What is the Naadam Festival?

Most travelers heading to Mongolia are intrigued by the annual Naadam Festival, the country’s traditional summer games. The games began more than 1,000 years ago and were created to ensure soldiers remained in shape during times of peace and consist of three events; wrestling, archery, and horse racing. The largest and most spectacular festival takes place in the capital of Ulaanbaatar on July 11 – 13. Over the summer, every province in Mongolia holds its own regional Naadam festivals.

Nadaams Cultural History

Naadam is an essential component of Mongolian cultural identity, providing a way to celebrate their heritage and the games passed down for centuries. The word Naadam translates to celebrate. Indeed this is a celebration for every Mongol. They adorn their most refined and colorful deel (traditional Mongolian outfits) to greet their friends and family at the Naadam sites. Apart from the three manly games, there is always sumptuous food and festivities. The games have been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

For travelers wanting to experience Mongolia at this time when the country is at its most vibrant, it is helpful to understand what it is like to attend the festival in the capital versus one of the local festivals held in the rural countryside. Below explains the essential differences between the National Nadaam Festival vs. the Countryside Naadam Festivals.

The size of the Naadam Festival varies by locale

  • The Ulaanbaatar Naadam is the most significant event with thousands and thousands of spectators, hundreds of competitors, and a grand opening ceremony featuring pageantry and live music held in a stadium, requiring a ticket to enter.
  • The countryside Naadams are smaller events with a few hundred spectators. Guests can experience the competitions more closely, mingle and interact with the participants. Some small games are free, while the grander and more splendid events held in arenas charge at the box office.

Where does the Naadam Festival take place?

  • At the Ulaanbaatar Naadam, the events are held in two different locations. The main stadium hosts the opening & closing ceremonies, wrestling, and archery—while the horse racing is located at Hui Doloo race grounds, an hour’s drive from Ulaanbaatar.
  • When attending Naadams held in the countryside, most events occur within proximity of one another and generally on the same day. The events are all within walking distance, and you get a more personal feeling from the events, as you can meet and mingle with many of the competitors and their families.

Nadaam Festival Opening Ceremonies

  • In Ulaanbaatar, Naadam has an opening ceremony that lasts over an hour on the first day, featuring the choreography of hundreds of entertainers ranging from singers to dancers.
  • The music and dance performances take about half an hour in the countryside and are shorter than their Ulaanbaatar counterpart festival.

Shopping & Food During Nadaam

  • In Ulaanbaatar, there are many shops stocked with souvenir items. There are also food stalls featuring a vast assortment of delicious foods and drinks for the spectators.
  • The regional events also see many local artists selling gifts, souvenirs, and artisan wares. Food vendors also offer the traditional dish Khuushuur, a flat deep-fried dumpling loved and devoured by all.

Whichever way you choose to experience Naadam, you will come away with a great appreciation for Mongolia’s culture, traditions, and the sense of community that knits together the people of this timeless nomadic land. Book your tour with Nomadic Expeditions and experience the Nadaam Festival for yourself.