Are you looking for the best things to do in Khiva Uzbekistan? But not sure where to start exactly? No need to worry cause I’ve got you covered!
First of all let me just say that I am super excited for you that you decided to plan a trip to the beautiful Uzbekistan! There aren’t many places left in this world that still allure the feeling of authenticity but Khiva in Uzbekistan does just that!
Khiva is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Uzbekistan and it absolutely has to be a part of your Uzbekistan itinerary!
You’re asking me what’s there to see or do in Khiva?!
Get ready to wander through the alleys of this sand colored city and marvel at the spectacular and intricate decorations! There’s plenty of things to do in Khiva and even though the city is rather small I can guarantee that you won’t be bored for a minute.
Plus I can guarantee you that after reading this guide you’ll know exactly what to see and do in Khiva!
- 15 Fantastic Things To Do In Khiva Uzbekistan
- A brief history of the city of Khiva
- How to reach Khiva
- Why you should visit Khiva
- When to visit Khiva
- Where to stay in Khiva
- What to do in Khiva – The Best Things to do in Khiva
- 1. Marvel at the Kalta Minor Minaret – The most beautiful thing to see in Khiva
- 2. Watch the sunset from Terrassa Cafe
- 3. Stay at the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa
- 4. Walk along the Itchan Kala City Walls
- 5. Visit the Kuhna Ark Fortress
- 6. Take a step back in time at the Juma Mosque
- 7. Have breakfast at Hotel Malika Kheivak
- 8. Admire and Climb the Islam Khodja Minaret
- 9. Wander through Tash Khauli Palace
- 10. Go shopping at the Bazaars in Khiva
- 11. Visit the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
- 12. Warm up with a hot cup of traditional Uzbek tea
- 13. Splurge at a local carpet shop in Khiva
- 14. Witness a traditional Uzbek wedding party
- 15. One more fabulous thing to do in Khiva? Take hundreds of photos!
- How many days do you need in Khiva
- Getting around Khiva
15 Fantastic Things To Do In Khiva Uzbekistan
The city of Khiva was our very first stop on our trip through Uzbekistan. And while I didn’t expect that much of it before we arrived I have to admit that it completely took me by surprise in the best way! Looking back the old city of Khiva was definitely my favorite city in Uzbekistan.
Since it’s a little bit out of the way a lot of tourists tend to skip a visit to Khiva. And that would be a big mistake!
Khiva is an important city located in Uzbekistan’s Khorezm region. They built the city close to the Amu Darya river which makes life possible in this otherwise inhospitable land. South of Khiva you’ll find Kyzylkum, the red sand desert, and north you’ll find Karakum, the black sand desert.
A brief history of the city of Khiva
The city of Khiva was the centre of the northern branch of the Great Silk Road and it was the last resting-place of caravans before crossing the desert to Persia.
The most beautiful part of Khiva is its inner fortress, also known as Itchan Kala, and has a history that spans over two millennia. The inner town has 26 hectares and was built according to the ancient traditions of Central Asian town building, as a regular rectangle. With over 50 historical sites in Itchan Kala this town feels more like an open air museum.
According to one of the legends, the son of biblical Noah, Sim, founded this oldest city. He began by digging a well in the middle of the desert. Caravans and merchants walked past, tasted amazingly tasty water and repeated “heyvak,” i.e., “so good.” Thus, this incredible city appeared!
During its history, Khiva was a part of different states and it became a centre of culture and education.
In 1220, the city was destroyed by Genghis Khan and for a long time could not recover from the devastating consequences.
But even after all its different rulers all architectural monuments of Khiva have been preserved. Now this fantastic city is part of the UNESCO.
How to reach Khiva
By night train – There’s a daily night train which leaves from Tashkent and goes straight to the railway station in Khiva. The ride takes about 14 hours in total and you’ll mostly be driving through a desert landscape. The train leaves Tashkent at 9pm and arrives in Khiva the next day at 11am. You can buy your tickets directly at the main train station in Khiva but it’s best to buy it a day in advance, especially if you’re traveling during the high season (May – October).
💡 TIP – Don’t forget to bring your passport cause you need it for booking your ticket!
💡 TIP – On the day of departure, arrive 1 hour in advance at the train station. There might be long queues at the entrance (especially in Tashkent) where your luggage and passport get checked.
You can book a 2-person private sleeper (1st class), a 4-person private sleeper (2nd class) or a shared sleeper (3rd class). We traveled 3rd class and it was really fun as you get some great interactions with the locals! They were all super friendly and helpful and even though there’s a bit of a language barrier we ended up laughing a lot!
By plane – The closest airport to Khiva is Urgench (UGC) and the flight takes about 1.5 hours. From there you’ll either take a bus or taxi to Khiva which is around 1 hour away.
