We visited Bukhara as part of a one-week tour of Uzbekistan. Prior to our visit, we knew absolutely nothing about the city, let alone the best things to do in Bukhara itself.
Jumping aboard our high-speed train from Tashkent, we imagined that Bukhara would be much like Samarkand; one of the country’s prettiest but busiest cities. What we discovered however, was a far more relaxed, walkable and heart-achingly beautiful destination that we quickly agreed was our favourite place to visit in Uzbekistan.
Despite many of its dazzling blue monuments having been restored; like many in the country, the restoration in Bukhara has been completed in a way that has enabled the city to retain its deep sense of history. Indeed, unlike Samarkand, it remains a working city and this makes the city feel even more authentic and enjoyable to explore.
If, like us, therefore you know very little about the city and are planning a visit, please read on for our 10 best things to do in Bukhara.
History of Bukhara
To give a full history of Bukhara would be near impossible, with the existence of the city stretching back millennia. Indeed, many of the buildings that you’ll see in Bukhara have been standing for thousands of years, with the city centre changing very little over the last two centuries. As a very much lived-in city, Bukhara offers visitors a glimpse of pre-Russian Tukestan.
Once located on the Silk Road route, Bukhara is an oasis city, located in the middle of the Uzbek desert. Over 2,500 years old, Bukhara is a true joy to explore, with turquoise blue mosques and madrasas, a bustling bazaar and even an Ark; the city’s oldest building (fortress) dating back to the 5th century.
How to Get to Bukhara from Tashkent
Travelling from Tashkent to Bukhara couldn’t be easier using Uzbekistan’s high-speed trains. We caught a high-speed train, known as Afrosiyob, from Tashkent to Bukhara and the journey was an unexpected delight. Initially dreading our 4-hour journey, we boarded the spacious train, with double, reclining chairs and quickly realised the Afrosiyob trains are far superior than any trains in the UK.
Far from a miserable, over-crowded journey, we enjoyed complimentary food and drink, peaceful naps in the reclining seats and even an unexpected champagne party at the bar. Champagne party aside, train travel in Uzbekistan is incredibly cheap (like the country in general) and our four-hour journey from Tashkent to Bukhara cost us just £15.
How to get from Bukhara’s train station to the city centre
If you’re arriving by train in Bukhara, you’ll arrive at the newer part of the city known as Kagan. From here, it’s a 20-minute journey into central Bukhara and a taxi-ride will cost you around £1.20. Be prepared to haggle as taxi drivers will try to charge you more (and I know given the cost this seems a little petty but just a heads up!)
How Many Days do you Need in Bukhara?
We spent two days in Bukhara and we felt this was ideal in allowing us to explore all of the city at a leisurely pace; allowing for plenty of slow lunches and an evening at a hammam (more on that later). In fact, the city was so relaxed and beautiful, we could have easily spent a few days longer there; perhaps in a hotel with a pool, where we could relax and read a book.
If you do only have one day in the city, we recommend taking a walking city tour, to make sure you make the most of your time.
How to Get Around Bukhara
We were surprised at just how walkable Bukhara was and were delighted to be able to come and go from our hotel at our own pace rather than relying on public transport . This makes Bukhara very different to Samarkand and Tashkent, where public transport is a must if you’re moving around the city.
For those who are unable to walk for long periods of time, the city does offer hop-on-hop-off buses, which depart from Lyab-i-Hauz everyday between 9am and 6pm. For those looking for a quirkier way to explore the city, you can also catch one of the many rickshaws in the city. Rickshaw drivers can offer a customised itinerary, if you’d like to explore many of the city’s sights by three-wheels.
When is the Best Time to Visit Bukhara?
We visited Bukhara at the end of October, when the weather was still warm but the trees of the city were turning a deep orange, casting the city in a golden light. Personally, we think this was the ideal time to visit the city, when the heat of the summer had faded but the warm autumn sun still made it incredibly pleasant to explore during the day, in just a t-shirt and jeans. The evenings were a lot colder than the days, however and we needed to wrap up considerably more with plenty of layers and a coat at night.
