Sightseeing highlights in Bukhara from 14 years of travelling

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Mausoleum of the Samanides in Bukhara

We visited Uzbekistan for the first time in 2004, but we had been dreaming about travelling there since 1992 when we accidentally laid hands on an Intourist sightseeing brochure about the country. And it turned out the monuments, such as the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara and the Registan in Samarkand, were even more awesome than we had imagined. Since then, we have returned many times on private trips, research journeys for our travel guide book “DuMont Reise-Handbuch Usbekistan” (in German), and as tour guides for German tour groups. And these are our highlights in Bukhara!

The whole town is an open-air museum

The whole old town of Bukhara is basically an open-air museum and you can spend hour after hour just strolling around. If you are in for shopping you will find fabrics, carpets, ceramics, miniatures, hand-made knives and so on: To get a fair price, you have to haggle fiercely! As for the tourist must-sees, every travel guide book lists them – but having seen them all, we recommend especially the Mausoleum of the Samanides and the Kalon minaret.

Mausoleum of the Samanides

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The Mausoleum of the Samanides, dating from around 900, is one of the oldest Islamic mausoleums in the whole world (building pompous tombs was not considered proper in early Islam). Almost cubic, it is quite small and, at first sight, plain – without the glazed tiles so common in Uzbek architecture. But the brick patterns and the harmonious proportions are superb. Inside there are always pilgrims and you can join into their prayers for Ismail Samani, who is buried here. We like it for the architectural beauty, the setting in a park, and for the fact that it is not only a tourist spot but also a living pilgrims’ site.

Kalon Minarett

Like the Samanid mausoleum, the Kalon Minaret is made of bricks and also very old: The 12th century Kalon Minaret with its height of over 45 m was such an engineering feat that Genghis Khan who destroyed most of Bukhara at the beginning of the 13th century in his raids, left it standing . Today you can only admire it from below, but when we travelled Uzbekistan in 2004, on our first visit to Bukhara, we could still climb up the narrow dark spiral staircase.

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At the Zindan, the old citadel prison, there’s a small postcard shop where we bought a black and white photo of the partially destroyed minaret after the Soviet victory in 1920: Soldiers of the Red Army riding in front of the Kalon minaret on one of the elephants from the private zoo of the last Emir of Bukhara.

Hoja Zaynuddin Mosque

Not many tourists visit this community mosque in the alleys of the old town, but we love the beautiful 16th century interior with intricate patterns on the tiles and kundal paintings. Unlike many tourist places in Bukhara, Hoja Zaynuddin Mosque is not over-restored and not full of souvenir stalls, but an operating place of worship. Moreover it has a tranquil, pleasant atmosphere and is surrounded by a carved summer mosque and a garden. Entrance is free; do not visit during prayer times.

Buchara Xoja Zayniddin Moschee

Paikent

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Ruins of Paikent

A fierce interest in Silk Road history brought us to Uzbekistan in the first place. Up until the 8th century, Sogdian traders who travelled all over the neighbouring countries were the beneficiaries of the Silk Road trade. Paikent was one of their main towns. There are only ruins left of Paikent, but the town is excavated and can be visited. Paikent is more accessible than Varakhsha, another silk-road town in the area, and the finds in the on-site museum bring the city alive.

Food and accommodation

Beer garden behind Bolo Hauz

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Our favourite place to chill in the centre of Bukhara is the open air beer garden behind the Bolo Hauz mosque. The beer from the tap is fresh, most customers are locals and for carnivores there is shashlik, too. 

Dilkor Laghman Center

A bowl of Laghman

While food within the touristy old town is average at best, there are some real finds if you venture a bit further. The Dilkor Laghman Center in the fifth micro-rayon is the new big thing: a huge hall serving yummy Uighur noodles in spicy broth. They have also a good variety of fresh salads (brought to the table to choose from) and beer from the tap.
Address: Corner of Pindastgir Street/ Alisher Navoi Street, 5th Mikro-rayon, Monday to Saturday 10-22 h. A taxi from the old town should cost around 5000 Som.

Old Buchara

Bread, pancakes and melon on a table

Bukhara has an enormous range of accommodation options, but only a fraction of them are old and authentic, comfortable, and well-run. A new one we highly recommend is the small Hotel Old Buchara, run by a very friendly Tajik family.  Their breakfast is great – at least for vegetarians.

Minzifa

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Minzifa was one of the first Boutique hotels in Bukhara and is still one of the best for mid-range travellers. Their rooms are so comfortable and decorated with traditional textiles, wall paintings, and carvings that you feel instantly at home. Again – we especially like the breakfast (with a lot of fresh fruit)

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Komil

Another longstanding place and excellent choice in the old town is Komil. Komil’s is an old Jewish merchant’s home – all the restored rooms have nice new bathrooms. The dining room still has an ancient feel and oozes atmosphere.

