Is Khiva Worth Visiting? A Traveller’s Perspective

Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links. If you buy something through them, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It's one of the ways we keep bringing you free content. Learn more in our Disclosure Policy.

Disclosure image

Is Khiva worth visiting?

The ancient city of Khiva, Uzbekistan, situated along the ancient Silk Roads not far from its sister cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara, has Central Asia’s largest remaining preserved walled city, Itchan Kala.

This sets it apart from other sites in this amazing country. In 1990, Itchan Kala was internationally recognised and added to the UNESCO World Heritage Listings.

Itchan Kala’s massive earthen walls ©Lifejourney4two

The circumference of Itchan Kala’s walls is approximately 2200 meters, with a height of 7 to 8 meters and a foundation thickness of 5 to 6 meters. That’s massive. Still thinking if Khiva is worth visiting?

Khiva is divided into two distinct parts: the area within the inner walled, historical Itchan Kala, meaning ‘within the wall’ and the modern area outside the walled city called Dichon-Qala, meaning ‘outside the wall’.

The majority of Khiva’s population lives outside the walls.

Interior of Itchan Kala's earthen walls
Inside look at Itchan Kala’s earthen walls ©Lifejourney4two

If you’ve made it to Samarkand, then Khiva is the next natural stop following the ancient Silk Road route. Today, travel is a lot easier with trains and planes connecting Khiva regularly with other Uzbek cities.

We travelled by fast train from Samarkand, with the journey taking 5.5 hours. It’s certainly a relaxed, safe and inexpensive way to travel.

Based on our two-week travel through Uzbekistan, we want to show why the answer to whether Khiva is worth visiting is a resounding yes.

Itchan-Kala-at-night, Khiva
Itchan Kala views at night ©Lifejourney4two

Having visited the other Uzbek historical cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent, Khiva offers an experience that can’t be compared to these other cities.

In this article, we share our must-visit attractions, practical tips and personal insights, ensuring your time and money is well spent in Khiva.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Uzbekistan Travel Tips and Guide

If it all seems much to organise, why not join a relaxing and fun Khiva City Tour? The one below has top 5 out of 5-star reviews and comes with a great price.


🏆 BEST Khiva City Tour
⭐️ I recommend this 5 to 7-hour Khiva tour ⭐️

| 5/5 Star Reviews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ |

(Entrance fees and lunch included, tour offered in English, air-conditioned vehicle, pickup available).

Itchan Kala silhouette, Khiva
Itchan Kala silhouette, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

Reasons to Visit Khiva in a Nutshell 🥜

The main reason to visit Khiva is to see the walled city of Ichan Kala, the largest in Central Asia, and its myriad number of historical buildings.

Walking the city walls near sunset, gazing at the majestic mosques and madrassahs while listening to the calls to prayer recreate centuries-old traditions that transport you back in time.

We’ve visited all these places and can recommend them to you and include detailed information and visitor tips further in this article.

Khiva historical city
Khiva’s Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan?

Map of Things to Do in Khiva

Itchan Kala mosaics and old artefacts, Khiva
Itchan Kala mosaics and old artefacts ©Lifejourney4two

Getting to Khiva: the Stress-Free Way

The two easiest options to get to Khiva are by train and plane. A third option is using road transport, but this is not recommended in this article due to the state of the roads.

To Khiva by Train

Train From Samarkand

We used the train from Samarkand to Khiva on business class tickets on Uzbekistan Railways. The carriages were spotless, with seats providing plenty of legroom, and you could purchase food and drink on the train.

To book your own train tickets online, use the Uzbekistan Railways website, but be aware that tickets only start to go on sale 45 days prior to the departure date. Seats book out fast.

Train at Urgench near Khiva
Uzbekistan Railways is a pleasure to travel with ©Lifejourney4two

Alternatively, you can take a chance and try to purchase a ticket at the train station, but you’ll need to be in the country for this one.

Finally, if you prefer an agency to step in and do the whole purchase on your behalf (this is what we did as the Uzbekistan railway website was down), we can’t fault Advantour. They’re efficient and really easy to deal with.

The daily train timetable for Samarkand ➜ Urgench is below:

  • Samarkand departure 01:07 a.m. with arrival time 10:55 a.m., or
  • Samarkand departure 09:08 p.m. with arrival time 07:10 a.m.

