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Hey guys, in this article, I wanted to share our itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan visiting Tashkent and Samarkand (and Bukhara as an optional destination). We visited Uzbekistan in winter, when it was very empty and had a chance to explore the main landmarks without any crowds.
Here’s what you can expect to find in this blog post:
Who can travel to Uzbekistan? Do you need a visa?
If you’re wondering whether you need a visa for Uzbekistan, it’s better to check on the official website here, as the rules might have changed since we wrote this article. Generally, it’s pretty easy to visit Uzbekistan and if you’re from the EU, you don’t need a visa as of January 2022. However, to enter Uzbekistan, you need to show a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before your trip.
There are no strict rules about who could travel to Uzbekistan, however, it has its own red list – arrivals from some countries need to quarantine for 10 days.
Apart from that, it’s straightforward to travel to Uzbekistan – you don’t need any invitations or travel vouchers.
Can you explore Uzbekistan on your own without a travel agency?
A lot of people are wondering whether you can explore Uzbekistan on your own without buying an organised tour. I just say that there are some challenges when it comes to getting around the cities (e.g. taxi drivers in Samarkand in Bukhara don’t speak English and there is no app you can use to ask for a taxi) and sometimes hotel personnel don’t speak English as well, however, it’s normal – it’s the same in a lot of countries around the world.
If you’re a young solo female traveller, you might get a lot of attention, so I’m not sure I would recommend travelling alone in Uzbekistan – in this case, it’s better to buy a tour!
Which language can you use in Uzbekistan?
As I mentioned before, not many people speak English in Uzbekistan – the primary language of the country is Uzbek (and Tajik in Bukhara and Samarkand), however, you can also use Russian, 80% of people in big cities can speak and understand Russian.
What’s the best time to travel to Uzbekistan?
Uzbekistan has clearly defined seasons : cold winter, wonderful spring when everything is blooming, extremely hot summer and pleasant autumn. Summer is generally very hot in Uzbekistan so it’s not recommended to travel there from June to early September, unless you enjoy the temperatures of 38-55C degrees.
Winter is absolutely fine, it doesn’t usually get colder than -3C, and in Samarkand and Bukhara winters are often sunny and somewhat warm (5-15C) during the day. However, you can expect subzero temperatures at night. I have a separate blog post about weather in Uzbekistan in winter and our overall impressions from travelling to Uzbekistan in December.
How many days should you spend in Uzbekistan
If you’re wondering how many days do you need in Uzbekistan, it really depends on how many days off you have. This itinerary is based on four days in Uzbekistan and includes visiting only two cities, Tashkent and Samarkand (or three if you have enough time and energy). However if you have a week in Uzbekistan, you would be able to visit most of the main highlights and also travel to Khiva, Urgench and Bukhara.
You could probably do it in five days as well but that would require really careful advance planning. For example, you would need to check the days when there are flights from Tashkent to Urgench or vice versa it would most definitely mean that you would arrive to one city and will depart from another one. For example, you can arrive in Urgench and depart from Tashkent.
Where to stay in Uzbekistan: the best hotels
If you’re wondering, where to stay in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent, we stayed in 2 hotels and both were great: Wyndham Tashkent and Marriott Courtyard. Wyndham was a bit older, however, the location was a bit better, in my opinion (especially if you like walking). Another hotel I would recommend is Hyatt – it’s Tashkent’s nicest hotel and it’s not even that expensive!
In Samarkand, we stayed at the hotel called Dilimah Premium Luxury – it had lovely large modern rooms and good breakfasts.
In Bukhara, I can recommend Boutique Hotel Minzifa.
Uzbekistan in winter: what to expect? Is December a good month to travel to Uzbekistan
We actually really enjoyed travelling to Uzbekistan in the winter. We spent four days in Uzbekistan in December: we arrived on 26/12 just after Christmas and departed just before the New Year. Most of the hotels were empty and more affordable compared to what they would have been in spring during the high season. But more importantly, a lot of attractions were practically empty and we were able to take beautiful pictures. we couldn’t even imagine that we would be able to take a photo with no people on the main square of Samarkand – Registan!
The weather was okay. As we arrived from St Petersburg, Russia (which was extremely cold this winter, which is unusual), we felt very warm with just -1C and snowfall in Tashkent. Tashkent rarely gets snow these days, but we were lucky to see it covered by a thick layer of snow. It looked magical!
The weather in Samarkand was great – it was much warmer – one day it was +6C and another day +12C. When we left, it was +15C!
