The Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s biggest festival and is celebrated across the country. It showcases three traditional Mongolian games – archery, wrestling and horse racing. There is a palpable energy across the country during the festival and it is a fantastic time to visit. And the best news? You can experience all the fun and chaos of Naadam on a budget. No tours required!
Naadam Festival Dates
The Festival is held in Ulaanbaator on the 11th and 12th of July each year. Most businesses in the city close from the 11th to 13th of July. The regional capitals also hold their own Naadam Festival events throughout July, although the exact dates usually aren’t confirmed until mid-June. The regional festivals are generally free of charge, and allow you to get much closer to the action. Different towns and regions will hold their festivals on different dates, so do your homework before locking in any dates. We found this website to be helpful.
This is peak tourist season in Mongolia so be sure to book your accommodation (especially in Ulaanbaator) well in advance. Some of the most popular guesthouses are booked out for the whole month of July.
What To Expect At Naadam in UB
On day 1, the festival kicks off with the opening ceremony. The stadium will be absolutely packed and it is basically impossible to move once the ceremony begins. Many of the seats do not have shade, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen if it’s hot. The opening ceremony is spectacular, and features impressive war reenactments, singing and dancing.
Following the opening ceremony are the first rounds of wrestling. The matches will continue all day, and the crowds are much smaller. The horse racing also commences outside of Ulaanbator. At night, there is usually a free concert and fireworks at Chinggis Khan Square.
On day 2, the wrestling continues and the archery begins. The horse racing continues outside of Ulaanbaator (and will continue for a few more days). After the final wrestling match (which can be late in the evening), the closing ceremony is held. There are also free concerts and a big screen showing the wrestling in Chinggis Khan Square.
There are tonnes of food stands outside the stadium, and you can easily re-enter the stadium with your original ticket. No alcohol is sold, although you’ll probably see a couple of drunks stumbling around.
Buying Naadam Festival Tickets
There are a few ways you can get your hands on tickets for the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaator – even at the last minute!
Joining a Tour
Plenty of local and international tour companies will be selling tours that include attending the Naadam Festival. These tours generally include meals, an English speaking guide and transport to the main stadium and then onward to the horse racing. Tours can vary significantly in price and quality, so do your research by reading reviews and speaking to other travellers. Also make sure you confirm what is included in the tour and the location of your seats. We found these tours were generally very expensive.
Buying tickets from a guesthouse
Many guesthouses buy Naadam tickets to on-sell to tourists, usually with a small commission added. You can email a few guesthouses before arriving in Momgolia to see what kind of premium they are charging, but it shouldn’t cost more than USD$60 per person for a 2-day ticket. Even if you have left it until the night before, some guesthouses will still have tickets available so it’s worth a shot. We recommend speaking to Sunpath Guesthouse who quoted us a very reasonable amount for tickets.
Buying your own tickets
You can line up at the Wrestling Palace to buy tickets on the day they are released (usually the week before Naadam), but we really don’t think it’s worth the hassle. For a small commission someone can do the lining up for you and you don’t have to worry about pickpockets!
Buying tickets from a scalper
If you can’t secure tickets from your guesthouse, head to the Wrestling Palace the day before the festival starts. Usually there are ticket scalpers outside the Palace who will sell you cheap tickets. We bought 2-day tickets for USD$30 per person. There is always a risk with buying tickets from scalpers that they may turn out to be fakes, so buyer beware – have a look at the quality of the tickets, ask lots of questions and if anything seems a bit off just continue on your way.
Attending free events
You can enjoy the Naadam Festival without even buying a ticket! You only need tickets to see the opening and closing ceremonies, and the wrestling. You can watch the archery and horse racing free of charge. The wrestling finals are aired on a big screen in Chinggis Khan Square, which is fun to watch with the locals. There are also free concerts and fireworks every night at the Square.
The opening and closing ceremonies and the wrestling matches are held at the National Stadium. The archery is held just next door to the stadium. Ask one of the English speaking ‘student police’ for directions. The horse racing is located approximately 40km from Ulaanbaator. There are free shuttle buses that transport people from the city to the racetrack – check with your hostel or the ‘student police’ where the buses are departing from. Chinggis Khan Square is always full of activity during Naadam, including concerts, fireworks and big screens with the wrestling on.
Traffic is chaos during Naadam, so it is best to travel by foot if possible. Taxis will probably take longer than walking anyway! The Stadium is an easy 15-20 minute walk from Chinggis Khan Square. There are free shuttle buses that transport people from the city to the racetrack, but we heard they are pretty chaotic.
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