Visit Tashkent – Destination In Its Own Right Or Just a Necessary Stop?
Do you need to visit Tashkent when you are planning an Uzbekistan trip? At the time of writing, the route into Uzbekistan through the new International Tashkent Airport is the most common one and it’s impossible to avoid Tashkent. So you might as well visit Tashkent properly. Tashkent has its charms, so if you have two full weeks, Tashkent is worth a closer look. So, what is there to do, and how much time should you spend there? My guide below gives you a little intro to Tashkent and some pointers for things to do.
Table of Contents
Arrival in Tashkent
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. Open 24/7, friendly, reliable, and 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. It also has an official taxi booking office but taxis waiting outside are fairly reasonable – but agree on the rate before getting in. It is best to have a hotel booked, obviously. 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.
Visit Tashkent? Here is what Tashkent is really good for
Now that it’s likely you will arrive in and depart from Tashkent unless you are on a longer Central Asia trip, let’s make the best of your time when you visit Tashkent – how long that stay will be, is up to you!
Daring Soviet Architecture
Much of Tashkent was destroyed in an earthquake in 1966 and subsequently rebuilt – fast, and if some may say, with some very interesting results. It made Tashkent a showcase of 1970’s architecture. You will undoubtedly come across some of its famous examples:
Hotel Uzbekistan: A 1970s concrete colossus right in the centre of Tashkent. Better to look at than to stay at as the interior had a bit of a makeover in the 1990’s. So it’s neither exactly fresh nor does it have the vintage 1970’s charm inside.
Xalqlar Do’stligi Saroyi / Istiqlol Palace / Palace of the Friendship of Nations: This place which goes by many names, is a huge concert venue that’s impressive from the outside in s slightly Giger-esque fashion. It’s in a relatively non-touristy part of town with a metro stop close by and easy to get to.
Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts: Just a short way from the Opera House, this is more tame and in slightly more traditional style with some floral mosaics. What the outside lacks in “wow” moments, you might find inside the largest art exhibition hall in Central Asia with changing art exhibitions. I was lucky to see an exhibition of Tura Kuryazov paintings. I just walked in there by chance and it turned out one of the best things I did in Tashkent.
And there a many more -often unnamed buildings, not on any tourist radar. Typically built with prefab concrete slabs interspersed with mosaics or murals decorating its fronts.
A Metro system that’s bold, beautiful – and practical
After the earthquake, a metro was planned and built, with the first rain making its underground journey in 1977. The most recent line was added just a couple years ago, and is currently being extended. First generation metro stations like Chilonzor, Paxtakor or Mustaqillik Maydoni bear lavish marble decorations and a Stalinist era vibe, while those on the second blue line are from the Soviet 1980s and bear more traditional decorations.
On the newer “green line” (Yunusobod yoʻli) you get some interesting modern station architecture, while the newest and “navy line” (Halqa yoʻli) runs mostly overground and is utilitarian and not of much tpuristic interest except for transport.
The metro also doubled up as as air raid shelter and were of military significance, which is why it was illegal to take photographs in the metro system. Most of the metro, unlike its predecessors in Moscow or St Petersburg, runs only a few metres deep, so there are a lot of stairs sometimes.
Food other than Uzbek
Like in many capital cities, immigration brought its food culture and in Tashkent it’s Georgian and Korean food, in particular. Shota Rustaveli boulevard is a useful “backbone” to start hunting for these restaurants. AS pretty much anywhere, burger, steak and pizza are also available in modern and trendy restaurants.
Last minute food shopping
It’s no fun hauling a few kilos of dried figs and nuts around the country, and Tashkent with its many bazaars is great for stocking up for foodie souvenirs. Chorsu Bazaar is all set up for it -there is a huge section of dried goods on the upper floor of the iconic round main bazaar building, with a lot eye-catchingly gift packaged.
Less touristy, more central and less frantic is little Mirobod Bazaar, probably better prices, too.