Train From Tashkent

The daily train timetable for Samarkand ➜ Urgench is below:

  • Tashkent departure 03:39 p.m. with arrival time 06:13 a.m., or
  • Samarkand departure 09:00 p.m. with arrival time 10:10 a.m.
Uzbekistan Airways Boeing
Uzbekistan Airways Boeing 757 – flying with them was great ©Lifejourney4two

To Khiva/Urgench by Plane

Fly to Urgench

There is no airport at Khiva, with the closest being Urgench, located 40 kilometres from Khiva and is easily reached by taxi. Fly direct from Tashkent to Urgench in 1hr 30mins or from Samarkand to Urgench in 3.5 hours.

We use and recommend Skyscanner to find cheap flights

Itchan Kala: Entrance Ticket and Ticket Options

Most of the things to do in Khiva are in the old city, Itchan Kala. You will need a ticket to enter Itchan Kala for access to the historical attractions and museums.

There are three types of tickets for purchase depending on what things you’d like to see:

Economy ticket: 50,000 SOM per person (approx. USD$4.00) allows you to walk the city without museum entry.

Standard ticket: 100,000 SOM per person (we chose this option; approx. USD$8.00) allows you to walk the city and enter all museums/mosques.

Deluxe ticket:150,000 SOM (approx. USD$12.00) gives you entry to Itchan Kala, including all museums, mosques and three minarets.

The west gate of Itchan Kala is the main entrance, and it’s here you can buy the different types of tickets mentioned above for 24/7 access to this walled city. All tickets are valid for 48 hours.

Western gate into Itchan Kala, Khiva
Western gate into Itchan Kala, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

Just note that the historical attractions inside Itchan Kala are open only between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. This includes the minarets, mosques, and museums.

Turnstile access at the Western gate into Itchan Kala, Khiva
Turnstile access at the Western gate into Itchan Kala, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

If you have questions, you can ask the people at the ticket office or the Tourist Police, whose job it is to assist tourists. Turnstiles were only in place at the western gate, but there are plans to install turnstiles and ticketing offices at the other three (north, south and east) gates.

Alternative Access into Itchan Kala

We did notice that locals used 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 and were told no.

The police said this unpatrolled access would always remain open and free as locals working inside the walls needed to return home. Although you may enter the city from this point, you will not have access to any of the attractions without a ticket.

We chose to pay the entry fee at the western gate, knowing it would help support the local economy. 

Alternative western side entry to Itchan Kala, Khiva
Free entrance point near Khiva’s western gate ©Lifejourney4two

Itchan Kala – First Impressions

Itchan Kala, the walled old city, is the historical heart of Khiva. It’s a mix of modern-day museums and historical attractions, with markets dominating each of the streets.

During the day, finding a scene without some sort of market in view is challenging. However, we found that the way to see Khiva at its best was to arrive very early in the morning before the traders arrived to set up their stalls.

Markets crowding Itchan Kala's streets, Khiva
Markets crowding Itchan Kala’s streets, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

During these early, quiet hours, you’ll have the opportunity to see and feel the true essence of Khiva. You can nearly hear the city breathe. Another bonus is that you’ll dodge the bigger tour groups that wander en masse throughout the day.

If early mornings are not your thing, then wait until sundown. All but a few insistent traders hang about for the late sale, with the majority having called it quits by then.

streets free of people in a bricked buildings
Early morning in Itchan Kala, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two
streets free of people in a bricked buildings
Market-free Itchan Kala streets ©Lifejourney4two

We didn’t initially warm to Khiva. When we initiated a greeting to the local merchants, a hello and a smile, it often was not reciprocated. This was in contrast to the retailers in the other Uzbekistan cities we’d visited.

The local merchants inside Itchan Kala didn’t seem particularly happy.

We stopped by the local Tourist Information Centre and were told that many locals were under stress because of unmanageable loan repayments. The government had encouraged stallholders to take up small business loans and for locals to turn their homes into BnBs to cash in on an expected surge in tourism.

Unfortunately, this tourism boom did not eventuate, leaving stall owners with unwanted debt. On top, we saw many stalls in competition trying to sell the same type of traditional fur hats and colourful local Uzbek dolls.

We could really empathise with their stressful situation.

