Every inch of Uzbekistan is steeped in history and visitors will love discovering the alluring culture. Its fascinating ancient history dates back to the days when the towns of Uzbekistan were important stopping points along the trade route, better known as the Silk Road. Today, Uzbekistan’s skyline is dominated by domed mosques and towering minarets that pay tribute to the time when the country was part of the great Mongolian Empire and the silk route.
Uzbekistan has welcomed travellers for centuries and today, whether you visit Tashkent, Samarkand, the holy city of Bukhara or the fortress town of Khiva, you’ll still receive that warm and generous hospitality. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by incredible architecture and immersed in a cultural atmosphere that, in parts, still feels almost medieval. Uzbekistan is a spectacular travel destination and a time warp experience that no serious traveller should miss out on.
This vibrant country is very much alive today and you’ll soon be immersed in the lively atmosphere that envelops every visitor. With few tourists that travel to Uzbekistan, you get a true feeling for this magical place, you don’t feel like a visitor on the outside, simply seeing the polished and sanitised tourist sites. Instead, you’re experiencing the real Uzbekistan, in all its genuine, authentic beauty.
Want to know more?
In this Uzbekistan travel guide, you’ll discover the top attractions that each city has to offer, the best places to stay and where to enjoy some great local cuisine. You’ll also find some insider tips for getting around, plus an insight into how to spend some time off the beaten track by the Aral Sea — it’s an experience that everyone should add to their list of must-dos when they’re in Uzbekistan!
When To Go
The springtime months of April and May or the autumnal months of September, October and November are the best times to travel to Uzbekistan. Weather during the summer and winter can be extreme. Temperatures can reach anywhere up to 45° to 50°C during the peak of summer so it’s one time of the year best avoided. As is mid-winter when temperatures can drop as low as -30°C on occasions.
Best Places To Visit In Uzbekistan
Any country’s capital city is guaranteed to be buzzing with life and full of cultural activities — and Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, is no exception. At first glance, Tashkent may appear to be a modern city full of high rise buildings, but wander the tree-lined streets and you’ll find capsules of history amidst the modernity.
With a population of over 2 million people, Tashkent is the economic and cultural centre of Uzbekistan. In fact, it is one of the wealthiest cities in all of Central Asia. Tashkent is full of historical landmarks and stunning natural beauty. This unique destination merges ancient buildings, stylish architecture and Soviet-style concrete landmarks with dazzling skyscrapers and glass buildings to create a place unlike anywhere else you’ve ever visited.
Some of Tashkent’s must-see attractions include an ornate and multi-domed cathedral dating from the early 1900s, a central plaza dedicated to the fourteenth-century ruler of Uzbekistan, Amir Timur and the palace of a Russian prince — just to name just a few. And if you want to soak up some of Uzbekistan’s alluring culture, there are art and history museums plus a theatre for ballet and opera, extensive public parks and a beautiful Japanese garden to explore.
Best Things To Do In Tashkent
Get some great views of the city from the sixth-floor observatory platform of the Tashkent Tower. Visit the bustling market at the Chorsu Bazaar and shop like a local. Go underground for a ride on the Tashkent metro and check out the elaborate decorations of the themed stations of Novza, Mustakillik, Chilonzor and Pakhtakor. Spend the day splashing around at the Tashkent Aqualand water park or for an even wilder experience, head out of the city to the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. It’s a one-hundred-kilometre drive but worth every minute. At the park, you can trek through the forests or just relax and admire the turquoise waters of stunning Badak Lake in its picturesque setting backed by rugged snow-capped mountains. It’s one of the more breathtaking sights you can expect to see on your Uzbekistan travel journey.
Where To Stay In Tashkent
Hotel Uzbekistan – Is a multi-storey hotel centrally located in Tashkent. Although it’s not the most economical of accommodation choices, the hotel overlooks Amir Timur Square, is close to all of the city’s transport links and is also close to many of the main attractions. There are suites, superior king rooms and standard single rooms available plus an in-house gymnasium and restaurants.
