Our expert list of all of the most incredible things to do in Buhkara, Uzbekistan!
A city synonymous with Uzbekistan’s fascinating Silk Road history, Bukhara is one of Uzbekistan’s most captivating ancient cities. With buildings as old as 1000 years, the city oozes history at almost every turn.
The centre of Bukhara’s old town still retains much of its ancient charm despite the ravaging of the city by both Genghis Khan and the Soviet Union.
Unlike Samarkand, where the old has very much intertwined with new, Bukhara’s old town has barely changed since the pre-Russian days.
As a result, Bukhara is one of the best places in Central Asia to see what Central Asia was like before the Soviet Union took hold.
The Best Things to Do in Bukhara
With 140 or so protected buildings, there is plenty to keep you busy. The cities back streets offer plenty of exploring opportunities.
Make sure you take the opportunity to chow down on some Bukharan plov, which locals say is the best in Central Asia.
Without further ado, let’s check out some of the best things to do in Bukhara.
READ MORE: Be sure to read through our Uzbekistan travel guide to help you plan your entire trip!
1. Watch the Sunset from the Small Cafe Chashmai Mirob
One of the top things to do in Bukhara is a strange one. However, we promise it’s worth it.
Just to the north of the Kalon Minaret, you will find a set of stairs that will take you up to the cafe Chashmai Mirob.
However it’s not the food or drinks that people come here for, it’s the views at sunset.
The cafe overlooks the Kalon Mosque and Minaret as well the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa and the views at sunset are spectacular. If you want to see the city at its most splendid, this may be one of the best things to do in Bukhara.
This certainly still seems to be a hidden gem. With many of the most popular eating and drinking establishments being in the vicinity of Lyabi-Hauz this cafe is well away from the evening hubbub.
After a long day exploring Bukhara on foot, this is a wonderful place to put your feet up and enjoy a beer.
2. Visit the Ark
Just down the road from the Kaylon complex, this is Bukhara’s oldest and most well-known building. It was here the various rulers lived and governed from the 5th century all the way up to 1920 when the Red Army decided to bomb it.
Now it houses some great museums where you can understand a little about Bukhara’s history and the opulence of its rulers.
Inside the ark walls, check out the Juma mosque and the exhibitions about Charles Stoddart and Arthur Connelly, two British soldiers who were executed outside the ark in 1842.
The latter event certainly cemented the reputation of cruelty that many Emirs of Bukhara had and nearly overshadowed the city’s prominent place on the Silk Road.
If you can get here early you will avoid the larger tour groups.
This is one of the most well known Bukhara attractions and is a perfect demonstration of Bukhara’s imperial majesty prior to Russian arrival.
3. Visit the Kaylon Mosque and Minaret and Mir-i-Arab Madrasa
Of the many religious structures in Bukhara, these three are probably the most spectacular and definitely the top things to visit in the city.
The Kaylon Mosque is a massive structure that upon its completion in 1127 was the tallest building in Central Asia. Legend has it that Genghis Khan was so impressed by it he ordered it to be spared during his invasion.
If you’re not sure what to do in Bukhara then this is a great place to start.
Sadly tourists cannot climb it to date. But maybe one day it will reopen for this purpose.
The Kaylon Mosque is a gigantic structure that can hold up to 10,000 people. Blessed with spectacular tile work, it was easily one of the most spectacular warehouses in the Soviet Union (yes, that’s really what it was used for!)
Of the three, the Mir-i-Arab is probably the most spectacular. Gorgeous tile work adorns its entrance and two glistening blue domes sit either side. As the sun sets a gorgeous orange washes over everything making it absolutely spectacular.
4. Wander the City’s Backstreets
One of the best things to do in Bukhara is simply to walk around the city. With 2000 years of history, Bukhara is a city that has grown naturally over the centuries.
The old town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is the most complete and unspoiled example of medieval Central Asia.
As the city has grown from its days along the Silk Road, layer upon layer has been added creating a maze of backstreets that wind their way amongst the numerous mosques and madrasas.
It is easy to while away the hours exploring, discovering small mosques and madrasas in various states of repair.
The best time to head out is early in the morning as the city is waking up. The cooler temperatures and morning light bring relief and great photo opportunities.
This is one of my favourite things to do in Bukhara as it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re not sure where to go, then the city’s west and southwestern areas are great places to start.
5. Enjoy Some Shade at Lyabi-Hauz
The centre of Bukhara emanates from Lyabi-Hauz. The plaza was built in 1620 and throughout history has been a place where local Uzbeks would congregate to relax and discuss the issues of the day.
The surrounding mulberry trees offer shade and respite from the sometimes overbearing heat (from mid-May until Autumn the temperature regularly hovers in the 40s C).
Numerous small shops and eateries run along the edge of the plaza.
From Lyabi-Hauz make sure you check out the alleyways to the southwest that snake around numerous small mosques, crumbling madrasas and plenty of friendly locals inviting you in for cups of tea.
Around Lyabi-Hauz there are numerous gorgeous mosques and madrasas that are well worth checking out as well.
The Nadir Divanbegi Madrasa was originally built as a caravanserai. However, it became madrasa in 1622.
