Are you looking for the best things to do in Samarkand? No need to look any further cause this Samarkand travel blog covers all of the best places to visit in this remarkable city!
Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan. The city is on the old Silk Road between China and the West, and is an Islamic centre for scholarly study.
Samarkand is a must visit place in Uzbekistan and one that certainly can not be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful places in Uzbekistan and I can’t wait for you to see it for yourself!
What’s there to see in Samarkand?
Get ready to marvel at beautifully tiled architecture, indulge in the local cuisine and spend the next couple days in complete and utter amazement.
Within this Samarkand travel guide you’ll find all of the top things to see and do but also some insider tips as where to eat, where to stay and how to photograph these iconic buildings!
12 Spectacular Things To Do In Samarkand Uzbekistan
The city of Samarkand was the last stop on our Uzbekistan itinerary and it was definitely worth the wait.
If you’ve already read my other Uzbekistan travel guides about Khiva and Bukhara you’ll be in for a surprise here. Cause while the old city centre in both Khiva and Bukhara are car free that’s never the case here in Samarkand.
The city is a lot bigger than Khiva or Bukhara but not to worry all of the best attractions in Samarkand are still within walking distance from each other!
A brief history of the city of Samarkand
In the 4th century BC the city of Samarkand was then known as Maracanda and was captured by Alexander the Great. Later on the city was in hands of several different rulers such as the Turks, the Arabs and the Persians. That was until it was completely destroyed by the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.
After it revolted against its Mongol rulers (1365), Samarkand became the capital of the empire of Timur, who made the city the most important economic and cultural centre in Central Asia.
Samarkand was conquered by Uzbeks in 1500 but only after it became a provincial capital of the Russian Empire and a railroad centre did it recover economically.
Samarkand today consists of an old city dating from medieval times and a new section built after the Russian conquest of the area in the 19th century.
The old city contains some of the finest monuments of Central Asian architecture from the 14th to the 20th century, including several buildings dating from the time when Samarkand was Timur’s capital city.
The principal features of Samarkand’s ancient buildings are their splendid portals, their vast coloured domes, and their remarkable exterior decorations in majolica, mosaic, marble, and gold. The historic city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.
How to reach Samarkand
In this section we’ll discuss all of the possible ways that you can reach Samarkand, except how to reach Samarkand from Khiva. Chances are very high that you’ll make a stop in Bukhara between Khiva and Samarkand anyway and you really shouldn’t skip the city of Bukhara!
How to get to Samarkand from Tashkent
By train – There are several trains each day that run from Tashkent to Samarkand and depending on which one you choose it will take from 2 to 3 hours.
💡 TIP – The fast train is a bit more modern and spacious as the slow train. The price difference isn’t that much so if you can choose you should definitely opt for the fast train to travel from Tashkent to Samarkand.
By bus – Twice a day there’s a bus that runs from the Tashkent bus station to the Samarkand bus station. The drive takes around 4,5 hours which is more than double the time you would lose instead of taking the train.
How to get to Samarkand from Bukhara
By train – From Bukhara you can take a train straight to Samarkand every 3 hours. The train ride itself will last about 1.5 hour.
💡 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.
💡 TIP – Don’t forget to bring your passport cause you need it for booking your ticket!
💡 TIP – Especially during high season it’s best to buy your train ticket a day in advance at the local train station.
Why you should visit Samarkand
There’s plenty of reasons to visit the beautiful city of Samarkand but here are some of the best ones:
- Samarkand in Uzbekistan is famous for being one of the most important sites on the Silk Road and the city has been at the crossroads of world cultures for more than two millennia.
- The city is noted as a centre of Islamic scholarly study and the birthplace of the Timurid Renaissance.
- Marvel at the stunning Islamic architecture of its mosques and mausoleums. Poets and historians described the city as “The Pearl of the Eastern Muslim World”.
- Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in the world.
When to visit Samarkand
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 Samarkand
- Antica B & B Samarkand – A cute local B & B with a main garden. Not to mention, the breakfast is absolutely amazing and freshly made every single day.
- Bibikhanum Hotel – A cute hotel that offers rooms with a balcony and a stunning view over the Bibi-Khanym Mosque.
- Kamila Hotel Boutique – A family run hotel with a view over Registan square.
