There are plenty of things to do in Bukhara to justify your spending as much as a week here. This is one of the most majestic Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan.
People may wax lyrical about the golden road to Samarkand. However, there is just something magical about Bukhara.
Bukhara provides a journey back in time. Its grand madrassas, turquoise-domed mosques, and intricate network of labyrinth-like alleyways and dusty narrow streets will leave even the most seasoned travellers speechless.
Things to do in Bukhara
Whether you have just a couple of days to spend in Bukhara or an entire week, you are sure to fall in love with the city. There are plenty of things to do in Bukhara. Some of the city highlights are summarised below.
Time Your Trip to Coincide with a Festival
There are two major cultural festivals that take place in Bukhara each year. One is a local show that is held in the city’s squares and plazas for April fool’s day. The second is the annual “Silk and Spice” festival which celebrates the history of Bukhara’s silk road heritage.
Stages were set up outside of grand Islamic buildings across the city. Performers from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and others took to the stage in a burst of colour to perform their national dances and songs.
Along the promenade that runs adjacent to the Po-I-Kalyan mosque, stalls were set up on ramshackle stands. Their vendors sold fragrant spices, saffron strands, exotic teas, silks, and handicrafts
Minus a few people on package tours, the vast majority of those attending the Silk & Spice festival were locals. It was a marvelous glimpse into the colourful culture of Uzbekistan, and the fun-loving nature of its people.
Wander Down Unmarked Passageways
The central old town of Bukhara is comprised of dozens of dusty narrow passageways. These little streets twist and turn to reveal old tea rooms and quaint local stores that are hidden down unsuspecting backstreets.
Many of these passageways are not even marked on Google maps! While they can look a little intimidating, they are worth exploring to stumble upon wondrous places hidden away from the tourists.
See a Unique Indian-Style Madrassah
The Chor Minor Madrassah is one of the most unique architectural wonders of Bukhara. The Madrassah is situated in a residential neighbourhood, a good ten-minute walk away from the centre of the old town.
Unless you specifically knew to come here, you’d never stumble across it. It is surrounded by ramshackle houses.
The madrassah’s unique structure has not been built in the traditional style. It has four minarets instead of the usual two.
This is because the Architect had travelled to India, fallen in love with the design of the Charminar in Hyderabad, and “took inspiration” from it. In other words he basically stole the design. The similarities between the Charminar and the Char Minor are aabundant!
Once upon a time, local boys residing in this neighbourhood came to the madrassah to complete their studies. The building also served an all-purpose as a caravansary for travelling merchants during the days of the old silk road.
Inside the madrassah is just a simple gift shop which is perhaps quite the anti-climax. It’s worth visiting the Chor Minor though on account of its beauty.
Visit a Heartbreakingly Incomplete Madrassah
The Abdul Aziz Madrassah (1652) was on track to become the grandest of them all. No expense was to be spared in the school’s construction.
The structure was also unique in that its designers aimed to break free of traditions. They used colours and icons that were not in the typical Islamic style.
The builders and designers wanted to use their artwork to express the positive relations between Uzbekistan and Iran and China. From the outside, you can marvel at the bold, vivid colours of the madrassah walls.
Heading inside though, you notice a stark difference. Sadly, the walls are bare and the building was never completed.
Abdul Aziz Madrassah’s construction took place at a time when people started to trade by ships, and the importance of the Silk Road trade route started to fade away. Landlocked Uzbekistan could not trade by sea.
With fewer merchants passing through to buy and sell handicrafts, the country did not have enough money to complete the building. What stands today is the incomplete madrassah.
Eat the Best Lagman in Town
The old town of Bukhara retains some of its authenticity in the fact that the majority of the city’s locals still reside here. However, many of the restaurants here are catered to tourists.
Hop in a cab and head to the Dolan restaurant in the new part of town. Dolan is rumored to serve the best Lagman (spicy beef noodles) in Bukhara.
Some say that the noodles here are the best in all of Uzbekistan. They definitely didn’t disappoint.
People from all over the country make a point to venture into Dolan while in Bukhara. If you are here at the height of lunchtime, it’s near impossible to get a table. However, Dolan is well worth the wait.
Sip Spiced Tea with a View
There is a coffee shop called Chasmai Mirob that sits opposite the Po I Kalyan and it offers what are seriously the best views in the city. It’s somewhat tucked away from view which is perhaps why it is relatively free of tourists (for now at least),
I honestly could have sat here for hours reveling in the view and the ambiance. Actually, I did sit here for ages cradling my pot of tea long after it went cold.
