“Why would you go to Uzbekistan?” – asked pretty much everyone when I told them I was going to spend 10 days in this Central Asian country. To be fair, I knew close to nothing about Uzbekistan for most of my life. But after coming across an article about the Silk Road and all the incredible architecture scattered around this country, I knew I had to see it for myself. While planning this Uzbekistan itinerary, I had no idea what to expect on this trip, and I certainly didn’t know that Uzbekistan was going to become one of my most favorite destinations on earth.
Two months later, I found myself standing inside Registan – the biggest square in Samarkand, with tears rolling down my eyes. I teared up because I couldn’t believe a place so beautiful could even exist. I teared up because in the 10 days I’d spent in Uzbekistan, I’d lost count of the number of times my breath had been taken away. So to answer the previous question: why wouldn’t you go to Uzbekistan? This 10-day itinerary & travel guide will provide you with all the best places to visit in Uzbekistan along with lots of helpful travel tips. I hope it will inspire you to visit this incredibly underrated country as well!
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Background: Uzbekistan, the Silk Road & the USSR
First off – a little history. Uzbekistan’s geographic location allowed it to play a key role in the Silk Road (114 BC – 1450s AD). In the first millennium BC, caravans crossing miles of unwelcoming deserts from China to the bazaars of Europe found their oasis in the ancient Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, and turned them into major trading hubs and centers of cultural exchange.
Traders not only transported materials such as ivory, silk, and gold, but also religion and philosophies. When the Timurids conquered Uzbekistan, they brought Islamic art and culture to the country, which are still very prominent today. In fact, today, Uzbekistan is filled with ornate mosques, glittering minarets, and majestic madrasahs – scenes you’d only expect to see inside the most magical chapters of One Thousand And One Nights.
In the 16th century, as ocean trade flourished, the Silk Road cities began to decline. Uzbek khanates soon entered into wars with Iran, and in the 18th century, all of them were controlled by Nader Shah of Persia. Then, in the 19th century, Russia, drawn by the commercial potential of the region, began a full military conquest of Central Asia. In 1924, Uzbekistan became a part of the former Soviet Union/USSR, and although the country has found its identity back after its independence, there are still strong Russian influences around the country today. Primarily, Russian is still one of the main languages spoken in the country (particularly among elders), and Soviet-style architecture is found throughout the country, standing alongside majestic Islamic buildings.
The Ultimate 10-Day Uzbekistan Itinerary
I recommend spending 10 days in this beautiful country to fully absorb its history and culture without any rush. If you have limited time though, 7 days, although a bit tight, are enough too. You can find an alternative one week Uzbekistan itinerary later on in this guide! Here’s a quick overview of how to spend 10 days in this country:
Day 1: Tashkent
Day 2 – 3: Khiva
Day 4 – 6: Bukhara (and the nearby Khorezm fortresses)
Day 7 – 9: Samarkand
Day 10: Tashkent
Day 1: Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and home to the largest international airport in the country, so it’s most likely where you will be flying into/out of. Although the more interesting parts of the country are coming up later, it’s worth spending a day in Tashkent to see its intriguing mix of modern buildings, Soviet-style architecture, traditional mud-walled houses, and crowded bazaars. Some of the most interesting places to check out are the incredibly picturesque metro stations, which were built in the former USSR; Minor Mosque, a modern mosque made of white marbles; Hazrati Imam Complex, a religious center with remarkable architecture, and Plov Center, the best place to have plov (a national dish) in Uzbekistan – it’s a locals’ favorite!
Getting into Tashkent
By air: There are two main airlines that operate to Uzbekistan: Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines. You’re therefore likely to have a layover in Moscow or Istanbul on your way to Tashkent International Airport (TAS). At Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, you will even find a really good Uzbek restaurant called ‘Uzbechka’ (‘узбечка’ in Cyrillic) on your way to the gate. I highly recommend resting there during your layover to get a quick glimpse into Uzbek food — it will get you even more excited for your trip!
Day 2 – 3: Khiva
The medieval town of Khiva is located in the Khorezm Region of Uzbekistan. Because it’s a bit out of the way, it tends to get overlooked by many travelers. However, missing out on Khiva would be a real shame. This town is not only Central Asia’s very first UNESCO World Heritage City, but it’s also one of the most intact Silk Road cities in the world. Walking inside its city walls, you get the feeling of being transported back in time; it’s as if you’re inside an open-air museum. Filled with alluring mosques, ancient minarets, and clay-colored houses, the tiny old town of Khiva (Itchan Kala) has over 50 historical sites that are absolutely worth exploring for 2 days.
