The city was has been since time immemorial a place for nomadic nations like Mongols, Khitans (Daur), Jurchen Manchurians and so forth. The Qing Dynasty founded a garrison town along a crossing of the Hailaer river in 1734, to buffer their strength against growing Russian incursion in Manchurian territory. The modern city currently has a population of around 250,000, with a large contingent of ethnic minorities.
Confusingly Hulunbeir is called a city in Mandarin Chinese, which is a mistranslation perhaps of the Mongolian banner, it is more really like the equivalent of a county or shire as it is largely rural. Hailer is the main city of the region, not the district/borough of 'Hulunbeir City' which could be mistaken if you were using Mandarin.
Hulunbeir is a huge area, that is remote, often cold and wild with wolves. Try reading the famous novel, Wolf Totem to get a feel for Hulunbeir, before visiting. There is only one major train line (the trans-Manchurian) and roads are pretty non-existent outside the main towns. Better to drive a 4x4 or SUV and plan ahead if leaving urbanity.
Some of the spellings of place names are inconsistent in Inner Mongolia when using the Roman script. This is perhaps due to place names being translated directly from Mongolian and other ethnic languages, alternating with the use of pinyin Chinese, which doesn't quite capture the sounds of Mongolic languages.
Hulunbuir Grasslands, said to be the best one in mainland China. There are some Eco-resorts scattered around plus you can see traditional Mongolian Gers and Ewenke 'tipis' where nomads live. In the summer time, there is a traditional Mongolian festival called Nadaam, which features horse riding, archery, traditional wrestling, costumes and music. There is a Winter Nadaam held at the University stadium amongst other places.
On the outskirts of town, past the Hailer Brewery are tunnels related to World War II. Built by the Japanese who were in control of Manchuria at the time, there was a significant attack by the Soviet Union in 1945 which won the region back for the Allied Powers. The tunnel complex has been turned into a Museum to commemorate the victory and has preserved tanks and artillery on display from the battle. On the highway there, you will notice a large Buddhist stupa and monastery which is worth a stop at. Beyond that is a few smokestack factories, and then a beautiful valley.
In the town centre, there is Genghis Khan Square, which is a lively scene in the evening, with older people doing ballroom dancing, whilst the youngsters are rollerblading and playing carnival games. You can also try you hand at go karts or a boat ride in the lush park here. Nearby, is the main crossroads which features a theatre on one corner and the City Hall opposite. Behind the city hall, is the civic museum which contains interesting exhibitions on the Stone Age history of the area as well as the ethnic relations and economic development. In between the Square and City Hall, there is a spacious modern mall with western fast food restaurants and also at nighttime, there is the Live House, a rowdy Mongolian bar where you can hear folk sounds of the grasslands.
in the New City 新区, there is an Olympic standard Stadium, with indoor arena and expo hall adjacent and a new concert hall and museum across the river. There is random events hosted here throughout the year. About 3km away from this cluster there is the Ewenke Museum, which has displays focusing on one of the regions ethnic tribes (鄂温克民族 in Mandarin).
In winter, the regional temperature can drop to -40c though temperature is normally around -20c in the coldest months. The main thing to watch out for the wind, especially if blowing from as this can make the air temperature feel much bitterly colder than readings suggest. Siberian Skiing and ice fishing are popular in the area as well as Hailaer hosting a Winter Nadaam in rural resorts and car ice rally.
Try fermented mare's milk, or industrial strength Mongolian vodka (baijiu). It helps keep you warm in wintertime! The local brew isn't bad, and there's a lot of places that stock Snow beer as well. Friends may appreciate traditional Mongolian arts and crafts, such as the painted leather pouches on sale in most tourist stores. Knifes, folk costumes, horse-violin, jewelry plus dairy products may catch your eye as well. You could also pick up a CD of a Mongolian or other ethnic groups music, including distinct 'throat-singing' types.
Try local food: lamb, beef by the bones, 1kg minimum. Restaurant name: Qi Jian Fang 七间房 ： 28RMB/500g
Home of the great Hailaer Beer.
Dong Fan Business Hotel (东方商务宾馆） Add: 24, East two St Hailar district, Hulun Buir City (Chinese: 呼伦贝尔市海拉尔区东二道街24号 Clean, large room with computer : 120 RMB
In the New City, close to Police Headquarters is a luxury hotel. It's fairly large, and worth a visit for its hot springs in the basement (not natural though). The hotel offers pretty good massages and buffet lunch and dinner.
In the New City, close to the Police Headquarters is the Government Administration building for registering foreigners staying. While you probably have to head to Beijing or even as far as Hong Kong to extend your visa, they can assist in several bureaucratic matters.
There is the huge Hulun and Beir fresh-water lakes which makes up the local regional government name. The Buir Lake lies in a depression and is close to the Mongolian Republic border. Note, there are no border crossings from Hulunbeir into independent Mongolia.
Take the train to Manzhouli (literally meaning inside Manchuria), it's the largest settlement before the Russian border and has a twin town, over the other side in Siberia. The place is pretty exotic with lots of hotels and Russian imports, with most signs having Cyrillic writing as well as Mandarin. Manzhouli is a major railhead, you'd have to get off a passenger train, take a cab to the border, show your visa for Russia, and then take a train again inside Siberia to travel further on.There is some bizarre sights near the international border, like giant dinosaur statues and giant Russian dolls of world figures.
Yakeshi is a town about 2 hours by train south-east. It is the closest ski resort in the area. It features 1 downhill area with a pull lift. No food available without a group set up. If you're American (like me) you may want to bring your own boots, I'm size 12 and none of theirs fit me.
Harbin is a over-night ride away, and the closest major city to Hailer.