The food here isn’t great so I’d recommend eating elsewhere. However, you should come here for the views, the tea, and the travel photo opportunities.
Marvel at the Tower of Death
The “tower of death” is the creepy nickname that has been awarded to Bukhara’s tallest minaret – the minaret of the Po-i-Kalyan mosque. The 11th-century tower was built to serve two purposes.
Firstly, it was built to call the local Muslims to prayer. Secondly, it was intended to act as a waypoint for camel caravans as they made their way through the arid desert.
There is something almost mesmerising about this tower. It is pretty interesting to note that when the notorious Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan invaded Bukhara, he destroyed almost everything in the city. However, the Po-i-Kalyan tower was so sturdy, he decided to leave it.
The minaret was awarded its name based on a dark rumour. It is said that criminals used to be pushed out of the tower to their doom several centuries ago.
There is no local evidence of this, just rumours and stories that have been documented in Russian books. The adjoining mosque boasts a beautiful courtyard and some of the best Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan.
See an Old Mosque with an Interesting Multicultural Backstory
As you pass through the centre of old Bukhara, past the bustling marketplaces, the lively restaurants, and the quaint tearooms, you will see the crumbling remnants of an old mosque that has been turned into a carpet museum. This old mosque is the Magok-i-Attari mosque.
Most people walk past this, probably because the museum inside it isn’t very good. The unpainted, almost decrepit looking structure was once awash with bold colours and turquoise tiles, but time has faded them away.
When this mosque was built, those who constructed it decided to pay homage to all religions and cultures that influenced the country. Zoroastrian symbols were carved into the entryway, and some of the construction was done in a Greek-style.
Since there were many Jews living in Bukhara, they were given a dedicated space to pray alongside the Muslims. This kind of multi-faith facility is practically unheard of in the world today.
This level of harmony is a nod towards just how multicultural Uzbekistan is, and always has been. If only the rest of the world could take note of this kind of acceptance and tolerance of different religions and views, eh?
Try Lamb Shish on the City Outskirts
Just as Lagman can be considered as being Bukhara’s regional specialty, lamb shish is another popular dish enjoyed by Uzbeks. You can’t find this in the restaurants in the city centre, so you need to venture to the outskirts of town. Here, meats are marinated and cooked on skewers in local grill house restaurants.
The delicious marinated meats paired with spicy tomato sauces and salads are similar to Greek foods or the cuisine of nearby Azerbaijan. Ask the owner of your hotel/accommodation for recommendations on grill houses and shish restaurants.
You need to have a local drive you there. Alternatively, you can take a cab. It’s a trek, but foodie travellers will consider it worth the journey.
Take a Gruesome History Lesson at the City’s Ancient Fortress
The “Ark” is Bukhara’s fortress and the city’s oldest and most impressive structure. The fortress was occupied by the Royal Emirs of Bukhara for centuries and is essentially a city within a city.
You can easily dedicate an entire afternoon to exploring the Ark. There are so many different structures and annexes contained within the fortress complex.
Many of the former Royal and Presidential living quarters have been transformed into “living museums” that provide a glimpse into what life was like for Bukhara nobles and elite. Stop by the living quarters of the Kushbegi (Prime Minister), and the meeting rooms where foreign dignitaries were received.
You can also visit what remains of the room where the various Emirs of Bukhara were coronated, as well as the treasury and the mint, and the harem where the noble ladies resided.
Admire the Intricate Carvings of the Wooden Friday Mosque
The Bolo Hauz Mosque is a Friday mosque that sits opposite the entrance to the Ark Fortress of Bukhara. The mosque was constructed in 1712 and was one of the most important mosques in the city. This was the place of worship for the Emirs and nobles that resided in the nearby Ark.
The exterior of the mosque is carved predominantly out of wood. The twenty wooden columns that sit at the front entrance of the mosque have all been designed differently.
Wooden carvings and handicrafts were once an important local product in Bukhara. 20 of the best woodcarvers were asked to design a column for the mosque, and each put their own unique “stamp” on their creation.
Haggle Your Way Through Covered Marketplaces
The old-covered marketplaces of Bukhara are still functional. Although the stalls sell souvenirs and trinkets for tourists, the items sold here are altogether more charming than your typical “tourist tat”.
