Bukhara, a medieval gem, is a must-see destination for those wanting to discover the beauty of Uzbekistan.
For all the best tips on accommodations, flights, and transportation,
be sure to check out
“Captain Ulysses’ favorites” at the end of the article!
Bukhara in a nutshell
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993, Bukhara is a true gem of medieval architecture. With its countless minarets, mosques, and madrasas, it’s widely regarded as the holiest city in Central Asia.
Its historical buildings, remnants of the legendary dynasties that ruled the city (Samanid, Karakhanid, Timurid, Chaybanid, and more), have weathered the centuries with only a few wrinkles (if any).
Apart from its famous landmarks, Bukhara is also known for its urban design that has remained virtually unchanged since the 16th century, giving the city its incredible uniformity and consistency.
In short, Captain Ulysses has fallen in love with Bukhara and highly recommends spending a few days there to explore its historical and architectural treasures.
How long to stay in Bukhara?
Bukhara is an essential stop on the Silk Road for a reason! You will need at least two days to get a good overview of its incredibly rich architectural and cultural heritage.
Getting to Bukhara
Located 300 kilometers west of Samarkand, Bukhara is easily accessible from Tashkent, Samarkand, and Khiva. There are various means of transportation available: plane, train, shared or private taxi.
Domestic flights to Bukhara depart from the capital four times a week. The average cost per person is around 40-45 €. For more information, click here.
Several trains also provide a daily connection between Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. There are two types of trains:
- the fast Afrosiyab train, which takes 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Bukhara from Samarkand (42,000 to 57,000 soums) and 4 hours from Tashkent (95,000 to 130,000 soums),
- and the slower and less expensive Sharq train.
It is also possible to reach Bukhara from Khiva, Samarkand, and Tashkent by shared or private taxi. For a private taxi, it is best to ask your hotel to arrange the ride for you. You can also inquire at your hotel about the starting point for shared taxis.
👉 To learn more, don’t hesitate to check out Captain Ulysses’ articles on Tashkent and Khiva!
Hotels in Bukhara
On a tight budget? Captain Ulysses recommends:
For mid-range budgets, Captain Ulysses suggests these three options:
Looking for something more luxurious? If you’re seeking a boutique hotel in Bukhara, Captain Ulysses suggests:
More hotels in Bukhara
Getting around Bukhara
Bukhara is a relatively small city, and it is very easy to get around on foot. If you prefer, you can also take a taxi for a moderate price (around 3000 soums per ride), but avoid the Liab-i-Hauz area where drivers tend to inflate prices.
Some shops near Liab-i-Hauz also offer bike rentals.
WIthdrawing money in Bukhara
Withdrawing money in Bukhara can be a bit of a challenge, so it’s best to stock up when you find an ATM that works!
During Captain Ulysses’ visit to Boukhara, most of the ATMs in the city were out of cash. However, he managed to find two working ATMs, which are usually reliable sources:
- The ATM at Asia Hotel
- The ATM at Malika Hotel
Liab-i-Hauz and its surroundings
This charming tree-lined square, one of the most touristic spots in the city, owes its name to the basin that stands in its center: “Liab-i-Hauz” literally means “around the basin” in Tajik.
This body of water is actually one of the last ones you’ll find in Bukhara, while the city had about 200 of them just a century ago. Why did these “hauz” (basins) disappear so abruptly from the city?
Can’t guess the answer? 🙂 🙂
Well, here it is: despite their undeniable charm, these basins, around which the whole city gathered to chat, wash and drink, were actually nests of germs and bacteria (including the plague!). They were also responsible for the extremely low life expectancy of Bukhara residents (around 32 years!).
This is why the Russians had them drained when they arrived in the city.
The Khanaka Nadi Divan-Beghi
The Khanaka Nadir Divan-Beghi, located in the heart of the square, is a Sufi sanctuary that hat used to serve as a hostel for pilgrims who came to pray in the city. It was once an essential cultural and religious center in Bukhara.
The building gets its name from the Minister of Finance of the Vizier Abdul Aziz Khan, who ordered its construction in the 17th century.
The Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasa
The beautiful Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasa, like the Khanaka, is named after the Minister of Finances of Vizier Abdul Aziz Khan.
