Nestled in the dry stretches of land in Central Asia between Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan is the unassuming country of Uzbekistan. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem, and one I knew little about before traveling there. I was blown away by what I found. The places you must visit in Uzbekistan are among the most enriching and engrossing I’ve ever visited.
I spent eleven incredible days traveling around the country. Much of it was spent with an amazing group of travel content creators with the World Influencers Congress. But in my last few days, I also got to travel solo to a few cities and towns. From the rich, meat-heavy dishes to the mesmerizing historical sites, to some of the friendliest locals I’ve ever met, I’m officially in love with this country. These are the seven places you must visit in Uzbekistan.
When you travel to Uzbekistan, you’ll probably want the city of Tashkent to serve as your home base. Located in the northeastern part of the country, Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital and largest city. It’s also an ancient city that boasts well over 2,200 years of history. During that time, the city was influenced by a variety of cultures and religions and faced destruction more than once. It even survived a visit from one of history’s most brutal conquerors, Genghis Khan.
After Genghis Khan and the Mongols destroyed the city and killed many of its people in 1219, Tashkent was rebuilt and revived during the Timurid and Shaybanid Empires. Its position along the trade route known as the Silk Road bolstered the revival of Tashkent, which became a hub for education, commerce, and trade.
Today, Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s most modern and most cosmopolitan city. It’s also well-connected, which is always a plus as a traveler trying to navigate a new place. Though the city itself is rich in history, much of its story was lost in a devastating 1966 earthquake, which destroyed many of its historical landmarks. The city was rebuilt in the Soviet style, with wide streets, plazas for parades, monuments and statues (including one to Lenin), and apartment blocks.
Even with many of its historical sites destroyed, there’s still plenty to see in Tashkent to get a feel for the modern version of the city. Take some time to admire the beautiful Soviet-style architecture and wide streets.
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One place you must visit in Uzbekistan is Chorsu Bazaar, a huge, open-air market in the old town. There, you can buy a variety of vegetables, fruits, and meats like sheep and horse. I also highly suggest finding the food vendors so you can try the national dish, plov. This mouthwatering dish is made up of rice, onions, carrots, and horse meat, and is one of my favorite things I ate in Uzbekistan!
Visitors to the city should also visit Telyashayakh Mosque, the home of the oldest extant Quran in the world. The 15th-century Yunus Khan Mausoleum is also worth a visit, as is the Amir Timur Museum. The museum houses exhibits about Amir Timur, a Turco-Mongol Persianate conquerer and the founder of the Timurid Empire.
No visit to Tashkent is complete without a stop at Kukeldash Madrasah, a medieval, yellow-brick madrasa that was built around 1570. During its history, it has also served as an inn where caravaners could rest during their travels, a fortress, and a museum. It’s one of the few religious locations in Tashkent not demolished by the 1966 earthquake. Without question, this magnificent madrasa is one of the top places you must visit in Uzbekistan!
Located in the Khorezm Region of northwestern Uzbekistan is Khiva, an ancient city that first appeared in Muslim travel accounts around the 10th century. Its true origins date back to at least the 6th century, according to archaeological evidence, though the discovery of artifacts dating back almost 2,500 years has sparked debates as to how old the city actually is. Khiva served as the capital of an oasis area in the Amu Darya River delta called Khwarezmia. Khiva was also the capital of the Khanate of Khiva, an Uzbek state that existed from 1511 to 1920.
With roots that date back over 2,500 years, Khiva is the perfect Uzbek city for history lovers to explore. It’s also one of the top places you must visit in Uzbekistan. This UNESCO World Heritage city is separated into two sections: Itchan Kala and Dichan Kala. Itchan Kala is the walled inner city, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 and is protected by walls with four gates. Dichan Kala is the outer town, which was once protected by a wall that featured eleven gates. To
Khiva was also one of the most important cities along the Silk Road. There, merchants would sell everything from camels to carpets to concubines. As a history buff myself, I loved touring the city, which made me feel like I had stepped right onto the set of Disney’s Aladdin! There are a whopping 54 historical sites to explore there, including mosques, minarets, cemeteries, bazaars, and much more!
