Uzbekistan used to be one of those mysterious post Soviet countries that was difficult to get to. Only those who were going with an organized tourgroup or those brave enough to face the bureacratic hurdles were rewarded with all the places to visit in Uzbekistan.
And that is a lot! There are a lot of incredible places to visit in Uzbekistan. Beautiful silk road cities, stunning desert landscapes, friendly people and delicious food. The good news is that Uzbekistan is now opening its doors for travellers. Whether you travel alone or not, since 2019 most nationalities can enter Uzbekistan visa free.
Places to visit in Uzbekistan
The first place most people visit in Uzbekistan is the capital Tashkent. Together with Almaty in Kazakhstan, Tashkent is one of my favourite cities in Central Asia.
Let me start with the food. Central Asia can be a struggle for some people, especially vegetarians. However, Tashkent is a great place for food lovers. There are plenty of excellent restaurants representing every cuisine in the world as well as a number of vegan friendly places. Even Uzbek food, that is in my opinion one of the best in the region, is of excellent quality in Tashkent. Try National food to find out the variety on offer.
Second of all, Tashkent has a really nice atmosphere. Its a young city with friendly people that are happy to practice their english with foreigners that are still not as common as in touristy Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Because Tashkent was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966 and rebuilt by the Soviets, it is one of the best places in Uzbekistan to see Soviet architecture. The Soviets included Uzbek artists in the process and the result is an interesting mix of brutalist buildings and more Oriental style designs.
The Tashkent Metro stations are a great example and they belong to the most beautiful metro’s in the world. Other examples are the iconic hotel Uzbekistan, the blue domed structure of Chorsu bazaar and the Istiklal palace representing the Khorezm fortresses.
Tashkent is a great introduction to Uzbekistan. It also has some of the best museums in central Asia. A visit to the State history museum or Fine Arts museum will give you a much better understanding about the country and its history.
Read more about Tashkent in my post about the best places to visit in Tashkent.
How to get there: Most people fly into Tashkent international Airport. There are also trains from Moscow, Almaty and Shymkent.
Eat: National food or plov centre
Samarkand is the second biggest city in Uzbekistan and one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan for those that love history and culture. Together with Bukhara it is also one the oldest cities in Central Asia. The archeological remains of the ancient Sogdian capital are still visible on a hill overlooking the city, but most of the tourist attractions date from the Timurid empire in the 14th and 15th century.
Amir Timur made Samarkand the capital of his empire. One that was meant to impress people. The Bibi Khanum mosque was to become the biggest and most beautiful mosque in central Asia. He somewhat succeeded although construction was pushed to the limits and the mosque requires continuous renovation.
What really leaves visitors in awe nowadays is the Registan. A square surrounded by three beautiful madrassah’s rich in decorations and intricate patterns. Equally impressive are the Shah i Zinda necropolis and the Gur e Amir mausoleum where Amir Timur lies buried.
Most of these buildings were in ruins by the nineteenth century, but the Soviets had a blast resoring them. The renovations were done so lavishly that they are not without controversy. Some say Samarkand has lost its authenticity while others believe it was necessary to show off its former glory.
Read more in my Samarkand travel guide about the best things to do in Samarkand.
How to get there: from Tashkent it is 2 – 3 hours by train
Eat: Bibi Khanum Teahouse
Bukhara has a long history of trade, culture, scholarship and religion as a major city on the Silk road. Before the Soviets took over, Bukhara was the capital of the Emirate of Bukhara. Most famous was ruler Nasrullah Khan who imprisoned and killed two british envoys in 1843.
It is one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan for an authentic Silk road experience. Despite its equally important role in history, Bukhara feels modest compared to Samarkand or Khiva. Renovations have been more subtle and therefore Bukhara feels more real than any of the other silk road cities in Uzbekistan.
At the heart of Bukhara lies the Lyab I Hauz pond surrounded by some of Bukhara’s most beautiful mosques and madrassahs. It is easy to spend an afternoon here drinking tea and watching people or wandering through the narrow alleyways. Bukhara is best explored on foot. Don’t miss the chor minor or the covered bazaars either.
Read more in my Bukhara travel guide about the best things to do in Bukhara.
How to get there: from Tashkent it is 4 – 5 hours by train
Khiva is one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan if you want to travel back in time. Little Khiva reminded me a lot of Yazd in Iran. Another desert city full with history and beautiful Islamic architecture. Despite the lavish renovations, Khiva still feels old. It’s history as a silk road city shines through.
What few people know was that, on the silk road, Khiva was famous for its slave market. In the passageway at the east gate you will still find niches in the walls where the slaves were kept. However, if you wander through the old town it is easy to forget its dark past, because you will be impressed by the beautiful thousand and one night architecture.
Khiva feels a bit like an open air museum. Especially during the day, the old walled city is invaded by tourgroups and locals selling souvenirs. But, in the early morning or late evenings you have the place almost to yourself. watching the sunset from the top of the old city wall is magic.
Read more in my Khiva travel guide about the best things to do in Khiva.
How to get there: From Tashkent there is a night train that runs a few times a week.
