A trip to Uzbekistan would not be complete without spending a few days in Central Asia’s holiest city — the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bukhara. The historic center of Bukhara is essentially an open-air museum; ornate with ancient madrasahs, mosques, and fortresses that encapsulate over 2,000 years of history. The city itself hasn’t changed much in the last 200 years and was once the center of culture, scholarship, trade, and religion during the Silk Road. It was also the intellectual heart of the Islamic world. Needless to say, Bukhara is definitely one of the most spectacular destinations to visit, and this article will guide you on the absolute best things to do in Bukhara, a true highlight of Uzbekistan.
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Context: A Brief History of Bukhara
In the 6th century BC, Bukhara flourished as one of the main Silk Road cities and drew a lot of invaders to the region, including the Achaemenids and Alexander the Great. Fast forward to the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Bukhara became the capital of the Samanid Empire and Central Asia’s cultural and religious heart. A lot of philosophers, poets, and scientists were nurtured there, including Firdausi, Rudaki, and Ibn Sina, who in the Persian Islamic world, hold as much status as Shakespeare and Newton do in the West.
In 1220, Genghis Khan invaded Bukhara and completely destroyed the city. Then, Amir Timur of the Timurid Empire took over in 1370. In the 16th century, the Shaybanids took control and created the Khanate of Bukhara, turning the city into a major hub of culture and trade with over 100 madrasahs (Islamic schools), 300 mosques, and countless bazaars and caravanserais. A lot of the monuments in the city today can be credited back to the Shaybanid era. In the 18th century, Manghit emirs slowly took control of the khanate and created the Emirate of Bukhara. The city then fell under Russian rule in the 19th century, and Uzbekistan became a part of the former USSR in 1924.
14 Top Things to do in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
1. Explore the Po-i-Kalyan Complex
The Po-i-Kalyan complex is the historic jewel and icon of Bukhara. It consists of four monuments: the Kalyan Minaret (which is directly in front of you when you enter the ensemble) sandwiched between the Kalyan Mosque and Mir-i-Arab Madrasah, and Amir-Allimkhan Madrasah, which lies south of the latter. You can easily spend hours admiring the beautiful courtyard and tilework of the architecture here.
At 46.5 meters (152 ft) tall, the Kalyan Minaret is well-referred to as the symbol of Bukhara. It’s also the oldest of all the structures and has an incredible history. In fact, erected in 1127 by the Karakhanids, it’s the only monument in the complex that hasn’t been restored. The story goes that back in the 13th century, Genghis Khan saw it from a distance every day as he rode towards Bukhara. He became so fond and impressed by it that when he sieged and destroyed the entire city, he decided to spare this minaret. The Kalyan Minaret is also known as the ‘Tower of Death’ because for centuries, it was used to execute criminals by throwing them from the top.
To the right of Kalyan Minaret is Kalyan Mosque, which has been Bukhara’s main mosque for 500 years now. It was completed in 1514 by the Shaybanids and it’s around the same size as Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand. Directly facing Kalyan Mosque is Mir-i-Arab Madrasah, which was also built between 1535 and 1536 during the Khanate of Bukhara. The madrasah has two floors and is beautifully ornate with mosaics and colorful patterns. There’s also a mausoleum inside dedicated to Sheikh Abdullah Yamani of Yemen, who was the spiritual mentor of the Shaybanids. Today, the madrasah is still a functioning Islamic college, almost 500 years after it was built!
Opening hours: 8 am - 8 pm daily
Entrance fees (Kalyan Mosque): 5,000 som / $0.50 USD
How to get there: I recommend getting a hotel within walking distance of this place as most attractions in the city are in the same area
2. Enjoy a Meal with a Surreal View
Right across the Po-i-Kalyan complex is Chasmai-Mirob Restaurant, an unmissable stop on any trip to Bukhara. If you go up to the top floor of the restaurant, you’ll find a terrace where you can enjoy a delicious meal and drinks with an absolutely stunning view of the Kalyan Minaret and its surrounding monuments. It’s a great way to relax after all the sightseeing! Make sure to try some of Uzbekistan’s national dishes while you’re there, such as plov, manti, lagman, shurpa, and somsa.
Opening hours: 9 am - 11 pm daily Price range: ~50,000 som ($5 USD) per person for a whole meal How to get there: It's on the street directly facing Po-i-Kalyan; you'll see the restaurant terrace from the square itself
3. Visit the Mysterious Chor Minor
Of all the Bukhara attractions, Chor Minor might just be the most intriguing one. It’s quite unclear when this monument was built, or what exactly it was built for. The most probable explanation, though, is that it was constructed in 1807 (though some say as early as the late 17th century) as the historic gate of a madrasah that has long been destroyed. It’s also said that the top floor of Chor Minor had a chamber that was likely used as a library for the madrasah.
