A splendid two week Uzbekistan Itinerary
Another Uzbekistan itinerary! Sorry, couldn’t help it. I know I know, there are plenty on the internet already. In fact, this Uzbekistan Itinerary, like most, includes the classic Silk Road destinations of Samarkand, Buxoro and Xiva and starts in Tashkent, but id adds the Fergana Valley.
Table of Contents
Why another Uzbekistan itinerary?
Keep on reading if you like to mix the classic “Must See” stations of an Uzbekistan tour with nice food, classy accommodations on a budget and plenty of Arts and Crafts. Also – this blog is advertising free, there is no sponsorship and what you see is what you get – pretty much. As a self funded blogger with a regular full-time job, I can afford to give you an unbiased opinion, as my livelihood doesn’t depend on it.
I have been to Uzbekistan twice, and now that I have seen what I believe are the cultural and touristic highlights, I have to come up with my own itinerary. If you have come across from my post about planning a great trip on a budget, you know that I am not one to pay through the nose for unnecessary extras, but I do love a relatively comfortable trip.
So, a few words: This itinerary is for a 14 day trip. You could see the highlights of Uzbekistan in less time, but I do not recommend it. Unless you are not bothered with crafts and just want to do the Silk Road highlights, in which case 7 days is just about do-able.
Also, if you are into trekking and nature, this Uzbekistan Itinerary is not for you. I do try to concentrate on historic/ cultural highlights, and although, I do walk and hike, it’s not the focus of my travel.
Best time to travel
You can visit Uzbekistan all year round. Museums stay open year round, but smaller hotels may shut over the winter. Chances are that between November and February, you may have all these attractions to yourself – and pretty cold nights and days to deal with.
The most popular travel times are March to May and September to early November, when it’s relatively dry and warm in the day and pleasantly cool at night. In high summer from late June through to August, it gets extremely hot in the day, with sunny cloudless skies, making walking and sightseeing pretty exhausting. My first trip to Uzbekistan was in early to mid-March and I loved it – it was “pre season”, not all hotels and restaurants were open, old towns were moderately busy. My second trip in October, three years later, had the added benefit of tons of fresh produce – but it wasn’t as busy as pre-2020.
Do you need an organized tour to tour Uzbekistan?
Well, yes and no.
Why you don’t need a group tour in Uzbekistan
As far as travel safety is concerned, Uzbekistan is as far as it gets. The occasional scan, overpricing, pick pocketing. It does not happen a lot, certainly a lot less than in tourist destinations in Europe. There is an all-present police, and a tourist police, too.
Public transport runs fairly reliably – but then, I have only used the trains and share taxis so far. Trains are reliable, run to schedule, as cheap and you can travel almost anywhere by train. Here is a post on trains in Uzbekistan and here one on travelling by night train, which I really recommend. Share taxis work great for short distances, and any guest house or hotel worth its salt will arrange prepaid taxis for you at a relatively low cost.
Top Tip: If you have made your plans, pre-book tickets for the Afrosiyob high speed rail – the fastest way to travel between Tashkent, Samarkand and Buxoro, especially if you have less than 2 full weeks. They sell out fast!
Attractions are fairly obvious and can be visited individually when it suits your schedule, restaurants are plentiful in larger touristic destinations like Samarkand, Buxoro and Xiva. Group tours may run to a tighter schedule and not let you rest in a tea house or hanging around a sight until the light turns magical.
Why you might need a group tour in Uzbekistan
Some destination, and here the Fergana Valley comes to mind, have a fair bit of touristic interest but they are also populated places with a lot of industries – so they are not exactly waiting for tourists. You may have to ask around a bit more, and be bold to try and speak Uzbek or Russian. With an Uzbek SIM and a translation app this is usually not a problem. Long distance transport can be more difficult – even to places like Fergana Valley, Chances are you get there but not everything might run to plan. Did I enjoy hanging out for four hours in a random Tashkent suburb waiting for passengers to turn up? No, and the journey was a bit hair rising but my fellow passengers made up for it.
You will have you Uzbekistan Itinerary pre-prepared and everything is organised for you.
Uzbekistan has a rich history, and having someone spoon feed it to you can be nice. With a group, you always have dinner companions. And so on. I find that travelling alone can give you great travel companions, but there is no guarantee, so a group tour might be better if you prefer constant companions.
