Bukhara was the third stop on our tour of Uzbekistan, following our visits to Tashkent and Khiva. If it’s the first you are hearing about this hidden gem, Bukhara is a historic old town that has been around over 2,000 years. It was once situated on the infamous Silk Road and the historic town centre is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We travelled to Bukhara on a direct flight from Khiva, which took around 3 hours. The two cities are quite different – Bukhara is a little more developed in that it had ATMs that worked, but equally, it still held that historical charm that Khiva exuded. We also had the best food experiences during our time in Bukhara and almost every night, we ate at a restaurant opposite the pond in Lyabi Hauz. I only wish I took down the name. It can easily be found though as it is the only restaurant around the pond.
And so, just like I wrote for Tashkent and Khiva, here are, in my opinion, the best places to visit in Bukhara Uzbekistan – the top things you need to do to return home with the perfect photo gallery of your Uzbekistan adventures.
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From Khiva to Bukhara
To get from Khiva to Bukhara, we booked an internal flight with Uzbek Airlines. Internal flights are incredibly cheap however it really is best to book these well in advance as they tend to fill up quite quickly. If the flights do happen to be full by the time you come to book, there is always the option of a car or train, however it will just take that little bit longer.
We arrived at the airport in Bukhara, and whilst slightly bigger than the one in Urgench, it wasn’t much different. Bukhara International Airport is still relatively small and there are only a few flights that land here, so all the taxi drivers know when to hang around outside waiting for the new influx of tourists.
It’s important to note that meters in the cabs are not used, so be sure to ask the cost of the ride before jumping in the car. If I remember correctly, we paid around 50,000 som/£5. I’m 100% sure that we overpaid, especially given the ride was only 10 minutes, but it’s hard to begrudge them when £5 will go so much further for them than it will for us in London.
Where to Stay in Bukhara
We arrived at our first hotel and were pleasantly surprised by how cosy and quaint it was, with rooms that were very spacious. Malika Hotel is located within easy walking distance of the main sites to see, however we saw that there was a higher rated hotel not too far away. It was not available for all of our nights in Bukhara, so we spent the first night at Malika Hotel and the next two nights at another just a few minutes away. I don’t know who wrote the reviews, but I wish we had never moved at all. This second hotel was located in a quiet dirt road with very poor lighting and overall was just pretty awful.
On the other hand, I highly recommend Malika Hotel, but there are plenty of other options to choose from on Booking.com and you’ll be sure to find something that suits your requirements.
Hiring a Guide in Bukhara
Just like we did in Khiva, we hired a guide for one day in Bukhara just so that we could learn as much as possible about the city’s history – I really recommend visitors do the same. Our hotel helped us to book a guide, but you can easily book one ahead of time through Viator. Before spending the day with the guide though, we spent a day by ourselves to just explore Bukhara on our own. By spending the day walking around alone before we met the guide the following day, it really gave us a flavour of the city and it meant that we knew what we wanted to focus on for the day ahead.
Our tour guide was multilingual – fluent in English, Uzbek, Russian and Tajik, which was pretty impressive to me. It’s been a while since the trip back in April 2019 and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I can’t quite remember her name, but we began our tour together at the hotel we were staying at. The list that follows is the route she took us on.
These nighttime images were taken on our first night spent in Bukhara. We had dinner at Chasmai-Mirob Restaurant, where we got to experience an evening of local cuisine, whilst looking at the Great Minaret of Kalon.
Places to Visit in Bukhara
With a history spanning thousands of years, Bukhara was my absolute favourite city in Uzbekistan overall. It didn’t quite have the chaotic atmosphere of Samarkand and was absent of the intricate mazes of Khiva’s Itchan Kala. To me it was just the perfect place to take in the country’s grand architecture and history – that being said though, I am told there is competition between each of the cities, so you probably won’t want to say this to locals throughout the country!
Lyabi Haus is at the heart of the old city of Bukhara. It’s the best place to start as it is a picturesque town square, surrounded by restaurants and shops. It’s the perfect spot to relax when tired of sightseeing; a place to sit back, sip on local Bagizagan wine and watch the locals go about their day-to-day lives. I mentioned it at the start of this article as the place where we ate most of our meals.
Our guide’s husband was waiting in the car just a few streets away to drive us to our first stop – the Samanid Mausoleum. It was only a 10 minute drive and you can most definitely walk if you have time to spare. It is located in a park just outside the centre of town and is considered an architectural masterpiece due to its intricate brickwork. Ironically, at the time the mausoleum was built, erecting crypts was against Islamic law.
The Ark of Bukhara
From the mausoleum, we walked through the park and exited just by a local marketplace. It’s worth walking around if you have the time, but since we had already visited Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent we decided to give it a miss. Within about 10 minutes of walking we reached The Ark of Bukhara – an imposing fortress that was built in the 5th century AD. This makes the ark citadel the oldest structure in the city.
Around the time, it was inhabited by the royal courts and was very much a town in itself. I found it fascinating that this site has been here for almost 2,000 years and I wondered what those walls had seen – from the era of Genghis Khan to the Russian Civil War. Within the Ark itself, you can visit Bukhara’s largest museum, Bukhara State Architectural and Art Museum, amongst several others.
Bolo Hauz Mosque
From the Ark, we crossed the road and headed over to the Bolo Hauz Mosque. The mosque was built in the early 1700’s and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What makes the Bolo Hauz Mosque pretty unique that it’s known as the Mosque of 40 Pillars due to the large wooden pillars erected right outside.