By train – There’s a daily train running between Khiva and Bukhara which takes around 6.5 hours in total. Just like with the night train it’s best to book your ticket a day in advance. Especially if you want to snag a spot in the higher classes.
By plane – This is also an option but it takes just as long to reach Khiva from Bukhara by plane as it does by train. It’s safe to say that taking the train is the cheapest option out of all of them so I highly recommend you to take the train. Plus there isn’t a direct flight from Bukhara to Khiva so you’ll have to do a stop over in Tashkent.
By private transfer – Another option is to take a private transfer from Bukhara to Khiva! You can arrange this at your hotel. The drive will take 6 to 7 hours and costs 40USD. The good thing about taking a private transfer is that you can also make a stop along the way to visit the Khorezm fortresses. It will add about 1 hour to your total driving time but is highly worth the trip!
By night train – There’s a night train which runs from Samarkand to Khiva and takes 11 hours in total. The train leaves in Samarkand at 8pm and arrives in Khiva at 7.30am and goes only on Friday.
By train – There are daily trains which run from Samarkand until Khiva. When booking make sure to choose the direct one, otherwise you’ll have a stop over in Bukhara. The train leaves in Samarkand at 1pm and arrives in Khiva at 11pm.
By plane – I don’t recommend flying from Samarkand to Khiva. It’s a lot more expensive than taking the train and you’re stuck on a stop over in Tashkent either way.
Why you should visit Khiva
Besides the fact that Khiva is an absolutely stunning place there are a couple of other reasons why this sand colored city should be on your travel bucket list!
The most well known reason is that Khiva used to be a trading post on the infamous Silk Road – a vast trading network that connected the East to the West.
The town of Khiva underwent a ton of historical changes, one that even involved Genghis Khan, until it finally became a part of the present day Uzbekistan.
Compared to Samarkand and Bukhara you’ll find a lot less tourists here which makes the experience that much more authentic.
Khiva is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and acts like an open air museum with more than 50 historical sites.
Khiva also has a dark page in history. This city used to be an important slave center in Central Asia and the Khan (king of Khiva) was known for treating the slaves very poorly. According to the stories, the Khan did not chain the slaves, but instead nailed their ears to the walls. This way the Khan made sure the slaves could not escape.
When to visit Khiva
The best time to travel to Uzbekistan is from April until October. Outside of these months the temperatures drop immensely. We traveled to Uzbekistan at the end of October and start of November and I honestly don’t recommend it to anyone. Our toes were freezing off and we were wearing 3 layers of clothing and thermal underwear the entire time.
On the other hand you’ll also want to avoid the months of June, July and August cause temperatures get crazy hot and can go up to 40°C/ 104°F.
So the best month for good weather which isn’t either melting your face off or freezing your toes the months of April, May and September are your best option! These months temperatures will range from 14°C to 26°C/ 57°F- 87°F.
Where to stay in Khiva
- Orient Star Khiva Hotel – This hotel is located inside the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassah and offers a spectacular view from the balconies.
- Erkin Palace Hotel – Located right outside the old city center.
- Hotel Malika Kheivak – In the heart of Khiva and an amazing breakfast spread.
What to do in Khiva – The Best Things to do in Khiva
The city of Khiva consists of two parts. There’s the newer and more modern part of the city where most of the people live. And there’s the old city, also known as Itchan Kala.
Itchan Kala is the inner town (protected by brick walls some 10 m high) of the old Khiva oasis. Although few very old monuments still remain, it is a coherent and well-preserved example of the Muslim architecture of Central Asia. There are several outstanding structures such as the Djuma Mosque, the mausoleums and the madrasas and the two magnificent palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan.
These days Itchan Kala holds over 50 historical monuments and serves as an open air museum that you are free to wander around. In a nutshell, it holds all of the best attractions in Khiva!
Itchan Kala Opening Hours – Itchan Kala is open 24/7 which makes it the perfect place to explore in the early morning or late evening when there’s no one else around. It’s also completely safe to wander around Itchan Kala on your own! Do know that a lot of the main attractions inside of Itchan Kala do have opening hours that usually go from 8am until 6pm.
Itchan Kala Entrance Tickets – So this is where things can get a little confusing cause entering the city and walking along the city wall is free of charge but if you want to visit any of the historical monuments you’ll have to buy an entrance ticket and you can do so at the West Gate.
There are three types of tickets:
VIP Ticket – 150.000 SUM (€12). This ticket will give you access to all museums, plus you can climb the watchtower, minaret, and the city walls. You need to pay extra though for the Pakhlavan Makhmoud Mausoleum (6000 SUM).
Standard Ticket – 100 000 SUM (€8). This ticket will give you access to the walled city and covers the museums.
Economy Ticket = 50 000 sum (€4). This ticket will only give you access to the walled city.
