Although more well-known than neighbouring Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan still well and truly counts as “off the beaten path” travel. With everything from pristinely preserved Silk Road medrassahs, to Soviet architecture at its best, to the fascinating but devastating retreating Aral Sea, Uzbekistan is somewhere anyone could easily spend several weeks.
Here are a few pointers to help get you started on your journey to Uzbekistan.
Most of you will be eligible for an e-visa which takes about 15 minutes and costs USD 50. To find out more details check out our guide here.
For those of you who aren’t eligible for the e-visa, never fear! It’s still possible to get a visa, either with or without a letter of invitation. To find out more about the visa situation, visit our visa page .
Getting in and out
Uzbekistan’s main port of entry and exit is of course Tashkent International Airport. Between recent renovations and the easing of visa restrictions, the airport is now quite a welcoming and comfortable place. A lot of the reports you may have heard or read about huge queues, intimidating guards, and dingy corridors, will be from 2018 or earlier and it’s really not like that anymore.
There are of course several land borders as well that you might want to cross if you’re visiting a neighbouring country on the same trip.
Turkmen land borders
- Konye Urgench (TM), Khojeili (UZ) – between Nukus in Uzbekistan and Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan. This crossing, as the name suggests, is great for those who wish to visit Konye-Urgench as it is the closest, although it’s still not a huge distance from the Dashoguz crossing. For those visiting the Aral Sea and using Nukus as a launching pad this is the obvious crossing.
- Dashoguz (TM), Shavat (UZ) – Another very common border crossing, often used by those on Turkmenistan transit visas, this is the most convenient for those whose top priority is the Gates of Hell (Darvaza), and easiest to get to from Khiva in Uzbekistan.
- Farap (TM), Alat (UZ) – If you’re travelling between Bukhara and Turkmenistan, this will likely be the border crossing you will use. This is probably the most used border crossing between the two countries. This is the most logical route if you’re heading to/from Mary/Merv or anywhere else in eastern Turkmenistan.
- Talimardzhan Border Crossing - This border can only be used by Turkmen or Uzbek nationals and not by foreigners.
Kazakh land borders
- Karakalpakstan (UZ), Beyneu (KZ) - Not a particularly common route for tourists to take, this crossing is right up in the north west of Uzbekistan, between Nukus/Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, and Atyrau in Kazakhstan.
- Chernayevka (UZ) – Zhibek Zholy (KZ) - The vast majority of people going between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan by land will take this border crossing. It’s just a 30 minute drive from the centre of Tashkent, and once across the border you’re about an hour and a half away from Shymkent. It’s very easy to find cars between these cities, or there are trains running multiple times a day.
- There are a handful of smaller border crossings near Tashkent including: Serke/Turkistan, Konsbayeva/Yalama, Kaplanbek/Saryagash. These are all smaller than the main crossing at Zhibek Zholy so therefor will have smaller queues and shorter waiting times, but also less infrastructure and not as many options for transport.
Kyrgyz land borders
- Dostyk (KG) – Dostlyk (UZ) - Don't get confused if you look up these names and find towns, bridges, roads and other border crossings with the same or similar names - this word means friendship in Turkic languages. This is the main border crossing between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, linking Osh and Andijan in the Fergana Valley. This is the one region in Central Asia that has consistent political unrest since the 90s and during particular periods of fighting this border has been closed. At the moment things are stable, but you should make sure that you understand the situation in the region before visiting and certainly before attempting to cross the border.
- There are some other smaller border crossings nearby but none of which are open for foreigners.
Tajik land borders
- Oybek (UZ), Khujand (TJ) - The main border crossing between Tashkent and Khujand this is probably the most common crossing for tourists to take. It’s a good route for those coming from Tashkent and wishing to drive through the Fann Mountains to Dushanbe. There’s no public transport though so you will need to organise private transport beforehand.
- Panjakant (TJ), Samarkand (UZ) - This border crossing is often used by people who don’t want to visit Tashkent and choose to go straight from Samarkand to Tajikistan. Again though there’s no public transport across this border and depending on when you cross there might be very few other people there, so it’s definitely a good idea to pre-arrange transport for yourself on either side of the border.
