Uzbekistan is a country in Central Asia that was under Soviet rule until the early 1990’s. In just two years the government has made great strides in making it easier for tourists to get here and to get around the country. The money is unpegged, ATMs are now widely available, the e-visa process is simple, and it’s easy to get around without a tour guide.
And since international tourism is still relatively uncommon, the locals get really excited to meet you! It’s incredibly safe, outrageously cheap, and the food is delicious. Are you convinced that you need to add it to your travel bucket list?
Read on to learn all about Uzbekistan travel basics and the must-see highlights of the country. Enjoy!
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Uzbekistan Travel Basics
How to Obtain a Visa for Uzbekistan
Citizens from a few countries can travel visa-free in Uzbekistan, but most (including US citizens) will need to apply for an electronic visa. You’ll need to fill out an application form, upload a passport photo, pay a small fee, and wait 10 working days for approval. Save the PDF to your phone to present to immigration upon your arrival.
Money in Uzbekistan
The currency of Uzbekistan is the Uzbekistani Soʻm (UZS). At the time of writing, the conversion was 8,450 UZS to $1 USD. We would recommend bringing a bit of cash with you to change at the airport in Tashkent as the ATMs there are often out of service.
We found plenty of ATMs in all the major tourist cities and had little trouble getting cash, except in Khiva. Most of the hotels and restaurants in the old city of Khiva only take cash, and the few ATMs there that accept foreign-issued cards seem to rarely work. If you’re heading to Khiva bring enough cash to cover your expenses during your stay.
Languages in Uzbekistan
Most of the people in Uzbekistan speak both Uzbek and Russian. And very few people speak English. If you don’t speak either of those languages, you will probably have a hard time explaining to your taxi driver where you need to go, or reading some restaurant menus.
Learn a few words to get around! Most people use the standard Islamic greeting of
“assalomu alaykum” (sounds like “salom allycoomb”) to say hello. It translates to “peace be with you”. And you can say either “rahmat” (Uzbek) or “spasiba” (Russian) to say “thank you”.
Religion in Uzbekistan
Sunni Islam is the dominant religion in Uzbekistan, with 93% of the population. However, unlike many other Muslim-majority countries, it is far less conservative than you would expect. While most women do cover their shoulders and knees, many keep their heads uncovered. And you will not be required to cover your head at any of the religious sites in the country.
Alcohol is also quite prevalent in Uzbekistan, due in large part to the Russian influence. You’ll find that most restaurants sell local beer and wine, and some even have imports.
Is Uzbekistan Safe for Tourists?
As a female traveler in Uzbekistan, I never for one second felt unsafe during my 3 weeks in the country. I found all of the people to be incredibly kind, helpful, and courteous. I never worried about having my bag or my cell phone snatched and I never felt ripped off or taken advantage of. I was with my husband the entire time, but I would not be hesitant to travel to Uzbekistan on my own.
Getting Around Uzbekistan
The trains in Uzbekistan are very affordable, comfortable, and reliable. It is quite easy to commute to all of the highlights listed below via train. Be sure to book your tickets in advance as the trains do fill up.
You can book train tickets online, although the station names are all in Russian so ask your hotel staff for help or use Google Translate. It’s also easy to book your tickets directly at the train station.
How Long to Stay in Uzbekistan
Two weeks in Uzbekistan should be plenty of time to see all of the highlights. We would recommend spending the most time in Samarkand as it has the most beautiful architecture in the country. Plan to spend 2 days in Tashkent, 3 in Samarkand, 2-3 in Bukhara, and 2 in Khiva.
There are also a few day trips that are popular during a trip to Uzbekistan. Shakhrisabz is a short drive from Samarkand. And the Ship Cemetery near Muynak is a long way from Khiva, but possible to do in a day.