1. Marvel at the Kalta Minor Minaret – The most beautiful thing to see in Khiva
Before you even enter the old city of Khiva you’ll see the turquoise Kalta Minor minaret shimmering in the sunlight from far away.
The Kalta Minor is an unfinished minaret located near the west entrance to the Ichan Kala (synonim for the old city). It was commissioned in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, the ruler of Khiva, and was supposed to reach a height of 70 meters. Unfortunately he died before the minaret was finished in battle against the Persians. But even just at a height of 26 meters it’s one of the most beautiful manmade structures I have ever seen.
The Kalta Minor was built by some of the finest architects and artists in Khiva and as soon as they realized it would remain unfinished they decided to decorate it. you won’t find any other minaret in Uzbekistan that is so colorful in its decorations and details.
Fun Fact – Kalta Minor actually means ‘short minaret’.
How to get there – You pretty much can’t miss this beautiful turquoise and blue minaret. As soon as you walk through the West Gate you’ll be greeted by it.
When to go – Go in the early morning to avoid the harsh sunlight BUT make sure to come back for sunset! The sun bounces off the mosaics and gives a golden glow to the surrounding sand colored structures. You can’t visit the minaret inside.
💡 TIP – Enjoy the sunset view from the rooftop restaurant at Terrassa Cafe
2. Watch the sunset from Terrassa Cafe
The Terrassa Cafe in Khiva is the perfect place to end your day of exploring. It’s one of the best restaurants in Khiva to enjoy some true Uzbek delicacies or sip on some hot tea on their terrace.
From here you have the best view over the city and you’ll be in for a treat when the sun goes down.
3. Stay at the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa
Right next to the Kalta Minor minaret you’ll find the beautiful Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa. The Madrasa is actually connected to the minaret through a small wooden bridge.
These days however the building is no longer used as a madrasa. Instead it became one of the finest hotels in entire Uzbekistan: Orient Star Khiva Hotel.
As you can already guess from its name the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa was commissioned by the same ruler as the Kalta Minor Minaret. But due to his untimely beheading none of his architectural masterpieces were ever completely finished.
4. Walk along the Itchan Kala City Walls
One of the best free things to do in Khiva is to walk on the city walls around Itchan Kala. From here you’ll have a lovely aerial view over the old city of Khiva and a lot of people don’t even know you can go up!
5. Visit the Kuhna Ark Fortress
The Kuhna Ark is a fortified citadel at the heart of Khiva, nestled against the western ramparts of the Ichan Kala immediately north of the city’s west gate. Just like the Forbidden City in Beijing it was conceived as a self-contained universe for the exclusive use of the ruler, his harem, his many advisors and servants, and members of the extended family.
There’s only one entrance and the entire complex is fenced off by stone walls. Although they didn’t proof to be too strong when it comes to Russian artillery.
Inside the Kuhna Ark Fortress is divided into different complexes all fulfilling separate functions. There’s the Summer Mosque, the Reception Courtyard, the Ak Sheikh Bobo bastion and the harem.
How to get there – This museum is located next to the Western Gate and the entrance is actually right in front of the Kalta Minor. You can see its entrance on the sunset photo above, it’s the wooden gate between the two turquoise domed pillars. The blue tiles can be found at the back!
When to go – Opening times are 9am to 6pm.
6. Take a step back in time at the Juma Mosque
Khiva’s Juma, also known as the Friday’s mosque is located in the heart of the Itchen Kala.
The mosque was designed to house a large number of congregants as equals before the imam and Allah, and for this reason it differs substantially from the typical open-air courtyard-centric architecture that predominates in Khiva. Most mosques in Uzbekistan have arched entrances and domes, but not this one!
Inside you’ll find some of the most beautiful wooden craftsmanship. Over 213 wooden columns support the structure and the Juma Mosque was built on the remains of a former mosque which stood in that exact same place.
There are almost no windows, only a few openings in the ceiling which create a dazzling scenery of dancing light.
How to get there – The Juma Mosque is only 5 minutes walking from the Kalta-Minor Minaret and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Uzbekistan.
When to go – I advise you to go as soon as it opens cause you really want to take out your wide angle lens in this place! Opening hours are from 9am until 6pm.
💡 TIP – The entrance fee to Juma Mosque is included in the Itchen Kala tickets that you can buy at the West Gate.
7. Have breakfast at Hotel Malika Kheivak
If you’re like me then you love waking up early and exploring a city during sunrise. This also means an early rise and no breakfast before you go.
Well if that should be the case then one of the best things you can do in Khiva is to go for breakfast at Hotel Malika Kheivak.
8. Admire and Climb the Islam Khodja Minaret
With its 57 meters, the Islam Khodja Minaret is the tallest minaret in entire Uzbekistan. The site is named after Islam Khodja, the grand vizier (yes, like Jafar) of Muhammad Rahmi Bahadur II. He was a modernizer who introduced new amenities to the city including a hospital, telegraph office, and non-parochial schools.