Interestingly the beautiful exterior tile work depicts a pair of peacocks holding lambs on either side of the sun with a human face. This is remarkable, despite the fact that the depiction of living creatures is forbidden in Islam.
The Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka has an absolutely gorgeous blue facade and has some interesting photos and exhibits on old Bukhara.
6. Check Out Ulugbek Madrasa
This rather beautiful madrasa can be found just to the east of Kaylon Minaret. Incidentally, it’s also one of the oldest buildings and one of the best things to see in Bukhara.
Although the interior is empty and in need of conservation work, its design became the basis for many others. Therefore you may see plenty of other similar looking structures in Uzbekistan.
READ MORE: Make sure you visit the awesome city of Tashkent on your travels around Uzbekistan!
7. Get Lost Wandering Around Madrasa Kosh
Just south of the Kolkhoz Bazaar you will find Madrasa Kosh. A mixture of the well maintained and the slowly crumbling, it’s far enough away from the historic centre that you are more than likely to have it all to yourself.
A good tip is to pick up lunch at the Kolkhoz Bazaar and then head over to Madrasa Kosh.
8. Visit the Bug Pit at Zindon Prison
Just to the north of the Ark, you will find Zindon Prison containing one of Uzbekistan’s most gruesome historical destinations.
Charles Stoddart and Arthur Connelly languished in this pit in the years leading up to their execution.
The pit is a 4m deep hole accessible only by rope where guards poured rodents, insects and scorpions on the unfortunate prisoners.
Alongside the bug pit are numerous other interesting, if not slightly gruesome, exhibits on show here.
9. Check Out Samanidov Park and the Kolkhoz Bazaar
To the west of the Ark you will find Samanidov Park. This is a classic Soviet-style park with various statues, walkways, and a few dodgy rides here and there.
There are plenty of shady spots where you can chow down on some fresh watermelon and watch the world go by.
Around the park, there are also quite a few mosques and madrasas that are well worth poking your head into.
If you’re looking for some cheap, fresh eats then the Kolkhoz Bazaar is an absolute must. Uzbekistan is one of the largest exporters of fruit and nuts in the region and as a result, there is plenty of decent fresh produce to try.
The dairy section has plenty of classic Central Asian fair including kurt, a traditional cheesy Central Asian delicacy.
These cheese balls are made from the milk of a cow, sheep, goat, camel, or mare and have been enjoyed by the people of Central Asia since the middle ages. They certainly are an acquired taste.
Some of the best samsa I ate during my time in Uzbekistan we found in this market for the low, low price of around 1000 som. Enjoy!
10. Visit Chor Minor
Out in the northeast, just steps from Lyab I Hauz, is one of Bukhara’s most recognisable landmarks and top things to visit in the area.
Chor Minor is quite unique in that it has four decorative towers (not minarets) of equal height. It achieved it’s fame thanks to its position on the cover of Central Asia’s Lonely Planet.
Its location, away from the old town’s heart, means it’s away from many of the larger tour groups with some interesting back streets to explore on your way there and back.
It is possible to check out the inside of the Chor Minor mosque as well. Opposite there is a shop that sells a fine selection of Soviet-era badges.
11. Explore the Emir’s Summer Palace
Out in the city’s northeast, you will find the Emir’s summer palace. It was here where Bukhara’s last Emir, Alim Khan would come to get away from it all.
With the buildings taken care of by Russian architects, the decorating was left to local artisans.
No expense was spared leading to the most spectacular and most over-the-top aspects of both styles making this place one of the best things to see in Bukhara.
In front of the Harem is a pool where the Emir’s many women would frolic and relax.
He would relax in the pavilion overlooking and toss an apple to the woman with whom he wanted to spend the night.
The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi from the city centre for a few thousand Som. Drivers will generally charge for a return trip and waiting time.
12. Learn about Bukhara’s Jewish History
Bukhara, like Samarkand, was once home to a large Jewish community. However, the Jewish population in the area has shrunk dramatically since the fall of the Soviet Union.
As major players in Bukhara commerce, the Jewish community occupied an enviable position in society in spite of deep-rooted discrimination that existed at the time.
A legacy of Bukhara’s Jewish population can be found to the southwest of the old town’s centre. Historically this area was the heart of Bukhara’s Jewish community.
Often overlooked, visiting the Jewish landmarks throughout the city is one of the better things to do in Bukhara.
A small cemetery that shows the evidence of the size of the Jewish community throughout history, with tombs going back centuries.
There are also a couple of synagogues that are worth checking out, including one next to Lyab I Hauz.
13. Visit Magok-i-Attari Mosque the Museum of Carpets
Nestled in the heart of Lyabi-Hauz is the oldest mosque in Central Asia. Originally built in the 9th century, it was given and restoration in the 16th century it is an interesting mix of the two.
There is evidence to suggest that this is the holiest spot in Bukhara. Archaeologists have found evidence of a Zoroastrian temple from the 5th century and an earlier Buddhist temple.
The mosque supposedly survived the rampaging hordes of Gengis Kahn by residents of the city burying it in the sand.
