Some travels are harder to plan that others. A trip to a city alone can be challenging, but travelling to a country on the other side of the world, with the goal of seeing as much as possible, can feel even more overwhelming – especially when you have a limited number of days.
A beach holiday is a little easier to put together, but a trip that involves domestic travel to many cities throughout the country, with trains and planes, can be a logistical planning nightmare. Uzbekistan is a perfect example of this. Fortunately, my 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary has you covered. For anyone that is too busy with work or family life to research the optimal Uzbekistan itinerary, spend your time thinking what you are going to pack for your trip and let this article do all the heavily lifting.
- Why Visit Uzbekistan
- Important Things to Note Before Travelling to Uzbekistan
- Best Time to Visit Uzbekistan
- Travel Insurance if Travelling to Uzbekistan
- Travelling to Uzbekistan
- Getting Around in Uzbekistan
- Accommodation in Uzbekistan
- A 10-Day Uzbekistan Itinerary
- Day 1: Landing in Tashkent
- Day 2: A Day in Tashkent & Travel to Khiva
- Day 3: Exploring Khiva
- Day 4: A Day Trip to the Fortresses & Travel to Bukhara
- Day 5: Discovering Bukhara
- Day 6: Bukhara with a Guide
- Day 7: A Day Trip Outside of Bukhara
- Day 8: Strolling Around Samarkand
- Day 9: A Guided Tour of Samarkand
- Day 10: Pampering in Samarkand & Travel to Tashkent
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Why Visit Uzbekistan
When we first said that we were planning a trip to Uzbekistan, many questioned the reasoning behind it. Uzbekistan is very much a hidden gem in, what to me at least, is the undiscovered region of Central Asia. The country does not have anywhere near the level of tourism that its history and grandeur warrants, and that is partly due to the fact that visas were quite troublesome up until recently. In fact, it was only in the last few years that Uzbekistan lifted visa requirements for all European Union countries.
Whilst it is always advisable to check the visa requirements for any country using reputable sites such as CIBT, whatever the requirements may be, Uzbekistan has an extraordinary amount to offer. It is the country with a history that spans back thousands of years – a history involving conquerors like Genghis Khan, an ancient trade route from the Orient to Arabia and Europe, and most recently, the USSR.
There are four main cities that should be included in any Uzbekistan itinerary and each of them tell their own story. This itinerary works its way from the capital city of Tashkent and west to the small World Heritage Site of Khiva, before moving east to the Silk Road trading posts of Bukhara and Samarkand. Each are worth visiting because despite being part of the same country, they are vastly different.
Tashkent, the capital and most cosmopolitan of the four, is the city where travellers can marvel at the Soviet influence displayed in mesmerising structures like Hotel Uzbekistan and a grand metro system that is not to dissimilar to the one in Moscow. Next on our Uzbekistan itinerary is Khiva – located just 6km away from Turkmenistan and one that is renowned for its high walls that surround the ancient historic centre. The history of Khiva is fascinating, and it was once its own khanate (or state) before becoming part of modern day Uzbekistan.
Bukhara is up next, a city rich in historical sites and also on the World Heritage List. Being located on the Silk Road, Bukhara has long served as a centre of trade, as well as culture and religion. It was also once the capital of the Samanid Empire and the Khanate of Bukhara. Prior to Soviet rule, the city was filled with ponds that acted as a source of water for travellers on the Silk Road. Most of these ponds were filled by the Soviets to help prevent disease, however you can still get a glimpse of some of the remaining ponds (or hauz) at Lab-i Hauz.
Last but not least is the south eastern city of Samarkand, considered one of the greatest cities of Central Asia. Thanks to its fortunate location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean, Samarkand became a prosperous city and a centre point for trade. A city once conquered by Alexander the Great and invaded by Genghis Khan, it eventually became a World Heritage Site in 2001. Samarkand is a playful mix of its ancient past and the remnants of the Soviet era, with wide boulevards and blue-mosaic madrasahs. The crown jewel of the city is Registan. A sprawling plaza that could easily compete with more famous locations like Red Square in Moscow or the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.
What you can expect to find in each of these cities however, is a magnificent menagerie of mosques, madrasahs and mausoleums, each beautifully decorated with intricate mosaic patterns and beautiful shades of blue. The architecture throughout is something to be in awe of, as each of these imposing structures looms over the secrets each cities holds.
Important Things to Note Before Travelling to Uzbekistan
Here’s a quick list of things that travellers should note before jumping in to the itinerary and the detailed articles on each of the cities.
- Check visa requirements: needless to say, but be sure to check the visa requirements for entry into Uzbekistan ahead of your trip. It is also important that these requirements apply for your dates of travel. The country continues to slowly open up its borders and in the same year that we travelled, we went from needing a visa when we booked the flights, to then not needing a visa as restrictions had been lifted. Always refer to reputable sources like CIBT to check the latest news.
