16 Things To Know Before Visiting Uzbekistan (2024 Travel Guide)

Uzbekistan countryside

Largely unknown to the rest of the world, Uzbekistan is a fascinating country located in the heart of central Asia. A marvelous mix of Muslim, Soviet and Asian culture and tradition, Uzbekistan is a warm and welcoming country and home to 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

If you manage to make it to Uzbekistan you won’t be disappointed by its people, food, architecture or scenery.

From its iconic religious monuments to its brazen Soviet apartment blocks and modern cafes and bars, there is truly something for everybody when travelling to Uzbekistan.

Since so little is known about about this Central Asian country, we have written this Uzbekistan travel guide with a list of 16 things you should know before visiting.

1. Travel to Uzbekistan in 2024

Now in 2024, COVID feels like a distant nightmare and most of the world (including Uzbekistan) is back open for business.

Uzbekistan has been open for tourists for a couple of years now and the travel restrictions are long gone.

In fact Samarkand in Uzbekistan was chosen as the World Tourism Capital by the United Nations World Tourism Organization in 2023. In 2024 the ancient city of Khiva has been chosen as the Tourism Capital of the Islamic World.

2. Getting a Visa For Uzbekistan

Obtaining a tourist visa for Uzbekistan used to be a long process but in recent years the government relaxed the rules on entering the country as a tourist.

Over 85 countries do not need a visa for a trip of up to 30 days. Some of these countries include the UK, all EU countries, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Turkey, South Korea.

A number of post-Soviet countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine can enter Uzbekistan for an unlimited length of time.

Countries that DO require a visa include the USA, China, Thailand and India. A single entry tourist visa to Uzbekistan costs only $20 and the process is relatively simple. A double entry visa costs $35 and a multiple entry vias is $50.

You can find the Uzbek government’s official E-visa portal here or read our Uzbekistan visa guide here.

PS. For more tips on traveling to Uzbekistan (especially for Indian citizens) try this guide to Uzbekistan.

3. What’s the Weather Like in Uzbekistan?

Uzbekistan Desert Camel

The weather in Uzbekistan can be quite extreme so make sure you visit at the right time.  It’s climate is quite dry which actually makes it really nice to visit at the right time of year.

Uzbekistan is not a tropical country and doesn’t have humid monsoon seasons like in South East Asia.

From an average low of between 0°C and -1°C in Tashkent in the months of winter according to weather-atlas, up to average highs of 28°C in Samarkand in July.

Bearing in mind these are average temperatures, the daily temperatures can be much hotter or colder on any particular day! If travelling in the summer be prepared for very hot, dry days and take precautions when venturing outside on particularly hot days.

If travelling in the winter, temperatures can drop to lower than -10°C so make sure you bring suitable clothing.

Whilst it’s not our place to comment, we have heard rumours of unreliable stats for the weather in Uzbekistan.  The official rules are such that if the weather exceeds 40°C or drops to less than 10°C, workers have a right to stay at home.

Although we can’t comment, it’s been suggested that official temperatures don’t necessarily reflect the real temperatures.  Just be wary that the weather might be a little hotter or colder than officially reported.

It won’t hurt to pack some extra sun tan or a scarf!

When is the best time to visit Uzbekistan?

We recommend visiting either in the months of April/May or September/October when the weather is sunny but pleasant enough to freely walk around.  Due to the scorching heat in summer, you’ll have to limit your time outside as temperatures can easily surpass 40°C/105°F.

If you’re a winter person, you’d also be able to enjoy Uzbekistan’s winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and skating.

Chimgan Mountains
Chimgan Mountain Range in the Winter

Read more about the best seasons to visit Uzbekistan.

 

4. Is Uzbekistan Cheap to Travel?

In a time of high inflation and economic uncertainty, you’ll probably want to watch your wallet. Uzbekistan is incredibly affordable, especially if you’re coming from a Western country. You’ll be surprised by how little you can live on on day to day expenses like food and travel.

Your costs will largely depend on your lifestyle but as a rule, the more you live like a local, the less you’ll spend.

Eating local foods such as plov (the national rice dish) will cost you a couple of dollars per meal and a one way trip across town on the metro costs just 15 cents! Expect to pay around $5-7 for a seriously satisfying typical meal of plov, bread, salad, yoghurt and tea for two people.

