One of the best things any jetsetter can do is explore a country they know little about. For me, that was Uzbekistan. Before the World Influencers Congress contacted me to invite me to travel the country with over 100 other influencers, I admit, I knew next to nothing about Uzbekistan outside of its location on a map. But by the time I left, my list of cities everyone should visit in Uzbekistan was a mile long, and my love and knowledge of the country had grown a hundred-fold.
Uzbekistan is a dry, desert country in Central Asia. It’s located between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. It’s well off the beaten path for travelers looking to explore Asia, who tend to limit themselves to more well-known nations like India, Thailand, and Japan. But Uzbekistan is a gem hidden in plain sight that’s bursting at the seams with interesting things to do and see.
It’s a country brimming with fascinating history, stunning sites, immersive culture, and mouthwatering foods sure to thrill any curious explorer. It’s also home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met! These are the 5 cities everyone should visit in Uzbekistan.
Most trips into Uzbekistan will begin with a flight into its capital and largest city, Tashkent. Though this city is undeniably ancient, with over 2,200 years of history to its name, it’s still relatively new when compared to many other cities around the country. It dates back to at least the 5th century BC and was known as Chach during the pre-Islamic era.
Though the city was destroyed by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in 1219, Tashkent was rebuilt and thrived due to its position along the Silk Road. The influences that arrived in Tashkent from along the road can still be seen in town today.
For a delicious and authentic Uzbek snack, head over to Minor Somsa to try a somsa, which is a savory pastry filled with meat and onions. If you’d like more authentic fare, the lagman (a noodle dish with meat, vegetables, and a tomato-based sauce) at Lagman House is also a winner. Minor Mosque and the Khazrati Imam Complex are great places to check out Uzbek architecture. To get a taste of local life, visits to the massive Chorsu Bazaar and Oloy Bozori are also musts!
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The next location on my list of cities everyone should visit in Uzbekistan is the ancient city of Khiva. This walled city in northwestern Uzbekistan’s Khorezm Region is like a living museum, as many people still live there. It’s arguably the country’s most beautiful, with 54 gorgeous historical sites to visit within its walled inner city, Itchan Kala. It’s packed with mosques, minarets, towers, bazaars, cemeteries, and much more!
The city’s most noticeable landmark is a gleaming turquoise tower called Kalta Minor. It’s a squat, unfinished minaret that, according to legend, was meant to be the tallest in Central Asia. The much taller minaret in town is Minaret Islam-Khoja, which actually holds the title of Central Asia’s tallest minaret. I also recommend checking out the breathtaking hypostyle hall at Djuma Mosque and the vibrant colors on the exterior of Tash-Khovli Palace.
When you get hungry, head over to Yasavul Boshi Restaurant to have some delicious eggplant salads, pumpkin soup, and cold dumplings called barak. There, you can also try a specialty only found in Khiva—a colorful dish called shivit oshi, which is made of green, dill-infused noodles topped with beef, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and onions. Drizzle it with yogurt to make the flavors really pop!
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The beautiful city of Buhkara is yet another place that should be on everyone’s must-see list when they visit Uzbekistan. Bukhara was founded around 500 BC in an area called “the arc,” and in its long history, was ruled by the likes of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. It was also considered an important center for education and rivaled only Baghdad as the Islamic world’s definitive intellectual center.
While there are numerous things to see and do in Bukhara, visiting its handicraft markets should be high on everyone’s list. Bukhara’s craft-making tradition goes back for millennia, and it’s still alive and well in the city. The artisans in town use a variety of materials, including wood, bronze, copper, silk, clay, and more to create stunning jewelry, ceramics, carpets, padlocks, tables, bookstands, and more. If you want to learn more about Uzbek carpet-making, check out Bukhara Silk Carpets and their massive showroom!
You also should not miss Bukhara’s historical sites, which include the Po-i-Kalan Mosque Complex, which is home to the Mir-i-Arab Madrasah, Kalan Mosque, and the intricately-carved Kalan Minaret. The 9th-10th-century Magok-i-Attari Mosque is another must, as it’s one of Central Asia’s oldest-surviving mosques. To learn about the city’s history of puppet-making, visit the History of Bukhara Puppet Theatre, and for some of the best lamb in Uzbekistan, stop by Lyabi-Hauz Restaurant for their lamb soup, plov, and lamb kebabs!
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No list of the cities everyone should visit in Uzbekistan would be complete without Samarkand. This city in southeastern Uzbekistan dates back to the 7th or 8th century, making it one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in Central Asia. In its history, Samarkand survived being conquered by both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Today, it’s known as the “crown jewel of Uzbekistan” and is divided into an old city and new city.
It’s ancient heart is Registan, a beautiful square bounded by three stunning madrasahs, or Islamic schools. All three—Ulugh Beg, Tilya-Kori, and Sher-Dor Madrasahs—are each worth a visit! If you want to learn more about one of the most influential men in Uzbek history, check out the Mausoleum of Amir Timur, the founder of the Timurid Empire. The blue-and-white tilework at Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the city’s most awe-inspiring sites, as it’s so massive and the work is so intricate. But arguably the most notable site in town is the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, a large funerary complex made up of over twenty buildings, including beautiful temples and ornate mausoleums.
And if history isn’t your thing, Samarkand is home to several outstanding restaurants, including Ikrom Choyxonasi Restaurant, where you can try a number of delicious kebabs. I also recommend the rice plov and somsas at Samarkand Restaurant, as well as the elaborate plov at Axmadjon Lux Osh Restaurant. It comes with baby chickens, horse meat sausage, quail eggs, and more!
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If you drive down to Uzbekistan’s southernmost reaches, you’ll reach a frontier town that almost reminded me of the American West, called Termez. Located just a stone’s throw from northern Afghanistan in Uzbekistan’s Surxondaryo Region, Termez is another ancient city at over 2,500 years old. During its time under the Greco-Bactrians, Termez was an important hub for Buddhism, as well as a popular craft and culture center.
Most of Termez’s most notable sites are its ancient ones, which make it one of my top cities everyone should visit in Uzbekistan. One of my favorites is Fayaz-Tepe, an ancient Buddhist monastery that dates back to the 1st century BC. On the site, you’ll find a large stupa as well as crumbling, maze-like ruins that include a central courtyard, dormitories, a sauna, and a kitchen. Equally impressive is Kara-Tepe, a Buddhist monastery from the 2nd century AD. Like Fayaz-Tepe, it boasts high walls, large rooms, and crumbling walls, and you can feel the history as you tour its corridors.
You also should not miss the beautiful Sultan Saodat Complex, which is made up of mosques, mausoleums, and spiritual retreats called khanaqas. You can also find an ancient Silk Road gate in town!
The next time you’re looking to explore a country that isn’t teeming with tourists, consider Uzbekistan. Its rich history, combined with its unique cuisine, warm locals, and undeniable beauty makes it a true treasure trove for travelers. It’s everything I could have possibly wanted and wound up being so much more. Book a trip to Uzbekistan to experience its wonders today!
Huge thanks to Bekruz Hamzaev and everyone else at the World Influencers Congress for inviting me to explore their beautiful country!
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