What to do in Mongolia in July

From the music festival attended by thousands of people to rugged yak festivals in the mountains, here's our list of things to do in July in Mongolia besides attending the main festival of Naadam.

Naadam festival, a nationwide celebration that celebrates Mongolia’ storied heritage, is without a doubt the event of the year, and the main attraction for international visitors who hope to see the three main national sports at play, which are a part of the Mongolian identity beyond the sports aspect. July is the peak summer month when everyone seems to put the busyness on hold and enjoy life. Aside from Naadam, the month sees a plethora of other interesting cultural activities. For those looking to explore Mongolia beyond the Naadam festivities, here’s our list of highlights for July:

What to do in Mongolia in July

The annual Playtime festival gathers over 50,000 music enthusiasts.

Playtime Festival (July 4-7th), Nalaikh Village, Ulaanbaatar

For many, Mongolia conjures up images of vast open steppes, horse-riding nomads and an ancient desert landscapes. However, Mongolia is also a country where 60% of the population are under the age of 35. There is no better place to see the vibrant youth culture and the growing music and arts scene than at the largest local music festival and a Naadam of music-lovers: the annual Playtime Festival. Mingle with fashionistas, street artists and musicians here while enjoying a diverse array of artists ranging from indie rock to electro and hip hop in the great outdoors.

With an ambitious goal of becoming one of Asia’s top five musical festivals, this year’s enormous line-up will see artists from 21 countries, including the renowned Teenage Fanclub from Scotland.

What to do in Mongolia in July

The last reindeer nomads of the world gather annually

Tsaatan (Reindeer herder) Festival (July 6-7th), Khuvsgul Province 

Held on the picturesque western shore of Khuvsgul lake, in Khatgal village, Tsaatan (Reindeer herders) Festival, also known as the Reindeer Herders Festival, is a fascinating showcase of the Tsaatan culture of northern Mongolia, one of the last nomadic reindeer herders in the world. The festival is an eclectic blend of a regional Naadam, a Tsaatan cultural showcase, and ancient shamanic rituals, set against the stunning backdrop of the Khuvsgul region. Khuvsgul is known for its pristine Khuvsgul Lake, often called the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia,” surrounded by lush forests of the Taiga, majestic mountains, and diverse wildlife, making it a breathtaking setting for the festival.

What to do in Mongolia in July

A showcase of the traditional attire of Mongolia's diverse ethnicities

Deeltei Mongol Naadam – National Costume Festival (July 10th), Ulaanbaatar

A day before the official Naadam opening, the central Sukhbaatar Square hosts the Deeltei Mongol Naadam, a parade showcasing the traditional costumes of all ethnic groups in Mongolia. While the deel refers to the traditional clothing worn by Mongolian nomads, the style, make and the accompanying headwear and accessories vary greatly from one ethnic group to another. From the brightly lined square chest flaps of the blue Buriyat deels to the tough ambipedal (a boot that can fit on both feet) Bayad goson boots, the parade is a colorful display of intricate traditional designs and modern interpretations that pay homage to the resilience and craftsmanship of nomads

What to do in Mongolia in July

Archers showing off their skills at Naadam

Naadam Festival, Ulaanbaatar (July 11-13th), Ulaanbaatar

The official Naadam (simply meaning festival) celebrations begin on the 11th of July with an opening ceremony at the National Stadium in central Ulaanbaatar. The festivities continue for 3 days, with the traditional archery and wrestling competitions taking place at the main stadium, while the horse races are held at Khui Doloon Khudag, located about an hour and a half’s drive from the city center. In addition to the three main attractions, be sure to check out the oft-overlooked knuckle-bone shooting game. Inscribed in the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this meditative game involves players flicking domino-like bone tablets toward a target of sheep knuckle-bones. Each player’s instruments are often individually crafted and handmade.

Yak riders at the annual yak festival
What to do in Mongolia in July

The yak festival sees no shortage of competitions

Yak Festival (July 23rd), Uvurkhangai Province 

Yaks make up only one million of the nearly 65 million heads of livestock in Mongolia. These hardy mountain grazers are often referred to as being half-wild due to their fiercely independent nature and love of the high altitude. Each year, in the picturesque Orkhon Valley, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, yak herders from all over Mongolia gather here to compete in a large array of competitions, from yak polo, yak lassoing to yak races. In addition to the many fun activities, there’s plenty to enjoy and sample, from yak products like ghee to small workshops that teach visitors how to make rope from yak wool. While there, be sure to enjoy the savory and rich yak milk tea with boortsog, a delicious traditional deep-fried pastry that is the ultimate Mongolian comfort snack.

What to do in Mongolia in July

Altargana, the bi-annual gathering of the Buryat Mongol diaspora

Altargana, International Buryat Festival, Bulgan Province (July 26-28th)

Buryats are a Mongol ethnic group spread across Mongolia, Buryat Republic of Russia, and Inner Mongolia, China. Altargana festival, a domestic event that became an international Buryat diaspora gathering, is held every two years in different cities where the Buryats live, and this year, it’s being held in Bulgan, a province renowned for its natural beauty, winding rivers, and fermented horse milk known as airag.  Visit here to witness the richness and diversity of Buryat culture from around the region, sample famous Buryat dishes and pastries, and learn a few words in Buryat Mongol dialect, classified as “severely endangered” by UNESCO due to the growing adoption of the common lingua franca of the countries in which Buryats live.