What to know In front You arrive in Samarkand
Samarkand is the heart of the Silk Road, a glittering spectacle of tiled mosques, madrassas and mausoleums. It is easily Uzbekistan’s best known cultural destination and its Timurid-era monuments adorned with jewels are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Standing in front of the Registan or walking through the Shah-i Zinda will take you back to a time when Samarkand was the capital of an empire that stretched from Turkey to India.
While Samarkand’s medieval architecture is the biggest attraction, the city actually has more than 2,750 years of history to discover. Alexander the Great came here, as did Genghis Khan. These two warrior kings shaped the city, although it was Amir Timur who had the greatest influence. He was a promoter of architecture and the arts as well as a fearsome warrior.
Contemporary life in Samarkand is just as lively, especially if you come at the end of March during the Nowruz celebrations (Persian New Year). Not only do people dance and celebrate on the streets, but also traditional Kurash wrestling and kupkari matches – Uzbekistan’s answer to polo.
The people of Samarkand are also incredibly warm and can invite you to their homes for tea and freshly baked bread.
Entry to Samarkand
Although you can fly to Samarkand Airport, the best way to get to the city is from the excellent Afrosiyob high-speed train from Tashkent.
Uzbekistan Airways flies from London Heathrow twice a week (Tuesday and Friday). If you pair a flight on the Afrosiyob train, you can visit Samarkand for a long weekend, especially now that British passport holders can stay 30 days without a visa. The trains built by the Spanish company Talgo are immaculately clean, affordable and on time.
Once at the station, taxis are waiting at the exit to take you to the city center for around $ 5 (£ 3.81). Agree on the price before boarding, or ask your hotel to send a car. The journey should take 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the time of day.
How to spend the day in Samarkand
Get up early to see the Shah-i Zinda in the morning light before the tour groups arrive. This was the royal necropolis of the Timurid dynasty (without Timur himself) and is also considered the burial place of Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. The majolica tiles on the graves are among the most beautiful in Uzbekistan.
Cross the street to the BibiKhanym Mosque with its huge portal and turquoise dome. The mosque was built by Amir Timur and is named after his wife. Locals believe that a woman who crawls under the marble Koran in the central courtyard will soon have a child.
Bargain for dried fruits and nuts at the Siyob bazaar in Samarkand, then stroll down Tashkent Street, lined with handicraft shops and designer boutiques. Samarkand is famous for its painted ceramics and embroidered textiles. Therefore, it is the perfect place to buy souvenirs.
At the end of Tashkent Street is the Registan, the most impressive place on the entire Silk Road. Three jewel-like madrassas (universities) flank the square.
Be sure to visit the Tilla Kari Mosque, the interior of which is decorated with gold leaf. and look up to the curious, tiger-like creatures depicted on the tiles on the front of the Sher Dor Medressa. The musician Babur also has his workshop in the madrassa; Stop by for a spontaneous performance.
The last stop on your day tour should be Gur-e-Amir, the mausoleum of Amir Timur. Timur wanted to be buried in Shakhrisabz, but when he died in the campaign in China, it was decided to take him here instead to the mausoleum he had built for his favorite grandson.
What do the locals recommend from Samarkand?
– Victoria Yalanskaya, leader at Veres Vert
Where should you stay in Samarkand?
Upper end: The four-star Registan Plaza, located near the Registan and Gur-e-Amir, is a popular choice for business travelers and tourists. The rooms are built around a huge central atrium. The hotel has air conditioning (important in the hot summer months) and an indoor pool. Double rooms from £ 146.
Mid-range: Malika Prime is part of a small Uzbek chain of boutique hotels. It is a three-star hotel with an attractive tiled facade right in the center of the city. Double rooms from 80 USD (62 GBP).
Budget: Antica B & B is a house with an idyllic garden, just moments from Gur-e-Amir. The rooms are decorated with hand-embroidered textiles and breakfast alone justifies the price.
Should you stay in Samarkand or carry on?
Stay! In one day you can hardly scratch the surface in Samarkand. So if you have extra time, treat yourself to another day to fully enjoy the city’s treasures. To learn more about Samarkand’s ancient past, visit the Afrosiyob Museum next to the archaeological site of the same name.
Afrosiyob was destroyed by Genghis Khan, but archaeologists have unearthed some notable finds, including exquisite murals depicting scenes from Silk Road travelers. These are displayed next to ossuaries and household goods.
Near Afrosiyob is the tomb of Daniel, the Old Testament prophet. This holy site is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and since followers believe that Daniel’s body is still growing, his coffin is absolutely huge!
Finally, visit the Ulugh Beg observatory. Ulugh Beg was Emperor Timur’s grandson and his passion was astronomy
Important travel information for Samarkand
Languages: Russian, Tajik, Uzbek. Some English is spoken in hotels and restaurants.
Time zone: GMT +5
International dialing code: +998
Visa: Uzbekistan is visa-free for British passport holders and other EU citizens for stays of up to 30 days.
Currency: Uzbek som (UZS), currently around 12,291 UZS to Great Britain £.
ATMs: Although not yet widespread in the city of Samarkand, there are ATMs at the airport and train station, in Tashkentstrasse and in larger hotels as well as in some bank branches. ATMs usually accept Visa or MasterCard and issue UZS banknotes.
Credit cards: Credit cards are only accepted in larger hotels and a small number of shops on Tashkentstrasse. It is generally recommended to take cash with you, especially for restaurants and small purchases.
Recommended Guide: The new and fully updated edition of Bradt Travel Guides’ Uzbekistan by the author of this article was published in December 2019.
Useful website: Uzbekistan Travel offers inspiration and travel tips to help you plan your visit to Samarkand and beyond.