Uzbekistan travel guide
2 minute summary
Traversed by traders selling silks and spices for centuries, the Silk Road, and the historical cities that made up its spidering tributaries, shared the priceless gifts of art, architecture and inspiration from the curious East to the captivated West. And at its crossroads, in the very heart of Central Asia: Uzbekistan, a country slowly shaped by the influence of each of the individual cultures that flourished there.
From post-Soviet Tashkent, an awkward but beguiling jumble of old meets very new; to Samarkand, a former kingdom of Alexander the Great and a treasure trove of intricate Islamic art and beautiful emerald-tiled architecture; and Bukhara, a literal living museum with a skyline punctuated by dozens of azure mosques and Madrassas, and a community kept lively by the charming chatter of local gossip – Uzbekistan’s cities each tell their own story, A country that remains swathed in myth and mystery, it’s possible to while away days at a time enraptured by Uzbekistan’s traditional culture and visual history, from which you will likely come away enthused with more questions than you arrived with.
a place of palpable history where Islamic art, mosques and Madrassas take centre stage.
ideal for children.
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Uzbekistan map & highlights
make the most of your time
There’s no two ways about it, Central Asian roads are a dreadful blend of uneven tarmac, pitfalls and potholes; a mixture that can only be conquered by embracing the spirit of travel and indulging in the fabulous scenes taking place by the roadside. Any tour of Uzbekistan will likely involve at least one short flight and a sleeper train, together with some lengthy travel by road – expect a few stints of four to five hours by road, but driving times are hard to estimate and speeds can be very slow. Fortunately, your guide and driver will get you where you need to be, so reward them with patience and flexibility. If you’re combining countries, crossing borders takes time; they’ll search your luggage, your rucksack and even your pocket for carpets, but it’s all in good faith so keep your cool.
One of the best kept examples of a medieval city in Central Asia, Bukhara is truly a living museum, but one that bustles with life too. The old city is packed full of ancient Islamic architecture, lending a dusty, old-world feel, but the atmospheric streets buzz with the energy of families who have lived there for generations. Sit back and watch for a glorious snapshot of quirky local life.
Fascinating Khiva stands out among Uzbekistan’s cities because, unlike its equally historical counterparts Samarkand and Bukhara where life goes on, it’s a place where primal life has literally been stopped and preserved. To walk through the gates of Ichan Qala, the old town, is to explore twisting alleyways, cobbled street and an expansive array of mosques, mausoleums and minarets.
Kyzyl Kum desert (Yangikazgan)
Uzbekistan’s desert expanse is a mesmerising stretch of sand that ripples its way towards the horizon as far as the eye can see. Here, you can overnight in yurts, living as the nomadic locals do; visit Lake Aydarkul to fish for your campfire-cooked dinner; learn to play traditional music; sing under the stars; and ride in a caravan of camels silhouetted against nothing but the golden sun.
Sitting at the base of the bucolic Nuratau Mountain range in the shadow of contrasting Samarkand, Nurata is a city that delivers you back to nature with a bang. Besides camel trekking, walking among the mountains, and wild swimming in the nearby Aydarkul Lake, the area is known for its fortress – a throwback to the time of Alexander the Great, and the Chasma Spring – a sacred site of pilgrimage.
There is no city more synonymous with the Silk Road’s former majesty than oh-so-grand Samarkand, and today’s Samarkand has been smartened up accordingly. Former historic quarters have now made way for modern, Soviet-style avenues and delicate green spaces, while the enormous ‘Registan’ central square glints with polished architecture in gleaming gold, emerald and turquoise.
Uzbekistan’s capital is an interesting, though not aesthetically arresting city; rebuilt by the Soviets after a 1966 earthquake that devastated much of its historical architectural ambience, it’s now a bit of a jumble. The shiny new commercial HQs are an awkward juxtaposition with a maze of surviving mud-clad houses outside which traditional farmers trundle – but there are some great museums nonetheless.