I didn’t know what to expect from Uzbekistan. I knew it had pretty buildings and was somewhere I wanted to see someday but, to be honest, if you had asked me to point it out on an unlabelled map, I would have struggled. However, having now been, I can only rave about this country. About the incredible architecture, the friendly people, the rich history, and delicious food. So, if you are eyeing Uzbekistan as your next travel destination, then this post is for you. Here is my 7-day Uzbekistan itinerary.
Before I dig into the magic of Uzbekistan, I want to share a little bit of background on how I ended up in this part of the world. My decision to go here was last minute. My original travel plans had fallen through and a friend of mine messaged me asking if I wanted to join him for 3 weeks in Central Asia. I said yes, booked a series of long flights, and a month later found myself in the ‘stans.
While the vast majority of my travels are independent, this was actually a group trip: 17 Days Central Asia Explorer with Intrepid Travel. My friend Ben, who I travelled with, is my Intrepid contact who helps me plan all my ESBT group trips. We visited two countries on this trip: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Both were incredible and unique. That being said, I feel like Uzbekistan can be easily done independently which is why I have created this itinerary. Kyrgystan, on the other hand, I honestly believe is best experienced with a local. There were major language barriers outside the big city, the roads were rough with no public transit to get around easily, and the beauty of this country is the nature and the outdoors. For that reason, I highly recommend exploring Kyrgyzstan with a guide.
My Intrepid tour was phenomenal but if you are more of an independent traveller, or only have time for Uzbekistan, then read on for tips and advice on how you can explore on your own.
A little bit about Uzbekistan: History and Helpful Tips
Uzbekistan has a long (and fascinating) history. However, today it is mostly known for being one of the countries that was part of the Silk Road. Being somewhat in the middle, the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara were incredibly popular stops along this historical trail. In addition to the Silk Road history, Uzbekistan is also known for its architecture as well as the fact that it was part of the USSR. As such, Russian is still widely spoken around the country even though the official language is Uzbek.
While Uzbekistan is by no means popular on the same level as Italy, France, or Bali, it is the most visited country in Central Asia and I found the cities I visited to be tourist-friendly and pretty easy to navigate as an English speaker.
They have their own currency, the Som, although many people will accept USD as well. Especially in the shops and bazaars. It is strongly recommended you have some cash on you at all times as credit cards are not always accepted. Keep in mind that some cash machines can be tricky with foreign banking cards. I recommend you visit an actual bank to use an ATM as I tended to have better luck there with my Canadian debit card.
Uzbekistan is predominantly Muslim, but it is not nearly as strict as other Muslim countries. That being said, some locals did have a concern that it is becoming stricter as the years go by, so we shall see how things change in the future.
Is Uzbekistan Expensive?
Uzbekistan can be very affordable, especially by Western standards. Of course, it depends on where you stay, where you eat, and what you buy. However, overall, it is very budget-friendly. For example, I regularly spent less than $5 USD on a meal with a drink at a typical local restaurant. We did go to a high-end restaurant one night. I had a cocktail, main, and dessert and it was $20 USD.
As for shopping, bartering is a must. As always, be respectful and only barter if you know it is something you want to buy. I was told by a local to start at about 60% of the original price and go from there. If you can get about 30% off, it’s a good deal. Of course, it depends on the vendor as well as what you want to pay. Many of the goods that you will want to buy in Uzbekistan are handmade and often take days or even months to make, so please keep that in mind as you haggle. For more on shopping tips check out my post on Uzbekistan souvenirs.
As for tips, you will notice on restaurant bills that a service fee is automatically included. However, we were told that this service fee doesn’t actually go to your server, but back to the owner of the restaurant. Therefore, it is recommended to leave a small tip (5-10% is great) directly to your server. If you have hired a guide or a driver, tipping is also much appreciated.
Is Uzbekistan Safe?
I felt incredibly safe in Uzbekistan. While I was technically part of a group tour I did walk around on my own and with my friend. We were always treated kindly and with respect. Both of us have blonde hair and blue eyes which did get some extra attention in some places, but mostly it enticed people to come up to welcome us to our country and have a small chat to practice their English which we were more than happy to do.
As a woman, I felt like I was treated with a lot of respect. Both from regular citizens of the country and from any vendors I was buying from. Nobody was pushy or talked down to me. I wasn’t harassed at all. It was a fantastic experience and, based on that, I would recommend it to other female travellers.