Chor Minor’s name translates to “four minarets”, which refers to the four charming blue-domed towers crowning each corner of the building. Each of them has a different shape and design, and together, they’re believed to represent four different religions practiced in Central Asia — Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. In fact, you can see certain elements of these religions depicted on the decorations of the towers, including a Buddhist praying-wheel and a Christian fish motif. You can also climb to the roof of the building to get a closer look at them!
Fees for climbing to the roof: 4,000 som ($0.50 USD) How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex or Lyabi-Hauz complex - 15 mins by feet
4. Immerse Yourself in History at the Ark of Bukhara
The spectacular Ark of Bukhara is a massive fortress built in the 5th century AD. Being the oldest structure in the city, it’s definitely one of the most remarkable things to see in Bukhara. Many notable poets, scientists, and mathematicians once lived and worked inside this fortress, including Rudaki, Ibn Sina, and Omar Khayyam. According to Ibn Sina, there was apparently a unique library inside the Ark, but it was unfortunately destroyed in one of the many sieges that took place. In fact, the Ark of Bukhara has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of its history. In the 13th century, it was ransacked by Genghis Khan, and in the 16th century, rebuilt by the Shaybanids.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Ark was inhabited by over 3,000 people and was essentially a city within a city, housing royal palaces, government offices, and homes of high officials. It remained the residence of Bukhara’s emirs for centuries before falling to Russia in 1920. Today, the Ark of Bukhara houses several museums where you can learn about the history of the city. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a traditional dance performance right outside!
Opening hours: 8 am - 8 pm daily
Entrance fees: 15,000 som ($1.50 USD) + 5,000 som ($0.50 USD) camera fee
How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 10 mins by feet
5. Get a Massage at a Traditional Hammam
One of the most authentic experiences you can have in Bukhara is to take a break from sightseeing and lie down for a massage at a medieval bathhouse. Back in the 16th century, people in Central Asia loved relaxing in hammams, and it was a very common leisure activity especially in Bukhara, which had over 16 different bathhouses. One of them is Hammam Bozori Kord, and despite being built in the 14th century, it’s still functioning today! In fact, it’s one of the oldest bathhouses in the world, and yes, you can enjoy a traditional steam bath there — an exotic ancient ritual.
The experience takes place in an ancient basement that’ll take you back in time. You’ll start off in a circular sauna/steam room where you can relax and prepare for the massage. Then, you’ll be laid down on a stone-bed, where you’ll get soaped, scrubbed, stretched, and massaged. They’ll also put ginger and honey on your body during the process. When it all ends, some warm tea will be waiting for you. There are also several other hammams operating in Bukhara and I highly recommend visiting at least one of them, especially if you’re a fan of cultural experiences!
Hammam Bozori Kord opening hours: 6 am - 8 pm daily
Cost: 100,000 som / $10 USD for 1.5 - 2 hours
How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 5 mins by feet
6. Admire the Details of Ulugh Beg Madrasah
Completed in 1417, the stunning Ulugh Beg Madrasah is one of the few remnants of the Timurid Empire in Bukhara. At the time, conservative Bukhara was the Islamic capital of Central Asia, and sultan Ulugh Beg of the Timurid Empire really wanted it to become a center for science and education as well. Ulugh Beg (the grandson of Amir Timur) was both a ruler and an accomplished astronomer, and he really cared about the advancement of science in his kingdom. That’s why he built this madrasah in Bukhara — to attract scientists and scholars from around the Muslim world.
And attract them he did. Ulugh Beg Madrasah nurtured lots of respected poets and scientists, and students studied everything from math and astronomy to Arabic and religion there. Carved onto the gate of the madrasah is an inscription from the Quran which says “The pursuit of knowledge is the responsibility of every Muslim man and woman.” This quote was said to be Ulugh Beg’s life motto. If you look carefully, you can also spot astral designs on the madrasah’s facade, a testament to the many famous astronomical studies done by the sultan!
Entrance fees: Free
How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 5 mins by feet
7. Browse the Souvenirs at Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah
Directly facing Ulugh Beg Madrasah is the breathtaking Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah, an epitome of medieval Central Asian architecture. The madrasah’s colorful details and intricate patterns are simply astounding; they really showcase just how talented the architects at the time were! Completed in 1652, Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah was built a few centuries after Ulugh Beg Madrasah, and they couldn’t be more different from each other. While the Timurid-era Ulugh Beg Madrasah is a lot more modest in size and design, Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah is splendidly decorated with ornate tiles and patterns. It’s also covered with verses from famous poets.
