From the times of Alexander the Great, to the imposing armies of the 19th centuries, Uzbekistan has always drawn people from far and wide. For anyone who knows about Uzbekistan, it’s easy to understand - bright colors, intricate patterns, rich flavors and warm people await every visitor in Uzbekistan. Traces still remain of great empires that have long since blown away with the sands of time, while modern life grows and develops into new directions.
This means that there’s more in Uzbekistan than a single person can explore in a lifetime. Whether you crave a night in the vast serenity of a desert plateau or a walk through the streets of history, there’s sure to be something to strike your fancy. Tourism in Uzbekistan is all about explore what you’re interested in - you’ll be sure to find it here.
Certainly, much of the tourism in Uzbekistan is usually associated with the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. And while the best Uzbekistan tours give those places plenty of attention, there’s so much more to this country. Try a new dish, like the exotic green noodles of Khiva (called shivit oshi), or learn how masters of Margilan make the intricate silk patterns for ikat textiles. Or maybe you want to go completely off the grid with a night in a traditional yurt in the desert, the way that nomads have lived for centuries, or into the oasis cities that fed the caravans of the Silk Road as they crossed the continent.
At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for experiencing Uzbekistan for yourself. No picture can capture the scale of the vast Kyzylkum Desert or the warmth of a traditional meal cooked by a local family, tasting of spices and the comfort of home. Uzbekistan is so unlike anywhere else, that a trip through this country is guaranteed to leave you with rich impressions and memories for a lifetime.
If you don’t know where to start, there’s no way you can go wrong with a tour through the historical sights and destinations in Uzbekistan. Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand are all UNESCO World Heritage Sights - and for good reason. Start with Samarkand, which used to be home to some of the finest architects and artisans, who created the masterpieces of Registan Square and Gur-Emir. Bukhara is more intimate, with holy sights and a historical landmark around every corner. Khiva is an open-air museum that captures the atmosphere of the Silk Road, with winding alleys and bright bazaars. But don’t miss out on smaller sights like Termez, a Buddhist center on the border with Afghanistan or Shahrisabz, the birthplace of the great warrior Timur.
Cultural Heritage Tourism
For those who love textiles, ceramics, patterns and colors, Uzbekistan is as good as it gets. The Fergana Valley is famous for its artisans, with the Rishtan ceramic school and the silk weavers in Margilan, while Samarkand has its own ceramics school and the famous Meros Paper Mill, which makes paper from mulberry bark using the same technologies as centuries ago. Bukhara is probably the best place to buy souvenirs, with a wide variety of excellent crafts and gifts. Tours through these places are a great way to meet the artisans themselves, and learn about how they make their famous products. Many techniques and technologies have been passed down through the generations, making Uzbekistan a strikingly unique destination for cultural tourism.
Words can’t do justice to the rich simplicity of pilaf (or plov), made of rice fried with lamb, or to the first juicy bites of a kebab, roasted over smoky coals. And it’s not enough just to try the local foods in one city in Uzbekistan - each region has its own signature dishes. Shivit oshi (noodles infused with dill and served with vegetables) and tuhum barak (boiled square dumplings filled with egg) are found only in Khiva, while Bukhara is home to a particular type of pilaf that’s cooked in layers, with meat, carrots, raisins and rice all simmered together. Make sure to try the bread in Samarkand, where large, shiny, round loaves are sold on the streets, and the norin in Tashkent (finely sliced meat and dough - freshly chopped in cafes and bazaars). If you love food (or fall in love with Uzbekistan’s cuisine), you’ll definitely want to visit a class to learn how to make the most famous dishes for yourself.
Adventure and Nature Tourism
Uzbekistan isn’t all cities. In fact, much of the country is taken up by mountains and the vast Kyzylkum Desert. These areas have fewer people, leaving them relatively untouched, but there have been people there for centuries. Heading out into nature gives you a completely new view of Uzbekistan. You can spend a night in a yurt, living the way that nomads have lived for centuries, or set out on a hike through narrow canyons of the Chimgan Mountains, not far from Tashkent. Some of Uzbekistan’s geographical features are man-made, such as the otherworldly plains revealed by the receding Aral Sea, or Aydarkul Lake, formed by a dam in 1969. Any of these destinations makes for an excellent change of pace from busy city life, or can even be a destination of their own right.
It’s important to make smart decisions while traveling, including choices that support local communities and protect the environment. Fortunately, there are plenty of sustainable tourism options in Uzbekistan. There are many guesthouses and homestays, especially in smaller villages, where the cost of the stay largely goes towards supporting local families. Check out tours to Aydarkul Lake (with stops at local villages), the Jeyran Ecocenter (home to threatened and endangered species), and sustainable tours to the Aral Sea, where tourism has grown to support villages where the fishing industry has been lost due to the receding waters.
Health and Spa Tourism
Many sanatoriums in Uzbekistan are built on sources of spring water, and offer services to help ease the symptoms of certain diseases, as well as other spa services. Sanatoriums are a great way to have a relaxing vacation, with various baths and showers offered for visitors. Some of the most popular sanatoriums and resorts are near Tashkent and in the mountains, where there are mineral springs and clean air. There are plenty of claims about how different types of water have helped with respiratory, renal and circulatory issues, as well as other discomforts.
Religious and Pilgrimage Tourism
Located at the crossroads of several religions, Uzbekistan is rich in sights and monuments. The more ancient destinations were created when Zoroastrianism and Buddhism were the dominant religions of the area. Termez was a Buddhist center, though many of the stupas and monasteries are now in ruins, and the Zoroastrian monuments of ancient Khorezm have lost little of their power and presence despite centuries of disuse. But ever since the arrival of Islam in Central Asia, the region has been home to leading scholars and religious thinkers. Several tours stop at the mausoleums of these great figures, including Bahauddin Naqshbandi, founder of a famous Sufi order, and Imam al-Bukhari, who collected numerous hadith. No less notable are the many mosques and madrassas that supported spiritual life in Uzbekistan, that can be easily found in any city. Make sure to stop at the Khast-Imam Complex to see one of the oldest Qurans in the world, which according to legend, was the Quran the Caliph Othman was reading when he was killed.
Uzbekistan is a family-friendly place to travel, with options to keep everyone entertained. Start with the many parks of Tashkent, including Eco Park, with its many attractions, and Ashgabat, a friendship park between the people of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Polytechnical Museum is the best museum for children in Uzbekistan, with a whole floor of automobiles and a whole floor of interactive exhibits that make science accessible and fun. Next Mall and Samarkand Darvoza also have plenty of things for children to do, with Samarkand Darvoza being home to a wonderful marionette theater. Bukhara and Khiva also have puppet theaters, and although most performances are in Uzbek, the simple fairy tales can be understand by just about anyone.