First of all you need to decide the season you wish to visit Mongolia. Tourists usually opt for summer time for a reason. Winter is challenging for most of us there. This November there were really chaotic days in terms of traffic due to cold weather. Roads and pavements were covered with ice. In the -35 degrees salting the icy roads did not seem to work and when the amount of salt intended for the whole season finished within a few days then life in the capital paused. I experienced one winter in Mongolia and I would not say never again but surely I will need a very good excuse to return during this time of year. That time too I stayed in a student hostel where hot water was a rare thing, heating did not work in my room and it was -40 degrees outside. Of course, you can easily sort such problems out with booking into a proper hotel. Still, if you prefer more comfort then I would advice plan your visit between June and September. Many people complains about Ulaanbaatar saying there is nothing to do. After a couple of days sightseeing you are done with the city they think. If you expect something like Paris or London where only walking the streets is enough to entertain yourself then you might be disappointed for sure. But if you are willing to really get to know your hosts, their ways of living then it can be a life changing experience. I understand though that this can be difficult to achieve during a week stay in a foreign country.
There are lots of interesting museums in the city to visit, among them my favourites are the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts and the Mongolian National Musem. The Zanabazar Museum is because I worked there for a while and parts of their collection are extremely beautiful and cannot be find anywhere else in the world. Stepping into the National Museum you find yourself in a modern ambience that satisfies even the most fastidious tourist’s taste. The whole museum is professional, informative and spectacular at the same time.
The good thing in Ulaanbaatar is that you get all in one. You can get the comfort of a big city and at the same time the natural resources of the country are also easily accessible. Even if you just stay for a few days and you have no time to visit the countryside you will just take a bus or sit into a taxi and within 20-30 minutes you are in the mountains. You can also walk out to the mountains that surround the city if you like but nowadays it’s trickier due to huge building sites and busy roads. Years ago we just walked out freely to the river or the hills from the city centre without bumping into any building along the way. The magnificent Bogd Khan mountain (914m) overlooks the capital. It is the oldest legally protected nature reserve in the world, established in 1783.
If you have some more time but limited budget then check your guidebook or local tour guides for one day trips from Ulaanbaatar. You can find really beautiful and interesting places already an hour from the city. Bigger tour organizers tend to overprice their trips but you will find adverts of cheaper deals in cafes that are visited mostly by foreigners. You will easily recognize these places from the too well dressed people that frequent their terraces. Of course the most exciting choice is going for a longer trip and spending a few days or weeks maybe far from cities and everything you are used to. There are many options. You can do it through a local travel agency, you can hire a car and a personal guide, you can go with local friends or on your own by hitchhiking. Either way the most important thing is leaving your preconceptions behind.