Ultimate Guide to the Naadam Festival

Picture of Naadam Festival: The Ultimate Guide

The Naadam Festival is a unique experience unlike anywhere else in the world. It's an expression and celebration of the ethnic Mongolian roots and culture. In this article, we'll be sharing why it should be at the top of your bucket list, what to expect, and how you can plan your visit.


Why should you experience the Naadam Festival?

The Naadam Festival is much more than just a sports games festival. At its core, the festival celebrates the history, culture, and ethnicity of the Mongols all around the world.

This is a unique opportunity to witness the might and skills of the Mongol warriors and experience the traditional games. You'll get to see beautiful nomadic attire, taste delicious local cuisine, and share stories with the locals.

The main festival is commonly known as the ‘National' or ‘State’ (Ulsiin) Naadam, which takes place in and around Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Additionally, there are many local ‘mini’ Naadam celebrations that take place in provinces and towns throughout the country.

Outside of Mongolia, ethnic Mongol communities celebrate Naadam all around the world. The biggest such event takes place in Inner Mongolia (Southern Mongolia), an autonomous region of China. Beyond Central Asia, it is celebrated in Russia, South Korea, Germany, the US, the UK, France, and in places with a large ethnic Mongol community.

Brief History of Naadam

The Naadam games have existed for many centuries in one form or another since the heyday of the Mongol Empire. They were expressed as a military parade, entertainment, sports games, and a gathering of the many ethnic Mongol tribes. Hence, the word 'Naadam' means celebration or entertainment, and it was known as the ‘Three Manly Games’ (Eriin Gurvan Naadam). The term 'Festival' came into use in modern times because it is also a 5-day national holiday in Mongolia.

History of the Naadam Festival

In addition, the first day of Naadam is also Mongolia's Revolution Day, commemorating Mongolia's independence on 11 July, since 1921.

The games have evolved to include both male and female participants (excluding wrestling). A fourth game called Anklebone Shooting (Shagai) has been added to the festival in a more recent times.

In 2010, UNESCO added the Naadam event to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List to raise awareness and protect the tradition. You can watch the UNESCO video about the Naadam festival here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI67liJxJtQ.

When is the Naadam Festival

The actual Mongolian National Naadam Festival takes place every year between July 11 and July 13 in and around the capital city Ulaanbaatar. It is not uncommon for the Naadam sports games to kick off a week before the opening ceremony, usually for events such as archery, horse racing, and knucklebone shooting.

The local ‘mini’ Naadam festivals usually take place around the same time as the national festival, but events in August are also a regular occurrence. This is usually to coincide with the province or town's anniversary.

During Naadam, Mongolians usually take an annual holiday for an extended time-off to go on a 2-4 week road trip around the country. This is a great opportunity to experience different local Naadam festivals each year and provides much-needed support for the local communities.

Outside of Mongolia, most local festivals take place in the first 2 weeks of July. You can usually find event information by going to the websites of the local embassy/consulate. Alternatively, check for Facebook groups.

Watch the pre-recorded 2021 Naadam Festival content, which was broadcasted on 11 July 2021.

Get  a glimpse of the past Naadam events in Mongolia and around the world:

Mongolian National Naadam Festival (Virtual Opening Ceremony in 2020)

Naadam 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea

Naadam 2018 in London, UK

Naadam 2017, Grassland Festival, Inner Mongolia in China

Naadam 2016 in New York, US

What to Expect At the Naadam

The 2024 National Naadam will mark the 2233th anniversary of the establishment of the first statehood in Mongolia, the 818th anniversary of the Great Mongol Empire, and the 103rd-year anniversary of the People’s Revolution of Mongolia.

11 July: Day 1

The Naadam Festival starts with the Opening Ceremony, usually from 9:30 am until 11:00 am, at the National Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, followed by the Presidential speech and the official opening of the Naadam Festival around 11:30 am.

After the opening ceremony, the first round of Mongolian wrestling kicks off around 12:00 noon in the national stadium.

Naadam Wrestling in the National Stadium

It is a tradition in Mongolia to taste the 'Naadam Food' to get in the mood for the festival. You can try it out at the Food Market, located outside the National Stadium. The traditional Naadam Food includes Khuushur, a fried pastry filled with mutton or beef, and Khorkhog, a hot stone barbecued meat. Don't miss the side dishes that complement the heavy, meaty food, including Russian potato salad, mayo-less coleslaw, pickled vegetables, and Korean kimchi. And, to wash everything down, have a bowl of fermented horse milk called Airag, also known as Kumis or Kifer in other Central Asian regions.

For the rest of the day, go exploring the archery and anklebone shooting events, or pop back into the stadium to continue watching the wrestling. Alternatively, check out if there are any open music events and performances happening around the city.