Getting from Tashkent to Khiva
By air (recommended): A flight from Tashkent to Urgench (Khiva’s nearest airport) takes around 1.5 hours and costs $60 USD one way. You can book your flight through Uzbekistan Airways.
By night train: The night train from Tashkent to Khiva takes around 14 hours, reaching the small town in the morning. The cheapest option is to buy the ticket in person at the local train station in Tashkent. If you want to reserve it online, it would cost you twice as much, but you can do so through a company called Global Connect (there, it’s $60 USD one way for a 4-person compartment sleeper). Alternatively, you can also ask your hotel to buy your ticket for you — they usually charge much less than online services.
Day 4 – 6: Bukhara
With over 2,000 years of history, the ancient city of Bukhara is an amazing place to experience Uzbek culture, history, and tradition. In fact, Bukhara became the cultural and religious heart of Central Asia in the 8th century, when Arabs conquered Uzbekistan. The city also nurtured philosophers, poets, and scientists who became the Shakespeares and Newtons of the Islamic world. You can learn all about this in the historic center of the city, which, embellished with ancient minarets, mosques, and madrasahs, became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1993. So explore the architecture, shop the bazaars, and get a massage at one of the oldest traditional hammams in the world — all things you cannot miss during your 3 days in Bukhara.
Getting from Khiva to Bukhara
By taxi via the Khorezm fortresses (recommended): A taxi from Khiva to Bukhara typically takes 7-8 hours with a stop for lunch, and if you get a shared taxi for 2 people, it’d cost $20 USD/person for the whole journey. You can arrange the ride directly from your hotel in Khiva. If you’re interested in a little adventure though, you can also request a taxi that stops at 3 of the ancient Khorezm fortresses along the way, giving you some time to explore them.
Located in the Karakalpak desert, these desert castles were built over 2,000 years ago to protect the locals from nomadic raids. They are absolutely worth seeing with your own eyes — you’re likely to be one of the very few tourists around if not completely alone, in the middle of a big desert with fortress ruins that look completely surreal. Stopping for these fortresses would make your total journey from Khiva to Bukhara around 9 hours long. The total trip would cost you $30 USD instead of $20 USD, but it’s absolutely worth it.
By train: Alternatively, the train from Khiva to Bukhara runs on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. It takes around 5 hours and an economy class ticket costs $16 USD on Global Connect. It would cost you only half as much though if you buy it in person at the train station in Khiva.
Day 7 – 9: Samarkand
Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and an unmissable highlight of Uzbekistan. Founded in the 7th century BC, its geographic location in the center of the Silk Road route has attracted a lot of travelers and invaders, from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan. The city was also the capital of the Timurid Empire, which brought a lot of the incredibly stunning Islamic architecture found around town today. Once conquered by Persians, Greeks, Chinese, Turks, and Mongols (just to name a few), half a dozen religions have found a home in Samarkand in the course of its history, and today, it’s listed as ‘Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures’ in the UNESCO World Heritage. Get lost in the magnificent architecture there and admire their breathtakingly intricate blue tiles; it is truly something out of this world.
Getting from Bukhara to Samarkand
By train (recommended): Getting from Bukhara to Samarkand couldn’t be easier; there’s a high-speed train called Afrosiyob that operates daily. The journey takes 1.5 hours and costs around $7 USD if you buy the ticket at the train station. You can also book them online at Global Connect (for a higher price). The high-speed trains in Uzbekistan are very comfortable, clean, and punctual. In fact, I had a much better experience with them than with many trains I took in Europe.
Day 10: Tashkent
It’s usually much cheaper to fly out of Tashkent than Samarkand (even though there’s an international airport there too). You can spend this last day relaxing in the capital and enjoying your last bites of Uzbek food. If you’ve already covered all the places recommended for your first day in Tashkent, head over to Chorsu Bazaar to experience a bit of local life; you can even learn how to bake the local nan bread there! Amir Timur Square, the main square of the city, is also worth a visit mostly because it’s home to Hotel Uzbekistan, a very typical Soviet-style building that showcases impressive Communist architecture. You can also relax in Navoi Park and visit the State Museum to learn more about the history of Uzbekistan.
