From visiting the shrinking Aral Sea to exploring the architecture of the Registan in Samarkand, here’s our list of the absolute best things to do in Uzbekistan.
For millennia the cities of modern-day Uzbekistan were some of the most important along the ancient silk road.
Traders and merchants would gather in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva to buy, sell and trade their goods.
The borders of modern-day Uzbekistan were created by a certain Josef Stalin, and bear little resemblance to the cultural and linguistic divisions that already existed in the region.
Although the national language is Uzbek, you will be able to get around with Russian, as in all former Soviet nations.
English is usually spoken in hotels and guesthouses although this is certainly not a given. Outside of that environment, English is rarely spoken.
Uzbekistan ranges from the mountainous Fergana Valley and the Tajik border in the east, to sprawling deserts of the west.
This mix of climates and landscapes is one of the things that makes Uzbekistan particularly unique.
Uzbekistan is also home to some of the worlds most spectacular Islamic architecture, history at almost every turn, plenty of Soviet memorabilia, and the best plov in Asia.
READ MORE: Be sure to use this guide to plan your trip to Uzbekistan!
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to do in Uzbekistan
- Tashkent and Around
- Karakalpakstan Region
- Khiva and Khorezm
- Bukhara and Around
- Samarkand and Around
- Fergana Valley
The Best Things to do in Uzbekistan
If you’re not sure what to do in Uzbekistan then check out this article for our rundown of the best things to do in this rarely visited nation.
Tashkent and Around
Tashkent does get overlooked at times, with many preferring to focus on the counties other big hitters, however, the largest city in Central Asia is home to some pretty awesome things to do.
So make sure you give yourself a few days here to explore!
This gorgeous Soviet era theatre is a great place to catch a ballet show. Don’t expect anyone at the ticket office to speak English, so you’ll need a mixture of google translate and some Russian.
We bought tickets to a ballet show, and then on the night, it had changed to a performance of classic Russian dance.
Nonetheless, it was a fantastic show.
2) Chow Down at the Chorsu Bazaar
The Chorsu Bazaar’s blue dome is one of Tashkent’s, and indeed Uzbekistan’s most iconic sights. The bazaar spills out of Chorsu and onto the surrounding streets and is always buzzing with life.
Inside the main building itself expect to find meat, mounds of spices, fruit and vegetables, of both the fresh and pickled varieties.
There is a great eating area just outside with numerous vendors offering plenty of Central Asian classics including plov, shashlik, manti, Samsa and beshbermak. The shashlik and plov, in particular, are excellent.
3) Take a Wander Down the Kolkouz Canal
Starting from close to Tinchlik subway station the Kolkouz Canal winds its way through sleepy old Tashkent to Khast Imam and beyond.
Gated houses, precariously parked Lada’s and invites in for tea are commonplace in this hospitable and fascinating area of Tashkent. It’s a part of Tashkent that doesn’t reflect the cities’ recent modern developments or tip a hat to its Soviet past.
Very close to the starting point of the canal is Chitagay Mosque and bazaar which are well worth checking it.
4) Enjoy Islamic Architecture and a Slice of History at Khast Imam
This is probably the most well known and spectacular piece of Islamic architecture in Tashkent.
If you wander along the Kolkouz Canal there is a point where you can leave the trail and in a few minutes you will be in the centre of Khast Imam complex.
The three main buildings are the Hazroti Imom Friday mosque built-in 2007 under the orders of President Islam Karimov, the 16th century Barak Khan Madrasa and the Moyie Mubarek Library Museum.
The latter is said to hold one of the world’s oldest copies of the Quran, written in the 8th or 9th century. It also contains a number of rare books, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Just to the northwest is the small, but beautiful, Kaffal Shoshi Mausoleum that is also well worth checking out.
If you can find a spot in the shade, take a seat and just simply enjoy.
5) Check Out the Spectacular Art on the Tashkent Metro
There is certainly a bit of Soviet influence here with some amazing designs that are quite breathtaking.
Until recently there was a ban on taking photos of the subway. However, you are welcome to take photos now and enjoy the art whether you take a picture or not!
6) Hike in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park
Uzbekistan is not as well known for hiking as it’s neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, however, there is a outdoor activities are becoming more accessible and more popular.
Just two hours northeast of Tashkent you will find the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. There are plenty of hiking trails as well as kayaking and rafting in some parts.
Chimgan will be your first port of call. You can either hike in the area of delve further into the national park.
If you find yourself in Uzbekistan in the height of the summer then do yourself a favour and head to the Ugam-Chatkal National Park for some cool mountain air.
READ MORE: Check out these other amazing things to do in Tashkent!
Uzbekistan’s desolate northeastern region is known for a handful of things: the desert, the Aral Sea and an art museum housing banned Soviet-era paintings.
7) Watch the Sunset Over the Aral Sea
Welcome to one of mankind’s most spectacular environmental disasters. The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest lake. However, now it’s 20% of its original size and shrinking fast.