Art Hostel – Ideal for solo travellers or those on a budget, the Art Hostel has both private rooms and dormitories all of which are air-conditioned. Guests can prepare their own meals in the community kitchen and enjoy chill-out time in the spacious common area. Breakfast is included in the room price and the hostel also has its own swimming pool.
Topchan Hostel – Not as centrally located as either the Hotel Uzbekistan or the Art Hostel, the Topchan is still a great place to stay in Tashkent. The bespoke, and somewhat erratic décor, and laid back atmosphere appeals to younger travellers. The hostel offers its visitors private rooms, dorms and family rooms, low fee transfers to and from the airport and free breakfast.
What To Eat In Tashkent
Whether you’re in Tashkent or any other Uzbekistan city, there’s one local dish you can’t leave the country without tasting at least once and that is Plov. Plov is local Uzbek cuisine at its very best and although it consists of only a few simple basic ingredients, rice, vegetables and meat, it’s a tasty and satisfying meal which has become the country’s national dish. Stop off at the Central Asian Plov Centre and you’ll see the chefs prepare the plov in massive cauldrons outside on the terrace before serving the steaming platefuls to the hordes of waiting diners. It’s a traditional and very economical way of dining out in Tashkent.
If you’ve had your fill of plov, but want to taste some more of the local dishes in an authentic setting try the Afsona Restaurant on T. Shevchenko Street. As well as local meat-oriented food they offer several vegetarian options for non-meat eaters which in Tashkent can be difficult to find. If you’re feeling deprived of something spicy during your visit to Tashkent then a meal at The Gabbar’s will change that. Gabbar’s serve a variety of well-spiced Indian, Chinese and European food with some meat-free alternatives.
Nightlife In Tashkent
You could be forgiven for asking if Tashkent has any nightlife at all and while it may not feature on any top ten list for evening entertainment, there are some bars and clubs in the city worth a mention.
CMI Afterparty Bar is a lively club-style bar featuring a dance floor and DJ’s. It’s the place to go if you want to party until the early hours. Ye Olde Chelsea Arms, as the name suggests, is a British-style pub serving beer, pub grub and showing televised sporting events. 7 Fridays is a restaurant which, once dinner service is over, converts to a live music venue with different groups performing daily.
Renowned as one of the most important destinations on the Silk Road, Samarkand is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the crossroad of culture. Founded in the 7th Century BC, Samarkand is renowned for its exquisite masterpieces of ancient architecture, stunning mosaics, shimmering minarets and dazzling domes. A favourite for many travellers, Samarkand is a place that feels as though you’ve been transported to another era, yet maintains an old-world charm.
While the city does have a modern side, it maintains its true character in the old town where many of the ancient mosques, mausoleums and madrasas are located. History buffs and architectural lovers will adore this unique destination, and ancient historians have even described Samarkand as “The Pearl of the Eastern Muslim World”. The city is also renowned for its preservation of the traditional Uzbekistan artisan skills and the handcrafted gifts of engraved copper and decorated pottery you’ll find in the shops and boutiques make great souvenirs.
Best Things To Do In Samarkand
Registan Square is the heart of Samarkand and a must-see when you’re in the city. The square is worth visiting both during the day and at night when the three intricately decorated madrassas which border it are illuminated. The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is an architectural wonder with a forty-metre high blue cupola. The elaborate structure was commissioned by Amir Timur at the end of the fourteenth century. The elegant building suffered extensive damage during an earthquake in the late 1800s and is still undergoing restoration work today. For a surreal experience while in Samarkand, visit the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis. Samarkand’s city of the dead was constructed over several centuries and is a veritable labyrinth of mosaic-covered tombs which are fascinating to explore.
Where To Stay In Samarkand
Samarkand is not short on choices of accommodation and you’ll easily find something to suit your budget. The Registan Plaza is a modern hotel with lots of amenities to make your stay in Samarkand comfortable. The hotel offers its guests deluxe rooms, an indoor swimming pool and a free breakfast. The Amir Hostel caters for those on a budget with low-price accommodation in a characterful building with communal cooking and relaxing space.
