My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Understand
Samarkand is one of the richest cities of the 'Silk Road'. This pre-medieval trading route between Europe and Asia was so profitable for everyone along the way (trade always makes all participants better off despite what politicians make of it) that the rulers were able to build mind-boggling places.
Samarkand is also a modern city and will remind you much of Jerusalem
; the many historic sites are in fantastic shape, the city works very well and it's just a joy to be there.
Samarkand is connected to major Russian airports by direct flights. You can fly with Uzbekistan Airways for just $20 one-way or you will need to go through Tashkent by train
for only $10.
Note that Uzbekistan has an official and an unofficial exchange rate. Take cash (or use the dollar ATMs) and exchange at the black market rate, which halves the prices for everything you do in the country.
While Uzbekistan is an Islamic country and Samarkand is a conservative city, you would not easily notice it. Alcohol is cheap and freely available, while mosques are more here as monuments than for worshiping. The approach to Islam in Uzbekistan is a good one for visitors!
Plan 2 days here (though one day can be enough if you are ready to really push it).
My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Safety
Despite the country's common border with Afghanistan (which you would never spot), the better districts are extremely safe at both day and night and I never hesitated to stop any car to get a ride to my destination (as any car is a taxi here). It has the benefits of a police state as well, so it is very well-policed and crime does not pay if everyone knows everything about you.
My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Get Around
Samarkand is too small to have much of an organized transport system. The informal system of buses, minibuses and taxis works very well, though. We never waited more than 5 minutes to catch a ride across town and it was always under $1.50.
Buses charge just 15 cents and are not as crowded as I feared they would be. In general, local transport is easy and a great way to get around, with the exception of the odd dishonest taxi driver. Walking is an option too, as most sights are within walking distance.
My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Sights
This is what you came here for and Samarkand basically never disappoints a visitor (or at least I have yet to meet a disappointed one). The beautifully restored ruins of the pre-Mughal emperors with their blue-white domes are an impressive sight. They were built as precursors to the nearby Taj Mahal in Agra and the Mughal monuments in New Delhi
The 'ah' effect you get when arriving at this beautiful square the first time is unmistakable. It's one of those white marble, blue mosaic places you must have seen before but you could never picture yourself there.
The square is surrounded by three madrassas (Islamic schools) and the facades of the schools are striking, though the courtyards and interiors are a bit of a let-down.
It also seems odd to me that no other official buildings have been built there. After all, the late President Karimov's funeral ceremony was there.
Go to Registan early in the morning or at sunset to get the best light for photography.
This isn't your usual mosque, as you immediately realize there is no real interior - it's a big courtyard with three small mosques surrounding it and a huge gate. This does not diminish how impressive this mosque really is, though.
This striking mausoleum is just so pretty you'll wonder how they did it. The main mausoleum is rather small but it blinds you with its white walls and blue tiles. It's a small building but it will make you take 200 pictures all at once.
This necropolis was my favorite part of Samarkand. First you stroll through a graveyard highlighting the who's who of Uzbekistan in the last 100 years and then you will find yourself in the web of blue and white domes of the larger mausoleum, many of them with beautiful views towards the city and its other sights.
Ulugh Beg Observatory
Yes, these were the times when Islam ruled the world with innovation rather than rhetoric and the Samarkand Muslim scientist Ulugh Beg had the world's largest sextant built in his backyard. It is 200-feet wide and was half built underground to protect against earthquakes. It's a small site but it's a great reminder of other times.
Tomb of Daniel
Another small site but it's part of a newly rejuvenated part of a river in Samarkand. I liked the area more than the actual mausoleum, but it is a great sight to enjoy nevertheless.
My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Eat & Drink
Uzbekistan has great national food but you still need to look for it. Samarkand does not have a lot of other ethnic cuisines.
Platan serves to tour groups and I almost gave it a pass as it is a bit away from the main sights (but just a 5-minute taxi ride). That would have been a major mistake since I had some of the best food in Uzbekistan here. Almost every dish was delicious (especially the vegetarian options) and prepared to perfection. For Uzbekistan, $10 per person is a lot, but in reality it isn't.
This place has a good atmosphere and excellent service, but while the food was pretty tasty, it didn't quite match up to Platan.
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Picture courtesy of Elena R
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Picture courtesy of Professional C
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Picture courtesy of Viktoriya
My Favorite 9 Things to do Samarkand - Where to Stay
I had booked this hotel at Travelocity beforehand and ended up paying $55 a night. It's a great little family-run hotel, located just off the main sights in Samarkand. The courtyard is just superbly beautiful and you have it all to yourself for breakfast. The hotel also has a striking rooftop terrace.
The rooms were functional, with a strong and quiet AC. The bathrooms are basic, though, and with very little water pressure, and the internet is slow. It's OK for a night or two but after that you will start to miss those amenities.
There isn't so much choice in Samarkand for high-end hotels...