- Obtain foreign currency from home: chances are, you will be landing in Tashkent. There is also a high probability that the ATM machines at the airport in Tashkent are not working. You will quickly spot the exchange centre at the arrivals hall, along with the queue in front of it. Unfortunately, ATMs not working, or just a general lack of ATMs in certain areas, is not uncommon in Uzbekistan. Save yourself the hassle and sort out some of the local currency (Uzbek som) ahead of your trip, so that you have no problems paying your cab driver when landing in Tashkent.
- Uzbekistan is safe: for those that are concerned about carrying cash with them on a trip to an unknown country, set your mind at ease by knowing that Uzbekistan is a very safe country. Naturally, it is not advisable to flash your cash around, but that is the case anywhere in the world. Nor is it advisable to convert enough cash for the full 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary in your home country – you will find ATMs along the way where you can withdraw money for a few days at a time, but just be sure to have some cash on you when you land in Uzbekistan.
- Most tourism in Uzbekistan is either domestic or from neighbouring countries: and that means that tourism is geared towards the local market. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy it – but it means that many locals do not speak English and most signs are in Russian. Whilst the national language is Uzbek, most Uzbeks are fluent in Russian so if you haven’t picked one up yet, it makes sense to pick up a Russian phrase book or download a translation app so that you are able to communicate. This leads to the next point..
- WiFi throughout most of the country is terrible: so if you plan to rely on things like Google Maps and Google Translate, you will need to sort out a local SIM card. You can easily pick one up whilst in Tashkent from any agent offices of the four main operators (Ucell, UMC, Beeline, Uzmobile). Important – you will need a registration card from your hotel (they will know what this is) and your passport when purchasing a SIM.
- It’s not that conservative: despite being a Muslim country, so don’t stress too much about whether you are packing the appropriate clothing. Just make sure that you are appropriately dressed when visiting religious sites such as mosques. Might be worth packing a shawl so that you can drape it over your shoulders for such locations.
- The food is all about meat and bread: vegans may find it particularly challenging – especially if gluten-free too (like myself). It will take some getting used to, but rice and veg are available everywhere and you’ll likely eat Uzbek salad multiple times a day. Just be sure to have your translation app ready so that you can explain to the waiters.
Best Time to Visit Uzbekistan
The best time to travel to Uzbekistan is in Spring (April and May) and Autumn (September and October). During the summer, it can get too hot to walk around and explore comfortably, but during these suggested months the weather is still mild. All images taken for this Uzbekistan itinerary were captured at the beginning of April. It is said that if visiting earlier in the year, while much colder, there is the opportunity for capturing the stunning architecture against clear bright skies. Seems like we got the best of both!
Travel Insurance if Travelling to Uzbekistan
Before diving into this 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary, it’s important that I give a quick reminder on travel insurance. Make sure that you are covered in case anything happens to you whilst travelling, especially in a country that is far away from home. Lonely Planet has a great article on healthcare in Uzbekistan.
You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
Travelling to Uzbekistan
Unless travelling from a CIS country, Tashkent will likely be your starting point for your journey, therefore this is the starting point of our Uzbekistan itinerary.
The national airline is Uzbekistan Airways and it offers direct flights from major cities across the world including London, New York, Munich and Dubai. The flight from London lasts between 7 and 8 hours – it’s a long overnight flight and unfortunately, no class offers a fully flat bed. Yes, the seats are wider in business class, and they do recline a little more, but it’s not worth the difference in cost.
Indirect flight options are also available with carriers such as Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa. If opting for an indirect flight via Moscow, you have the option of beginning your Uzbekistan journey in other cities. On the other hand, if you are flying in to Tashkent and looking for pure luxury, then indirect is the way to go. Of course, it will depend on your starting point, but Munich or Istanbul are the most obvious connecting points with airlines that offer higher cabins with a fully flat beds.
For the adventurous reader with more time to explore, there is of course the option of trains and cars. A word of caution, this will not be as convenient as catching a flight: borders may sometimes close due to political tensions, more visas are required and it is by no means a luxury experience.
Getting Around in Uzbekistan
Whichever city you are in, taxis are always available and are very affordable. It is the easiest way of getting around with minimal hassle. Other than hailing a cab in the street, you can also use Yandex – an app very similar to Uber. If not using Yandex, it’s important to remember that most taxis are unlicensed and therefore do not operate a meter. Always remember to negotiate the price of your ride before getting in the car, as you risk being charged over-inflated tourist prices if nothing is agreed beforehand.
For those brave enough to want to take a stab at driving in Uzbekistan, there are a few things worth noting. For starters, there aren’t actually that many car hire services in Uzbekistan, but have a look on Rentalcars.com to see what you can find. If driving, remember that rules of the road are more like suggestions rather than actual rules – drunk driving is an issue, as are potholes outside of the main cities, roads are a little disorganised and you are not required to wear a seat belt by law. Worrying but true.