A lot of markets within Itchan Kala
Plenty of competing markets inside Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two
Dolls at Itchan Kala’s markets
autumn hats for sale in Itchan Kala, Khiva
Fur hats for sale at Itchan Kala’s autumn markets, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

READ MORE: The Ultimate Uzbekistan Travel Tips and Guide

Top 11 Things to Do in Khiva

Our time in Khiva was spent exploring the old city, Itchan Kala, which is the main drawcard. I also used Khiva as a launch point, joining a day trip to the Aral Sea ship cemetery.

Each ancient Uzbek city we visited along the old Silk Road intrigued us. Each place was subtly different to the next. And now, having arrived at Khiva, we could begin to unlock her secrets.

Here are our recommendations for things to do and what to visit in Khiva.

Minaret inside Itchan Kala
A quiet avenue inside Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two
Night time stroll through Itchan Kala
A more authentic feel to Khiva is had in the evenings when crowds and markets have all but disappeared ©Lifejourney4two

1. Juma Mosque

Sometimes spelt as Djuma Mosque and also known as the Friday Mosque. Its 215 carved wooden black elm columns hold a flat roof above a rectangular prayer hall measuring 46m x 55m.

Duma Mosque and timber supports, Khiva
Duma Mosque with timber supports, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Although this mosque was built in the late 18th century, some of its pillars date back to the 10th century. A 33m high minaret joins the mosque and can be climbed.

Interestingly, the Juma Mosque has a series of small gardens within, giving the hall a calm and welcoming feel. We were fortunate to see two locals in traditional dress who kindly agreed to a photo.

Portrait in Duma Mosque of locals in traditional dress
Local Uzbek couple wearing traditional clothing inside Duma mosque ©Lifejourney4two

2. Tash-Khovli Palace

The Tash-Khovli Palace, also called the Stone Palace, earned its nickname from the hard stone bricks that were used in its construction. Allah Kuli Khan, Khiva’s ruler from 1825-1840, commissioned the palace in 1831 and demanded it be built within two years. However, it took until 1838 to finally complete work on this palace.

The palace has more than 150 rooms off nine courtyards and is richly decorated with ceramic tiles, carved wood, stone and finely painted ceilings.

bed-chamber in Tash-Khovli Palace, Khiva
Sumptuous bed chamber in Tash Khovli Palace ©Lifejourney4two
Richly adorned ceiling at Tash Khovli Palace ©Lifejourney4two

During our visit, we saw a yurt pitched on a circular platform in the internal eastern courtyards, which, in olden times, would have been the abode of a visiting clan leader (Turkmen, Uzbek or Kazakh) waiting for an audience or royal feast.

Yurt inside the Tash Khovli courtyard, Itchan Kala
Yurt inside the Tash Khovli courtyard, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two
Tash Khovli courtyard structure, Itchan Kala
Beautiful coloured walls and roof of Tash-Khovli palace ©Lifejourney4two

3. Kalta Minor Minaret

‘Minaret Kalta Minor’ translated means ‘short minaret’ and is one of the most iconic landmarks within Itchan Kala. Kalta Minor minaret is 29m high; however, this fell far short of its original planned height of 70-80m.

Alta Minor by day ©Lifejourney4two

It is thought that construction may have stopped due to the death of Khiva’s ruler, Muhammad Amin Khan, who ruled between 1845 and 1855. Another theory is the tall minaret would have allowed a view from the top into the ruler’s harem, so caused construction to cease.

Alta Minor by night
Alta Minor by night ©Lifejourney4two

Enjoy it day and night, as it’s certainly one of Khiva’s beautiful historic structures. It certainly commands a presence as you walk towards it through the western gate.

4. Kuhna Ark

The Kuhna Ark was the residence and fortress of the khan. It is found inside the western gate and on your left as you enter. The residence houses the barracks, harem, mosque and jail.

Probably the highlight of our visit to Kuhna Ark is casting your eyes around the throne room, which has exquisite patterns and colours befitting a mighty khan.

Throne room in Kuhna Ark, Itchlan Kala
The throne room in Kuhna Ark ©Lifejourney4two
Kuhna Ark, Itchan Kala
Kuhna Ark, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

5. Sunset Views From the City Walls

The best views over Itchan Kala are had when standing on the old earthen walls near Kunya Ark citadel, not far from the western gate. To reach this location on the walls, you’ll need to walk to the northern gate and look close to find a series of steps leading up to the top.

