Bukhara was one of my favourite stops in Uzbekistan. The city was a part of the Silk Road and known as a center of trade, scholarship, culture and religion. Today its historical old town is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is filled with gorgeous madrasahs, colourful bazaars and beautiful mosques. In the whole city there are approximately 140 architectural monuments. I like Bukhara because it is easily walkable and there is something to admire on every step. In this blog post I am sharing all the sights we visited in the city and also the best places to eat and go for a drink.
Basic information about Bukhara
Bukhara is Uzbekistan’s third largest city, easily accessible with train from other cities and it also has an airport. If you are staying in the city center, you can wall to the most tourist attractions. For the ones that are further away you can get a taxi. Just don’t forget to haggle over the price before the ride, as they never use taximeters. Bukhara is truly an impressive city, we stayed here for 3 days, however you can see the majority of sites in 2 days.
What to see in Bukhara
Lyab-i Hauz is an architectural ensemble that is situated around one of the last remaining ponds in Bukhara. Before the Soviet rule ponds were city’s principal source of water, however, due to their pollution the Soviets filled them. Today Lyab-i Hauz it’s a perfect place for exploring surrounding madrasahs from the 16th and 17th century – Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah, Ko’kaldosh Madrasah and Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka – during the day and for getting a local dinner or having a beer in the evening. Madrasahs are also a great place for souvenirs shopping.
A small mosque Magok-i-Attari is one of the oldest in the city. It was built in the 9th century on the remains of a Zoroastrian temple and it is defined by its simple stoned look with many details. Today it is home to a carpet museum. Next to it you can find an archeological site of an old caravanserai.
Madrasahs in the city center
Madrasah is a school of Koran, where students studied Astronomy, Mathematics, Arabic and religious subjects. It usually is architecturally very impressive building with colourful front portal and beautiful inner courtyard. And madrasahs in Bukhara are no different. Abdulaziz Khan Madrasah and Ulugbek Madrasah are situated one in front of another, however, although they are both very beautiful, they are also quite different. Abdulaziz Khan Madrasah was built in the 17th century, it is larger and full of ornamental details. Ulugbek Madrasah is older, built in the beginning of the 15th century, it has less decoration but it is still majestic. Unfortunately the insides of the madrasahs are not in the best shape, but locals are still using them for selling souvenirs to tourists.
Bukhara is in my opinion the best place for shopping in Uzbekistan. In its trading domes you can find everything from clothes, jewelry, music instruments to silk carpets, spices, ceramics and metal products. Here you will also find suzani – a typical embroider and decorative local textile. There are also many still operating craftsmen shops. The large offer with affordable prices makes trading domes a perfect place for getting some souvenirs. Bukhara was a big business center for merchants across Central Asia already in the medieval times. This is when its four trading domes were built around main market streets: Toki-Zargaron Trading Dome, Toki-Sarrafon Trading Dome, Toki-Telpak-Furushon Trading Dome and Tim Abdulla Khan Trading Dome. They are located one near other and used to be specialized in selling only one merchandise, for examples jewelry, headwear etc.
The main landmark of city – Po-i-Kalyan ensemble – is an Islamic religious complex that consists of beautiful Kalon Minaret, giant Kalayan Mosque and still operating Mir-i-Arab Madrasah. Kalon Minaret is 45.6 meters tall and known also as Tower of Death because they used to thrown down criminals from its top. Today it impresses with the details on the surface of the minaret. Next to it is the Kalayan Mosque, which was built in the 16th century, and can hold 12.000 people at a time. It has beautiful courtyard and a gallery with 288 domes resting on 208 pillars. Mir-i-Arab Madrasah was also built in the 16th century and today you can only see its beautiful entrance, as it is still operating and full of students.
The Ark of Bukhara
The Ark is a massive fortress that was first built in the 5th century and it was a home to different emirs and their royal courts. Behind the massive fortress walls today you can find Museum of Bukhara region, beautiful Jome Royal Mosque and the Great Hall of the Emir. In the street next to the Ark you can also check out its prison Zindan.
Water Tower Shukhova
Just across the road from the Ark the old city’s water tower turned viewing platform is situated. It is a steal made construction and you can get an elevator to the top. From the top you have 360 degrees overview of the Bukhara city. My favorite is the view of the Ark and Po Po-i-Kalyan ensemble.
Bolo Haouz Mosque
This beautiful mosque was built in the 18th century, then in 1917 a small minaret and wooden columns were added. The columns are supporting the ceiling and have beautiful carvings in the wood which are painted with colors at the top. This is why the mosque is also known as the “mosque of forty columns” and they are really giving it a special elegance. In front of the mosque there is an artificial reservoir, which unfortunately is not the cleanest and has a bit of smell in the hot temperatures. But the mosque itself is really impressive.
