If flying into Uzbekistan from anywhere in the world other than Russia, the chances are that you will begin and end your Uzbekistan travel story in the capital city – Tashkent. If you are struggling to put together an itinerary for your Uzbek journey, you might want to start by looking at my 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary. Once you have the bare bones of your trip laid out, you can start planning what to do in each of the cities – beginning with the capital. This article has you covered on all the best places to visit in Tashkent, how to get around and where you should stay during your time there.
- Tashkent, The Capital City of Uzbekistan
- Where to Stay in Tashkent
- Best Places to Eat in Tashkent
- The Top 10 Places to Visit in Tashkent
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Tashkent, The Capital City of Uzbekistan
Tashkent is the capital of, and the most cosmopolitan city, in Uzbekistan. With a population of over 2.5 million, it is the fourth most populous city in the CIS after Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. Whilst it may not be as widely spoken of as the infamous Silk Road cities like Bukhara and Samarkand, it is definitely not a place to skip.
It is a city that is an intriguing mix of Soviet-era architecture and ancient mausoleums, combined with an equally intriguing combination of religious buildings of several faiths. And with all this to experience, I would recommend that you allocate at least one day (ideally two) in Tashkent.
Things to Note Before Landing in Tashkent
There are a few things worth pointing out before landing in Tashkent and starting your Uzbekistan journey. The first is that you would typically expect to find ATMs at the airport in order to convert your currency. Whilst you will see 3 ATMs at Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport, chances are that none of them work. There is, however, an exchange centre where you are able to exchange your currency. You may find that there is a queue.
I never recommend carrying large sums of money when travelling (for obvious reasons), but it’s worth noting that you may sometimes encounter some difficulty in getting cash, and in a country that is heavily cash-based, this is something you should be aware of. My recommendation is to always withdraw a sufficient amount of local currency whenever you see an ATM – enough for a couple of days, which should not be all that much given that life in Uzbekistan is not expensive. If you can, pay your hotel bills at the time of booking as many of the older and more traditional ones do not accept cards.
After leaving the airport, it’s time to make your way to the train station, or to your hotel if exploring Tashkent. If doing the latter, and if you weren’t able to book airport transfers with your hotel, fret not. There are plenty of taxis outside the airport. Taxis in Uzbekistan generally DO NOT use a meter, so it’s important to ask the price of the journey before you get in the car. Always haggle down as they will initially give you an over-inflated tourist price. Just like I wrote in my article on Moscow, you could also use the Yandex app, which works in the same way Uber does and also offers airport transfers. I recommend downloading this before landing in Tashkent.
Most of the population in Tashkent are either Uzbek or Russian, which means that the most common languages spoken in the capital are indeed – you guessed it – either Uzbek or Russian. The Uzbek language is the official state language written in the Latin alphabet, and Russian is considered the interethnic and public institutions language. Knowing a little bit of Russian will definitely help you get around, but it’s worth keeping Google Translate handy throughout, if for no other reason than to translate where you want to go into Russian for your taxi driver. Throughout the country though, so many other languages are spoken and it’s really quite fascinating to hear.
Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, so most of its inhabitants are Muslim. This may leave you wondering whether there is any dress code you should follow during your time in Uzbekistan. Whilst I cannot speak for locals as I am not a national, but as a tourist I found that pretty much anything goes – as long as you remain respectful – but this applies to any country you visit. Whilst you can see in the pictures that I was wearing a strappy top to walk around one day, this is definitely not suitable if you intend to enter a mosque. You can, however, bring a shawl so that you can cover your shoulders if you do plan to enter one.
Where to Stay in Tashkent
One thing you need to know about Uzbekistan overall is that it is only just opening up to international travel, with most tourists still coming from ex-CIS countries to this day. It was only a few years ago that the government began to introduce visa exemptions for travel to the country, which means that the majority of hotels are old and dated, with decor that I can best describe as ex-Soviet minimalism, in every shade of brown and with different floral prints everywhere.