Getting from Samarkand to Tashkent
By train (recommended): High-speed trains connect Samarkand and Tashkent very frequently, and it’s very easy and convenient to travel between the two cities. The journey on the Afrosiyob high-speed train is 2 hours long and the tickets cost around $7 USD at the train stations. You can also book them online at Global Connect for a higher price.
Alternative One Week Uzbekistan Itinerary
If you’re tight on time and can’t spend 10 whole days in Uzbekistan, I recommend the following 7-day itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive into Tashkent
Day 2: Take an early morning flight to Khiva; spend the rest of the day there
Day 3: Take a train to Bukhara in the morning; spend the rest of the day there
Day 4: Explore Bukhara; take a train to Samarkand in the evening
Day 5: Full day in Samarkand
Day 6: Explore Samarkand for most of the day; take a train to Tashkent in the evening
Day 7: Fly out of Tashkent
Where to Stay in Uzbekistan
The hotels and guesthouses I found in Uzbekistan are simply beautiful: gorgeously decorated, cozy, clean, and homey. They’re typically also very affordable; you can find very decent stays for $20 – $30 USD a night. You can book them easily via Booking.com.
Getting Into Uzbekistan
The easiest way to reach Uzbekistan is to fly into either Tashkent International Airport (TAS) or Samarkand International Airport (SKD), both of which have many international connections. You’re likely to transit in either Moscow or Istanbul on your way there. Tickets can be pricey, so I also recommend checking out flights to the nearby cities of Almaty (Kazahkstan), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), or Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and consider driving into the country from there.
Getting the Uzbekistan E-Visa
Citizens of many countries (including those of most European countries, the UK, and Canada) can enter Uzbekistan visa-free. US citizens, along with nationals of many other countries, can easily apply for an e-visa through this official website. The e-visa costs $20 USD and you will receive it in your email usually within 2 business days. It’s valid for 90 days from the date of application and allows you to spend up to 30 days in the country.
To see if you need a visa or e-visa for Uzbekistan, head to the official website of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Uzbekistan Travel Insurance
I always buy travel insurance and highly recommend you to do so as well. I used to think it’s not necessary, but the truth is, we never know what can happen during a trip, and it’s really not worth risking it. I recommend using World Nomads for their affordable prices, amazing coverage, and 24/7 on-call service. They also let you make claims online while on the road!
Getting Around Uzbekistan (Is a Tour Agency Necessary?)
Contrary to what a lot of people may think, Uzbekistan is incredibly easy to navigate on your own. You don’t need a tour agency to take you around at all. Arranging a trip Uzbekistan won’t be much different from arranging a trip to Europe, for example. You can easily book all your hotels on Booking.com, and Uzbekistan has a very well-developed railway system. Below are some tips to help you get around this country hassle-free.
Getting Around Uzbekistan by Air
There are airports in all the major cities in Uzbekistan, but usually, taking the train is a cheaper and more convenient option. However, if you’re traveling between Tashkent and Khiva, flying is the fastest way. You can fly out of Tashkent’s domestic airport into Urgench, which is about a 30-minute drive to the center of Khiva. You can book your flight through Uzbekistan Airways.
To get between Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand, it is much more convenient and affordable to take a train instead.
Getting Around Uzbekistan by Train
It is very easy to travel between the three major cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. There are multiple daily trains connecting them; you can either take the Afrosiyob high-speed train or the slower Sharq train. Both trains are very comfortable and punctual.
With the Afrosiyob high-speed train, the journey between Samarkand and Tashkent and Samarkand and Bukhara takes just around 1.5 – 2 hours. With the slower Sharq train, the journey is 3 – 3.5 hours. I personally recommend the Afrosiyob train for its faster speed, extra comfort, and extra cleanliness. It only costs a tiny bit more than the Sharq train, so it’s well worth it.
Top Tip: Buy the tickets at the local train stations for the best prices. You can also book them online via Global Connect, but it’ll cost you a lot more. If you really want to reserve the tickets in advance, contact your hotel and ask them if they can buy the tickets for you — some hotels offer this service and charge a lot less than any online platform.
