What Kent city is a stop on the Silk Road? The answer is “Tashkent”, of course, in the vibrant country of Uzbekistan. As the capital of a country known for its ancient mosques, fortresses and mausoleums, the first thing that will surprise you about Tashkent is how shiny and modern it feels with its wide streets, contemporary architecture and vibrant culture. While the Uzbek capital is still a newcomer on international tourism scene, it is full of surprises.
Uzbekistan, as it is known today, is a young nation that formed in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Further back in history, the landlocked country flourished due to its prime position on the legendary Silk Road. Muslim rulers occupied and developed Tashkent in the 8th century only for Genghis Khan to arrive in the early 13th century to flatten the city.
Tashkent is teeming with Timurs!
Disaster struck in 1966 when an earthquake destroyed the city, leaving it to the Soviet Union to remodel the city, yet again, this time as a monument to Brutalist architecture. Since independence, however, Tashkent – much like its sister, Baku, Azerbaijan – has been reinvented again in architecture and art and is now a shining gem to visit and explore!
You will probably start your adventure at Tashkent International Airport (TAS) which is well connected to neighbouring Central and South Asian countries as well as Russia, Turkey and the UAE. If you are travelling from the UK or Western Europe you will need to transfer. The airport is situated a mere 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) south of the city centre and it only requires 20-30 minutes to reach your hotel by car in the centre of the city. If you want to save some Som (the currency of Uzbekistan), skip the taxi and hop on bus number 11, 67 or 77 which connects the airport to the city.
I guess this is where the Spice Girls hang out!
Check out my favourite things to do in the city:
- Did you know that the Great Khan was called ‘Tamerlane’ in the West because his nickname was “Timur the Lame” after he sustained injuries in battle when he was young? Become acquainted with his life, deeds and architectural legacy at the Amir Timur Museum and with a stroll around the adjacent Amir Timur Square.
- Catch your breath at one of the city’s leafy parks, such as the Tashkent Ecopark with its lake, fountains and “Island of the Lovers”.
- Dive into a couple of Tashkent’s vibrant bazaars. The Chorsu Bazaar is the most happening and gives you the chance to pick up clothing, ceramics, and fresh produce whilst inhaling aromatic spices.
- If you enjoy bazaars and happen to be in Tashkent over a weekend, you can also check out Yangiobod Flea Market where you’ll find Soviet relics, Russian tea crockery and other useful treasures you never thought you needed.
Now that’s a bizarre Bazaar!
As an Islamic country, Tashkent is teeming with mosques but the architecture has the distinct flavour of Central Asia. I suggest you visit the following:
- Dating back to 1451, the Dzhuma Mosque(aka Khoja Ahror Valiy) is the oldest in town although it has been renovated in recent years. Right next door you’ll find the 16th century Ko’kaldosh Madrasasi, a historic religious school that’s still in use.
- Situated alongside the Tillya Sheikh Mosque in Khast Imam Square, the Hazrati Imam Mosque houses the oldest Qur’an in the world! During a recent careful study, it was determined that the text is identical to today’s Qur’ans, which is incredible.
- The newest addition is the Minor Mosque. This white marble wonder with blue domes and intricate facades opened in 2014. The interiors depict quotes from the Qur’an.
The Soviet Union left its mark on the city and there are almost as many catholic and orthodox churches in Tashkent as there are mosques.
This is a mosque not Timur’s hat!
Given its location at the crossroads of East and West, Uzbek cuisine is wildly varied and cherry-picks the best of Turkey, the Middle East and Central and South Asia. As an Islamic country, you won’t find pork on the menu but you will find plenty of other meat dishes.
- Swing by Plov Centre to sample, a familiar rice-based dish, called ‘Plov’. Expect a generous mound of rice mixed with lamb or beef, fresh vegetables, onions and garlic mixed with generous portions of dried raisins and other fruits.
- Jumanji is the place to tackle ‘Manti’. These large steamed buns are stuffed with lamb or beef mixed with onion and fragrant fresh herbs. Whatever you do, don’t ask for cutlery. Follow the lead of the locals and dive in with your hands.
- Make a dinner date at Khiva Restaurant to try other succulent Uzbek dishes. Share ‘Somsas’ (samosas), ‘Lagman’ (noodle soup) or ‘Shashlik’ (grilled skewers).
Peel off some time in your schedule for a nice Plov!
Although you might not expect it in a Muslim country, cosmopolitan Tashkent is brimming with late-night restaurants, bars, karaoke clubs and theatres to keep you busy after hours. And in case you were wondering, alcohol is widely available in Uzbekistan. In fact, Uzbekistan is the largest producer of wine in Central Asia with some fantastic vintages.
- Cavern Club: Follow in the footsteps of the Tashkent locals and embrace karaoke culture. Gather a group of friends and book a room at Cavern Club where you can sing, play board games and enjoy cocktails while having a wonderful time.
- Steam Bar: Nurse a pint of Sarbast Original, a Tashkent brewed lager, at this casual hang-out. With ample outdoor seating, live music and craft beer, it’s one of the best places to enjoy a fun night in the city.
- Navoi Opera Theatre: Dress to the nines and grab tickets for the latest ballet or opera. Constructed by Russian-Soviet architect Alexei Schusev, this stately theatre is luxurious inside.
Since tourism arrived in Uzbekistan, Tashkent has blossomed with accommodation to suit all budgets and styles. These are my top picks for where to stay in Tashkent:
- Mirzo Boutique Hotel: Located in the Shaykhontohur District, this affordable hotel was constructed within a historic Islamic building that resembles a mosque. In addition to the more conventional bedrooms, the hotel offers two yurts for a fun stay in this traditional tent-like structure.
- The Royal Mezbon Hotel & Spa: This opulent hotel boasts deluxe and luxury rooms, a chic on-site restaurant and a swimming pool. There is also a relaxing spa on the premises. This property is perfectly placed if you have an early flight and want to be close to the airport.
- Ichan Qa’la Hotel: This immaculate hotel provides a sanctuary from the busy streets and bazaars of Tashkent. Some rooms feature chandeliers and four-poster beds and all prioritise comfort above all else. In addition to the fitness centre, there are two swimming pools.
There are few cities on the planet that present such a melting point of culture, tradition and cuisine as Tashkent. Although seldom visited by Western travellers, this Silk Road gem will delight and inspire you!