Things to do in Khiva

These ancient Uzbek cities on the old Silk Road continue to intrigue us. Each city that we visited (Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara) all possessed a different energy, setting each one apart from the other. Khiva was no different. Exploring the many things to do in Khiva, gave us an insight into what makes this ancient city popular with tourists.

Lady overlooking Khiva old city from the city walls

Overlooking Khiva’s Itchan Kala from its city walls

Map of Things to do in Khiva 

Welcome to Khiva

Leaving the Khiva train station by taxi, we drove through the modern part of Khiva before reaching the square walled, old inner fortress, known as Itchan Kala. Imposing earthen walls, 6 to 8m high, 6m thick and with a perimeter of 2.2 kilometres, indicate a long story of conflict. The city has four gates, with each gate facing a side of the world. In 1990, this ancient city on the Great Silk Road was listed by UNSECO as a World Heritage site.

One of the must see things to do in Khiva is to walk on the wide earthen city walls at sunset

The wide earthen city walls of Khiva at sunset beckon to be walked

Having experienced the expansive areas of the old cities of Samarkand and Bukhara and to a lesser extent Tashkent, we were very surprised at just how compact Khiva’s Itchan Kala (Old Fortress) was. This was compounded by the fact that merchant stalls occupied the footpaths of most boulevards.  Additionally, large tourist groups wandered the streets, creating quite a crowded feeling. Nevertheless, we had set aside four days to check out the best of things to do in Khiva and we were keen to get going.

Tackling Khiva markets in the evening certainly gives you more room to move

A more authentic feel to Khiva is had in the evenings when crowds have all but disappeared

First Impressions of Khiva

Many of the Khiva markets were set in front of the buildings, partially blocking line of sight to the building’s facades and any of the possible interesting things that were behind.

What was quite obvious to us was that the local merchants inside Itchan Kala were not particularly happy. When we initiated a greeting with a smile, we might sometimes receive a verbal response and almost never a return smile. This really surprised us and seemed quite out of character given the positive experiences we had with the Uzbek locals of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara. Why?

 

Daytime Khiva Itchan Kala markets

Khiva Itchan Kala markets

Seeking answers, we stopped by the local Tourist Information Centre and asked about our observations. One possible answer we got was that this outward unhappiness may have been caused by the stress of loan repayments. Apparently, the government had encouraged merchants to enter into small business loans by a) turning local homes into BnBs and, b) investing in local market trade. With the increase in tourism, this should have been a lucrative investment.

However, it seems that the expected influx of money has yet to materialise. Maybe if visitors started their journey like us in Tashkent and left Khiva as their last stop, then purchases had already been made and souvenirs already bought? It remains a mystery.

Entrance Tickets to Khiva’s Old City

Most of the things to do in Khiva are in the old city. To enter Itchan Kala and the individual museums and other attractions require a ticket. There are different types of tickets for purchase depending on what things to see in Khiva that you decide on. At the time of writing this article, only the west gate acts as the main entrance to Itchan Kala and it’s here you can buy the different types of tickets. All tickets are valid for 48 hours.

Khiva's western gate access where you can buy tickets to the old city attractions

Khiva’s western gate access where you can buy tickets to the old city’s attractions

Economy ticket: Parting with 50,000 SOM allows you to walk the city without museum entry.

Standard ticket: Parting with 100,000 SOM (as we did), allows you to walk the city and enter all museums/mosques.

Deluxe ticket: Parting with 150,000 SOM gives you entry to Itchan Kala including all museums/mosques as well as three minarets.

You can ask questions from the people manning the ticket office or the Tourist Police whose job it is to assist tourists. At the time of writing this post, turnstiles are only in place at the western gate but there are plans to install turnstiles and ticketing offices at the other 3 gates (north, south and east gates).

We were a bit confused, as we were staying 4 days at a local home in Itchan Kala and yet our ticket gave us access for only 2 days. We were not intending on purchasing another 2-day ticket each. Explaining this situation to the gate staff, they just waved us through without question.

Free entrance point near Khiva's western gate

Free entrance point near Khiva’s western gate

Alternative Access to Khiva Itchan Kala

We did notice that locals used a pedestrian access to and from Itchan Kala via a small walkway only 100m south and within eyesight of the western gate. Perplexed, we asked the Tourist Police if there were plans to install turnstiles across this entrance? They said no! This unpatrolled access way would always remain open and free as locals working inside the walls needed to return home. There is also another free pedestrian entrance just north of the eastern gate. Although you may enter the city from here, you will not have access to any of the attractions within. It’s simple enough to pay the small ticket entrance fee. This won’t break the bank and it helps support the local economy. 

