Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Uzbekistan!
Uzbekistan? What? Is that a country? Where is it? Why did you/why would I go there?
Fortunately, if you landed on this page, you probably won’t be asking these questions, but you should’ve seen the look on people’s faces when I told them I was visiting Uzbekistan. I don’t blame them – it’s not a country that makes the news often. And to be fair, those reactions were one of the reasons I wanted to visit this Central Asian country.
No, I don’t revel in being stared at like I’m an alien, but I was craving an off-the-beaten-path travel experience. Uzbekistan is a popular destination for Europeans, especially Russians, but it’s not on the radar of mainstream America.
If that’s the case, how did I find out about it? Why, through Instagram, of course. I kept seeing photos of its gorgeous tiles and architecture pop up on my feed and thought hey, why not? So I convinced my friend Jessie (@lostwithjess) to come with me and we were off to the races…only to discover that planning a trip to and within Uzbekistan is not easy, logistically speaking.
That’s why I created this Uzbekistan guide: to help you sort through the logistics without wanting to tear your hair out. I also offer some blunt opinions about a few of the restaurants we ate at so consider yourself warned!
This is a lengthy and detailed post so take your time going through it. I’ve included a Table of Contents that’ll hopefully make your life easier. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment them below!
For general travel planning advice, you may also find this checklist useful.
PLANNING & LOGISTICS
I recommend spending 8-10 days in Uzbekistan. For us, 8 days was more than enough time, but depending on how fast you travel and what you want to see, you can extend your trip up to 10 days. Here are my suggestions on how many days you should spend in each city:
SAMARKAND (2-3 days)
Located in southeastern Uzbekistan, it is the second largest city in the country and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia (it’s roughly the same age as Rome and Babylon). Known for its mosques and mausoleums, Samarkand is located on the ancient Silk Road that linked China to the Mediterranean.
The old part of the city is home to landmarks such as Registan and the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum. The new part of the city is more modern but has strong 90s Soviet vibes.
BUKHARA (3 days)
Central Asia’s holiest city. Like Samarkand, most attractions are located in the old inner city. There are three attractions on the outskirts of Bukhara: the Summer Palace, Chor-Bakr Necropolis, and Naqshbandi Memorial Complex (I’ll go over these in the “Things To Do” section for Bukhara).
Bukhara was my favorite because it was a nice medium between Samarkand, which was quite dead when we went (maybe because it wasn’t high season) and Khiva, which was very touristy. That’s not to say Bukhara isn’t touristy – it is, but it’s larger than Khiva so you have more room to breathe.
KHIVA (1 full day)
Everyone I know who’s visited Uzbekistan – which, granted, isn’t a whole lot of people – names Khiva as their favorite Uzbek city. I can see why. Khiva was the smallest city we visited, home to about 90,000 people, and the most visually evocative of its ancient past. If you venture out in the early morning and soak in the sand-colored buildings, turquoise domes, and labyrinth of silent alleyways, you’ll be transported back in time to the days of the old Khorezm civilization.
If you’re in Khiva you’ll spend most, if not all, your time in Itchan Kala. Itchan Kala is the city’s inner fortress town where most of the tourist hotels, restaurants, and attractions are located. Separated from the rest of Khiva by sun-baked brick walls, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and completely preserved in its original form – walls, minarets, madrasahs and all. It was lovely and basically an open-air museum, but to be honest it felt a little like Disneyland. Because it’s so small, it can also get quite congested during the day.
Khiva is difficult to get to because it doesn’t have its own train station or airport. To get there, you’ll have to go through Urgench, the nearest major city, which is about an hour’s drive from Khiva.
TASHKENT (1-2 days)
The capital of Uzbekistan and the most modern, international city in the country. We ended our trip in Tashkent and spent less than 24 hours here. There’s not much to do in Tashkent sightseeing-wise, except for a few museums, a mosque, and a cathedral, but it does have modern amenities compared to the other cities we visited and dining options other than Uzbek cuisine. After more than a week of eating bread and kebabs at every meal, that was much appreciated!
I actually liked Tashkent more than I expected and it was a nice transition back to big city life in NYC, but I wouldn’t spend more than two days there.
*Tip: If you’re running short on time, I’d cut a day from Samarkand or Tashkent.
- Flight from Istanbul to Samarkand. There aren’t a lot of flight routes servicing Uzbekistan. We flew out of NYC and every reasonably priced flight required long layovers in Istanbul or Moscow, so we decided to tack on a quick Istanbul trip before Uzbekistan. If that’s something you’re interested in, check out my Istanbul travel guide!
- 2 days in Samarkand
- Train from Samarkand to Bukhara. We took the Sharq high-speed train, which got us to Bukhara in less than three hours and cost $30 per person
- 3 days in Bukhara
- 1 travel day: Private taxi from Bukhara to Khiva with a detour to two ancient fortresses along the way. This takes about 9 hours. If you skip the fortresses the ride lasts 7 hours. There were three of us and we paid $160 total for a private taxi (pretty sure we got ripped off though). Shared taxis are cheaper, usually $10-$20 per person for a full car.
- 1 full day in Khiva
- Flight from Urgench (closest airport to Khiva) to Tashkent. This takes 2.5 hours (including a 40-minute layover in Bukhara) and cost $50 one way.
- 1 day (but really less than 24 hours) in Tashkent
- Flight from Tashkent to NYC
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Spring (April-May) and autumn (late September-October) are the most pleasant weather-wise.
Summer (June-August) is extremely hot. Since it’s also high season, there will be more activities and entertainment, but there’ll also be more people.
Winter (November-March) is cold but that means less tourists, which means cheaper prices and less crowding. January and February are the coldest months.
*We went in early April, which was still shoulder season and, in my opinion, the perfect time to go. There weren’t a ton of tourists and the temperatures were moderate, usually in the sixties Fahrenheit. The only downside was there weren’t as many entertainment options because it wasn’t high season, but I’m happy to take that trade!
ENTRY & EXIT
Visas: Almost all nationalities, including US citizens, require a visa to enter Uzbekistan. You can apply for an e-visa online here. Note that it requires you to upload a scan of your passport as well as a visa photo.
Filling out the form was easy but my friend and I both ran into issues with the visa photo uploads. It kept telling us they did not comply with the specified standards even though they did. If this happens to you, email firstname.lastname@example.org explaining the issue. Attach your original visa photo. They should get back to you within a week with a resized photo that works. Once you successfully submit your application you will receive your e-visa in 2-3 business days.
Letters of Invitation (LOIs): Depending on your country’s relations with Uzbekistan you may also need a Letter of Invitation. US citizens are exempt. If you’re not a US citizen, find out if you require an LOI here.