Getting Around Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a fairly large country and the three main cities I recommend visiting are quite a distance from each other. You could rent a car, but I suggest taking the train. It is inexpensive and incredibly comfortable. You can bring your own snacks and food but they also have the most epic snack carts I have ever seen with everything from tea and coffee to ice-cream bars and pancakes. Additionally, we got included tea and snacks (jam-filled croissants) for our journey. You can look up the schedule and book your tickets online at https://eticket.railway.uz/en/pages/trains-page. Tickets open 45 days before. I suggest buying in advance and not leaving it until the last minute.
When to go to Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan can get incredibly hot in the summer (think 45C) so it is best to visit during the spring (April-May) or fall (September-November). I visited mid-November which was the end of the season but it was nice because it wasn’t very crowded and the weather was decent. We did get a bit of rain but overall it was around 15-20C during my time there (although it cooled down a lot at night).
Uzbekistan Itinerary: My suggestions for 7 Days in Uzbekistan
For this Uzbekistan itinerary, I suggest spending your time between three main cities: Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. There is, of course, more you can see throughout the country however these three cities have the main sights and history and are must-sees. With that in mind, here is how I suggest you spend 7 days in Uzbekistan.
Tashkent: 1 Day
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and probably not quite what you would expect. It’s surprisingly modern with plenty of bright lights and a mix of architecture. Some buildings are obviously soviet while other parts of the city are reminiscent of somewhere in the USA or Canada. I suggest starting your trip here because while there are some beautiful buildings and cool things to see, in my opinion, they pale in comparison to what’s to come. There is quite a bit to see and do here (including a number of museums) so I do recommend having at least 1 full day. These are my top picks of how to spend it.
Note: You can get around the city very easily by the subway. Tickets were under $0.10 USD. You can also download the Yandex.Go taxi app.
Things to do in Taskent
Here you will find some mosques and madrassas. It is also where you will find what is said to be the world’s oldest Qur’an.
While a tourist attraction, this is also a working market. Outside the domed building, you will find plenty of vendors selling knickknacks and clothing. Inside you will find dried fruits and nuts, meats, teas, and fresh fruit and vegetables as well as delicious stamped bread fresh from the ovens.
This beautiful theatre is the place to come to see the Russian ballet. They don’t have shows daily but it’s worth checking at the ticket booth to see if there is something on during your visit and if you can get tickets. You may need to use Google Translate if you don’t speak Russian!
Museum of Applied Art
I’m not a museum person but this one is stunning. The building itself is beautiful and the inside is filled with examples of Uzbek textiles from carpets to clothing to jewellery and more. It’s absolutely worth a visit. Tashkent is home to many museums so you may want to check out a few, but I do highly recommend this one.
Central Asian Plov Centre
Plov is the national Uzbek dish and the best place to try it is the Central Asian Plov Centre which makes a massive vat of it. It’s fun to see, delicious to eat, and cheap! But it is only open for lunch so time your visit accordingly.
Where to stay in Tashkent
Budget: Art Hostel
Midrange: Art Deluxe Hotel
High-end: Mercure Tashkent
Samarkand: 3 Days
On your second day, hop on a train to Samarkand. The ride is about 4 hours but as mentioned earlier, the train is very comfortable. Samarkand is, for many, the highlight of Uzbekistan as it holds some of the most beautiful buildings and architecture that the country is known for. As such, I recommend at least two full days here because there is so much to see and do. I only had 1.5 days and felt that it was too rushed. Chances are you will arrive in Samarkand early afternoon if you get a morning train. Which means you will have 2.5 days for exploring. This is how I suggest you spend them.
PS: A lot of Samarkand is quite walkable if you enjoy walking. However, Shah-i-Zinda is a bit further out so you will likely want to use the Yandex.Go app or use a taxi. For taxis, agree on a price ahead of time (ask at your accommodation for an estimate) as they likely won’t be metered taxis.
Things to do in Samarkand
This is the burial place of Amir Timur and several of his family members and is one of the most stunning buildings in the city. From my experience, it’s very busy in the morning but quieter in the afternoon so I suggest visiting here in the afternoon when you arrive. It’s also worth seeing after dark, when it’s all lit up.
