This post may contain affilliate links. It means that if you buy something through one of these links, we might get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate commission helps us keep this travel blog running.
Are you planning a trip to Uzbekistan? I’m sure you will love this country! In this post, I’ll share with you the optimal itinerary for 2 days in Samarkand, the richest city of the Silk Road. Interested? Keep reading!
We had an opportunity to visit Uzbekistan last December, and we really enjoyed it. We spent 2 days in Tashkent and 2 days in Samarkand and managed to see a lot of both worlds. Because undoubtedly, Tashkent and Samarkand are very different. While Tashkent is a modern city with vast distances between buildings, wide roads and a lot of services available to you in one click, Samarkand is a bit more behind in terms of technology and food scene, but nonetheless, Samarkand is the main reason why people generally travel to Uzbekistan (well, Bukhara and Khiva, too, but mostly Samarkand).
Where is Samarkand in Uzbekistan, and how to get there?
Samarkand is located in the South of Uzbekistan on the border with Tajikistan. That’s why the population of Samarkand is mostly Tajik, and so is the language of the majority of the people. Samarkand is situated circa 270 km away from Tashkent and you can get there either by plane from abroad (there is an airport in Samarkand), train (the best way – you can buy the tickets for the speed train from Tashkent on tutu.travel – that’s where we bought our tickets, but make sure to buy them in advance, they tend to sell out), bus or taxi. However, a taxi will be pretty expensive (more than $100), and buses aren’t as comfortable as the trains.
Why is Samarkand so important? Samarkand’s location on the Silk Route
Samarkand is an ancient city – there was a settlement on the place of modern Samarkand even in 800 BC. Due to its very advantageous position on a plain between two high mountain chains, Samarkand was the obvious resting spot for the caravans transporting goods from China to Istanbul (Silk route). Because of its location, Samarkand became a very rich city – one of the richest in the world at that time! During different times, it was conquered and ruled by Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Mongols and others. In the 1500s, it was conquered by Uzbeks. Later, it was part of the Russian Empire, and then, it was part of Uzbekistan again, where it is located now. Samarkand owns its status and grandness (as well as most of its historical landmarks) to general Tamerlane or Amir Timur (he’s called the latter in Uzbekistan), who decided to rebuild Samarkand after Mongol conquest and destruction of half of the town. Amir Timur also made Samarkand the capital of his empire.
Samarkand was always a very multicultural city – it was heavily influenced by China, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and, later in history – Russia.
Which languages are spoken in Samarkand?
As I mentioned previously, Samarkand is situated almost on the border with Tajikistan and the majority of the population is ethnically Tajik. Hence, the main spoken language in Samarkand is Tajik. However, as it’s Uzbekistan, people speak Uzbek as well and the majority of the people also speak Russian.
I haven’t seen that many people who spoke English – at the main market (Siyob market), there was a seller, who spoke a bit of Spanish (Jose was very happy to speak to him), but otherwise, we mostly got around by speaking Russian. In the hotel, they did speak English, though!
If you feel a bit uneasy about the fact whether you’ll be able to get around Samarkand without speaking any of these three languages, I recommend hiring a guide – even though we booked our tour in Russian, our guide, Aziza, spoke perfect English! Feel free to book a tour with Aziza through this website (let her know that you need a tour in English). You can use Google Translate to use the website, as it’s in Russian, however, it’s 100% legitimate and we used it ourselves. You can check Aziza’s availability here.
Is Samarkand worth visiting?
If you’re wondering whether Samarkand is worth visiting, then 100% yes. Samarkand is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in Uzbekistan and some of its landmarks can rival Estafan in Iran. Samarkand is a stunning city and not many people know how beautiful it really is. That’s mostly because of the fact that most of Samarkand wasn’t restored until the 2000s – all that there was were ruins. However, once it was restored (not too long ago), Samarkand quickly rose to the top of the most interesting places to visit in Central Asia.
How many days are enough in Samarkand?
If you’re wondering how many days are enough in Samarkand, well, it depends on how many days do you have available. If time isn’t an issue, I recommend spending 2 days in Samarkand. In case you don’t have much time and you want to visit as many places as possible, you can definitely visit most of the landmarks within one day.
Where to stay in Samarkand for any budget
Now let’s talk about accommodation in Samarkand. We stayed at a hotel called Dilimah Premium Luxury and it was nice – it had good and friendly service, nice breakfasts and modern and spacious rooms decorated in Central Asian style.
The itinerary for 2 days in Samarkand
Alright, let’s start with the itinerary for 2 days in Samarkand and the absolutely best things to do in the city.
Take a walking tour with the local
The activity I would recommend the most in Samarkand would be taking a tour with the local. When we travel around Europe, we rarely take walking tours, however, I felt that in Uzbekistan it’s a must! It saves you a lot of time reading about various landmarks, building an optimal route and learning some things only locals know about their city. We’ve looked for tours on Get Your Guide, Viator and Tripadvisor, but there were very few.
