Uzbekistan vacations overview
Traders on the Silk Road and its spidering tributaries shared priceless gifts of art, architecture and inspiration from East to West for centuries. At its crossroads, in the heart of Central Asia, lies Uzbekistan, shaped by the influence of the many cultures that flourished there. From post-Soviet Tashkent, where an awkward but beguiling jumble of old meets very new; to Samarkand, kingdom of Alexander the Great and a treasure trove of Islamic art and emerald-tiled mosaics; and Bukhara, with a skyline punctuated by azure mosques and madrassas – every Uzbek city has a story to tell. Learn more in our Uzbekistan travel guide.
Our top Uzbekistan vacations
Best time to go to Uzbekistan
For optimum comfort temperature-wise and a visual feast of wildflowers, gold, and dark green across the landscape, the best time to visit Uzbekistan is either between April and May or autumn. Visit around harvest in September to October and you’ll find markets overflowing with colourful produce. In high summer, the land is parched, so there isn’t a great deal to look at in the countryside. Temperatures can soar well over an uncomfortable 30°C too, meaning city tours can be sweaty work. Winters in Uzbekistan, meanwhile, can be freezing, though that does mean cultural sites will be virtually deserted.
Map & highlightsTraveling Uzbekistan overland isn’t easy or comfortable, but the cultural gems of its Silk Road cities make it more than worthwhile. Most tours begin with the capital, Tashkent, and the Islamic architecture of Registan Square in Samarkand, just southwest. Nearby, Shakhrisabz is one of Central Asia’s oldest cities and the birthplace of Tamerlane. The maze-like alleyways of Khiva’s old town seem frozen in time, whereas Bukhara, also a living museum in many ways, bustles with energy – a wonderful city for people-watching. The remote desert city of Nukus, meanwhile, holds a world-renowned collection of avant-garde Soviet art.
One of the best kept examples of a medieval city in Central Asia, Bukhara is truly a living museum, but one that bustles with life too. The old city is packed full of ancient Islamic architecture, lending a dusty, old-world feel, but the atmospheric streets buzz with the energy of families who have lived there for generations. Sit back and watch for a glorious snapshot of quirky local life.
Fascinating Khiva stands out among Uzbekistan’s cities because, unlike its equally historical counterparts Samarkand and Bukhara where life goes on, it’s a place where primal life has literally been stopped and preserved. To walk through the gates of Ichan Qala, the old town, is to explore twisting alleyways, cobbled street and an expansive array of mosques, mausoleums and minarets.
This is the capital city of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region within Uzbekistan, and although it is located on the site of an ancient city of Shurcha, its new incarnation was a Soviet one. We can thank its remote location, surrounded by three deserts, for the world renowned collection of Soviet avant-garde art at its Igor Savitsky Museum. It was just too far away to destroy, apparently. This is modern art ‘Mecca’ for many.
There is no city more synonymous with the Silk Road’s former majesty than oh-so-grand Samarkand, and today’s Samarkand has been smartened up accordingly. Former historic quarters have now made way for modern, Soviet-style avenues and delicate green spaces, while the enormous ‘Registan’ central square glints with polished architecture in gleaming gold, emerald and turquoise.
One of oldest cities in Central Asia, known as Kesh in ancient times, it is most famous for being the birthplace and then ruling hub of 14th-century Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur, aka Tamerlane. It was also conquered by Alexander the Great so it goes way back. Visit the remains of Timur’s Ak-Saray palace, UNESCO mosque Kok-Gumbaz as well as the Dorus-Saodat mausoleum complex. And do check out its local wine.
Uzbekistan’s capital is an interesting, though not aesthetically arresting city; rebuilt by the Soviets after a 1966 earthquake that devastated much of its historical architectural ambience, it’s now a bit of a jumble. The shiny new commercial HQs are an awkward juxtaposition with a maze of surviving mud-clad houses outside which traditional farmers trundle – but there are some great museums nonetheless.
Likely a legacy of the country’s role on the Silk Road trade route, Uzbekistan’s people are known for their welcoming attitude towards travelers. Invitations to tea or a meal are not at all unusual, though many households stick to traditions like not shaking hands, and men and women occupy separate rooms. As is so often the case, food and drink are integral to Uzbek hospitality, whether that’s platters of plov, sharing freshly baked bread, or the ubiquitous teahouses (usually admitting men only, though). And since local guides accompany most trips, you have a useful conduit to Uzbek culture at your side throughout.
Uzbekistan’s spectacular Islamic architecture is the jewel in its crown, and admiring it is the principal reason to visit the country. Standing in stark contrast to many of the grey and dreary Soviet buildings, the mosques, madrasas and minarets you’ll see in cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are dizzying in colour and detail. Highlights include Itchan Kala – the walled old town of Khiva – and the vast Kalyan Minaret of Bukhara from which criminals and adulterers were thrown in past centuries. Samarkand is unmissable for its magnificent Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Registan Square, which comes flanked by towering madrasas on three sides.
The Silk Road
The Silk Road isn’t simply geography. It is history: a sprawling network of trade routes across Central Asia and into Europe that inevitably spread culture, languages, architecture and cuisine alongside goods. While the Silk Road may have fallen largely into disuse by the mid-19th century, its story can be traced through the most significant cities and ruins along the way. In Uzbekistan, these include Samarkand and Bukhara, but you might also stay in a traditional yurt camp – as Silk Road merchants would have – or embark on an overland tour of this most iconic of journeys.
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From £283012 days ex flights
Stunning silk road architecture and breath-taking deserts
Small group2021: 15 Oct
More about Uzbekistan
The vast Central Asia region is made up of the Stans. If you’re traveling to Uzbekistan, it makes sense to visit some or even all of the others in one go, to gain a greater appreciation for the similarities and contrasts between each. Uzbekistan is all about the Silk Road cities with their Islamic architecture; Turkmenistan is desert and weird dictator-chic; Tajikistan has the rugged mountains and Pamir Highway. Kyrgyzstan is remote, romantic and wonderful to explore on horseback, and Kazakhstan is just too huge to see in one go – most routes stick to the south and the Singing Dune.
Types of vacations
Adventure vacations in Uzbekistan take many forms. You might embark on an epic overland journey through the ‘Stans, following in the footsteps of Silk Road traders by staying in yurt camps and trekking on camels, or tackle a wider Asia tour through Turkey, Iran or Western China. Opting for one of many small group vacations allows you to explore key Silk Road landmarks in the company of local guides and like-minded travelers, with all the tricky logistics ironed out. And if you’d prefer to shape your Uzbekistan vacation around your own interests then tailor made trips let you do precisely that.