Walking through the small streets in the old town of Bukhara you get the feeling that nothing has changed in this city for centuries.
Tourism is there, but easy to forget when you walk on your own through the narrow alleyways of ancient neighbourhoods. It’s the ruins of mosques and madrassah’s around every corner that reveal Bukhara’s true age. For those that love history there are plenty of things to do in Bukhara.
Not all of the ancient historical buildings are well maintained. Bukhara feels modest compared to the well restored and lavish decorations in Khiva and Samarkand. Renovations by the Soviets have been subtle and therefore it all feels much more authentic in Bukhara.
A short history of Bukhara
In its glory days, Bukhara was anything but modest. The city is 2500 years old. In the 6th century BCE it was the centre of Persian civilization and soon developed in a centre of commerce on the Silk road.
Later in the 9th century Bukhara also became the intellectual centre of the Islamic world. Ironically it took a long time for Islam to take hold in Bukhara. In fact it was a stronghold for persecuted christians. When the Arabs conquered Bukhara it took more than a century for Islam to become the dominant religion.
In 1222 Genghis Khan burned the city and after the Mongols the city was slowly rebuilt by the Khanate of Bukhara. The last emir of Bukhara was Alim Khan before Bukhara became part of Soviet Uzbekistan.
Bukhara is still full of places that reflect the different time periods the city went through. The Persians, the Samanids, the Arabs, the Mongols, the emirs of Bukhara and the Soviets all left their own legacies behind.
There are so many things to do in Bukhara that you need at least 3 days in this city.
Things to do in Bukhara
1. Khoja Gaukushan complex
Khoja gaukushan is the largest architectural complex in Bukhara with a mosque, a madrassah and a minaret. It is in a quiet corner that used to be less peaceful. Gaukushan means killing of the bulls and this was once the place where cows were sold and slaughtered.
2. Bukhara Photo gallery
In a former caravan serai opposite the Khoja Gaukushan complex is a small private photo gallery. The pictures are beautiful and reflect daily scenes of Uzbek life. Entrance is free, but of course they hope you buy one of their pictures in postcard or poster format.
The Lyab I Haus pond is surrounded by some of the top things to do in Bukhara. You could say that this pond is the heart of the city and every day the teahouses are full with both locals and tourists.
The friendly atmosphere will tempt you to join them in eating ice creams or drinking tea with baklava, especially in the evenings.
For those that love Islamic architecture Lyab I Hauz has some gems. The earliest and largest building is the Kukeldash madrassa. More interesting is the Nadir Divan madrassah, because it is the only one depicting living beings rather than geometric shapes.
Lyab i Hauz was also home to a Jewish community. Muslims and Jews used to pray together in the Magokki Attor mosque and in one of the side streets there still is a synagogue.
4. Chor Minor
Chor minor is among the top things to do in Bukhara. It is a bit of a mystery what this building was used for and why it’s architecture is rather unique. For sure it was not a mosque, even though the towers seem to resemble minarets.
People believe it was the entrance to a madrassah that is no longer there and the towers were used for storage. It also looks much older than it is, because it was only built in 1807. Quite a newcomer, compared to the other historical buildings in Bukhara.
5. Covered Bazaars
If it wasn’t for all the souvenirs I could have believed I was in one of the covered bazaars in Iran. The bazaar used to be much larger and had their own specialized sections. The three domed bazaars that are left are now more geared towards tourism. Still, it is among the top things to do in Bukhara and tells a story of different times.
6. Ulugbek & Abdil Aziz khan Medressah
You will hear the name of Ulugbeg more often in Uzbekistan. He ruled the Timurid empire in the 15th century, but was actually more interested in astronomy, science and arts. He coudn’t establish his power as a ruler, but he was able to build the Ulug Beg observatory in Samarkand and two madrassah’s. One in Samarkand and one in Bukhara.
7. Kalyon complex
For centuries religious complexes have been built, destroyed and rebuild at the Po-i-Kalyan complex. First it was Zoroastrian fire towers then it became islamic structures.
Now the Po-i-Kalyan is most famous for the 12th century Kalyan minaret. The current mosque and madrassah are from the 16th century and the Kalyan mosque was built to rival the Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand.
8. Ark of Bukhara
The Ark of Bukhara was meant to keep Bukhara’s rulers safe and the fortifications that were built as early as the 5th century are a city in ots own right. The museums inside tell the story of Bukhara’s magnificent history.