How expensive is Uzbekistan? Priced and budget needed for your trip
If you’re wondering how expensive is Uzbekistan, I must assure you that is this pretty affordable. However, there are some things that can be a little bit pricey. For example, I found hotels (especially in Tashkent) not cheap. If you want to stay in international chains like Hilton, Hyatt or Marriott, you can expect to pay from $75-200 (£55-155) per night. The taxi from the airport to the hotel was around $15 at night. And despite the fact that food can be really cheap, we went to nice restaurants and spent around $20-$35 per meal. However if you go to local fast food chains, or try Plov at the international Plov centre, you can save a lot of money (once we ate for as little as $5 for both of us).
If you go to the local markets (or bazaars) in the morning or during lunchtime, you would be able to see a lot of food stalls. You can try some local dishes like samsa (pie) (for $0.3) or plov or shashlik (meat skewers) ($1 per skewer, sometimes cheaper).
Alright, I hope I answered some of the main questions you might have had about travel in Uzbekistan. Let’s get started with our itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan, including Tashkent and Samarkand!
The itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan: Tashkent and Samarkand in one trip (optional: Bukhara)
Before we start the overview of the itinerary, I thought it’s worth mentioning that we bought a multi-city flight. That means that we arrived in Tashkent and departed from Samarkand. However, you can also fly back from Bukhara if you decide to include it in your itinerary!
2 days in Tashkent: the best things to do
Tashkent is often overlooked by the tourists in favour of more impressive cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. Yes, it might not have too many landmarks, but we actually enjoyed it a lot! Tashkent looks and feels like a capital. It has great hotels and a vibrant culinary scene. In the last few years Tashkent saw the opening of new creative bars and restaurants and compared to Western restaurants of the same rank, Tashkent food spots are very cheap!
Tashkent is also the easiest city for getting around: you can use the Yandex Taxi app there (it’s very similar to Uber or Bolt) and pay cash to the driver.
Having spent 2 full days in Tashkent, we visited most of the landmarks of the city. However, if you’re used to fast-paced travel, you can totally visit everything in just one day! We ended up spending more time in Tashkent than initially planned because we couldn’t get a speed train to Bukhara (they were sold out), hence, we stayed in Tashkent for an extra day (and enjoyed it a lot). However, that also meant that we couldn’t see Bukhara this time.
Here are some of the main landmarks we recommend visiting in Tashkent:
My absolute favourite thing in Tashkent was its metro (subway / underground – however you call it). Tashkent metro was the first one to open in Central Asia and it also has some of the most beautiful Metro stations in the world. Honestly, pretty much every single station was impressive and had a different distinctive design. However, there are a few stations that are even more remarkable than the others. If you don’t have the entire day to be able to stop at every single station (the gaps between trains are 8 minutes, so it might take a while), I recommend you visit at least these five:
– Alisher Navoi
If you want to read the full list of the best metro stations in Tashkent, head here.
Amir Timur Square
The main square of Tashkent is very spacious and monumental. It’s very pedestrian – with a lovely park located right in the middle of the square, surrounding the monument of Amir Timur – the famous general Tamerlan, who conquered half of Central Asia back in the 15th century!
Amir Timur Museum
Tashkent looks like a completely new city. A lot of buildings were constructed in the last 10 years, and the construction doesn’t seem to stop! The city is still developing rapidly. One of Tashkent’s most important museums was opened in 1996, and it’s located right next to the Amir Timur square.
Old city & mosque
As I mentioned before there’s not so many old buildings in Tashkent because the city suffered a devastating earthquake back in the 20th century. However, you can visit the old city and the new mosque that is still being constructed (as of the beginning of 2022). Once it’s finished, it will be very impressive.
One of the main landmarks of Tashkent is the Chorsu Bazaar or Chorsu market that – a bustling market located in the centre of Tashkent. A lot of cities In central Asia are built around markets – they are an integral part of the lives of the majority of people there. Markets in central Asia are truly remarkable: they are huge and they are divided by different sections. Different sections include: fruits, vegetables, sweets, dairy and other milk products, meat, spices, drinks, baked goods and an edible area (street food).
Don’t forget to bargain at the market because as a foreigner you would get offered prices that would be significantly higher than prices locals.
Chorsu has a magnificent round hall, but it’s the first floor where all the spices and sweets (things you would be most interested in as a tourist) are sold!
One thing to keep in mind: Chorsu is the most touristy market in Tashkent. Hence, the prices are significantly higher than in the other cities. Since you are going to visit Samarkand and maybe even Bukhara, I recommend doing most of your shopping in these cities rather than in Tashkent.
Finally, another place that is worth visiting (especially in spring or autumn) is the famous Broadway Street. Broadway is a vibrant street with a lot of music, street food and overall, a very cheerful vibe! (Not in winter though as it is closed)
Where to eat in Tashkent:
I would recommend visiting Afsona restaurant if you want to try amazing local food and Meat.me if you prefer international dishes (although they do have some local dishes in the menu as well). Another good restaurant is Khiva located inside the Hyatt Tashkent hotel.
