An Epic Uzbekistan Itinerary
Uzbekistan offers the modern-day traveller a journey back to a time when what we now see as small Uzbek cities, were once the major trade centres on the lucrative Silk Road. This Uzbekistan itinerary will take you on a journey through time.
Beautiful tiled mosaics of a madrasah and minaret in Uzbekistan
Images of harsh desert landscapes, earthen fortifications, camel trains, fierce warriors and monuments heralding the glory of Islam are brought back to life. Uzbekistan still holds onto the vestiges of this glorious past.
It’s main ancient cities, Samarkand, Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva, all reflect glorious eras of days long gone but are now intertwined with their own unique flavours of the modern age. This epic Uzbekistan itinerary takes you on a 14-day journey exploring these mystical famed cities of old.
We have written a separate detailed article, Practical Uzbekistan Travel Tips and Guide, which walks you through the preparation for a trip to Uzbekistan. It includes train bookings and other details on what to expect once you are in the country including essential information on credit card use, currency exchange, sim cards, travel safety and heaps more.
A cup of tea – Uzbek Style!
Uzbekistan Itinerary Overview
This Uzbekistan itinerary is easily adjusted from 1 week up to 3 weeks of travel. We have included additional attraction options that you can choose from. In total, we spent 2 weeks traversing Uzbekistan by train which made for the most relaxing and stress-free travel. Here is our itinerary which proved to work perfectly well giving us enough time at each place without the feeling of having to rush:
Stop 1 – Tashkent 1-day visit
Stop 2 – Samarkand 3-day visit (Tashkent to Samarkand = 300 kilometres)
Stop 3 – Bukhara 3-day visit (Samarkand to Bukhara = 280 kilometres)
Stop 4– Khiva 3-day visit (Bukhara to Khiva = 450 kilometres
Stop 5 – Khiva to Muynak and the Aral Sea ship cemetery 1-day visit (Khiva to Muynak = 380 kilometres (one-way)
Stop 6 – Urgench 1-day visit (Khiva to Urgench = 32 kilometres) Urgench to Tashkent flight = 2-hours via Bukhara)
Uzbekistan Itinerary Map
Uzbekistan Itinerary Video
Below is our video capturing the essence of our Uzbekistan trip which includes visits to Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva including a day trip to the Aral Sea ship cemetery.
Best Attractions on this Epic Uzbekistan Itinerary
Stop 1 – Tashkent
The Tashkent Metro is an underground rapid transit train system that began construction in 1966 following an earthquake. The Metro was not only designed to be earthquake-proof but to double as nuclear bunkers back when Uzbekistan was under Soviet rule. The underground stations are resplendent with stunning and individually styled decor made from metal, marble, granite, alabaster and glass designed by the artists and architects of Uzbekistan. Each station has its own particular theme.
Tashkent’s underground metro stations are a must-see attraction!
Jump off at Amir Temur Hiyoboni metro station and you will have quick and easy access to the Uzbekistan Hotel, just a few hundred metres away. This hotel exemplifies the typical Soviet 1970’s modernist architectural style and boasts 243 rooms on 16 floors. It’s definitely worth a visit!
Hotel Uzbekistan’s external facade is maze-like
Other Tashkent Options You May Like
1) Chorsu Bazaar – a traditional marketplace of bread, spices, fruit and vegetables. The closest Metro stop to here is easy to remember – Chorsu, on the blue ‘Uzbekistan’ line. It’s a short 750m walk to arrive at the bazaar.
2) Plov Centre or also known as the Central Asian Plov Centre – this restaurant serves up Plov, an Uzbek traditional lunchtime dish of rice and meat, cooked in huge cauldrons. The closest Metro stop is Habib Abdullayev which is about 650m from the restaurant.
3) Museums – there are plenty to choose from: the State Museum of History tracing Uzbekistan’s history; the State Museum of Art with several thousand pieces of art being the largest collection in Uzbekistan; the Amir Timur Museum dedicated to the Mongol warlord Amir Timur housing antiquities relating to his life; the Museum of Applied Art showcasing Uzbek carpets, ceramics, textiles and handicrafts; the Tashkent Museum of Railway Technics displaying diesel and steam locomotives and other train equipment.
