With its smiley Asian features, cosy city centre and fascinating Mongol-Buddhist culture, the Buryat capital is one of Eastern Siberia’s most likeable cities. Quietly busy, welcoming and, after Siberia’s Russian cities, refreshingly exotic, it’s a pleasant place to base yourself for day trips to Buddhist temples and flits to eastern Lake Baikal’s gently shelving beaches, easily reachable by bus. For some travellers UU is also a taster for what’s to come in Mongolia.
Founded as a Cossack ostrog (fort) called Udinsk (later Verkhneudinsk) in 1666, the city prospered as a major stop on the tea-caravan route from China via Troitskosavsk (now Kyakhta). Renamed Ulan-Ude in 1934, it was a closed city until the 1980s due to its secret military plants (there are still mysterious blank spaces on city maps).