Khiva is a small town in the southeast of Uzbekistan and should be part of your 10-day Uzbekistan itinerary. However, before travelling to Uzbekistan, we had been doubting whether to visit Khiva. Unfortunately, Khiva is a little bit further out compared to the other main cities of Uzbekistan: Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara. Therefore, we were wondering if a trip to Khiva would be worth the additional effort. However, after visiting Khiva, I can confirm that you cannot miss out on visiting Uzbekistan’s most magical city, which feels like a huge open-air museum. Next to that, it is the only town where cars are not allowed in the city centre, which makes it even more magical. This Khiva Travel Guide shows you the best things to do in Khiva as well as the best restaurants.
Traveling around Uzbekistan is relatively easy with great train and flight connections. Depending on your travel route, you can reach Khiva in multiple ways.
By Train: There are night trains available running from Tashkent to Khiva, taking approximately 14 hours. Even though that sounds long, it has been quite an experience to travel in one of the older sleeper trains. You can book your train tickets and check the timetables through the website of Uzbekistan Railways. Furthermore, it is also possible to embark on a night train from Bukhara to Khiva, which takes approximately 6,5 hours. Lastly, there are also night trains from Samarkand to Khiva, however, this won’t make up for the most logical travel route. Lastly, you can also easily check the timetables through the Advantour website.
By Plane: Khiva is a 50-minute drive away from Urgench airport. If you don’t feel like taking a night train, your best option is to hop on a domestic flight to Urgench. On top of that, there are also international flights from and to Urgench, for example from Istanbul.
A visit to Khiva is all about visiting “Ichan Kala”, the inner city. Firstly, you can access Ichan Kala without a ticket. However, if you want to access the multiple sights (which you should), you need a ticket. Tickets can be bought at the west gate for 150.000 som. There are multiple ticket versions available, depending on whether you want to include access to the city walls and Islam Kodja minaret. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit the Islam Kodja minaret, however, if I visit again I would include it in my ticket. The opening hours of Ichan Kala are season-dependent, with the ‘city’ being open from 8 am – 8 pm in high season and 9 am – 6 pm in low season.
We stayed in Khiva for two nights, which allowed us to visit Ichan Kala for a full day. As the town is rather small and it can get very packed, especially in high-season, it is great to start your day early. Next to that, the town is also very pretty when the evening sets. Therefore, 2 days in Khiva would be the recommended time for a visit.
Please be mindful when exploring this beautiful town and make sure to cover your knees and shoulders. Next to that, bring a scarf to cover your hair, as this is needed when entering the mausoleum.
Firstly, I would highly recommend exploring Khiva together with a guide. Since the town has a very rich history, it is great to have someone local to explain all the details and show the hidden corners of town. When we arrived at 8 am at the ticket office to buy our entrance ticket, we requested a guide for 10:30 am. This gave us some time to wander around by ourselves first to be ahead of the crowds before further diving into town.
The most special and known sight in Khiva is the Kalta Minor Minaret. This bright blue minaret was intended to rise to 70 meters, however, the project stopped after Khan passed away. Therefore, the minaret is now only 26 meters high. However, due to its with, it makes up for an impressive building and a real icon in town.
Even though the Kuhna Ark is a beautiful building itself, the main highlight is the watch tower. After admiring the bright blue tiles, climb up for a stunning view over Khiva. Moreover, it is the perfect place to watch the sunset, so try to be there around closing time (which was 7 pm when we were there).
At the North Gate of Ichan Kala, you can access the city walls. You have to enter a narrow opening and climb up after which you can view the city from above. Although I have to admit the views weren’t as impressive as from the watch tower and unfortunately you can’t walk all around town, it is still a fun activity. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t classify it as unmissable, so if you don’t have the time to squeeze it in, there is no reason to worry.
The Juma Mosque, meaning Sunday mosque, was built on top of the ruins of a previous mosque. However, that’s not what makes the mosque special. The 213 pillars make up for a unique building. On top of that, the pillars come from several periods.
When exploring Khiva, you won’t miss out on the Islam Khodja Minaret, the highest minaret in town. Also, the square and streets around the minaret are very beautiful and worth your time. Lastly, it is possible to climb the minaret for a birds-eye view of Khiva.
One of the buildings that is beautiful from both the outside and inside is the Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum. Pahlavan Mahmud is seen as a hero and legend in Khiva, and many locals come to the mausoleum to pay their respects. Also, be aware you have to cover your hair when visiting.
In Tash Kauli Palace you can get an idea of how a Kahn used to live. Within the palace, you can have a look at the chambers of the Khan and his harem. Also, the building was ordered to be built in 2 years, which wasn’t feasible. In the end, it took 8 years to be built.
As mentioned, Khiva feels like an open-air museum due to its size and the amount of beautiful buildings there are to admire. Of course, this is utilized by the locals by setting up their stands and shops in the early morning. If you are looking for some local gadgets, shopping at one of the multiple stalls should be on your list of the best things to do in Khiva.
The last highlight on ‘the best things to do in Khiva-list’ is the Isfandiyar Palace. Even though we decided to skip this palace, as we didn’t want to overload ourselves with different sights, I’ve heard great stories. Also, this is the only sight that is located outside Ichan Kala. However, the place can be reached by walking 10 minutes from the old town.
The Uzbek cuisine is not everyone’s cup of tea. I haven’t been the biggest fan of the traditional dishes. However, the food in Khiva is another deal and should therefore be part of this Khiva travel guide. Remarkably, there are quite some dishes available that only exist in Khiva, such as a nice green dill pasta (Shivit Oshi). On top of that, there are many types of fried or boiled dumplings available. Especially the egg noodles served with yoghurt sauce (Yumurta Barak) and minced meat dumplings with union (Gumma), can only be found in Khiva.
This beautiful cafe and restaurant can’t be missed when visiting Khiva. Terrassa has the most beautiful view in town and is, with its stunning rooftop terrace, a real gem. During our time in Khiva, I think we’ve visited Terrassa 3 times. If you would like to have lunch or dinner, try to head there beforehand to make a reservation. On other blogs, I’ve read different stories on the food quality at Terrassa. Personally, I liked to food and would recommend it. However, expect to pay a slightly higher price than at other locations in Uzbekistan / Khiva due to its location.
Another lovely restaurant, where you can find many of the local Khiva dishes is Cafe Zarafshan. What stood out for us, was the fact that we could enjoy our meal on the terrace, including a great view of the minaret!
Another restaurant that we have enjoyed is Khorezm Art Restaurant. As you can see, the scenery and location are beyond stunning. Their lovely terrace rewards you with a real local feel. Also, when we visited, there was a large tourist group visiting including a local performance.
As restaurants in Khiva tend to be busy, it is worth making a reservation for your dinner. However, therefore I would like to provide you with some more restaurant options, to have a larger chance at a good meal. Both Khiva Moon and Yasavul Boshi Restaurant are other restaurant options that are spoken about highly.
During our visit to Khiva, we stayed at Islam Khodja Guesthouse and that was a perfect choice. The hosts were just so friendly and helpful, which was amazing to experience. The rooms were good, they served a home-prepared breakfast in the morning and the back yard offered great views of the Islam Khodja minaret. On average, a room costs €50 per night.
This hotel is perfect if you are seeking an unforgettable experience, as it is based in a madrasah. Next to that, it is located at the foot of the Kalta Minor minaret. You might expect high prices for a night in this hotel, however, you can already book a room starting from €65.
This final recommendation is your budget option, as rooms are available starting from €30. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your experience. Also here, rooms are clean and the staff is friendly.