Even the designs and patterns on the two madrasahs contrast each other; Ulugh Beg Madrasah showcases astral and geometrical decorations, whereas Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah’s designs are brighter and wavier. Among them, you can also spot images of a Chinese dragon and a Simurgh (a mythical bird in Iranian mythology). Today, you’ll find a lot of souvenir stores inside and around the madrasah selling everything from t-shirts to handicrafts. It’s the perfect place to admire the incredible architecture while shopping for souvenirs!
Entrance fees: 13,000 som ($1.30 USD) - valid for 3 days
How to get there: Directly opposite of Ulugh Beg Madrasah / From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 5 mins by feet
8. Enjoy Traditional Tea & Sweets at Silk Road Tea House
If you want to experience some true Bukharan hospitality and taste some traditional spices that were traded on the Silk Road, then you have to stop by Silk Road Tea House. Located in the heart of the historic center, this restaurant is owned by a family that has been making tea and trading spices for over 600 years. How incredible is that? In fact, the herbs and spices in their tea have been brought in through the Silk Road from India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Today, they sell samples of them at the entrance to their restaurant, and the owner is also more than happy to give you ideas on how to blend them perfectly with different kinds of food.
Inside the cozy restaurant, there’s a nice selection of tea and sweets to choose from. Make sure to have their Silk Road Confection Sweets and Spices and Herbs Tea. The latter is a true specialty as it’s uniquely blended by the owner himself with cardamom, mint, oregano, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. If you really enjoy their tea, you can also buy some to take home with you!
Opening hours: 9 am - 8 pm daily
Price range: 50,000 som ($5 USD) per person for tea + sweets
How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 5 mins by feet
9. Watch the Calm Reflection of the 40-Pillar Mosque
Bolo Hauz Mosque is one of the most peaceful places to visit in Bukhara. Built in 1712, it served as a Friday mosque that the emir of Bukhara himself visited for Friday prayers; he wanted to show his people that he, too, was just an ordinary man. This mosque is also known as the ‘40-Pillar Mosque’ because its ceiling is held by 20 wooden pillars that reflect elegantly in the pond at the foot of the building; so in total, you see 40 pillars. The wooden pillars are simply gorgeous. They’re covered with intricate carvings and decorated with colorful muqarnas — ornate vaults commonly featured in Islamic architecture.
The pond in front of the mosque is also quite significant. In fact, the name ‘Bolo Hauz’ translates to ‘children’s pond’. Because of water shortages back in the days, lots of ponds were built to source drinking water, and this pond was one of them. Water taken from the pond would be delivered in special leather containers to residential areas and sold in bazaars. Unfortunately, the stagnant water also became a source of infection and diseases, so the Soviets drained the pond when they gained control of the region.
Today, Bolo Hauz Mosque is still used by the public for prayers, 300 years after it was built. Make sure to step inside — the interior details are simply stunning and will have you staring at them for a while.
How to get there: Right opposite the Ark of Bukhara / From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 10 mins by feet How to dress: Knees and shoulders should be covered / Women should wear a headscarf
10. Relax at the Lyabi-Hauz Plaza
Lyabi-Hauz is one of Bukhara’s most popular tourist attractions and often used as a resting stop thanks to its central location and relaxing atmosphere. Built in 1620, its name means ‘around the pool’, which refers to the big pond in the middle of the square. Up until a century ago, hundreds of stone pools cluttered the city of Bukhara. They were popular gathering spots for locals, who drank and washed with the water as they socialized. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of water-borne diseases (the average 19th-century Bukharan didn’t live past the age of 32), so when the Soviets arrived, they drained most of the pools around town, and the Lyabi-Hauz pond is one of the few that still remain today.
The Lyabi-Hauz plaza was also a popular trading square in the Middle Ages, and today, it’s the perfect place to sit on a bench, relax, and people-watch. The atmosphere there is both calming and lively, which is really cool. There are also lots of restaurants around the pool with outdoor seating areas, and I highly recommend checking some of them out.
One place you can’t miss during your time in Lyabi-Hauz is the beautiful Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah. Its facade showcases some absolutely magnificent tilework, and when you go inside, there are lots of souvenir shops surrounding its large courtyard. Evening concerts are hosted there, as well as important public events. For example, when I was there, they welcomed the president of Uzbekistan in the courtyard with a gigantic party and festive decorations!