Train Trip: Tashkent to Samarkand
We’ve given a bit of a rundown on what to expect when you are at the train station. Arriving at the Tashkent’s main train station, South Railway Terminal, we presented our passports and tickets (also hard copies of your train tickets on hand) and passed our bags through X-ray machines. Our passports and tickets were checked a second time and we were then directed onto the train departure platform. The platform signs as expected were in Cyrillic but just ask around and you’ll be pointed the correct platform. It was a fuss-free experience.
Uzbek trains are the best stress-free means of transport
Stop 2 – Samarkand
Samarkand is thought to date back to the 8th century BC and in that time, has had its share of foreign rulers. This is evident in the mix of architectural styles seen on buildings and monuments. This city showcases its history with aplomb. In 2001, Samarkand was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Here’s our list of must-see places in Samarkand:
Consisting of three madrassahs (ancient universities): Ulughbek, Sherdor and Tilla-Kori, these huge structures date back to the 15th century. The madrasahs frame a central square in the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand. Each madrassah opens onto its own internal courtyard.
Tip: at sunset, there is a period of about 20 minutes where the Madrassah is illuminated just by the warm suns rays before the buildings are illuminated. Just perfect for photos from the tiered seating area overlooking the entrance. Every few nights, there is a laser light and sound show projected onto the Madrassahs.
The 3 huge madrasahs of Registan square – what feats of workmanship!
Bibi Khanym Mosque and Bibi Khanym Mausoleum
This was one of the largest mosques in the world during the early 15th century. Opposite is an unobtrusive and rather plain mausoleum containing five tombs, one of which is believed to be the mother (Sarai Mulk-Khanym), of the wife of the famous Uzbek ruler, Amir Timur.
Tucked behind Bibi Khanym, and Samarkand’s largest market, is Siab Bazaar. This marketplace sells food, vegetables and all sorts of homewares. It’s pretty busy in the mornings but by lunchtime, the local crowd has pretty much disappeared.
Shah-i-Zinda Complex and Shah-i-Zinda Cemetery
The Shah-i-Zinda Complex consists of more than twenty richly appointed mausoleums of the nobility, dating back to the 12th century. The mausoleums are packed closely together and tower over the small streets about them.
Tip: The most interesting access to the Shah-i-Zinda Complex, is via an interesting walk through the Shah-i-Zinda Cemetery bordering the Shah-i-Zinda Complex. Access is close to the Hazrati Hizr Mosque. The cemetery main thoroughfare is a display of modern wealth with its amazing array of ornate marble and granite headstones and graves.
These resplendent mausoleums are a tight fit which accentuate their magnificence
Amir Temur Mausoleum
This mausoleum is the burial place of Amir Timur, a conqueror of many lands, his two sons and two grandsons along with his spiritual mentor. Amir’s coffin is covered by a single piece of black jade.
Amir Temur Statue
Crossing into University Boulevard, a mere 200m away, you can see a giant-sized effigy of a seated Amir Temur. It’s a busy roundabout but if you time it right with the traffic lights you’ll be able to cross over.
Tip: you can get some great photos of Amir Temur from Hamid Alimjan Park right opposite without risking life and limb by trying to cross the road.
Other Options You May Like:
1) Hazrati Hizr Mosque – this 17th century mosque was renovated in the 1990’s and is quite new looking. You are not allowed to take photos inside this mosque.
2) Tilla Kari Park – just behind Registan Square, offers some interesting and different perspectives of Registan Square.
Train Trip Samarkand to Bukhara
The journey from Samarkand to Bukhara was a 2.5-hour train ride. The same security checks precede entry to the train platform. Travelling in economy class was easily as comfortable as the Tashkent-Samarkand business class section. The carriage is open-styled with two seats on each side of the aisle. You are able to order food and drinks from the vendor who walks down the aisle.
Modern trains also service this popular tourist route
Stop 3 – Bukhara
Bukhara is known as a museum town with over 140 ancient monuments dating back more than 2000 years. The old city was another important trading post on the lucrative Silk Road route. Bukhara’s old city was classified as a UNESCO world heritage listed site in 1993.
This tiny madrasah has 4 little blue-domed minarets and an open courtyard around it. Inside, there’s a small Uzbek stall selling traditional wares.
