Two day guide of things to do in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

 In Asia, Go exploring

A brief introduction and history of Bukhara

Located smack in the middle between Khiva (roughly 450 km away) and Samarkand (about 700 km away) is the charming city of Bukhara. Ancient Bukhara was a very important Islamic centre for Central Asia back in the day. The city was transformed into a centre for trade, scholarship, culture and religion between the 9th and the 16th century, containing no less than 200 mosques and over 100 madrasas. Which for the size of the city is nothing short of impressive, it also means there are plenty of things to do in in Bukhara for both tourists and local visitors.

Bukhara is classified by UNESCO as one of the most complete examples of a medieval city in Central Asia. Walking around the streets it is not hard to imagine the city being flush with scholars studying in one of the many madrasas and merchants trading their goods along the silk route. The bustling bazaars with foreign items have now made way for tourist stalls and haggling vendors and the colourful madrasas which once held up to 80 students have now fallen into slight disarray.

The overall charm of the city however is still very much present. The last emir fled in 1920 when the city was besieged by the Red Army. Uzbekistan was later integrated into the USSR. The cultural importance of the madrasas in Uzbekistan was recognised by the governing Soviet body and in a highly exceptional move, they were not only kept intact but renovated during the sixties of last century. The overall old town could use a little extra 21th century love, but the peeling paint and cracked facades create authenticity in an otherwise museum like city.

Below you will find a guide of things to do in the city of Bukhara. The guide is set up for you to spend a comfortable two days in and around the city.

On a very important side note, the water from the tap is not drinkable in the city! Due to the over use of agrochemicals during the Soviet times and the lack of water treatment plan the water has become non-drinkable.

Things to do in Bukhara

Visit the Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasa

Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasa Bukhara Uzbekistan

Let’s kick off our list of things to do in Bukhara with the most colourful madrasa of the ancient town.

The morning we went it was bitter cold, none of us were prepared for the biting cold Bukhara had to offer us. My hands and were following the color grading of the sky (from a light pink to a deep shade of blue) and I have never been more aware of my lower limbs than when they were filled with shooting pain caused by the cold. To say we were miserable is an understatement. Yet somehow the beauty of this colourful madrasa managed to penetrate the already overloaded senses.

The madrasa looked a little past its glory days, but you could clearly see the beauty it had once been. With many different shapes and textures and a whirlwind of colors decorating the front Iwan .

Built in the 17th century, the Iwan gateway of the madrasa is very similar to the architecture found in Iran. It is however more colourful than its Iranian counterpart, the shapes are not entirely geometrical and are decorated with a playful plant pattern that snakes up the sides of the building. If you take a close look, you might even spot a Chinese dragon in the pattern. A wink to the rich history of Bukhara and the important role it played on the Silk Route.

Things to see in Bukhara Uzbekistan

The best time to visit is early in the morning, when the street vendors are still curled up warm in their beds and the average tourist is still far off in dreamland.

Do make sure to come back when the madrasa is open so you can witness the beauty of the inside. Be The winter mosque has the most intricately carved reliefs, tile and brick mosaics and painted ceiling panels of all Bukhara.

Practical information for visiting the Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasa

Location: About a 4 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
Entrance Fee: 13.000 SOM for the mosque + a small additional fee to visit the winter mosque
When to go for pictures: Sunrise, to avoid the crowds
When to visit: Opens at 09.00

Wander past the Ulugbek Madrasa

You would not say so by its appearance, but the Ulugbek madrasa is one of the oldest madrasas in Central Asia. The blue tiles and intricate decorations on the Iwan, as well as the history of the location make it an important addition to the list of things to do in Bukhara.

The building dates back to the 15th century and held up to 80 students during its heyday. Students would study everything from astronomy & Arabic to religious studies. The building houses a variety of different tourist stall today, and is not extremely well preserved. It will take a bit of imagination, to envision just how important this madrasa was to Central Asia.

Tourist attractions Bukhara Uzbekistan

Practical information for visiting the Ulugbek Madrasa:

Location: About a 4 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
Entrance Fee: Free
When to go for pictures: Early in the morning (sunrise) before the crowds
When to visit: Opens at 09.00

Take in the arches at the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa

Built in the 17th century by the maternal uncle of the then Khan. The outside of the building is a beautiful array of 50 shades of blue tiles with a variety of different patterns (floral, plants and animals). These patterns are the chief reason this madrassa cannot be skipped from the things to do in Bukhara.

The inside of the building is a bit different from what you would traditionally expect when seeing a madrasa. The intricately carved Iwan opposite the entrance is missing as are the classroom for the students. Instead the inside looks very much like a Caravanserai. There are multiple stories going around as to why this is the case but most likely the original objective of this building was indeed to be a Caravanserai and not a madrasa at all.

Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa Bukhara Uzbekistan

Practical details for visiting the Nadir Divan Begi Madrasa

Entrance fee: Free
How to get there: About a 15 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
When to go: We went in the late afternoon and and had the place to ourselves. That being said, getting shots in the late afternoon is hard as the light will shine on the arches. If you are here for taking a picture, then try and go early before the sun gets too high.

Go on a treasure hunt in the bazaar

Traditionally this place would be bustling with traders from Europe and Asia displaying their goods. As Bukhara was an important stop along the Silk Route the bazaar was usually filled with all sorts of exciting items. These days the bazaar is still bustling, however the goods are slightly less exotic and more focussed on the tourists than anything else. However, if you are looking to purchase a traditional souvenir, this would be the place to go. There are plenty of ceramics, suzanis, carpets or carved woodwork items to choose from. For the more adventurous souls, you can add going on a hunt to find the Aladdin genie in one of the millions of oil lamps on display on your list of things to do in Bukhara. Let me know if you find the genie!

Keep in mind that payment is in cash only, and you will need to bargain. As a general rule of thumb you want to bring down the price by a good 20%.

Bukhara Bazaar Uzbekistan

Practical details for visiting the Bazaar in Bukhara:

When to go: The bazaar is buzzing with tourists from about 09.00 in the morning. You can only pay with cash, and do not forget to bargain
What souvenirs to purchase: Ceramics, carved wood, carpets, embroidery
How to get there:
About a 3 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
Opening hours:
Opens from around 09.00, though hours can vary depending on the season.

Visit the oldest building in Bukhara: The Ark of Bukhara

Things to do in Bukhara: The ark of Bukhara

This structure is Bukharas oldest structure and was inhabited from the 5th century all the way up to the 1920s. There are a couple of interesting architectural feats, which makes it one of the things to do in Bukhara. Rising high above the entrance is the Juma mosque and all around the ark you can find an interesting conical shaped wall. The inside contains a couple of interesting museums, but admittedly the vast majority of the building is in ruins. Perhaps the inside is not one of the things to do in Bukhara, but the outside is very much worth walking around.

Practical details for visiting the Ark of Bukhara:

When to go: This is one of the highlights of the city so try and get there either right before it opens or right before closing to be able to enjoy the place without hordes of tourists.
Entrance Fee: 15,000 som entry plus 5,000 som camera fee.
How to get there:
About a 15 min walk from the Kalon Minaret

Stroll around the Poi Kalon Ensemble

The Poi Kalon Ensemble is the Islamic religious complex located smack in the middle of historical Bukhara. This is a square that will have you catching your breath from the minute you step foot in it, until the second you decide to leave (which will not be for many hours later). An absolute must thing to do in Bukhara!

The square has been the site of historical buildings since the 8th century BC, some of them worn down due to time others burned down at the hands of conquered such as Genghis Khan. It holds three of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

The Poi Kalon Ensemble Bukhara Uzbekistan

Great Minaret of the Kalon

Lovingly knows as the tower of death. This minaret reportedly withstood and invasion of Genghis Khan and stands as a beacon high above the city. It is a ‘mere’ 46 meters tall, and in ancient times would be used for the double purpose of calling people to prayer or punishing criminals by pushing them off to minaret to their untimely deaths. This minaret was both a useful instrument, and a slightly gruesome one at the same time. It is not possible to climb the staircase within the minaret these days, but nevertheless still a site worth viewing.

Miri Arab Madrasa

Built in the 16h century according to the traditional architecture prevalent in Central Asia at the time. Think glazed mosaics, calligraphy across the entrance and many geometrical shapes and patterns woven into the design. Contrary to the traditions at the time, this madrasa was not funded by taxes from the booming (silk road) trade but rather from the sale of 3000 Shia (Iranian) slaves.

Inside you will find a statue of Ubaydulla (the emir ruling the city in the 16th century) as well as a myriad of little rooms dotted around the main square which where, and still are, the rooms of the many students of the school. Yes, you read that correctly this madrasa is still functioning 5000 years after it was erected. In fact, during Soviet rule it was the only mosque allowed to practice in the city. The beautiful architecture and the historical importance make this madrasa a must on your list of things to do in Bukhara.

Practical details for visiting the Miri Arab Madrasa:

When to go: The outside turns a beautiful shade of orange as the sun starts to set. It was my favourite time of the day to visit.
How to get there:
Located on the central square
What to visit:
Sadly you cannot enter into this madrasa. You can venture inside and have a look at the architecture that is hidden behind wooden lattice work.

