Things to do in Uzbekistan

Things to do in Uzbekistan when you visit and travel around

Uzbekistan is perhaps the best known Central Asian state or “Stan” due to its well preserved and famous medieval oasis cities like Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva and even older signs of culture particularly in the ancient Khoresm and Oxus areas. But Uzbekistan has a lot more to offer for the ones who want to explore a bit deeper.

We hope that this guide of Uzbekistan’s highlights will inspire you to travel to Uzbekistan and to explore also the off the beaten path mysteries that are surprisingly easily accessible. We believe that this is the most comprehensive guide on what to do in Uzbekistan!

FIRST THINGS TO DO IN Uzbekistan

Admire the Soviet heritage of Tashkent and be amazed of the pace the city is being modernized

As most tourists start their journey from Tashkent, it is the natural place to start our story from. In 1966 Tashkent was devastated by a massive earthquake and therefore there is not much left of the old Tashkent. As a result of the destruction Soviet Union decided to pour a massive amount of dedication and resources to rebuild the capital of the Uzbek Soviet state. Best examples of the Soviet era architecture are the Tashkent Metro, first one in Central Asia and several museums of Tashkent city center area with the easily recognized Soviet concrete patterns that have been somewhat adapted to the local ornaments. One can also not walk around without noticing the brutal hotel Uzbekistan at the very heart of the monumental center of the city. 

Tashkent is also a good base for exploring the Eastern Uzbekistan and even Kazakhstan as it is just next to the border of another ex Soviet state. From Tashkent there are also good connections to the most known destinations of Uzbekistan such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and not to forget the less known but extremely diverse Fergana valley.

tashkent metro train
tashkent tv tower

If you are staying in Tashkent for a longer time, we suggest to visit the many Tashkent Museums and the well organized bazars of the center area and the Chorsu bazar with the famous colored dome. Tashkent has also several nice parks to spend time in that are very popular among the locals every summer evening. If you are into religious monuments, there are also several of them to be explored and they all are not surprisingly of muslim origin. 

tashkent city park

Karakalpakstan & Aral Sea (Nukus)

Not many know it, but there is a large autonomous area called Karakalpakstan in the Northwestern part of Uzbekistan occupying almost a third of the whole country. They have their own flag and culturally and by appearance also closer to Kazakh than Uzbek or Tajik. Their culture is rich in spoken and sung folklore and their traditional clothing is very colorful especially with vibrant blue and red colors. Karakalpaks (black hats) have been farming and fishing in the Southern parts of the Aral Sea and the Amu Darya delta for hundreds of years now.

In addition to the culture, Karakalpakstan is famous for the even older remains of culture in the area. As desrcibed in more detail below, it has hundreds of ruins of fortresses called kalas and cities from the Khorezm times and even older signs of the Zharaostrianism. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan and serves as a good base to explore the Khorezm and the Southern Aral Sea surrounded by the Kyzylkum and Karakum deserts. That being said, Karakalpakstan is mostly desert and sparsely populated. 

Ruins of Ayaz Kala fortress in Karakalpakstan, Kyzyl Kum desert, with a camel
Aral sea ship graveyard

See the Uzbek village life (e.g. Nanay, Brichmulla, Aktash, Kumsan, Katta Langar or Sairob)

In order to experience the true Uzbek hospitality you should head to one of the many many small Uzbek villages. In the villages you can see a glimpse from the past like people riding with donkeys and cows freely walking back home from the pastures during the sunset. Something that the western world has not seen in decades. When you meet people that are not accustomed to tourists, it is also very likely that you will be invited to have tea or even food in their homes.

A local man riding a donkey in an Uzbek village
Cows walking in Uzbek village

Uzbek villages and particularly those that do not receive masses of tourists, are the best places for authentic souvenirs. The price can be a fraction compared to the prices that are asked in the most touristic places like Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva major sights that are crowded with souvenir traders. 

Uzbek village bazar
Food in Uzbek village bazar

Uzbekistan nature

Uzbek nature is full of surprises in the desert areas, lakes and rivers and in the several mountain ranges that cover especially the eastern parts of Uzbekistan. Western parts of Uzbekistan are covered mostly by deserts except for the irrigated and naturally green areas near the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. You can also find wild animals fairly easily just by driving between the cities and keeping your eyes open. Especially in the Fergana valley you cannot miss the nests of the storks that occupy almost all the highest positions of trees or man made structures.