Now I get this is all down to taste, and that Soviet-inspired decor has very much inspired some modern day minimalists, but it’s not quite the style one would expect from a luxury 5-star hotel. Fortunately, Tashkent is the city in Uzbekistan where you can still experience that bit of luxury. Here are my top recommendations for luxury hotels in Uzbekistan.
The Hyatt Regency Tashkent was the hotel that we stayed at, both when we first arrived in Uzbekistan, as well as on our final night when we returned to fly back home. It is a hotel I highly recommend – the staff were very friendly and welcoming, and the decor was modern and truly luxurious. I enjoyed it so much in fact, that I wrote a whole review on the Hyatt Regency Tashkent that you might wish to read, along with a second article all about the cuisine you can find within the hotel. If the Hyatt Regency Tashkent is booked, fret not. The two hotels below also offer luxury in the traditional sense, but I have yet to visit them!
The newest luxury international brand in the city, the Hilton Tashkent City opened its doors in December 2019 and offers the level of luxury you would expect to both corporate and leisure travellers.
The oldest of the three, and perhaps not as luxurious as the first 2 – but a 5 star hotel worth considering nonetheless, especially if you love a Turkish bath!
Best Places to Eat in Tashkent
- Khiva Restaurant: based on the ground floor of the Hyatt Regency Tashkent, this was the first place we were able to experience Uzbek cuisine. I indulged in a veggie plov and lots of Uzbek salad – dishes I would eat almost daily during my time in Uzbekistan.
- Central Asian Plov Center: reviews all claim that this is the best place in Tashkent for plov! That’s a reason worth visiting in itself!
- Clouds Bar and Restaurant: located on the rooftop of a mall, offering great food in a smart environment. Expensive by Uzbekistan standards, but worth it to dress up for one evening.
The Top 10 Places to Visit in Tashkent
The great thing about staying at the Hyatt Regency Tashkent is that it is located right in the middle of town, and most places were within walking distance. The images below were taken over two days, but could easily have been fit into one with the use of taxis rather than walking everywhere.
Amir Temur Museum
We walked from the Hyatt Regency Tashkent to the Amir Temur Museum, which took all of ten minutes. For those not very familiar with the history of Uzbekistan, Amir Temur was a well-known warlord who thought himself to be the heir of Genghis Khan. His rule promoted science, education, culture, architecture, the fine arts, music and poetry, and is still very much celebrated in Uzbekistan. There is of course a whole lot more to the story, and those who are interested in it should spend an hour of so wandering around the museum.
Like with most other sites in the country, the architecture is beautiful, with the large blue cupola resembling that of the Gur-i Amir mausoleum in Samarkand – Amir Temur’s grave.
Amir Temur Monument and Square
Stroll a little bit further on from the museum and you get to the Amir Temur Square, a sprawling area in the centre of town that boasts an imposing statue of Amir Temur and the Forums Palace (a spectacular and grand building with regal columns). Forums Palace represents the work of over 5000 architects, project managers and skilled workers, that helped to make it what it is today. It has been designed as a platform for hosting acts of state, congresses, conferences and other cultural highlights.
Admire ‘Hotel Uzbekistan’
Appreciate Uzbek Metro Stations
When you’ve had your fill of the Square, hop on the metro right by the Hotel Uzbekistan and make your way to the Tashkent TV Tower, the tallest tower in Central Asia. Before we get to that though, take a moment to appreciate the Tashkent metro stations. If you have been to Moscow, you’ll know what I mean. The stations are beautifully decorated with marble, ceramics, alabaster and chandeliers and best of all, they have been kept a secret up until recently. It was only last year (2018) that a ban on photography in the underground was lifted! Worth noting that it was the first underground system in Central Asia!