Things to do in Bukhara Uzbekistan
Miri Arab Madrasa Bukhara Uzbekistan

Kalan Mosque

Built and rebuilt over the centuries, the Kalan mosque is a beautiful piece of architecture. It stands on the central square opposite the Miri Arab Madrasa and is part of the Poi Kalon Ensemble. This particular version of the mosque, dates back to the 16th century. The inner courtyard is vast, with an astounding 288 domes and no less than 208 pillars. It was built to put its rival city of Samarkand to shame and to give Bukhara a bit of royal flair. Current day, this mosque is still in use and one of the few places that has not been submerged under tourist stalls (vendors).

Practical details for visiting the Kalan Mosque:

When to go: We went around 10.00 and aside from one other visitor had the place to ourselves. The best light for photography is to be captured at sunset as the sun sets behind the minaret.
Entrance Fee: 10.000 SOM (valid for 2 days)
How to get there:
Located on the central square
What to wear:
Dress modestly (covering up elbows and knees for women)

Kalan Mosque Bukhara Uzbekistan

Grab a drink and watch the sunset over the Poi Kalon Ensemble from the Cafe Chasmai Mirob 

This little café offers the very best views over the Poi Kalon ensemble. It is one of the top things to do in Bukhara and a great place to have a nibble or a drink. The café offers vegetarian food as well as a variety of local dishes and even some decent tasting wine. Most importantly it has a beautiful terrace which is perfect on a summer evening to catch the sun set behind the Kalon minaret.

Sunet over Poi Kalon Bukhara Uzbekistan

Make your way to the outskirts of the old city and visit the Bolo Khauz Mosque

This was my favorite building and an absolute must on the list of things to do in Bukhara. The mosque was built in the 18th century with private funding from rich merchants who lived in the neighbourhood. It served as the neighbourhood mosque for this bustling area of the city that was on the caravan road between Bukhara and Khorezem. It used to be the place to go for trading materials such as cereals, fabrics, head garments, fruit and a variety of other items. The area contained a caravanserai and many opulent houses. Sadly neither the houses nor the Caravanserai survived but this mosque is a testament of the riches once on display here.

The eye-catching terrace was added in the 20th century and adorned with traditional decorative geometrical patters by local artists.

Bolo Khauz Mosque Bukhara Uzbekistan

Practical details for visiting the Bolo Khauz Mosque:

When to go: We went around 10.00 and aside from one other visitor had the place to ourselves.
Entrance Fee: Free
How to get there:
About a 15 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
What to wear:
Dress modestly and carry a scarf to cover your head. Although it is not mandatory, it will be appreciated. You will be asked to take of your shoes before you enter inside.

Visit Chor Minor, the gateway to a Madrasa that was demolished 

Chor Minor was built in the 19th century by a wealthy Turkish merchant. It is nestled a little outside of the old city centre in the suburbs. If you have a little bit of spare time, this charming gateway is a nice addition to your list of things to see in Bukhara.

While the origins of the construction are clear, the actual purpose is left to speculation. The most plausible speculation is that it served as a kind of gatehouse for a madrasa now long gone. The name is derived from Persian meaning four towers. Interestingly enough the towers are not minarets, on the contrary three of them were used to store goods and the fourth has an internal staircase leading to the roof. From what I gather it is still possible to visit the roof, for a small fee to be paid at the entrance.

It is possible to visit this cute building, however it relies on an element of luck. The afternoon we went, it was locked. The local merchant across the street knew enough English to be able to tell us that the lady who had the key was currently not home and so we were unable to visit.

Things to do in Bukhara: Chor Minor

Practical details for visiting Chor Minor:

Location: About a 15 min walk from the Kalon Minaret
When to go: We went in the later afternoon
Fee to get on the roof: 4000 SOM

Where to stay in Bukhara

Komil Bukhara Boutique Hotel
We stayed in this 19th century, fully renovated boutique hotel. The property itself has been beautifully renovated, staying very close to the original look of the house. It has intricately carved wooden pillars, and beautiful decorative tiles. It also has a very warm shower and thick plush matrasses which will ensure a good night’s sleep.

Make sure to stay for breakfast, the spread is impressive with local delicacies and nibbles that will give you plenty of energy to get through the day. The staff speaks English and will be more than happy to answer any of your questions as well as help with the planning of your trip.

Click here to book.

Where to stay in Bukhara Uzbekistan

I hope this guide of things to do in Bukhara was useful and will help you plan your trip. Stay tuned for a 10 day itinerary to Uzbekistan and have a look at my guide of things to do in Khiva in the meantime.

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Showing 43 comments
  • Avatar
    Jiayi
    Reply

    Beautifully written!! It was so nice to relive this city through your words 🙂

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    Reply

    Lovely post! Did like your writing as well. Gonna consider your post and put Bukhara on my travel list =)

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    Reply

    I love these shots – they’re absolutely gorgeous. I definitely want to go to Bukhara now!