I am finding it difficult to recommend a universal tour operator. We have some very good ones here in Germany that have Uzbekistan in their programme – it is a very popular destination for educational holidays.
One operator based in Uzbekistan is Advantour. Personally, I haven’t done any of their tours but they have tons of tours available on their website. Shame almost none visit the Fergana Valley though. They do look expensive, starting at around 1000 Euro for a week double occupancy, but they do stay in upmarket hotels and have a maximum group size of 16. I would not travel in a group in Uzbekistan, but one day I wish to visit Turkmenistan, and they would definitely be an operator I would consider.
They certainly do tick some boxes – locally owned, specializing in Central Asia and Caucasus, staffed by locals.
Another locally owned company is Responsible Travel (https://www.nuratau.com) who are slightly cheaper and who concentrate on Outdoors, Trekking and Community- based tourism and are less well known than Advantour.
Arrival in Uzbekistan
At the time of writing, the route through the new international Tashkent Airport is the most common one. In the past, I used Samarkand, bypassing Tashkent altogether. Tashkent has its charms, so if you have two full weeks, Tashkent is my recommended port of entry. Most international flights arrive in the middle of the night. Then, there will inevitably be some queuing at immigration, I arrived in a full A350 and queued for about half an hour which is tolerable. Immigration procedure was totally straight forward with a German passport, no questions asked.
Top Tip: Buy a SIM card in the arrivals hall at Tashkent Airport. 24/7, friendly, you can pay by card or in US Dollars
But worry not, there is a tiny Exchange Office in the Airport, a stall that sells data SIM card (I got a Beeline one for 8 dollars which served me perfectly for 12 days), and an official taxi booking office. It is best to have a hotel booked, obviously. Book a taxi or negotiate with the taxis drivers outside for a decent fare. I paid US-Dollars to be driven to my hotel which, at this time of the night, was fine for me.
And you do not immediately need Uzbek currency when you arrive, so you might want to save some time and money by not changing money in the airport and take a few smaller US-Dollar notes which are accepted almost anywhere.
Day 1: Explore Tashkent
If you arrived in the middle of the night, you may have a late start.
Tashkent is a modern capital city with few historic attraction, owing to a 1960’s earthquake and the subsequent Soviet style rebuild. So, while there are some historic buildings like the Kukeldash Madrassah or Hazrat Imam Complex, I would start at the modern centre.
Visit Amir Temur Square and then admire the modernist monstrosity that is the Hotel Uzbekistan. You can also visit the State Museum of the Timurids (History Museum) there.
From there, stroll to the Alisher Navoiy Theatre to see if any performances are on during your stay. The area around the opera has several, relatively touristy cafes and restaurants for a pit stop and is a pleasant, park-like area to stroll in.
Talking about Modernism, I have also trekked out to the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts (Markaziy Ko’rgazmalar Zali) where you may or may not be the only visitor to the changing Uzbek Art exhibitions. And for the history lover, the State Museum of the History of Uzbekistan is next door.
Further out by straight bus, is the Friendship of the Nations Palace (Xalqlar Do’stligi” Saroyi ) which, for me, was the most impressive modernist Tashkent building. It’s a shame it is usually not open in the day time.
Use the nearby Metro Station Xalqlar Dostigli to start your own tour of the Tashkent Metro – middle of the day is perfect, as it won’t be too busy. The best stations are Paxtakor/Alisher Navoiy (two interchange stations), Kosmonavtlar, Chilonzor, and Mustaqillik Maydoni. They date from late 1970’s post Stalinist pomp to quite sleek and modern.
If you have the time and energy, take a bus or taxi out to Minor Mosque and then move on to Tashkent TV Tower and the “Central Asian Plov Centre”. Take the metro from nearby Shahriston one final time and reunite with your luggage.
Alternatively, just find somewhere nice near the railway station. I recommend somewhere on Mirobod Avenue, where you have some nice restaurants with outside seating, or Caravan, an Uzbek Restaurant. Or, since you will likely be eating Uzbek food for the next two weeks, try Georgian food at “Georgia” of Ivliev Street.
