Unveiling Uzbekistan: Step into the Historic Heart of the Silk Road  ⋆ Tredwell Travel

Unveiling Uzbekistan: Step into the Historic Heart of the Silk Road 

Let us take you on a transformative journey through the heart of Central Asia, as we unravel the rich tapestry of Uzbekistan. Starting in the bustling capital, Tashkent, and seamlessly weaving through the country’s historical wonders, this guide provides an experience for all the senses that blends the historic allure of the Silk Road with the contemporary pulse of modern Uzbek culture. 


Begin your exploration of this mosaic city in the historic Old Town, home to the vibrant chaos of Chorsu Bazaar. It’s easy to lose yourself in the whirlwind of smells, sounds and colours as you float with the crowds. You will soon feel as though you’ve been transported to the 13th Century CE as you emerge surrounded by the ancient mosques and narrow streets. Heading North you will find the titanic Centre of Islamic Civilisation. Currently under construction, it is planned to house a mosque with capacity for over 1000 people. Its main draw, the Uthman Quran is one of the oldest, dated to the 8th or 9th Century CE. The nearby Hazrati Imam Complex is a meticulously restored area of mosques, madrasas (Islamic institutions of learning) and mausoleums first built in the 16th Century. 

The statue of Amir Temur in Amir Temur Square, Tashkent

Linked to the Old Town by the dazzling subway system (a site in its own right), the centre of modern Tashkent is home to a number of enormous Soviet-era buildings, the chalk to the Old Town’s cheese. Highlights include the Presidential Palace, the Alisher Navoiy Theatre and the post-soviet era sculpture of Amir Temur, founder of the Temurid Empire, located in the square that bears his name. Two State Museums, of the Temurids and of the History of Uzbekistan, visualise the story of the beautiful country and provide context for the rest of your visit. 


In Samarkand, the enchanting Registan Square takes centre stage. Witness its daytime grandeur, imaging yourself amongst the scholars and students of historic Samarkand. Return in the evening for a mesmerising show as the huge faces of the three madrasas are illuminated in a captivating show set to music. Navigate the city’s touristic core along Tashkent Road, the main pedestrian street, stopping to indulge in the culinary delights of the many restaurants. Oriental Sweets Teahouse provides a tranquil private courtyard with traditional Uzbek cuisine and further down the street the Bibikhanum Hotel has a beautifully located restaurant overlooking the mosque. 

The inner courtyard of Registan Square, Samarkand

Continue to dive into Samarkand’s rich cultural tapestry with a visit to the Siyob Bazaar, where fresh fruit and vegetables, spices and baked goods are traded. The Hazrat Khizr Mosque, Shah-I-Zinda mausoleum, and the Observatory of Ulugbek offer further insights into Islamic architecture, teaching and science. The Bibi Khanum Mosque, a masterpiece of the Temurid Renaissance, is beautifully illuminated after sunset and is not to be missed. Take time also to discover the Rukhobod, Aksaray and Gur-I Amir Mausoleums, all located within a five-minute walk of each other. The Gur-I Amir Complex contains the burial site of Amir Temur (photo 4), as referenced earlier. 


A two-to-three-hour train ride followed by a quick bus or taxi ride brings you to the heart of Bukhara, where the Kalyan Minaret dominates the cityscape. So striking that Genghis Khan ordered it to be spared during the sack of Bukhara, the minaret is also colloquially known as the Tower of Death due to its use in the execution of criminals by throwing them from its top. The surrounding mosques and madrasas provide contrastingly peaceful locations to wander through, the inner courtyard of the Kalyan Mosque and the Mir-i-Arab Madrasas are two highlights. To continue your transportation back to the glory days of the Silk Road visit the Ark of Bukhara, first built in the 5th Century CE. A number of museums sit across the site with access to the throne room and other buildings of the historic court all included in the one ticket. 

The Bibi Khanum Mosque lit up at night, Samarkand

Still walkable, but slightly further from the historic core you can find the Central Bazaar, the main market in Bukhara and considerably less touristic than those located more (confusingly) centrally. With your varied haul of fresh baked goods, fruits, shoes and everything in between, continue your exploration of the nearby complexes, making sure to find yourself a seat by the water at the front of the Bolo Hauz Mosque after sunset where live music can often be heard alongside the illuminated mosque façade. 

For an atmospheric dining experience wander to the Lyabi Hauz area, the liveliest spot in Bukhara. Lyabi Hovuz have a number of outdoor tables located right by the water, Joy Lounge provides a quieter setting around a beautiful private courtyard and Minzifa offers a beautiful view across the city despite an unassuming front, arrive for a sunset drink and stay into the evening for traditional Uzbek cuisine. 

Further Afield 

The elaborately decorated ceiling in the Mausoleum of Amir Temur, Gur-i-Amir Complex, Samarkand

Depending on the time you have available for your trip there are destinations further west from Bukhara that you might want to include. Firstly Khiva, one of the best preserved of all the ancient Silk Road cities, home to Itchan Kala, the walled inner town of the ancient city. Highlights include the Kalta Minor Minaret, the unique wooden Juma Mosque and the Tash Khauli Palace – a modern complex for the region, residence of Allah Kuli Khan in the 19th Century CE – to name just a selection. 

A patient train traveller, or those with the freedom of a hire car should continue to Nukus, home of the Nukus Museum of Art – the second largest collection of avant-garde Russian art – established by Igor Savitsky in the 1960s. The museum did not display the majority of the works he collected due to soviet era regulations but, following the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, the depth of the collection has been revealed. 

The Kalyan Minaret with the inner courtyard of Kalyan Mosque in the foreground (Bukhara)

Culinary Delights 

One of the most exciting parts of visiting a new country is the chance to discover new foods and flavours. The following dishes are found across the country and are worth seeking out during your trip: 

  • Samsa – a savoury pastry usually stuffed with meat or vegetables, traditionally baked in a tandoor and often available from small stands on the street 
  • Manti – a dumpling dish filled with either meat or pumpkin and then boiled or steamed 
  • Plov – a rice-based dish, also called pilaf, consisting of long grain rice, lamb and vegetables all slow-cooked in one large pot 
  • Laghman – a noodle dish with roots in Xinjiang, China. It is traditionally served with vegetables and meat and comes one of two ways: Uighur Laghman, where the noodles are served in a ramen-style broth or Bosu Laghman, where the noodles, meat and vegetables are boiled and then pan seared 

For the more adventurous, the following drinks are widely available and unlike anything I had tasted before: 

  • Kumis – a fermented dairy product traditionally made from mare or donkey milk 
  • Kvass – a fermented, cereal-based drink readily available on the street across Central Asia 
  • Maksym – a sour drink made from barley, wheat, millet and corn 
  • Chalap – a fermented drink made from sour milk, water and salt (similar to Ayran) 

Key Advice 

Uzbekistan is an amazing country to explore, but can feel overwhelming due to our lack of familiarity with the culture. Be sure to bring trousers and have shoulders covered for visits to religious sites. Downloading English, Russian and Uzbek on Google Translate will allow you to translate text and photos even without an internet connection. Adding the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet keyboard to your phone and, whilst it is by no means essential, an understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet can be helpful for reading signs and place names. Purchasing a SIM card in Tashkent enables you to stay connected to the internet across the cities and in most rural locations too. Having some Uzbek sum (UZS) in cash can be helpful (and necessary for most entry fees) but ATMs can be found around the cities. Downloading the YandexGo and Uzbek Railways apps before travelling make ordering taxis and booking trains extremely easy. 

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