More highlights in Bukhara

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We do admire the glorious visitors’ toilet in the Summer Palace. It is at the end of the premises behind the pool and the harem building.

What we also like is the small bread bakery near Ulug Beg Madrasa close to the tourist spots. 

As elsewhere in Uzbekistan, we always appreciate the decorative flower beds from basil and Thai basil which also smell good. Practically nobody in Uzbekistan uses basil as a seasoning.

What a hilarious experience to discover a working, although very, very slow Wifi in city bus No. 8!

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Our most impressive experience this year was when the dragon staffing the cashier for the citadel suddenly told us the correct price in 2018 – after years of haggling with her inflated demands whenever foreign travellers showed up. It is 15 000 Sum per person (as of July 2018). 

And of course we have to visit the Kalon Complex after nightfall at least once during each visit. The Kalon mosque is always open and you might be able to sneak in for a while. Otherwise you can just sit on the open area and dream of the Orient and the old Silk Road. Easy if you have the stars and the moon above you.

Note: We did not receive payment or sponsoring for this article from any of the above mentioned places.

15 Comments

  1. Yes, it is very oriental!
    Also a lot of Islamic architecture, but the Islam itself in Uzbekistan is today more pious tradition than organised religion. Very relaxed compared to, say, North-African countries.

  2. The monuments and the buildings are all fantastic, but I have to say my favorite picture is the full length rug leading up to the toilet with the mural! That being said, the architecture is simply stunning, and it’s amazing to learn that a minaret made of brick has been standing since the 12th century. What an unbelievable act of craftsmanship. hadn’t planned on visiting Uzbekistan, but now I might have to add it to the itinerary. Thanks for sharing!

  3. It’s a good time to travel there now, as everything is getting easier (visa, money, transport…) but it’s still very authentic. A mix of oriental, post-soviet, and modernisation excitement.

  4. I have always wanted to go to Uzbekistan, and Bukhara is one of the top cities on my list! The mosques and gardens look amazing, and I’d love to stay in one of those boutique guest houses. I am a little surprised there is a beer garden right behind the mosque — are Uzbeks not so strict about alcohol?

  5. Wow, fascinating reading about the history and architecture of a country I know very little about. Who would of thought that one of the oldest Islamic mausoleums in the world was in Uzbekistan. Bukhara looks like it has a ton to offer, especially for the traveler that is looking for something far off the traditional tourist path.

  6. Many Uzbeks are rather pious, but not at all fanatic and often not too strict about alcohol and certainly not about dress rules. For tourists it is very relaxed.

  7. It’s amazing how many things we learn by visiting a country repeatedly. Uzbekistan looks like a fascinating country. You are so lucky to have really explored in so much detail. I can’t help smiling about the glorious visitor’s toilet in the summer palace.

  8. This is perfect. I’m planning my first trip to Uzbekistan next year and like you I’m fascinated by the Silk Road. Bukhara is on the list to visit and thank you for highlighting what to do in the city. How interesting that the bathroom is carpeted. Fascinating that basil is grown for decorative purposes rather than cooking. Reading this has made me even more excited about the trip. Thanks for sharing.

  9. So many new places to explore in Bukhara, and you certainly have the experience to know what should be seen! The history of everything is so interesting. Thanks for the tips, also, on where to eat and stay.

  10. In fact, as vegetarians with a slight vegan tilt we actually appreciate the basil in public squares – bread with tomatoes and cucumbers can be somewhat boring after several weeks …

  11. It’s great to learn tips from locals or those who have visited an area frequently. Uzbekistan looks like a beautiful place to visit and I enjoyed learning how the Kalon Minaret was saved from destruction by Genghis Khan because it was so impressive. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the area. If I were heading that way I’d certainly pick up your guide book.

  12. I have never considered visiting Uzbekistan and haven’t read a lot of posts about it either so this is interesting to read! The food is what seems to be the most attractive part about visiting the country, and Bukhara seems to have some really good dishes. Minzifa hotel looks fantastic! I love boutique hotels.

  13. Lovely views…I love Uzbekistan. So much history and heritage in one post! I really envy the fact that you have managed to do numerous trips to this place.

  14. It’s good to learn about this country, Uzbekistan. I’m glad I came across this post. 🙂 I’d like to see this beautiful ancient structures and have a taste of the Uighur noodles 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.
    cheers,
    Jessica

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