Entrance fees: Free
How to get there: From Po-i-Kalyan complex - 15 mins by feet
11. Shop Inside the Ancient Silk Road Trading Domes
Back in the 16th century, Bukhara flourished under the rule of the Shaybanids and was a center of trade on the Silk Road. The city was covered with markets and trading domes stretching from the Po-i-Kalyan complex to Lyabi-Hauz plaza. Today, four of these trading domes still remain; they are Toqi Telpak Furushon, Tim Abdulla Khan Trading Dome, Toqi Sarrofon Bazaar, and Toqi Zargaron Trading Dome. They’re all conveniently located around the city center, and you’ll likely pass through at least one of them while walking around the city.
In these bazaars, you can find all kinds of souvenirs, including suzanis (traditional hand-embroidered textiles), jewelry, musical instruments, scarves, knives, books, and ceramics. The prices in the trading domes are higher than in other places, so be prepared to bargain and aim for at least 30% off the original price.
12. Marvel at the Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chor-Bakr Necropolis is located just about a 15-minute drive from the center of Bukhara, and it’s absolutely worth visiting if you have some extra time in the city. This memorial complex dates back to the 16th century and is also known as the ‘Town of the Dead’. It houses the remains of families from the Juybari dynasty, who for 500 years were a leading political force in Bukhara. Walking around the compound today, you can see lots of mausoleums, an orchard with roses and grapevines, a minaret meant to resemble the Kalyan Minaret, and at the center of the necropolis — a mosque, madrasah, and khanqah built as gifts to the Juybari dynasty. It’s also believed that if a pilgrim makes a wish in Chor-Bakr and visits all the 4 mausoleums of the saints named Bakr, that wish is bound to come true.
Opening hours: 8 am - 5:30 pm Monday to Friday / 8 am - 6 pm Saturday & Sunday Entrance fees: 15,000 som ($1.50 USD) How to get there: Take a taxi - it'll take around 15 mins from the center of Bukhara (but over an hour by foot)
13. Explore the Hidden Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace
Within only a 15-minute drive from the historic center of Bukhara is a beautiful hidden gem most tourists don’t know about. Built in the 19th century, Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace was the former countryside residence of the emirs of Bukhara. The architecture of this palace was influenced by both eastern and western styles, showcasing brilliantly ornate walls with traditional murals. It’s said that the intricate mural designs were there to keep guests entertained as they waited hours to meet the emirs.
The palace also features magnificent mirrors, charming gardens, pavilions decorated with gold leaf, and colorful windows. Today, this site is a museum that displays (among other things) the ancient furniture used in the palace and an impressive collection of national dresses from the 19th century. If you enjoy going off the beaten path, then Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace is definitely one of the coolest places to see in Bukhara. It’s also a great change of scenery from all the mosques and madrasahs!
Opening hours: 9 am - 5 pm daily Entrance fees: 15,000 som ($1.50 USD) How to get there: Take a taxi - it'll take around 15 mins from the center of Bukhara (but over an hour by foot)
14. Visit the Quaint Ismail Samani Mausoleum
Built in the 10th century, Ismail Samani Mausoleum (also known as the Samanid Mausoleum) is one of the most ancient buildings in Bukhara and the oldest Islamic monument in Central Asia. It’s located inside a park and makes a nice 30-minute stroll from the city center. As the capital of the Samanid Empire in the 10th century, Bukhara really flourished politically and economically, and it’s believed that this mausoleum was built to commemorate the Samanids’ achievement. Members of the Samanid dynasty rest here, including the founder Ismail Samani.
This ancient monument has quite an incredible history — it remained undiscovered for almost a thousand years and even survived Genghis Khan’s invasion because it was buried in mud and sand from landslides and floods. It was only discovered in 1934 by Soviet researchers. Today, the mausoleum is a very peaceful place to visit; definitely a different atmosphere from the crowded streets of the city center.
Opening hours: Open 24/7 Entrance fees: 5,000 som ($0.50 USD) How to get there: 30 mins by foot from the historic center
Where to Stay in Bukhara
I recommend staying in the historic center, near the Po-i-Kalyan Complex or Lyabi-Hauz plaza so that you’re within walking distance from almost all the main attractions. Some great options are:
Komil Bukhara Boutique Hotel – Hands down the most beautifully decorated hotel in town; every room is uniquely adorned with traditional art, and staying here is truly a unique experience. Remember to book well in advance as it’s a very popular place to stay in!
Hotel Khurjin – Set in a historic madrasah from the 18th century, this stylish hotel is decorated with colorful tiles and has a beautiful courtyard to relax in.
Lyabi House Hotel — An absolutely gorgeous establishment set in a 19th century building; the antique furnishings and wall decor here are simply stunning.