When to Visit Uzbekistan
The most pleasant seasons in Uzbekistan are Spring (April to June) and Fall (September through October). Days are generally sunny and warm and nights can get chilly. This is the most popular time to visit the country. Winter temperatures can be well below freezing. And considering that many restaurants are open-air, you’ll want to be sure you’re bundled up.
Check the weather prior to your trip and be sure to bring a warm jacket as evenings get quite cold, even if daytime temperatures are hot.
Shopping in Uzbekistan
The Silk Road was an ancient network of routes connecting the East and West for trading goods. It passed through Uzbekistan, creating a market for handicrafts, woven textiles, and silk. Today the tourist areas of Bukhara and Khiva are filled with small shops selling all kinds of souvenirs. Read our advice for shopping in Uzbekistan including what to buy and how much to pay!
The Top Places to Visit in Uzbekistan
Tashkent is located in the northeast of Uzbekistan, near the border with Kazakhstan. It is the capital city and also has the largest international airport. So it’s very likely that you’ll need to fly into and out of Tashkent. Most people only pass through the city, but it’s definitely worth spending a few days here if you have the time.
If you have an interest in Soviet-style architecture, you’ll find plenty of it in Tashkent. Most noteably is the Uzbekistan Hotel, a cream-colored behemoth structure that was probably quite impressive in the 1970’s. It’s also home to the Tashkent Tower which is the 11th tallest tower in the world. You can enjoy a cold beer and the views in their revolving restaurant.
And the most impressive site in Tashkent is the spectacular Hazrat Imam Complex. The mosques and madrasahs there are a great introduction to the beautiful architecture that you’ll be visiting during your holiday in Uzbekistan. It’s also a great place to get a taste for the amazing shopping that awaits further north!
Samarkand has the most beautiful, ostentatious architecture in the entire country. The crown jewel of the city is the Registan, a trio of buildings bordering a large courtyard. You’ll want to visit the Registan several times during your stay as you’ll find fewer crowds in the early mornings, but the complex is spectacular when it is lit up right after sunset. It is arguably the most beautiful complex in all of Uzbekistan.
There are countless other remarkable sites to explore in Samarkand! The Shah-i-Zinda is a boulevard of vibrant blue mausoleums and the Gur-e Amir Complex is the final resting place for Uzbekistan’s national hero, Amir Temur.
Samarkand also boasts entertaining restaurants where the locals dress up in their finest attire and dance in-between courses. And because Uzbekistan is so cheap, your dinner and drinks will cost far less than you would expect for a night on the town. Be sure to spend at least 3 days here so you can see all of the highlights!
Bukhara has a cute, compact downtown area with most of the guesthouses clustered around the picturesque lake in the center. The lake is a popular spot to drink a cold draft beer while enjoying sunset and people-watching in the evenings. It is easy to walk to all of the historic sites around town so you won’t need to worry about haggling with taxi drivers.
The Kalyan Mosque, the Kalyan Minaret, and the Chor Minor are the most picturesque historical sites in the city. You’ll want to visit the Kalyan Mosque early in the morning to enjoy it in peace, before the tour buses descend.
The shopping in Bukhara is also incredible. You’ll find old trading domes from the days of the Silk Road that are filled with hand woven blankets, beautiful jackets, colorful bags, and everything else your heart could desire.
The old city of Khiva is called Itchan Kala. It is surrounded by fort walls made of mud, a portion of which has been reconstructed so you can walk along the walls and survey the city. It is a quaint old city with surprises through every indistinct doorway and around every corner.
If you thought Bukhara was filled with souvenir shops, just wait until you get to Khiva! Every street is lined with stalls and there is at least one vendor inside every historical building. Even the restaurants have souvenirs for sale!
Most visitors opt to hire an English-speaking guide for the day to learn more about the history of the Itchan Kala. The two palaces and the minarets are the most impressive structures here, but it’s interesting to hear some of the legends of the people who built the city.
Enjoy your vacation in the beautiful country of Uzbekistan!
Want more help planning your trip to Uzbekistan? Check out our favorite travel guides!