Updated on: 10 August, 2021
On our two-week Uzbekistan tour 2021, a detour to one of the most magnificent Uzbek cities – Samarkand – was of course not missing. There are tons of sights in Samarkand that you shouldn’t miss.
The city is not only famous for its impressive Registan Square. Also the Ulug Beg Observatory and especially the Shahi Sinda Ensemble – a necropolis that was founded as early as the 9th century. But these are by far not all Samarkand highlights that are waiting for you in this bustling city.
But one by one. We were allowed to explore the city for two days. We recommend that you plan at least two days for the abundance of sights.
SAMARKAND SIGHTSEEING – DAY 1
The former oasis city of Samarkand in northeast Uzbekistan is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is famous for its beautiful Islamic architecture.
The old caravan route that connected China to the Mediterranean Sea runs through the middle of Samarkand. The sheer unbelievable number of mosques, mausoleums, madrasas (Islamic schools) and other historical buildings in the city will inspire you.
The historic city center of Samarkand has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 .
Some of the outstanding sights in Samarkand include:
The famous Mongolian warlord Timur had the magnificent mausoleum built for his grandson Muhammad Sultan at the beginning of the 15th century after he died unexpectedly.
The building made of yellow sandstone, with ornate decorations and the soaring blue dome, is one of the most striking buildings in Samarkand. Inside the large blue dome is another smaller dome.
This unique, double-shell dome construction is a significant example of Timurid architecture. In addition to Muhammad Sultan, Timur himself, two of his sons, Shahruh and Miranshah and a second grandson Ulugbek are buried in the mausoleum.
The Registan Square (translated sand square) was the main public square and the heart of ancient Samarkand. The magnificent square in the center of the city is an outstanding example of ingenious city architecture.
The historic square is characterized by an ensemble of three wonderful madrasas : on the left the Ulugbek madrasa (1417-1420), on the right the Sher-Dor madrasah (1619 – 1636) and in the middle the Tilya-Kori madrasah (1646 – 1660) ).
The construction of these Koran schools was always the same with a few differences, such as the minarets.
You can find them all over Uzbekistan: a courtyard with four corners, surrounded by living cells and a huge entrance gate.
TASHKENT ROAD PROMENADE
Samarkand’s splendid promenade leads from the Registan directly to the magnificent Bibi Khanum Mosque.
The old town is right behind it. Here you can experience the everyday life of the local population up close. In order not to offend, however, a few rules must be observed when dealing with Uzbek compatriots:
- Anyone who receives an invitation to dinner should usually accept it. A rejection could be understood as an insult.
- Before entering an Uzbek house, be sure to take off your shoes. These stay in front of the door. The stockings are left on. This rule also applies when entering a mosque.
- Before visiting an Uzbek household, it is advisable to bring small gifts or sweets for children or the host of the house.
- Nowadays, both Muslim men and women generally accept shaking hands as a greeting.
Warning: Shaking your left hand is considered unclean among Muslims. In some cases, Muslim women only acknowledge the greeting with a nod or smile. Shaking hands is best initiated by the ladies, and it is common practice to look each other in the eyes while shaking hands and inquire about the health of the family.
BIBI KHANUM MOSQUE
This huge structure with its three bright blue domes is one of the most beautiful Samarkand sights for us.
In addition to the dimensions of the mosque, the polygonal columns are particularly impressive.
It is said that the Mongol ruler Timur built this large, magnificent mosque for his favorite wife Bibi-Khanum in 1399.
The mosque with its blue dome protrudes far beyond the houses in the old town and can be seen from afar.
In the 15th century, Bibi-Khanum was considered the largest and most magnificent mosque in the entire Islamic world.
However, it soon degenerated into ruin and was only restored to some extent in the twentieth century.
You can find pictures of the ruin on Wikipedia.
ULUGBEK OBSERVATORY – SIGHTS SAMARKAND
The ruins of the observatory are located in a north-easterly direction on a hill about two kilometers from the center of Samarkand. The observatory was built by Prince Ulug Beg.
He was a grandson and successor of Timur Leng and an important astronomer in his time (1394-1449) . He is buried in the Gur-Emir mausoleum with his uncle and other Mongolian personalities.
Only a few ruins remain of the once magnificent observatory.
Nevertheless, along with an associated museum, it is one of the sights of Samarkand that you should have visited.
It is absolutely fascinating how exactly the stars could be calculated back then.
