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Uzbekistan Things to Do: 126 reviews and 296 photos
After Khiva and Bukhara, Samarkand seems big and full of bustle, but unlike Tashkent it retains more of its central Asian character, even in the more modern areas of the city. As an overall destination it didn’t move me in the way that Bukhara had, but some of the individual sights are among the most striking I have seen anywhere. The first impression of the Shah-i-Zinda will remain with me always, and naturally too the stunning Registan Square, though I was more prepared for that by images I’d seen before the trip.
Don’t miss either the huge Bibi Khanum Mosque, the rich colours of the Gur Emir and the incredible smells and sights of the bazaar. See my separate page on Samarkand if you’d like to read more about these stunning monuments.
Kalon Mosque, Bukhara
Bukhara is where Uzbekistan really came to life for me. In its ancient streets history weaves itself effortlessly around the present-day lives of its people. Here you get a real sense of continuity – the world of the Silk Road caravans isn’t preserved in the aspic of Khiva, nor tucked into islands among the modern day bustle of Samarkand, but is an ever-present backdrop to daily life. To walk these streets, duck through the low arches of the caravanserai and trading domes, sit for a while over green tea by the pool of Lyab-i-Huaz; this is what people of this city have done for centuries.
This overall atmosphere was one of the main highlights of Bukhara for me, but there are also a number of unmissable individual sights, including the Ismael Samani Mausoleum, the Poi Kalon ensemble (mosque and madrassah), the Chor Minor, the unusually decorated Nadir Divanbegi Madrassah and many others, as well as the trading domes mentioned above. See my separate page on Bukhara if you’d like to read more about my favourite Uzbek city.
Directions: About 4 hours drive from Samarkand
Earthquake Memorial, Tashkent
This is a largely modern city, thanks to the devastation caused by a huge earthquake in 1966. It is often overlooked for this reason, and certainly doesn’t have the wealth of attractions of the Silk Road cities, but there are some monuments and other sights worth visiting. As you’re almost bound to arrive in the country through Tashkent’s airport, why not hang around for a day or two to see what the city has to offer.
Highlights for me included the Osman Koran, claimed to be oldest in world and now on display in a newly restored library; the beautiful suzanni (traditional embroideries) on display at the Applied Arts Museum; the starkly moving memorial to the earthquake; and what proved to be one of the tastiest meals we had in Uzbekistan at the Caravan Arts Café. See my separate page on Tashkent (under construction) if you’d like to read more about what the capital of Uzbekistan has to offer.
Khiva street scene
The old town of Khiva, Ichan Kala, is a city frozen in time. The sun-baked clay of its walls encircles a wealth of ancient buildings which, more than any other destination in Uzbekistan, preserve intact the images of the Silk Road. It’s a wonderful place to start your exploration of the Silk Road as it enables you to get a strong sense of history and visualise the past. The downside though is that this very intactness, and the thoroughness of the restoration work, means that it can feel more like a museum or film-set than a living city, lacking the “realness” of Bukhara or Samarkand.
Highlights here include the Kalta Minor, Kukhna Ark, Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum, Juma Mosque and Tash Hauli Palace. See my separate page on Khiva for much more about this incredibly haunting city.
Directions: The most western of the cities we visited - you'll probably need to fly to Urgench, the nearest airport, and then get a bus or taxi. The alternative is an eight hour drive from Bukhara.
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