If you start your journey in Tashkent and head north, Khiva will be the last stop on your Uzbekistan itinerary. It’s not easy to get to, as it is a 7-hour train or car ride from Bukhara. But a trip to this darling little pedestrian-friendly old town, filled with history, is most certainly worth the trip!
Check out our list of the 12 things you must see during your trip to Khiva. Enjoy!
Quick Navigation Links
- Getting to Khiva
- Getting Around Khiva
- Entrance Fees for Ichan Kala (Old City of Khiva)
- Where to Stay in Khiva
- Where to Eat in Khiva
- Top 12 Things to do in Khiva
- 1. Wander Around the Tosh-Hovli Palace
- 2. Peek Inside the Orient Star Hotel
- 3. Admire the Kalta Minor Minaret
- 4. Watch Sunset From the Kuhna Ark Watch Tower
- 5. Marvel at the Juma Mosque
- 6. Walk Along the City Walls
- 7. Climb to the Top of the Islam Khoja Minaret
- 8. Check out the Handicraft Workshops
- 9. Shop in the Craftsmen Center Master Class School
- 10. Visit the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum
- 11. Check Out the Photo Exhibition of KH Devonov
- 12. Take a Day Trip to Muynak Ship Cemetery
Getting to Khiva
There are daily trains from Tashkent to Khiva and back again, with stops in Bukhara. So if you’ve just finished spending a few days exploring the lovely town of Bukhara, the cheapest way to get from there to Khiva is by train which will take close to 8 hours.
If you want to make the trip a bit more exciting, you can hire a private driver and stop at some of the interesting ruins along the way. The trip will cost $50 USD just for a car with a driver to take you directly to Khiva, or $60 USD if you make a few stops at the “kalas” along the way. Toprak Kala is the most interesting and well preserved of the ruins.
Without the kala stops you can expect the drive to take about 7 hours, and the stops will add another 2 or 3. So be sure to leave early and pack some snacks! You can also book this as a day tour from Khiva through your hotel for ~$30 for a car that seats up to 4 people and driver.
Getting Around Khiva
The old city area of Khiva, known as “Ichan Kala”, is very compact so you can easily walk to all of the historical sites. Most people choose to hire a guide to show them around for the day because knowing which doors you can and should enter can be confusing. The cost for an English-speaking guide is $30-40 for a 5-ish hour tour.
Keep in mind that there aren’t very many English-speaking guides so if you want someone who is quite knowledgeable and easy to understand, it’s best to book in advance. Coordinate with your hotel once you make your booking to make sure one is available.
Entrance Fees for Ichan Kala (Old City of Khiva)
Ichan Kala is the name given to the area inside the Khiva fort walls. You’ll need to buy a ticket at the West Gate to be inside of the gates and also to visit the various historical sites of the city. There are 3 types of tickets and they are all good for 2 days.
- A “VIP” ticket is 150,000 UZS per person (75,000 UZS for children) and includes the museums and historical sites, as well as the watchtower, climbing the minaret, and the city wall.
- The “standard” ticket is 100,000 UZS per person (50,000 UZS for children) and includes everything except the watchtower, the minaret, and the city wall.
- The “economy” ticket costs 50,000 UZS (25,000 UZS for children) and only gives you entrances to the old city. It does not allow you to enter any of the museums or historical sites.
There are only 2 ATMs in Khiva that accept Visa, and they are both often out of order. There are also only 2 Mastercard ATMs. And very few hotels actually accept a credit card. Be sure you have enough cash to get you through your time in Khiva, otherwise, you may have to take a 20-mile taxi ride to the Urgench airport to find a functioning ATM that accepts foreign cards.
The currency of Uzbekistan is the Uzbekistani Soʻm (UZS). At the time of writing, the conversion was 8,450 UZS to $1 USD. In this post we’ll be referring to prices in Uzbekistan currency.
Where to Stay in Khiva
The Muhammad Aminkhan Madrasa has been converted into what is now the Orient Star Khiva Hotel. It is by far the nicest hotel in Khiva, even with the modestly sized rooms and minimal amenities. You’ll love having a balcony that overlooks the courtyard of this beautiful traditional building. Be sure to book in advance, it’s a popular place to stay!
Where to Eat in Khiva
Most of the foreigners who visit Khiva are a part of a massive tour group. Their trips have been organized well in advance, and that includes restaurant reservations. And since there are only a few restaurants in the old city, they are often entirely booked for the evening with large parties. It’s best to either eat an early dinner to beat the tours or make a reservation for dinner.
