Day 1 in Samarkand:
We were picked up from Hotel Malika in Bukhara for a 25 min drive to the train station in Bukhara. Please note you have to buy train tickets in advance! Have your passport handy, in case you have to show it. Once we were on the train it was a 1.5 hour ride to Samarkand. If you are looking to purchase train tickets for your own trip, you can check out this website here.
We checked into Samarkand Safar Hotel. It is built like a regular house with a yard and small swimming pool out back, a main dining room for guest with its rooms upstairs. It’s only two floors and no elevator. This accommodation would be difficult for people with mobility issues.
For the evening it was dinner and dancing at Samarkand Restaurant which is a local banquet hall. You will need to make reservations in advance. During our delicious dinner there was music, dancing, and even performances. It might not be your cup of tea, but feel free to join someone’s dance circle. And don’t be surprised if you get invited to stand and dance with locals. Dancing is a big part of Uzbek hospitality and they love to share it with anyone. We made friends because we were willing to dance and it enhanced our experience in Samarkand. Note: men and women dance in different circles!
After a quick breakfast at the hotel we drove to a caravanserai near Registan Square. Built in 1895, it now homes master craftsmen of the Samarkand region allowing them to make, showcase and sell their crafts.
Upstairs in a corner shop of the caravanserai, we met Gulom whose shop is a feast for the eyes with it’s gorgeous, intricated designed suzani. Suzani’s are an embroidered tapestry traditionally stitched by men but mostly done by women in recent decades.
This is a glorious experience for any textile lover.
Now Gulom, his daughter, sons and wife all sew suzani. Gulom learned the art from his mother Mavluda, who is a 7th generation suzani master. You can purchase a table runner for $60 USD, pillowcases from $15-65 USD or a large-sized suzani starting around $300 USD and up. Suzani designs differ depending on the region so you are perfectly justified in buying more than one suzani from more than one location! You can read about our suzani experience in Tashkent here.
For lunch we went to meet Mavluda at her home in the countryside. About 45 min. into the drive, we stopped at Urgut Bazaar, an enormous local outdoor market. This was a great taste of how the locals live and shop. We ate ice cream from the vendors, got lost in the aisles and made even more friends. They seem to be excited to have tourists in most parts we visited.
After another 20 minutes of driving we arrived at Mavluda’s home in the hills for a quiet lunch on her back porch. Mavluda is well-regarded in Uzbekistan as a suzani master. She and Gulom have an antique suzani collection which is an exploration into the history of designs and colours of suzani. They sell these suzanis since they are always best enjoyed. After shopping from the piles she sells from her home, we arrived back in Samarkand in the early evening.
We rested for a bit and then went to Registan Square. We arrived at 8pm and were lucky enough to catch rehearsals for their International Music Festival. This was such a surprise! The festival is held every two years in August and we just happened to show up in time to see rehearsals. They had beautifully decorated costumes and traditional music performed by the most famous artists in the country. We had the opportunity to sit next to the choreographer of the show and watched as she coached throughout the rehearsal. It was delightful.
Just over from Registan Square is a promenade where we bought ice cream from vendors for dinner. We tried two shops. The one on the left was more expensive but had better ice cream. We had eaten so much incredible food up to this point we weren’t even hungry for meals, so ice cream was a good option.
Day 3 in Samarkand:
This was our last day in Samarkand, and in Uzbekistan! After breakfast at the hotel we left for our round of sight-seeing.
First stop was Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum. We did a quick walk around the grounds but didn’t buy a ticket and go inside. There was a lot we wanted to see before catching our train in the evening, so we opted to move on quickly.
The shining glory of the day was Shah-i-Zinda. It is 15,000 som to buy an entrance ticket. This was my favourite place in Samarkand. It is like a little city for the dead. I loved the small walkways between the ornately tiled buildings. There were a lot of tourists there, which was not my favourite thing. We went at 10am, and it was already getting hot by then. It would be an interesting place to visit in the early evening as the air cools and the crowds thin out.
We made a second stop to Registan Square to see it during the day; it was covered in rigging from the music rehearsals. We waited some time to get in because they were still rehearsing when we arrived. Because a lot of it was covered and inaccessible, we didn’t stay long. Make sure to see the Sherdor Madrasa and Tillokori Madrasa and take some fun photos.
We had an outdoor lunch at Karimbek Restaurant that was definitely worth the stop. The biggest surprise of the meal was the delicious banana shake!
Most of the architecture in Uzbekistan is a dazzling array of towering domes, minarets and tiled arches. I never got sick of it, but if you are short on time, you need to maximize what you see. I wish we had more than 3 days in Samarkand. We did not have time to see the Ulugh Beg Observatory but what we saw online and on recommendation from another Globalwot, it looks interesting, so if you can, make time for it.
Last stops in Samarkand
One of the last stops of the day was Bibi-Khanym Mosque and the surrounding complex. This beautiful building was built by Amir Timur and named after his wife. It was 25,000 som pp to enter. We noted that the light is better in the morning, so switching around your schedule to accommodate this would be good. There was a painter in one of the side buildings who had spectacular work. Of all the paintings we saw on our trips, his was the best we had seen. I recommend picking something up to bring home.
Next to the mosque is the Siyob Dehgon Bazaar. Here they sell nougat, sugar almonds, fudge, produce, plants… you name it. Many of us took home sugar almonds to our families as souvenirs, and they all went down a treat. There was also a last ikat fabric purchase that needed to be made.
Near the mosque and bazaar you can catch an electric golf cart back up the promenade by Registan Square for 2,000 som per person. Otherwise it is a long and sweaty walk, unless you want to shop along the way.
Train from Samarkand to Tashkent
We left the hotel at 4pm for a 15 minute ride to the train station. The high speed train ride from Samarkand to Tashkent is roughly 4 hours. Your seating is allocated when you buy your ticket. The trains are clean and well serviced with trolleys of drinks and food that you can purchase. We watched the sun set on our final day in Uzbekistan through the train windows and arrived in Tashkent with just enough time to transfer to taxis and get to the airport.
Our time in Uzbekistan was amazing.
We could see the infrastructure being built to welcome tourists, and with the addition of more countries who can visit visa-free, Uzbekistan is worth your travel consideration. There are Tourist Police to help tourists in any capacity they can at major sights, like Registan Square.
In days gone by the Silk Road of Uzbekistan was a crossroads of cultures and handmade goods, and this is being revived again. We sensed optimism, curiosity and friendliness most places we went to. People are keen to share their craftsmanship and meals with you. Enjoy the treasures of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, and remember, dancing is highly encouraged!
To book train tickets you can try this website here.
Though it was our last stop, you can easily spend 3 days in Samarkand at the beginning of your travels through Uzbekistan if you prefer.
Check out our 3 days in Samarkand highlights video!