If you do need one, Uzbek travel agencies can help you arrange for one, though they may require you to purchase some of their other services (ex: hotel bookings). I would set aside two weeks’ processing time for this just in case.
Hotel Registrations: Every hotel you stay at should give you a stamped registration form upon checkout. This is required by law. No one asked to see our registration forms when we left the country but this is arbitrary; keep them on you until you are out of Uzbekistan. There have been cases where travelers who were missing a few registration slips were detained for days and hit with heavy fines. Better safe than sorry!
Tashkent is the country’s biggest airport but some flights, especially those from Russia, may arrive in the regional hubs of Samarkand, Bukhara, or Urgench. Many flights tend to arrive in the middle of the night (3-5am local time) no matter which airport you fly into so be prepared. There will be plenty of taxis waiting when you land despite the odd hours but you may need to arrange custom check-in times with your hotel.
For reference, we flew from Istanbul to Samarkand at the start of our trip and then from Tashkent to New York City at the end of our trip.
TASHKENT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
If you’re flying into Uzbekistan there’s a 90% chance you’ll fly into Tashkent, which is the busiest airport in Central Asia.
That being said, it doesn’t have a lot of dining or entertainment options. Do not expect it to be like JFK or London’s Heathrow. Seating is limited and it’s not a great place to sleep if you have a long layover.
Note: Domestic and international terminals are technically within the same airport, but the only way to get between them is by road. Walking will take about an hour so unless you really want a workout I suggest taking a taxi (about a 5-minute ride) or bus between terminals.
The airport is close to city center. Depending on where you’re staying in Tashkent, a cab ride should cost between 6000-10,000 som.
SAMARKAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
We arrived in Samarkand at 3:30am in the morning. It is possibly the smallest international airport I’ve ever seen. There are no restaurants and one ATM, which runs out of local currency quickly so while you can try to get money out at the airport don’t count on it (more about Uzbekistan’s ATM situation in the Currency & Money section below).
The airport is only a few miles from city center. If you take a taxi it should cost $3-$5 USD.
Note 1: I sat at the front of my flight and when I tried to take my luggage out of the overhead compartment I almost got bowled over by the people behind me in their haste to get out. I don’t blame them – the arrival process took forever. No wonder they wanted to be at the head of the line! Multiple flights arriving at the same time + low tech (immigration officers entered our information manually into their computers instead of scanning our documents) + no separate line for Uzbek nationals = a lot of waiting. I think we waited almost an hour to get past immigration despite being sixth or seventh in line.
Lesson of the story: run out of that plane and get to the immigration line as soon as possible. People will try to sneak in or cut the line, so be vigilant and firm about maintaining your spot in the queue.
Note 2: If you arranged for a driver to pick you up, they will be waiting outside the airport. Walk outside and you’ll see the mass of taxi drivers, friends, and relatives to your right. We were so confused because we kept looking for our driver in the “arrivals hall” (really just the exit) and couldn’t find him. The airport staff also didn’t speak great English but they did let us use their phone to call our hotel.
Public Transportation: We didn’t use any public transport (aka buses, trams, metro) within cities so I can’t personally speak to how reliable it is. However, based on what we saw, researched, and gleaned from locals, public transport is cheap and generally reliable.
Note that Tashkent was the only Uzbek city we visited that has a metro. It’s the first underground in Central Asia and known for its ornate design.
Taxis: There are various combinations of the following types of taxis: private and shared, intra and inter-city, licensed and unlicensed.
PRIVATE VS SHARED
Private taxis are, well, private to you and your travel companions. Shared taxis are those you share with other people. It’s like Uber (private taxi) vs Uber Pool (shared taxi).
Shared taxis are a common method for traveling between cities. They aren’t comfortable but they are cheaper. Shared taxis usually leave from a set departure point and won’t leave until the car is full. Ask your hotel or hostel where the usual departure point is. This brings me to…
INTRA VS INTER-CITY
This is also self-explanatory. Intracity taxis are like any other city’s cabs and operate within city limits. Intercity taxis will drive you between cities. A common route for intercity taxis is between Bukhara and Khiva or Tashkent to Samarkand (and vice versa).
Intercity taxis can be private or shared. We took a private taxi, arranged by our hotel, between Bukhara and Khiva. There were three of us and it was a long, nine-hour drive, so we paid extra for a little more comfort, but many people take shared taxis between cities.
LICENSED VS UNLICENSED
Although official taxis (which have the “taxi” signs mounted on their roofs) do exist, most cabs in Uzbekistan are unlicensed. These are regular cars driven by regular guys. (Every cab driver we’ve seen in Uzbekistan was male). We’ve taken both official and unlicensed taxis and didn’t have safety issues with either.
Intercity taxis are usually unlicensed.
TIP: Regardless of the taxi type, always negotiate the price! They don’t use meters and the price they give you upfront is magnitudes more expensive than what it should cost. Sometimes they’ll ask you what you want to pay and if it’s reasonable they’ll accept. I suggest checking with your hotel to see what the reasonable price for a specific route is.
Also note that most taxis in Uzbekistan do not have air conditioning. Some are also tiny and have miniature trunks, which is an issue if you have large suitcases or a lot of luggage.
Uber: Not available
Trains: A more expensive but comfortable way to travel between cities. There are both high-speed and regular trains. We took a high-speed train from Samarkand to Bukhara and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. No Wifi, power outlets, or air conditioning, but they did have comfortable seats, they weren’t overcrowded (there were assigned seats), and they left on time.
It is more expensive than other travel options but Uzbekistan is so cheap that a high-speed train ticket only cost $30 USD. Compared to US prices that’s pretty good!
Warning: When we were waiting for our train at the station there were no PA announcements our train was here or about to leave. A guy came up to us, asked if we were going to Bukhara, and when we said yes he told us it was time to board. This was 20 minutes before our train was set to depart. So keep an eye on the time and don’t wait for an announcement before heading to the train platform!
HOW TO BUY TRAIN TICKETS:
There are three ways to buy train tickets: through your hotel, at the station, or via an official tour company like Advantour.
One of my friends and I booked our tickets in advance online via Advantour. However, you can’t pay online; once you finish the checkout process they will forward your ticket request and someone from the agency will follow up. The website will not give you a price. A day after I submitted the request I received an email from Advantour with the prices and more information. I did run into a hiccup when I tried to pay – Uzbekistan doesn’t have the most modern technology and their Internet is still developing. I tried to pay online using a credit card for two weeks before it finally went through.
Also note that tour companies are not allowed to sell train tickets individually. As a result, they offer the tickets as part of a “package” that includes hand delivery of said tickets to your hotel, travel guides and maps, and support from their travel consultants before and during your trip to Uzbekistan. Advantour hand-delivered our train tickets to our hotel as promised. It was a more complicated process than just buying tickets online, but everyone I dealt with was helpful and professional.