A visit to the Arc is among the top things to do in Bukhara, even if you just come to see the impressive entrance gate and city walls from the outside.
9. Bolo Hauz mosque
It is easy to miss the small Bolo Hauz mosque. What it lacks in grandeur and size is compensated by its beautiful intricate patterns and decorations. Don’t forget to look up, because the ceilings are amazing.
10. Sukhov water tower
When we arrived in Bukhara in April 2019 the water tower built by Soviet engineer Vladimir Sukhov in 1920 had just reopened as a tourist attraction. It was already very popular with locals and tourists alike.
On the second floor is a pricey restaurant and on the third floor the viewing deck with a nice view on the Arc of Bukhara.
11. Samonids park and medressah
Samonid Park offers a nice break from the hectic city. Even here you find history with the Samanid mausoleum. It doesn’t look that impressive, but it is one of the oldest buildings in Bukhara. It is also unique because it combines both Zoroastrian elements with Islamic ones. Inside are the remains of Ismail Samani that ruled Bukhara in the 9th century.
Like any park in Uzbekistan there is also an amusement park popular with families and their kids.
12. Merchant Khojaev house
If you want to see how wealthy merchants in Bukhara used to live in the 19th century you can pay a visit to the Khodjaev house museum. Faizulla Khojaev was a leader of the young Bukhara political party and fought for equal rights and democracy.
People in Bukhara still remember him and his family home was turned into a museum that offers a glimpse of life in the 19th century.
Things to do near Bukhara
13. Chor Bakr
Chor Bakr is the burial site of Abu Bakr Said, who is believed to be a descendant of Mohammed. It’s a large complex with mosques, tombs and courtyards. Some parts are renovated while other parts are somehow left the way it was.
The Chor Bakr is a pilgrimage site for Muslim Uzbeks that come here to pray. You will see many Uzbek women paying a visit to the main tomb of Abu Bakr.
How to get there: From Markazi bazaar bus 202 leaves to Chor Bakr.
14. Sitora i mokha palace
The summer palace of the kings of Bukhara is among the top things to do near Bukhara. It gives an insight into court life in a time when the influence of the Bukhara emir was decreasing and the Soviet Union was about to take control.
Some of the rooms decorations are very colourful, although other rooms are more modest.
How to get there: from the bus station, bus 70 and 71 leave to the palace
15. Naqsbandi complex
The memorial complex of Naqsbandi is even more important for Uzbek Muslims than the Chor Bakr.
Naqsbandi was a theologist and founder of the Sufi order. His message was to have your heart with god, work hard and be modest. This place sees few tourists, but is always crowded with locals that come here to pray.
Like Chor Bakr it is a pilgrimage site and even muslims from neighbouring countries come here to honour Naqsbandi.
Where to sleep in Bukhara
Parviz Guest house
in Bukhara the Parviz guesthouse is an excellent budget option near the Chor Minor and the Lyab I Hauz.
Where to eat in Bukhara
1. Minzifa restaurant
The best place in Bukhara for Uzbek inspired international cuisine is Minzifa restaurant near Lyab-i-Hauz. I kept coming back here and the menu is a welcome change from plov and laghman. The Minzifa chicken in walnut sauce comes recommended.
2. Tea and coffee khona
This little tea house is near Lyab-i-Hauz in a former mosque. I walked in when they were still closed for the season and preparing the opening ceremony that was later that day. Rather than sending me away I got free tea and snacks. Everything was absolutely delicious.
3. Cafe Wishbone
This cafe near the Ulugbek madrassa and the covered bazaars has delicious German cakes like apfel strufel, buckwheat torte and cheese cake.
When to visit Bukhara
Bukhara has a desert climate with surprisingly cold winters and very hot summers. The best months are April, May and June and then again in September and October.
How to travel to Bukhara
Also, travelling from Khiva to Bukhara has become much easier with the new high speed train between the two cities.
Bukhara has daily trains to Samarkand (2-3 hrs) and Tashkent (5-6 hrs) as well as trains that run to Khiva (6 hrs) and Nukus about 3 times a week. Read more in my post about how to travel by train in Uzbekistan.
By Bus or shared taxi
Bukhara has three bus stations, each serving different destinations in the country. The northern bus stand serves Samarkand (4 hrs) and Tashkent (8 hrs). The Karvon bazaar bus stand serves Urgench
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