The spring months of April to early June are also a pleasant time to visit the city, with similar temperatures to autumn, meaning you need to pack plenty of layers for the cooler evenings.
The summer months in Uzbekistan are incredibly hot, soaring to 40 degrees in some cases, and we therefore recommend that you don’t visit during this time. If you’re keen not to visit during the peak seasons of spring and autumn, winter in Bukhara is do-able but very cold, with temperatures dropping to -15 degrees. Our guide assured us however, that the city is beautiful during this time, with snow covering the ancient monuments.
What’s the Best Hotel in Bukhara?
During our visit to Bukhara, we stayed at the conveniently located Hotel Malika Bukhara. Located in the heart of the city, it was a comfortable 4* hotel with terrace and balconies, a good breakfast and free WIFI.
From our base, we could explore the city by foot and enabled us to make the most of our time in the city.
Looking for something else? Browse the best hotels in Bukhara.
10 Best Things to do in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
1. Visit the Ark Fortress
The Ark Fortress of Bukhara is perhaps the best known building in the city. Bukhara’s oldest building, the Ark was built in the 5th century and was a royal town-within-a-town and fortress, used until the 1920s before it was bombed by the Red Army and taken by Russia.
Traditionally, the Ark was home to the emirs of Bukhara (rulers), with an entire community living and working within the Ark. Unfortunately, 80% of the buildings were bombed in the 1920s but there are still many rooms to explore, which have since been turned into museums.
During our visit, my favourite part of the Ark was exploring the archaeological site that’s attached to the remaining buildings. It was fascinating to explore just how big the Ark would have originally been, and the viewpoint from the site out over the city is beautiful.
2. Lyab-I-Hauz Ensemble
Despite being a desert city, Bukhara is located in an oasis, meaning it is green and full of turquoise canals and ponds. This made the city unexpectedly hard to place, feeling like a destination that’s somewhere between Europe and North Africa.
My favourite part of the city was Lyab-I-Hauz Ensemble, which translates in Persian to “by the pond.” Centuries ago, there were many ponds in the city, which is how the city became known for its storks.
The (stagnant) ponds used to attract flies in the heat of summer, which in turn would attract frogs, which would attract storks to feed on the frogs. Storks were found prolifically in the city and became Bukhara’s emblem. Not only can you still spot many stork nest monuments on the top of buildings today, an original stork nest can still be seen atop one of the buildings (it’s huge!)
Fortunately, or unfortunately in the storks case, the many waterways of the city and surrounding swamps were drained, after outbreaks of malaria. This brought a stop to the fly, frog and stork life cycle, and storks are no longer in the city. You can, however, pick up a pair of stork scissors from the many blacksmiths in Bukhara, which make beautiful gifts or a keepsake.
Storks aside, the pond of Lyab-I-Hauz is a picture perfect square, surrounded by restaurants and shops. Just behind the square is Madrassah of Nadrid Divan-begi, a beautiful mosque that is the only mosque in the city to depict animals in its murals (something that is prohibited in Islam).
The square truly comes alive at night, with locals and tourists mixing to enjoy live music and outdoor dining.
3. Bolo Khauz Mosque
Our favourite building in Bukhara was the Bolo Khauz Mosque. Just over the road from the Ark, Bolo Khauz is a unique building in the city, built in 1712 and made entirely of wood. Make sure you remember to look up at the intricately carved, colourful ceilings and wooden pillars. Like many parts of the city, the mosque is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We visited during the midday call to prayer and were able to watch from the surrounding square as worshippers arrived. As the call to prayer rang out across the city, and the warm autumn sun warmed our backs, I counted my blessings we decided to visit such a beautiful country.
4. Shop in the Domed Bazaar of Bukhara
The bustling Old Bazaar of Bukhara is located under the old trading domes of the city. Although the hustle and bustle of traditional trading has long since gone, the bazaar is still an enjoyable place to stroll, picking up a souvenir, rugs, silk scarves or spices.