Afghan land boders
- Termez (UZ), Hairatan (AF) - Definitely not for the faint of heart, this can be a great way to see both of these countries. If you’re up for it. Especially if you’re going in the direction of Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, prepare for lengthy waits and extremely thorough searches of luggage and your person. You won’t be waiting in heated or air conditioned comfort and the guards on the Uzbek side are very suspicious of anyone coming from Afghanistan. Don’t be surprised if you’re separated from your group for questioning and if you have bought any seemingly controversial souvenirs they might not make it through. On the Afghan side though things couldn’t be more fun and chill – you’ll be offered tea or soft drinks and they’ll be more interested in pronouncing your name than checking your visa.
See and Do
Uzbekistan is famous for its Silk Road history, and quite rightly so. This country is absolutely brimming with blue tiles, domes, minarets, exquisite tiles, murals, mosaics, and all the fascinating stories to go with them. And a lot of these are well-worth visiting. However, there is also plenty more in Uzbekistan that most people haven't heard of and don't bother with, that we think are also well worth it. So on our tours we usually try and go for a balance of showing all the main famous historical sites - because after all, noone wants to go to Uzbekistan and not see the Registan. But you probably don't need to see every single one, and it might be nice to intersperse your trip with some different types of things too. So this is far from an exhaustive list of everything there is to do, but these are some of our favourite spots, and a few things that are a bit different to the usual tourist route.
We don't bother visiting every bazaar, but it's nice to visit one or two. So if you're doing a trip through Central Asia, or just Uzbekistan, and you want to visit one bazaar, make it this one. There is the iconic blue dome that's now home to meat, dairy and dried fruits, which is a super cool building that you've got to check out. But there's also way more than just that. There's everything from traditional bread-making methods, local remedies for whatever issues you might have, fruits, nuts, and so many meat and dairy items you won't have heard of if you haven't been to Central Asia before. It's also a great place to buy whatever type of souvenirs you're looking for, and any other shopping erands you might need to do, like looking for a phone charger, replacing a pair of shoes, or buying a new suitcase.
Probably the most iconic building in Tashkent, Tashkentians are very proud of their TV tower. You can catch the lift up to the viewing deck, with uninterrupted 360 views of the city, and models of other TV towers around the world. There's also a revolving restaurant, which is cool in theory, but to be honest it's just a bit overpriced, underwhelming and overrated. There used to be really cool Soviet-era abstract blown glass sculptures, but they recently did some renovations and got rid of them, much to our disappointment. It's only one floor higher than the viewing deck, so we usually don't bother anymore. But it is there if you want to check it out.
Central Asia's answer to Disneyland. With it's faded welcome sign, crumbling gift shop and creaky rides, this is another step back in time. Most tourists don't make it to this gem of Soviet infrastructure, but we just can't resist it. It was closed in 2022 for renovation, and we were concerned that they might fix it up too much and just make it like any other amusement park. Much to our relief, they didn't. But what they did do is put most of the rides out of commission. There now isn't an entrance fee to the park like there used to be, you can just walk in and use it like a normal park. Unfortunately, but not too surprisingly, and probably just as well, our favourite ride, the “Boomerang” rollercoaster, has been taken out of commission. But our other favourite, the “African tour”, a boat trip through the jungleand, is still working, and so is the haunted castle. Still well worth a visit in our opinion!
Museum of Railway Techniques’ (Train Museum)
This outdoor museum is full of all sorts of old locomotives, and they don't mind us climbing all over them. We can even take a little train ride around the train museum. You don't have to be a train lover to enjoy this charming museum.
National Plov Centre
You might have had plov in other cities or other restaurants, but there's no better place to have it than at the National Plov Centre in Tashkent. This is a massive operation, with an army of Uzbeks preparing all the various parts of the plov in massive cauldrons, ovens and pots, in full display of patrons and surrounded by locals and tourists alike watching them. There's both outdoor and indoor seating for hundreds of people. A very unique and enjoyable experience.
This is a beautiful area, perfect for a stroll, especially an evening one. With the Uzbekistan Hotel and the Amir Timur monument at one end, and Independence Park at the other end, you'll find myriads of food and drink stands, a small market (one of the best remaining places to buy Soviet artefacts), scooters for rent, and loads of cool Tashkentians, young and old chilling out and having fun. It's a great place to get a vibe for this city, which is quickly becoming hip and modern.