While admittedly, Bukhara’s handicraft scene is not as thriving as it was during the days of the Silk Road, many locals still make traditional items. Beautiful hand-painted ceramics and stunning silk scarves are popular examples. I picked up a lovely tea set for my parents, as well as some beautiful scarves whose designs were modeled on the interiors of the local mosques.
Shop items aside, the structures of the marketplaces are pretty unique in themselves. Each of Bukhara’s marketplaces has domed roofs.
These acted as an ancient form of air conditioning. They kept the vendors and their patrons cool in the forty-degree heat.
Spend an Evening at Lyabi-Hauz
Lyabi-Hauz is one of the most tranquil central plazas in old Bukhara. Here, numerous restaurants and tearooms surround a peaceful pond.
The pond’s namesake tea room is a lovely place to sit with a cup of tea as the sunsets. Additionally, you will find many shops and ice cream stores scattered around this area.
Sample Local Uzbek Delicacies
Trying the local delicacies is one of the best things to do in Bukhara and nothing is more beloved here than Plov.
Plov is essentially the country’s national dish and it consists of rice and beef cooked in lamb fat. It is not for everyone. However well worth a try.
Chayhana Chinar was my favourite restaurant in Bukhara and one that was recommended to me by my hotel owner. I recommend writing that down. It isn’t too touristy, but it’s right outside the old town and the food is excellent quality!
Hire a Local Guide for More Context on Bukhara Attractions
The ancient centre of Bukhara is bursting at the seams with magnificent Islamic structures. It is easy to only admire the buildings based on their aesthetics. However, without background info, every site you see feels like “yet another” mosque or madrassah
Consequently, it is important to learn a little about the history and consruction of each structure so that you can really appreciate it. You will find a lot of tourism students sitting outside the various sites of Bukhara.
or a few dollars, you can hire them as your guide. This is a nice way to support the locals in Uzbekistan and to provide some extra context to what you are seeing. Not to mention, it provides an invaluable opportunity for an exchange with the local people.
Take a Tour of the Attractions that Sit Outside the City Centre
There are plenty of things to do in Bukhara itself. However, there are also several attractions that lay outside of the city centre that are well worth visiting on a day trip.
The Chor Bakr Necropolis, the Sitorai Mokhi Khosa (Summer Palace), and the Bakhretdin Naqshband Mausoleum are interesting and can be seen in one day. If you hire a tour guide, it should cost you no more than around $25-$30 for the day.
Alternatively, you can negotiate with a cab driver to take you to the Bukhara attractions that you want to see. If you can, try and organise this with the tourist information office in downtown Bukhara.
Many of the hotels will try and charge you a higher price. If you are quoted anything above $30, you are being overcharged.
Where to Stay in Bukhara
You really want to make sure that you stay in the old town of Bukhara. That way you really feel the atmosphere of the ancient city, and you have the main attractions right on your doorstep. The new part of town is too far to walk from and to each day.
A selection of the best Bukhara hotels are shortlisted below. They cater to a range of budgets and preferences.
The Sumani Bukhara is a great choice for those who want a comfortable, boutique hotel experience when travelling in Uzbekistan. Rates start from $50 a night, and the rooms are decorated with bright, eclectic Uzbek designs.
All guests are treated to a lavish breakfast in the hotel’s charming courtyard. Click here for the latest rates and availability.
The clear choice for backpackers in Uzbekistan is Rumi. This is a local hostel with an excellent reputation that was named after the beloved Persian poet.
Beds start at just $5 a night, and as one of the most popular hostels in town, you are guaranteed to meet travel buddies here. Click here to check Rumi’s latest rates and availability.
Getting to Bukhara
It’s easy to get to Bukhara from Uzbekistan’s major cities. Trains run to Bukhara from Samarkand, Tashkent, and Khiva.
However, schedules do not always operate daily. You can check the timetables here.
The city’s train station sits slightly on the outskirts of Bukhara so you either need to take a cab or take the bus for 1500 som. Uzbek cabbies always try and overcharge so keep in mind that it should be no more than 5000 som.
Bukhara is also serviced by Bukhara International Airport. If you are flying directly into the city, it is easy for you to get the bus. Buses run between the airport and the city, and several hotels can organise transfers for you.
Have any questions about this Bukhara Travel Guide, or about Uzbekistan travel in general? I organised and enjoyed a wonderful solo trip to this beautiful nation back in May/June and I’m happy to help you organise the same.
Feel free to drop me a comment below if you have any questions. Safe travels, Melissa! Xo