Samarkand Travel Guide
Updated January 2021, The Best Things To Do In Samarkand + Samarkand Travel Guide was originally written in October 2018
In 2001 Samarkand was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a historic crossroads of cultures. The city was founded in the 7th century BC and later became the capital of the Timurid Empire in the 14th century AD. For history buffs and architecture lovers, Samarkand is a true paradise.
Samarkand is a real gem along the Silk Road, with numerous things to do in Samarkand it’s easy to see why its a favorite for many travelers to Uzbekistan. I’d recommend at least three days when you travel to Samarkand as to not feel too rushed seeing all the city has to offer.
The best months to visit are in April, May, September, and October for the best temperatures. Personally, I think the winter, November-March is the best time to avoid crowds as temperatures can be quite cold. Summer in Uzbekistan is dreadfully hot and best avoided.
Learn everything you need to know about the great city in this Samarkand Travel Guide.
Things To Do In Samarkand
There are enough sites to see and things to do in Samarkand to warrant at least two days in the city, though three days or more will give you a bit more time to enjoy the city without it feeling really rushed. Here are the top 14 things to do in Samarkand:
Shirdor Madrasa, Ulugh Bek Madrasa, and Tilla Kari Madrasa make up Samarkand’s most well-known landmark- the Registan Square. The Registan is the heard of the city, dating back to the Timirid Era. Try to get here right at 8 am to beat the crowds and tour groups.
Admission: 40,000 UZS.
Gur e Amir Mausoleum
Gur e Amir is the mausoleum to the ruthless conqueror, Amir Timur. Timur had already had himself a tomb built in Shahrisabz, but after his unexpected death in the winter of 1405 in present-day Kazakhstan, snowed-in mountain passes prevented his body from being taken to Shahrisabz as he had willed.
Amir Timur was instead laid to rest in Samarkand.
Admission: 25,000 UZS, + 5,000 UZS for cameras.
Off to Bukhara next? Check out my Bukhara Travel Guide for ideas
Ak Saray Mausoleum
Outside the walls of Gur e Amir is the 15th century Ak Saray Mausoleum, worth a stop if you’re already visiting Gur e Amir.
Admission: 5,000 UZS.
Shah i Zinda Ensemble
Shah i Zinda translates out to the ‘Tomb of the King’ in reference to its oldest and holiest shrine to Qusam ibn-Abbas, believed to have brought Islam to Uzbekistan in the 7th century. The ensemble of mausoleums shows off an array of architectural styles and impressive tilework spanning several centuries, making Shah i Zinda fascinatingly unique.
Officially, Shah i Zinda opens at 8 am from April to October, and 9 am November to March, though it does open earlier for pilgrims and they will usually let a few tourists in before official opening hours. People do make pilgrimages to Shah i Zinda and as an active holy site, you should dress respectably (shoulders and knees covered at least).
When I visited on an early morning in October 2019, there was not one, but two (what appeared to be) Instagram couples holding up foot traffic of pilgrims and locals whilst the guy snapped ten zillion photos of an inappropriately dressed girlfriend twirling around. It’s important to remember that these buildings were not constructed as your Instagram backdrop and still are used to pay respects.
Admission: 15,000 UZS.
Just northeast of the Siob Bazaar you’ll find excavations of ancient Samarkand (hence the name Afrosiab). The museum is worth visiting.
Museum admission: 25,000 UZS.
Bibi Khanym Mosque
Built shortly before Timur’s death in 1405, under the orders of his wife as a surprise for the conqueror while he was away. Legend has it that the architect fell in love with Timur’s wife, claiming to be unable to complete the mosque construction of the mosque (some men will try anything). The kiss left a mark that Timur immediately noticed on his arrival back.
So Timur did as expected and executed the architect, then ordered that all women wear veils as not to tempt men. At the time of its construction, Bibi Khanym Mosque pushed the boundaries of construction capabilities and was one of the largest structures of the Islamic world.
