Samarkand Travel Guide + Things to Do in 2024

Bibi-Khanym Courtyard

With a history spanning over 2,500 years, Samarkand shines as the crown jewel of Uzbekistan’s travel scene, boasting tourist attractions to rival any city in the world.

From the ancient archeological site of Afrosiyob to the breathtaking medieval Registan Square, Samarkand has earned itself the esteemed title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you’re considering traveling to this Silk Road destination, you’ve come to the right place as we live here in Uzbekistan.

In this Samarkand travel guide, we answer all your questions, covering everything from things to do and places to visit as well as the best hotels, restaurants and tours. Our FAQ section has tips on when to visit, staying safe, and more.

Samarkand's Registan
The Registan

Places to Visit in Samarkand

The Registan

Samarkand's Registan in April
Registan Square

The Registan is arguably the most iconic architectural masterpiece in all of Central Asia. Comprising three madrasas (Islamic schools) facing each other across a vast public square, the complex patterns adorning these structures have the power to hypnotize you for hours.

The central Tilya Kori Madrasa is perhaps the highlight of the three buildings as its centerpiece mosque is decorated with dazzling blue and gold patterns from floor to ceiling.

The ceiling of the room is especially noteworthy. Although it closely resembles the inside of the dome of the building, it is actually completely flat—an optical illusion skillfully crafted by the artist.

Entry to the Registan in 2024 is 50,000 Som ($4) which is insanely cheap given the size of the square and its UNESCO status.

Gur-i Emir Сomplex (Amir Temur Mausoleum)

Gur Emir Mausoleum, Samarkand
Gur Emir Mausoleum

Amir Temur is somewhat of a national hero in Uzbekistan with monuments of him in Samarkand, Tashkent and his home town of Shahrisabz. A controversial figure to say the least, it is claimed that 17 million people were slaughtered during his reign between 1370 and 1405!

The Gur-i Emir Complex is a large mausoleum famous for its giant azure dome and an octagonal-shaped base. It houses the tomb of Amir Temur but as the story goes this was never the original plan. The crypt was originally built as the burial place of his grandson Muhammad Sultan but when Temur died unexpectedly, he was also placed to rest here.

The interior walls of the mausoleum are decorated in gold and blue but the tombstones themselves are relatively modest. The actual graves are located in a chamber under the mausoleum, closed to the public.

Bibi Khanym Mosque

Bibi Khanym Portal
Bibi Khanym Portal

It is said that the Bibi Khanym Mosque was ordered to be built by Temur himself on his return on a trip from India in honor of his (favorite) wife, queen Bibi Khanym.

Construction began in 1339 and it was completed only five years later in 1404. The portal to this mosque is huge and can be clearly seen from across the valley. Inside is a courtyard whose centerpiece is a huge stone carving of a Quran upon a stand

As legend has it, the architect of the building fell madly in love with the queen and requested a kiss from her in order to complete the construction. The ending of this story is not quite known and one is simply left to imagine the outcome of meddling in the love affairs of a medieval conqueror…

Shah-i-Zinda Complex

If you’ve ever stumbled upon Uzbekistan on Instagram, chances are you’ve seen countless photos of the Shah-i-Zinda complex.

It’s a necropolis which is famous for its narrow pathway lined with sandy-hued mausoleums intricately decorated with rich, blue tiles. It’s likely the second most iconic site in Samarkand after the Registan.

Most of the mausoleums date back to the 14th and 15th century, while some of the tombstones are believed to be as old as the 11th century. Among these resting places are those of royalty and nobility, with the most prominent being the tomb of Qusam ibn-Abbas, purportedly a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed.

During peak tourist season head there in the morning. Due to its small space, it’s one of the few overly crowded spots in the whole of Uzbekistan.

Things to Do in Samarkand

Taste Samarkand Plov

Every region of Uzbekistan has its own version of plov and in Samarkand, the ingredients are cooked separately and with a lighter form of oil. Head over to Samarkand’s Plov Center for the most authentic version of this at local prices.

Samarkand Plov
Samarkand Plov

Sample Local Samarkand Wine

Uzbekistan is not a country you’d imagine as a wine producer but as a grape-growing nation it would be a shame not to!

Samarkand Wine Tasting
Samarkand Wine Tasting

The Samarkand Khovrenko winery offers daily wine tasting sessions and tours of their museum. We visited here on our second trip to Samarkand and fully recommend it to all fans of wine.