Take the night train to Xiva around 21.00 from Tashkent Yuzhny. Book in advance on the Uzbek Railway site or a travel agent as they do sell out a couple weeks in advance, then buy follow-on tickets at the train station in Xiva or online. Feel free to use my post on how to buy train tickets in Uzbekistan if you want to go the direct route. Alternatively you can go to the station and buy tickets in person – but sleepers and high speed trains tend to sell out a week or so in advance, leaving you with slower trains.
My Tashkent post covers this in more detail.
Where to stay in Tashkent
I highly recommend to book a hotel in a relatively nice and touristy area of Tashkent. I recommend somewhere in the huge block between Mirobod and Shota Rustaveli Streets. You get a variety of nice restaurants, the lovely Mirobod Bazaar, cafes, green walkways and good bus connections.
I stayed at the Sapiens Hotel, a new property staffed by lovely people ( and a resident cat) in a quiet side street of Shota Rustaveli Avenue. The cheaper rooms have no lift (yet), it lacks some finishing touches in the rooms, the breakfast was not amazing – apart from that, I highly recommend it. Especially because it was so friendly, because of the location and the cleanliness. I paid about 30 Euro for a twin room.
Another really nice one, a bit off the beaten track but handy for the airport and train stations, is the Resident Hotel.
Before my plans got turned upside down, I had a booking at the ATECA Suites Hotel. It was more expensive but had four stars and looked spanking new with a very pleasant decorating scheme. Expect to pay about 55-90 Euro per room per night.
For those who love a blast from the past, the Hotel Uzbekistan is a very famous Soviet-era hotel right in the representative centre of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else around there except roads, monuments and pleasant park-like boulevards, but it is very thin on the ground in terms of cafes and restaurants. I did visit, and while it’s impressive from the outside, the interior downstairs has definitely been refurbished some 30 years ago and looks more like a 1990’s midrange hotel. But I saw many tourists there, so it is still quite popular.
Day 2: Xiva
If all is going to schedule, you should arrive at the new Xiva Station in the late morning. Get settled, have an early lunch, explore the Ichon Qal’a, which is the historic walled city of Xiva. It is small and easy to walk through.
The entire walled town is an open air museum more or less, even though it still has people living in it, and you can stay there too, from humble family run guest house to four-start hotel in an old Madrassah.
There aren’t any routes to follow as the Ichon Qal’a is so small.
My highlights include Tash Hovli Palace, the Kohna Ark, and Pahlavan Mahmood Mausoleum. There are numerous madrassahs, mosques and minarets to explore. The Kalta Minor, the landmark of Xiva, you will pass more often than you care since it’s right in the middle of the Ichon Qal’a.
Also take time for some nice food – I recommend Khiva Moon and Terrassa. Browse the souvenirs in the Allakuli Khan Bazaar and the street details. Yes, Xiva is super touristy. it also is a gentle way to get to know Uzbekistan, and chances are you will be fine without speaking any Russian or Uzbek.
Here is my full two-day Xiva guide for more details.
Where to stay in Xiva
Hotels inside the Ichon Qalʼа offer atmosphere and short distances to tourist sites. I stayed at the Silk Road Caravan Sarai, a beautiful converted caravanserai, with its own mosque and minaret, no less, just outside the walls of the Ichon Q’ala. I recommend it for its beautiful reconstruction, peaceful courtyard and well appointed comfortable rooms. Also, the price was a real steal for the atmosphere and level of comfort. All rooms are on the ground floor but aren’t entirely barrier free due to the narrow doors and bathrooms.
Close to the Northern Gate, there are smaller guest houses in a more residential area – but you will still be in the touristic centre in less than five minutes. This is probably the best area if you are on a budget. Most of them look quite nice, and the location is certainly lovely. The Khiva Muhamad Ali looks particularly nice.
There’s a glut of modern hotels in the very artificial-looking street between the train station and Ichon Qalʼа. Of these, The Madrasah Polyvon-Qori is a true historical building, done up very tastefully.
Day 3: Xiva
Either take the train from Xiva in the evening or an earlier afternoon train from Urgench. You will always arrive in Bukhara quite late at night, but it is preferable to a bumpy share taxi ride. Depending on your interests, you could take the train a day later and see the Khorezm Desert Castles outside Khiva.