Khiva – A city of Museums and Markets

If you have the correct ticket, you will be able to enter the many museums inside Itchan Kala. Don’t be surprised to find that in many there is not that much on display. 

As mentioned before, markets set up wherever there is free space during the daytime. Some of the popular market items seem to be traditional fur hats and colourful local Uzbek dolls. You get the sense that there is an over-saturation of tourist goods in such a small space. 

The trick is to wander the streets early in the morning before the stalls have set up. Then you can really get a feel for this old city.

Dolls at Khiva markets

Dolls at Khiva’s markets

Different coloured fur hats on sale at Khiva's markets

Different coloured fur hats at Khiva’s autumn markets

Our Favourite Things to do in Khiva

Not overly impressed with many of the museums and markets,  we’ve narrowed down our favourite things to do in Khiva for you here:

1) Enjoy Sunset Views From the City Walls

When standing on the wall, you’ll be near Kunya Ark citadel and not far from the western gate. To reach this point you’ll need to walk to the northern gate and nearby you’ll need to follow a series of steps leading up the walls. From here, go west and then follow the wall south. Go as far as you can until reaching a dead-end at the Kunya Ark Citadel. It’s here you’ll have a spectacular view over this old city, including:

  • Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah
  • Juma minaret
  • Islam Hoja minaret.

To return, simply backtrack your steps. At the time of our visit (September 2019), it was free to walk the walls, although we were told that there were plans to install turnstiles to have paid access.

Must see things to in Khiva include a sunset view of a madrassah and minaret from city walls
Things to do in Khiva - Sunset views from the old city walls of a minaret silhouetted against an orange sky

Sunset views in Khiva

 2) Djuma (Friday) Mosque

The Djuma Mosque,  with its 215 carved wooden columns, built in the late 18th century, is completely different in style from other mosques we had seen in Uzbekistan. These columns support a huge roof and surprisingly, this structure is without portals. There are small garden areas within giving it a real calming feel. We were even lucky enough to see two locals in traditional dress who kindly agreed to pose for a photo.

Wooden columns inside a mosque

Inside Duma Mosque

Local Uzbek wearing traditional clothing and sitting inside a mosque

Local Uzbek wearing traditional clothing

3) Handicrafts Museum / Tosh Hovli Palace

This madrassah is worth seeing as it displays some beautifully, multi-coloured patterns on its roofs.  The structure, with its hand-carved wooden pillars, was completed in 1838. There are many rooms in the palace which acted as a harem, living rooms, servant’s quarters and storerooms. There are artefacts on display including grinding machines, wheels and even water wheels. Something quite unique was a modern-looking yurt in one of the internal courtyards.

Richly adorned palace bedroom

Richly adorned palace sleeping quarters

Yurt in the inner courtyard of Tosh Hovli Palace

Inner courtyard yurt

Beautiful coloured walls and roof of a palace

Beautiful coloured walls and roof of Tosh Hovli palace

4) Minaret Kalta Minor

‘Minaret Kalta Minor’ translated means ‘short minaret’. With its 15m diameter base and 29m height, tales of the past proclaim it was originally designed to be at least twice or maybe three times this height. Unfortunately, this would have allowed a view from the top into the ruler’s harem, so construction ceased. This is but one of many such legends surrounding Minaret Kalta Minor. Regardless, it is an impressive structure to behold and you can’t miss it when you enter by the western gate.

Kalta Minor minaret by day

Kalta Minor Minaret by day

Kalta Minor minaret by night

Kalta Minor Minaret by night

5) Enjoy a meal and Fantastic views at Caravan Khiva Restaurant 

This 3-storey restaurant offers fabulous views of the cityscape from the open-air top floor. It is located close to the southern gate and the owners are super-friendly. Bring your camera and a jacket as it can get pretty cold once the wind blows and that during our visit in October. We can vouch personally for the fantastic mixed meat skewers at Caravan Khiva Restaurant.

Views of a minaret from a top floor building

Great views from the top!

6) Mausoleum of Makhmud Pakhlavan (Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex)

This structure was completed in 1701 and is the only blue-domed building in Khiva. The mausoleum is a dedication to the 14th-century warrior and poet, Makhmud Pakhlavan, who, following battle, freed many of his imprisoned countrymen.

Mausoleum of Makhmud Pakhlavan (Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex) at sunset with a minaret in the background

In the foreground, the Mausoleum of Makhmud Pakhlavan viewed at twilight 

7) Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah now known as the Museum of the History of Khiva Khanate

This madrasah was built in 1876 and is one of the largest madrasahs in Central Asia. Each corner on the internal yard corners has a green-domed tower.