Tip: If you like old war memorabilia, then opposite Chor minor was a small market selling all kinds of old war memorabilia including old original military medals and uniforms. It was the only one we saw during our two weeks in Uzbekistan.
The distinctive 4 blue-domed towers of Chor Minor
Close by the market we spied a caged ‘partridge’ which is the national bird of Uzbekistan. Speaking to a one of the locals, he told us it was good luck for households to have this caged bird and that most households did. We also asked about singing birds that we had seen that were kept in cages with a cover over them at restaurants and businesses. He told us that this musical bird was a ‘quail’ and keeping them covered prompted them to sing! We wondered if instead, it was a cry for freedom.
Lyabi Hauz Pool
This old stone pool used to be a meeting place in past times where people drank water, washed and talked. Nowadays, many have been filled due to problems with water-borne diseases. However, the Lyabi Haus pool remains and to this day, is still a popular place where you can find alfresco dining and a place to relax from the days travelling.
Tip: head here for a late evening drink or dinner as every couple of days you’ll be able to watch and listen to some traditional music
Madrasah Nadir Devon Begi and Hodja Nasruddin
Nearby the Lyabi Hauz pond is the Nadir Devon Begi Madrasah. The courtyard within has the typical stalls selling Uzbek wares, but you’ll also find metalworkers gently working the metal with their hammer and chisel.
Right outside the madrasah, a statue of Hodja Nasruddin, an ancient philosopher known along the Silk Road for his wisdom and wit, gestures with his hands. It is said that those who rub the statue will have good luck – Hodja was probably laughing to himself at the thought.
Just north and over the road lies the Madrasah Kukeldash. It does not look much different from other madrassahs but inside is a family-owned business selling and teaching Suzanne embroidery, many adorned with the good luck fruit, the pomegranate.
Kalon Minaret, Poi Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrasah
These three attractions are all close together. We recommend visiting the adjoining Kalyan Mosque first, which you must depart just prior to sunset, as it still operates as a mosque.
Poi Kalyon Mosque, built in the 16th century, has a huge inner courtyard built with a series of 208 columns and 288 domes with a solitary mulberry tree. The beautiful 12th-century Kalon minaret towers over the old city. This 45m high landmark is great to orient yourself during walks. Opposite to the mosque entrance is the beautiful facade of Miri-Arab Madrasah.
Poi Kalyan mosque’s huge open courtyard
Illuminated Kalyon minaret at sunset
Approximately two kilometres west of the Lyabi Hauz pool, in Samani Park, lies the Samanid Mausoleum. This 10th-century small medieval crypt is Bukhara’s oldest Muslim monument and displays an amazing example of patterned, symmetrical brick construction.
Bolo Haouz Mosque
From the Samanid Mausoleum and before reaching The Ark, a slight detour will have you passing a really colourful 18th-century Bolo Haouz Mosque. This wooden mosque has 20 wooden columns supporting a painted wooden roof.
This massive citadel dates back to the 4th-century. The thick earthen walls tower above the ground at heights of 16m to 20m. Entrance is through the massive portal by an inclined walkway. Inside you’ll find that the old rooms, stables and stores now form separate museums with just a few artefacts.
The Ark fortress with one of its ‘locals’
House Museum XIXth Century
We thought we would check out this museum. Save your money instead! This two-storey dilapidated dwelling is filled with an eclectic mix of junk. We were told of the great views from the rooftop – we were there at sunset and the views were disappointing. But if you can’t make your mind up then just take a peek from the doorway and see if it’s for you.
Train Trip Bukhara to Khiva
Before reaching Khiva, the train stops in Urgench for about 10 minutes. Total train travel time was 4 hours. We tried Business Class with the super comfortable leather upholstered seats. The price was not exorbitant.
A taxi from Khiva train station to Khiva’s Itchan Kala (walled fortress) took approximately 15 minutes.
Stop 4 – Khiva
Khiva is Uzbekistan’s northernmost city on the ancient Silk Road route. Its inner city is a lot smaller than that of the other cities mentioned here but it still offers many attractions. It must be said though, that during our visit in October 2019, many of the museums had part-filled shelves on display.