Tashkent TV Tower
Back to the Tashkent TV Tower though, make it a point to visit at sunset. We got to see the most spectacular burning red sky over the city of Tashkent and it honestly felt like a something out of a movie (the pictures don’t half do it justice!). Not only is it the tallest building in Central Asia but it was, at one point, the 4th tallest tower in the world from 1985 to 1991. Its purpose was to spread the TV and radio signals over the Uzbekistan. Note: you will be asked for your passport to be able to climb the tower, so please remember to take it with you! There is also a restaurant on one of the floors if you are so inclined to eat there for dinner.
We ended the night with a meal at Sette, the Italian restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, and called it a day as we had flown in that very morning. The next day, we had hired our own driver to take us around, particularly as we were flying to Khiva that same evening so we did not want to waste too much time. If staying at the Hyatt Regency, they will assist you in organising a driver and will ensure that you are not overcharged for the service. Below are the sites we visited.
Our first stop was to Chorsu Bazaar – the traditional bazaar located in the centre of the old town of Tashkent. The place was bustling, selling every kind of vegetable, fruit, meat, spice and bread that you would expect to find in a market place. Stunning colours and such friendly locals! They are pretty comfortable with photos, but I always made it a point to ask if it was OK to use my camera.
The veg section was of course the most colourful and the bread section smelt amazing, where fresh local bread was being baked in their clay ovens. Warning to all vegetarians or vegans, you may find the meat section a little difficult – inside that large dome is possibly the biggest meat market I have seen, with huge slabs of meat laying around everywhere. I’ll let the picture speak for itself, but as someone who doesn’t meat, this was something hard for me to deal with.
Kukeldash Madrasah and the Dzhuma Mosque
I add this here as it is just outside Chorsu Bazaar, however I admit that regrettably I did not visit myself. Both are beautiful examples of Islamic architecture and worth visiting if you have the time.
Hazrat Imam Complex
After the bazaar, it was off to the Hazrat Imam Complex, a beautiful and expansive square that is home to both mosques and madrasahs. Barakhan Madrasah is located at the Hazrat Imam Complex, and it was the first of the many madrasas that we would see during our time in Uzbekistan and where we first got to see Uzbek traditional architecture in all its glory.
Visitors can enter the inner courtyard to look at the small shops selling traditional Uzbek souvenirs. Whilst there is no need for head covering, I did use a shawl to cover my shoulders. The most interesting fact of it all is that these small shops were once the classrooms! I’d recommend visiting the madrasah’s library of oriental manuscripts, where you can scour through ancient Qurans and manuscripts. It is also at this library that the Quran of Caliph Uthman-Ottoman is held – son-in-law and notable companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Also known as the Samarkand Kufic Quran, it dates back to the 8th or 9th century.
In case you were wondering, a madrasa is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, secular or religious, whether for elementary instruction or higher learning.
Last but not least, we ended our short but sweet tour of Tashkent with a stop at the Minor Mosque, also known as the White Mosque. It is the most recently built mosque in Tashkent and has a little bit of an Abu Dhabi feel to it – at least to me! With the lovely white marble and large fountain in front, it was quite the site to see! A beautiful end to the trip and a great example of how history meets modernity.
Of course, there is always more to see than you are going to read in a travel article. There are many museums that I would have loved to visit like the Uzbekistan State Museum, Independence Square or the Museum of Applied Arts, but naturally everyone will be drawn to their own preferences. If you are feeling overwhelmed by it all, there are plenty of tours or tour guides that your hotel can help you book if you would like further information on the tourist places you should visit.
This article is intentionally more picture heavy than text heavy, because when it comes to travel, a picture is worth a thousand words. I hope that I have now given you thousands of words on why a trip to Tashkent is worth your time in the near future.
If you enjoyed this article or are planning to visit Uzbekistan in the near future, you might want to check out my Uzbek travel guide on how we planned out our journey, as well as more detailed articles on Khiva and Bukhara.
This article was initially published in June 2019, and edited for updates in April 2020.
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