For many, this is the highlight of Samarkand and having been I think you can easily spend most of the day here (especially if you like photography and want to shop). Registan Square was once a main trading post along the Silk Road. Today it is famous for its three unique Madrassas. Each one beautifully decorated with winding staircases and filled with shops. It’s a lot to take in and you don’t want to be rushed. Be sure to also see the Tilla-Kari or ‘golden’ mosque as well as it is absolutely magnificent.
Registan Square opens at 8am although many vendors and shops inside won’t open until 9-10am. If you are feeling a little cheeky, you might also be able to bribe the guards to come in early). Make sure to stop by in the evening as well for the Registan light show. You can pay again to enter, or just stand behind the gates and watch (which is what I did).
This complex of mausoleums looks like they belong in the pages of 1001 Arabian Nights. You’ll want to spend a few hours here so I suggest coming in the morning and starting your day. Although, if you are really keen on visiting without crowds, it is still open in the evening but many people feel uncomfortable visiting what is essentially a graveyard in the dark. The tilework here is incredible and there are also a number of shops throughout.
Note: There is a lot of history to be found in Samarkand and I appreciated having a guide for my visit. That being said, in our group of 12 since these places were so busy I struggled to hear her a lot of the time over the noise. Get Your Guide does have some private tours available, but it might also be worth doing your own research ahead of time.
While no longer a working mosque, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque is still one of the most beautiful places to see in Samarkand. Parts are under construction so you may not be able to go inside everywhere but it’s also much quieter and less crowded than other sites in the city.
Bazaars are always fun to visit and the Siab Bazaar, right beside the Bibi Khanym Mosque, is a great one to visit, especially if you are shopping for souvenirs. Things here are much cheaper (although also not as good quality) as what you will find at the shops in the Madrassas.
The Museum of Wine Making
After busy exploring, you might want to spend one afternoon or evening sitting down and trying some local wines. A great place to do that is the Museum of Wine Making. I do believe you need to call and book a tasting ahead of time but it is very affordable and the portions are generous. It’s not the best wine in the world but it is a fun thing to do in Samarkand. After your tasting, go next door to Samarkand restaurant for dinner. When I went, there was live music and we danced with locals all night. It was so much fun!
While the points above are my ‘must-sees’, there is still more to see and do in Samarkand. I loved walking through this city and popping into different shops or seeing different buildings, squares, and gardens so in your free time continue to explore!
Where to stay in Samarkand
Budget: Old Radio Hostel
Midrange: Hotel Dilshoda I stayed here, it’s right beside Gur-e-Amir!
High end: Shohjahon Palace Hotel and Spa
Bukhara: 2 Days
On your fifth day, grab a morning train to Bukhara. It’s only about a 2-hour journey but you still want to make the most of your time in this final city on my Uzbekistan itinerary.
Bukhara is a lot smaller and quieter than both Tashkent and Samarkand, but still lovely with lots to see and do. One local told me it was like a woman without makeup while Samarkand is the woman with makeup and her explanation made perfect sense. It’s not as bright and flashy but there is still a lot of charm and I actually preferred it. It felt more local and more authentic to me.
As with Samarkand, there is a lot of history here in Bukhara. It’s also more open and less busy so I think it would be beneficial to have a guide here. Especially since you also have less time. So, I would look at doing a full day tour here with a local guide. You can check out some options on Get Your Guide. Here is what you should see in Bukhara.
Note that historic Bukhara is very walkable however the train station is quite far, so you will want to arrange transportation.
Things to do in Bukhara
If Registan Square is the highlight of Samarkand then the Po-I-Kalyan Complex is the heart of Bukhara. This complex is made up of a mosque, a minaret, and two madrassas. All of which can (and should!) be explored. You an easily spend a couple of hours here exploring. I recommend coming here late afternoon as the sun is setting, the lighting is phenomenal on the buildings. It is also lit up at night and very pretty to see then as well.
This 5th-century fortress is the oldest structure in the city, although it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. At one time it was a city inside a city though today it serves as a museum. It is an impressive place to visit, especially for those interested in history. On a clear day, you will also get a beautiful view over Old Town Bukhara.