Tortoise in the Kyzyl Kum desert of Uzbekistan

Spring is the best time to observe Uzbek nature. From April to May everything is blooming and green while later, during the hot summer everything slowly turn to more yellowish color. The season for sweet fruits starts in Augusts and lasts all September. Pomegranates and peaches are the must try things if visiting Uzbekistan in the late summer or early autumn. Uzbek villages are the best places to try the fruits and vegetables straight from the origin and to also see the nature around them.

Large desert flower in Kyzyl Kum desert in Uzbekistan
Stork nests in Uzbekistan Fergana valley

Uzbekistan has also lots of large sized birds that one can spot circling around in the sky now and then. Like in the neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, there are eagles but also many vultures that prey on the dead animals in the desert regions. Uzbek nature is therefore very diverse due to many different habitats.

Vulture flying in Uzbekistan
Aydakul lake in Uzbekistan

Khorezm desert fortresses

The desert fortresses of Khorezm or Kalas as the locals call them are something that can have ones imagination go wild. It is so strange to walk on top of two thousand year old clay brick made fortresses and to imagine how has the life been inside them during the time when they were populated. Khorezm area in the Western Uzbekistan has hundreds of these fortresses and most of them have not yet been excavated. There are few though that are well established and provide also some information for the visitors. These include for example the most well known Ayaz Kala, which is a three fortress complex and Gyaur kala not far from Nukus.

Ayaz Kala fortress in ancient Khorezm
Inside toprak kala ruins

The extensive network of fortresses between Aral Sea and Amu Darya was built so that the inhabitants could be protected from marauders roaming in the area and of course for the wars that were rather common during the time. Different forts used desert “lighthouses” that would be set alight when there is danger in order to signal the nearby forts for help or to let them have the maximum time to protect themselves before the threat. Other most commonly visited kalas are the Kyzyl Kala and Topraq kala as they are very conveniently located near Khiva especially if traveling towards it from Nukus. There are also a lot of ruined cities and fortresses on the Turkmenistan side of Amu Darya but they are unfortunately mostly off limits to be visited.

Lightouse in Kyzyl kum between ancient fortresses
Topraq kala fortress in Uzbekistan

Uzbek national parks

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Kyzylkum desert

Kyzylkum desert is a vast area between the Syr Darya and Amu Darya that was known before as the Transoxania or Sogdiana. It is the 15th largest desert in the world and is limited in the west by a new desert called the Aralkum, which has formed lately in the place of the former Aral Sea‘s eastern parts.

Kyzyl Kum offers surprisingly diverse nature with tortoises, lizards and peculiar desert plants especially in the spring time. The nature can be observed while driving driving from an ancient Khorezm fortress to fortress. In the desert you can also find several desolate villages that live from livestock breeding with animals like camels and sheep. 

Tortoise in Uzbek Kyzyl Kum desert
Kyzyl Kum desert

Historical sights of Uzbekistan

Bukhara

Bukhara is perhaps the most famous and iconic Silk road city of Uzbekistan as it offers the sights that one could expect from the tales of the Arabian nights. Bukhara’s old town is remarkably intact as a whole and has managed to retain a large part of its old old structures which has been recognized by a status as a Unesco site. 

Bukhara is more than 2000 years old and it is said that it started to grow around the Ark of Bukhara, which is a large citadel in the old town. There is an astonishing amount of medieval sights to visit, even to the point that it can become overwhelming but there is a rescue available in the restaurants and coffee shops where you can rest for a while and perhaps let the hottest time of the day pass. Don’t forget to also walk in the town during the dark hours, when the colored lights pointing towards the old buildings create a very different feeling.

Ark of Bukhara
Inside Po i Kalyan madrasa in Bukhara

Madrasas (traditionally Islamic schools, that also teach other subjects) are one of the major sights of Bukhara. Madrasas are often covered in the famous blue lapiz lazuli colored tiles and with islamic texts and flora mosaics covering the facades and some of the most beautiful ones are found in Bukhara. 

Lyabi hauz bukhara
Bukhara domes

In Bukhara you can also get to know with the several craftmanship skills that the Uzbeks have started to revive after the collapse of Soviet Union. Silk production is one of the most known ones but there are also masters eager to show their skills in crafts like wood carving, metal works and the Uzbek knives. It is exciting to wander around the old city area without a clear destination along the narrow and maze like streets and they are the moments when you can really get a feeling from somewhere past in the golden age of the Silk Road.

Bukhara old town
Mulberry tree inside a courtyard of a madrasa in Bukhara

Samarkand

Samarkand is the old capital of Tamerlane (or Timur), the national hero of Uzbekistan. Tamerlane used to control a vast empire reaching from current Turkey to India and Kazakhstan and even parts of China. 

