Humanity has ebbed and flowed along the Silk Road for centuries, leaving layers of intrigue in its wake.
Uzbekistan is Central Asia's crowning glory, where stirring remnants of long-vanished empires pepper the land. World class architectural gems jostle shoulder to shoulder in the timeworn Silk Road staging posts of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, transporting you back to the days of camel caravans and mercantile journeys across the desert. Marvel at ancient monuments topped with azure domes and at the hypnotic patterns of the ubiquitous ceramic art which adorns monuments all over the country. Delve into vibrant bazaars, enjoy delicious meals and bask in the warmth of the Uzbek welcome.
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Top things to do in Uzbekistan
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this country laden with history and culture. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts at the foot of this page, but in the meantime here are our top three things to do in Uzbekistan.
‘Jewel of the East’ and ‘Garden of the soul’ are just two of the accolades Samarkand has earned over the centuries. The imposing Registan Square beckons, its jewel coloured tiles glinting in the sunlight. The sumptuously decorated facades of the madrassas are amongst the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world, and they have graced the city with their elegant shapes and stunning colours for hundreds of years. Come at the beginning or end of the day for the best light for photos and an authentic sense of history.
Get closer to Uzbek traditions
Learn about Uzbekistan’s artisan crafts, visit workshops and see craftsmen in action. Pottery, calligraphy, weaving, carving and embroidery are some of the most prominent crafts you will come across. Musical performances and dance have a long history in Uzbek culture, and tell traditional tales. Above all, prepare to be bowled over by the Uzbek hospitality – every Uzbek family will welcome you with copious non (bread) and ko’k choy (green tea).
Enjoy local specialities
Centuries of trade have seen cultures from various corners of the world collide in this crossroads nation. Consequently the Uzbek cuisine is very eclectic, taking influences from Persia, India, Arabia, China and Russia. You can’t spend much time here without trying plov, the national dish consisting of spiced rice, meat and vegetables which varies from region to region. Patterned bread is another staple, while other classic dishes include kebabs and savoury pastries.
Get your shopping fix
Uzbekistan’s major towns all have something in common: their bustling, atmospheric bazaars. Each is a treat for the senses where the aroma of spices fills your nose and the elaborate displays of goods and produce are a feast for the eyes. If you are in the market for some beautiful textiles, jewellery, rugs or pottery you will be spoilt for choice, and the Uzbek tradition of fine embroidery is used to embellish beautiful throws and cushions. You will also see wonderful displays of the treasured Uzbek bread, all the more delicious when it’s fresh.
Lesser-known things to do in Uzbekistan
While there are many well-known things to do in Uzbekistan, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Uzbekistan adventure.
Experience the serenity of Aydar Lake
This immense body of water covers 4,000 square kilometres in the desert regions in the south east of Uzbekistan, and its slightly salty waters are a haven for all sorts of wildlife, notably fish and waterfowl. It is particularly enchanting in spring when the meadows around the lake burst into bloom with swathes of red poppies, and the numbers of birds such as ducks, herons, storks and geese are at their highest.
A treasure trove of art
The highlight of a visit to the northwest town of Nukus is a treat for art lovers. The renowned Savitsky museum is the showcase for the second most extensive collection of avant garde Russian art, and the collection contains many tens of thousands of exquisite sculptures, paintings, graphics, jewellery and textiles. The provenance ranges from ancient artifacts dating back millennia to contemporary Uzbek works.
Trek the Chimgan
Enchanting scenery awaits in the Chimgan mountains, where waterfalls, rivers, gorges and panoramic viewpoints are the order of the day. The Chimgan valley and surrounding peaks are part of the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, and as such are protected from over development and other negative human impact. The region is known as Uzbek Switzerland, and the fragrant meadows and tinkling streams certainly merit the comparison.
The disappearing sea
When two rivers were diverted to irrigate cotton production, the Aral Sea began to dry up. The receding lake has long been associated with environmental disaster, and has also meant that once thriving fishing ports and many lakeshore communities have had to abandon their livelihoods and move elsewhere. Nevertheless, a visit to the area is a fascinating and moving experience.
When is the best time to go to Uzbekistan?
The best time of year to visit Uzbekistan is the months of March to May or September and October. These months are climatically the best times to visit, while June and September are hotter but manageable, and July and August are sizzling with temperatures into the forties. November to March is a very quiet time for visitors, though the weather is generally quite mild in winter. For low season rates and crowd-free photography, consider January or February.
Interesting facts about Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
- There is a degree of superstition surrounding bread in Uzbek culture. It should never be placed upside down, as this can tempt bad luck to come calling.
Men exchange handshakes, whereas women are greeted with a bow while placing the right hand on the heart by both genders.
Uzbekistan is one of only two double landlocked countries in the world. Bouble landlocked countries are landlocked in their own right and then in turn, surrounded by landlocked countries.
None of Uzbekistan’s rivers have an outlet into the sea.
Tradition dictates that before departing on a journey, a traveller must take a bite of the bread offered by their family. The remaining bread is then hidden or buried until the traveller returns.
Uzbekistan has the fourth largest gold deposits of any nation, and gold mining is a major industry.
What to read before you go to Uzbekistan
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Uzbekistan, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'The Lost Heart of Asia' by Colin Thubron
In the wake of the fall of the Soviet empire, Thubron sets off on an extensive tour of Central Asia, delving into forgotten corners as well as major landmarks and shining a light on this long forgotten region at a time of great change.
'The Railway' by Hamid Ismailov
A charming novel examining the lives of the many characters who live in Gilas, a town located on the Silk Route. Through the stories of the inhabitants, Ismailov chronicles the major shift in Uzbek life during the 20th century.
'A Ride To Khiva' by Frederick Burnaby
The account of a British officer’s remarkable experiences as he ventured through Central Asia to Khiva, which was a closed city at the time of the journey - 1875 - and was under the rule of the Russians.
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