If you want to go for something fancier, you’ll find cafes and small restaurants with menus starting around $5 per dish for breakfasts and light meals. Some of the fancier places offering international food will start from $10 per meal and you’ll find you can eat like a king for $30 per person.

Uzbek Watermelons
$2 Watermelons sold on the street

Your biggest area of spending will almost certainly be accommodation as Uzbekistan doesn’t quite yet have the number of tourists required to bring down the prices of hotels.

If you’re on a budget you’ll struggle to find hostels as cheap as you might find them in Europe or South America. There are a couple of genuinely nice, cheap hostels but make sure to book in advance because they are seriously limited in supply!

If you’re looking for something mid-range you’ll find plenty of places but make sure you do your research as they vary greatly in quality. We stayed at some really pleasant places with great staff and nice breakfasts. Again, make sure you book well in advance. We found that the good quality, mid-range hotels sell out fast and that the competition can be a little disappointing.

If you’re a high roller, there a plenty of high end hotels with brand names that you’ll be used to. Amongst these, the Hilton, Hyatt and Radisson Blue offer the same level of service as elsewhere but at a much lower price.

In 2024, the cost of living is generally highest in the capital city of Tashkent which is most developed in terms of infrastructure. Here are our estimated costs based on our experiences.

Service/Item Rough Price in 2024
Plov (national rice dish) $2.50 – $3.50
Western dish at a mid-range restaurant $5-7
Latte $1.5 – $2.50
Beer at a bar/restaurant $1.50 – $2
Metro ticket $0.15 per journey
Taxi ride $1-3 for a single journey across town
Museum entry $2
Cheap hotel/hostel $15+ per night
Mid-range hotels $30-40 per night
High end hotels $100+ per night
Estimated cost of living in Tashkent in 2024 based on our experiences.

 

Read more about the cost of traveling in Uzbekistan.

5.  Uzbekistan Currency

The Uzbek currency is Uzbek Som and at the time of writing $1 is roughly 11,000 Som and £1 is around 12,000 Som.
 
For up to date currency conversions we use xe.com.
 
Uzbekistan is very much a cash society and although you’ll be able to pay by card at hotels and large restaurants and shops, you’ll need cash for small businesses, taxis and public transport etc.
 
Make sure you have a lot of small notes on you to pay for things.  Since day to day spending is quite cheap, you’ll end up with a large stack of low value notes so bring a fat wallet! 
 
ATMs are not as plentiful as you might find in your own country, nor are they always reliable.
 
Tashkent ATM
Raised tensions as Uzbek ATM refuses irritable British tourist
Tashkent airport has ATMs you can use upon arrival and although we’ve never personally had issues, we have heard from others that they can be hit or miss.
 
If you want to be on the safe side bring US dollars, in small dominations so you can at least afford a taxi from the airport to wherever you are staying.
 
Although not an official currency, Uzbeks value US dollars quite highly but expect you might have to pay more if not paying in the local currency.
 

6. Tipping in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan can be hit or miss for tipping and generally it’s not expected although definitely appreciated.  Average salaries are very low in Uzbekistan and a small tip can go a long way.

Tipping is more common at restaurants and cafes, especially but rarely in taxis.

Nilufar’s advice: Feel free to tip however much you like but small tips of around 5,000-10,000 Som ($0.50 – $1) might be appropriate for a cafe trip or small meals.

Taxi drivers almost never expect tips and it’s quite normal for a taxi driver to round down the price of the taxi if smaller change is needed.

Again feel free to tip.  For a small  journey 5,000 Som is fine.  Our attempts to tip taxi drivers have been received with everything from gratitude to confusion and even annoyance!

 

7. Is Uzbekistan Safe?

Due to it’s geographical location (it borders with Afghanistan), many tourists wonder how safe Uzbekistan is to travel to.

The Uzbek government take terrorism very seriously and have strong security along their borders. You’ll also find a lot of military police in cities, especially in Tashkent where in certain areas they often line the street.

Uzbekistan is safe!!

Petty crime is also quite rare but make sure to keep an eye on your possessions, especially when visiting crowded areas such as the bazaars and the metro. You can freely walk around the streets feeling safe but just make sure to take normal precautions that you would in any new country.

At night time, you’ll see people of all ages walking the streets or relaxing in the parks without concern.

Unlike places like Istanbul and Bangkok which seem to have a tourist scam on every street corner, Uzbekistan has virtually none.