Cafe Zarafshon is a great place to try Shivit Oshi, the “green noodle” dish that is found only in Khiva. They also serve pumpkin manti dumplings that are a must-try in this region. Most of their tables are really large to accommodate tour groups so a reservation is definitely recommended if you are just a small party.
Terrassa Cafe is a great option for watching the sunset while enjoying traditional Uzbek food and drinks in Khiva. They have a large rooftop terrace with lovely city views. They have huge, delicious meat kabobs and cheap wine. It’s the perfect way to end a long day of exploring. Be sure to get there at least an hour before sunset to get a table!
There is a woman baking fresh bread right outside of the Tea House Mirza Bashi which you’ll get delivered right to your table, piping hot. They’ll bring a tray of salads to your table for you to choose from, and we would recommend trying all of them. The cauliflower salad is especially delicious!
Bir Gumbaz Tea House is the perfect place to enjoy a mid-afternoon coffee or tea while sitting outside and people watching. They have a few tables that offer a great view of the nearby “unfinished minaret”. It’s far enough removed from the hustle of the crowds, while still getting to watch it all from your table. Be sure to try the meringue!
Top 12 Things to do in Khiva
There are 54 historic buildings in the old city of Khiva, which is referred to as “Itchan Kala”. Most people choose to hire a local English-speaking guide for the day as navigating the city can be a bit confusing. Since the entrance ticket is good for two days, we hired a guide for the first day and explored on our own for the second.
There are pros and cons to each. We enjoyed learning a bit about the history of Khiva and the various buildings from our guide, but it didn’t seem like they took us anywhere that we wouldn’t have easily found on our own. We enjoyed exploring on our own the next day. We’d peek our heads into random doorways and get lost in the winding alleyways. Whatever you choose, just be sure that you see the following highlights!
1. Wander Around the Tosh-Hovli Palace
The Tosh-Hovli Palace (also called Stone Palace or Tash Khauli) is a must-visit during your trip to Khiva. There are two entrances as you can’t actually pass between the two sections. The first has a horse carriage on display in the front room that was given to Khan Mukhammad Rakhimkhan II in 1876. There are two nearly identical rooms here that are covered in beautiful blue tile. One has a yurt on display in the courtyard.
The second entrance has a sign for “Museum of Handicrafts” in front. This is where the Khan lived with his 4 wives and 40 concubines. The highlights here are the Khan’s room that has been beautifully and traditionally decorated, and the small room with an intricately painted ceiling.
There is a small museum here with various handicraft tools in display boxes. And to the right is a room with traditional musical instruments.
2. Peek Inside the Orient Star Hotel
The Muhammad Aminkhan Madrasa has been converted into arguably the nicest hotel in Khiva, the Orient Star Hotel. We would highly recommend that you stay here but you’ll need to book in advance as it is quite popular. Even if you don’t get a chance to stay at the Orient Star, it’s worth checking out the central courtyard.
The hotel is easy to spot by the massive bright blue, unfinished minaret out front.
3. Admire the Kalta Minor Minaret
The Kalta Minor Minaret is also known as the “unfinished minaret” due to the fact that it’s only about a third of its intended height. But it’s still quite impressive even if it is only 95 feet tall. It is quite large in diameter, and is covered with vibrant blue tilework. One can only imagine how grand it would be if completed.
There are many legends as to why the minaret was left unfinished. One states that the rule of Khiva, Muhammad Amin Khan, hired an architect to build the tallest minaret in the area. But the architect had an agreement with the khan of Bukhara that once finished, he would build an even taller one for him. Muhammad Amin Khan found out and planned to kill the architect once he was finished, but the architect escaped before construction was completed.
4. Watch Sunset From the Kuhna Ark Watch Tower
The Kuhna Ark is the other palace in Khiva. The Khan’s harem, mint, stables, barracks, mosque, and jail were all kept here. Take the passage to the right of the entrance to see the Summer Mosque which is open-air and is covered in beautiful blue and white tiles. Be sure you look up to check out the colorful painted ceilings.
The large room that is directly ahead of the entrance is the open-air throne room with a large, circular stone pillar that held a royal yurt. Head to the right side and then toward the back to find steps up to the watchtower. This is the best place in the city to watch sunset and surprisingly enough, it doesn’t get too crowded. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular city and fort wall views.
There is an evening show that goes on here, after the men dressed as royalty parade through the streets. It consists of traditional music and dancing and is free for you to enjoy!