One of my favorite spots in the city is the blue tower called Kalta Minor, which was meant to be a minaret but was never completed. Right inside the main city gate is a stand selling large, fluffy traditional sheepskin hats called chugirma. Don’t miss the 10th-century Juma Mosque, which features a 33-meter-tall minaret that looms over the entire city and boasts spectacular views!
Those who visit the old town will also find 250 houses that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Exploring Khiva was a mind-blowing experience I will never forget. It’s one of the 7 places you must visit in Uzbekistan for a reason, but you should dedicate at least two days if you want to see everything!
The third place you must visit in Uzbekistan is the ancient city of Bukhara, which was founded around 500 BC in an area known as the arc. Starting around the 6th century BCE, Bukhara served as one of the Persian civilization’s main centers. The city later passed through several hands, including those of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and more. During that time, Bukhara was home to a monthly trade festival, which made the city a center for commerce.
Like Tashkent and Khiva, Bukhara is located along the Silk Road, which linked Europe and China. Because of its position along the Silk Road, the city became a hub of trade, culture, and religion, thanks to merchants who came from China, India, Persia, and Russia and helped contribute to Bukhara’s growth. At the same time, Bukhara also grew as an intellectual center. During the Sumanid Empire, which ran from 819 to 999, the city was second only to Baghdad as the definitive intellectual center of the Islamic world.
Today, Bukhara is Uzbekistan’s fifth-largest city with over 247,000 residents, making it a larger city than Khiva, but still home to lots of enthralling historical sites. Its historic center, which is one of Uzbekistan’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is home to roughly 140 architectural monuments, including numerous mosques and madrasas.
Bukhara is among the places you must visit in Uzbekistan because of these monuments. They include the gorgeous Kalyan minaret, which is known as the Tower of Death because of legends that claim criminals were executed by being thrown from the very top. The minaret is part of the lavish Poi Kalan complex, an Islamic religious complex that also contains the Kalan Mosque, which is known for its large, blue-tiled dome.
Other impressive local sites include the massive Ark of Bukhara, a fortress that dates back to the 5th century and currently houses museums dedicated to its history. Don’t miss the Magok-i-Attari Mosque, which is one of the oldest surviving structures in Bukhara and was rebuilt multiple times in its history.
Outside of its historical sites, Bukhara is also noted for its craftsmen, who create intricate and impressive goods that make perfect souvenirs. They include stunning, hand-crafted knives and scissors, colorful plates, jewelry, silk carpets, and some of the most beautiful padlocks I’ve ever seen! The bazaars of Bukhara are yet more places you must visit in Uzbekistan. Check them out to find incredible, authentic items to take home with you!
In southeastern Uzbekistan, you’ll find the city of Samarkand. The area where the city now stands has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Era. Though there is no concrete evidence as to when Samarkand was founded, the city is known as one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in Central Asia. According to some archaeologists, Samarkand dates back to the 7th– or 8th century BC.
Alexander the Great and his forces seized Samarkand in 329 BC, back when the city was known as Marakanda. Iranian and Turkic rulers had control of the city until Genghis Khan and the Mongols conquered it in 1220.
Like Tashkent, Khiva, and Bukhara, Samarkand is located along the Silk Road and prospered as a direct result of its position along the road. At times, Samarkand was considered one of Central Asia’s greatest cities.
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In the 14th century, Samarkand became the capital of the Timurid Empire. It’s also where the empire’s founder, Amir Timur, is buried. His mausoleum, the Guri Amir, is considered the template for other Mughal architecture tombs that came after it.
The city’s historical landmarks include the intricately carved and painted Bibi-Khanym Mosque and the ancient Registan Square. These notable sites, along with the city’s preservation of its ancient crafts (silk weaving, embroidery, ceramics, copper engraving, gold embroidery, wood painting, and carving) contributed to Samarkan being named a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2001.
Today, Samarkand is divided into two parts: the old city and the new city that was built by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. It’s known as the crown jewel of Uzbekistan. In addition to its remarkable mosques and mausoleums, Samarkand is also home to several stunning madrasas, including the Tilla Kari, Ulughbek, and Shirdar Madrasas. These beautiful buildings are all places you must visit in Uzbekistan, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to see them!
