Uzbekistan is having a bit of a moment – in 2018, it vastly simplified the visa process, meaning citizens of many countries can now enter with an e-visa, or even visa free; check your status here. This has opened up a huge tourism market in the country, with visitors flocking to see its spectacular sights either independently or through the wealth of tour operators now active in the area. There’s a huge amount to see, do and explore in Uzbekistan, and it is fully deserving of the hype it’s currently receiving.
Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are all synonymous with the grandeur and romance of the Silk Road, as well as the political intrigue of the infamous Great Game. These three Uzbek cities sit firmly perched at the top of each and every Uzbekistan itinerary, with breathtaking architecture and enticing sights everywhere you turn. Such is their legend and obvious appeal to visitors, many organised tours for Uzbekistan simply skip out its capital, Tashkent, in favour of whisking clients straight to the classic destinations.
However, for those who are travelling independently, or have a little more time to play with whilst in Uzbekistan, Tashkent is well deserving of being added to your plans. It offers a fantastic contrast to the ancient sites of the three ‘big ticket items’, whilst simultaneously being a brilliantly placed gateway to exploring more of Central Asia (see our post on hopping on the bus to Kazakhstan for more info!). Tashkent offers a more realistic glimpse into the ‘real’ Uzbekistan – it is the largest city in post-Soviet Central Asia and a well-established hub for politics, trade, learning and more.
It’s safe to say that visitors to Tashkent will not find themselves twiddling their thumbs for things to do. Here’s our list of top attractions in Tashkent – all of which are reasons why you should visit Uzbekistan’s bustling capital city!
1: The Central Asian Plov Center
Plov (or Pilaf) is Uzbekistan’s national dish, and is a hearty lunchtime favourite for millions throughout Central Asia. Mixing rice, onions, vegetables and – usually – some form of meat, Plov can be found in all good Uzbek restaurants and will rarely set you back more than a handful of dollars.
This is food designed to be cooked in bulk to feed hordes of hungry workers, setting them up for the rest of their day’s labour. Nowhere in Tashkent, or indeed the whole of Uzbekistan, has mastered the art of mass-Plov production quite like the Central Asian Plov Center.
Inside a cavernous Soviet-style canteen, hundreds of diners – locals and tourists alike – are served hearty plates of Plov from gargantuan cauldrons. The preparation takes all morning – arrive early to watch the chefs in action – and the end result is widely regarded as the best in Central Asia. If you eat anywhere in Tashkent, you must make it the Plov Center.
2: Chorzu Bazaar
As synonymous with Tashkent as Plov is with Uzbekistan, Chorzu Bazaar is the city’s main market and is a maze of everything you could ever wish to buy. From wagons full of fresh fruits and towers of dried nuts, to intricately woven carpets and entire kitchen units, the Bazaar has enough to sift through to keep even the most efficient shopper captive for a good few hours. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is very much a locals’ market – if it’s typical souvenirs you’re after, you’re unlikely to find too much artisanal work here.
The centrepiece of the market complex is a huge Soviet dome, under which can be found the meat and cheese market, as well as dozens of nut and spice stalls. It’s a sensory overload in every sense of the word – the unmistakable smells of raw meat and cheese, coupled with the dilemma of whether your eyes should take in the immense architecture or the chaos of the trading floor. Haggle for a snack-sized bag of dried fruit to wander around with, and embrace the chaos.
3: The Incredible Soviet Metro
Tashkent Metro has, for far too long, been the very definition of a hidden gem. Until the summer of 2018, there was a blanket ban on all photography across the city’s metro network – apparently due to its status as one of the Tashkent’s main nuclear bomb shelters.
Visitors to Uzbekistan’s capital would marvel at the variety of styles and themes across the different stations, being able to tell tales of the networks’ beauty but lacking the photographic evidence to back up their claims. Contrast this with hundreds of photo-essays about Moscow’s metro, and it’s easy to see why Tashkent’s underground system has gone relatively unnoticed!
All that has changed since the photography ban has been lifted – and the proof is now out there that Tashkent’s metro is stunning! Our favourite was Kosmonavtlar – an other-worldly cavern dedicated to Uzbekistan’s cosmic pedigree.
4: Mosques and Madrasas
Whilst few sights will rival that of Samarkand’s magnificent Registan square, or Bukhara’s imposing Kalyan minaret, Tashkent is not without its own share of Islamic architecture to marvel at.
The Teleshayakh Mosque is part of a larger complex, centered around an unassuming building which houses an ancient (8th Century) copy of the Koran – the Uthman Koran is so ancient, in fact, that it’s reportedly the oldest in existence. Expect to bump into groups of friendly Uzbek schoolchildren being escorted to see the manuscript, and to be greeted with a chorus of “Good Morning!”.
For those looking for a more modern example of Islamic architecture, Tashkent’s Minor Mosque was opened in 2014 and stands out for its gleaming white marble. It is unlike anything else you’ll see in Tashkent – or, indeed, the rest of Uzbekistan – and it’s well worth a detour to take a look. It’s especially striking at sunset.
If you’re still on the lookout for places of worship around Tashkent, the Dzhuma Mosque and Ko’kalddosh Madrasa are located within a stone’s throw of each other and are some of the better examples of older (15th and 16th century) construction in Tashkent.
Tashkent is home to a great range of museums, leaving visitors with the potential to become an expert of Uzbek history and culture in the space of a few days!
Among the most popular for tourists are the State Museum of History, the State Museum of Applied Arts, and the State Museum of Victims of Repression. Visiting these three will give you a real insight into Uzbek history – both ancient and modern – and will bring to life some of the sights you might discover when visiting the rest of the country’s Silk Road jewels.
There are, of course, other museums which are worth visiting – such as the small exhibition of Korans near the Teleshayakh mosque. For those with a bit more time, the State Museum of Arts, Railway Museum and Amir Temur Museum are worth a visit.
6: Amir Temur Square
Amir Temur is Uzbekistan’s national hero, a ferocious warrior and conqueror who grew an Empire to rival that of Genghis Khan. Bizarrely, many Westerners will never have heard of him – but celebrations (and debates) of his legacy and legend mean that you won’t forget his name in a hurry if you do find yourself in any of the Uzbek cities.
A statue of the ruler frozen in action atop his majestic horse forms the centerpiece to the epic Amir Temur square, at the very heart of Tashkent. From the gardens surrounding Temur’s monument, you can see the arteries of the city branching out in all directions – the wide open boulevards ready to carry cars, buses and pedestrians anywhere in Tashkent.
Looming over the square stands the iconic “Hotel Uzbekistan”, an unmissable Soviet-style hotel with over 250 rooms spread over 17 floors. The best hotel view in Tashkent? Quite possibly. Other attractions worth visiting around the square include the “Tashkent Chimes” and – of course – the Amir Temur Museum!
There are, of course, far more than just 6 reasons to visit Tashkent – but these are our favourites. There’s more street food to be eaten, more back streets and parks to explore, and plenty more Soviet architecture to take in!