Uzbeks drive on the right side of the road. An International Driving Permit is required to rent a car, and remember there is no national breakdown service.
Travelling by rail is possible, and this 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary will include train rides on both the Afrosiab (from Bukhara to Samarkand) and the Sharq (from Samarkand back to Tashkent).
The Afrosiab is Uzbekistan’s new high speed train that offers a VIP class, business class, economy class and restaurant car. Clean, modern and efficient! For readers based in the UK, you can book all your train tickets online at Real Russia. They will of course be significantly more expensive than if you were to buy them at the station, but if you don’t book ahead of time you run the risk of the trains being completely full, especially in peak season (and then you’ll have to drive or fly). Tickets were posted to our home in London.
Unlike the Afrosiab, the Sharq, leaves much to be desired and is quite outdated (see pictures). We had opted to book a first class cabin for the longer journey from Samarkand to Tashkent, and whilst old-fashioned, having the private cabin for a 3-hour journey was great – so great in fact that I made myself comfortable and snoozed for almost the whole ride. To my knowledge no food or drinks were offered, so you may want to consider bringing some water and snacks for the journey.
In Khiva and Bukhara, a lot of the main sites to visit are pretty close to each other so you can cover a whole lot of ground on foot. This was not the case in Tashkent or Samarkand. The good news is that just like Moscow, Tashkent has some of the most beautifully decorated metro stations I have seen anywhere in the world and they are a site to see in themselves. They feature in my list of top places to visit in Tashkent, and make a grandiose backdrop for taking photos. Fun fact: a ban on photography in the Tashkent metro was only lifted last summer!
Whether on foot or in a car, it is highly recommended that you organise a local tour guide in whichever city you are in. There is so much to experience and it can be quite overwhelming, but having a guide will direct you to the places which are most of interest to you and save you a lot of time.
Accommodation in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is in the dawn of a new era – an era where its wonders are beginning to be enjoyed by tourists from all over the world. It’s no surprise given that the architecture and history this country offers makes it one of the most interesting countries in the world. Things are slowly changing and around 6.7 million foreign tourists travelled to Uzbekistan in 2019 – almost triple the number it was 3 years prior. This sudden surge of visitors meant that the average room occupancy rate across the country in 2019 was 83%.
The government recognises the importance of tourism and shortage of rooms and have plans to double the number of guest rooms to over 50,000 by the end of 2021. This is excellent news as hotels throughout the country can be quite outdated – travellers looking for a true luxury experience may leave dissatisfied. Converted merchant mansions and small guest houses are quietly opening all over the country and are breathing new life into towns. Prices remain very reasonable, and you can expect prices of below £50 per night in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand.
The exception to all of this is Tashkent, which makes it the perfect location to start and end your Uzbekistan travels. The Hyatt Regency Tashkent offers true luxury like one would expect from any other major city in the world. In December 2019, the Hilton City Tashkent also opened its doors to the world and rumour has it that Four Seasons has shown interest in Samarkand. For more information on accommodation in each of the respective cities, click through to Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva for more hotel recommendations.
A 10-Day Uzbekistan Itinerary
This is the 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary that we followed for our trip back in 2019.
Day 1: Landing in Tashkent
We landed in Tashkent on a Saturday morning after taking an overnight flight directly from London Heathrow. The Uzbekistan Airways flight departed on Friday evening at 21:35 and landed the next morning at 8:35. After checking in to the Hyatt Regency Tashkent, we had the rest of the day to explore. It was this afternoon that we had our first glimpse of Uzbekistan, visiting sites like the Amir Timur Museum and Square, Hotel Uzbekistan and the Tashkent TV Tower. We ended our evening with a meal at Sette back at the hotel.
Day 2: A Day in Tashkent & Travel to Khiva
On Day 2, we were up bright and early to continue wandering around Tashkent, visiting sites like Chorsu Bazaar and the Hazrat Imam Complex. After wandering around and returning to the hotel for lunch, we packed up our things, checked out and caught a taxi to the airport. It was time for Khiva!
The most time efficient way to get to Khiva from Tashkent is by plane. Internal flights within Uzbekistan Airways are incredibly well-priced and it saves so much time as opposed to trains or cars. Here, I would recommend booking business class – very well-priced and worth the extra room. We caught the 19:00 flight and landed in Urgench at 20:30. The airport is very small and by 21:00 we were making our way to our hotel just outside the old city. You’ll need to take a cab, which costed us around $15 for a 45 minute car ride – ALWAYS haggle a little. We had dinner at our hotel and called it a night.