Eat: Khorezm cafe & Terassa
Sleep: Islambek Khiva
5. Chimgan mountains
If you are looking for nature, some people will tell you, you have chosen the wrong country. They are right and wrong. Most of Uzbekistan is desert and for alpine mountain landscapes you can better head to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan or Tajikistan.
Chimgan is the exception though. North of Tashkent you will find the beautiful Chimgan mountains. Part of the Ugam Chatkal National park and bordering the Aksu Zhabagly national park in Kazakhstan, this is one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan for nature.
It is an extremely popular weekend get away for those living in Tashkent that are looking for a way to escape the city. For tourists it is less known, because of the difficulty getting there. Public transport is limited, but if you have a group of people it is well worth the expense of hiring a taxi for the day.
Chimgan offers all kind of activities. From hiking to quad bikes and paragliding above the deep blue Charvak lake.
How to get there: Chimgan is 2 hours from Tashkent by private transport or a combination of shared taxi’s. Read more in my Chimgan travel guide on how to get there
Kokand was the capital of the Khanate of Kokand. During the 18th and 19th century the city was just as important as Bukhara. It was a major city of trade, religion and development in what is now the Fergana valley.
Unfortunately, not much of its long history is still visible. Most of the city was built after Kokand became a Russian vassal state in 1868. Still, the Kudayar Khan palace of the last khan definetly warrants a visit. There are also some mosques and madrassah’s that are worthwhile.
With few other tourists, Kokand is one of the best off the beaten path places to visit in Uzbekistan.
How to get there: from Tashkent it is 4 – 5 hours by train
Eat: Cafe Kapriz
Sleep: Ahmadkhon hotel
Another off the beaten path destination in the Fergana valley is Margilon. Famous for its silk and traditional ikat designs.
The Yodgorlik silk factory gives free tours to show you the traditional process of silk production. Everything is handmade and you can meet the people weaving silk carpets, making the natural colours and designing the ikat patterns.
Margilon is the best place to visit in Uzbekistan if you want to buy ikat silk. Of course you can buy some in the Yodgorlik silk factory, but also at the lively Kumtepa bazaar. The bazaars in the Fergana valley were among the most colourful in the country.
How to get there: from Tashkent it is 4 – 5 hours by train
Eat: Soy Boy
Sleep: Ikat house
The Fergana valley is famous for its ancient handicraft traditions. While Margilon is famous for Ikat Silk. Nearby Rishton is renowned for its high quality pottery and ceramics.
Everywhere in Rishton you see the most beautiful ceramics for sale. There are only a few artists left that still use traditional techniques. The workshop of Rustam Usmanov welcomes visitors to have a look. You will be given a short, but insightful explanation on Rishton’s ancient pottery art.
I was most impressed by the people painting the delicate and detailed designs. It’s really a work of art and Rishton is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan for buying ceramics
How to get there: from Margilon it is about 1,5 hour by shared taxi with a change in Fargona town.
Eat: if you reserve in advance the workshop of Rustam Usmanov can arrange lunch
Sleep: It is best to visit on your way from Margilon to Kokand.
9. Moynaq and the Aral Sea
Moynaq is one of the best places to visit in Uzbekistan to get a better understanding of the Aral sea disaster. It was once a wealthy town at the shore of the Aral sea. Fishing was their main source of income untill the Soviets decided to make Uzbekistan the main cotton producing region of the Soviet Union.
Large scale irrigation drained the Aral sea and turned the province of Karakalpakstan in a barren desert landscape. Nowadays it is the poorest region with some of the highest levels of unemployment.
All what is left in Moynaq of its former glory days is the ship graveyard in the former sea bed. The actual sea shore is now 150 kilometers away and you need a four wheel drive to get there. It is the biggest ecological disaster in central Asia.
This description of Moynaq is not very appealing, but strange as it might sound there is a certain beauty in the remote desert landscapes of Karakalpakstan. My visit to Moynaq is not something that I will easily forget and it emphasizes the importance of preserving our ecosystems.
How to get there: From Tashkent there is a nighttrain to Nukus a few times a week. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan and the best place to organize a tour to Moynaq. Read my Moynaq travel guide to see how you can visit Moynaq on your own by public transport.
Eat: Cinnamon cafe in Nukus
10. The Khorezm fortresses
Before I went to Uzbekistan I had never heard of the Khorezm fortresses. It was in Khiva where I had an extra day that my hostel owner convinced me to take a tour to these ancient desert castles. The pictures didn’t look so special, but pictures can’t do justice to the remains of this huge .
The desert castles of Khorezm are old and the ruins sometimes require a lot of imagination. However, the locations are absolutely spectacular. I visited 10 castles where we were often the only people around. I felt like an amateur archeologist and it was one of the highlights of my trip in Uzbekistan.
Other places to visit in Uzbekistan
In this post I only menyioned the top 10 places to visit in Uzbekistan. They are certainly not the only places you can go to. The remote region of Karakalpakstan has much more to offer than only Moynaq and the Khorezm fortresses. The same applies to the Fergana valley where lots of traditional towns are waiting to be explored.
From Samarkand you can also venture into the little explored Nuratau mountains and Shakrisabz, the birth place of Timur the Great. Further on lies Termez. This border town near Afghanistan that has some interesting archeological ruins as well.
Disclaimer: This post about the best places to visit in Uzbekistan contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.