Or stay in Xiva and take the day at leisure, walking though the outer reaches of the Ichon Qal’a, take coffee and cake at Terrassa, go for shashlik aplenty with the locals anywhere outside the Old Town walls, browse the souvenir stalls in the Allakuli Khan Caravanserai, pop into smaller madrassahs and mosques… I really would recommend a bit of an aimless wander. Uzbekistan is super safe, people are very friendly, scams are rare.
Day 4: Bukhara
Depending on your time of arrival in Bukhara, take it easy and explore on foot. You can probably see the highlights of Buxoro in a short day, but you will be seriously side tracked by shops and beautiful cafes.
A good place to start your walk is the Lyabi Hauz, nice and early Follow the pedestrian road connection the three ancient trading domes and walk all the way up to the northernmost trading dome the Toqi Zargaron. The street is lined with shops, and I am not going to lie they are all aimed at tourists. The middle trading dome, Toqi Telpakfurushon, is my favourite and a fourth one on the way, Tim Abdulla Khan Trading Dome, is perhaps the most atmospheric.
Take a look at the small but perfect early 15th Century Ulugbek Madrassah and its neighbour, the Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah. Then walk across to the Po-i-Kalyan Ensemble, with the stately Kalan Mosque and its elegant brick minaret, the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa and the Khanaka Amir Alimkhan.
If you need a rest, the lovely Silk Road Tea House is very close by. Or walk back to Lyabi Hauz, take your time in the shops and have a drink or meal in Lyabi Hauz.
There are some beautiful madrassahs and mosques near Lyabi Hauz, including a half-sunken former Zoroastrian Temple with a carpet museum inside (Magoki Attari Mosque). Behind Lyabi Hauz, the old Jewish Quarter starts, with yet more old residences, two synagogues (Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue, a bit more hidden, and the main Bukhara Synagogue), bakeries and a small farmers market. Also, the Jewish Quarter has some beautiful small hotels in restored buildings, and a handful more smaller madrassahs. And this probably leads you into evening. There are puppet and dance performances for tourists in some of the madrassahs around Lyabi Hauz where you can buy tickets on the same day.
For me, I would just be happy to have an early dinner at a restaurant with a view like Minzifa, Chinor or Old Bukhara – touristy but with a beautiful terrace. And if you are lucky enough to stay in a restored madrassah or palace, enjoy the evening with tea and biscuits by candlelight!
Want more Buxoro details? Here is my full post.
Where to stay in Bukhara
I stayed previously at the Minzifa Boutique Hotel and at the Chor Minor Hotel.
Top Tip: Bukhara is the place to stay in a beautiful restored property boutique hotel. There are many, starting at about 25 Euro per night.
The Minzifa Boutique Hotel is a beautifully decorated hotel in the old Jewish Quarter of Bukhara, in walking distance to most sights and many restaurants. I have written a more detailed review and if you want to stay in a traditionally styled hotel, this is one of the best bets.
If Minzifa is full, the nearby Komil Boutique Hotel offers as similar experience with an OTT lavish breakfast room. Expect to pay between 45-80 Euro per night for a double room in these beauties, and note prices vary wildly depending on demand.
The Chor Minor Hotel should cost roughly half that and is in a more modern, but nice effort on bringing some traditional painting into the building,and generally they do make a good effort in this much smaller hotel. It is in a somewhat more local area than the other two, but in easy walking distance to the touristic centre.
Day 5: Bukhara
Bukhara’s old centre is also quite compact, so you could visit some sights further out. For me, walking to the Samanid Mausoleum, taking in the Ark and the Bolo Hauz Mosque, was one of the highlights of my visit. There is another small mausoleum (Chashmai Ayub Mausoleum) nearby as well as the local farmers market.
Also, if you like your architecture a bit less polished, try to find the unrestored Hoja Zaynuddin Complex. It’s a matter of luck to be able to enter, although locals are usually around and have access to the keys.
Take time and explore the residential area around the Chor Minor on foot.
Another great walk that takes you out of the tourist zone but to a gorgeous restored merchants residence, is visiting the Fayzulla Khujayev House near the football stadium.
