14 Incredible Things to Do in Khiva (2020 Guide)

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Need a guide to the best things to do in Khiva on your travels around Uzbekistan? You’ve come to the right place!

Khiva is the final Uzbek city that lay on the ancient silk road. It is very different from Uzbekistan’s other major silk road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.

Modern Samarkand has grown around its spectacular architecture and Bukhara has retained its ancient centre as modern developments have grown around it. 

Khiva is unique in the fact that its old city walls still stand proudly in the middle of the desert.

With its ancient city so well preserved, it’s a spectacular open-air museum offering plenty of incredible things to do in Khiva.

As you wander along its cobbled streets, take a moment to take in everything around you as there are very few structures like Khiva left in this part of the world. 

Historically Khiva is as well known for being a bustling centre of trade and commerce along the ancient silk road with much of the cities wealth being generated from slavery well into the 19th Century. 

On the outskirts of Khiva, you will find the Elliq-Qala forts. A collection of at least 20 fortresses in the middle of the desert. Although some have sadly succumbed to the ravages of the deserts the ones that are still standing are spectacular. 

Sadly many travelers skip Khiva because of its distance from most of Uzbekistan’s other major tourist destinations. However, it’s quite easy to incorporate it into a two week trip including a trip to the fabled Aral Sea.

Let’s check out some of the best things to do in Khiva. 

READ MORE: Plan your trip to Uzbekistan using our comprehensive travel guide!

The Best Things to do in Khiva

The vast majority of Khiva’s sights are located within the walls of the Ichon Kala, the walled city for which Khiva is known.

Therefore the sights can be found within a small area, unlike in Tashkent and Samarkand where things a much more spread out. 

You can purchase a two-day ticket from the west gate which covers the entrance fees to all of the mosques, madrasas, minarets, and museums inside.

If you’re not sure what to do in Khiva then these tickets can serve as a source of inspiration.

1. Visit the Kalta Minor Minaret

This is probably Khiva’s most well-known sight. As soon as you enter the western gate you will be able to see it in all its glory. 

Whereas most minarets are tall, slender, and rather plainly decorated, the Kalta Minor Minaret is the exact opposite. It’s short, fat structure is adorned with spectacular turquoise tile work. 

Construction began in 1851, with the aim being to construct a minaret that could be seen from Bukhara. Sadly the Khan leading its construction died before it could be finished. 

It is spectacular when it’s lit up at night. 

Kalta Minaret Things to Do in Khiva
Khiva’s spectacular Kalta Minaret

2. Take a wander along the city walls

The city walls that set Khiva apart from other Uzbek silk road cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. The walls are still in excellent condition and it’s possible to walk along the northern and northwestern sections of the city walls.

The northwestern sections can be accessed close to the Kuhna Ark, with this section being particularly spectacular at sunset. 

The north section of the walls is far less visited. Head up towards the north gate and here there some steps and ramps which will take you up to the city walls. It’s a great spot for some Khiva sightseeing, with plenty of amazing photo opportunities.

Visit first thing in the morning when the weather is cooler and the light is better. Definitely one of the best things to do in Khiva.

City-Walls-Khiva
Wandering around the city walls in Khiva early in the morning

READ MORE: Add these great places to visit in Uzbekistan to your itinerary!

3. Visit the Kuhna Ark

After entering the western gate a couple of left-hand turns will bring you to the Kuhna Ark.

Whilst the name will obviously bring a similar namesake in Bukhara to mind, it is altogether a different architectural feat.

Whereas the Bukhara’s Ark is an intimidating fortress, the Kuhna Ark in Khiva is adorned with stunning tile work amongst a maze of corridors, doorways, and the Summer Mosque.

The Kuhna was where Khiva’s rulers lived and made the decisions that shaped their khanate. Built in the 12th century it contained the khan’s harem, mint, stables, barracks, mosque and jail.

In effect, there was almost no need to leave its walls.

At the back of the throne, you will find a door that leads to a watchtower which offers spectacular views over the city, with sunset being particularly stunning.

The cost of this watchtower is not included in the 2-day ticket.

Kuhna-Ark
Spectacular architecture in the Kuhna Ark

4. Climb the Islam Khodja Minaret and explore the Islam Khodja Madrasa

Close to the centre of the Ichan Kala is the Islam Khodja Minaret and Mosque. The views from the top of the minaret are pretty spectacular.

However, due to the fact you are not up against the city walls, the bright orange that washes over them at sunset is not as visible. However, it’s still very much worth a visit. 

The Islam Khodja Madrasa is another stunning piece of architecture in Khiva’ Ichan Kala. The outer gate is adorned with some rather lovely tile work.

Inside you will find the applied arts museum displaying pieces Khorezm wood carvings and metalwork alongside Uzbek and Turkmen carpets. 

Islam-Khodja-Minaret-Khiva
Amazing views from the Islam Khodja Minaret

5. See the City Awaken

An early morning stroll around Uzbekistan’s ancient cities is a great way to start the day.

From May onwards Uzbekistan swelters under the desert heat, with the peak temperatures between 12 pm and 2 pm. Getting out early in the morning means you can avoid these temperatures, and see the city come to life. 