In southwestern Uzbekistan is yet another impressive UNESCO World Heritage City that is a treasure trove of Uzbek history. This city, Shahrisabz, was the birthplace of Amir Timur, the founder of the Timurid Empire. He was also the first ruler of the Timurid Dynasty. Founded over 2,700 years ago, Shahrisabz is historically known as Kesh and is one of Central Asia’s most ancient cities.
Between the 4th and 6th centuries, Kesh was part of the First Persian Empire. That empire met its end at the hands of Alexander the Great’s general, Ptolemy I. Alexander the Great liked the area so much that he chose to spend his winters there from 327-328 BC. There, he met his wife, the Sogdian princess Roxanna.
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Shahrisabz is home to even more places you must visit in Uzbekistan, including Timur’s Summer Palace. Other must-visit sites are the beautiful Kok Gumbaz Mosque, and the Dorut Tilavat Madrasa. History buffs also should not miss the Shahrisabz Museum of History and Material Culture.
Another fantastic place you must visit in Uzbekistan is the Tomb of Jehangir (Timur’s eldest son) at the Hazrat-i Imam mausoleum complex. Check out the bunker behind the complex, which is where Timur was supposed to be buried. Instead, he was buried in Samarkand while two unidentified bodies were buried in the tomb, which was unearthed in 1943.
To find the next place you must visit in Uzbekistan, travel to the country’s southernmost area. There, in the Surxondaryo Region, which borders Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, you’ll find the city of Termez. The city celebrated its 2,500th anniversary in 2002, though it is unknown when its Old City was founded.
After Alexander the Great conquered Termez in 329 BC, the city changed hands to the Greco-Bactrians. During that time, Termez served as a meeting point of the Mediterranean, Indian, Persian, Chinese and central Asian civilizations. A wealthy city at the time, Termez became an important hub for Buddhism. It was also a popular center for culture, shopping, and crafts between the 9th and 12th centuries before being destroyed by Genghis Khan’s troops in 1220.
Termez had been abandoned by the 18th century. During the Soviet-Afghan War, it served as an important military base and airfield.
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Several remarkable sites have survived Termez’s long history. They include one of my favorites, Karatepa, a fascinating rock-cut Buddhist temple complex. Kampyr-Tepe, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the country, contains ruins of an ancient port city.
You also should not miss the Sultan Saodat Complex or the Termez Archaeological Museum. The museum houses 27,000 items, including weapons, coins, paintings, sculptures, and ancient documents.
Also known as Jarqo’rg’on, the green farming town of Jarkurgan is located 25-30 minutes outside of Termez. This makes visiting it a perfect day trip. This city is easily one of the top places you must visit in Uzbekistan.
It’s best known for the Jarkurgan Minaret, which dates back to the 12th century. It’s also perfectly intact. A trip to the top offers beautiful views of the town, including the surrounding vegetation and farmland. The farms in the area produce lots of delicious fruit, including juicy watermelon!
I also had the amazing opportunity to witness a ceremony where a new bride is introduced to her mother-in-law. This ceremony takes place after an arranged marriage. The local women sing and drum while dancing, and it’s an amazing sight to watch. I felt so privileged to be there and witness it!
But the biggest highlight of my time in Jarkurgan was the lamb feast I had there. The area is famous for its lamb, which was cooked in a 500°F tandoor oven. The fatty lamb came out perfectly seasoned, super tender, and full of flavor. They don’t let the innards go to waste, either. My guide and I enjoyed the liver and kidney, as well as the juicy, mouthwatering meat. It’s the best lamb in the country and makes Jarkurgan one of the best places you must visit in Uzbekistan.
I didn’t know much about Uzbekistan before I traveled there in August of 2019. But after spending eleven action-packed days there, I can honestly say I’m in love with the country. The food, culture, and history were out of this world. I can’t forget the wonderful people, who made this Miami boy feel welcomed and embraced every step of the way. To experience it all and see the 7 places you must visit in Uzbekistan, book a trip there today!
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