Do you need to buy tickets in advance? Perhaps in high season, if you want to be safe. We traveled in shoulder season (early April) and our other friend managed to buy his ticket via his hotel two days beforehand. However, if you don’t want to risk it, buy in advance.
If you have a flexible schedule or are really brave, you can also buy tickets at the train station.
CURRENCY & MONEY
Local currency is the Uzbekistani som (USZ). The exchange rate is approximately 8500 som for $1 USD. Yes, that means you will be carrying wads of cash around! It’ll make you feel rich but trust me, those 50,000 som bills go quick.
On that note, BRING LOTS OF CASH. Some high-end hotels and restaurants may accept credit cards, especially in Tashkent, but it is predominantly a cash-only country.
Warning: A lot of ATMs in Uzbekistan are either out of order, out of local currency, or don’t accept foreign cards (the ones that do are marked with the Visa and/or Mastercard logos, though Visa is far more common). We had a lot of trouble getting enough cash out from ATMs during our trip. Every time we found one that worked and gave us the amount we wanted, we literally jumped for joy.
Tip: Your best bet is to use the ATMs in fancy hotels. Locals don’t use them, which means they’re less likely to run out of som, and since they’re catered to tourists they usually accept foreign cards.
If you’re planning to exchange money, bring crisp new bills. Uzbekistan’s national bank and, subsequently, money exchange vendors do not accept any bills that look old or worn.
CELL PHONE & INTERNET
You can buy SIM cards from one of the country’s four network operators: Ucell, Beeline, UMS, or Uzmobile. Both Beeline and Ucell have 4G/LTE. However, not every shop sells SIM cards for foreigners; I would ask your hotel for suggestions.
In order to buy a SIM card, you must show a copy of your passport and hotel reservation to confirm you’ve registered at the hotel. Beware vendors who don’t require those two things! It may be a scam. Also note that most network operators offer daily plans for Internet usage as that is the custom among locals.
Meanwhile, WiFi in Uzbekistan is…not great. Unless you’re in a nice hotel or maybe a nice restaurant, don’t expect to find WiFi. Even if you have a SIM card or WiFi, Internet service can be slow.
On the bright side, that means less distractions when exploring. On the not-so-bright side, you can get lost if you depend on Google Maps for navigation (tip: load your Google Maps route before you leave a WiFi zone)!
No vaccinations are legally required to enter Uzbekistan.
Do NOT drink the tap water; bottled water is readily available for cheap.
Public toilets are available. Prices vary but expect to pay around 1,000 som.
Note that sleeping pills and painkillers are illegal in Uzbekistan and will get confiscated by customs officials.
We felt extremely safe in Uzbekistan. Our group was made up of two girls and one guy and we didn’t experience a single safety issue while we were there, even at night or walking through empty streets. That being said, use all the necessary precautions you would when traveling. I’ve also heard that the border areas of the country, should you choose to travel there, can be quite dangerous.
Also note that Uzbekistan is a police state. It is not a free and open society. Keep your head down, obey the local laws, and don’t do anything stupid/reckless for funsies (this is true for any destination, but especially for a police state)!
CULTURE & ETIQUETTE
Uzbekistan is a majority Muslim country but they don’t have a required dress code. We saw many young people dressed in casual Western-style clothing, though the older folks skew more conservative.
That being said, I would stay away from anything too scandalous (miniskirts, short shorts, halter tops, etc). When we went we dressed in knee-length or maxi skirts, long dresses, and casual tops.
Headscarves weren’t required to enter any of the religious sites we visited. In fact, Uzbekistan has a history of cracking down on religious attire in public spaces, though restrictions have recently eased. We did see some women wear hijabs while we were there but again, it is not required.
Tip: Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. You have to take off your shoes before entering many of the religious sites and landmarks so slip-on shoes will save you a ton of inconvenience. Learn from my mistakes!
Meat and bread. Expect to eat lots of meat and bread when you’re in Uzbekistan. By the time I left Uzbekistan I was so carb-ed out I went straight for an acai bowl and salad when I landed in New York. Salads are popular in the country but that’s usually the only form of veggies you’ll find on the menu. Lamb is the most popular meat, but they also have chicken and beef dishes.
Don’t expect to find much diversity in cuisines. A majority of restaurants serve only traditional Uzbek/Russian food. Tashkent is the only exception; it has a sizable Korean population and a mini Koreatown with some solid Korean food.
I personally wasn’t a huge fan of Uzbek food and neither were my friends. Most dishes were pretty bland or they were cold when we expected them to be hot (one of my pet peeves). However, everyone has different tastes so I encourage you to try the national dishes below and decide how you like them!
- DOLMA: Grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice.
- LAGMAN: Noodle soup with meat and vegetables. This is my favorite Uzbek dish because it was the most flavorful.
- FRIED LAGMAN: Similar to lagman except fried.
- KOMPOT: Light juice made of whole fruits boiled with water and sugar. Comes in different flavors.
- MANTI: Large steamed dumplings. Different fillings include meat, pumpkin, and potato and onion.
- NON BREAD: A staple of any meal. Each city has its own variation. Tashkent has the heavy “patyr” bread; Khiva’s is big, plain, and round, and Samarkand’s is heavy and shiny (and supposed to be edible for up to three years)!
- Samarkand bread is the most famous; it’s supposed to be edible for up to three years! There are various types of Samarkand bread, from the large, dense, glazed version to the smaller, puffier breads (my favorite).
- NORIN: Boiled dough with meat.
- PLOV: Uzbekistan’s national dish. It’s rice pilaf with meat, onions, and carrots. Like with non, there are regional variations on how plov is prepared. For example, beef or lamb plov is the most common throughout the country but chicken plov is the most popular in Bukhara. Plov is traditionally eaten at lunch. It’s good but can be quite oily.
- SAMSA: Dough pastries filled with lamb, beef or potato, or seasonally with greens or pumpkin.
- SHASHLIK (KEBABS): Skewers of meat served with thinly sliced onion. Lamb is the most common type.
- TANDYR GOSHT: Slow-roasted meat, popular in southern cities like Bukhara.
Tipping is not required. However, it is expected in the larger international hotels in Tashkent, such as the Hyatt and Wyndham. It is also a great way to show appreciation for guides and drivers.
Uzbek and Russian are the main languages. However, at least some staff at most major attractions understand basic English.
WHERE TO STAY
ANTICA B&B: A cute, homey B&B in the old city. Its biggest selling point is its location – it’s located steps from the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum and it’s a 10-minute walk to Registan. Our room was fine. Nothing special, but it had a private bathroom with hot water and a hair dryer. The B&B’s labyrinthine complex is made up of several interlinked buildings and courtyards; we got lost several times looking for our room! The courtyards are nice for dining out in the summer but sadly it was too chilly for us to eat al fresco when we went.