So we ended up finding a tour on a Russian website called Tripster. Our guide, Aziza, spoke perfect English and was a great, knowledgeable and friendly guide, so we can only recommend her! You can check Aziza’s schedule and availability here (you can use Google translate as the website is in Russian; however, it works well with international cards, as we used it to book multiple tours).
Our tour took around 6.5 hours and it was mostly a walking tour, as Samarkand is way more walkable than Tashkent. However, we still had to take a taxi from our hotel to the city centre and back, but it was around $2 each way.
Take a plov (pilaf) masterclass
Another activity that I would wholeheartedly recommend is taking a Plov (pilaf) masterclass. Our masterclass was organised by Aziza; however, if you only want to take this masterclass, I’ve asked the host, Ilkhom – you can message him and organise a tour at email@example.com. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, however, it was a great experience regardless!
We paid around $35-40 for the masterclass and dinner (for both of us), and it was really delicious.
If you don’t feel like taking any of the tours, you can totally explore all the landmarks by yourself. Here are the most popular landmarks in Samarkand:
Amir Timur Mausoleum
Amir Timur Mausoleum is a marvellous building with the tombs of some of the most important people in the history of Uzbekistan including Amir Timur himself. Inside the interior is simply stunning – there is gold everywhere and the combination of blue and gold is just beautiful! You can easily overlook this building not knowing what it is as it’s located slightly further away from the main landmarks, however, it’s definitely worth visiting.
Register square is the main landmark of Samarkand, and it’s also the most beautiful square in entire Uzbekistan. On the Register square, there are 3 madrasas – very beautiful (and different) buildings. Each of them was some sort of medieval Islamic university – students lived there for 1.5 – 3 years to become proficient in Quran. Nowadays, the madrasas don’t work and inside you can find a lot of different souvenir shops. However, the interiors of some of the buildings are still very impressive!
Registan square is especially impressive in the evening when it gets dark!
Bibi-Khanym Mosque is an amazing 15th-century mosque that unfortunately, is still not fully restored. It was build in the beginning of the 15th century and it was dedicated to the wife of Amir Timur. It’s stunning from the outside, but most of the parts are closed for entry as there is a high chance of an accident due to the instability of the foundation and the walls. However, there are plans to start the restoration works soon!
Shah-i-Zinda the most impressive landmark in Samarkand in my opinion. It consists of a variety of beautiful tombs and mausoleums that finished in different styles, from local Uzbek style to Afghan and Iranian styles and patterns. It’s located in the middle of the most centric cemetery in Samarkand, circa 10-15 minutes walking from the Siyob market. In order to get to Shah-i-Zinda, you need to climb a few stairs. Make sure to count them on the way there and back! A lot of people get the numbers wrong and apparently, if you count the same number of steps on the way there and back, you have a pure soul!
Siyob (Siab) Market
Another one of the best things to do in Samarkand in 2 days is that Siyob (Siab) Market – an ancient market where you can buy food, spices and souvenirs. It’s not as photogenic as touristy as the market in Tashkent (Chorsu), however, it’s way more affordable. Of course, as a tourist, you will get extra attention and a lot of sellers will be shouting and offering you their goods, however, it only adds a bit of charm to the experience (unless you’re introverted like me).
You can also eat at the market – in the morning, before 12, they sell fresh plov (pilaf) and amazing local pastries, Samsa.
There is also a cafe (chaihona) in the middle of the market, where you can try more samsa, lagman soup and shashlik. We had 2 skewers of lamb shashlik there and it was most definitely the best shashlik I’ve tried in my life!
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 why it happens. Also, this bread is quite sizeable and heavy – it costs less than $1 and weighs more than a kilo!
Head to Bukhara for a day
If you realise that you have visited most of the landmarks and you still have a day to spare (it’s possible), you can visit Bukhara for a day or stay there overnight. The speed trains can take you to Bukhara in 1.5 hours. Make sure to buy the tickets in advance, as they tend to sell out. You can check the prices and availability here.
Summary of 2 days in Samarkand: the best things to do
I hope you liked this article about the best things to do in Samarkand. There are so many great things to do in the city. Samarkand exceeded all my expectations and it was especially amazing to be able to explore all main landmarks without the crowds. Huge thanks to our guide, Aziza, who told us so many amazing facts about her hometown and organised a fabulous plov making masterclass with Ilkhom.
To summarise, I would recommend spending 2 days in Samarkand, however, if you only have one day in the city, you will be able to see the main landmarks in one day. In case you want to your second day exploring Bukhara (another stunning city not too far away from Samarkand), you can totally do it – there are speed trains that can take you to Bukhara in 1.5 hours. Make sure to buy the tickets in advance, as they tend to sell out. You can check the prices and availability here.