What to see and do in Samarkand
Samarkand is one of the most charming cities we have visited, famous for being one of the most important crossroads along the ancient Silk Road. The city was founded in the 7th century BC and became the capital of the Timurid Kingdom in the fourteenth century when the Turkish-Mongol leader Tamerlane conquered a large part of Asia. Samarkand was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, and it boasts jaw-dropping Islamic architecture ranging from mosques and mausoleums to madrasas, from glittering minarets to dazzling turquoise domes to hypnotic mosaics. One thing is for sure, this ancient city will leave you speechless by its beauty!
The top attractions in Samarkand
Samarkand is Uzbekistan’s main destination, so be ready to share it with hundreds and hundreds of tourists. The city really offers many interesting historical sites, and we highly recommend spending here a couple of days taking your time.
1. Registan Square
This marvellous square is the main attraction of the city, a true jewel of architecture and beauty. It dates back to the era of Timur and is made up of 3 madrasas: the Tilla Kari, Ulugh Bek and Shir Dor. We also recommend visiting Registan at night when the lights illuminate all three beautiful buildings.
Entrance ticket: 40,000 UZS.
2. Gur e Amir Mausoleum
Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum is a beautiful architectural ensemble with a ribbed turquoise dome and a marvellous decorated portal. Built by Amir Timur for his grandson Mohammed Sultan, who died in battle in 1403, the mausoleum features stunning exterior decorations consisting of blue, turquoise and white tiles arranged in geometric and epigraphic ornaments against a terra cotta brick background. Its interior is also entirely decorated with geometric panels in gold and turquoise and marble slabs that reflect star motifs with girih (Islamic art tiles with five tiles for geometric decorations) up to the ceiling. The mausoleum contains the tombs where Timur, his two sons and two grandsons rest.
Entrance ticket: 25,000 UZS + 30,000 UZS extra for taking pictures.
3. Shah I Zinda complex
Shah-i-Zinda is a complex of tombs and various mausoleums clustered along a narrow avenue. It is the burial place of many royalty and nobles, including several relatives of Timur. Legend has it that the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, Kusam Ibn Abbas, who came to Samarkand in the 7th century to preach Islam, was buried here. This place is an important and holy pilgrimage site where many faithful come to pray and pay homage. Be respectful during your visit and dress properly.
Entrance ticket: 15,000 UZS.
4. Bibi Khanym Mosque
The Bibi Khanym Mosque, built to commemorate Timur’s wife, is one of the most important monuments in Samarkand. It was built by Timur himself at the beginning of the 15th century, who wanted to make it the most magnificent mosque in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 1897 left the building in ruins, but in 1974, the government began rebuilding and renovating the mosque. Right in front of the religious building, it is possible to visit the mausoleum where Bibi Khanym is buried.
Entrance ticket: 25,000 UZS.
5. Siab Bazaar
It is the largest bazaar in Samarkand and extends right next to the Bibi Khanym Mosque. It is the ideal place to experience a slice of everyday life in the midst of the many stalls selling food, spices, nuts, candies, fresh and dried fruit, vegetables and, of course, souvenirs. One of the things we liked the most was the vendors’ kindness, who often called us to taste their products.
6. Hazrat-Khizr Mosque
The Hazrat Khizr mosque was built in the 7th century and is the first to have been built in Samarkand and Uzbekistan. The building is located on a small hill and from the inside you can enjoy a beautiful view of the other monuments of the city.
Entrance ticket: 15,000 UZS.
7. Ulugbek Observatory
If you have time and are interested in astronomy, you can have a look at the Ulugbek observatory, located in the northern part of Samarkand. Ulugbek was one of the greatest astronomers of the time, and in this observatory, he calculated the duration of one year, which corresponds to the time in which the Earth turns around the sun, making a calculation that differed from what we know today by only 60 seconds.
8. Archaeological site of Afrasiyab
Close to the Hazrat mosque is the archaeological site of Afrasiyab, a precursor city of Samarkand founded in the 7th century BC and destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century AD. Only rubble remains of this ancient site, but excavations have brought to light the beautiful frescoes preserved in the adjacent Museum with other ancient finds.
The best period to go
The best months to visit Uzbekistan and Samarkand are April, May, June, September and October, when temperatures are milder and more pleasant. July and especially August are scorching months, while in the winter months, the temperatures are rather cold.
How to reach Samarkand
Samarkand has its own international airport, mainly connected with Russian airports. The most practical way is to reach Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and take a domestic flight or the train. There are two trains, one express (Afrosiyob train) which takes about 3 and a half hours and the other is a cheaper commuter. You can click on the banner of Omio.com to find your mean of transport.
Where to sleep in Samarkand
The city offers a good choice of accommodation to suit all budgets. We highly recommend staying close to Registan square for easy access to major attractions. We slept at Jahongir Guest House.
Some good budget accommodations are:
- Kamila Boutique Hotel;
- Dilshoda Hotel;
- Imran Guest House;
- Argamak Hotel;
- Bibikhanum Hotel;
- Samarkand Travel Inn;
- Hotel Niso;
- Hotel Shahram Plus;
- Click here to see all accommodations in Samarkand.
The main dish of Samarkand is Plov, a dish based on rice, lamb, onion and carrots. Don’t miss the lamb skewers, the kebab, the manti (steamed ravioli stuffed with meat or vegetables), the noodles soup with meat and the traditional focaccia. If you visit the bazaar, also taste the exceptional variety of dried fruit.
How to visit Samarkand
The main attractions can be easily visited on foot, as they are all nearby. Anyway, you’ll find taxis everywhere. Alternatively, have a look at the Viator.com web platform, where local tour operators advertise their activities and tours in Samarkand.