One of the must see things to do in Khiva is to view the Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah from the city walls at sunset

The Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah

8) Old Khiva Graveyards

These interesting old Khiva graveyards can be found in a few locations around the old city:

  1.  In the south-western corner of Itchan Kala right by the wall are a series of graves currently undergoing renovation.
  2. At the back of the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex lie some renovated graves lying clustering together.

If you look carefully you can sometimes see old graves marked with flagged sticks which is a symbol of good luck.

Earthen brick tombs inside a city wall

Earthen brick tombstones 

Grave along a street

Street grave site

Earthen graves behind a green domed mausoleum

Graves behind the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex

9) The Weird and Not So Wonderful

If you are looking for something different and a somewhat weird thing to see in Khiva, then check out the Nature Museum. There are some strange objects on display here but specifically, look for the co-joined twins’ display. I won’t say anything more on this but it’s more than a bit confronting!

10) Take a Day Trip from Khiva to the Aral Sea Ship Cemetery

Murad (the owner) at Islambek Travel offers comprehensive travel packages from Khiva. I chose the day trip from Khiva to the Aral Sea Ship Cemetery. The trip was priced right for the budget-conscious traveller and included are a variety of different things to see along the way. You can find Islambek Travel right by the Islambek Hotel within Itchan Kala, Khiva.

Helpful Information for Your Visit to Khiva

Where To Eat inside Khiva, Itchan Kala  

Caravan Khiva Restaurant – mentioned above. This place opens for lunch and dinner and has really tasty food and plenty of variety on the menu.

Where To Eat Outside Khiva, Itchan Kala

Just outside the western gate is an authentic restaurant called ‘Rustamboy –Choyzonasi’. It was popular with the locals and came with local pricing. We enjoyed a tasty Uzbek Lagman soup consisting of vegetables, pasta and meat with bread.

Where we Stayed: Inside Khiva’s Old City

We booked into the Family Guest House – Khiva Azim Ota which offered a traditional Uzbek breakfast. The establishment was ideally located within the old city walls and had reliable, fast Wifi. You can find more deals on Khiva Accommodation here:

Credit Card Use and Exchanging Foreign Currency

1) Credit Card Use

Many of the ATMs within Itchan Kala accept MasterCard only. We were told of an ATM machine accepting visa card at the Hotel Asia Khiva just outside the southern gate, however this machine was out of service. Finally, we hit the jackpot, the NBU – Milliy Bank (National Bank Of Uzbekistan) which allowed us to use our Visa card for cash withdrawal and to also exchange foreign currency for local SOM currency.

To find the bank, refer to the Things to See in Khiva Map earlier in this article or for a quick heads up, walk about 500m north-west of the northern gate.  The bank is opposite the Hotel Bek Khiva.

Old Uzbek local counting his local money in Khiva

Old Uzbek local counting his cash

2) Exchanging Foreign Currency

There is an option to use the portable cash machine at the currency ‘Exchange Office’ which is at a building on the right side jsut as you enter the western gate, Unfortunately, the assistant could not get the ATM card machine to connect. We did see other tourists attempting to exchange foreign currency but let me warn you upfront, the notes MUST be in perfect condition otherwise they will not be accepted. We saw near-perfect euro notes rejected on a claim they looked dirty!

Useful Khiva Travel Planning Resources (inc. Special Offers)

 

Book Your Accommodation

We use Booking.com as we can find a variety of cheap and budget accommodation such as local guesthouses and cheap hotels.

We also use Airbnb – Get up to €34 credit for your first Airbnb stay when you use our Airbnb link 

Travel Gear and Accessories

We’ve been on the road for almost three years now and have added useful items to  our Lifejourney4two page on Amazon  

Car Hire

We use  Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals.

Things to do in Khiva Round-Up

Khiva’s Itchan Kala is a city of modern-day museums, markets and attractions. We found it hard to get a real feel for the place by day. Definitely our recommendation is to wander the streets in the early morning (ie. sunrise) before any of the local markets set up. Then, you can feel the true essence of old Khiva.

Early morning in Khiva

Market-free Khiva boulevards

Of an evening, walk the old city walls when a certain calm descends, allowing the city to fall back to the pace of a lost time. It was definitely a highlight for us. Rising above the hustle and bustle of the streets gives you the opportunity to admire the grandiose madrasahs and minarets of Khiva.

Khiva's old earthen city walls

Khiva’s old earthen city walls

Khiva was a place of contrast, by day a bustling tourist hive and by evening, an ancient city lapsing into the quiet that it has known for centuries past.

We’ve shared some of our best things to do in Khiva but as we all have different tastes, there are things we probably haven’t included. Please feel free to let us know what you found interesting, and your own thoughts on Khiva.

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