Boasting a spectacular collection of mosques and minarets, Bukhara is a time capsule of medieval structures dating from as far back as the 9th Century BC. Located between the bustling streets of Samarkand and the narrow alleyways of Khiva, Bukhara is a happy medium and a breath of fresh air.
The city is an exceptionally well-preserved historic centre and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite its tourism boom and modern developments in recent years, Bukhara is a place that still feels very much lived in and maintains a charming atmosphere. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to learn about the lasting culture and traditions.
Once the most important place for religious teaching, Bukhara is also known as Central Asia’s holiest city. In fact, this city has over 2,000 years of history and 140 sacred historic buildings. To experience its true atmosphere, be sure to explore Bukhara’s extensive maze of the old town by foot. Stroll through Bukara’s ancient streets and you’ll soon feel as though you’ve been transported in time to a different era. Discover the city’s dazzling bazaars, innumerable monuments and breathtaking madrassas and prepare to be blown away by the incredible architectural beauty.
Where To Stay In Bukhara
The Payraviy Hostel provides visitors to the city with low priced accommodation within a few minutes walk of Bukhara’s main sights. The shared rooms of the modern hostel have a patio, are air-conditioned and breakfast is included in the room charge. For a slightly more elevated price, but still very reasonable, the Hotel Poyi-Ostona offers its guests a room with a private bathroom, TV and free use of bicycles and the barbecue area during their stay.
What to do in Bukhara
Simply strolling around the ancient streets can be a highlight in itself, the ancient alleyways can lead you anywhere; you never know what will be around the next corner, so simply meandering with no particular aim for a few hours can be an adventure and is highly recommended.
One spot you must visit is the Lyab I Haus pond. This is a focal point of the city, a pretty spot where locals gather to chat and relax together. From the morning right through to the evening you’ll find this a popular location with a great atmosphere. Teahouses around the pond serve up delicious baklava and refreshing ice creams. The Lyab I Haus pond is close to the beautiful madrassas of Kukeldash and Nadir Divan which are a must-see.
Another area you must see is Kalyon complex. There’s another beautiful madrassa in the complex. But the top attraction is Kalyan minaret, which is probably the most beautiful minaret in the world.
If you love to take home souvenirs to remind you of your travels, then you’ll find lots of local crafts and wares at the covered bazaars in Bukhara. Set inside three domed buildings, it’s a welcome escape from the midday heat while you pick up some treasures to take home with you.
The impressive Ark of Bukhara is a sight to behold with it’s imposing entrance gate, but do take the time to step inside as here you’ll find a fascinating museum where the rich history of Bukhara will be unveiled to you.
Where to eat in Bukhara
You’ll find plenty of great places to eat in Bukhara. If you simply want a snack, then the teahouses around the Lyab I Haus are perfect for light refreshments. If you’re looking for something more substantial, then you’ll be sure to find a real treat at Minzifa, one of Bukhara’s top restaurants. Minzifa has a lovely roof terrace so you can dine with a beautiful view. Their desserts are particularly delicious with a good selection of traditional sweets available. Another great choice is the Old Bukhara Restaurant. Choose to dine in the delightful courtyard in the shade of the trees, or take to the rooftops for a meal with a view. You’ll find plenty of great traditional dishes on the menu and there are plenty of local wines to savour too. If you’re looking for a cheap but tasty meal then Bolo Hauz Chiakhana is perfect. Serving up simple Uzbek dishes such as soups, salads and noodles, you can sit outside and watch the world go by while dining on a budget.
With its fascinating culture and breathtaking attractions, Khiva is a remarkable labyrinth of narrow mud-walled alleyways and shimmering blue mosaics. Khiva has remained untouched from modern development, and visiting the city is like stepping back in time.
Because of its hard to reach location, many travellers miss Khiva all together on their Uzbekistan travel, however, this city is a must-visit on any Silk Road journey. Within the city walls, you discover winding alleys, immaculate tile work and ornate craftsmanship around every corner.
