If you’re looking for rich history and well-preserved monuments from centuries’ past, PLUS, incredible shopping, friendly people and a relaxed travel atmosphere—Uzbekistan is for you.
In this guide we’ll be covering three major Uzbeki cities: Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara. While we didn’t get a chance to visit ourselves, we also highly recommend visiting the ancient city of Khiva while you’re in the country.
Most travelers will need a visa to visit Uzbekistan. For Americans, the cost of this visa is $160. For the English, the cost is 60 pounds. To check the requirements and cost for you, and to get information on how to travel here, visit their Embassy website.
Uzbekistan Airways has daily flights to Tashkent, including a new flight that goes direct from NYC to Tashkent four times weekly.
The main languages spoken in Uzbekistan are Uzbek and Russian, and many people will speak a local dialect depending on what part of the country you are in. English is not widely spoken, though many hotels will have English-speaking staff and many tour guides will speak English. The easiest way of traveling here is via an organized tour, and for this we recommend is Kalpak Travel.
Independent travel in Uzbekistan is most commonly done via high-speed train (have your hotel help you purchase tickets) or by shared or private taxi.
Is it Safe to Travel Uzbekistan?
When I first started telling people I was traveling here, the most common reaction was, “where?” The second most common reaction was, “is it safe there?” The answer to the latter is yes. Though you should always check travel warnings before a big trip, Uzbekistan is currently peaceful and not prone to terrorism or other threats. All in all I found the country to be incredibly safe, though you’ll definitely be noticed as a foreigner and will receive some stares and requests for selfies, particularly if you’re a foreigner of color.
The capital city of Tashkent is where your journey will likely begin. It’s surprisingly green and immaculately clean, and it’s here that you can pick up any sort of health or sanitary items you might need before you start your journey.
Where to Stay: Your best option is the newly-opened Hyatt Regency Tashkent, an immaculately clean, comfortable, upscale option.
What to See
Modern Tashkent: Independence Square, Amir Temur Square, and the Grieving Mother Monument, all of which you can see in/near the metro stations of Tashkent.
Khasti Imam Complex: Come here to see the gorgeous Tilla Sheikh Mosque and nearby Barakkhan Madrasa and Kaffal Schaschi Mausoleum.
Chorsu Bazaar: You’ll mostly find food products here, including horse meat, which is sold inside. Though you won’t find many souvenirs here, it’s interesting to walk through.
One of the ancient cities of Uzbekistan, Bukhara is a dry desert city with cobblestone pathways that connect the main attractions to the shopping domes that have been in place since the silk route.
What to See
Chor Minor Madrasa: a madrassa with four tall towers that represent different religions within Uzbekistan.
Naqshbandi Memorial Complex: a beautiful mosque and religious site worth walking around.
Sitorai Mokhi Hossa (Summer Palace): A short drive outside of Bukhara but interesting to get the history of the royals who ruled Uzbekistan from this palace.
Mir-Arab Madrassa: a large complex with gorgeous tiles and a rich history. The tower nearby is rumored to have been the site of many executions in centuries’ past.
The largest of the ancient cities, Samarkand houses some of the country’s most stunning architecture, including famous Registan Square. Though it’s true that by this point, you’ll probably have gotten your fill of blue tiled mosques—the ones you find here are more impressive than them all.
Where to Stay: Sultan Hotel Boutique
What to See
Registan Square: The most famous attraction of Samarkand is Registan Square, where three sides of the square are ornate madrassas that face each other. In ancient times, this was the center of activity in Samarkand.
Shah-i Zinda Necropolis: A stunning complex where you’ll find gorgeous turquoise buildings from the 9th– 14th centuries. This is a highlight you cannot miss here!
Ulugbeg’s Observatory: A small site that still houses remains of ancient tools used to study astronomy.
Bibi Khanym Mosque and Siyob Bazaar: two sites that are next to each other, just a short walk away from Registan Square. The Bazaar has a mixture of souvenirs and food products.
Tips for Traveling in Uzbekistan
- Tourism is new here: Do not take photos of government buildings, sensitive infrastructure (bridges, border facilities, etc.) or uniformed personnel. If you’re in doubt as to whether or not you can take photos, ask your guide. This is particularly important in the capital city of Tashkent.
- The government is sensitive to criticism about issues such as human rights, corruption, environmental issues, and freedom of speech.
- Though many places will advertise Wifi, in our experience, it is spotty and hard to rely on.
- Declare how much cash you’re bringing in to the country and be sure to spend all of your Uzbek currency before you reach the airport as you will not be able to sell it back.
- While checking out of hotels, you’ll be given “declarations of stay”– small slips of paper that document where you were staying, and when. You might need these for airport immigration, so be sure to keep a hold of them.
- Uzbekistan uses two pin European plugs. You will need a plug adaptor for your electronics.
What Women Need To Know Before Traveling Uzbekistan
Traveling through Uzbekistan is safe and not unlike traveling elsewhere, but there are still a few things women should know before taking a trip.
1) Bring Your Feminine Products: In a pinch, you can find products at local pharmacies but they may not be what you prefer to use.
2) Plan for Squat Toilets: most public restrooms outside of Tashkent are squat toilets—plan accordingly in what you wear! We always recommend close-toed shoes for this reason. It also helps to bring wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
3) You Might Receive Some Stares: The people in Uzbekistan are slowly becoming more accustomed to travelers, but foreigners are still somewhat of an oddity. For the most part, the stares you’ll receive are based in curiosity, though you should still be aware of who is looking at you and how you feel about it. Don’t be surprised if locals want to take photos of and with you.
4) Dress Conservatively: Foreigners are given somewhat of a pass on this, but this is still predominately Muslim country where the local women are mostly covered. To be the most respectful and to keep a lower profile, cover up your arms and legs. You do not have to worry about covering your hair.
All in all, traveling Uzbekistan is an incredible adventure. Go!
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