Other than being overcharged by taxi drivers (especially at Tashkent airport!) the only attention you’ll be getting is from curious locals who want to practice their English or taxi drivers who want ask you where you’re from.

Our number one tip would be to download a a taxi app like Yandex or MyTaxi (the equivalent of Uber or Grab) before you arrive in Uzbekistan. This way you know you won’t be overcharged for any taxis.

We wrote a whole blog post on safety in Uzbekistan here, including safety for solo female travelers.

PS. If you’re looking for medical insurance for a trip to Uzbekistan, we recommend SafetyWing.

Prices start from just $45.08 per month so click here for a free quote.

 

8. What Language is Spoken in Uzbekistan?

The official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek, with Karakalpak language also recognised in Karakalpakstan.

Being a former Soviet Republic country however, a large portion of the country also speak Russian and you’ll find that the locals speak a mix of Russian and Uzbek, especially in the main cities.

English is not as widely spoken by the locals but you’ll easily find English speakers in hotels and restaurants and you’ll have no problem getting by speaking only English.

These days many of the younger generation learn English to try and secure better jobs but in the country and abroad. If you find yourself in need of directions or assistance, you’ll find a lot of the younger generation are more than happy to help!

Whilst you’ll get around without issues speaking English only, you’ll certainly benefit from learning a few Russian phrases before going.

For an extra bonus, learning “thank you” (Rahmat) and “hello” (Assalomu Alaykum) in the Uzbek language will have the locals very impressed!

You’ll find menus that are written in Uzbek, Russian, and English in most modern restaurants but signposts are generally only written in Russian (Cyrillic) and Uzbek.

Read our guide to learning Uzbek.

9. It’s Not As Conservative As You Probably Expected..

Unlike some other countries in this part of the world such as Afghanistan and Iran, Uzbekistan is a relatively moderate country in terms of religion and culture.

Whilst ethnic Uzbek people are Muslim, the country is a secular country and does not have strict religious laws. That being said, Uzbek people hold traditional views so there are a few things to be mindful of.

Public displays of affection are best avoided. Couples should avoid hugging or kissing in public although holding hands is generally fine.

In terms of dress code, keep your bikini/mankini in your suitcase. It’s fine to wear a t-shirt and shorts or a knee-length skirt but women should avoid showing any cleavage.

You may see these rules occasionally being flaunted, especially by ethnic Russians in urban areas but err on the side of caution, at least at the beginning of your trip as you get to know the place.

Uzbeks often like to dress quite formally, especially the women who dress to impress!

10. Can you drink alcohol in Uzbekistan?

Similar to Turkey, despite being a predominantly Muslim country, drinking is actually very acceptable in Uzbekistan.

Not only is it acceptable but you’ll easily find alcohol in plenty of restaurants and supermarkets. There are also plenty of liqueur shops selling spirits, beers and wines.

This leads us onto…

11. Nightlife and Drinking in Uzbekistan

As a secular country, alcohol is perfectly legal in Uzbekistan. Being a former Soviet Union state, vodka is the first choice for the locals and you can buy it everywhere! Beer and wine is becoming more popular, especially amongst the younger generation, although the latter is difficult to find at a cheap price.

You’ll also find most other drinks you are used to such as rum and whiskey at all bars and mid to high end restaurants. Since Uzbekistan has to import everything, expect to pay more for anything other than vodka, beer and locally made wine.

You can buy vodka almost as cheap as water but we strongly recommend avoiding stomach rot on your travels…

Where to drink in Uzbekistan

As already mentioned, most evening restaurants serve alcohol but for a better experience find a restaurant with live music!

We found plenty of restaurants in Tashkent with regional Uzbek, Farsi and Turkic language music as well as Latin and Western style bands.

This deserves a whole page of its own but for now just know that you can easily walk around the busy areas and parks of the city and come across these.

Nightclubs and bars in Uzbekistan

You’ll find bars in every main city of Uzbekistan, even the historical cities of Bukhara and Khiva.

For the best nightlife, Tashkent is the winner as it offers the most. Everything including relaxing riverside restaurants, pubs and sports bars, late night clubs and karaoke can be found by searching online (or asking the young locals!).

