Samarkand is a non-negotiable addition to your Uzbekistan itinerary as Uzbekistan’s most famous Silk Road city. Due to main sights such as the Registan and Shahi Zinda, Samarkand is most popular with tourists. Furthermore, Samarkand can easily be reached from many places with direct international flights from Istanbul. Also, Samarkand is next to Tashkent the largest city of Uzbekistan and the vibe can not be compared to Khiva or Bukhara. In this Samarkand Travel Guide, I’ll take you along the best things to do in Samarkand including the best restaurants and hotels to stay in.
Travelling around Uzbekistan and Samarkand is easy due to great flight and train connections. Specifically, Samarkand is easy to reach due to its larger airport and international flights. Therefore, you could decide to skip Tashkent and fly to or from Samarkand. Especially if you want to save some time on your itinerary, it is a great option so you don’t have to head back to Tashkent.
By Plane: Samarkand is a larger airport with domestic flights to many locations in Uzbekistan. Furthermore, there are international flights available from e.g. Istanbul, China, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
By Train: The train network in Uzbekistan is outstanding. With multiple fast trains (Afrosiyob) running between for example Bukhara and Samarkand as well as Samarkand to Tashkent, you can easily reach this unique Silk Road city from different directions. You can book your train tickets and check the timetables through the website of Uzbekistan Railways.
As Samarkand is a pretty big city, walking everywhere can be slightly challenging. Even though there are plenty of places you can walk to when your hotel is centrally located, cabs could be a convenient option. We often paid around 20.000 (€1.50) som for trips within the Samarkand city centre. Firstly, we read that every fare within the city centre should only be 10.000 som, however, we noticed this wasn’t feasible.
We stayed in Samarkand for 3 nights, leaving plenty of time to explore the city. As mentioned before, Samarkand is the largest tourist city and is home to many sights. Therefore, I would recommend 2 full days to explore, resulting in 2 to 3 nights in Samarkand.
Similarly to other cities in Uzbekistan, please be mindful when exploring and make sure to cover your knees and shoulders.
Firstly, I’ll start by highlighting my favourite sight in all of Uzbekistan. Shah-i-Zinda (“The Living King”) is a beautiful mausoleum and is the most colourful place in the city. To get the most out of your visit, I would recommend visiting around closing time to beat the crowds and enjoy the beautiful light. Also, you can visit in the early morning. The complex is open from 7 am to 7 pm. Lastly, to enter Shah-i-Zinda, you’ll have to pay a 30.000 som entry fee.
If you have heard about Samarkand before, you will probably also have heard about the Registan. Probably, the Registan is the most famous place to visit in Uzbekistan. Therefore, we decided to pay a visit in the early morning upon the Registan opening. Actually, we tried to arrive at 7 am, hoping we could visit early as we read on some travel blogs. However, the Registan only opens at 8 am, therefore I would not advise you to visit before opening hours. Fortunately, we were still lucky to quietly explore the three different buildings at the Registan: Ulug bek Madrasasi (left), Sherdor Madrasasi (right), and Tillya-Koriand Madrasah (middle).
Also, if you want to head to the first floor of a Madrasah, your best bet might be to ask one of the locals sitting around. Another option is to wait until the coffee place on the first floor in the Sherdor Madrasasi is open (an exceptional location for a cup of coffee). Lastly, the entry fee for the Registan is 50.000 som.
A great activity to do in Samarkand is a wine tasting at the Museum of Wine Making. Unfortunately, it seems pretty difficult to make a reservation, as we couldn’t reach them by phone. One of your options is to book a wine tour through Viator, however, we chose the option to head there and ask for a tasting. Fortunately, a group would be coming in 30 minutes that we could join. However, they were delayed, which resulted in a private wine tasting. Unfortunately, it felt a bit rushed, as we had to taste all the wines and liquors in 30 minutes. Nevertheless, it was a unique experience.
Another mausoleum in Samarkand is Gur-E-Amir. Due to the large number of sights in Samarkand, once we arrived at Gur-e-Amir, we decided to not enter. Moreover, I would like to stress that when visiting the main sights in the city, it is important to wake up early to beat the crowds. However, we decided to not wake up early every day and skip some of the sights.
The main bazaar in Samarkand is the Siab Bazaar. As we already visited the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, we decided to not spend our time in the city on another bazaar. Nevertheless, I recommend visiting at least one bazaar during your time in Uzbekistan.
The Bibi Ghanum Mosque is one of the most important sights of Samarkand. Also, it used to be one of the biggest mosques in the Islamic World. Furthermore, the mosque is conveniently located close to Registan and next to one of my favourite places to eat: Art Cafe Norgis.
If you have plenty of time to spend in Samarkand, another sight to visit is the Ulug Beg Observatory. Located a bit further out of town, you need a taxi to get here. Personally, we didn’t feel it would be an addition to the beautiful sights we had already discovered and wanted to avoid seeing too many things in a short period.
In case you want to take a small peek into the city life of Samarkand, a walk on University Boulevard is a great option. There is not much to do, however, we liked having this short stroll along the boulevard. On top of that, it can easily be combined with a visit to Gur-e-Amir and the Wine Museum or a visit to my favourite restaurant in Samarkand: Oasis Garden.
As Samarkand was the final destination of our Uzbek adventure, I have to admit, I was quite done with the local food. Nevertheless, it was of course time to search for the best places for lunch, dinner and a drink. Although we found plenty of the same restaurants recommended on multiple blogs, I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of them. For example, Magistr is a place I definitely wouldn’t recommend. Therefore, managing expectations, there were some decent restaurants, but don’t expect too much!
As mentioned, the food in Samarkand wasn’t my favourite thing. One place though, impressed us, which was Oasis Garden near the University Boulevard. They have an elaborate menu with both local and international dishes. Also, we tried an Uzbek ‘champagne’ for €3 a bottle.
One of the best-known places for dinner in Samarkand is the Bibikhanum Tea House, located close to the Registan. Generally, the menu is filled with local dishes. Also, the vibe is quite nice and it has a great outside eating area.
With nice beds outside, this is a great place to sit down and have some juice and a little snack. We liked the bread with dip and the dumplings.
Other restaurants that we didn’t visit, but are often recommended are Platan and Old City Restaurant.
During our visit to Samarkand, we stayed in Furkat Guesthouse for 3 nights. Manage your expectations, as the rooms are not feeling too clean and quite stuffy. Nevertheless, it is a cosy place when you are travelling on a budget (€35 a night). On top of that, the guesthouse is located on a 10-minute walk from the Registan and close to for example Art Cafe Norgis and Bibikhanum Tea House.
Depending on what you are looking for in a hotel, Media Hotel Samarkand might be the perfect option for you. Even though the hotel is located a bit outside the city, it has a wonderful pool available. You might have to take a taxi to visit the main sights or go out for dinner, however, it rewards you with amazing facilities to enjoy some relaxation during your day. The costs for one room for a night start at €55.