You’ll note from the pictures though that there are only 20 wooden pillars – and this is not an error in counting. The mosque is directly opposite a large pool, and the additional 20 are reflected in the water. A fully functioning mosque to this day, it was historically the emir’s official place of worship. When you’re ready admiring the artwork in those wooden columns, have a look just behind that pool. You’ll notice a now-disused 33m water tower, built by the Russians in 1927.
Covered Central Bazaar
From the Bolo Hauz Mosque, it was over to the covered Central Bazaar located in the centre of the city. Unlike most other bazaars that I have visited in other parts of the world, this one was not overflowing with tourists – likely because the country as whole is still very much undiscovered.
Like other bazaars though, you can pick up all your usual souvenirs and trinkets, along with other goods that the locals might be shopping for. You can find everything from handmade carpets to hand-embroidered tablecloths, from folk musical instruments to national toys. Whatever you decide to buy though, be sure to check out the building that actually shelters the bazaar, and the ornate ceilings of the trading domes.
The most recognisable place in Bukhara is Poi Kalyan – an Islamic religious square where the Kalyan Minaret sits right in the middle. What’s amazing is that these images were taken in the middle of the day just in front of the Kalyan Minaret (behind me) and the Mir-i-Arab madrassah. It’s a main tourist attraction in the city but look at how few people there were around me! It’s a great example of how the country overall is just such an undiscovered region.
Starting with the main attraction – The Kalyan Minaret. It’s also morbidly known as the Tower of Death as rumour has it that prisoners were executed by being thrown off the top. We heard some tourists speaking about this at a local restaurant and asked our guide, who quickly said that this was untrue. Who knows what secrets that tower holds? Either way it’s got a beautifully intricate design and is a stunning piece of architecture.
In the square there are a handful of mosques, although some were burnt down by Genghis Khan in the siege of Bukhara. Fortunately though, the Kalyan mosque still stands in all its glory and is home to these spectacular white corridors with their alluring arches. Within the mosque, you will continue to see those beautiful mosaic patterns on the walls. Can you read what they spell out? Whilst you think about it, here are some more images of the internal courtyard of the mosque.
Disclaimer – needless to say, I was not wearing the orange dress inside the mosques. You can find me below in the middle picture, wearing jeans and a shawl around my shoulders.
Whilst in Po-i-Kalyan, you can’t miss the Mir-I-Arab madrasah that’s in the images below. It is quite a sight to see from the outside with its blue domes and imposing arches. It’s just as well, as tourists are only allowed entry into the foyer of the building. The entrance to Mir-I-Arab is just opposite the Kalyan mosque I mention above.
Within minutes of Po-i-Kalyan is an exquisite-looking madrasah called Ulugbeg (not to be confused with the madrasah of the same name in Samarkand). But all this talk of madrasah and I still haven’t explained what it actually means! Quite simply it refers to a place where studying or learning takes place, usually around the Islamic religion. Interestingly, Ulugbeg is the oldest madrasah in all of Central Asia and is naturally a must-see. Just look at that spectacular blue mosaic on the wall! The entrance fee is 40000 som per person at the time of publication.
Just across from the Ulugbeg Madrasah lies the Abdulaziz Khan Madrasah, and the two are often compared. Should you wish to visit this madrasah too, note that there is another entrance fee of 13000 som per person. Whichever madrasah you visit though, you will end up seeing the exterior of the other.
A short ten minute walk away from Zulugbeg lies Chor Minor, a historic gatehouse for a now-destroyed madrasa, built by a wealthy Bukharan. In Persian, the name of the monument appropriately means ‘four minarets’, with four turquoise minaret-like towers overlooking the city. Visitors can go up to the terrace between the towers to enjoy the view.
Hoja Zayniddin Mosque
We were led to a mosque by our guide in one of the side streets within the inner city of Bukhara. It was one of those places where you just cannot explain the beauty of what you are seeing. I’m talking about the Hoja Zayniddin Mosque. I did not see this is any of the Bukhara guide books, but I am so glad that our tour guide told us it’s a must-see. Whilst it’s not well-known, the interior of this 16th century mosque houses the grandest dome in Bukhara.
Fayzulla Khujayev House
And last but not least, our tour ended with a trip to the Fayzulla Khujayev House. Again, not one that I saw on many online recommendations but definitely a must-see, for it was home to the son of a wealthy merchant who became a politician and leader of the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. Sadly, he did not have a happy ending and was executed under Stalin.
If you haven’t used a guide for the rest of your time in Bukhara, I really recommend using one here. The house will not mean much without someone explaining the history behind it. It’s also a little bit hard to locate, although it is within walking distance of the inner city. Have a look at how the wealthy would live back in the early 1900’s!
Have you visited the ancient city of Bukhara? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on it or whether it has made you want to visit in the coming months. If you have enough time, you may want to see some sites just outside of Bukhara, such as Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace. I would highly recommend it!
Are you planning a trip to Uzbekistan? Check out my guide to travelling around Uzbekistan, as well as my review of the finest hotel in Tashkent, the Hyatt Regency Tashkent. You can also check out my travel guides on Tashkent and Khiva.
This article was initially published in October 2019, and edited for updates in April 2020.
Shop the Look
My traditional Uzbek handmade floor length coat was created by my tour guide Naz in Khiva. It is a very small town, so if you do plan on going and would like to purchase your own, just ask around and your hotel or tour guide will likely know who she is.
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