The museum takes its name from Afrasiab. That was a mystical king from Turan, a region in Central Asia. The place where ancient Samarkand was located is also known by this name .
Numerous testimonies of the former urban settlement were found at the excavation site. In the museum you can visit numerous archaeological finds from the 4th to 13th centuries AD :
Old swords, knuckles, knives, arrows, coins, ceramics, old manuscripts and books, terracotta figurines, glassware, jewelry, statues and other antique objects of everyday life.
In the museum with its more than 22,000 unique exhibits , you can find out about the foundation and history of the city of Samarkand.
SHAHI SINDA ENSEMBLE – TOP HIGHLIGHT IN SAMARKAND
The necropolis, built between the 9th and 19th centuries, is located in the northeastern part of the city of Samarkand. It currently comprises more than 20 buildings.
The historical building complex consists of 11 mausoleums and is one of the absolute Samarkand highlights.
Significant buildings in the complex include the Amir Burunduq Mausoleum, Amir-Zadeh Mausoleum, Octagonal Mausoleum, Schirin Bika Aqa Mausoleum, Schodi Mulk Aqa Mausoleum, the Qutham ibn Abbas and Tuman Agha complex.
The necropolis is considered sacred among Muslims. According to legend, Qutham ibn Abbas ibn Abdulmuttalib, a famous cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, is buried in the Qutham ibn Abbas complex.
SAMARKAND SIGHTSEEING – DAY 2
However, Samarkand has many other notable sights and attractions to offer. Here you will find more Samarkand highlights that you cannot miss:
FABRICA DE PAPEL DE SEDA
The remarkable Samarkanda paper mill is located about 10 kilometers from the center of the city of Samarkand. The silky writing paper, made exclusively by hand , was very popular in the Arab world and also in Europe from the start.
Samarkand paper is made from cotton, silk and mulberry bark. The same technology and raw materials are still used in the paper production workshop today as they were a thousand years ago.
KHOJA DONIYOR MAUSOLEUM
The mausoleum, built on a former burial site in Samarkand in 1900 and recently restored, is visited by many foreign tourists every year.
In a spring consecrated by Patriarch Alexy II near the crypt, you can take consecrated water with you. Before the construction of the Khodja Doniyor mausoleum, there were tombs and a mosque from the time of Timur Leng, the famous Mongolian warlord and conqueror.
An Arab legend tells that the tomb of the prophet Daniel is also said to be in this place .
THE PRESIDENTIAL GRAVE IN SAMARKAND
The majestic mausoleum in which the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islom Karimov was buried according to his will is located in the complex of the Hazrati Khizr Mosque.
The complex is located in the Samarkand district of Afrasi opposite the Siab Bazaar and the Bibi Chanum Mosque. The building complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the mausoleum is Karimov’s white onyx tombstone.
The walls of the mausoleum are decorated with precious stones and gold, and the lower part with green onyx.
The huge, Muslim cemetery from the 9th century is located on the hills at the entrance to Samarkand.
The entrance to the largest Muslim cemetery is on the left side of the mausoleums of the Shahi Sinda necropolis.
It can also be clearly seen from the Hazrat Khizr Mosque. The cemetery is still in use today.
You can still feel the myth of the ancient Silk Road in this largest bazaar in Samarkand .
The wonderful smells of the Orient are in the air and the magic of a thousand and one nights is omnipresent, because this is where the heart of the city beats.
You can find all kinds of fruits and a wide variety of vegetables here. Just as sweet, tempting delicacies, fragrant spices, sausage and cheese, or freshly baked flatbreads.
A feast for all the senses and a real treat for every visitor. Incidentally, the Samarkand flatbreads have a reputation for being the best in Uzbekistan. So definitely give it a try.
THE KHOVRENKO WINE MUSEUM
IMAM AL-BUKHARI MAUSOLEUM
The mosque is located about 12 kilometers outside of Samarkand at the grave of Muhammad ibn Ismail Buchari. Imam Al-Bukhari is known for his collection of stories (hadiths) of the Prophet Muhammad.
He alone collected and arranged 7275 hadiths. The mosque was built in 1998 in his memory right next to his grave. A light blue dome sits enthroned on the cube-shaped building.