Getting to Samarkand from Tashkent
The best way to travel to Samarkand from Tashkent is by speed train Afrosiab. You can buy tickets online here (make sure to buy them in advance as they tend to sell out).
You can also get there by car, sleeper train, minibus coach or a taxi. However, all of these ways are significantly less comfortable and much longer compared to the speed train. There is also a flight that goes to Bukhara from Tashkent; however, it departs only once a day in the morning. And then, you would also need to take a train from Bukhara to Samarkand.
Exploring Samarkand: the best things to do in Samarkand
Samarkand used to be the wealthiest city in Central Asia due to its strategic location on the silk route. The architecture in the city is absolutely stunning and luckily, in the last 30 years, the government has restored a lot of the landmarks.
There are plenty of things to do in the city and you can easily spend two days there!
I recommend taking a tour with the guide for at least one day because you will be able to learn a lot about the landmarks and will be able to see spots you wouldn’t find yourself. We hired a guide through the website called Tripster and our guide, Aziza, spoke a really good English! She was amazing and knowledgeable, and I can totally recommend a tour with her!
Here are some of the landmarks we visited with Aziza:
- Amir Temur Mausoleum – a stunning building covered inside by gold with the tombs of some of the most influential people in the history of Uzbekistan
- Registan square – the most beautiful square in Samarkand. Inside the 3 madrasas, you can find souvenir shops.
- Bibi-Khanym mosque – an amazing 15th-century mosque that is a must-visit place in Samarkand
- Shah-i-Zinda – the most impressive landmark in Samarkand in my opinion. It consists of a variety of beautiful tombs and mausoleums finished in different styles
- Siyob (Siab) Market – an ancient market where you can buy food, spices and souvenirs
What we haven’t had a chance to visit, however, it’s totally worth visiting: the observatory (Ulugbek observatory). The famous Samarkand bread is also baked near the observatory. This bread is unique in many ways – it never gets spoilt or mouldy! There is no explanation for that – scientists still don’t know why it happens. Also, this bread is quite sizeable and heavy – it costs less than $1 and weights more than a kilo!
Plov making class and dinner
Through Aziza, we also booked another tour – a Plov making class and dinner with Ilhom. However, feel free to book a masterclass with Ilhom separately – here are his details!
The masterclass and dinner last around 3 hours – preparation of Plov is a lengthy process! However, Ilom is an entertaining and great host, so the time flies! In the end, you get to eat all the plov as well as some of the other dishes his wife Nargiza has cooked and leave the house barely walking – because of so much tasty food!
Where to eat in Samarkand
If you’re wondering where to eat in Samarkand, I can recommend the restaurant Samarkand for a traditional meal and a Chaikhona right in the middle of the market for the best Shashlik I’ve ever eaten in my entire life!
Some other places include:
- Restaurant Samarkand
- Restaurant Platan
Optional: visiting Bukhara
How to get to Bukhara from Samarkand
Order to get to Bukhara from Samarkand, you can take the same speed train, Afrosiab. It’s the easiest and fastest way to travel between the cities. You can buy the tickets online here and don’t forget to buy them in advance.
Things to see in Bukhara
It’s it’s definitely possible to visit Bukhara on a day trip from Samarkand. The train journey between these two cities is quite short – less than 2 hours each way.
If you only have one day in Bukhara, make sure to visit the following landmarks:
- Kalan Mosque (a famous 16th-century mosque, probably the most beautiful in Bukhara)
- Chor Minor Madrasa
- The Ark of Bukhara
- The Samanid Mausoleum
The summary: the itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan: Tashkent and Samarkand & Bukhara (optional)
Alright, this was our itinerary for 4 days in Uzbekistan visiting some of the main highlights such as Tashkent and Samarkand (and also including Bukhara if you have a chance). I must say that I haven’t expected Uzbekistan to be that beautiful. I’ve heard good things about Samarkand before, but in reality, it was 10 times better than that. Tashkent was also lovely – the metro was impressive and the food was great in Tashkent! Overall, we enjoyed exploring Uzbekistan a lot! There are, perhaps, only a few minor downsides when it comes to travelling around Tashkent, Samarkand and other cities in Uzbekistan. One: it’s very difficult to get a taxi in Samarkand if you don’t have a local SIM card. Two: sometimes, there is a bit too much attention from men if you’re a young female. Finally, if you don’t enjoy bargaining, you will suffer a bit, as you always need to bargain in Uzbekistan!