The only tall buildings to interrupt the skylines are the minarets and domes of the Pahlavon Mahmoud mausoleum. Khiva may have a dark history, it was once the centre for slave trading in Central Asia, but now it’s the ideal place to enjoy uninterrupted views of fiery Uzbekistan sunsets from the Khuna Ark watchtower. A must-see in Khiva is the two-hundred plus carved stone pillars of the Juma Mosque and the antiquities displayed in the Museum of Applied Arts.
Where To Stay In Khiva
The Hostel Laliopa and the Silk Road Caravan Sarai are both a short distance outside of the boundary of the walled city and offer economical accommodation for travellers. The Caravan Sarai, a renovated camel stable, provides guests with private rooms with en suite showers, TV’s and air-conditioning. There is also an in-house restaurant and expansive outdoor terrace. The Hostel Laliopa is a modern construction featuring dormitories with shared bathrooms, free bicycles and a patio garden space for relaxing.
Where To Eat In Khiva
While you’re exploring Khiva, you’ll find, as the town receives many international visitors, there is a good selection of eateries offering both local, European and Russian cuisine. The Malika Kheivak Restaurant is a popular choice not just because of the quality food they serve but for their outdoor seating area with daybeds. It’s a great spot for a chill-out drink after doing some sightseeing. The Terrassa Cafe and Restaurant has stunning views over the city from their terrace. If you want to eat outdoors, it’s recommended to make a reservation the day before.
What to do in Khiva
There’s a magic to Khiva that’s difficult to put into words. You have to visit the city to experience it. Khiva has been described as an open-air museum and that’s very true. It isn’t so much that you visit one attraction after another, the whole city is an attraction in itself. Just wander the streets and look around you, soak up the atmosphere, admire the architecture and enjoy the ambience. The Juma mosque is particularly beautiful with 218 intricately carved pillars holding up the low roof, such a peaceful place for quiet reflection. The Kuhna Ark fortress is open to the public and there’s plenty to see here, from the throne room to the rooftops with panoramic views of the city. Khiva was centrally located on the silk road, and to this day you can see women weaving silk carpets by hand. Their work is so beautiful and intricate, you can visit the workshop and see them at work.
Kokand is small, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. It has a tranquil and laid back vibe, so it’s the perfect location to visit after you’ve spent time in the hustle and bustle of the larger cities. Take your visit at a slow pace and regenerate your energy. There’s still plenty to see here, and you’ll have no problem finding some delicious local cuisine. Half a day to a day spent here is well worth it, recharge your batteries and soak up the atmosphere of this delight on your Uzbekistan travel.
What to do in Kokand
The main attraction of Kokand is the palace of the Khan of Kokand. Built in 1873, this impressive building is covered in ornate tiles which are incredibly well preserved. Inside there are 114 rooms and 6 courtyards to explore. The palace is also home to the fascinating Kokand Regional Studies Museum which has a wide and varied array of exhibits. There are also several unique mosques and mausoleums around the town, each one is different and some are in better condition than others, but they are all special in their own way and deserve a visit.
Where to stay in Kokand
Despite being a small town, there are still plenty of decent hotels here with all the facilities you will need for your stay. If you like those little extras then check out the family-run Hotel Kokand. Rooms are modern and attention to detail is obvious in the special touches such as slippers in the room, free WiFi and complimentary bottled water. Another good option is the attractive Silk Road Kokand Hotel. You can enjoy a meal in the hotel’s restaurant and relax in the lounge and gardens. If you’re visiting Kokand by car, this hotel has free parking too. If you love your hotel to have a pool then check out the Asmald Palace Hotel with a pool and fitness centre. You’ll generally find accommodation in Kokand very reasonably priced, so it’s a great incentive to spend a night here rather than simply making Kokand a day trip destination on your Uzbekistan travel.
Almost a country within a country, Karakalpak is an autonomous region in the north-west of Uzbekistan and home to the ethnic group known as the Karakalpaks. It’s an area of the country which has suffered economically with many of the locals losing their livelihood after the draining of the Aral Sea began in the 1960s. Visiting the deserted urbanisations is a unique experience as is taking a 4×4 tour to the shores of the ever-shrinking lake.