Day 3: Exploring Khiva
Once in Khiva, it’s pretty easy to get where you want to be on foot. The walled inner town of Khiva is known as Itchan-Kala – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No cars are allowed within these walls so from this point, you are free to explore on foot. Despite the small size, we definitely had a much better experience through using a guide.
Day 4: A Day Trip to the Fortresses & Travel to Bukhara
It was recommended to us by our guide that we should organise a day trip to the fortresses just outside of Khiva: Toprak Kala, Kyzyl Kala and Ayaz Kala. Whilst it took an hour and half to reach our destination, it was worth it for the stunning views. After wandering around the fortresses, we stopped for lunch at a nearby traditional yurt and met some of the locals that call it home.
Our driver for the day was arranged by our tour guide in Khiva the previous day. We paid around $70 for the full day excursion, although I suspect we probably overpaid for this. From the fortresses, we made our way back to the hotel, collected our belongings and headed back to the airport to commence our journey to Bukhara. We caught the 21:10 Uzbek Airways flight direct to Bukhara – a short 45 minute flight.
After landing in Bukhara, we caught a taxi from outside the airport straight to our hotel and called it a night.
Day 5: Discovering Bukhara
For the first day in Bukhara, we were free to roam around and get used to a new city that is very different to both Tashkent and Khiva. Bukhara was an important trading post on the ancient Silk Road and there is a lot to see. We allowed ourselves time to explore on our own and at a slow pace, so that the following day we could advise our guide on which sites were most of interest to us.
Day 6: Bukhara with a Guide
The next day, our hotel helped us to organise a tour guide who could take us around and talk us through the sites that we wanted to learn more about. There is so much to see in this old town and I could easily have spent one week there. In fact, we didn’t even get to see Chor Minor up close. On the other hand, our tour guide took us to places that we hadn’t come across in any guide books, such as the Hoja Zayniddin Mosque and Fayzulla Khujayev House – both which were incredible beautiful and worth visiting. More information is available in my Bukhara guide.
Day 7: A Day Trip Outside of Bukhara
Our final day in Bukhara was spent exploring three of the sites just outside of the city, sites like Chor Bakr, Mohi Khosa Summer Palace and The Memorial Complex of Khoja Bakhouddin Naqshband. Our hotel was able to organise a driver for the day who was beyond helpful. He spoke no English, but used an app to translate everything and conversed with us the entire way. We were so appreciative we even treated him to lunch. After a day of sightseeing, he drove us straight to the train station so that we could catch the evening Afrosiab train from Bukhara to Samarkand.
As with every other city, we caught a taxi from outside the station straight to our hotel, the Hotel Grand Samarkand.
Day 8: Strolling Around Samarkand
Upon arriving in Samarkand, you will realise that it is very different to the other Silk Road cities, Khiva and Bukhara, in that the city is sprawling! We spent the first day on our own exploring the city alone, before asking our hotel to organise a guide the following day.
Day 9: A Guided Tour of Samarkand
The average price for a driver and guide is around $60, but if you wanted to reduce this cost, you could always opt for a shared taxi with people you might have met on your travels. Our guide took us around all the places you would expect – the grandiose square of Registan, Bibi Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda.
For the fast-paced travellers, you might want to consider amending the itinerary slightly here. Rather than spending two and a half days in Samarkand, you can shorten your time here and spend one day visiting Fergana Valley, a crucial part of the northern Silk Road. Fergana Valley is a 7.5 hour drive away from Samarkand and 4.5 hours away from Tashkent, so this is the time to fit it in.
Day 10: Pampering in Samarkand & Travel to Tashkent
Our last day in Samarkand was unfortunately a day of heavy rain, but on the bright side, it was the one day of rain during the whole trip. We saw it as a sign that we should take advantage of the weather and spent the day getting treated at a salon near our hotel, with manicures, pedicures, eyelash extensions for me and a haircut for my husband. I will honestly say that they were by far the best eyelash extensions I have ever had done. They lasted close to 8 weeks compared to the usual 4, and costed me 75% less than what I pay in London.
If you are a regular at beauty salons back home, I suggest spending some time at a local salon recommended by your hotel. Prices are much lower than in other parts of the world, plus you will be helping small local businesses. Win win!
After a morning at the salon it was back to the hotel to pack up and head back to the train station. We caught the Sharq straight to Tashkent, and the journey took around 3 hours. Fortunately I was able to sleep most of the way thanks to booking a private cabin! As we arrived in Tashkent, it was back to the Hyatt Regency to get ready for our last meal at Clouds Bar and Restaurant, before preparing the fly home the next morning.
I hope this has been useful to you and that you will consider this beautiful destination for an upcoming holiday soon. Please feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions, or just pop your comments below!
Further articles on Samarkand, as well as day trips to the fortresses in Urgench and the outskirts of Bukhara to follow!
This article was initially published in June 2019, and edited for updates in April 2020.
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