Any taxi driver you may encounter, will try to take you on a tour of two further-out places: The Bahauddin Naqshbandi Complex, the birth place and last place of rest of this Sufi Master and Chor Bakr Necropolis. In the same trip, you could negotiate to see the the Sitorai-Mokhi-Khosa, one of the palatial residence of the last Emir of Buxoro just outside the city. You can also get there on public transport (by marshrutka just outside the Ark).
Day 6: Samarkand
Take an early high-speed train to Samarkand. There is one at around 5.30 which gets you into Samarkand in time for breakfast, or consider travelling the day before on a late afternoon train. If you have spare time, one of the many Emir’s palaces, this one in European style, is almost next to the train station.
I recommend spending two full days in Samarkand to see everything at your leisure. If you happen to be there on a Sunday and are interested in textiles, make a half day trip to Urgut Market for their extraordinary vintage suzanis. Wednesdays and Saturdays may work for Urgut as well.
Samarkand is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan and thankfully, its main attractions are quite clustered together.
You will pass the Registan, and I recommend visiting at different times of the day. Its three madrassahs are all equally worth seeing, don’t skip one! The oldest is Ulugbek, to your left as you stand on the square, followed by Sher-Dor (the one with the tigers with the sun on their backs) and to the centre, Tilla Kori with its amazing golden interior.
It took me well over three hours to see all three and it really pays coming back here at a different time of the day. Dusk was my favourite time.
In walking distance from the Registan is sanitized Tashkent Street with its souvenir shops, which leads you to Bibi Khanym Mosque, Hazrati Hizr Mosque and Siyob Bazaar. So, if you arrive some time before lunch, start at one of those and work your way to the Registan. Have lunch in the lovely Bibi Khanym Tea House. One of a few in this touristy destination that is decent and not a complete rip-off. The Registan is open until 23.00 in summer but plan to be there two hours or so before sunset.
Take dinner nearby if you feel like no more walking at the Emirhan Restaurant with a view of the Registan. Since it’s at the back of the Registan, you have to look for it a bit – and best take the exit at the Tilla Kori Mosque.
Where to stay in Samarkand
Antica Family Guesthouse is well-known and in pretty much every travel book. I did like it, it’s certainly comfortable and friendly, but thought you could maybe find somewhere more luxurious for the price. If you come in the warm season, their garden is definitely a big advantage, and it is very close to the Gur Emir and the Russian part of town – for restaurants.
Hotel Rahmon is a very simple guesthouse with a nice courtyard garden, and the family running it is super friendly. But – bathrooms are tiny, beds are rock-hard, but everything is extremely clean and works and for the price of around 10-15 Euro per room, it cannot be beaten.
But then, I found the Old Radio Hostel. In the most peculiar but super convenient location in the “back yard” of the Registan, this traditional home has a couple private rooms as well as dorms. The host family is lovely, some great home cooking and excellent local knowledge from the English-speaking son of the family, who will really go out of his way to help and make arrangements for you.
Day 7: Samarkand
So, you have seen the big monumental sights of Samarkand, time to see some more? Of course, there is the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, a pleasant walk rom the Registan. It’s the final resting place of Timur, along with some of his successors and assorted family. Go there either early in the day or late, as this one gets very busy and it is much smaller than, say the Registan, so it feels full very quickly.
You will find a taxi there easily, and take one to the Ulugbek Observatory. The observatory is really just a brick structure in a ditch – not very monumental, but with significance for development of astronomy, and a pretty compact but good museum. In another taxi, go to Shah-i-Zinda. If you are interested in archaeology, stop at the Afrosiyob Museum first.
Shah-i-Zinda is a complex of mausoleums in a regular cemetery. It is a place of pilgrimage for many Central Asian visitors, so important to be mindful of modest clothing, keeping photography discreet and keeping quiet. Despite the somewhat rushed restoration that’s already started to peel in places, it was one of my favourite places to visit in Samarkand.
From here, you can walk back if you need some last minute Shopping at Siyob Bazaar (good for fruit, nuts, cheap clothes, cheap crockery, last-minute luggage) or take it easy. Or spend three hours in the bazaar.
If you fancy a bit of spooky-doo, visit the Ishrat-Khana before it gets the “good as new” restoration treatment.
