Samarkand – the ultimate three-day itinerary
The ancient city of Samarkand is for a lot of people representative with the Silk Road. It is one of the famous three Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan and true beauty. The city was once the capital of the empire of Amir Timur in 1370 but it was already a well-known in 329 BC when Alexander the Great concerted the city at that time. To see the main attractions and soak in history give yourself at least two to three days. Here is our recommendation for the ultimate 3-day itinerary:
You probably arrive here by train from Tashkent or Bukhara. It arrives at around 10 o’clock so there is still enough time for you to explore a bit of the city. Catch a taxi at the entrance of the train station. The taxi to the center costs around 6’000-8’000 som. Take your time at the hotel before heading out for lunch somewhere around the new Russian part of town (Amir Timur or Ulugbek Road).
After lunch, make your way to the Amir Timur Statue at the beginning of Registan Street. Then head over to the Rukhobod Mausoleum, one of the oldest surviving monuments (1380). Just on the other side of the little park is the amazing Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum where Timur along with two of his sons and two grandsons (incl. Ulugbek) is buried. Apparently the real tombs are not in the mausoleum but underneath it. So if you want to see them come in the late afternoon/night and try to ask a guard if it is possible to see them - for an extra charge. ;)
From the Mausoleum it is about a 10-15 min walk to another highlight: the Registan Complex. You can either walk down to the little park on Registan Street or you go through the nearby gates and walk through the old town with its charming little streets. Just keep left and you will come out at the end of the park as well. From there it is not far to the Registan.
This complex of three madrassas and a mosque is truly fascinating and just beautiful. Take your time here. It is even worth taking a local guide which you can find at the entrance where the ticket office is. After showing you around and telling you the history, the guide probably will ask you if you want to climb up one of the minarets for a great view of the Registan square. This is also an extra service and costs around 15’000 som per person. It is worth climbing it although it is not easy because the stairs are really steep. Don't do it if you have any knee or back problems. Otherwise, it is a nice view out of a little hole at the top of the minaret.
Keep your ticket. It is valid until 10 pm. After dinner, visit the Registan square again. If you're lucky, there is a light show in the evening. The courtyards are illuminated every night.
Head again in the direction of the Registan just to see it one more time in another light. The colors look different every time of the day. There is a nice platform where you can take pictures without buying a ticket again. From there the touristy Toskhent Street leads you directly to the historic Bibi Khanym Mosque and the Bibi Khanym Mausoleum. Both are worth visiting although the Mausoleum is much smaller. On the right side of the Mosque is the Siob Bazaar. It is a nice bazaar to walk around. Try some Iranian pistachios or some local dried apricots. If you are hungry again you can grab a snack like a Somsa.
From there walk to your right down the hill and pass the little shops on the way. At the end, you will come to a very nice sight. It’s the street of Mausoleums (Shah-i-Zinda) which is a pilgrim site for Muslims. Buy a ticket at the entrance and head up the stairs. By the way, there is an extra charge for taking pictures but it is worth it. The architectures of the different Mausoleums are really fascinating. At the end of the street, there is the Mausoleum of Qusam ibn Abbas which was said to be the cousin of Prophet Mohammed. At his grave, an Imam prays with the visitors.
From the entrance of the Shah-i-Zinda it is about a half an hour walk to the Ulugbek Observatory just along the main road. Keep left until you reach the top of the hill. If you are tired you can also take a taxi from here. The observatory is more a Museum than an observatory but still worth visiting. The view of the city and of the mountains in the back makes you forget the walk to get here. While up there you can visit the Afrosiab Museum which is also in this area.
In the evening there are different places which have an evening dance show. One is at the Karimbek and another one at the Samarkand Restaurant. Both serve Uzbek Cuisine.
If you still have the time it is worth taking a trip to the hometown of Amur Timur Shakrisabz. The taxis (can be shared or you go alone) leave right next to the Registan Shopping Mall. It costs around 100’000 som to go there. The ride will take around 1.5 hours but it is a beautiful ride over the mountains with great views and photo spots. Spend 2-3 hours at Skakhrisabz and visit the museum, the Mosque, the Mausoleum, and the palace. After late lunch or teatime somewhere around town, head back to Samarkand.