Shah i Zinda, Samarkand
Registan of Samarkand

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Samarkand Bibi Khanym mosque
Samarkand Ak Saray mausoleum

Khiva

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Inside Ichan Kala in Khiva, backyard
Sunset in Khiva
Ichan Kala Khiva old town walls

Kokand

Kokand is the old capital of the Kokand Khanate at the heart of the Fergana Valley making it a nice place to explore the valley further. From Kokand it is easy to make day trips to destinations like the pottery workshops of Rishton or the silk weaving and coloring facilities of Margilan. There are also many smaller cities or towns like Kosonsoy with skillful skullcap makers and Chust smiths that can create beautiful and sharp Uzbek style knives that are excellent souvenirs as they will also supply you with a document to make sure that there will be no issues in the airport with your sharp knife.

Inside Kokand you can admire the old palace of the Khudayar Khan at the very heart of the city. There are also many beautiful mosques and other religious buildings and landmarks to explore in Kokand like the Friday mosque with amazing wooden pillars and decorated roofs. 

If you have the time, we recommend walking in the old areas of the city where you can get a glimpse of the older ages with the narrow and erratic shaped streets that will for sure mix your sense of direction. If you are a coffee lover, Kokand is one of the places where finding this luxury product is incredible hard if you don’t count the 3 in 1 bags as a real coffee.

Kokand
Wooden Tajik or Uzbek style pillars at the Kokand Friday mosque

Kokand surroundings in Fergana valley are also a great place to explore several ancient fortresses or the ruins of walled cities like in Aksikent, which is a vast city from the earlier grand era of Fergana valley. In Pop, north from Kokand there is an old mummy in the historical museum of this small town. Keep your eyes open while driving around to spot the storks that are the symbol of many areas in Uzbekistan. You can often see some of them circling around in the sky or their many nests on top of any tall structure.

Knife smith in Chust in Fergana valley
Silk veawing in Fergana Valley

Shahrisabz

Shahrisabz is known as the hometown of Amir Temur (or Tamerlane). His presence can still be witnessed from the massive gates of the former walled Shahrisabz. There are also other beautiful monuments from the same era in the historic center of the town which is also recognized by Unesco. The center of Shahrisabz was changed a lot recently as they changed the area next to the monuments into a park and built new houses at the sides of the park, mostly hiding the older and more traditional houses from the sights of the tourists. They can still be seen if one wants to venture in the old and erratic small streets. Here one can amaze at the power of the great nation that covered an area from current India to the Black sea.

Timur wanted to make Shahrisabz as great as Samarkand that was the capital of the Timurid empire. 

Ak Sarai gates
Amir Temur statue in Shahrisabz

Termez

Uzbek culture

Get invited for tea/coffee to a private house

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Uzbekistan festivals and national holidays

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Uzbek cuisine

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See an Uzbek puppet show

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Uzbek puppets
Puppet theater in Tashkent

Enjoy Uzbek hamam

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Enjoy the fresh Uzbek fruits in the late summer and autumn time

Pomegranates, pears, apricots, pistachios, huge watermelons (Arbuz) and peaches will have the saliva dripping from your mouth during the August – September in Uzbekistan. The country utilizes a vast amount of water from Amu Darya and Syr Darya in order to irrigate its fertile soil and produces a lot of tasty treats for the travelers to enjoy. Bazars are the perfect places to get a peek on the daily life of the locals in Uzbekistan. Early every morning they bring the fresh fruits and vegetables and organize them in beautiful ways to raise the appetite of the bypassers. 

Make sure to try also the very sweet Uzbek lemons and the many varieties of grapes that they have here. It is also perfectly okay to try first what you are buying to make sure that the quality is what you want to have. 

Late summer or autumn bazar with fruits in Uzbekistan
Uzbek bazar Tashkent

Soviet heritage of Uzbekistan

Uzbek handicrafts

Uzbekistan is very rich in handicraft culture. Part of it died during the Soviet era but after regaining the independency, Uzbeks have started to revitalize the ancient handicraft production methods with silk, pottery, knives and other handicrafts.

Uzbek Knives

Uzbek knives have a certain, very easily recognized form. The traditional knives are called 

Uzbek Pottery

The undeniable pottery capital of Uzbekistan is Rishton in the Fergana valley. 

Uzbek Silk

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Other Uzbek handicrafts

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Page updated 23.12.2021

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