Be sure not to miss the stunning “pichtak“, or portal, topped with mosaics depicting a couple of birds carrying lambs and a sun with distinctly human features. If you’re knowledgeable about Islam, this representation may catch your attention. After all, it is traditionally forbidden for Muslims to depict living beings in places of worship.
So why make an exception? Well, simply because this madrasa was originally a caravanserai, not a Quranic school. But in the 17th century, the Khan, who held all the power, mistook the building for a madrasa. To avoid contradicting him and risking offense, the people of Bukhara simply decided to convert the caravanserai into a Quranic school!
The Koukeldash Madrasa
The Koukeldash Madrasa, built in 1569, was at the time of its construction the largest Quranic school in Central Asia. It is also the oldest building in Liab-i-Hauz.
It is named after the high-ranking official who commissioned its construction for the city of Bukhara.
The Maghok-i-Attar Mosque
A short walk from Liab-i-Hauz, nestled in between the covered bazaars of Bukhara, stands the most ancient mosque in Central Asia.
Built in the 12th century, the mosque was erected atop the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple, a Buddhist temple, and a marketplace. It is said that in the past, Bukharan Jews and Muslims shared the space as a place of worship.
Attention, photography enthusiasts! Located about ten minutes’ walk northeast of Liab-i-Hauz, Tchor Minor is a surprising and incredibly photogenic small building.
Built in the early 19th century, it consists of four towers, hence its name (“Tchor Minor” means “four minarets” in Tajik).
While this beautiful monument may seem self-sufficient, it is actually only the gatehouse of a madrasa that no longer exists.
Across from the monument, a small shop sells authentic vintage military jackets covered in pins: the perfect unique souvenir to bring back from Uzbekistan!
Although the area to the north and west of Liab-i-Hauz was once occupied by a cluster of bazaars and commercial streets, nowadays the city only has three covered bazaars: Taki-Sarrafon, Taki-Telpak Fourouchon, and Taki-Zargaron.
While they are each relatively small and mainly house souvenir and craft shops, they still provide a good idea of what Bukharan commerce might have looked like centuries ago.
The Madrasa Ulug Beg and the Madrasa Abdul Aziz Khan
The Madrasa Ulug Beg and the Madrasa Abdul Aziz Khan face each other and are two of the most must-see buildings in the city. They are also among the top picks of Captain Ulysses in Bukhara!
The Ulug Beg Madrasa
The Ulug Beg Madrasa, with its twisted columns typical of Iranian style, was commissioned by the famous grandson of Tamerlane (Amir Timur in Uzbek) in the 15th century and is one of the oldest madrasas in Central Asia.
The Abdul Aziz Khan Madrasa
Facing the Ulug Beg Madrasa, the Abdul Aziz Khan Madrasa was commissioned in the 17th century by Abdul Aziz Khan, who wanted to surpass the Ulug Beg Madrasa in both size and splendor. However, the exterior decorations were never completed as the khan was dethroned before the end of the work.
It’s up to you to judge if his bet was successful! Captain Ulysses, for his part, remains impartial.
Inside the madrasa, the room supervisors will show you what looks like the silhouette of the khan, which appears in a painting when viewed under a certain light. Abdul Aziz Khan wanted to hide his portrait in the madrasa and thus circumvent the Muslim prohibition on depicting living beings in places of worship! (A little megalomaniacal?)
The Po-i-Kalon Complex
The Po-i-Kalon complex, consisting of the Kalon Minaret, Kalon Mosque, and Mir-i-Arab Madrasa (known as the Po-i-Kalon complex, the “pedestal of the great”), is unanimously considered one of the most beautiful architectural complexes in Bukhara. And Captain Ulysses couldn’t agree more!
The Kalon Minaret
Did you know that “Kalon“ means “great” in Tajik? And it’s safe to say that the Kalon Minaret lives up to its name! Standing over 48 meters high, it was likely the tallest structure in Central Asia when it was built by Lord Arslan Khan in 1127. 1127.
Legend has it that even the formidable Genghis Khan ordered his troops to preserve the Kalon Minaret during the sacking of the city, so impressed was he by the building.