Things started going downhill when the Soviet government began diverting tributary rivers to Uzbekistan’s thirsty cotton field. Sadly it came with some truly dire consequences, that are still not fully understood to this day.
A visit to the Aral Sea will leave you torn between the area’s beauty and the region’s tragic history.
With breathtaking views from the Ustyurt Plateau, the gargantuan military-grade runway at South Ustyurt and the abandoned fishing village of Urga, a visit to the Aral Sea is a once in a lifetime experience that will take you on an emotional journey.
Sunset over the Aral Sea is nothing short of spectacular – a perfect time to reflect on everything you have seen.
8) Visit the Ship Graveyard in Moynaq
This is probably more famous than the Aral Sea itself is the ship graveyard in the town of Moynaq.
Back when the Aral Sea was still the world’s 4th largest lake, Moynaq was home to a thriving fishing industry.
Now the ships that were at the heart of that industry lie rusting on the former seabed with the Aral 100 or so kilometres away.
It’s a surreal experience, but absolutely one of the best things to do in Uzbekistan.
9) See Some Banned Soviet Art at the Savitsky Museum
This museum holds a rather lovely collection of artwork that was once banned by the Soviet authorities and is certainly worth checking out if you’re in Nukus.
Khiva and Khorezm
Khiva is one of Uzbekistan’s most well known ancient towns. However, unlike Samarkand and Bukhara, Khiva is still surrounded by its old city walls.
Many travellers skip over Khiva. However, this would definitely be a mistake.
READ MORE: Definitely check out our guide to the best places to visit in Uzkebkistan to finalise your trip!
10) Enjoy a Beer Whilst Watching the Sunset in Khiva
When people think of Khiva, Itchan Kala, the walled city is what often springs to mind. Filled with gorgeous mosques, madrasas, mausoleums, and a rather odd museum in praise of Islam Karimov it’s one of Uzbekistan’s most evocative sites.
The west gate is the main entrance, with the gateway flanked by the walls that encircle the city’s interior.
Grab a beer at one of the many guesthouses opposite the western walls and watch as the walls change from yellow to a deep orange as the sunsets.
11) Climb the Islam Khodja Minaret
In the southeastern corner of Khiva’s Itchan Kala, you will find Islam Khodja Minaret. It certainly does not have the same outward visual appeal as the Kalta Minor Minaret, but the views from it are pretty spectacular.
Try and time it so that you get here early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the light is better for photographs.
12) Explore the Elliq-Qala Fortresses
A short drive from Khiva are the Elliq-Qala fortresses, a collection of 50 of so ancient desert fortresses. The majority have sadly been lost to time and erosion.
However, there are a number of them that rise proudly from the desert landscape.
Your guesthouse should be able to arrange a private taxi for you. Alternatively, you can head out to the north gate and arrange one with the taxi and marshrutka drivers that congregate there.
Expect to pay around $20-40 for a four-person car for the day.
Make sure you bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a good hat as the heat can be brutal.
13) Take an Early Morning Walk Around the City Walls
When visiting Khiva you should buy a ticket at the entrance that is valid for two days and allows entry to a number of sights with Itchan Kala.
One freebie and one that is rarely taken advantage of by visitors is walking around the northern section of the city wall.
Unsurprisingly there are plenty of excellent viewing spots. But if you really want to enjoy this walk then get out early to get the best light, and avoid the searing daytime heat.
READ MORE: Add these great things to do in Khiva to your itinerary!
Bukhara and Around
Bukhara sits between Khiva and Samarkand and is a city shrouded in history.
For many years the Khanate of Bukhara was one of the most powerful in Uzbekistan.
Make sure you spend time wandering the back streets, especially first thing in the morning and watch the sunset from the Chashrai Mirob, a great cafe with spectacular views over the heart of Bukhara.
14) Visit the Ark
This imposing fortress on the western side of Bukhara has welcomed numerous merchants and dignitaries throughout history.
There’s an interesting museum that provides a great insight into the ark and its history.
Built in the 5th century AD, this earthen fort was historically the seat of power in the Bukhara.
It was the residence of the Emir of Bukhara. And it came to the attention of the British Empire when two army officers Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly were beheaded after being charged with spying for the British Empire in 1842.
15) Explore the Deserted Madrasa Kosh
To the west of The Ark, you will find a large market and the beautiful Madras Kosh. There are some buildings that are starting to crumble, but the vast majority are in great condition.
Amazingly this madrasa is often deserted as the majority of travellers stay within the old town.
The market next door sells plenty of fresh fruit and Uzbek street snacks including some incredible samsa.
16) Check Out the Bug Pit in Zindan Prison
Prior to their beheading in front of The Ark, Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly languished in the bug pit at Zindan prison at the behest of the Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan.
The bug pit was by far the worst of the cells in the prison. On a daily basis, scorpions, bugs and rodents would be poured onto the prisoners who waited at the bottom of the 4-meter deep pit.