What to do in Samarkand – The best things to do in Samarkand
1. Explore Registan in the morning
One of the most spectacular things to do in Samarkand is to visit Registan, its crown jewel.
All the main roads of Samarkand lead to Registan as it was the heart of the Timurid dynasty. It was used as a public square for royal proclamations, celebrations, and public executions.
There are 3 stunning Madrasa’s standing tall in the Registan square:
- Ulugh Beg Madrasa (built between 1417–1420 during the Timurid Empire)
- Sher-Dor Madrasa (built between 1619–1636 by the Shaybanids)
- Tilya-Kori Madrasa (built between 1646–1660 by the Shaybanids)
Each Madrasa has two levels of classrooms and dormitories for the students. You can go inside every single madrasa and explore their inner corners.
Opening hours: 8am – 7pm
Entrance fee – 40.000 SUM/per person and the ticket is valid all day long for multiple entries.
I say explore Registan in the morning because it can get terribly crowded and hot by midday. If you go at opening time you’ll also be one of the first people inside which makes it that much more fun to explore.
2. Go souvenir shopping inside Registan
These days the madrasa’s inside of Registan aren’t used for education any longer. Instead a lot of locals have a small space here where they either sell handmade products or souvenirs.
I bought a beautiful blue scarf here which I still wear to this day and is super high quality.
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.
3. Climb up a 400 year old minaret in Registan
It’s not every day that you can climb up a minaret, well ok, except for in Khiva. But here you’ll have a wonderful aerial view over the square of Registan.
Now, how does one get up a 400 year olf minaret in Registan? Well it’s pretty simple. Just inform one of the guards that you would like to climb up. For about $10 the guard will show you the way up.
But be aware, it’s not an easy climb up, this part of the minaret isn’t that well maintained and the road up can be pretty tricky. Definitely watch where you’re going and if you’re either claustrophobic or have a fear of heights I don’t recommend doing this activity.
4. Come back in the evening to see Registan at night
The good thing about the entrance tickets for Registan is that they’re valid throughout the entire day. So you can easily visit in the morning for half a day, go have lunch and visit another place and then come back in the evening.
Right before sunset the madrasa’s inside of Registan all light up! I have to say, this was one of the most breathtaking moments of the entire trip cause the architecture comes in even more to life because of this.
5. Visit the Mosque inside Tilya-Kori Madrasa
There’s a lot more to see and do in Registan as one might think! The Tilya-Kori Madrasa, which is the one in front of you when you enter Registan, is home to one of the most beautiful mosques you’ll ever see.
You can find it in the western side of the courtyard and the main hall of the mosque is abundantly gilded.
6. Marvel at Shah-i-Zinda, a stunning avenue of mausoleums
One of Samarkand’s most beautiful places has to be Shah-i-Zinda, as it contains some of the richest tile work in the Muslim world.
The name, which means ‘Tomb of the Living King’, refers to its original, innermost and holiest shrine – a complex of cool, quiet rooms around what is probably the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, who is said to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century.
The most beautiful tomb is the Shodi Mulk Oko Mausoleum (1372), resting place of a sister and niece of Timur, second on the left after the entry stairs.
After remarkably surviving more than seven centuries with only minor touch-up work, many of the tombs were aggressively and controversially restored in 2005. As a result, much of the brilliant mosaic, majolica and terracotta work you see today is not original.
At the end of the pathway between the mausoleums, the complex opens up into Samarkand’s main cemetery, which is a fascinating place to walk.
Entrance fee – 25.000 SUM/per person
Opening hours – 7am to 7pm dialy
💡 TIP – Shah-i-Zinda is a very sacred place, make sure to wear more conservative and respectful clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
7. Enjoy lunch with a view at Bibikhanoum Hotel
It’s not often that you can have lunch while overlooking one of the most important monuments in Samarkand. Indulge in some of the finest local delicacies at the terrace of the Bibikhanum Hotel.
If you’re not sure yet where to stay in Samarkand this is also an excellent choice! It’s right in the centre of all of the main attractions and both Shah-i Zinda and registan are only 15 minutes walking from here.
8. Go grocery shopping at the Siab Bazaar
One o the best local things to do in Samarkand is to go and buy local produce at the Siab Bazaar. Here you’ll find rows and rows of dried fruit, fresh vegetables and all kinds of bread. It’s the perfect place to do some people watching as well cause you won’t come across many other tourists here.