Our Tashkent favourites are:

  • Steam Bar: Great for its lively atmosphere, live music, DJs, great food and costume-clad waiters! Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of music including modern pop and electronic, rock ballads, Asian/Western fusion DJs and everything in between.
  • The Irish Pub & Restaurant: Self-explanatory! Every city in the world seems to have one. Very popular with the expat community, especially at the weekend so you might need to book a table.
  • Chelsea Pub: Offering a more relaxed vibe, Chelsea pub is especially popular for its outdoor shisha. Perfect for watching football as it tends to be quieter than the packed out Irish bar.
Check out our full guide to Tashkent nightlife. You can also read about Samarkand nightlife here.

12. What to Eat in Uzbekistan

To summarise Uzbekistan in 3 words: Plov, meat, and more meat.

Plov is Uzbekistan’s national dish and is a rice dish cooked with beef or mutton, quail eggs, chickpeas, carrot, onion and other ingredients varying by region.

Uzbek Plov
Plov: Uzbekistan’s National Dish

Aside from plov, Uzbek food is known for bbq beef and mutton skewers (shashlik), meat or pumpkin dumplings (manti) either steamed or fried, and meat and vegetable soups (shurpa).

You’ll also see horse meat dishes such as beshbarmaq, which is a steamed meat and noodle dish, originally from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Food in Uzbekistan is rarely spicy, instead using flavours like bay leaves and cumin for the taste buds. When ordering a typical Uzbek meal, you’ll also have salad (salat), yoghurt (kefir), bread (khleb) all served with tea (or Coke, weirdly).

Aside from traditional Uzbek food, you’ll find a lot of Russian style food such as salads, potato side dishes, sausages and of course ‘Borscht’, red beetroot soup served with sour cream and dill.

If your taste buds need a brief return to whatever they are used to, you’ll find all kinds of international food in the main cities, such as sushi, Italian, Indian, Korean and Chinese. Expect to pay more for these, especially sea food as Uzbekistan is a long way from the ocean!

If you crave sweet things, Uzbek style Çäkçäk (pronounced ‘Chak Chak’, from Russian Tatar culture) is fried dough drizzled in honey. Most of the cafes and restaurants also offer cakes, gelato and other desserts.

Read our guide to food in Uzbekistan or have a look at the best restaurants in Tashkent in 2024.

13. Things To Do in Uzbekistan

This one really needs a city by city guide so that’s what we intend to do. In the meantime here’s a brief list of what tourists come to Uzbekistan for, as well as what the locals do!

Tourism in Uzbekistan is largely focused on its rich history. As a former giant empire headed by conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) and as a country located on the Silk Road, Uzbekistan would need a series of lectures to even begin to understand.

Whilst we can tell you all about where to find the best plov and which bars to visit, we’ll leave the history to the pros and just let you know for now that Bukhara, Khiev and Samarkand are very popular destinations to visit towers, mosques, arches, mausoleums, statues etc.

Samarkand Registan
Samarkand Registan

Tashkent is often overlooked as a touristic city as historically it was just a trading city whilst Samarkand was the capital.

Many tourists will head straight out towards Samarkand or Bukhara despite arriving at Tashkent airport. If you have time to spend in Tashkent, we strongly advise you do since it offers a great mix of modern Uzbek life as well as the odd historical sites and ruins.

Read about alternative things to do in Tashkent.

Parks, Parks, Parks

Parks are a big part of life for Uzbeks, especially if they have children. You’ll find couples and families relaxing in the countless parks dotted around the cities. Everything from ice cream and table tennis (maly tennis) to skateboards and roller coasters.

You’ll also find remnants of its Soviet history with older Russian Uzbeks selling all kinds of Soviet memorabilia such as books, vinyl and military badges. If you can speak Russian, these people will often have some serious (and tragic) tales to tell.

You can read all about the parks of Tashkent here.

Fun Fact: If you see weighing scales in a park, it will cost you about 10 cents to weigh yourself. Apparently another reminder of Soviet history when weighing scales were not commonplace items but people loved to weigh themselves!

Read our research into the very best places to visit in Uzbekistan.

14. Travelling Around Uzbekistan

Upon arrival in Uzbekistan you’ll need either to use public or private transport or rent your own car or driver.

If travelling between cities, you’ll be best off flying or travelling by train. Since Uzbekistan is such a large country, with its cities well spread out, it can take 10+ hours tor drive between cities.

For the best experience we advise to book the express trains as they’re affordable, reliable and fast. You’ll also get a great view of the countryside and they sell food and drink, including alcohol on board. Bear in mind they sell out fast and that you’ll probably need help from a local when booking these. Ask for help at your hotel (more from us on booking travel in the future!)