Chor Minor is cute and small madrasah, probably built around 17th century, with four towers that all have a different shape. If you visit, do find a lady around the madrasah and ask to go to the rooftop to get a nice overview of the area. While waking from the city center to Chor Minor you also get an interesting view of the city beyond the historical sites, with its small houses, unpaved roads and old Russian cars.
Samonids Recreation Park
In the western part of the city the Samonids Recreation Park is situated. The park is mostly known for the Samanid Mausoleum, which was built in the 10th century and is known as the oldest funerary building in the Central Asian architecture. It was built as resting place for a powerful Islamic Samani family dynasty. There are also a Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum, a theme park and a lake. It is interesting to visit a nearby market Kolkhoznyy Rynok, where you can buy everything from toilet paper, school supplies, kitchen appliances to food. Outside the east entrance of the park you can also stop at Qo’sh Madrasah and Mavlono Assiri Madrasah, which are sadly decaying, but their former glory is still seen.
The Khoja-Gaukushan Ensemble was constructed in the 16th century and consists of two madrasahs, minaret, mosque and a pond. It is one of the biggest ensembles in the city, also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, however it is maybe not that impressive as other architectural monuments, you also cannot visit the insides. So when we visited we were the only tourists at the site, but I think it is worth stopping by. Next to the ensemble is also a small madrasah in which you can see an interesting photo exhibition of places and people of Bukhara.
Fayzulla Khodjaev House Museum
Fayzulla Khodjaev was a popular Bukharian politician in the beginning of the 20th century and his father was a rich merchant. Today their house is a house-museum with different exhibitions, mostly featuring rich merchant’s life items in the 19th and 20th century. However museum is named after Fayzulla and it also has an exhibition about his life. The house it a wonderful example of the 19th century residential architecture, the rooms are full of woodcarvings and wall paintings and the inner courtyard has many beautiful details.
Baha-ud-din Naqshband Bokhari Memorial Complex
Sayyid Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bokhari was the founder of the Naqshbandi, which later became one of the largest Sufi Muslim orders. He was also a philosopher and is today an Islamic saint. He was born, lived and died in the 14th century in Bukhara and the place where he was buried is today an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims all over the world. It is a huge complex located 12 kilometers from Bukhara and consists of a madrasah, a minaret, two mosques, a mausoleum and a museum.
Summer palace of the last emirs of Bukhara Sitori-i-Mokhi Khosa was first build in the early 19th century, however the place got its today’s look in 1917. The palace has an unique style of European and Oriental features and it consists of three buildings: the main palace with beautiful courtyard, guesthouse and harem. There is also a small zoo with peacocks, a lake and rose garden.
Bozori Kord Bathhouse
For the ones who want to try a typical Turkish bathhouse the Bozor Kord is a perfect stop in the city center. In this oldest bathhouse in Bukhara you can experience steam room and get a great massage. It is primarly for male clients, however also women can try it out. My boyfriend says it was an excellent and interesting experience. But, I have to admit, I did not try it out.
Where to eat & drink in Bukhara
Bolo Hauz restaurant
Located across the road from Bolo Hauz Mosque this restaurant offers local Uzbek food in traditional environment. When we visited it was full of locals but also tourists, although they don’t have a menu in English. We have ordered noodles lagman, some kind of grilled meat with vegetables (I just showed the waitress what I liked on the neighboring table), salad and traditional Uzbek bread. It was a delicious an very affordable meal.
Chayxana Chinar restaurant
Chayxana Chinar restaurant served us the best plov in all Uzbekistan. Plov is a classical Uzbek dish made from rice, meat, carrots, chickpeas and sometimes other ingredients and it is served with an quail egg. We also order some salad and enjoyed the lively restaurant environment. They have tables inside and outside on a few floors and we loved sitting in the upper outside terrace.
This restaurant is known for the best view of the Po-i-Kalyan ensemble. My advice is to get there before the sunset, climb to their upper balcony and get a table with a view. This way you can admire the ensemble also in the night, beautifully lighten up. Food here was good but a bit pricy. We got some local dumplings called manti and some of the best local red wine. And if not for the food it is definitely worth coming here for a drink to see the view.
Eco cafe Terrace
In the city center between all the trading domes there is the Eco café Terrace. Here we got some delicious traditional food – sashlik, which is grilled meat on a stick, and lamb chops with honey sauce. It’s a nice spot for some outside lunch on a terrace.
Silk Road Teahouse
Tea – green or black – is a drink of choice in Uzbekistan, as you will rarely get a good cup of coffee. However, Silk Road Teahouse beside delicious mix of herbal teas also offers coffee. We got some tea and enjoyed complimentary traditional sweets you get with every teacup.