Homemade breakfast is included in the price and it’s very good. The B&B also offers a wide range of add-on services such as airport transfers, laundry, in-room massage, day trips, and homemade lunch and dinner. We took them up on every one of these options except lunch.
However, the owner definitely upcharged us a lot for all of these services. Compared to US prices they’re still cheap but were several times more expensive than if we’d bargained for them on our own.
Two other cons: 1) The beds were hard and not very comfortable 2) Although the B&B listing says it has WiFi, the service was weak and didn’t work unless we were in the dining room, close to the router. That means no working WiFi in the rooms.
Looking for other lodging options? Try:
- BIBIKHANUM HOTEL: Located in the heart of historic Samarkand. It’s right next to the Bibikhanum Mosque. Every room has a patio with garden views. The hotel also boasts a bar, restaurant, terrace, and bike rentals.
- JAHONGIR GUEST HOUSE: Charming B&B with colorful rooms and an in-house travel agency. 5-minute walk to Registan
- HOTEL GRAND SAMARKAND: An upscale boutique hotel that consists of two buildings across the road from each other. The hotel complex includes a courtyard, pools, and an outdoor restaurant. Located in the new city, it’s a 10-minute drive to Registan and the Old Town
WHERE TO EAT
BIBIKHANUM TEA HOUSE: The tea house has a beautiful, colorful outdoor dining area with canopied tables that make you feel like you’re in a harem (in a good way). We ordered the plov and manti dumplings. The dumplings were fine; the plov was good and the beef was tender but it was a little greasy. Overall a nice spot to relax when the weather is nice.
PLATAN: I’ll start with the pros: it’s large, has ample space so you don’t feel cramped, and offers free, fast, reliable WiFi, which is nothing to sneeze at in Uzbekistan. It has high ratings on TripAdvisor and is often listed as one of the best restaurants in Samarkand. That brings me to the cons: attentiveness of service left something to be desired and the food was Not Good. Capital N, capital G.
It was the second-worst meal I had in Uzbekistan (the worst was at a cafe in Khiva). Maybe we went on an off night; maybe the reviews raised our expectations too high. Whatever it is, none of us were impressed by any of the dishes we ordered. I remember the dumplings but otherwise I forgot what we ordered because I’ve repressed the memories.
Or maybe we’re just terrible people and picky eaters because according to more than 500 TripAdvisor reviews it’s great. Go forth and find out for yourself, if you dare.
THINGS TO DO
BIBI-KHANYM MOSQUE: One of the most important monuments in Samarkand. Legend has it Timur’s wife Bibi-Khanym had it built to commemorate his return from a trip India. The architect subsequently fell in love with her and refused to finish the building on time unless she allowed him to kiss her. When Timur found out about the kiss, he had the architect executed. Ok, that’s a somewhat gruesome ending, but nevertheless the mosque is worth a visit.
GUR-E-AMIR: The mausoleum of Timur (Tamerlane), two of his sons, and two of his grandsons. This was my favorite attraction in Samarkand because it was so beautiful and peaceful, at least when we went. The building itself is quite modest but the tilework can’t be beat.
MAUSOLEUM AKSARAY: An easily overlooked spot hidden just behind Gur-e-Amir. It’s unassuming on the outside but its gilded interior and ceilings are stunning. There’s also a staircase that leads you down into an octagonal marble crypt, which looks exactly like how you’d imagine a crypt to look.
REGISTAN: A public square framed by three madrasahs. It’s Samarkand’s most famous attraction and renowned for its stunning architecture. Because of these buildings, Samarkand was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.
We landed in Uzbekistan, dropped off our things, and went straight to Registan for sunrise. Unfortunately the square didn’t open until 8am. However, a guard saw us lurking around like total creepers and offered to let us in early for a small “tip.” As we quickly learned, this is common practice in Uzbekistan. Since we were already there, we paid the “tip” (15,000 som) and got Registan all to ourselves for half an hour before the guard shooed us out. He also let us up into one of the minarets, which are technically not open to visitors.
Note: The “tip” we paid is the same price as a regular admission ticket to Registan.
At night there may be light shows, but these are not daily occurrences and only happen when a tour group pays for it. If you see it happening, feel free to join in on the fun (even if you’re not part of the tour group)! You just have to stand and watch instead of sitting.
SHAH-I-ZINDA NECROPOLIS: Also known as the Avenue of Mausoleums. It’s a series of massive tombs and exquisite tilework. Interestingly, it’s also a popular hangout spot for locals. When we went, there were Uzbek teenagers and families sitting on the benches, chilling like it was a (somewhat morbid) mall. It is quite touristy but it’s worth it. I recommend getting there early to beat the crowds.
SHAKHRISABZ DAY TRIP: Shakhrisabz is a small town south of Samarkand and a 2-hour drive each way from the city. This is where the warlord and Uzbek national hero Timur built his summer palace. Our B&B arranged for a driver to take us there for $50 per person, which is the standard rate for three people.
The drive from Samarkand to Shakhrisabz was uneventful but offered some nice views of rolling green hills and mountains in the distance. Also cows. Lots of cows.
Once we arrived in Shakhrisabz, we had lunch at a restaurant located right outside the summer palace complex. Verdict: the spiced chicken was nice; the lamb kebabs were meh. The menu had no prices so they
probably definitely upcharged us.
The palace complex consists of several buildings and structures. The main attractions are:
- Ak-Saray Palace: Since it’s a monument there’s not much to do here except take a photo and move on. 7000 som entrance fee.
- Dorut Tilovat Complex: Includes the Kok Gumbaz Mosque, two mausoleums, and a few small shops. The mosque interior is beautiful and it was a nice reprieve from the heat. 7000 som entrance fee.
- Dos-Us Siyadat Complex: We didn’t go inside because we were running out of time and it was starting to rain, but from what I can tell the complex consists of a nice quiet courtyard, a souvenir shop, and a historic mosque that you can no longer enter.
Is a day trip to Shakhrisabz worth it? I’m not mad I went but honestly there’s not much to do and the architecture wasn’t better than those in Samarkand. If I’d known I wouldn’t have gone, especially since the driver was quite expensive. However, if you have extra time or want to get out of the city, this can be a nice detour.
SIYOB BAZAAR: Samarkand’s largest bazaar. You’ll find a staggering array of food, from fruits and nuts to bread and desserts. Most vendors specialize in one kind of item or even one kind of fruit.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL FATIMA: A cute hotel located right in the historical city center. It has spacious rooms, a nice courtyard, and the price includes a daily breakfast buffet (though the food wasn’t as good as our B&B’s breakfast in Samarkand). They also have laundry service at extra cost and helped arrange our taxi ride from Bukhara to Khiva. They accept Visa credit card payments.