Modern upmarket hotels
You want a modern business hotel with a pool? Yes, you will find stylish ones in Tashkent. Most chains have a property here,, emphasis is on modern and convenient, with decent service. Some hotel suggestions are below.
Learning Uzbek and other cultural activities
Tashkent has at least a dozen universities and Institutes of Higher Education and is the premier educational destination in Uzbekistan. Many universities accept foreign students for relatively cheap fees and offer Uzbek language courses, too.
Transport to Fergana Valley – no way round Tashkent
At present, Tashkent is the hub for all long distance transport in Usbekistan, and there is usually no way past it. So… if you want to travel to the Fergana Valley or to Tajikistan via Khujand, or to Kazakhstan – you will have to go through Tashkent, and sometimes spend a night before moving on.
What Tashkent is less good for
Tashkent is a convenient entry port for Uzbekistan, and some people leave it at that and more on quickly. If you only have a week or so, this would be a sensible idea. Tashkent is a modern city with its charms but few tourist attractions or places to shop for handicrafts and souvenirs.
Silk Road Sights
Of course, most visitors to Uzbekistan come for the ancient Silk Road sights. You will have a hard time finding anything older than 1960’s in Tashkent, and if you do, it’s often reconstructions. If you find yourself in Chorsu Bazaar and have some time to kill and are not interested in the Soviet architecture, you can try the small 16th Century Kukeldash Masdrassah, or the Hazrati Imam Complex. If you want Silk Road vibes and don’t care for age, you can view the Islamic Civilization Centre on the way, which is still being built.
Shopping for Souvenirs
I would say any place I visited, even Fergana Valley, has a wider choice of handicrafts than Tashkent. In fact, the only place where I have seen many traditional “handicraft” souvenirs, was Chorsu Bazaar. See below for some shopping ideas, but it really is better to buy at source, with some ceramics and generic souvenir articles being an exception.
Where to stay in Tashkent
I stayed in two hotels in Tashkent, Both were good in their way, and I can recommend them.
The one that wants to be an upmarket boutique hotel – but isn’t quite there yet – was the Sapiens Hotel. Its a newly purpose-built mid sized hotel in a really nice and vibrant part of Tashkent, with the lovely Mirobod Kochasi in walking distance and lots of cafes and restaurants right outside the door. Bus stops are 100m away, but no metro nearby.
I loved the new clean rooms and the super friendly reception staff – and the cure resident cat that was lovingly looked after. They also have a nice courtyard to sit in, a rooftop bar and the hotel draws a youngish middle-class crowd. My room appeared a little unfinished, and well, the rooms are really quite spartan but super stylish. Also, sleeping next to an Airconditioning unit wasn’t great and I was glad it cooled down at night but then, my room was a budget room. I’d stay there again because the location was good and the reception staff is really helpful. I paid about 30 Euro per room per night including breakfast.
I spent my first night at the Resident Hotel after arriving in Tashkent Airport at one in the morning. This is a really great hotel if you just come from the airport and want a nice place to sleep, or if you are arriving or leaving on a train, as it’s close to two of the main railway stations. It is new, rooms are very new as well, an interesting mishmash of styles, everything is very generously proportioned and clean. The rate includes breakfast which was really quite good – including caviar. There can be a little bit of noise from the ring road and a night club next door.
And really, there isn’t much if touristic interest around. The hotel sits in residential area of Soviet-era high rises, and there are couple bus stops not far, and of course staff will call taxis for you, and it’s easy jsut to flag one down at the ring road. Apart from a few very basic snack bars, no cafes or restaurants close by. If you plan to be out in the day and just need a comfortable place to rest this will work well. I paid about 25 Euro per room per night including breakfast.
