After a 25-year socialist hangover, the country's intriguing capital city is finally waking up.

By Daniel Scheffler
July 17, 2015
Ulaanbaatar’s Great Chinggis Khan Square, near Parliament.
| Credit: © Tuul & Bruno Morandi/Corbis

In Ulaanbaatar, elaborate temples now live cheek by jowl with rising skyscrapers, thanks to an influx of investment from the financial sector. The new Shangri-La Hotel (doubles from $260) is raising the luxury quotient with 290 contemporary rooms, some facing Bogd Khan, one of the four Sacred Mountains; a sleek restaurant serving northern Chinese cuisine (clay-pot stews, Peking duck); and a 21st-floor private club. Nearby is Great Chinggis Khan Square, a plaza lined with fashionable hangouts. A highlight: the lounge iLoft Function House, where DJs flown in from Seoul spin K-pop remixes. (The city has a surprising obsession with all things Korean.)

There are two ways to arrive: by plane—Korean Air and Turkish Airlines now offer service, and a second international airport debuts in 2017— or with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains(15 days from $15,895 per person). This hotel on rails has butler service and L’Occitane-stocked cabins and follows a route from Moscow that includes visits to Lake Baikal, the deepest on earth, and the 16th-century Kremlin Fortress, in Kazan, Russia.