The Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s biggest event and a major holiday celebrated primarily in Ulaanbaatar every July. Also known as ‘the three games of men’, the celebrations are built around three nomadic sports: archery, horse racing, and Mongolian wrestling. During two days of games, sportsmen (and, in the case of archery and horse racing, but not wrestling, sportswomen) compete in what has been called the nomads’ Olympic Games.
As well as the sporting competitions, the Naadam Festival also features many other cultural activities, not least among them the opening and closing ceremonies at the Naadam Stadium, which feature colourful marches and music performed by soldiers, athletes, and monks. Throughout the festival you can also expect to enjoy lots of traditional Mongolian cuisine.
Experience the Naadam Festival firsthand on the 9th July 2021 departure of Dragoman’s Nomads & Wilds of Mongolia (ZUU) overland tour, which coincides with the celebrations.
When is the Naadam Festival?
The Naadam Festival takes place every year during midsummer. The dates for the next Naadam Festival are from Saturday, 11 July to Wednesday, 15 July, 2020.
History of Naadam Festival
In one form or another, the Naadam Festival has existed for centuries.
In 2010, the Naadam Festival was inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, signifying the importance of the festival to Mongolia’s history. Its origin is in the military parades and sporting traditions that used to follow the celebration of various occasions, such as weddings or spiritual gatherings. Later it served as a means for soldiers to train for battle.
The Naadam Festival is deeply connected to the nomadic civilisation of the Mongols. The strength of Genghis Khan’s legendary army lay in its sophisticated structure; it comprised small groups of ten soldiers, each chosen based on their strength, movement and flexibility, as demonstrated by their wrestling skills; their eyesight and hand-eye coordination as demonstrated by their archery skills; and their patience and courage as demonstrated by their horse training and racing skills during public competitions. Before and after major battles, soldiers would compete in these three “manly” sports as an organised event, which later took the name Naadam.
Today, the Naadam Festival commemorates the 1921 People’s Revolution and the declaration of Mongolia’s independence from China, as well as the achievements of the new state since that time.
Do I need to book tickets for the Naadam Festival?
The Naadam Festival is officially held in Mongolia’s Capital, Ulaanbaatar, and you’ll need tickets for the opening and closing ceremony here, as well as for some other events such as the wrestling. It’s difficult to get tickets in advance; you’ll most likely need to get them when you arrive. Your Dragoman tour leader or local guide can help you with this.
Regional events also take place in towns and villages across the country, and these are usually free of charge and much more intimate. If you’re travelling with us, we’ll ensure you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the festival wherever you are.
Mongolia overland tours with Dragoman
One of the world’s last remaining relatively untouched travel destinations, Mongolia is an overlander’s dream, with challenging roads, expansive landscapes – everything from mountains to desolate plains, pine forests and deserts - and a distinctive and enchanting culture. Our overland tours in Mongolia are quintessentially wild, taking us through some of the most rugged and far-flung places on Earth, spending our days wild camping or staying in traditional gers with our nomadic hosts, sampling some interesting cuisine (anyone for fermented horse milk?), and getting to grips with a fascinating culture.