Even though that Siab Bazaar is the largest market place in Samarkand it’s mostly locals that you’ll find here.
If you’re in need of a pharmacy or a new SIM-card you can also find that here.
9. Indulge in the local cuisine
Uzbekistan shares much of its culinary tradition with Turkey as well as serving up a wide number of noodle and dumpling dishes that bear a close resemblance to their counterparts in China, Nepal, and other Eastern Asian countries.
Food in Uzbekistan is very rich in meat and heavy. By the end of your trip chances are high that you’ll have gained a couple of kilo’s. Below I’ve listed some of the traditional Uzbek dishes that you must try for sure:
- Plov – Plov is considered as the national dish of Uzbekistan and it’s a hearty rice pilaf.
- Shashlik – Shashlik is simply skewered meat cooked on the grill but in some restaurants these portions can turn out huge! Once I got pretty much a sort of meat presented in front of me.
- Lagman soup – The most common way that lagman is served is as a hearty noodle stew that includes lamb, onions, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic.
- Fried Lagman – The noodles are pan-fried with peppers, onions, tomatoes paste, and whatever other vegetables the kitchen has on hand. It basically tastes like stir-fried spaghetti.
- Dimlama – This is a stew made of vegetables on hand, potatoes and meat.
- Manti – A very popular dish in Uzbekistan are these dumplings that are either filled with meat but also come stuffed with pumpkin.
10. Learn the history of Bibi-Khanum Mosque
The Bibi-Khanum Mosque is one of the most important monuments in Samarkand. In the 15th century, it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world.
It was built under the ruling of Timur who loved nothing more than creating larger than life buildings. Some even say it’s a bold public statement of his pretensions as a ruler. Timur had many different wives but his favorite one was Bibi Khanum. That’s why this spectacular Mosque was named after her.
It is even said that they brought in architects from Iran and India to work on the project and used ninety-five elephants to haul construction material.
But legends say that it’s not Timur himself who gave the order but his wife Bibi Khanum who wanted to surprise her husband when came back from his military campaign to India. She decided to build a Friday mosque and it should have been completed within 5 years before the return of the great commander..
None of the architects except one wanted to start on the project and he also had a hidden agenda. He had fallen in love with Bibi Khanum and he wanted a kiss in return.
After the project was finished she granted him said kiss but it was so hot that it left a mark on her cheek.
After Timur came back from his siege he noticed it and asked his wife to join him on the top of the mosque to enjoy the view. Afterwards he pushed her and she fell to her death.
In his mourning he named the mosque the Bibi Kanhum Mosque.
Opening hours – 8am to 8pm daily
Entrance fee – 25.000 SOM
11. Admire the gorgeous Gur-e-Amir
The enormous Gur-e-Amir, also known as ‘Tomb of the Commander‘ is one of the most impressive mausoleums in Uzbekistan and a spectacular place to visit in Samarkand.
As the name might suggest it’s the last resting place of the conquerer Timur. It was completed in 1404 and was originally intended to be the tomb of Timur’s grandson Muhammad Shah. But after Timur’s death in 1405 he was interred there as well, along with other members of his family.
The interior walls are covered with elegant turquoise arabesques and inscriptions in gold. The Gūr-e Amīr is one of the properties included in the 2001 designation of Samarkand as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Opening hours – 9am until 7pm daily
Entrance fee – 25.000 SOM
💡 TIP – As this is a very sacred place, make sure to wear more conservative and respectful clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
12. Take as many photos as possible
The city of Samarkand is a fantastic place to visit and one of the best things that you can possibly do is take hundreds of photos! You won’t find architecture like this anywhere else in the world.
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 Samarkand
I would say you need at least 2 full days to be able to explore everything at ease in Samarkand. You don’t want to rush through Registan and all of the buildings contain so many details that it would be a shame to rush through them.
Getting around Samarkand
The city of Samarkand is a lot bigger than Khiva and Bukhara but if you stay at one of the hotels that I suggested above you’ll be right in the centre of all of it!
All of the big main attractions in Samarkand are located close to each other and aren’t more than 20 minutes walking apart.
The only time we took a taxi was when we visited Shah-i-Zinda for its opening and we just didn’t want to walk in the cold and get up earlier because of that.
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.