Getting Around Uzbekistan by Taxi
You can use a taxi to get between Khiva and Bukhara as an alternative to taking the train. The advantage of going by car is that you can take a little detour along the way and stop at the unique ancient Khorezm fortresses in the middle of the desert — an experience you don’t come by every day. You can simply ask your hotel to arrange the taxis for you.
Getting Around Inside Uzbek Cities
I recommend using a taxi to get around Tashkent. This city is much bigger than Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, and it isn’t very walkable. In Samarkand and Bukhara, you can just walk between most of the attractions as they’re quite close to each other. You can use a taxi to reach some remote places such as the train stations. Khiva is a completely walkable town and you’d only need a taxi there to reach the nearby airport of Urgench.
Top Tip: Download the Yandex taxi app to use when you’re in Tashkent. It’s like Uber — much cheaper than regular taxis and easy to use. It only works in Tashkent and unfortunately not in the other cities yet, but it saved me a lot in costs when going to and from the airport!
Food in Uzbekistan
What to Eat
Uzbek cuisine is one of the most exquisite and flavorful ones I’ve tasted, and it left me longing for more after leaving the country. Some staples of the local cuisine that I highly recommend trying are: plov (a tasty rice dish with mutton, apricots, and carrots), traditional nan bread (a fresh oven-baked flatbread), shurpa (a soup with mutton and vegetables), lagman (a soup with noodles, potatoes, and meat), manti (dumplings with either meat or pumpkin inside), somsa (a savory meat pastry), shashlik (meat skewers), kazan kabob (Uzbek kebab), and shivit oshi (green noodles with meat and dill — a specialty of Khiva).
As you may have gathered, Uzbek food is very meat-heavy. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you might have a hard time finding places that offer meatless options. However, there definitely are restaurants that serve vegetarian dishes, and I have listed many of them in my individual Uzbekistan city guides!
A tip for vegans & vegetarians: Say “bez myasa” when ordering salads. It means “without meat”. This can come in handy as some salad plates may also occasionally contain sliced meat (yes, Uzbek people love their meat!).
Where to Eat
There are a lot of restaurants in Uzbekistan with absolutely gorgeous decor and delicious food. You can find my top recommendations on where to eat in each city in my Samarkand Travel Guide, Bukhara Travel Guide, and Khiva Travel Guide. I’ve included vegetarian-friendly places in there too!
Costs of Traveling in Uzbekistan
Accommodations: $20 – $40 USD per night budget / $40 – $65 USD per night comfort / $65 – $100 USD per night high-end
Food: ~$10 USD per day
Taxis: $1.25 USD for a 10-15 minute ride
Flight from Tashkent to Khiva: $60 USD
Khiva – Bukhara taxi: $20 USD (in a shared taxi between 2 people)
High-speed trains (to get between other cities): $7 USD at local stations / $22 USD online
Entrance tickets to attractions: ~$25 USD in total for all attractions
SIM card: $3 USD (2 GB) / $5 USD (5 GB) / $9 USD (10 GB) with Ucell
Currency & ATMs in Uzbekistan
The currency in Uzbekistan is Uzbekistani Som, where $1 USD = roughly 9,515 Som. There are ATMs all around the four main cities mentioned in this guide. However, it isn’t guaranteed that they will work with all credit/debit cards (including VISA/Mastercard), and it’s quite likely that you’ll walk from ATM to ATM because many are faulty and others simply don’t accept your card.
Top Tip: For that reason, I recommend withdrawing cash at the airport when you arrive and to always have more cash on you than you need, just in case. You can find the exchange rate at the airport here. I also found that the ATMs inside higher-end hotels and fancy restaurants work much better than the ones elsewhere in the cities.
Best Time to Visit Uzbekistan
For best weather: End of April – mid May / end of September – mid October (between 14° – 26°C / 57° – 78°F)
For less crowds and decent weather: End of March or end of October (between 5° – 18°C / 41° – 64°F)
For least amount of crowds but cold weather: November, December or February (between -3° – 15°C / 26° – 59°F)
Avoid the months of June, July and August as it gets uncomfortably hot (up to 40°C / 104°F)
In January, temperatures can go as low as -10°C / 14°F.
Religion in Uzbekistan
There’s a general false assumption that Uzbekistan is a Muslim country. While 92% of the population here practices Islam, Uzbekistan is actually officially a secular country. Religious organizations in Uzbekistan are separate from the government and equal before the law, and the government doesn’t interfere in their activities.
