at the right time, and have a concrete plan and prepare for the trip in advance. Your kids will experience adventurous activities that are unlike anything anywhere else in the world, but traveling with children in Mongolia is not easy.
Special facilities for people with children are only available at airports, large department stores and high-end restaurants and there are few public playgrounds for children anywhere in the country.
Where are the best spots in Mongolia for kids?
Spending time in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, will give you and your kids a chance to experience all sorts of Mongolian adventures, from horse riding in the surrounding grasslands and trips to fascinating cultural, historical, and sensory museums to sampling traditional Mongolian food.
If you want to relax with your children in untouched nature and clean, fresh air, go by plane to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park or the serene lake of Khövsgöl Nuur, where you can swim in clean waters, ride horses, visit nomadic families and enjoy real Mongolian cuisine in a pristine natural setting. A train trip to Selenge Province will provide a comfortable vantage point for looking out over Mongolia’s striking agricultural landscapes.
Ice-sledding is just one of the unusual activities on offer at Khövsgöl Nuur © Tuul & Bruno Morandi / Getty Images
The best things to do in Mongolia with babies and toddlers
If you want to travel comfortably with babies and toddlers, it’s best to stick to larger, more accessible tourist destinations in Mongolia.
Relax by a pristine lake at Khövsgöl Nuur
Khövsgöl Nuur is a major tourist destination, with good facilities for travelers, making it a great stop for babies, toddlers and pregnant women. The lake is surrounded by forests and has beautifully clean water, so it’s a good place to rest and enjoy the fresh air. Although the lake water is cold, Mongolians believe that taking a dip is good for children’s immunity and helps prevent colds in winter. Even if they don’t dive in, kids will enjoy dipping their hands and feet in the water.
There are many local nomadic herders around the lakeshore, so you can easily arrange horse riding and purchase milk and dairy products at cheap prices. There are also many comfortable places to stay, from atmospheric ger camps to luxury resorts. Because Mongolian food is dominated by meat, it’s probably worth choosing a more tourist-focused resort with a variety of food on the menu, and special options for babies.
Explore Ulaanbaatar’s museums and parks
Ulaanbaatar (UB) is the most comfortable place in Mongolia for babies and toddlers, with many restaurants serving child-friendly food and more green parks than other parts of the country. The National Garden Park is free to enter, and ride tickets are inexpensive at the National Amusement Park – both are great places to let your kids play.
Playgrounds in the city’s bigger apartment complexes are large, safe, clean, and often accessible to non-residents. Bogd Khan Mountain, which is about 7km from the city center, is another rewarding place for small children to play, enjoy fresh air, and spot wild animals such as squirrels, hares and Mongolian antelopes.
Staying in a ger is a memorable family experience © Kriangkrai Thitimakorn / Getty Images
Best things to do with younger kids
Exploring nature parks and rural destinations in Mongolia will help children try new things and get to know nature. However, many roads are in poor repair, and modern sanitary facilities and restaurants serving child-friendly food are rare in the countryside. With younger kids in your party, it’s best to visit places close to Ulaanbaatar.
Climb a giant sand dune
Only 280km away from Ulaanbaatar, about three hours away by car, the gargantuan sand dunes known as Elsen-Tasarkhai (or Mongol Els) are a perfect place for children to play. You can let your kids climb and slide down the dunes, or ride a camel in an evocative landscape that’s not too far off the beaten track.
Travel by train to soak up views in comfort
Traveling on Mongolia’s railways, which preserve many features from the Soviet era, is an interesting experience for both children and parents, and a more comfortable way to get around than traveling by car. Though journeys can be slow, you can get up and walk around, and there are great views of the countryside.
If you want views of forests, rivers and farmland, try the nine-hour train trip from Ulaanbaatar to Sükhbaatar in Selenge Province. If you want to ride camels in a landscape of open steppe and dusty badlands, take the train from Ulaanbaatar to Dornogovi Province in the eastern part of the Gobi. Visiting the striking Khamaryn Khiid Monastery, rising in the middle of the sand not far from the provincial capital, Sainshand, is a great way to inject some vitality and energy into the trip.
Get adventurous in a national park
With its stunning alpine scenery, Terelj-Gorkhi National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit for travelers with kids. It’s a natural playground for activities such as hiking, rafting and horse or camel riding. It’s also a great place to visit a nomad family and stay overnight in traditional ger. And all this just 55km northeast of the capital.
About 90km west of Ulaanbaatar, Khustain National Park is easily accessed on a sealed road, making for an easy day trip or overnight visit. Kids can keep busy looking for takhi (Mongolian wild horses), red deer, birds of prey, marmots (in summer), and other wildlife that can be seen in different seasons.
Seeing Kazakh eagle hunters will thrill kids of all ages © Natthawat / Getty Images
Best things to do with tweens and teens
Traveling a little further from the big cities will provide some highly educational and adventurous experiences for tweens and teenagers, but longer trips can leave them feeling tired and uncomfortable, so don’t be too ambitious.
