Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, is a mesmerizing blend of ancient history, stunning architecture, and rich cultural heritage. For those pondering things to do in Samarkand, marveling at the Registan, a public square surrounded by three madrasahs with intricate Islamic architecture, and exploring the Shah-i-Zinda, an avenue of mausoleums adorned with blue tiles, are top activities.
The city’s Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, the final resting place of the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), is a masterpiece of medieval Islamic architecture with its azure dome and grand entrance. Nearby, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, once one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world, stands as a testament to Samarkand’s historical significance on the Silk Road.
Beyond its architectural wonders, Samarkand is renowned for its traditional crafts, including silk weaving and embroidery, offering visitors a glimpse into the city’s artisanal heritage. For those seeking the best places to visit in Uzbekistan, Samarkand’s blend of ancient splendor, architectural marvels, and cultural richness makes it a must-visit destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
1. Registan Square
Registan Square is the heart of Samarkand and arguably one of Central Asia’s most spectacular architectural ensembles. It is surrounded by three grandiose madrasahs with intricate Islamic architecture that dates back to the Timurid Empire.
Travel Tip: Visit the square both during the day to appreciate the intricate details of the mosaics and at night when the buildings are beautifully illuminated.
2. Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum
This architectural masterpiece is the final resting place of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), the founder of the Timurid Empire. The mausoleum is known for its stunning tile work and majestic interior.
Travel Tip: Be respectful of the site’s cultural and historical significance, as it is a revered place for the locals.
3. Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis
A solemn avenue of mausoleums, Shah-i-Zinda is the burial site of royalty and nobility, including a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. The blue-tiled facades are a brilliant display of medieval Islamic art.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes as there is a significant amount of walking and steps involved in exploring the entire site.
4. Bibi-Khanym Mosque
Once one of the Islamic world’s largest mosques, Bibi-Khanym Mosque was built by Tamerlane. Although it suffered damage over the centuries, the restored mosque still impresses with its scale and design.
Travel Tip: Visit after exploring the nearby bazaar for a sense of the historical connection between trade and religious institutions.
5. Siyob Bazaar
Siyob Bazaar is Samarkand’s largest and oldest bazaar, bustling with activity and brimming with the colors and flavors of Central Asia. Here you can sample dried fruits, nuts, and the famous Samarkand bread.
Travel Tip: Engage with the vendors and try the local produce; it’s a good place to practice your bargaining skills in a friendly environment.
6. Ulugh Beg Observatory
This observatory was once a major center of astronomical study, built by the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg in the 1420s. All that remains today is part of the sextant, but the site museum provides fascinating insights into the history of astronomy.
Travel Tip: Make sure to learn about Ulugh Beg’s contributions to astronomy before visiting to fully appreciate the historical significance of the observatory.
7. Afrasiyab Museum and Site
Afrasiyab is the ancient site of the city that preceded Samarkand and the museum displays artifacts that tell the tale of the city’s long history, including a famous collection of frescoes.
Travel Tip: A guide can be very helpful in bringing the rich history of this ancient settlement to life, so consider hiring one.
8. Hazrat-Hizr Mosque
An important place of worship for locals, this mosque is believed to be located at the site where Qusam ibn Abbas, who brought Islam to the area, was buried. The mosque sits on a hill and offers great views over Samarkand.
Travel Tip: Dress conservatively out of respect when visiting this or any religious site in the city.
9. The Mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari
Although located a bit outside of Samarkand, this mausoleum dedicated to the Islamic scholar Imam Bukhari, compiler of one of the most authoritative collections of Hadith, is an important pilgrimage site.
Travel Tip: Consider a taxi or a tour to visit this site as public transport options may be limited and schedules unpredictable.
10. Samarkand’s Silk Carpet Factory
Discover the traditional art of silk carpet weaving at one of Samarkand’s factories. This is where you can see the entire process from silkworms to the final product and perhaps purchase a carpet as a luxurious souvenir.
Travel Tip: Even if you are not planning to buy, the demonstration of carpet weaving is a cultural experience not to be missed.
FAQ About Things to Do in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
What are the must-visit historical sites in Samarkand?
Samarkand is renowned for its ancient historical sites including the Registan Square, Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Each of these landmarks offers a glimpse into the city’s rich Silk Road history.
Can visitors explore the ancient ruins of Afrasiyab in Samarkand?
Yes, Afrasiyab, the ancient site of the city before it was destroyed by the Mongols, can be visited. It features a museum that displays artifacts dating back to the 7th century BC, showcasing the city’s long history.
Is there a place to learn about Samarkand’s role in the Silk Road?
Absolutely, the Ulugh Beg Observatory is a key historical site where you can learn about the city’s contributions to astronomy and its strategic position on the Silk Road. The observatory is part of the remains of a medieval madrasah and offers educational insights.
What cultural experiences should I not miss in Samarkand?
Don’t miss out on a traditional Uzbek dinner with a local family, or enjoying a night of classical music or dance at the Navoi Theater. The bazaars, such as Siab Bazaar, are also a cultural immersion where you can taste local foods and see traditional crafts.
Are there any local crafts or workshops in Samarkand?
Samarkand is famous for its silk and carpet making workshops. Visitors can watch artisans at work and learn about the traditional techniques that have been passed down for generations.
Can tourists take a cooking class to learn about Uzbek cuisine in Samarkand?
Yes, there are opportunities to take cooking classes in Samarkand where you can learn to make classic Uzbek dishes such as plov (pilaf), samosas, and kebabs, right from the experts in a traditional setting.
What are some outdoor activities available in Samarkand?
In Samarkand, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities like picnicking in one of the city’s many parks, such as the Alisher Navoi National Park, or taking a day trip to the Zarafshan Mountains for hiking and nature exploration.
Does Samarkand have any festivals or events that travelers should know about?
Samarkand frequently hosts cultural festivals and events, especially during Navruz in March, which celebrates the Persian New Year with music, dancing, and traditional foods. The International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari, held in Registan Square, is another significant event showcasing regional music.