Stairs to Itchan Kala's walls, Khiva
Stairs to Itchan Kala’s walls, Khiva ©Lifejourney4two
Steps up to Itchan Kala's walls
Shelley strikes a pose on the stairs up to the wall, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Once on top, walk the wall to the west and then south. Walk as far as you can until you reach a dead-end, placing you at the Kunya Ark Citadel.

It’s here you’ll have spectacular views overlooking this historic old city, with views of:

  • Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah
  • Juma minaret
  • Islam Hoja minaret.
Itchan-Kala-at-night, Khiva
Juma Minaret (L), Muhammad Rakhimkhan Madrassah (C), Islam Hoja minaret (R) ©Lifejourney4two

Backtrack your steps to descend the wall. At the time of our visit, it was free to walk the walls, although we were told that there were plans to install turnstiles for paid access.

Things to do in Khiva - Sunset views from the old city walls of a minaret silhouetted against an orange sky
Captivating sunsets from the Khiva’s Itchan Kala’s walls ©Lifejourney4two

Evening walks of the old city walls are one of the best things to do in Khiva. The last of the orange sunset rays illuminate the minarets, mosques and madrasahs. Yes, it’s a sight you’d never grow tired of. It was definitely a highlight for us.

Moon over Itchan Kala, Khiva
Moon over Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

6. Rooftop Views at the Caravan Khiva Restaurant and Dinner

Caravan Khiva is a three-storey restaurant in Itchan Kala that offers fabulous views of the cityscape from its open-air top floor. It is located close to the southern gate. The owners are super-friendly.

Caravan Khiva restaurant, Itchan Kala
Caravan Khiva restaurant commands great views ©Lifejourney4two

Bring your camera and a jacket, as it can get pretty cold once the wind blows, especially during our visit in October. We can personally vouch for the fantastic mixed meat skewers here.

7. Pahlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum

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 Pahlavan, famous for his battlefield exploits.

Makhmud’s Persian poetry is scribed on the glazed tiles throughout the Pahlavan Mahmud complex.

It became a precedent of the ruling Khans from the mid-19th century to have their own funerary chambers forming annexes to the blue-domed building.

Pakhlavan Mahmud Mausoleum / Complex, Itchan Kala
In the foreground, the domed Pahlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum ©Lifejourney4two

8. Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa

Construction on the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa was started in 1871 and completed in 1876. It is one of the largest madrasas in Central Asia. Each corner of the internal yard corners is dominated by a green-domed tower.

Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa is located opposite Kuhna Ark. This madrasa has a museum dedicated to Khan’s of Khiva and to Mohammed Rakhim Khan.

Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa, Itchan Kala
Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Back in 1873, Russia had conquered Khiva, making the Khan a vassal to the ruling Tsar. As the madrasa was under construction at that time, the Khan wisely chose to allow both traditional Islamic studies and non-religious studies such as mathematics, astronomy and geography.

Clever and unusual.

9. Old Graveyards

Some interesting old graveyards can be found in a few locations close by and inside Itchan Kala’s walls (see map for specific locations):

  1.  A series of renovated graves are in the southwestern corner of Itchan Kala, right by the wall.
  2. Some renovated graves lie clustered at the back of the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex.

If you look carefully, you may see old graves marked with flagged sticks. This symbolises good luck.

graves inside itchan Kala's walls
Graves inside Itchan Kala’s walls ©Lifejourney4two
Street side graveyard, Itchan Kala
Street side graveyard, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two
Graves behind the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, Itchan Kala
Graves behind the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

10. Museum of Madrassa’s History

There are quite a few museums to visit within Itchan Kala. A few have quite a limited number of exhibitions, but one of the more informative museums is the Museum of Madrassa’s History. This is located in the Sherghazikhan madrasa and opposite the Mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud.

There are old photos, artefacts and traditional dress wear with some good explanations of life in Uzbekistan. The museum is presented well.

Old-Uzbek-dress-pieces, Museum of Madrassa's History
Old Uzbek dress pieces, Museum of Madrassa’s History ©Lifejourney4two
Museum of Madrassa's History
The Museum of Madrassa’s History is quite a large museum ©Lifejourney4two

11. Day Trip from Khiva to the Aral Sea Ship Cemetery

I chose a trip from Khiva to the Aral Sea Ship Cemetery using Islambek Travel. It was fantastic. We had quite a few stops along the way to visit other interesting attractions.