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    Karen
    Reply

    There are so many fascinating things to see in Bukhara. The history is so interesting and reaches back so far. Great details to help plan a visit.

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    Reply

    Absolutely beautiful! I wish to visit there one day! Uzbekistan is one of those destinations that I definitely need to learn more about. Thanks for sharing!

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    Reply

    What a beautiful and inspirational post! I used to work with a girl from Uzbekistan a few years ago and I’ve always wanted to visit ever since. Planning a trip seemed overwhelming at first, but your posts on things to do in Bukhara and Khiva made it so much easier 😀

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    Reply

    I’ve never really had a desire to visit the middle east. After seeing these photos and places, you may have changed my mind! So beautiful!

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    Reply

    Such a beautiful and complete post Caroline! The pictures left me speechless and your words convinced me even more that I need to make it there one day!

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    Reply

    Such a helpful itinerary, I didn’t realise how stunning the architecture in Bukhara was! The Ark of Bukhara looks incredible, would love to visit! Have bookmarked for future travel

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    Reply

    it looks so magical here Caro! The architecture is very original! I am sure the atmosphere there is very unique!

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    Reply

    Your photos make me dream so much!! I really want to explore the middle east!

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    Reply

    A very useful guide for Bukhara! Thank you for sharing. I would love to visit Uzbekistan one day!

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    Reply

    Such an interesting part of the world which I hope to get to one day. I would love to see the stunning architecture in Bukhara. The history fascinates me too.

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    roshni
    Reply

    such a beautiful city, it looks like a wide angle lens is an absolute must!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hi Roshni, a wide angle lens is a definite plus when visiting indeed.

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    Reply

    What a helpful guide and such stunning photography, as always. Thank you for putting this underrated destination on my radar!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hello Elena, thanks a lot for taking the time to read.

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    Reply

    So many beautiful spots to visit, the architecture is astounding. Although the Great Minaret of the Kalon had an interesting history/dual purpose there. I know it’s awful, but I do like to hear about the history of places like that.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Katherine, me too. It is a bit creepy granted but it is part of history so no use in glossing over it :).

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    Reply

    Bukhara looks absolutely stunning! I love the architecture and the intricate tile patterns on the buildings! I’d love to hopefully visit one day, keeping in pinned for the future.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hi Dominika, the architecture and tiles are definitely a very solid reason to go one day!

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    Reply

    You instill in me a severe dose of wanderlust. In love with your pics.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Oh what a wonderful thing to read! Hope you get to go one day.

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    Reply

    Bukhara is absolutely stunning! I learned so much from your blog about it…. and TBH, I had never even heard of Bukhara!! (sadly) Definitely saving this post because I need to see this gorgeous place in person one day.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Shelly, what a lovely comment to receive. I so hope you get to go one day and experience the magic of this place. Just do not go in the winter because it is SO SO cold!

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    Reply

    The architecture is stunning! I’d love to explore this part of the world and see the gorgeous architecture, the colourful mosaic. I hear the food in Uzbekistan is good too. Do you have a favourite?

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hiya, to be completely honest I was not blown away by the food. As a vegetarian I found it hard to find very tasty dishes.

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    Val
    Reply

    Uzbekistan looks magical, great guide Caroline! By the way, that picture at the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa is super!!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hi Val, that is very kind of you thanks so much!

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    Kelly
    Reply

    Loved reading this post and being able to Bukhara through your eyes. Would also love to visit the bazaars and some of the beautiful mosques there.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Kelly, it is very much worth a visit if you get the chance! Thanks for taking the time to read.

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    Reply

    Oh my – I am so in love with all your pictures! Definitely interested in visiting Uzbekistan now 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Oh thanks so much! Hope you get to go one day soon.

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    Helena
    Reply

    Love the detail you include, even down to the best times to visit, the cost and what to wear, this is so useful for when I (hopefully, finally) can visit Uzbekistan! Also I’m a sucker for a cafe with a view so would definitely be visiting the cafe with a view over the Emsemble!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Helena, thanks for taking the time to read. Hope you get to go one day (soon).

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    Linn
    Reply

    I love this post! I so wanna go to Uzbekistan and your photos are really inspiring. I’ll definitely save this for future reference!

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    Juleen Meets World
    Reply

    Looks like I need to add Uzbekistan to my bucket list

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    Sam
    Reply

    I loved your post and you have officially inspired me to visit Bukhara! It sounds and looks like such a beautiful place!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hi Sam, that is wonderful to read! Hope you get to go one day indeed.

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    Reply

    What gorgeous architecture! I really appreciate the historical context at the top of the post and throughout! It is easy to get swept up in the beauty of the detailed tile work and forget layers of Uzbek history. Thanks for sharing! Adding to my bucket list. 🙂

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read Courtney. I love learning about the history of places too, but seems we might be in the minority on that one.

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