Again, make sure you haggle on any original price; I managed to save £20 on a rug by doing this and £5 off a beautiful silk scarf.
5. Samanid Mausoleum
Just outside of the historic centre (but still walkable) is the Samanid Mausoleum. Built in the 10th century, the Mausoleum is the final resting place of three of the powerful Samanid Dynasty that ruled between 900 – 1000. The building was saved from destruction by the Red Army by the fact a flood covered the building in mud, thus hiding it. In fact, the building was only rediscovered and excavated in 1934.
The Mausoleum is now located in a peaceful park, with ducks and turquoise ponds scattering the area. There is also a small amusement park located close by and makes for a nice late afternoon or evening stroll in the area.
6. Po-I-Kalyan Ensemble
The Poi Kalyan Ensemble is a beautiful courtyard that is surrounded by some of the prettiest buildings in Bukhara: Miri Arab Madrassah, the Kalyan minaret and the Kalyan mosque. The crowning jewel of Bukhara, you’ll be hard pressed to miss this spot and is at its most beautiful at sunset, as the Madrassah is cast in a golden glow.
The minaret, standing at 47m tall was built in 1127 AD and is a gleaming beacon in the city. So beautiful, Genghis Khan even decided to spare the destruction of the tower when he conquered the city.
The Kalyan Mosque is an equally dazzling building to explore, particularly early morning as the soft light casts a magic glow in the inner courtyard. The entrance fee is 20,000 som but if you visit before official opening hours (i.e. sunrise) entry is free.
Note: women will need to cover their heads in order to enter the mosque, so make sure you come prepared with a headscarf.
7. Visit Chor Minor Madrassah
Pretty little Chor Minor Madrassah was once a gatehouse to a former Madrassah built in 1807. Boasting four, pepper pot style decorative towers, the Minor is now a souvenier shop. Head inside and you can also climb one of the towers, for rooftop views out over the city.
There are also some excellent soviet-style souvenier stalls outside of the Madrassah and we stocked up on some soviet stamps and a few black and white photographs of pre-soviet Bukhara.
8. Visit Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah
The most beautiful madrassah in Bukhara is the Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah. Built in 1417, the Madrassah boasts intricate Central Asian architecture and is a sight to behold. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit before 9am when the surrounding shops are still closed.
9. Enjoy the City at Sunset
By far, my favourite time to explore Bukhara was at sunset.
Leaving our hotel, we strolled through the glowing, golden streets as swallows swooped overhead. Turning on Po-I-Kalyan, we were momentarily stunned into silence as we gazed up at the Kalyan Mosque and Minaret that were glowing in the evening light. It is truly one of the most beautiful cities to explore by evening light – the city feeling more like a Hollywood film set than a living, working city.
Tip: grab sunset drinks at Chasmai-Mirob Restaurant for the best views of Po-I-Kalyan square.
10. Enjoy a Hammam in Bukhara
Now, it may seem a little random to end with a hammam as one of the best things to do in Bukhara but please bear with me.
I don’t wish to boast but we have enjoyed hammams all over the world, including Morocco, Turkey and Jordan. All of them delightful, we thought we knew what we were in for in Uzbekistan but as it turns out, we weren’t, not remotely.
Led down into a cave like system, we were ordered to strip naked. As a group of 16 women who had only known one another for just a couple of days, this was quite a daunting ask. Dutifully, however we took our clothes off and followed an intimidating woman into a small holding pen.
Instructed to relax, we sheepishly sat on the stone floor, trying to find a position (and failing) to sit in that would cover all key areas. In small groups, we were then led into an equally dark cave like room, where we were told to bend over, while we were washed and scrubbed. Convinced things couldn’t get anymore intimate, we were then laid on slabs, one by one, as we were continued to be washed and scrubbed in front of an audience.
It was a bewildering, yet vaguely exhilarating experience and we came out cleaner than we’ve ever been.
Looking to bond with your travel companion and have a long-lasting memory of Bukhara? Make sure you book a hammam.