Explore ancient Mongolia at the Chinggis Khaan National Museum
If you want to introduce children to the history and culture of Mongolia, you should not miss the Chinggis Khaan National Museum in Ulaanbaatar. Displays dig deep into Mongolia’s national story, but there are no signs or labels in English, so it is recommended to go with an English-speaking guide.
See Mongolia’s famous eagle hunters
Some 1636km from Ulaanbaatar, Bayan-Ölgii Province is the home of Mongolia’s legendary Kazakh eagle hunters, and a place of outstanding natural beauty. Traveling here from the capital takes about 26 hours by car or bus, but taking a 1½-hour flight to the provincial capital, Ölgii, is a more convenient and comfortable option with children in your group.
A trip to the mountainous landscapes of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park – accessible from Ölgii by 4WD vehicle – will also provide an opportunity to get acquainted with the unique culture of the Kazakh people. There are plenty of coffee shops, eateries, hotels and shops in Ölgii city, so you can relax in comfort before the journey.
Visit and stay with a nomadic family
The most interesting and adventurous thing for children to do in Mongolia is to stay with a nomadic family and get to know their unique way of life. Herder families get up early in the morning, milk their herds, graze their sheep, clean their yards, cook and carry water as part of their daily routine. It’s a lifestyle preserved through the centuries and a taste of Mongolia’s greatest cultural tradition; children should definitely try it. Tour agencies in Ulaanbaatar can arrange homestays with nomadic families.
Ulaanbaatar has good facilities for families but watch the traffic © GML / Getty Images
Due to the extreme climate, family travel in Mongolia is easiest in the summer. In winter, the temperature can drop to -45°C, and even in spring and autumn, it can be bitterly cold and windy. The months of June and August are warm, with little rainfall, and the number of foreign and domestic tourists falls from the July peak, so this is a good time for family travel.
Visiting in July will provide a chance to watch the celebrations and traditional sports of the Naadam Festival, but this is a challenging time to travel by road with small children, as there are often traffic jams in cities and on major roads. It is also worth noting that thanks to climate change, the Mongolian rainy season is starting to edge into July.
Be very careful when crossing the busy roads of Ulaanbaatar and guide your children carefully through the traffic. If you are traveling in the city, take a stroller with sun protection, even when the air is cold. However, walking with a stroller can be difficult as sidewalks are often uneven and there are few buildings with ramps.
Family accommodation tips for Mongolia
Most ordinary hotels in Mongolia offer rooms that can cater to families; the suite rooms offered by luxury hotels are a comfortable choice for family groups (you are guaranteed a clean bathroom and on-site dining choices). However, not every hotel can provide cots or extra beds.
If you stay with your family in a simple ger camp in the countryside, be aware that there are no special cots, chairs or tables for children, and the toilets will be pit latrines outside. Some upmarket ger resorts have flushing outdoor toilets and hot showers, and there are a number of luxury resorts that are fully equipped for families.
Child-friendly milk products are an important part of the Mongolian diet © Timothy Allen / Getty Images
What to eat when traveling with children in Mongolia
Meat and flour are the main ingredients of traditional Mongolian dishes such as khorkhog (Mongolian barbecue), buuz (big dumplings) and khuushuur (fried meat pastries), and consuming these foods in large quantities can be bad for children’s digestion. When you find a market or a large grocery store, buy fruits and vegetables to help.
There are many restaurants serving familiar international foods in Ulaanbaatar, but there are few when traveling in the countryside. It’s best to eat in higher classes of restaurants with your family, where you can rely on finding a variety of food and good hygiene standards, plus child seats, VIP rooms for families, and clean restrooms.
You can eat outside almost anywhere you want, and local people often picnic on the green grass of public parks in Ulaanbaatar. Fresh milk and dairy products are abundant in summer – we recommend buying them from rural herders at a low price. Some markets also sell aaruul (dried curd) mixed with flour – it won’t appeal to every child so taste first and make your choice.
If you plan to travel outside Ulaanbaatar, buy everything you need in the capital before you leave, as family essentials such as child medicines, nappies and baby formula can be hard to find elsewhere, or sold at a higher price.
Family transport tips
Public transport is not very comfortable and child-friendly but traveling by train is an easy way to reach places to the north and south of the capital. Public buses travel from Ulaanbaatar to every soum (subdistrict) in Mongolia, but your children will quickly get bored and uncomfortable if the journey is too long. If you want to travel more calmly, rent a car or 4WD with a driver. It is best to arrange a vehicle through a fully insured and reliable agency, rather than through individuals.
When exploring the capital, you can go anywhere in Ulaanbaatar by bus for just 500 MNT, but this can be a difficult way to travel with kids because of the heavy traffic congestion. Try to avoid congested areas or walk if possible. Getting around Ulaanbaatar is slightly easier by taxi, but some private taxi drivers charge unreasonable prices. Always discuss the fare before you board, or summon a ride using a mobile phone application such as UBcab.