Or take a bus to the “Bulvar” (University Boulevard) – most buses from the back of Siyob Bazaar will stop here – and visit the small but delightful Rukhobod Mausoleum – with yet more souvenir stalls in side – then stroll around the Tsarist-Era Russian part of town for a bit of historic St Petersburg glam. Incidentally, there are some good restaurants in the area, too, like “Old City” and “Royal Hall” , “Samarkand” and “Platan”.
Day 8: Travel Day Samarkand to Fergana Valley
That’ll be a travel day but can be made comfortable if you book the right trains. There is now no reason to take the hair-raising share car journey from Tashkent to Fergana – only if you are seriously interested in the mountain scenery. But if that were the case, I would hire a car in Tashkent and drive myself with plenty of scenery and walking stops and just hold on to the car in Fergana Valley.
If you take the train, your day will start very early, shortly after midnight or you stay another day in Samarkand and take the night train. Both these trains go all the way to Andijon, with stops in Kokand and Marghilon. Another option would be the comfortable “Afrosiyob” high speed or “Sharq” fast trains to Taschkent, hang around in Tashkent then take the late afternoon “Ozbekiston” Express train which is very comfortable indeed.
You can definitely travel easily in a day but there is no good train connection that lets you start in Samarkand at a comfortable early morning time unless you switch to a shared taxi in Tashkent.
Day 9: Fergana Valley: Andijon or Namangan
The train runs all the way to Andijon, but very few travellers except those moving on to Kyrgyzstan, make it there. Namangan is the second largest city of Uzbekistan, with a few sights. Both Andijon and Namangan are mainly populated regular Uzbek cities with a fair share of industry. To be fair with you, I haven’t been there, opting to skip around Marghilon and sitting in my cosy guesthouse, but you can easily catch trains or share taxis between Andijon and Marghilon, and there are plenty share taxis between Tashkent and Namangan and in between.
Where to Stay in Andijon and Namangan
In Namangan, try the Four star Cottage on steroids that is the Shedevr Plaza. Huge rooms, modern decor, good central location and a pool will make this a comfortable option. In Andijon, consider the Premier Hotel – new, plush and right next to the train station. These are not touristy destinations, so there are fewer guesthouses, but you can find a room ion a four-star hotel for about 50 Euros.
Day 10: Fergana Valley: Fergana and Marghilon
Okay, coming to my favourite… Marghilon! That’s because I love, love, love textiles, and Marghilon is a major textile production centre of Uzbekistan. I did walk around Fergana, which is a pleasant enough city of Soviet architecture and green spaces, but I spent most of my three Fergana Valley days in Marghilon.
My first trip out was to the Yodgorlik Silk Factory in the centre of Marghilon. If you like to see silk production it’s easy to spend 2-3 hours there. Then, I hit the shops. First, the bazaar for incredibly tasty bread and fruit. There are also several large textile shops all over town.
My favourite one was Gold Silk near Marghilon Train station. They have mostly cotton, and it’s a huge store which leaves no wish unfulfilled, at pretty civilized prices.
I also went to Kumtepe Bazaar, which was another treasure trove for textiles – or pretty much anything you might need if you want to set up house in the Fergana Valley.
Day 11: Fergana Valley: Rishton and Kokand
From Marghilon, slowly make your way back towards Tashkent. First, make a half-day stop in Rishton if you want to experience Uzbekistan’s finest town for artisan ceramics.
Then move on to Kokand to visit the Khans Palace and some interesting Russian-era architecture. Or just to a day trip to Rishton and return to your Fergana Valley base.
Day 12: Fergana Valley to Tashkent
Another travel day. I recommend taking the train from either Marghilon or Kokand. The twice-daily “Ozbekiston” Train is super comfortable and quite fast, and there are a few slower trains available also. None of them go through Tajikistan any more since the large railway tunnel near Pop was completed. It’s a relaxing 4-5 hour journey and I recommend to do at least one leg by train.
Day 13: Tashkent
Have one day as a “buffer” day in Tashkent. Dive into the busy Chorsu Bazaar for some last-minute souvenir and food shopping. To be honest, souvenir shopping is maybe better done in Samarkand, Buxoro or Xiva, but the Chorsu Bazaar and local bazaars have great tea and dried fruit and nuts. Chorsu is very busy – if you want a relaxed day, go to Mirobod Boulevard and the nearby bazaar.