If travelling within cities, we highly recommend downloading Yandex or MyTaxi which allow you to book taxis via the app for a pre agreed price. Taxis are cheap and will rarely cost you more than $3 even for the longest of journeys across a city.

Yandex App Uzbekistan
$1 Yandex journey

Top Tip: There are many taxis offering to take around tourists for prices well above the norm.

You’ll find them especially prevalent by airports and train stations.

You might at first feel overwhelmed by all the kind gentlemen offering you a $10 ride for a 2km journey but flash them your Yandex booking and they’ll quickly leave you alone!

Aside from taxis, there is the metro in Tashkent and the local buses. The Tashkent metro is an adventure in itself and we strongly recommend riding it for its entertainment factor!

The metro is quite old but each station is uniquely decorated and together they form an unofficial tourist attraction.

Better still, a single journey ticket from any station to any other station costs just 0.15 cents!

Tashkent Metro
Tashkent Metro is a tour in itself

As for buses, you’ll probably want to skip these unless you’re an expert navigator or can speak Russian to a decent level. Between taxis and the metro you’ll easily be able to navigate most places.

Challenge: During the Soviet Union era, it was legal for any car to offer to pick up passengers from the street without a licence. Whilst most countries have done away with this, it’s still completely normal in Uzbekistan!

You’ll see drivers on their way home from work, stopping on the side of the street to negotiate a price

Now this might not be everybody’s cup of tea but if you’re feeling up to the challenge and can communicate your destination in either English, Russian or Uzbek then you’ll find this to be one of the cheapest ways to get around town.

Just don’t be surprised when the person in the passenger seat also turns out to be a customer and you end up on a detour to drop them off first!

Related Post: How to Travel from Tashkent to Samarkand

15. Shopping in Uzbekistan

Since Uzbekistan is a double-landlocked country, it’s difficult to find cheap, imported goods and you’ll find it almost impossible to run into the brand names you’re used to. Despite this, Uzbekistan has all kinds of bargains if you’re looking for locally produced clothing or souvenirs to take home.

There are few, if any, large shopping malls across the whole country but you’ll find small independent shops and boutiques spread sparsely around the main cities. Due to this scarcity, you’ll quickly realise that shopping big brands can be very expensive.

For serious shopping in Uzbekistan you need to head to the Bazaars!

Opalar love the bazaar!

Uzbek ‘aunties’, known in the Uzbek language as opalar, love going shopping to the bazaars, particularly at the weekend. Most bazaars specialise in food and clothing but at the bigger bazaars, you’ll find many other things such as jewelry, souvenirs and cheap electronics and toys imported from China.

Chorsu Bazaar Spices

If you’re looking for exotic food, you’ll find spices, nuts, dried fruit, honey and yoghurt as well as vegetables and meat.

For clothing, you’ll see a mix of Uzbek textiles and Western style fashions, at all levels of quality and prices. Uzbeks love gold and their own gold is of a reddish tint as it’s mixed with copper. It’s also cheaper to buy in Uzbekistan apparently.

If you’re seeking out souvenirs to take home then you’ll come across ceramics, local artwork, carpets, ornaments and much, much more than is possible to write here.

Few bazaars offer all of these but Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent is one such place and is a must visit for tourists.

Read about the best shopping malls in Tashkent.

16. Greetings in Uzbekistan

As a foreigner you’re likely to attract some attention. Uzbek people are very welcoming and and curious to know more about foreigners since there are relatively few.

Unlike other parts of the world like East and South East Asia, there are few formal greetings in Uzbekistan. Most locals don’t expect you to speak Uzbek but learning basic Russian and being able to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ in Uzbek can go a long way in building a rapport.

One thing to bear in mind is that questions can be much more direct and personal than you might be used to hearing from strangers.

Don’t be offended if asked about your age, marital status, job and even your salary. These are all quite normal questions to Uzbeks and they are open about these things.

People generally have good intentions and are genuinely interested.

In our experiences, taxi drivers can be the most probing, occasionally going a little too personal. If you feel uncomfortable you can politely decline to answer or just pretend you didn’t understand.

Uzbek Camel

Think we’ve missed something?  Have a question you’d like to see answered?

Drop a comment below and we’ll get back to you!

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