How Many Days to Spend in Bukhara
Recommended: 3 days (at least 2 days if you’re tight on time)
There’s a lot to do in Bukhara, from exploring ancient monuments and shopping in bazaars to relaxing at a hammam and visiting hidden attractions. If you want to have a relaxing time in this city and avoid rushing from place to place, then spend at least 3 days here.
Travel Insurance for Uzbekistan
I highly recommend getting travel insurance before traveling to Uzbekistan. It’s something I always do before I travel as it gives me peace of mind. I buy mine from World Nomads — their prices are affordable, their coverage is great, and they offer a 24/7 on-call service. They also let you book and make claims online while you’re on the road!
Getting Into Bukhara
By train: It’s very easy to reach Bukhara from Tashkent. The comfortable and convenient Afrosiyob high-speed trains depart daily and connect the two cities in 3.5 hours. Tickets cost around $7 USD at the train stations.
By train: Getting between Samarkand and Bukhara is also very easy. With the Afrosiyob high-speed train, the journey is 1.5 hours and you can leave Samarkand either in the morning or in the evening. Tickets start at $7 USD if you buy them at the train station. You can also take the slower Sharq train which takes around 2.5 hours and is slightly cheaper.
By train: The train from Khiva to Bukhara runs on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The journey is around 5 hours and an economy class ticket costs around $16 USD on Global Connect if you want to book it online. Alternatively, you can get it for much less at the local train station.
By taxi via the Khorezm fortresses (recommended): A taxi from Khiva to Bukhara typically takes around 7-8 hours with a stop for lunch, and you can arrange it directly from your hotel in Khiva. The whole trip in a shared taxi for 2 costs $20 USD per person. With an extra $10 USD though, the driver can make a little detour to let you visit the enchanting Khorezm fortresses in the middle of a desert. There are barely any tourists at these fortresses and you will feel like an archeologist who just stumbled upon some truly intriguing ruins. This little detour would prolong your trip by just about an hour or two, and it’s absolutely worth it.
Getting Around Bukhara
Bukhara is a very walkable city, and if you stay inside the historic center, you can basically reach all the main attractions by foot. There are a few places listed in this guide that would require a taxi ride to get to, such as the Chor-Bakr Necropolis and the Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace. It’s quite easy to hail a taxi in the city center. You can also ask your hotel to arrange them for you. Unfortunately, while the Yandex taxi app works in Tashkent, it does not operate in Bukhara yet.
Where to Eat in Bukhara
- Doston House – This restaurant is simply gorgeous; the walls are beautifully decorated and the staff is really friendly. They have good vegetarian options and their pumpkin manti is especially delicious!
- Temir’s Restaurant – A friendly and stylish place with an interesting and authentic menu. Try out their ‘mimoza’ dish!
- Mavrigi Restaurant – A beautiful and friendly place with a great atmosphere; they have live music in the evenings! Make sure to try their Uzbek spice tea, it was the best tea we’ve had in the country.
- Chor Bakhr Restaurant – This hidden gem is very popular among locals and can be visited on your way to the Chor-Bakr Necropolis. The food is absolutely delicious and very authentic. Try their tandoor and shashlik!
- Minzifa – Delicious food paired with a stunning rooftop view. They have vegetarian dishes too!
Other Tips for Visiting Bukhara
- Best time to visit Bukhara: March to May / September to October for the most ideal weather
- ATMs in Bukhara: The ATMs that are most likely to work are the ones inside high-end restaurants and hotels. Keep a bit more cash on you than you may need; not every ATM in the city may work with your card.
- Taxis in Bukhara: The typical rate is 12,500 som ($1.25 USD) for a 10-15 minute ride
- What to pack for Bukhara: Bring modest clothes that cover your shoulders and knees for sacred places. Outside of mosques and mausoleums, you can dress however you want.
- Safety in Bukhara: Bukhara is incredibly safe, even for solo female travelers. In fact, Uzbekistan has a very low crime rate, and I found traveling here safer than Europe in general.
My Travel Photography Gear
This is the photography gear I use to capture the best of Bukhara and Uzbekistan. You can also see my article on the best cameras for bloggers for more options other than the ones listed below.
- Cameras: Nikon D610 + Sony A6400 (check out the best Sony lenses)
- Main lens: Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8
- Wide-angle lens: Tokina AF 16-28mm f/2.8
- Prime lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G
- Tripod: Manfrotto Element Traveller Tripod (Ball Head)
I hope you enjoyed learning about the top things to do in Bukhara!
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A big shoutout to Lukáš Platinský for contributing his gorgeous photography to this article.