The wine tasting only lasts around 1 hour but is a quick way to get to meet others whilst tasting some of Samarkand’s finest vino. We suggest you eat before arriving… 

Read our full review of the wine tour here.

Sample Uzbek Sweets at Siyob Bazaar

Siyob Bazaar is Samarkand’s main market with stalls selling all kinds of things from spices, fruits, and nuts to clothing and ceramics. The upper area of the bazaar sells all kinds of Uzbek sweets such as halva and navat.

Siyab Bazaar Sweets
Siyab Bazaar Sweets

Halva is a popular fudge-like treat popular across much of Central Asia and the Middle East. Uzbek halva is typically made from sesame or sunflower seeds, nuts or flour and is often flavored with pistachios.

If you need some refreshment on a sunny day then you’ll also find vendors selling fresh pomegranate juice.

Siyab Bazaar Ceramics
Siyab Bazaar Ceramics

Watch the Registan Evening Light Show

Every night at 9pm during the peak tourist season, the Registan becomes illuminated with an array of colors as music sets the atmosphere.

Samarkand Registan at Night
Samarkand Registan at Night

It’s free to watch from the viewing deck just outside the square but if you want to get closer to the action you just need to pay for a standard ticket.

Where to Eat in Samarkand

Some of the best restaurants in Samarkand tend to be giant dinner halls with lengthy menus, live music, and heaps of red meat, salad, and vodka.

Most of the restaurants close to the tourist attractions are tourist traps and not worth visiting, perhaps with the exception of Ikat Boutique Cafe which is a decent spot for lunch.

Samarkand Restaurant is one of the best choices for tourists in Samarkand. It’s a giant hall serving Uzbek and European food to big numbers of tourists and locals. In the evening it even becomes a mini disco, bringing out the locals for a dance!

Samarkand Restaurant
Samarkand Restaurant

You’ll have a similar experience at Karimbek Restaurant and Platan, both of which are worth a visit.

For one of the best views of the city, try Zargaron restaurant. It’s just behind the Bibi Khanym mosque and has a beautiful view of its domes and towers.

Zargaron Restaurant, Samarkand
Zargaron Restaurant in Samarkand

Reviews of the restaurant aren’t amazing but we certainly enjoyed their shashlik!

Read more about Samarkand’s best restaurants.

Samarkand Guided Tours

The city can be explored alone at your own pace or with a local guide. If you can afford a guide then it’s worth doing as information and background stories about the monuments is often lacking.

This private guided tour is one of the highest rated one day tours of the city. With 7 stops including visits to the Registan, Shah-i-Zinda, Bibi-Khanym mosque and lesser visited spots including the Ulugbek Observatory and paper mill factory, you know you won’t be missing out.

Day Trips

If you have the time a popular day trip from Samarkand is to Shahrisabz, the birth place of Amir Temur and home to the ruins of Ak-Saray (the white palace) whose construction began in 1380.

Shahrisabz Ruins
Ak-Saray ruins in Shahrisabz
The journey to Shahrisabz

The 90 minute drive itself is a picturesque journey through rural villages, farms, vineyards, and mountains, stopping off to take photos. You can read more about it here.

For our list of all the best tours of Samarkand read here.

Samarkand Nightlife

Nightlife in Samarkand is much quieter than that in Tashkent but there are a few spots to hang out for a drink in the evening.

The Samarkand Blues Bar is one of the most popular spots for foreigners in Samarkand and they usually have some English speaking staff.

Green Bear Bar at the bottom of Samarkand’s Pub Street is probably Samarkand’s friendliest pub and has a decent food menu too.

Further up the street is the unpretentious Bochka pub. It’s not the most foreigner-friendly place and it’s incredibly smoky but if you can manage to order a beer in Russian it can be quite fun.

Where to Stay in Samarkand

Most of the best hotels in Samarkand are located just a short journey from the center. However, for those on a short stay looking to quickly visit the city’s attractions, there are also a number of good-quality hotels in the center.

Some of the best centrally located hotels include Sangzor Boutique Hotel near the Bibi Khanym mosque, Hotel Jasmina right next to the Registan and the budget-friendly Old Radio hostel.

