In Mongolia, cities are few and far between. In fact, Mongolia ranks as the most sparsely populated country in the world. Imagine your neighborhood contained only one other person, you've imagined Mongolia!
But even in the depths of the Gobi you can stumble upon a city...
The earliest cities started life as nomadic settlements. Even the capital Ulaan Baatar, began life as a nomadic camp. It once crossed the national border!
Many of Mongolia's early cities became 'fixed' around the Silk Road - a trading route. The cities acted as watering points for camel caravans and became important trading posts.
The ruins of one of these ancient cities lie close to Karakorum.
A second wave of cities grew around Buddhist monasteries. In those days, most Mongolia cities were inhabited by monks under monastic orders.
Many of these cities still exist.
In the 1930s, the urban landscape changed utterly. A Soviet government banned Buddhism, demolished monasteries and redesigned existing Mongolia cities according to the Russian blueprint.
In fact, Mongolia's top four cities were all either built or heavily developed by Russia.
The rest of this page describes those cities: Ulaan Baatar, Erdenet, Darkhan and Choibalsan.Mongolia's more ancient and remote cities deserve a page of their own, cick here to read more.
The capital of Mongolia: Ulaan Baatar has a population of just over one million. This may seem small, but to a nomad it's immense. One of my Mongol friends refuses to accept that any city could be bigger.
The Mongolian capital is one of the world's safer cities - but dangers do lurk. Visitors should read my Ulaan Baatar safety tips.
Getting here: Ulaan Baatar hostsMongolia's only international airport and acts as the hub point for all Mongolia cities.
Hidden secrets: Ulaan Baatar once crossed the Mongolian - Chinese border!
With a population of just eighty-seven thousand, Erdenet ranks as Mongolia's second-largest city.
Hidden secrets: Erdenet contains the world's fourth-largest copper deposit, jointly mined by Russia and China.
What to see: Not quite a tour destination, but many people use Erdenet as a base for trips to the West of Mongolia.
If you're returning from a trip, then you might like to try Erdenet's Olympic sized swimming pool.
How to get there: You can arrive by train or take the Ulaan Baatar - Erdenet road.
Mongolia's third-largest city was built by Russia, using some of the money it gained from Mongolia's mineral wealth. The city has become Northern Mongolia's manufacturing center.
What to see: Don't miss the Kharagiin Buddhist Monastery and the Traditional Museum of Folk Art.
How to get there: Darkhan is at the midpoint of the Ulaan Baatar - Erdenet road. You can also catch the train to Darkhan from Ulaan Baatar's Main Railway Station.
Bulgan Tumen has existed as a trading post for centuries. But in the 1940s a socialist government renamed the city after its president.
Hidden secrets: Russia built a large military base close to the city, now abandoned. You can still find small souvenirs (for example, insignia buttons) if you go exploring.
What to see: For a fee you can visit a museum dedicated to Gerorgy Zukov - the hero of the nearby battle of Khalkhin Gol. But it costs nothing to explore the abandoned Soviet Military Base. Or use the city as a base for exploring the spectacular countryside.
How to get there: The city has an airport (codes: COQ / ZMCD) with a paved runway and receives daily flights from Ulaan Baatar.
Some former Mongolian cities now thrive outside of Mongolia's modern day border...
Hohhot - founded by a Mongolian king in the sixteenth century it now falls within China's border.
Ulan Ude - a Buryat city which now comes under Russian jurisdiction. Many Buryats still speak Mongolian.
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