Nadir-Divan Begi Madrassa & Lybabi Hauz Plaza
This central squar-type area in the middle of the city is a popular ‘resting’ place. There is a fountain and a pool surrounded by benches and trees. Plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby and fresh pressed orange and pomegranate juice stands. It’s a good place to people-watch (and has some great dance parties at night!) Also located here is the Nadir-Divan Begi Madrassa which is filled with souvenir shops. Note that there is also a cultural fashion show that gets put on here some evenings- skip it. It’s a tourist trap!
Silk Road Trading Domes
The Silk Road Trading domes look like they belong in a Star Wars but the wares for sale inside are definitely from Uzbekistan. From silk carpets to miniature paintings, jewellery to scarves, and more this is a great place to shop and explore.
Sitorai Mohki-Khoa Palace (Summer Palace)
The summer palace of the Amirs, is somewhat of a local secret. Mainly because it’s located about a 15-minute taxi ride from the city centre. However, it is definitely worth a visit. The complex is beautiful and many of the rooms and buildings can be visited. Tiled interiors, lavish décor, and an array of textiles and traditional outfits can be seen in this museum. The grounds are also full of peacocks which was a fun surprise!
Once an old Jewish merchant house, this beautiful 19th-century building has been restored to become a local restaurant serving up some delicious European and Asian dishes. It is absolutely stunning on the inside and the food is fantastic. I highly recommend booking a meal here. You can visit the website here.
As with Samarkand, there is lots more to see so I suggest walking around. Know that Bukhara is probably the best spot for shopping. Especially if you want things like carpets or other textiles. As always, barter, shop around, and do your research. If you hire a local guide, they can likely help you.
I would also mention that Bukhara has a couple of hammam-style baths. I personally did not use them but a couple of women from my group did and said it wasn’t at all what they expected (both have gone to hammams before) and they felt quite uncomfortable with the male, rather than female, attendants. So, given that, I would not recommend, especially for women.
Where to stay in Bukhara
Budget: Dervish Hostel
Midrange: Bukhara Baraka Boutique Hotel
High-end: Amiran Boutique Hotel
Finish in Tashkent
Your final day in Uzbekistan will take you back to Tashkent. The train journey is about 6 hours. Personally, I like Bukhara more so preferred to spend the morning there enjoying some last-minute shopping and taking photos before grabbing the train back to Tashkent in the early afternoon. You could also take an earlier train and then have time to explore more of Tashkent. If you like live music, there’s a cool bar called Steam that might be of interest.
Food and Drink in Uzbekistan
Before I visited Uzbekistan, I read a couple of books about travel through the Silk Road. Based on what I read, I was worried I wouldn’t like the food but it was actually delicious. The most common dish in Uzbekistan is called plov, which is a rice pilaf. It’s quite heavy and filling (and can be greasy) but it is very good, especially on a cold day.
My favourites, however, were the hand-pulled noodle dishes called lagman and manti which are steamed dumplings. As mentioned previously, Uzbekistan is very affordable and these types of dishes can be found at pretty much any local restaurant for just a couple of dollars. Keep in mind you should aim to eat these types of things in restaurants rather than from street vendors. Our guide told us that the street food isn’t cooked in the best conditions and regularly make tourists sick.
As for drinks, it is advisable to buy bottled water and not drink from the taps (I did use tap water to brush my teeth, and I was fine). You can also find a lot of fresh juice-be sure to try fresh pomegranate juice if you are visiting during the season! As for alcohol, despite being a Muslim country, there is plenty of alcohol to be found. Likely thanks to the Soviet influence. From beer to wine to cocktails, alcoholic drinks are common in many Uzbek restaurants and bars.
Final Tips for This Uzbekistan Itinerary
As I said, I didn’t know what to expect from Uzbekistan but whatever expectations I had, it exceeded them. I absolutely loved my time in this country. Not only was it one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in terms of the architecture, but it also felt incredibly authentic. While it is ‘busy’ by Central Asia standards, it’s not even close to the crowds found in popular European vacation spots. Although, I do expect that to change in the coming years and I encourage you to go before it becomes too popular. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
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If you want to have data while travelling for online maps or any other needs, an esim is one of the easiest solutions. I’m a big fan of Airalo and have used their sim cards around the world from Brazil to Uzbekistan, Greece to the USA. It’s really easy- you download the app, pick what country you want an esim for, and after you purchase it follow the installation instructions. You can use promo code HANNAH3326 to save $3USD on your next esim purchase.
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