Some of the best mid-range hotels include Zarafshon Parkside with outdoor swimming pool, the spotless Boutique Hotel Arka, and the Silk Road Empire.

I stayed at the Silk Road Empire myself and can vouch for their top level service (and a free beer!).

For those seeking luxury the best 5 star hotels in Samarkand are mainly located a 20 minute drive outside of the city center in a complex of 4 and 5 star hotels called the Silk Road Samarkand.

There are 8 luxury hotels in this area with plenty of restaurants, bar, swimming pools, saunas and everything you’d expect from high-end accommodation. The Samarkand Regency is the premium one here.

Read more on the best places to stay in Samarkand.

Samarkand FAQs

Best Time to Visit Samarkand

Similar to other parts of Uzbekistan, the best time to visit Samarkand is during the spring or autumn seasons, when the weather is comfortably warm and dry. The peak tourist season is from April through to early June or from September to early November.

The worst time to visit Samarkand is in the summer months of July and August as afternoon temperatures can easily surpass 40°C/104°, making sightseeing difficult for several hours each day.

Visiting Samarkand in the winter is definitely feasible as winters are fairly mild but you’re not guaranteed the blue skies that match the iconic domes and towers of Uzbek architecture.

If securing the perfect photo is not that high on your wish list then early November and late December can be a great time to visit as the hotels are cheap and the tourist attractions are almost empty.

Shah-i-Zinda in winter
Shah-i-Zinda in November

Read more on the best time to visit Uzbekistan.

How Long to Spend in Samarkand

It’s possible to visit Samarkand in just one day if you only plan on visiting the city’s main attractions. If you really want to get to know the city then two days are ideal as you can visit the equally interesting but lesser visited parts of the city.

Places such as the Ulugbek Observatory and the St. Daniel Mausoleum are located slightly out of town, making it tough to visit them all in one day.

With three or more days you can explore the surrounding areas, stay in a yurt near Lake Aydarkul, or go on a day trip to the ancient city of Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Amir Temur.

Saint Daniel Square View
Gardens of Saint Daniel Mausoleum

My own first trip to Samarkand was just a day trip from Tashkent. We managed to visit plenty of the most popular tourist spots, albeit somewhat rushed. If you have 2 days, this is probably the ideal length of time.

What to Wear in Samarkand

Uzbekistan and Central Asia in general are some of the most liberal Muslim countries you can visit but as a city full of places of worship, it’s highly recommended to cover up.

Loose-fitting clothes covering at least shoulders and knees are recommended for all visitors regardless of gender. Tank tops and short skirts for example are rarely seen in public.

When visiting religious sites, it’s advisable to cover up arms and legs for both men and women. Women are encouraged to cover their head with a head scarf or shawl and although this is not strictly enforced it is deemed to be more respectful.

Is Samarkand Safe?

In general, Uzbekistan is a safe country to visit with a low crime rate against foreigners. The country is deemed safe to visit by most governments including the USA who rank it in the top safety tier along with Finland and New Zealand.

As Uzbekistan’s most popular tourist destination, Samarkand has a lot of tourist police and you can spot their police booths in most of the main areas.

Is Samarkand Safe
Tourist police

In order to stay safe, take normal precautions such as securing belongings and not walking around alone at night. Busy areas like Siyob bazaar are completely safe to visit but just make sure your possessions are out of view and be wary of strangers befriending you.

Driving in Uzbekistan can be quite dangerous but as Samarkand is very walkable, you won’t need to use taxis very often. Be sure to book a reputable driver if you book private transport.

Getting Around Samarkand

Most of Samarkand is very pedestrian friendly and for the most part you won’t need transport to get around the tourist attractions. Traveling to and from restaurants and your hotel may require transport as most of the best restaurants are located outside of the city center.

The most convenient option is to download a local taxi app like Yandex or MyTaxi. Taxi rides within the city are very affordable, typically costing no more than $2-3, and often less for shorter distances.

Buses are incredibly cheap but doing this in English is challenging to say the least!

Final Thoughts

If you’re visiting Uzbekistan then Samarkand should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s the most popular tourist destination in the country and is home to some of Central Asia’s most iconic architecture.

As the country’s premier tourist destination, it boasts a ton of inspiring landmarks, plenty of hearty food, some quality hotels and all at very reasonable prices.

Read our full guide for more information on traveling to Uzbekistan.

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