5. Marvel at the Juma Mosque
The Juma Mosque is the oldest mosque in Khiva and is also known as “Friday Mosque”. While it is no longer in use, it is a spectacular display of woodwork. The roof is held up by 213 wooden pillars, all of which are slightly different. You’ll see some pillars that are quite plain with very few carvings, those were done in a traditional Iranian style.
Notice a few holes in the walls, about shoulder height. Those were used to amplify the voice of the “Imam” (the leader of prayer).
You’ll see some of the pillars are covered in plastic. They are either brand new, replacing older ones that cannot be repaired, or are older pillars that have been infested with termites.
6. Walk Along the City Walls
The walls that enclose the Old City of Khiva have been partially reconstructed and can be accessed by a steep ramp at the North Gate entrance. You can walk in either direction but the only way to get down is to go back down the way you came.
7. Climb to the Top of the Islam Khoja Minaret
The Islam Khoja Minaret (also spelled Khodja) sits in front of the madrasa that bears the same name. It is one of the few in Uzbekistan that allows visitors to climb to the top (unless you bribe the guards). It is rather dark inside so best to have your cell phone flashlight on hand, and the stairs are quite steep. Once you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the city below.
The space at the top of the minaret is very small, only a few people can stand up there comfortably. So if the person checking tickets at the bottom says that it’s crowded, best to come back at another time.
8. Check out the Handicraft Workshops
Tucked inside the small rooms in various madrasas around the old city are people creating handicrafts. Whether they are carving the wood boxes that you see for sale all over town, weaving silk rugs, or etching copper plates, it’s awesome to see them hard at work.
There are several small woodcarving workshops inside of the Khojash Magram Madrasa (also spelled Xojash Mahram). And the “Rug Store Tapijtenwinkel” (according to Google Maps) has a few rug-making workshops. You can see the women working on a large, detailed rug that will take months to finish. This is also a good place if you want to invest in a high quality silk souvenir.
9. Shop in the Craftsmen Center Master Class School
Khiva is absolutely covered in shops. They line the pedestrian streets and the historic buildings, they occupy the rooms in the old madrasas, there are even souvenirs for sale in most of the restaurants around town. But if you want to get a wide selection of goods, all in one place, head to the Craftsmen Center Master Class School building.
This old building is filled with vendors selling beautiful textiles and jackets, woodcarvings, jewelry, and everything else your heart desires. It’s covered so if you find yourself in the middle of a downpour, you can stay dry while you browse the handicrafts. Prices are reasonable but be sure to bargain!
10. Visit the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum
The Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum (also spelled Pahlavan Mahmud and Makhmud) is not included in any of the entrance tickets, you’ll need to pay an additional 10,000 UZS to enter. You can see it’s vibrant blue dome from any of the old city viewpoints. It was built in 1701 and inside is the tomb of Mahmoud Pakhlavan, a famous poet and warrior who is believed to have rescued many people from slavery.
The mausoleum is a popular pilgrimage spot where people pray and drink holy water. You’ll need to remove your shoes to enter the main area of the tombs. The tilework is exquisit and be sure to check out the amazing chandeliers hanging from the ceilings!
11. Check Out the Photo Exhibition of KH Devonov
The Photo Exhibition of KH Devonov is an interesting collection of old photographs. It’s interesting to see the old photos of the people of Uzbekistan in traditional clothing. As with most of the museums in Uzbekistan, there isn’t a ton of information provided with the photographs. But it’s included in your entrance tickets so it’s worth checking out, even if briefly.
12. Take a Day Trip to Muynak Ship Cemetery
The Aral Sea was once the 4th largest inland salt sea in the world. The two river systems that the Aral Sea depends on, the Amudarya and the Syrdarya, were extensively irrigated to support cotton farming. The water flow began to decrease in the 1960s and by the year 2000 the sea had lost 3/4 of its volume. This caused the water that was left to be too salty for fish or fauna to inhabit. The 38 species of fish that were here are all gone.
The nearby town of Muynak was once a major fishing port, but it is now over 100 miles from the water. 10,000 fishermen lost their jobs and the fishing boats that once provided their livelihood now sit, rusting in the sand. Today, the town of Muynak is a ghost town. Most of the residents moved to find work elsewhere. The few who remain battle harsh conditions.
The Aral Sea Ship Cemetery in Muynak is an interesting (albeit rather depressing) place to visit. You can see photos in the Muynak History Museum of the formally thriving port. And then walk out onto the dry lake bed to see the massive boats that were left behind. The trip will take approximately 10-14 hours and cover 490 miles.
Enjoy your time in the darling little city of Khiva!
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