The staff was great. When they found out it was my friend Jessie’s birthday (we had to show our passports during check-in), they surprised her that night with roses and a giant birthday cake. It was unexpected and so sweet! Literally.
Other lodging options in Bukhara include:
- Amelia Boutique Hotel: A boutique hotel with only 11 rooms, all of which are unique, and a great rooftop terrace.
- Emir: A charming B&B located in the heart of old Bukhara. Rooms are decorated in the traditional style.
- Lyabi House Hotel: Offers a mix of traditional design and modern amenities. The on-site restaurant serves Uzbek cuisine and it’s only a 2-minute walk from the Lyab-i Hauz Architectural Complex.
WHERE TO EAT
BELLA ITALIA: The only Italian restaurant in Bukhara. We ordered the buffalo wings (solid), margherita pizza (sweeter than I’m used to but not too bad), and carbonara (it had a strong smell and wasn’t authentic carbonara but it could’ve been worse). It’s not going to win any Michelin stars but overall the food was decent. The restaurant is huge and kitschy with paintings of Venice decorating fake windows all over the walls. Don’t worry, there are a few real windows as well. Staff is friendly but don’t really speak English. We finished our meal at the perfect time – there was a city blackout right after we paid for our food!
CAFE WISHBONE: I love Wishbone. My friends love Wishbone. We loved it so much we visited every day we were in Bukhara. Why? Two words: ice cream. And not even fancy ice cream but plain ol’ vanilla ice cream with chocolate shavings on top. Technically the cafe doesn’t serve ice cream by itself; they use it for their root beer floats. But when we told them we’ll pay for just the ice cream, they obliged.
We had one taste of the dessert and ordered a second round, though funnily enough they brought each scoop out in its own dish. By the time we finished there were about ten empty ice cream dishes scattered on the table. The damage: $0.40 per scoop.
FYI: It’s a German cafe so if you’re craving non-Uzbek food this is an option. I can’t speak to what their non-ice cream items taste like though. Also note it is freezing inside so we dined outdoors every time we went.
CHASMAI-MIROB: A chill restaurant whose terrace has a full-on unimpeded view of the Kalon Minaret. The food was decent, with the standout being the roasted eggplant with tomato. The staff was also incredibly sweet. When I dropped my phone from the third floor balcony (yes, this happened) our waiter climbed through the second floor window and down a pile of rickety bricks into the closed construction site below. He spent a good 15 minutes looking for my phone (it was nighttime so it was hard to see), which he finally retrieved. Needless to say, I left him a huge tip! We actually came here twice since the terrace is also a nice spot to kick back with a few drinks at sunset.
CHAYXANA CHINAR: Recommended by our hotel as the best place to eat near the historical center. The restaurant is huge; you walk through a courtyard and up the stairs to the indoor dining room, and there’s also a beautiful terrace on the third floor. Sadly the terrace was reserved for a tour group when we went, though we were the only people dining there at the time. Usually that’s a red flag but the food is pretty good and the service is friendly. We especially liked the lagman noodles!
CHOR BAKR RESTAURANT: Located near the Chor Bakr necropolis. It’s a very local place, probably because it’s far from the city center, and famous for its shashlik. The menu isn’t in English but our driver recommended we order the tandoor kebab (600 grams is enough for three people), lamb shashlik, and their special bread. The tandoor was very tender but could’ve used more spices. Lamb shashlik was decent. I don’t think it lived up to all its hype but it was definitely better than some of the other restaurants we went to in Bukhara.
COFFEE AND SHOP: Yes, this is the actual name of the cafe. It’s called Coffee and Shop because – you guessed it – it is both a coffee shop and merchant shop (selling very expensive rugs, in case you were wondering). It has a breezy rooftop with nice views of the old city, but its drinks were pricey and not that good. Come for the views, don’t stay for the drinks.
DOLCE FREDDIE: A gelato place recommended by our driver, located in the new city. It costs 5,000 som for a cone and 6,000 som for a cup. Not bad but I prefer the ice cream at Cafe Wishbone.
DOSTON HOUSE: I’ll admit off the bat we didn’t actually dine at Doston House. We wanted to, but were unaware it was a house whose owners prepared meals upon request instead of a restaurant. We spent half an hour looking for it in a maze of alleyways until a friendly local finally led us to the right spot, where another local then called the owner for us. Unfortunately we didn’t get to dine there even though we found it because you have to call a few hours in advance. That was our last day in Bukhara and we didn’t get another chance to visit. I’m still including this because it has high reviews and was recommended by several other bloggers so if you do go let me know how it is!
LYABI HAUZ RESTAURANT: A big outdoor restaurant in Bukhara’s central courtyard, next to the pond. They serve Uzbek as well as Western food and shisha (hookah) but their selling point is the atmosphere. This is a great place to hang out when the weather is nice and they also have live music at night. Live music = staff member singing karaoke when we went but hey, it was lively.
SILK ROAD TEA HOUSE: A gorgeous tea house and a cool respite from the heat. When we went we were the only people there but I hear it’s quite touristy during the high season. There’s no denying the interior is gorgeous (those rugs on the walls! I want them all). The drinks and sweets, on the other hand, were underwhelming. For reference, we ordered the cardamom coffee (which reminds me of Turkish coffee), spices and herbs tea, and saffron tea. They were fine but nothing amazing. The sweets included sesame confections, sugar candy (literally crystallized pure sugar), raisins and walnuts, and Silk Road confections (sweetened flour with pistachios and walnuts). And when I say sweet I mean sweet. My tooth started hurting after I ate this. The tea house is a nice place to go if you need a comfortable place to rest but don’t expect too much from the food.
TIMUR’S: We came here for a late-night dinner. Lesson: Don’t go for late-night dinners in Uzbekistan. Most of the menu items won’t be available after seven or eight. Timur’s ran out of eggplant and chicken on the bone, so we settled for the vitamin salad (very garlicky); djiz beef stir fried with tomatoes, onions, and zucchini (not bad but a little too salty), and chicken in a stew (pretty good)! The decor is really cute with lots of lights and wooden furniture. It kind of reminded me of a tiki bar with live music courtesy of an electric violinist.
THINGS TO DO
ABDULAZIZ-KHAN MADRASAH: One of my favorite madrasahs. It’s beautiful and more colorful than other madrasahs in Uzbekistan, which tend to be straight-up blue.
ARK OF BUKHARA: A massive fortress built in the 5th century A.D. It’s a famous landmark and the walls are impressive but we didn’t pay to go inside because honestly the exhibits didn’t look that exciting. Also, because we were running out of cash. However, if you’re a history buff it may be worth exploring inside.