Nukus is the capital of the area but has little of interest to attract visitors other than the Stavsky Art Museum. There is little choice of accommodation in the city, but if you’re planning on taking a tour out to the Aral Sea, then the Jipek Joli Inn is not a bad option. The Aral Sea tour is certainly highly recommended, a truly unique experience. The tour takes 3 days so you’ll be camping out for two nights. The Aral Sea was once one of the largest lakes in the world but due to irrigation undertaken by Russia, it has been left desolate, with 90% of the water now depleted. This has left an eerie yet compelling scene. You’ll visit the remote town of Moynaq; once a bustling port town, and now hovering on the edge of extinction as a town in the middle of nowhere as the Aral Sea has declined and left Moynaq standing alone. You’ll see the stranded, derelict boats, left on the ground as the water retreated. The whole area has a rather strange air to it, it’s certainly a tour you’ll never forget, and it provides some unique opportunities for photographers.
What to eat in Karakalpak
One delicious traditional Karakalpak dish has interesting origins and that is Shawle. It’s a tasty dish that is quite similar to a traditional Uzbek pilaf, made with meat and served on a bed of savoury rice. What makes this dish different is that it is so simple and quick to prepare and it is thought that the Karakalpak tribes invented this quick to make dish purposefully as they often had to move at short notice during times of war. So a dish that could be prepared and eaten quickly was vital during such times. Shawle is still eaten today and is definitely one to try. Beshbarmak is another popular Karakalpak meal, again, it’s a simple meal that’s fulfilling, nutritious and packed full of flavour. Samarkand beshbarmak is a made with broiled, shredded chicken, with thick noodles and vegetables, usually carrots and potatoes. Many main dishes will often by topped with dumplings or served up with flatbreads which are great as an accompaniment or as a light meal all in themselves. For a dessert, try the local pumpkin turnovers called Samsa, they are the perfect end to any meal.
General Information For Visiting Uzbekistan
The best way to travel to Uzbekistan is to fly to one of the major cities such as Tashkent or Samarkand. Uzbekistan Airlines have flights from many international airports, including from Delhi to Tashkent daily and from Mumbai to Tashkent three times a week.
NB: If Karakalpak is on your list of places to visit in Uzbekistan, you can take a short connecting flight between Tashkent and Nukus for around $45.
Uzbekistan has well-developed rail service and there are stations in all of the major cities.
Uzbek is the national language. Russian is also widely spoken and is Uzbekistan’s second language. Tajik is often heard in Samarkand and Bukhara as the cities were once part of Tajikistan. The official language of Karakalpakstan is Karakalpak. If you don’t speak any of those, don’t worry. The locals are very hospitable and a few hand gestures will usually manage to get your message across.
Islam is the main religion of Uzbekistan with ninety per cent of the population being believers. The minority ten per cent are mostly followers of Eastern Orthodox.
Expect to feel like a millionaire when carrying a pocketful of Usbek Som. Although exchange rates do fluctuate, as a rough guide one USD ($1) is equal to 9000 so’m. You will need to carry money with you as ATM’s are few and far between. They can mostly be found in hotels or banking facilities where you will also be able to make currency exchanges. Not all hotels and restaurants accept card payments, but when they do Visa is often preferred to Mastercard.
Visa Requirements For Uzbekistan Travel
Visitors from India, as well as seventy-five other worldwide countries, are now able to travel to Uzbekistan with an e-visa. Depending on where you are from, you may need a letter of invitation from a local to make your visa application. Some hostels and hotels offer the letter as part of their accommodation service. The e-visa application process is simple and visas are usually issued 2-3 working days after you’ve made the application. The visa is single entry and costs approximately $20. If you want to leave Uzbekistan to travel to another country and then return, you’ll need to apply for another visa.
Is It Safe To Visit Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan and the major tourist spots are all relatively safe to travel. The Fergana Valley and the region bordering Afghanistan have suffered some hostilities and so are best avoided.
WiFi is readily available in all of the major tourist spots, hotels and hostels. Internet speed and connectivity are on a generally equal par with the rest of Central Asia. The best SIM cards to get when on your Uzbekistan travel are either beeline or UMS. 4GB of data costs on average between $4 to $7.