We really didn’t know what to expect from pretty unknown capital of Kyrgyzstan. But Bishkek surprised us with its many green spaces, flowers planted in the streets, snowy mountains views in the distance, which are seen from all over the city as there is no high buildings. There is also interesting Soviet architecture, busy bazaars, but almost no tourists. It is true that not all streets in the city are paved, but you can find incredible international cuisine, hip cafes and modern craft beer scene.
We landed in Kyrgyzstan very early in the morning after more than 24 hours of travelling and with a four hours’ time difference from Slovenia. But we managed to ignore our jet lag, dropped our baggage in the hotel and went exploring. And I am so happy we did it, as it was our only full day in the city that is laid back but still offers interesting sites. Read on for my advice on top things to see and do in Bishkek.
Some basic information about the city: You can see the majority of the sites in one day. As all the main sites are close one to another, you can walk everywhere. Otherwise you have an option to take local transport named marshrutka, go with a bus or a taxi, however, do agree about the price upfront.
Admiring Ala-Too Square
Bishkek’s main square was built in 1984 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, however, it is still popular today for celebrations and festivals. Its name means “great mountain” as a symbol of beautiful nature of the country. Beside flower arrangement and fountains, Ala-Too Square is home to the State History Museum, a statue of their hero Manas and the official flagpole of the Kyrgyz Republic. Not far away is also the Presidential Palace and behind the museum you will find an old Lenin statue that used to stand in the square.
Exploring the (Soviet) architecture of the city
Since Kyrgyzstan was a part of the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1991, the Union’s legacy in Bishkek is especially seen in the architecture. Beside already mentioned buildings on the Ala-Too Square, all around city you can find impressive Soviet buildings. Among them are Kyrgyz National Philharmonic, Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, Bishkek City Hall, Ala-Too Movie Theater, Bishkek Railway Station, Kyrgyz State Circus and others, including everyday buildings like block of flats. There are also many Soviet memorials, like the Victory Square, where the main monument also includes local details as it resembles the shape of the yurt. Soviet legacy is also seen in religion, as there is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church in the city. Among all these buildings there is a surprising Opera and Ballet Theatre, which is built in the Neoclassical style.
Shopping at Osh Bazaar
Full of bright colours, different smells and interesting food, the Osh Bazaar offers not only food but also household goods, clothes and souvenirs. We always like to visit open air markets to get a special insight into local culture and to see what locals eat, buy and wear. In Osh Baazar we especially like their offer of spices, dried fruits, sweets, local honey, traditional Kyrgyz bread, chees balls and fresh vegetables and fruit.
Enjoying Bishkek’s green spaces
Bishkek is really a green city. Beside nice parks there are also many trees and flowers planted in the streets. We really liked strolling along the Erkindik Boulevard, which is very popular with locals too. And sitting in the shadows of old oak trees in the Oak Park. It is one of the oldest in the city and was built in the 1890. There are 90 sculptures in the park that are part of an open air museum. A nice green oasis is also the Panfilov Park, more on it below.
Having fun as they did in the Soviet times
Panfilov Park is, as said, another green space in the center of Bishkek. However, it is not just a park, it is also a home to a very popular Soviet activity – amusement park. Still today you can have fun taking a ride at the carousel, ferries wheel or some other carnival ride. It is also a great place to get local snacks and watch people passing by. Another popular Soviet era activity was going to the circus. Kyrgyz State Circus was designed in 1976 in the recognizable UFO shape. And yes, even today you can enter and enjoy a show.
Enjoyment for your taste buds
In Bishkek you can eat from the stands in the streets, check out the food in bazaar or go to one of many restaurants. Of course you can try out some delicious traditional Kyrgyz food, like manty, plov or lagman. We suggest going to Café Faiza for some nice local cuisine. But there is also an impressive offer of international food choices. You can try out Thai, Korean, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, American food etc. For a tasty burger head to Torro Grill & Bar. However, the city is also full of amazing cafes (we loved the coffee and design of the Hygge Coffee) and craft beer places. If you pick just one, head to Save the Ales, the first all-female microbrewery, bar and LGBTQ+ safe space.
Day trip to Burana Tower
Just an hour and a half drive from the center of Bishkek, along the border with Kazakhstan, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Burana Tower is located. The tower is a 25 meter high minaret and the only remaining part of an ancient city of Balasagun, which was established in the 9th century. You can climb to the top of the tower, however it is steep and dark way up. But it is worth it, because up there you can even better admire the views of snowy peaks and surrounding green meadows. At the site you can also see interesting grave markers, that are from the times of the Turkish invasions, and visit a small museum.
Visited: August 2019