Parkent Solar Furnace
You've probably never heard of a solar furnace, nor is your life going to be greatly affected now you know they exist. The biggest is currently in France and this is the second biggest. It was built in the 70s during the Soviet Union, and not only is it an amazing contraption that looks like something out of a science fiction film, but there are also some amazingly well kept Soviet research facilities including a grand foyer with amazing Soviet Monumental Art and Mosaics. We are the only company currently taking tourists to this facility.
A closed town during the Soviet Union, not even appearing on maps, it was built as a mining town where exiles were sent. Once home to about 10,000 people, the population got down to just over 300, and it felt like a crumbling little Russian enclave within Uzbekistan. However, in the past couple of years the mountain air and scenic views have grabbed the attention of Tashkentians, and the area has become a popular local tourism spot. However, we've never seen another foreign tourist here.
This is by far the most famous site in Uzbekistan, there aren't any "secret gem" claims going on here. And there's not really much to say about it that you won't find elsewhere online. Something that a lot of people do miss out on though is the epic sound and light show that is put on every evening after dark. Some say it's tacky, others find it spectacular - whichever camp you find yourself in, it is definitely something!
Islom Karimov Mausoleum, Islom Karmiov Street (formerly Tashkent Street) and Monument
The First President of Uzbekistan died in 2016 and not too surprisingly he has been commemorated and immortalised in several ways in his hometown of Samarkand. The main pedestrianised area of the city has been renamed Islom Karimov Street, on which you'll find a larger than life statue of the late President. The Registan is at one end of this street, and at the other, you'll find the Mausoleum.
Romanenko Fashion House
Now this is really something different and special. It's basically impossible to do it justice in words. You've just got to see it for yourself. This small suburban house, accessed through an unmarked and indistinguishable gate on a small alleyway, has been transformed into a completely unique textile workshop focused on redesigning ancient Central Asian clothing into colourful, modern designs. They'll put on a show for you, displaying some of the absolutely magnificent clothes, and then you'll have the opportunity to buy a hat, coat, shirt, trousers, necklace, shoes, broach, or anything else that takes your fancy. Bookings required in advance.
Khovrenko Wine Factory
A great place to wind down after a day of seeing mausoleums, mosques and madrassahs. There's a small museum which you'll be shown around, before you're taken into the tasting room, where you'll be given explanations of each wine and a generous tasting of twelve different drinks, including cognac and brandy as well as wine. Bookings required in advance.
Alleyways of the old town
The old town in Samarkand is actually often overlooked because there are so many specific sites to see. But if you've got time, a wander through the old town will turn up some cool and unexpected little surprises. There's a synagogue for example, and a house that has been turned into a shop absolutely full to the brim with antiques and Soviet trinkets for sale.
I could list out each specific place in Bukhara, but you really don't actually need that. If you walk through the old town, which can only be done on foot as most of it is pedestrianised, you'll come across all the things you want to see. Bukhara is very different to Samarkand because the majority of things you want to see on a visit there are contained within a small, walkable area. There is of course a modern city of Bukhara, which surrounds the old town, which most tourists don't ever really venture into. We actually love going into the modern city as well, to visit a supermarket, a non-touristy restaurant, or just simply go for a walk or a drive, but there's nothing specifically to note there.
Like with Bukhara, everything here is contained within the old town, except Khiva is even smaller and even more concise, as it's literally a walled city. However, just outside the walled city, there is actually a huge area of the modern town which was previously car washes, mechanics, shanty houses, etc., that has been demolished and a new area is being built. It looks like there will be several high-end hotels, restaurants and shops lining a grand pedestrian walkway with fountains, benches and artwork.
The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art hosts the world's second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). Savitskiy himself went to great lengths to save prohibited pieces of art during the Soviet Union, and amazingly you can see some of them now in this museum.
The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth largest inland body of water, but is now almost nothing. Straddling the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, this is one of the world's worst environmental disasters. It takes one day to drive to the edge of the still existing sea from Nukus, so it's usually done as a two day, one night trip - one day there, overnight at a yurt camp near the water edge, then one night back. There are plenty of things to stop at along the way.
The main stop on the way to the Aral Sea is Moynak, which used to be a thriving coastal town, but is now a disheveled and quiet desert town, most famous now for the ship cemetery. Ships lay abandoned on the old seabed as the sea receded. A lot of them were removed and destroyed, supposedly so the metal could be recycled, but a dozen or so of them were saved and are now in Moynak.