The minaret was used as a tower to call for prayers but due to its impressive height it also led a lot of travelers to the city of Khiva. These days you can also climb up the minaret, an activity I highly recommend doing! Especially in the early hours when the morning light hits the entire old city of Khiva.
How to get there – There are two beautiful viewpoints to this Minaret. One is from the main square right in front of it, the other one is in the side street on the right.
When to go – If you want to take the best photos in front of the minaret you have to go at sunrise. A little later the vendor stalls will be out and a red chord will be places around the minaret to guide visitors to the entrance. Opening hours of the Islam Khodja Minaret are from 8am until 6pm.
💡 TIP – The entrance fee to the Islam Khodja Minaret is not included in the standard ticket, only in the VIP ticket. If you have the standard ticket er no ticket at all you’ll have to pay a fee of 20.000 SOM (€1.5).
9. Wander through Tash Khauli Palace
The Tash Khauli Palace, also known as the Stone Palace, is a 19th-century palace and the former residence of the ruler of Khiva, Allah Kuli Khan.
It took 8 years to built the structure, which never pleased the khan: he wanted this big project to be completed in 2 years’ time. Many master builders lost their heads for this reason.
All the parts of Tash-Khauli are connected with a labyrinth of dim corridors. So don’t refrain from going through every single door during your visit. Some of the most beautiful courtyards of this place are hidden behind a small corner or doorway.
How to get there – The entrance to the harem part of the palace is located on the East side.
When to go – Go as soon as it opens at 9am. A little later vendors will put out their stalls throughout the entire place. The official opening hours for Tash Khauli Palace are 9am to 6pm.
💡 TIP – The entrance fee to the Tash Khauli Palace is included in both the standard and VIP Itchen Kala ticket.
10. Go shopping at the Bazaars in Khiva
Shopping in Uzbekistan’s many bazaars or local markets is a truly unique travel experience. But make sure to put your haggling cap on however, as bargaining is the only way to get good deals. Items worth bargaining for include the tubeteika (traditional Central Asian cap), the pichok (Uzbek knife), and locally-made silk products.
I’m honestly still bummed out that I didn’t buy one of these gorgeous and intricately decorated plates that you can see below.
11. Visit the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
One of the must visit places in Khiva is the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum even that it’s not even included in the VIP-ticket for Itchan Kala. The mausoleum houses the tomb of Pahlavon Mahmud, the city’s patron saint.
Inside the mausoleum is incredibly decorated with glass mosaics in incredible patterns and colors.
Entrance fee – 6000 SUM
Opening hours – 9am until 6pm
12. Warm up with a hot cup of traditional Uzbek tea
In the morning and evening it can get pretty chilly in Khiva. The best way to warm up is to buy a cup of tea from one of the local vendors at the market space. There are a couple of benches where you can sit, relax and all of that with a stunning view over the Kalta Minor minaret!
13. Splurge at a local carpet shop in Khiva
I have to admit… I have a very big hole in my hand. And if it would have fitted in my suitcase and if I would have been in the market for a new carpet I would have definitely bought one here! They also sell some of the most beautiful scarfs in Khiva so make sure to go in and take a peek!
14. Witness a traditional Uzbek wedding party
We got super lucky during our stay in Khiva and were able to see a traditional Uzbek wedding party. After the ceremony the entire bridal party gathered in the main street of Khiva and looked absolutely stunning.
A traditional Uzbek celebration lasts two days with several ceremonies and a lot of times the groom and the bride are introduced and if they like one another, they are separated for a year until the wedding.
Traditionally Uzbek people celebrate weddings very richly and cheerfully with peculiar splendor and abundance of guests. Immediate and remote relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers are invited to this wedding ceremony
15. One more fabulous thing to do in Khiva? Take hundreds of photos!
I can’t emphasize this enough but Khiva truly is a photographer’s dream come true!
One of the biggest tips I can give you is to bring a wide angle lens with you. It’s the only way to capture the grandeur of these buildings!
I used the Canon ED 16-35 to capture 80% of all of my photos in Uzbekistan.
How many days do you need in Khiva
I recommend staying at least 1 night, preferably 2 so you have a little more time to explore at ease. If you’re very short on time you can see the top sights of Khiva in one day but it would be a very rushed visit.
I recommend at least two full days of exploring so you can get the most out of your visit to Khiva.
Getting around Khiva
This is a no brainer. Khiva is such a small city and you could easily walk through the entire Itchan Kala in just 10 minutes time. If you book a hotel within the old city or right outside of it you won’t need a taxi at all.
The only time you might need a taxi is if you want to go to the train station or to the nearest airport.