If you are already in Khiva, you can find Islambek Travel right by the Islambek Hotel in Itchan Kala.

READ MORE: Day Trip to Aral Sea Ship Graveyard from Khiva

Aral Sea ship cemetery, Day trip from Khiva ©Lifejourney4two

Where to Eat In Khiva: Inside Itchan Kala

Caravan Khiva Restaurant, close to Pahlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum, was the place we frequented. This establishment opens for lunch and dinner. There’s really tasty food with plenty of variety on the menu.

Caravan Restaurant Itchan Kala
Caravan Restaurant, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Where to Eat In Khiva: Outside Itchan Kala

Just outside the western gate is an authentic restaurant called Rustamboy –Choyzonasi. We asked one of the locals and was directed to this place.

It was popular with the locals and came with local prices. We enjoyed a tasty Uzbek Lagman soup consisting of vegetables, pasta and meat with bread.

Look for the Rustamboy restaurant, just outside-Itchan-Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Where to Stay in Khiva: Within Itchan Kala’s Walls

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 Wi-Fi. You can find more deals on Khiva Accommodation below.

Click Here For Khiva Accommodation Deals

Khiva Azim Ota guest house Khiva
Khiva Azim Ota guest house ©Lifejourney4two

Khiva Tourist Tips

Credit Card Use and Exchanging Foreign Currency in Khiva

Credit Card Use

Many of the ATMs within Itchan Kala accept MasterCard only. Not much help if, like us, you only have Visa cards. After asking around, we were directed to an ATM machine accepting visa cards at the Hotel Asia Khiva, just outside the southern gate. However, when we checked, this machine was out of service.

Finally, we received the right advice. A 15-minute walk northwest of the northern gate to the NBU–Milliy Bank, the National Bank Of Uzbekistan. The bank is opposite the Hotel Bek Khiva.

Milliy Bank, Khiva
Milliy Bank, Uzbekistan’s local bank, Khiva

Here, we could use our Visa card to withdraw cash and exchange foreign currency for local SOM (this location is marked on the map at the start of this article).

2) Exchanging Foreign Currency and Cash Withdrawal inside Itchan Kala

If you need to exchange foreign for local currency, then this can be done within Itchan Kala. As you enter the western gate, look for a building on your right, signed as the ‘Exchange Office’. Here, you can receive SOM, the local Uzbek currency, using either a credit/debit card or by exchanging cash of a major currency (e.g. USD, EU, GBP).

Inconspicuous Exchange Office, Itchan Kala
Inconspicuous Exchange Office, Itchan Kala ©Lifejourney4two

All seems straightforward so far, doesn’t it? Well, not so.

When we tried to withdraw cash against our cards, the assistant could not connect the ATM card machine to a network. We were told that the signal is often intermittent. Option 1 was now scratched.

We joined the queue next to us to exchange our older USD notes; however, other tourists were turned away after presenting notes that were not of exceptional condition. They were being told their notes looked ‘dirty’. Hearing this, we just did an about-face and left the office.

tiled map of Itchan Kala's attractions
A Tiled map of Itchan Kala’s attractions ©Lifejourney4two

Things to Do in Khiva … That’s a Wrap

Khiva is a place of contrast, by day a bustling hive of activity and by evening, an ancient city lapsing into a quiet it has known for centuries. The UNESCO World Heritage sight, Itchan Kala, is the major drawcard with its own atmosphere.

We found we could best connect with Khiva’s essence in the early morning and evenings when the crowds and local markets dispersed from the streets. Itchan Kala’s attractions don’t rival that of Samarkand or Bukhara but nonetheless make for an interesting visit.

The above article clearly demonstrates that Khiva is definitely worth visiting. We’d recommend two days for a visit to Khiva, which will give the majority of tourists ample time to soak in all that Khiva has to offer.

Itchan Kala at sunset
Itchan Kala at sunset ©Lifejourney4two

Pin and save it for Later

Things to do in Khiva Pinterest pin 1



These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Lars, grew up in the Australian countryside and discovered his love for nature early on. Leaving Australia at 20, he began a life of travel and exploration. As a co-owner of Lifejourney4two with Shelley, Lars captures their journeys through his photography. Join him here and see the world through his lens.

Leave a comment

Pin It on Pinterest