Before I set off on my solo trip, I had planned a family trip which got cancelled. For this, I had already researched and booked some higher-priced accommodation – which I cancelled, because I wouldn’t justify the expense jsut for myself. I am a budgeting midrange traveller at heart…
However, ATECA Suites might have made the cut. Like Sapiens, they are in a nice area near Mirobod Kochasi, around 400m from Kosmonavtlar or Ming Orik Metro stations. Which would place you in a green yet very tourist-friendly part of town -good transportation, plenty cafes and restaurants. Rooms are larger than average, new and modern with a lot of wood and warm colours and a classic decor. Had I not cancelled, I would have paid 50 Euro per night per double room.
Ichan Qal’a Premium Class Hotel
This is the wild card – I was to celebrate my birthday in Uzbekistan, so I booked this as a special treat. This is a modern low-rise palace with all sorts of Uzbek traditional trappings thrown at it – majolica, mosaic tiles, chandeliers… It sits in private gardens, with a pool and nice lounging area, of course. if you want to stay in an opulent modern Oriental Palace, here’s your chance. Location isn’t bad, within walking distance to Shota Rustaveli Boulevard with its nice restaurants. I would have paid 120 Euro per double room in October 2022.
Where to eat in Tashkent
Okay, here I struggle just a little. I spent a few days in Tashkent and some of the meals were really good, some not so good. So, honestly, I am not an expert on the Tashkent food scene but can direct you to areas and certain restaurants that are promising.
Shopping in Tashkent
As I mentioned earlier, I did not find as many shopping opportunities for unique souvenirs in Tashkent as I did in pretty much every other place I visited in Uzbekistan.
One thing Uzbekistan excel at is fresh produce, some of which can be dried and pickled and therefore preserved to take home. I found a nice range of dried fruit and nuts along with a limited range of spices in every town’s bazaar and in Tashlent, Chorsu Bazaar, if you can stomach the crowds, and Mirobod Bazaar are good places to stock up on last minute supplies
If you haven’t bought your ikat coat or various gifts, you can also look around the outlying buildings in Chorsu Bazaar. There is a building selling just readymade traditional Uzbek clothes near the flower market. There is also a a similar place dedicated to souvenirs and ceramics.
If you like the traditional blue and white tea sets and bowls, they can also be found very cheaply in varying grades of quality in every market, as they are the default Uzbek dining ware.
Tashkent has a few specialist souvenir shops, like Human House, a culture centre and shop in a traditional mud-brick building near Rustaveli Boulevard. Another upmarket traditional clothing store is Bibi Hanum but unfortunately it’s way out past the Outer Ring Road, and it is rather on the pricey side, but clothes are made on site and look high quality.
On weekends, you can visit the Yangiobod flea market, it’s another place where you can buy everything including the kitchen sink. No handicraft souvenirs, but Soviet vintage stuff and old carpets, musical instruments, busts of Stalin, that sort of thing. You can take the new Metro Line to 5-Bekat.
More Uzbekistan posts
My latest post is on beautiful Xiva and why you should try to visit, even though it’s far. I took a sleeper train, which is my recommended mode of travel. It’s best to book trains as far in advance as you can, and here is my guide how to book train tickets in Uzbekistan online.
Back in 2019, I wrote Samarkand (the biggies) and how to spend an additional day in Samarkand. Both are still up to date! And a post on Buxoro, which, for me, was pretty much the centrepiece of my Silk Road Trip. Along with that, I wrote a fairly popular Souvenir Shopping in Samarkand and Buxoro post -definitely read before you buy.
I am a sucker for cool textiles, so here is my post on the most heavenly shopping for ikat in Marghilon and for vintage textiles in Urgut Market. And, also quite niche, but useful if you are vegetarian, a blog post on veggie food in Uzbekistan.
The Small Print
I visited Uzbekistan – and Tashkent – in October 2022 on a self-organised solo trip, all of which was paid for my myself from my job salary. All information is correct at the time of publication.
Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a little and I guess it is impossible to keep everyone happy. While I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. So, Strictly speaking, Tashkent would be Toshkent but this spelling hasn’t really been established outside Uzbekistan. 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.
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. I have made it clear in the recommendations whether I actually stayed there or not but all were carefully researched.