What to Wear in Uzbekistan (Are Headscarves Required?)
Uzbekistan is a lot more liberal than you may think. We saw schoolgirls wearing very short skirts in large and modern cities like Tashkent and Samarkand. Headscarves are only required when entering mosques. You don’t need to wear them at all when walking around in the cities.
My tip on what to wear: You don’t need to dress like you’re in a Muslim country because you’re not in one. You can technically wear whatever you want. However, do bring clothes that cover your knees and shoulders for sacred places such as mosques and mausoleums.
What to Buy in Uzbekistan
There are tons of souvenirs you can bring home from Uzbekistan, including beautiful ceramics, wood carvings, carpets, and miniature paintings. The most interesting and common items you’ll see in stores, though, are suzanis. A suzani is a traditional hand-embroidered textile that dates back to the nomadic tribes in Uzbekistan. Back in the 15th century, suzanis were used as bedsheets and prayer mats inside yurts. They were also commonly presented as dowries to the grooms on their wedding days; the brides and their mothers would adorn the embroideries with symbols of luck, health, and fertility.
Today, walking around the bazaars of Uzbekistan, you’ll see suzanis everywhere. You’ll find them in all kinds of colors, shapes, and designs, and they’re usually sold as pillowcases, tablecloths, and blanket covers. Some vendors are also eager to explain to you the meaning behind each of their embroidered designs, which is really interesting to listen to! A typical suzani pillowcase costs around $5-$10 USD.
Is Uzbekistan Safe? (For Solo Female Travelers Too)
Uzbekistan is one of the safest countries I’ve ever been to. This country boasts a very low crime rate and doesn’t have the safety concerns such as pickpocketing that you may find in many European countries. Never once did I feel threatened during my time there, even when wandering around at night. If you’re a solo female traveler, simply apply common sense and take the general travel precautions you would anywhere else, and you’ll have no problems at all in Uzbekistan!
Is English Spoken in Uzbekistan?
There are two main languages spoken in Uzbekistan: Uzbek and Russian. However, very basic English is understood in most tourist spots. You will probably have to rely on hand gestures or Google Translate in other parts of the cities though, as English is barely spoken outside the main attractions. With that said, I never found the language barrier to be big enough to cause any real obstacles.
People in Uzbekistan
Uzbek locals are genuinely the kindest, friendliest, and most welcoming people I’ve met during my travels. They’ll put a smile on your face every day. You’ll often get strangers approaching you just to say a warm “welcome to my country!” and start a friendly conversation. People here also tend to go out of their way to ensure you’re having a great time on your trip. For example, on two separate occasions, I was randomly given flowers (one real and one paper-made) from locals just as a random act of kindness!
Internet in Uzbekistan
WiFi connection in Uzbekistan is likely to be a hit-or-miss situation depending on which hotels you stay in. If getting online during your trip is important to you, I recommend getting a SIM card with data just in case. I’ve stayed in hotels/guesthouses with very slow and unreliable WiFi, but have also experienced really good WiFi connection in other accommodations. Essentially – don’t expect every hotel with WiFi to have reliable WiFi in Uzbekistan.
SIM Cards in Uzbekistan
The easiest way to get a SIM card is to buy one at the Tourist Information Center inside the Tashkent International Airport upon your arrival. They sell Ucell SIM cards there, and you can choose between 2 GB ($3 USD), 5 GB ($5 USD), or 10 GB ($9 USD) of data. I recommend getting a SIM card in Uzbekistan mostly because the WiFi in many hotels can be unstable and unreliable, so it’s always better to have some data to rely on.
The fact that Uzbekistan is not one of the most popular travel destinations in the world is absolutely mind-boggling to me. This country is honestly one of the most breathtaking, surreal, and underrated places I’ve ever been to, and to this day, I’m still trying to figure out whether my time here was all just a really cool dream. I hope this article has given you enough reasons to visit Uzbekistan. To sum it up — the architecture will astound you, the rich history will intrigue you, and the people will warm your heart.
I hope this 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary has provided you with some helpful tips! Read my Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva city guides for detailed information on what to do and what to see in each of those cities.
If you enjoyed my Uzbekistan photos, you can also purchase some of them from my print store!
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A big shoutout to Lukáš Platinský for contributing his beautiful photography to this article.