The building, which is worth seeing, is 17 meters high with the dome. The walls of the mosque are decorated with colorful, glazed tiles made of marble, onyx and granite. The floors are decorated with geometric ornaments. The mosque can accommodate 1,500 worshipers.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT SAMARKAND
Samarkand looks back on 2500 years of history . The second largest city in Uzbekistan stands up to a comparison with other high cultures such as Babylon, Athens, Rome, Alexandria or Byzantium.
The many foreign influences through conquests and subjugations in the eventful history of Samarkand have produced a unique mixture of Iranian, Indian, Mongolian and partly also Western and Eastern culture.
Samarkand owes its name “Pearl of the Orient” to Temür ibn Taraghai Barlas (Timur for short), the founder of the Timurid dynasty. The Mongol ruler Timur made the old caravan and oasis city of Samarkand the capital of his great empire in 1369 .
Under his rule, the city became one of the most beautiful and important metropolises of its time. And it is still beautiful today. In Samarkand, holidaymakers experience oriental flair paired with modern zeitgeist.
Samarkand breathes oriental art and lives oriental culture. The magnificent buildings of the city, the many cultures, the beautiful landscapes all around and the good climate make your vacation in Samarkand an unforgettable experience.
However, we found Samarkand to be the busiest city in Uzbekistan. While other cities in the country are very civilized and relaxed, the driving style here is sometimes quite chaotic and aggressive.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SAMARKAND
The best time to travel to Samarkand is from May to October. The summer months June to August are hot and dry. Sandstorms occasionally occur.
The months April to May (spring) and the months of September to October (autumn) are comparatively mild. Winter (November to March) is cold and humid in Samarkand.
SAMARKAND HOTEL TIPS
THE BEST HOTELS IN SAMARKAND
- Hotel Diyora :
four-star hotel just a 10-minute walk from Registan Square – * our hotel *
- Hotel Platan :
Approximately 2.5 km from Registan Square. Three-star hotel, 15 minutes’ walk from Registan Square
- Rabat Boutique Hotel :
Historic hotel with a pretty inner courtyard
DINING TIPS FOR SAMARKAND
When visiting Samarkand, you shouldn’t miss the following restaurants. And you absolutely have to try the Samarkand plow. Most restaurants also offer European dishes. Below are our restaurant tips for Samarkand:
- Samarkand restaurant :
There is also an outdoor area with seating and a beautiful garden and there is live music. The cuisine is oriental, European or Russian, depending on your taste. A colorful mix of locals and tourists meets here.
- Restaurant KARIM BEK :
The stylishly furnished restaurant with European comfort is best known for its various types of preparation of shashlik. You can dine in one of the oriental furnished halls or, alternatively, in small, comfortable séparées. The cuisine is either Uzbek, European or Russian.
- Platan :
The restaurant in a quiet side street is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the best in Samarkand. The kitchen, service, quality and furnishings are excellent. The cuisine is European or optionally Eastern European.
If you like good coffee or tea and oriental sweets, you can get them in numerous cafes and tea rooms:
- Cafe Chocolate :
Aromatic coffee and delicious cake in a cozy atmosphere. It’s worth stopping by.
- Bibikhanum Teahouse :
Uzbek atmosphere. The guest sits outdoors under canopies. The Bibi Khanum Mosque can be seen in the background. A cozy place to stay.
- Afrodita : The oriental café offers breakfast on the summer terrace and coffee to take away.
EVENTS AND FESTIVITIES IN SAMARKAND
In Samarkand and all of Uzbekistan, large folk festivals and festival bazaars take place, some of which are based on ancient traditions and have been revived since Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991.
These include, for example, the Flower Festival (Lola-bairam), the Cotton Festival (Pachta-bairam) and the Harvest Festival (Hosil-bairam), which are celebrated every year by the Uzbeks.
Particularly well-known festivals that repeatedly attract visitors from all over the world are the Nawruz Festival and the Music Festival:
- Navruz :
With the beginning of spring on March 21st, the day of the spring equinox, this ancient, traditional festival of friendship and unity takes place every year.The festival is part of the Uzbek folk tradition and is celebrated with music and dance in public places across Uzbekistan.According to ancient customs, the families still make the “Bugirsak” pastry today and cook the ritual dish “Sumalak” (cereal porridge). Navruz is the oldest common festival of the peoples in Central Asia .
- Sharq taronalari :
The great music festival Sharq Taronalari, which translates as “Melodies of the Orient”, took place for the first time in 1997. The international music festival for modern music and theater is celebrated in Samarkand every two years. Artists and musicians from many countries around the world take part in the big event.