Admission: 25,000 UZS.
Starting your Uzbek adventure from the capital? Check out my Tashkent Travel Guide
Ulugbek was the grandson of Amir Timur, a Timirid ruler, and a highly regarded mathematician and astronomer. The observatory was uncovered in 1908 and houses several exhibits.
Admission: 25,000 UZS + 5,000 UZS for cameras.
Hazrat Hizr Mosque
Perched on a hill on the edge of the Afrosiab is Hazrat Hizr Mosque. The mosque was razed by Chinggis Khan in the 13th century and not rebuilt until 1854. The mosque was restored in the 1990s and is one of the most beautiful in Samarkand.
Admission: 12,000 UZS.
Is Khiva on you Uzbekistan itinerary? Start planning with the Khiva Travel Guide
Abu Mansoor Al Maturidi Mausoleum
Located in Samarkand’s old town, Abu Mansoor Al Maturidi was a 9th-century Sunni Hanafi theologist and jurist who created the Maturidi School of Sunni Theology. The mausoleum is worth a stop, especially if you’re out exploring the old town and the Jewish Quarter.
Admission: 14,000 UZS.
Siob is Samarkand’s main bazaar and is frenetic from sun up to sundown. The bazaar offers up plenty to be photographed, as well as sells just about anything you may possibly need. Located next to Bibi Khanym Mosque.
Plan the perfect trip: A two week Uzbekistan itinerary
Rukhabat Mausoleum was built in the 14th century and may be Samarkand’s longest standing monument.
Admission: 15,000 UZS.
Samarkand-Bukhara Silk Carpet Showroom
If you’re looking to buy a carpet in Samarkand this is the spot. You can also arrange visits to tour their factory to watch the process and dedication it takes to make carpets, tapestries, and suzanis. The factory is also referred to as the Hujum Carpet Factory.
The Mausoleum of Al Bukhari
Imam al Bukhari was a Persian Islamic scholar hailing from Bukhara. He penned the Sahih al Bukhari which is regarded by many Sunnis as the most authentic collection of hadith. The mausoleum actually lies about 25 km outside of Samarkand.
Not in Samarkand per se, lying 40 km south of the city, Urgut is worth the trip out of town for serious shoppers. You can purchase antique clothing and jewelry here for a lot less than what you’ll pay in Samarkand’s Bazaars. To get to Urgut take a marshrutka or shared taxi from the corner of Dagbet and Registan Ko’chasi for 5,000-10,000 UZS.
How To Travel To Samarkand
By Air: There is an international airport in Samarkand, although it’s far more common for travelers to fly into Tashkent. Samarkand Airport has services to Tashkent, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, and Istanbul. Uzbekistan Airways, Aeroflot, S7, Ural, Utair, and Turkish Airlines all fly here. Shop flights to Samarkand here.
By Shared Taxi: Shared taxi is probably the most common way to get between cities in Uzbekistan. Shared taxis depart when full and are available to Samarkand from Shahrisabz, Tashkent, Bukhara, Khiva, Andijon, Fergana City, Kokand, Nukus, Termez, and Urgench.
With the border post between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Samarkand and Panjakent) re-opening with the warming of the two countries’ relations, it has made travel between Uzbekistan’s Silk Road Cities and Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains much shorter and easier again. Shared taxis are available from Panjakent to the border and from the border to Samarkand.
By Train: Most cities of interest in Uzbekistan are reachable by train (note that there is an express and modern Afrosiyob train and the old school and slower Sharq trains). There are international trains to and from Uzbekistan as well connecting to Moscow, Ufa, Novosibirsk, Samara, Chelyabinsk, Saratov & Volgograd, Russia; Atyrau, Aktau, Shymkent & Almaty, Kazakhstan; Bishkek & Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan. Visit the Uzbek Railways website to see schedules.
Where To Sleep In Samarkand
Samarkand Center Hotel
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Check out culture and wine tasting tours on Viator
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