Samarkand is one of the oldest and most prominent cities in Central Asia, with a significant historical importance spanning over 500 years. Located in what is now Uzbekistan, the city is rich in cultural heritage, boasting magnificent ancient monuments and palaces, and vibrant markets that are hundreds of years old.
Often described as a "crossroads of culture," Samarkand played a pivotal role in the spread of knowledge, ideas, and goods between East and West for centuries. The city offers a poignant reflection of the complexity and beauty of Central Asia's colourful past.
What's it like to visit Samarkand today?
Visiting Samarkand today is an inspiring experience, as the city is like an open-air museum, with many historical landmarks to explore. Some of the must-visit ancient sites include the Registan, a collection of three marvellous madrasahs, and the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, home to the tombs of the mighty Timurid dynasty. Other attractions include:
- The Kalon Minaret.
- The incredibly colourful markets of Siab Bazaar (known for the best souvenirs in Central Asia!)
- The observatory of Ulugh Beg.
No matter how you explore the city, Samarkand is sure to leave you in awe of its rich tapestry of history and culture. The city radiates a certain magic that is hard to describe.
How to make the most of your visit to Samarkand
Despite its outstanding reputation, Samarkand – and Central Asia, in general, have not yet been marred by mass tourism. Though the city is a long way from anywhere, the only foreign visitors you'll find are history and culture lovers looking to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Nevertheless, if you ever come across a horde of tourists in Uzbekistan, it'll be in Samarkand!
Here are a few insider tips that will help you make the most of your visit:
- The Registan is more spectacular in real life than you could ever imagine. So are its gorgeous gardens, intricate tilework, astonishing details, and dazzling colours. Visit the Registan twice: once early in the morning (so you can admire it in peace for a few hours before groups start their tour of the city) and again after sunset to see it all lit up.
- Don’t miss the Afrasiyab Museum, a lesser-known highlight that's immensely enlightening. The museum recounts the history of the Afrasiyab culture (the founders of the city) and is located on the archaeological site of ancient-day Samarkand.
- The Bibi-Khanym Mosque, just south of the market, is one of the city's most arresting sights and is considered the Timurid Renaissance's crowning jewel. It is also one of the oldest and largest mosques in Central Asia. Standing beneath the majestic arch, adorned with the most intricate latticework, is a jaw-dropping experience you shouldn't miss.
- Plov is Uzbekistan's undisputed national dish, which the locals are exceptionally proud of. While the mildly spiced rice pilaf is a fine dish, we think the one dish you must try in Samarkand is Lagman. A hearty soup cooked with shredded meat, vegetables, and spices, Lagman is elevated by the addition of hand-pulled noodles, perhaps the one true gastronomic 'treasure' in Central Asia. See more traditional Uzbek dishes to try.
Planning a trip to Central Asia? Get ready to be blown away!
Don’t forget to pack light and smart, and you’ll enjoy a truly unforgettable adventure.