A great morning walking route is to take a wander along the city’s northern walls.

With the western walls being a popular place to visit, the northern walls a relatively unknown and provide some spectacular views looking back into the city itself. 

Set your alarm bright and early and make a beeline for the northern walls where you will find steps or a ramp at various points bringing you onto the wall itself and from then on it’s yours to explore. 

Get back to your guesthouse in time for breakfast. A perfect start to the day. 

Khiva-Morning
An early morning walk through the heart of Khiva

6. Watch the Western Walls of the Itchan Kala Turn Orange as the Sun Sets

As the sun sets, the Itchan Kala’s western walls change from sandy yellow to dark orange.

A sight the evokes images of bygone era’s, the ancient Silk Road, the great game, and the Russian conquest. 

Opposite the walls, there are numerous guesthouses with rooftop bars.

Grab a table and a beer and enjoy the remarkable changes of the colours as the sun sets on another day in Khiva. This was one of my favourite things to do in Khiva.

Khiva Sunset
Sunsets over Khiva’s Ichan-Kala

7. Visit the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum

The Paklavan Mahmoud Mausoleum is located very close to this Islam Khodja Minaret and is an absolutely spectacular mausoleum. 

Pakhlavan Mahmoud was a poet, philosopher, and wrestler who ended up becoming Khiva’s patron saint. 

Its green dome, in contrast to the blue you often see, is visible all over Khiva. The decoration inside is nothing short of spectacular.

Ornate and complex patterns glide and swirl over the walls in a way that you will not see elsewhere in Uzbekistan. 

The walls and tile work have an almost silvery tone over, in contrast to the deep blue and gold you will see elsewhere in Uzbekistan. It truly is a work of art. 

Pakhlavan-Mahmoud-Mausoleum
Some of the most spectacular tile work in Khiva is inside the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum

8. Take a Wander Around the Medicine Museum at the Shergozikhan Madrasa 

The medicine museum at the Shergozikhan Madrasa is a quirky little museum on the history of Khorezm medicine and well worth checking out. 

As well as some interesting displays on medical history there are numerous pieces of art.

Doctors in ancient Khorezm believed that injuries to the body could not be treated in the absence of treatment for the soul.

READ MORE: Build your Uzbekistan itinerary to include all of these great things to do in the country!

9. Check out the amazing wooden posts in the Juma Mosque

A Juma Mosque is where Friday prayers are commonly held. Such mosques can be found all over the Islamic world. 

The Juma Mosque in the heart of Khiva offers something a little different to what you imagine a mosque may look like. 

After entering you may be expecting wide open spaces, blue tile work, and Arabic calligraphy adorning the walls.

Instead aside from two small lightwells in the roof and the four doors on each of the edges, there are no other windows or openings to the outside world. 

The room itself contains 213 black elm pillars that support the wooden ceiling. 

Aside from providing a break from Khiva’s searing heat, it is an altogether different experience to other architecture in Khiva and Uzbekistan itself. 

Juma-Mosque-Khiva
Welcome to Khiva’s Juma Mosque

10. Eat in the Heart of Ichon Kala

There is plenty of decent food to be found on Khiva. Central Asian classics can be found in abundance, almost everywhere. 

We arrived late in the evening after a long drive down from Nukus having spent two days at the Aral Sea.

We wandered into the Ichan Kala and took a seat at the only restaurant that seemed to be open, close to the Kalta Minaret that was spectacularly lit up. 

The bubbly waitress brought out a pretty chunky menu with plenty of variety, which is sometimes a rarity in Central Asia. We excitedly poured over the menu creating a feast of quite epic proportions (well it seemed that way at the time). 

When she came back it seemed that nothing we wanted was available. At which point I summoned all of my pigeon Russian to ask what was available.

The response? Manti, dumplings that can be found everywhere in Central Asia. Not what we had in mind. 

As we tucked into our manti and sour cream, the stunning sight of Khiva’s heart lit up against the night sky made the disappointment fade and those manti taste even better.

Khiva is gorgeous when lit up at night
Khiva is gorgeous when lit up at night

11. Visit Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa

Directly opposite the Kuhna Ark is the madrasa named after the Khan who surrendered to the Russians in 1873. 

There’s a museum inside with a few interesting things, but the real draw is the madrasa itself.  

Its entrance is adorned with stunning tile work and wonderful, flowing calligraphy. Like the Kuhna Ark opposite the size of what lies behind the door will surprise you. 

Mohammed-Rakhim-Khan-Madrasa
The Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa is one of the largest buildings in Khiva

12. Explore the Allakuli Khan Madrasa and its Surroundings

Close to the eastern gate, you will find some of the most interesting buildings in Khiva.

This rather spectacular cluster of buildings is dominated by the spectacular Allkuli Khan Madrasa. It outside does bear a passing resemblance to the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa.

Built in the 1830s and 40s, it’s namesake was responsible for the construction of many of the buildings in this area of Khiva.

Nearby are the bazaar and caravanserai which is worth checking out. There’s plenty of interesting bits and pieces for sale here.  

Just opposite the madrasa is the Abdullah Khan Madrasa which is certainly worth visiting. Inside you will find a small nature museum and the tiny Ak Mosque. 

