The ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva conjure up images of unimaginably wealthy oases linked by caravans, of imperial politics and incredible architecture. Beautiful turquoise domes and towering minarets grace the skyline while down below everyday life goes on in markets and cafes from years gone by. With hospitality firmly ingrained into the culture, this is one country you will not want to miss.
best time to travel
April, May, September, October and the first part of November are the best months to travel to Uzbekistan. It is typically warm and dry without it being uncomfortably hot. If you can handle the heat you can travel in summer too.
places to go
A fascinating jumble of contradictions, Uzbekistan's capital is part Soviet city, with wide, tree-lined streets, grand statues and shopping malls, and part sleepy Uzbek town where farmers cart their goods through myriad alleys. The city has some amazing museums covering art and both ancient and more modern history.
A city that features in everyone's dreams about the Silk Road, Samarkand is a treasure trove of architectural monuments dating back all the way to Timur. Sure highlights are Shah-i-Zinda, a street of beautifully tiled mausoleums, and Ulugh Beg’s 15th-century observatory in Samarkand. Throw in a colourful bazaar and a long, rich history and you have a city that one must visit.
Nurata was once regarded as the frontier between cultivated lands and the steppes and still is a jumping-off point from which to visit nomadic yurt camps. The ruins of Alexander's hilltop citadel stand testament to its ancient history, while a 10th century mosque and holy sites attracted pilgrims from all over Central Asia.
Central Asia's sacred Muslim city is also one of the places where one can experience pre-Russian culture at its best. Mosques, madrasahs and minarets are scattered around town, along with an enormous fortress and the remnants of a market complex. The city counts over 900 historical monuments, including 12th century Char Minar, Bolo Khauz Mosque and the old Summer Palace of the Emirs. Stay in an atmospheric hotel and you may feel transported back in time.
At the heart of the Great Game lies Khiva, a former slave trading centre that could only be reached by crossing a desert inhabited by aggressive tribesmen. Walking into the mud-walled inner city is like being transferred to a bygone era. Be sure to experience the 200 intricately carved elm wood columns inside the cool, dark Juma Mosque and the beautiful mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud.
The Khorezm area covering both the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts near Khiva is home to about 50 ruined fortresses – many still hidden beneath the sand.
Follow the mountain road south from Samarkand, enjoying the amazing views, and reach Timur's home town of Shakhrisabz, one of the most beautiful and colorful Uzbekistan cities.
Surrounded by the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains, the Fergana Valley is Uzbekistan's fruit and cotton basket. It's people are among the most hospitable in the country, while colourful bazaars with exceptional crafts (including beautiful turquoise ceramics), mosques and madrasahs abound.
Food, glorious food
Shish kebab, normally made with lamb or mutton, is served on incredibly large skewers. It is served with bread in all shapes and sizes. Rice topped with cooked carrots, onions, and chunks of mutton makes up plov, the national dish. Salads abound and are lovely. And don't forget cooked apricot pits!
Drink Katyk & tea
This thin yogurt drink comes plain but can be sweetened. Green tea is the most popular tea and there is no better place to have it than in a traditional tea house.
Art in architecture
Mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums and minarets are everywhere in Uzbekistan. They come in all shapes and forms, from the 200 beautifully carved elm wood columns inside Khiva's Juma Mosque to the sand castle-like Chor Minor Mosque in Bukhara. Take your time to see them, but don't attempt to see them all - there are simply too many!
A mix of geometric patterns and calligraphy, delicate flowers, and mosaics in blue, white, green and turquoise, makes up the dazzling tile work Uzbekistan is so well-known for. You have to see it to believe it.
See the vanished sea
The Soviets employed reckless irrigation in their drive to expand the cotton industry. The Aral Sea, now shrunk to a ghost of its former self, and a graveyard to boats and crumbling lighthouses, is a stark reminder of what humans can do to the environment
Stay in a yurt
Kazakh nomads use round felt tents, which are spacious, colourful and comfortable inside, as their dwellings. Stay in one and get a glimpse into what life was like on the Silk Road in times gone by.
Ride a camel
While staying at a nomad camp you may have the chance to ride a camel. Hold on tight as you will be swinging wildly from left to right as the lumbering beast gets up.
Khiva by night
Khiva is at its most spectacular at dawn, sunset and by night, when the moonlit silhouettes of the mosques and madrasahs, viewed from winding alleys, evoke a haunting beauty.
Haggle in a market
There is nothing quite like meandering at your leisure through Uzbekistan's bazaars. Get lost in the crowds and stop to examine the wares. Enjoy a cup of green tea while bargaining over your next purchase.