Pedestrian access to the impressive earthen walls around Khiva’s old city
Here are our top picks of Khiva’s old city:
With its 218 wooden columns supporting a huge roof, this indoor area is huge even boasting its own small garden areas within.
This eye-catching 29m high minaret has a 15m diameter base and is covered with blue glazed tiles.
Kalta Minor after sunset
This minaret towers to a height of 57m and was built in the early 20th century so by no means an ancient building.
Tosh Hovli Palace
This palace is quite interesting with its many rooms of artefacts including pillars, wheels, water wheels. One of the internal courtyards even had a yurt (albeit modern age) but it was good to see how these were fashioned.
Exquisite tiled mosaics and wood ceilings of the Tosh Hovli Palace
You can see some of the original ancient graves in the south-western corner of the old city but many of these are currently undergoing renovation. Keep an out when walking the inner city has a grave will sometimes be marked with a small post with flags which is a symbol of good fortune ahead. Walking the outside walls will also reveal graves embedded in the structure.
Sunset Walk of the Old City Walls
Definitely don’t miss this! A set of stairs beside the northern gate give access to the 6 to 8m high earthen city walls. Walking as far as you can along the western wall at sunset will give spectacular views of the minarets and Muhammad Rahim-Khan Madrasah.
Tip: This is a great spot for some magical photos over Khiva Itchan Kala at sunset.
Khiva’s old city at Sunset
Stop 5 – Day Trip to Muynak and the Aral Sea ship cemetery
This Islambek Travel 1-day trip (Daytrip to Muynak Ship Cemetery) also includes visits to Chilpik Kala (an ancient earthen tower), Nukus Art Museum, Mizdakhan (a huge cemetery with mausoleums), Muynak Museum and the nearby Aral Sea ship cemetery as well as the Badai Tugai Natural Reserve.
Tip: This has recently been offered as a 2-day trip which is preferable as you really need all this time to fit in the attractions comfortably. Plus you are looking at approximately 800 kilometres of driving in total for the trip.
Here are the attractions from the trip:
Chilpyk is a round, roofless earthen tower, 15 meters high and 65 meters in diameter, built at the top of a rounded natural hill, 43 km from Nukus. There are great views of the surrounding landscape and nearby Amu Darya river.
Chilpipk Kala is a real stand-out in the flat desert terrain
Nukus Art Museum
This museum has roughly 50,000 pieces of Avante-Garde Russian artwork plus other museum pieces from Asia and the Middle East.
This huge cemetery dating back to the 4th century in the town of Khodjeyli, consists of distinctive grave-sites and mausoleums. Inside the cemetery is the underground mausoleum of Muzlum-Khan-Sulu, the small hillock of Jumart Qassap which as a praying place, the mausoleums of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan and Shamun-nabi with its 25m long tomb.
Mizdakhan is much more than a cemetery – this underground mausoleum is dazzling
This museum on the edge of the old Aral Sea has photos and memorabilia from the early 20th century back when the Aral Sea held the title of the fourth-largest inland body of water. It used to host a flourishing fishing industry before its waters were pillaged for the irrigation of cotton – one of the worst ecological disasters of the 20th century.
Aral Sea Ship Cemetery
Standing on edge of the original coastline brings into view some old fishing vessels pointing out to what was, the Aral Sea of old where waters used to gently lap the now rusted hulls. It is now a desolate, sandy terrain punctuated by scrubby trees.
The Aral Ship Cemetery – definitely worth the trip here!
Stop 6 – Urgench
Taxi Ride: Khiva to Urgench
We could have opted to backtrack all the way to Tashkent by train but we decided instead on the 2-hour flight from Urgench via Bukhara to Tashkent. Grabbing a taxi in Khiva, the journey was just an hour to Urgench, leaving us time to explore a little of the city. The city had its fair share of 20th-century monuments and generally, we liked the feel of the place.
Urgench left us with a nice impression of the city
Uzbekistan Itinerary Round-Up
This epic Uzbekistan itinerary could easily be adjusted to fit a longer travel period although we wouldn’t recommend shortening this itinerary if you were considering seeing most of these attractions already mentioned. We didn’t visit the Fergana Valley in the east of the country due to heightened security issues.
If you find other places of interest that should be included then please leave a comment below. We hope you enjoy Uzbekistan as much as we did!
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