Inside you can see some of the Zoroastrian excavations as well a rather ostentatious museum of Bukharan carpets.
14. Check Out the Spectacular Abdul Aziz Khan Madrasa
This stunning madrasa to the east of the Kaylon Minaret is well worth checking out. Situated directly opposite the Ulugbek Madrasa it’s one of the jewels in Bukhara’s architectural crown.
Interestingly it was actually built to compete with its neighbour opposite.
Inside there are a number of gift shops selling souvenirs, a common theme of many old madrasas in Uzbekistan. There are often some great finds in these little shops.
The prayer room has been converted into an excellent museum of wood carvings.
15. Chow Down on Some Bukharan Plov
Depending on how long you have been in Central Asia you may not be too keen on any more plov. However, I promise you the plov here is worth it!
The best plov I ate during my time in Uzbekistan was at Hotel Yasmin. The owners began the ritual early in the afternoon.
A cauldron of rice, carrots, onions, fatty lamb, and various other spices and secrets simmered in a cauldron until the early evening.
We then sat down to one of the best meals I have eaten, period. This was not like plov we’d eaten anywhere else. This was something special.
If you are lucky enough to get a room a Hotel Yasmin which, plov aside, is a fantastic guesthouse in its own right, then make sure you see if there is some plov on the menu. Visiting here is one of the top things to do in Bukhara.
16. Find the Hoja Zayniddin Mosque
Nestled in Bukhara’s backstreets you will find the stunning Hoja Zayniddin Mosque.
This is very different from many of the other mosques and madrasas in the city.
The white outer exterior is at odds with the blue and yellow that adorns the city’s other architectural wonders.
Inside the mosaics and artwork inside is absolutely incredible, and is certainly some of the most impressive in the city.
It’s a great place to explore early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the light is best.
17. Abdulloxon Madrasa
Just opposite Madrasa Kosh is the Abdulloxon Madrasa. The outside tile work is exquisite, and being away from the old town’s centre it is often quieter than the more well know architectural wonders that can be found in the old town.
Close by there are few mosques ad madrasas that have fallen into a state of neglect that adds a certain level of charm and intrigue to this unknown area of the city.
Spending a little extra time in this part of the city is one of the best things to do in Bukhara.
18. Visit the Bolo Hauz Mosque
Just over the road from the Ark you will find the gorgeous Bolo Hauz Mosque. The outer pool gives an oasis feel, and the white walls and wooden pillars are rather similar to the Hoja Zayniddin Mosque.
It’s a great place to stop en route to Samanidov Park and the Kolkhoz Bazaar.
19. Wander Around the Deserted Khoja Kalon Mosque
Tucked away in the city backstreets you will find this little gem. The blue tiles that adorn the pishtaqs (entrance ways) of other mosques or madrasas may be missing, but this adds to it’s deserted and isolated feel.
It’s a location away from Bukhara’s more prominent attractions means that it is rarely visited.
The attached minaret is built in a very similar style to the larger and more well know Kaylon Minaret.
Early morning or sunset will give the best lighting for photographs.
Bukhara City Guide
Now that you know all of the great things to do in Bukhara, here are some travel tips on the best places to stay and where to eat when you visit the city.
Where to Stay in Bukhara
Bukhara has a wonderful mix of affordable and luxury options for accommodations within the city. Here are our top recommendations for where to stay in Bukhara.
The Best Hostel in Bukhara – Hostel Payraviy Guest House
This lovely little hostel is tucked away in the north of the city. With dirt-cheap dorms and cheap 2 and 4 bedroom private rooms, this is a great option for those with a careful eye on the bank balance.
A communal patio and free breakfast make this a fantastic option for anyone.
The Best Midrange Hotel in Bukhara – Hotel Yasmin
This is one of the most comfortable places to stay in all of Uzbekistan. Rooms are spacious and immaculately clean, and the courtyard is the ideal to chow down on the superb free breakfast.
The husband and wife team that run are quite possibly the friendliest and kindest people you could meet.
The Best Luxury Hotel in Bukhara – Grand-Boutique Hotel
This luxury option two minutes from Lyabi-Hauz has been receiving some rave reviews from travellers.
Large ornate rooms, free breakfast and great service make this an excellent option for those at the higher end of the budgetary scale.
Where to eat in Bukhara
There are plenty of great things to eat in Bukhara. Here are a few of our favorites places to eat and what to order when you’re there.
Located close to the Ark this huge bazaar is an excellent option for finding some cheap and delicious eats.
Fruit, nuts and dairy products are plentiful and there are some excellent hole-in-the-wall places serving some classic Uzbek fare. The samsa here are absolutely fantastic.
Located along Bakhovaddin Nakshband Street, just to the east of Lyabi Hauz. The large menu offers a wide variety of Uzbek and Central Asian dishes.
It’s popular with both tourists and locals ensuring a near-constant buzz of excitement and hubbub.
The highlight of this restaurant is its open-air layout with the mosques and madrasas around it being lit up after the sun has set.
Whilst being more expensive than many other places in Bukhara, the extra cost is well worth it. Expect to find dishes bursting with flavour, with the shashlik, in particular, being excellent here.
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