Whilst the dummies in the prison are certainly not convincing, it’s an interesting museum that sheds some light on a rather gruesome period in Uzbekistan’s history.
17) Visit the Spectacular Kaylan Mosque
At the heart of Bukhara is the Kaylan Mosque. Alongside the Mir-i-Arab and the Kaylan Minaret, it forms a central square the city’s winding roads feed into.
Visiting first thing in the morning is a great time to visit as the city begins to awaken.
Then head to Chashmai Mirob at sunset for some spectacular views over the Kaylan Mosque and surrounding buildings.
18) Explore Bukhara’s Backstreets
Bukhara’s backstreets offer numerous hidden gems and gorgeous old crumbling buildings.
The area to the west of Lyabi Hauz is a great place to explore first thing in the morning as the city is waking.
To the south of the city, you will find a number of crumbling old mosques as well as a Jewish cemetery and 2 synagogues.
This area of Bukhara is very much off the tourist trail.
READ MORE: Check out all these great things to do in Bukhara!
Samarkand and Around
For many, Samarkand is the most beautiful city in Uzbekistan. It doesn’t have the backstreets like Bukhara or the old city walls of Khiva.
But in Samarkand, the city’s modernity has grown around its ancient wonders accentuating its splendour and elegance.
19) Marvel at the Registan
This is what Samarkand is most well known for. The spectacular collection of 3 buildings lies at the heart of the city.
The oldest is is the Ulugh Beg Madrasa which was built in 1417. The Tilya-Kori and Sher-Dor madrasas were both built in the 17th century.
Ancient travellers from China, North Africa and Europe have written about the Registan, with George Curzon, a future Viceroy of India, claiming it to be the noblest public square in the world.
It’s a spectacular combination of opulent architecture and dazzling tile work. As you stroll through the 3 madrasa’s it’s hard not to have your breath taken away.
20) Check Out Gur-E-Amir at Night
A mausoleum to the most well known Central Asian leader in history, Timur (or Timurlane, as he is occasionally known). It is believed that his conquests of the region lead to the death of 5% of the world’s population.
In spite of his brutality, Timur is revered in Uzbekistan with numerous statues and museums dedicated to him all over the country. The most famous being Amir Timur Square in Tashkent.
This gorgeous blue-domed mausoleum lies away from the throngs visiting the Registan. Being tucked away in a quiet corner of the city gives it an almost magical feel.
As beautiful as it is during the day, come back at night to be truly amazed.
21) Explore Shah-I-Zinda
Shah-i-Zinda’s rather unassuming exterior is a contrast with its stunning interior. The narrow alleyways and winding corridors contrast grandeur of the Registan, Gur-e-Amir and Bibi Khanym Mosque. Shah-i-Zinda’s spectacular tile work sets it apart from many other sights in Uzbekistan.
The mausoleum was built over 8 centuries and now contains 20 different mausoleums squeezed together with breathtaking tile work throughout.
If you count the 40 steps when entering and descending it is believed you will have a pure soul and thoughts.
This is absolutely one of the best things to do in Uzbekistan.
22) Find the Gumbaz Synagogue
Hidden amongst a maze of streets close to Shah-i-Zinda is the Gumbaz Synagogue. Built in 1891 it was the centre of Samarkand’s Jewish community.
It is definitely worth visiting. However, you will need to call ahead to check if someone’s there as it’s not manned 24-7.
23) Be Amazed by the Aksaray Palace Ruins in Sharisbaz
About an hour from Samarkand is the city of Sharisabz.
It is one of Central Asia oldest cities, being founded 2700 years ago. Formerly known as Kish or Kesh, it was the birthplace of Central Asia’s greatest conqueror Amir Timur.
There is a mausoleum to Timur here, although he is actually buried at Gur-e-Amir in Samarkand.
At the heart of the city is the ruins of the Aksaray Palace as a summer residence for the great conqueror himself.
Commissioned by Amir Timur in 1380, it took 25 years to construct. Sadly the vast majority of the palace has collapsed into the desert.
However, the pishtaqs that remain give you an idea of just how spectacular this palace was in its heyday.
READ MORE: Here are 15 more great things to do in Samarkand!
The Fergana Valley is probably the most off-the-beaten-track region in Uzbekistan. It’s a region that has been blighted with instability and political challenges.
24) Visit the Khan’s Palance in Kokand
Built in 1873 this spectacular palace is another architectural gem. Khudayar Khan was a cruel individual who cemented his unpopularity when he took the side of Russia, who had recently conquered Central Asia.
Nestled in the heart of one of the country’s most turbulent regions this is a highly recommended spot in the Fergana Valley.
25) Learn About Traditional Silk Making at the Yogorlik Silk Factory in Margilon
This silk factory makes silk the traditional way. The cocoons are placed in warm water to loosen the threads. When the threads are found they are then hand-woven into the khan-atlas style for which Uzbekistan is famous.
These dense silk fabrics are absolutely spectacular, with clothes, carpets and embroidered all available to purchase.
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