Interestingly if you head out of the eastern gate and turn right you will find and phenomenal restaurant serving some exquisite shashlik.

Due to the fact that it’s outside of the city walls, it sees very few tourists. So expect a certain informal friendliness as you tuck into your shashlik.

13. Be Amazed by the Tosh-hovli Palace

The Tosh-hovli Palace may be one of the most beautiful buildings in Khiva.

Built between 1832 and 1841, the vision of its designer Allakuli Khan was that the Tosh-hovli Palace would be a more splendid and opulent alternative to the Kuhna Ark. 

Allakuli was responsible for the construction of a number of other buildings in this part of Khiva and to say he was a taskmaster, is maybe a bit of an understatement.

He actually had the palaces first architect executed after he failed to complete it in two years.

Inside you will find spectacular tile work in a combination of ornate patterns and swirling calligraphy.

However, you will also discover spectacular stone and wood carving with luscious oranges and reds complementing the blue tile work perfectly. 

It has two separate entrances, with the harder sport south wing containing the throne room and some of the palace’s most spectacular artwork. Definitely one of the best things to see in Khiva.  

Tosh-Hovli Palace
Stunning carvings at the Tosh-hovli Palace

14. Take the Day to Explore the Elliq-Qala Fortresses

Our final thing to do in Khiva takes us outside of the Ichan Kala and into the desert around a collection of spectacular fortresses. 

There are around 20 fortresses, plus plenty more that are believed to be believed to beneath the desert sands.

When it comes to finding a driver you have two options. The first is to speak to your guesthouse, or another guesthouse close by and see if they can arrange a driver for the day.

The other option is to head to the north gate and arrange a car and driver there.

We chose the former and it cost $40 for the entire day. The rate will not be cheaper if you have fewer people as you are taking the entire car for the day.

Additionally, guesthouses will work with drivers who know the best sites and order to visit them in. It’s not a guarantee that the drivers at the north gate will know this. 

On a side note, we did book a driver to take us to the border of Turkmenistan which worked out brilliantly, in spite of my limited Russian and his non-existent English. 

We headed out at around 9 am, with plenty of sun cream and water.

Khiva’s heat is unrelenting. And when you are exploring the fortresses there is nowhere to shelter from the heat, so make sure you have a cover-up, slather up and drink plenty of water! 

Kirk Kiz Kala is a rarely visited site that, whilst little remains, just the sheer size of the site is something mind-blowing. 

Two sites that are well worth visiting are Ayaz Kala 1 and 2. The former is the larger of the two and overlooks the latter, offering some spectacular photos.

Kizil and Toprak Kala are in better condition than many other fortresses and the outlines of rooms and corridors can still clearly be seen. 

This was definitely a highlight of our time in Uzbekistan. It’s an area that is very rarely visited.

So take to opportunity to get off the beaten track in an already off the beaten track country. 

Ayaz Kala II, one of the most spectacular Elliq Qala fortresses
Ayaz Kala, one of the largest Elliq Qala fortresses

Khiva City Guide

Now that you know what to do in Khiva, we want to help you make your other plans as well by sharing the best accommodations and places to eat in the city.

Best Places to Stay in Khiva

There are a number of budget options in Khiva that are quite a walk from the Ichan Kala itself. However, there is a strong argument that the drop in price is not worth it.

Therefore the budget option I’ve selected is from the immediate vicinity of the Ichan Kala.

Best Budget Accommodation in Khiva – Isakhoja B&B

I had the pleasure of staying here during my visit to Khiva. The large rooms, great service, and a good breakfast make it a solid bet.

With the fact that it’s located outside of the city walls, it is much quieter than many other options in Khiva, whilst still being a stone’s throw from the top Khiva attractions. A great shout.

Best Mid Range Accommodation in Khiva – Khiva Ibrohim Hotel

Located in the heart of the Ichan Kala you will find the Khiva Ibrohim Hotel. With good sized rooms, free breakfast and the potential from some amazing views, this is an excellent mid-range pick. 

Its service continues to get rave reviews from its guests. 

Best places to eat in Khiva

Khiva doesn’t have quite the selection of eateries as Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.

However, there’s still some great stuff to be found. Be aware that there are quite a few places within the Ichan Kala’s walls that are a bit of a rip-off. 

 Khorezm Art Restaurant

This is surely the pick of the bunch in the Ichon-Qala. A great open-air location, an extensive menu of excellent dishes, and great service. An absolute winner.

Khiva Moon 

Located outside the walls of the Ichan Kala this place continues to get rave reviews. It has a much larger menu than many other places in Khiva and the food is phenomenal. Definitely plan for a meal here.  

Bir Gumbaz

Plenty of Central Asia classics on offer here, however there highlight here is its location right next to the Kalta Minor Minaret. However, that location does make it a bit on the pricey side.

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About the author

Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is our resident China, New Zealand and Central Asia expert, having spent more time than just about anyone backpacking and travelling around there. He is also one of half of the British-Chinese couple that make up abearandapig.com, a blog focusing on travel, life as a local and an expat in the middle kingdom and Chinese social media.

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