Another cool place to visit for me would have been the Solar Furnace in Parkent, about 20km from Tashkent. It lies in beautiful mountains and is the largest of its kind, and already, at over 40 years old, one of those retro Soviet relics. It’s a bit of a trip out there – it’s not always open, tours are in Russian if they take place, and you would need to hire a taxi for at least half a day. Advantour currently charges a not-so-hot 200 Euro for the private trip, but it does include a tour and probably avoids disappointment if you pitch up on your own and they’re shut.
Variation if you skip Fergana Valley
I understand not everyone might want to visit the Fergana Valley where the cities are standard Uzbek cities with just a few sights, but they are the industrial heartland of Uzbekistan. At the same time, the Fergana Valley is also very fertile so most crops are grown here. I chose it because I wanted to get a way from the touristy centres for a few days and because I am interested in textiles, crafts and architecture.
Termez and Buddhist Monasteries
This would have been my choice if I had had another three days or so. One train runs between Tashkent and Termez, with a stop in Samarkand. Although the area is sparsely populated and very close to the Afghanistan border, with a sizeable military presence, this is where Indian, Chinese and Western culture and religion met. You can see remains of the Buddhist Mausoleums Fayaz Tepe and Kara Tepe, the Sultan Saodat Complex, holding mausoleums from six centuries, and a decent Archaeological Museum. Most sites are outside the modern Soviet-era town, so you will need a private transport.
For more information, I recommend this post.
Aydar Lake and Kyzylkum Desert
Geographically, perhaps the destination with the easiest access on this itinerary – just about 120kilometes from Samarkand, but this vast lake only has two smaller towns, and apart from that it’s desert and mountains. This is a good destination to do a tour, as you most certainly will require public transport and homestay accommodation. You can do some walking, stay with a farming family, trek into the desert, watch birds… find more information here if this appeals to you.
Nukus and Aral Sea Desert
Nukus is an easy two-hour journey by train or shared taxi from Urgench, and is a pleasant city that sees few tourists. It is known for the Savitsky Museum of Art. Igor Savitsky a Soviet artist and curator, collected and exhibited Soviet art in this political backwater that was too controversial to exhibit everywhere else. From there, it’s another 120km to Moynaq, which was once a post city on the Aral Sea – today it’s another 80km to get to the current Aral Sea’s shores. Moynaq is known for the Aral Sea ship graveyard. Would I go there? Nope.
I am happy to learn about the environmental impact of cash crop farming from home, and won’t make a difference by travelling there. More information in this post.
Seven-Day Uzbekistan Itinerary
In which case you would really need to book train tickets in advance. And leave out Xiva. Day One and Seven would be arriving in Tashkent and seeing some of Tashkent. Then, take an Afrosiyob Train all the way to Buxoro, which takes about four hours. Spend two to three days in Buxoro, take the Afrosiyob to Samarkand (about two hours), spend two days in Samarkand. On the evening of Day Six or the morning of Day Seven, take the Afrosiyob back to Tashkent. This gives you the opportunity to see all relevant touristic sights of both Buxoro and Samarkand at a relaxed pace.
Skipping Xiva is probably an unpopular opinion, but a train ride from Tashkent takes 14 hours and back about 6 hours to Buxoro and there are no high-speed trains. You could fly to Urgench, but this will also eat into your sightseeing time, and you would probably end up rushing a lot. Hence, you have a week only, skip Xiva.
The Small Print on Uzbekistan Itinerary
I visited Uzbekistan twice – in spring 2019 and in autumn 2022 on a self-organised solo trip. This Uzbekistan Itinerary is based in my experience and a lot of online research.
Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a bit, so while I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. I understand that “international” spelling may bring this post up in searches better, so for now, I will keep using some anglicised spelling like “Uzbekistan” rather than the Uzbek ” Oʻzbekiston”. Names and spellings may change over time ( see: “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti“) and I do my best to keep track but it is not always possible, and last not least this remains an English-speaking blog so English it is in most cases.
I am very grateful for any comment of feedback – especially, if you have gone on an organised tour, which ones would you recommend?
I was not paid for these recommendations.
This post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning I may receive a small commission if you decide to book through any of these links. Thank you.