ASIA BUKHARA: Ok, this is a hotel but you can get a massage here for $20 USD. Pricey by Uzbek standards but our tense muscles didn’t care. You don’t have to be a guest to book a massage, but you do have to let the front desk know ahead of time so they can call the masseuse in. In their case, the masseuse is an actual doctor who pinpointed my pain points with startling accuracy. That being said, it was more a medical massage than a deep-tissue massage, so if you want someone to dig deeper into your muscles this may not be for you. It’s also no-frills so not for those who want a spa experience.
BOLO HAUZ MOSQUE: A short walk from the Ark and Water Tower, the Bolo Hauz Mosque is one of the city’s hidden gems. The interior is small but the exterior, which features beautiful painted wood columns and outdoor benches, is the best part. There were a few other tourists when we went but it wasn’t too crowded. Overall a chill place to rest away from the busyness of the city center.
CHOR BAKR NECROPOLIS: One of three major attractions located on the outskirts of Bukhara, alongside the Summer Palace and Naqshbandi Memorial Complex. It’s also known as the “City of the Dead.” The first graves there appeared thousands of years ago but it was later developed as the burial place of Abu-Bakr-Said, a descendant of Prophet Muhammad.
Unfortunately most of the necropolis was undergoing restoration work when we went so there wasn’t much to see. Just as we were about to leave, a construction worker came up to us and offered us roof access for 10,000 som each. We were already there and there wasn’t anything else to explore so we agreed…and we had a blast! The roof was basically like a mini city, with its own domes, structures, and arches. It’s also a unique backdrop compared to the tiled madrasahs found in the rest of Uzbekistan. We spent way too long exploring and taking photos up there (our driver had to come and get us…) but the best places are sometimes the most unexpected places.
Note: The necropolis is not walkable from the old city; you’ll need a car to get here. Our hotel had a driver who offered to take us to all three attractions on the outskirts for $20 total. The tour lasted 5 hours, including lunch.
CHOR MINOR: I’ll be honest – I was disappointed when I saw Chor Minor in person. It’s randomly located in the middle of a residential neighborhood and the building is a lot smaller than it looks in photos. There’s a shop inside and the owner offered us roof access for 4,000 som. We took her up on the offer and ended up quite enjoying the roof. As you can see above, it was an interesting spot for photos! However, there’s not much else to do here so you don’t need to stay too long.
KALON MOSQUE & MINARET: Built in 1127 by Arslan Khan, the Kalon Minaret was once the tallest building in Central Asia and is now one of Bukhara’s most iconic landmarks. Unfortunately, tourists are no longer allowed to climb up the minaret, but it’s still magnificent to look at from the outside, especially at night when it lights up. The mosque is also nice but the minaret is the big attraction. Fun fact: Genghis Khan was so impressed by the structure he spared the Minaret while his troops ransacked the rest of the city.
IKAT & ADRASS WORKSHOP: A clothing store that specializes in gorgeous handmade clothing. It’s pricey, even by U.S. standards. They charge $25 for tailoring on top of the price for fabric; if you want a handmade item it’ll run you around $120. We went here on a whim and I tried on a beautiful printed skirt that was already premade and hanging on one of their mannequins. It fit me perfectly and I was so tempted to buy it but it cost $80 and I had no room left in my suitcase. I probably could’ve bargained the price down but decided to be financially responsible and left without buying anything. Damn financial responsibility.
If you’re looking for high-quality clothing that puts a modern twist on traditional fabrics and styles, this is the place. Just expect to pay accordingly!
KORZINKA SUPERMARKET: For when you’re craving something more than what you find in the mini markets that dominate Bukhara. Korzinka is an honest-to-god supermarket so if you’re looking to stock up on toiletries, snacks for the long car ride to Khiva, etc. this is your best bet.
NAQSHBANDI MEMORIAL COMPLEX: One of three major attractions located on the outskirts of Bukhara, alongside the Summer Palace and Chor Bakr necropolis. It’s the burial site of Bahauddin Naqshbandi, who founded one of the largest Sufi Muslim orders, the Naqshbandi. It’s also one of the most important shrines in Islam and a pilgrimage site for Muslims who travel here to ask for fulfillment of wishes and healing. The complex is huge and includes a mosque, madrasah, necropolis, and museum (note: most of the exhibit explanations, if there are any, are in Russian). Entrance fee: 5,000 som.
It is not walkable from the old city.
SITORA-I MOKHI KHOSA (SUMMER PALACE): One of three major attractions located on the outskirts of Bukhara, alongside the Naqshbandi Memorial Complex and Chor Bakr necropolis. It was originally built by the third-to-last Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan, who named it after his deceased wife. It was rebuilt several times by his descendants; the palace we know today was built by the last Emir, Alim Khan.
The palace consists of three buildings which are nice but somewhat dilapidated. It’s not a must-see but if you need a break from madrasahs the palace’s mix of European and Asian architecture is a refreshing change of pace. Also, there are free-roaming peacocks on the grounds!
Fun fact: According to legend, Nasrullah Khan chose the palace location by quartering a lamb and hanging the pieces in four corners of the city. The piece in the north remained fresh the longest and therefore it was chosen as the coolest area for a summer palace.
It is not walkable from the old city; you’ll need a car to get here.
TRADING DOMES: Bukhara was known as a trading city in medieval times; merchants from China, India, Russia, and Iran all traveled here to buy and sell goods. Today, only four trading domes are still standing; each are named for their original specialty: Toki-Sarrafon (money exchange), Toki-Zargaron (jewelry), Toki-Telpak (headgear), and Tim Abdulla Khan (textiles). Today, all of these bazaars have branched out and sell a mix of different souvenirs, including ceramics and handmade bird scissors (a Bukhara specialty).
WATER TOWER SHUKHOVA: Right across the street from the Ark. If you pay the $5 entrance fee to go to the top you can see right inside the fortress. It also has views of all of Bukhara but honestly there isn’t much to see beyond the Kalon Minaret in the distance. The city has a pretty flat landscape. In my opinion, the Water Tower was overpriced and not worth it.
If you’re planning to travel between Bukhara and Khiva by taxi, please see Planning & Logistics -> Itinerary. Make sure you bring plenty of snacks for the taxi ride!
Once you arrive, a majority of attractions will be located inside Itchan Kala. You can buy a combined ticket for entry to all or most of the attractions at the West Gate. There are three types of tickets:
- 50,000 som. Only grants entry into the old city of Itchan Kala itself. Does not allow entry into any museums or historical attractions.
- 100,000 som (standard ticket). Includes most everything except the Watchtower, Islom Hoja Minaret and Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum.
- 150,000 som. Includes most everything except Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum.
Tickets are valid for two days. You must pay in som. A few smaller museums may require extra payment; if so, they’ll have a cashier at the entry point. Make sure to keep the ticket on you because you need to show it at every spot you want to enter.