Archery at the Naadam

12 July:  Day 2

The main event of the second day is to get out of the city and head to Khui Doloon Khudag to witness the Soyolon (five-year-old) Horse Racing, which takes place from 7:00 am to 10:00 am. You will need to get up very early to experience the spectacle of 250-300 horses and kid jockeys racing in a 23km marathon.

Horse Racing at the Naadam Festival

Go exploring around Khui Doloon Khudag, meet people, and share stories. You will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the horses and jockeys, making for some great Instagram moments.

Once again, there will be open music events and food halls set up for you to enjoy more Khuushuur, Khorkhog, burgers, and barbecues. If you've enjoyed the taste of fermented horse milk, you can drink more at the Airag Festival and at various gers (yurts) set up by the locals.

For the rest of the day, you can simply chill out on the open steppe or make your way back for the finals of the wrestling tournament.

If you decide not to see the horse racing at Khui Doloon Khudag, you can experience the finals of the Archery and Anklebone Shooting tournaments near the National Stadium grounds in Ulaanbaatar and watch the Wrestling tournament from rounds 3 all the way to the 9th and final round.

Throughout the day, various awards will be given out in the National Stadium to the winners, runner-ups, and wrestlers who have earned new titles.

13 July: Day 3

Day 3 of the Naadam Festival is dedicated to the horse trainers and it takes place at the Khui Doloon Khudag. There will be horse racing events including, stallions and crossbreds, and a wrestling tournament.

Nomadic Attire 

Mongolians love dressing up for occasions, especially when it comes to wearing the traditional Mongolian deel. You will see couples, families, and friends wearing matching color-coordinated summer deels. The younger generation adds a hip touch by pairing the deel with modern clothes such as Converse, Levi's, and Ray-Ban for a more fashionable look. Don't be shy and get involved with wearing a deel; you will receive lots of compliments.

Naadam Food &  Drink

As mentioned, Naadam food revolves around khuushuur and barbecues. In Mongolia, there's a popular saying, "if you didn't have khuushuur at the Naadam, then you didn't experience the Naadam."

What makes Naadam khuushuur special? When compared to the original half-moon-shaped meaty khuushuur, the Naadam khuushuur is full moon-shaped and flat. It's deep-fried, and there is less meat juice in the pastry, making it an ideal street food to eat with your hands. The side salad of pickled vegetables and kimchi complements the khuushuur as it cuts through the grease. Airag, the low-fat fermented horse milk, will keep you well hydrated and in tip-top shape throughout the day—just make sure not to consume too much, as its alcoholic content is rated at 2%.


Outside the Naadam games, many great events take place in July, such as outdoor Music Festivals, Theatre Plays, Comedy Nights, and Outdoor Beer + BBQ Gardens.

Also, in July, the biggest outdoor music event is called the Playtime Festival. It takes place a week before or after the Naadam festival. For 2024, the event will celebrate its 23rd anniversary at the Gachuurt Village, located in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. For more information visit: http://playtime.mn/en/

Plan Your Naadam Trip

1/ Decide on what you want to experience

We advise that you plan and decide what you want to experience the most, and stick to that plan. This decision should be based on your budget, length of stay, and your personal interests. There is no point in trying to see everything if some of the events or activities do not interest you. Instead, save time and use it to experience other things that may appeal to you more.

2/ Things to be aware of 

Most visitors traveling to Mongolia independently to experience the opening ceremony of the National Naadam Festival will likely end up disappointed if they don't plan their itinerary properly. Why?

Let us explain.

Set aside the peak-time flight and accommodation costs; finding tickets to the opening ceremony is a bit like trying to find Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. The capacity of Ulaanbaatar's national sports stadium is limited, capable of holding only 15,000 - 20,000 people. Most tickets are appointed to government officials, big companies, tourist organizations, and to the family and friends of the well-connected.

A limited number of tickets do go on sale to the open market, but most of these tickets get snapped up immediately days before the festival, and many end up on the black market for many times the cost. Although this may not be much of a problem as the tickets will not cost more than $20-30, there is no guarantee you will even find one.

We recommend that you try to secure tickets as part of a tour package for the main festival or go see the local ‘mini’ Naadam festivals that take place in several provinces during the same time. The latter is a more intimate experience as you will get the chance to get up close and personal with the contestants and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere.

Another issue to consider is that right after the opening ceremony, most of the audience will depart the stadium and make their way out of the capital city to watch the horse racing event, which moves the wonderful festival of carnival out of the city. This leaves the stadium nearly empty during the early rounds of the wrestling competition.

If you happen to be planning to leave the city after the opening ceremony, then be prepared to be stuck in heavy traffic as a horde of 50,000+ cars will be making the same trip towards Khui Doloon Khudag for the horse racing event.