WHERE TO STAY
ARKANCHI HOTEL: A relatively modern hotel located inside Itchan Kala. Reliable WiFi, friendly staff, and a rooftop with impressive views of the city – can’t complain. The price also includes a breakfast buffet and laundry service is available at extra charge. The hotel accepts credit card payments.
Other lodging options in Khiva include:
- ORIENT STAR KHIVA HOTEL: Located right next to the Kalta Minor Minaret, it has an on-site restaurant and is a short walk away from the main city gate.
- MEROS B&B: A family-friendly B&B with a garden, terrace, and bike rental service.
- ISLAMBEK HOTEL: It’s not the most stylish hotel but it’s good value for the price and provides helpful tourist information.
WHERE TO EAT
BEK KAFE: Recommended by our hotel. It’s a 15-20 minute walk outside Itchan Kala and very local. I think it may actually be a wedding hall because the interior is huge and there’s enough space in the middle for a dance floor. We heard Russian club music blasting when we arrived and thought we were about to walk in on a wedding or party. Turns out, there was no one there and the staff was playing music at top volume because why not?
We got there at 8pm and were the only people in the main hall, though I think there are smaller private dining rooms throughout the property. They turned down the music but kept it playing throughout our meal, which was pretty fun! We danced off some of the calories from our meal and I discovered new songs to add to my playlist. #winning
Food-wise, it was solid. The menu has no pictures and is all in Russian, but our waitress spoke decent English and was able to translate most of the items. The beef samsas were amazing and the battered fish was also very good (we ordered 1 kg, which as it turns out is a lot). We saw the fish swimming in a little pond outside so we know it’s fresh! The bread and shashlik were less impressive.
The staff is friendly but be warned: they will keep bringing in different drinks and snacks in an attempt to get more money out of you. They won’t tell you it’s for an extra charge but if you accept them you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise when the bill comes.
CAFE ZARAFSHON: Recommended by our hotel concierge. We were craving a late dessert and came here around 8:30pm. Unfortunately, by that time, they were out of everything we wanted, including baklava, fruit, and most eggplant dishes. We ended up just ordering tea, which was served in small bowls instead of cups. The decor is beautiful and it’s located next to the Islom Hoja Minaret.
KAFE ZUHRA & TAHIR: If you’re brave enough to venture outside the walls of Itchan Kala (don’t worry, it’s not dangerous!), you’ll find this restaurant a relatively short walk from Khiva’s tourist center. Recommended by our hotel after we asked for a good local restaurant, it’s named after Uzbek’s version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s grungier than the places inside Itchan Kala but it is very authentic and there were zero tourists there except for us.
The picture menu has no prices and the waitress definitely upcharged us even after we negotiated. Even though it’s supposed to be cheaper than tourist places, we ended up paying around the same amount after the mandatory 10% service fee was factored in. That being said, the food was decent. The lagman spaghetti in particular was very good (we got seconds!) and the bread was solid. Beef and chicken kebabs weren’t bad either.
KHOREZM ART: An atmospheric restaurant located in front of the Allakuli Khan Medresa. The beautiful decor includes a skylight, brick walls, and wooden beams, and there’s live music at night. We stopped by for a mid-afternoon coffee break and didn’t try the food but I’d go back for the space alone.
MALIKA KHEIVAK: Ok. I’ll try to be nice: this cafe has a beautiful outdoor dining area and bed tables adorned with richly patterned cushions and drapes. We passed by it several times and desperately wanted to dine here, so imagine my disappointment when the food turned out to be the worst I had in Uzbekistan. The cappuccino was terrible (it tasted like thin, watery espresso with no milk) and the vanilla ice cream was icy with a weird taste. The baklava was stale and left an odd eggy aftertaste. Service was slow. We literally took two bites and left. I’m just glad we didn’t order a full meal because I would’ve been even more upset. I’m only including it here so you don’t get sucked in by the decor like we did!
TERRASA CAFE & RESTAURANT: The restaurant as an all-English menu and a cute wooden rooftop that overlooks Khiva. We came here for sunset and really enjoyed the view. The cafe also serves Western food like fries and chicken fillets if you’re tired of Uzbek cuisine. However, it is pricier than other restaurants we’ve been to in Uzbekistan and service is slow. Maybe it’s because we were on the terrace? Out of sight, out of mind…As for the food, the green noodles were nice and the cappuccinos were solid. Less enjoyable: the cream of broccoli (too salty), beef shashlik (meh), and pumpkin dumplings (very…pumpkiny. Could’ve used more sauce).
THINGS TO DO
AYAZ-KALA: One of the old fortress cities you can visit if you’re traveling between Bukhara and Khiva. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Khiva. There is a yurt camp here if you’d like to stay the night. Ayaz-Kala dates back to the third or fourth century B.C. and is visually impressive, though there isn’t much to see there (no artifacts, museums, etc). No entrance fee required.
ISLOM HOJA MINARET: One of the most iconic aspects of the Khiva skyline. At 187 feet tall, it is Uzbekistan’s highest minaret and yes, you can climb to the top. The climb up is a bit nerve-wracking – the steep, winding stairs are narrow, which is a problem when there’s traffic going both ways, and there are certain portions of the climb where it’s pitch black. It’s also not high enough for you stand up fully so you have to crouch. I was pretty much climbing on my hands and knees half the time. The top of the minaret is small and you have to look out through barred windows, but given its height you do get some nice views of the old city. There’s also an outdoor market selling souvenirs and local items right by the minaret.
JUMA MOSQUE: Not your typical mosque. Its unique architectural design features 200 carved wooden pillars, and there are no domes or arched entrances in sight. It looks more like a stomping ground for Indiana Jones than an Islamic prayer hall. Worth a visit! Note: You have to buy tickets at the West Gate; they do not sell admission tickets at the mosque.
KALTA MINOR MINARET: This stout, turquoise-tiled minaret looks like a funnel and is one of Khiva’s most recognizable landmarks. It was built by Mohammed Amin Khan in 1851, who wanted to built a minaret so tall he could see all the way to Bukhara. Unfortunately he died four years later and the minaret was left unfinished. It is the only minaret in the country that is fully covered by glazed tiles.
KHIVA SILK CARPET WORKSHOP: An adorable spot that sells high-quality silk rugs and suzannis inspired by Khivan doors and tilework. I didn’t buy anything here because the rugs are expensive (as in, thousands of dollars). However, it is a nice place to admire beautiful textiles and dream about them hanging in your house. That being said, if price isn’t an issue, go for it! It’s probably still cheaper than buying an imported silk rug in the U.S.