Book Your Naadam Trip with a Tour Operator

Book through a tour operator with a guaranteed ticket for the Opening Ceremony

We searched the web and found the following Naadam tour operators to be most ideal for the independent traveller in terms of itinerary and price.

A Day Tour of Naadam

Tour operated by Traveling To Mongolia

Price: $120 USD per person (March 2021)

You will experience the Naadam Opening Ceremony and the horse racing event in Khui Doloo Khudag in a single day. Included in the price:

  • Opening Ceremony tickets (limited time to see the wrestling & archery)
  • Transport to & from the Khui Doloo Khudag
  • Watch horse racing event
  • English speaking tour guide
  • Breakfast
  • Snacks and refreshments
  • Eat khuushuur in Khui Doloo Khudag

Does not include: Travel insurance.

Our verdict.

You can’t really go wrong with the price and value you get if you are short on time. This is the ticket to buy for most visitors. However, if you are into your wrestling, archery, and anklebone shooting, then you may want to continue reading.

2 Day Naadam Tour

Tour operated by Travel Gobi Mongolia

Price: TBC

This 2-day tour Naadam tour is ideal for those who want to experience all the main events. Included in the price you get:

  • Opening ceremony ticket
  • Full-day to experience wrestling & archery at the National Stadium
  • Eat khuushuur outside the National Stadium
  • Transport to & from the Khui Doloo Khudag
  • Refreshment
  • Watch horse racing

Does not include: Accommodation or travel insurance.

Our Verdict

If you want to experience the main Naadam event without breaking the bank this is for you. As you will get more time to see wrestling and archery and explore the markets around the National Stadium.

3 Day Naadam Tour

Tour operated by Discover Mongolia

Price: $495 USD per person

This is for those who want to get the full authentic Naadam experience. You will get to enjoy the eve of the Naadam festival with a military parade, a traditional costume show called ‘Deeltei Naadam’’, and the first round of archery and anklebone shooting games. Included in the price:

  • 2 nights stay in a standard twin room at 4-star hotel
  • Private transfers to/from Khui Doloo Khudag
  • English speaking guide
  • Meals include breakfast (day 2 & 3), lunch (all days) and dinner (day 1 & 2)
  • All entrance fee
  • Letter of Invitation

Not included: Insurance and optional activities.

Our Verdict

If you want to get the full Naadam experience and experience it with a private group then we believe this is the tour to book. In addition, you get the benefit of 2 nights accommodation and meals included. Bargain!

Naadam Festival + Mini Adventure

Tour operated by G Adventures

Price: $659 USD per person (Nov 2022)

If you happen to be in Mongolia for a short period of time and you want to experience Naadam plus see something about the countryside and culture, this could be the tour for you. This tour includes:

  • Meet and greet with your chief experience officer (aka tour guide)
  • Stay in 3-star rated accommodation
  • Breakfast and lunch included for 3 days
  • Private transport
  • Entry and transport to Nadaam Festival events
  • Genghis Khan Monument Visit
  • Gorkhi Terelj National Park Visit

Not included: Insurance and optional activities

Our Verdict

This is a great way to wind down after the Festival with a short journey to beautiful Gorkhi Terelj National Park for peace and tranquillity. Also, a short ride to get your photograph taken in front of the largest equestrian statue of Genghis Khan, and explore the museum complex.

Book Naadam Festival Independently

You can still experience the carnival of the Naadam festival without pre-booking a package tour or ticket. Just head out to Mongolia before the July 9th, and you can experience the Military Parade and Deeltei Naadam (Traditional Costume show) on July 10th.

On July 11th, head down to the National Stadium (a 15-minute walk from Sukhbaatar Square) and get a hold of the opening ceremony ticket from street sellers for around $20-30. If you don’t manage to buy a ticket, you can explore the various popout markets, eat khuushuur, drink airag and check out the archery and anklebone shooting. After the opening ceremony at around 12 noon, most of the audience will leave the stadium and you will be able to buy a cheap ticket to experience the early round of the wrestling competition.

Rent or hire a car for the July 12/July 13 and head east from Ulaanbaatar to the Khui Doloo Khudag for the horse racing event. There are many car & equipment hire companies in Mongolia, including well recognised brands such as Sixt and Avis (both offer driver option). This is an ideal option if you are group of 3-4 people you can split the cost and it will still work out cheaper than buying from a tour operator.

Get in touch to get 2024 Naadam Festival tour recommendations and ticket prices.

Happy Naadam Festival!


Everything you have read is based on personal experiences of visiting the Naadam festival over 20 years, and all photos copyrighted to Insight Mongolia. Your experience may differ slightly for any future visits as the festival is ever-evolving with the times.

We have no affiliation with the suggested tour operator, therefore, we advise you to do your own research before booking.