KUHNA ARK WATCHTOWER: Set in Itchan Kala’s west wall, the Watchtower offers magnificent sunset views over the city. The tower’s foundations are the oldest part of Khiva. It closes at 6:30pm and the staff are very strict about this. Make sure you set aside enough time to enjoy this spot before they kick you out.
TOPRAK-KALA: Another fortress city located between Bukhara and Khiva, though you’ll need to take a detour if you want to come here. Like the other fortresses, there isn’t much to see, but the vast desert landscape and ruins are incredible. 5000 som entrance fee.
TOSH-HOVLI PALACE: This labyrinthine palace has nine courtyards and all the blue tiles you can dream of. There are two separate entrances which take you to different wings. The north wing is the harem while the south wing includes the throne room. It was quiet compared to many other tourist sites in Khiva and a welcome reprieve from the crowds.
WHERE TO STAY
TRIP.LE: I’m not a big hostel person but when our Airbnb host told us his building management shut the hot water off unexpectedly we had to scramble to find last-minute housing. We’d been traveling for a while at that point and needed a hot shower! As far as hostels go, Tripl.le isn’t bad. Our private room was more like a private cottage with its own sitting area, bathroom, and bedroom. The bathroom is Asian wet room style, meaning no tub or curtain, only a drain in the floor. It was far from luxurious but it got the job done. We did not, however, touch the used bar soap and opted for water and hand sanitizer. No diseases today, thank you.
The property/price includes a garden, bar, shared lounge and kitchen, and breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to sample any of these things because we were in Tashkent for less than 24 hours.
Other lodging options in Tashkent include:
- HYATT REGENCY TASHKENT: Craving luxury? This five-star hotel takes up an entire city block and boasts everything from a revolving restaurant and indoor pool to a spa and 24-hour gym.
- ICHAN Q’ALA HOTEL: Not actually a madrasa but built in the madrasa style. It has a gorgeous exterior and rooms dripping in gold decor. Very Russian bling-bling, if that’s your thing.
- GULNARA GUESTHOUSE: A budget-friendly B&B with a garden, terrace, and add-on services such as laundry service and airport pickup. Located 10 minutes from the Chorsu Bazaar.
WHERE TO EAT
DOLCETTO: YOU MUST COME HERE! They have amazing desserts and cookies. The standouts were the chocolate layer cake with nuts and mousse (not too sweet as some chocolate cakes are wont to be) and the choco milk cookies. We scarfed them down in no time. The staff was also incredibly sweet. We wanted to buy a small bag of cookies for our flight and, because they only sold them by the pound, they ended up giving us our bag for free. Of course, we ate all the cookies before we boarded our flight so maybe we should’ve gotten the pound…
Only con is the shop is very small and has one table. This is a grab and go spot, not a place where you can kick back and relax over sweets and coffee.
MARYAM DESSERT HOUSE: Aesthetics and food on point. It’s a huge space with the bakery/dessert area in the front and a restaurant in the back. We stayed in the front area, which was bright and airy with mouthwatering displays of gelato, cheesecake, and baklava, among other things. The baklava and classic cheesecake with macaroon on top were excellent and not too sweet; the Earl Grey came with proper tea leaves, not a tea bag. It was such a chill place we lingered far longer than we should have, but fortunately it wasn’t crowded and the staff didn’t give us any trouble.
RESTAURANT SEOUL: I cannot tell you how happy we were to eat something other than Uzbek and Russian cuisine after over a week of the same dishes. The Korean food here was good, the restaurant was clean and relaxing, and they had a convenient button on the table to call the server. The restaurant may be pricier than the dirt-cheap meals we were used to (it charged ~$7 per item) but it was worth it.
SAZANCHIK PREMIUM: One of the few restaurants open when we woke up at 10pm after a nap and decided we were hungry. The place was huge with Russian club vibes – there was even a dance floor in the middle! We ordered the chicken and dumplings, which for a late night snack weren’t bad. Service was friendly but slow.
THINGS TO DO
CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN: We stumbled on this cathedral while wandering aimlessly through the city and were immediately drawn in by its bright blue exterior and golden domes. The cathedral is small and there isn’t much to see, but its gilded decor would make its Russian Orthodox origins proud.
CHORSU BAZAAR: A huge domed market hall selling all sorts daily necessities, including bread, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
METRO STATIONS: Tashkent’s beautiful metro stations are a holdover from the Soviet era (the Soviets were known for their grand metros). Until June 2018, the government didn’t allow photography in the stations, but now you can snap to your heart’s content! Some of the most impressive stops include Mustakillik Maydoni, Alisher Navoi, and Bodomzor.
MINOR MOSQUE: It’s not the most impressive mosque in Uzbekistan. However, its the stark white color is striking and differentiates it from the traditional blue and sand colors in Bukhara and Samarkand.
TRAVEL TIPS & THINGS TO KNOW
- I said it before but I’ll say it again: BRING LOTS OF CASH! Very few places in Uzbekistan take credit cards. Even some hotels, especially the smaller ones, require full payment in cash.
- A lot of public restrooms have bar soap instead of liquid soap. I suggest carrying hand sanitizer or your own soap on you, unless you’re ok using the same bar of soap as dozens of bathroom-goers before you. No judgment if that’s the case!
- Expect lots of stares. From our experience (one of my friends and I are both Asian females) this is particularly true if you’re Asian. We got stared at by. Every. Single. Person. We. Passed. More so than our other friend, who’s a white male, though he did get some stares as well. The stares were more curious than hostile but it was still unnerving. It was also common for locals to come up and ask us to take photos with them or sneakily take pictures of us themselves! This happened in every city except Tashkent.
- The locals were, overall, friendly and willing to help. However, in tourist areas they will try to rip you off. We honestly felt more ripped off here than we did in Istanbul, which we visited right before Uzbekistan. We met several taxi drivers who gave us such a ridiculous starting price we literally laughed out loud (i.e. charging 50,000 som for a cab ride that should’ve been 5,000 som). There are also many locals who’ll ask for a small “tip” in exchange for access to private rooftops, minarets, etc. These tips are negotiable. We took a few up on their offer and didn’t regret it but use your own judgment on whether this is something you want to do.
- Uzbekistan has beautiful architecture and interesting history but its entertainment and leisure options leave something to be desired. This is not the place to go if you want raving nightlife. Or any type of nightlife, really. Cities basically shut down by 10pm and locals’ favorite pastimes include bicycling and hanging out in parks or other public spaces. We did, however, see a karaoke spot in Samarkand. What a rebel.
I hope you found this guide to Uzbekistan useful! It is a fascinating country but it may not be for everyone. Want to know whether it’s for you? Only one way to find out…
Before you go, you may also find my comprehensive travel planning checklist useful. It goes over everything you need to do before you leave for a trip so you can enjoy your vacation to the fullest!