Over the centuries, the tower has had many functions other than the call to prayer, including a watchtower and a landmark for caravans. It was also used to execute criminals by throwing them from the top!
The Kalon Mosque
Next to the Kalon Minaret stands the Kalon Mosque. Dating back to the 16th century, it is one of the oldest and largest in Central Asia, accommodating up to 10,000 worshippers!
Its interior courtyard, lined with a gallery of 208 columns, is definitely worth a visit – a true oasis of freshness and serenity in the heart of Bukhara.
The Mir-i-Arab Madrasa
Facing the Kalon Mosque, the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa, built in the 16th century, is considered one of the most beautiful in Central Asia. It served as a model for most of the city’s madrasas built in the following centuries.
Still in use today, the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa, along with the one in Tashkent, was the only one allowed to continue its religious teachings during the Soviet era.
Tourists are not allowed inside and must admire it from the outside.
Attention photographers: the madrasa is backlit in the morning, so it’s better to visit in the afternoon. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset. Captain Ulysses recommends having a drink or dinner at the Chasmai-Mirob panoramic restaurant, which faces the minaret, as the view is splendid!
The Ark and its surroundings
While many consider the Ark to be one of the most emblematic sites in Bukhara, Captain Ulysses found it less charming than many other buildings in the city. Perhaps it was due to the scorching sun beating down on him, despite his cap tightly secured on his head? The fact remains that there are only a few buildings left in the citadel, and only a part of it is open to the public, so it appears much more impressive from the outside than from the inside.
Overlooking the Registan (a large square where public executions were held, among other events), the Ark Citadel dates back to the 16th century, although it was built on the remains of a previous fortress dating back to the 7th century.
The citadel was inhabited by emirs until 1920, when it was bombed by the Red Army and the last emir was deposed by the Russians.
The Bolo Haouz Mosque
The Bolo Haouz Mosque, built in 1712, is a personal favorite of Captain Ulysses in Bukhara, unlike the Ark which did not appeal to him as much. Situated on the Registan and facing a basin from which it derives its name (Bolo Haouz means “near the basin”), the mosque boasts a beautiful iwan or aivan, supported by stunning painted wooden columns.
The Mausoleum of the Samanids
The Mausoleum of the Samanids, also known as the Tomb of Ismail, was built at the beginning of the 10th century and is the oldest monument in Bukhara. Its cubic shape is reminiscent of the Kaaba, a sacred site of Muslim worship located in Mecca.
Located in Samani Park, this small mausoleum was discovered in the 1930s by a Soviet archaeologist. It was completely buried in the ground at the time, which explains its remarkable state of preservation.
The mausoleum of Turki Jandi
The mausoleum of Turki Jandi was under renovation during Captain Ulysses’ visit to Bukhara. In addition to the tomb of Turki Jandi, the mausoleum contains a small well of holy water.
If you’re superstitious, be sure to stop by: legend has it that prayers are answered there!
The synagogues of Bukhara
Although Jews once represented 7% of the Bukharan population, they now number only 360. Only two of the seven synagogues that once existed in the city have survived the test of time.
However, a few centuries ago, the Bukharan Jewish community was a major community and played an important role in the city’s trade. Bukharan Jews had even developed their own dialect, a mixture of Persian and Hebrew, still spoken by the handful of Jews who still reside there.
To discover another face of Bukhara and get off the beaten path, Captain Ulysses highly recommends taking a look at the two synagogues still in operation. You will be warmly welcomed by representatives of the local community who are eager to share their history.
Faizulla Khodjaev’s residence
Faizulla Khodjaev, a wealthy Bukharan merchant who became the first leader of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan before being executed by Stalin, had a house built in 1892 that is not a must-see, but worth a quick visit if you have some spare time.
The Gaoukouchan Madrasa
The Gaoukouchan Madrasa, dating back to the 16th century, is located on a charming square crossed by a small canal, just a 5-minute walk from Liab-i-Hauz. Although it is usually closed to the public, it is worth a visit, if only for its enchanting setting.
The Center for Creative Photography Development
Located just a stone’s throw away from the Gaoukouchan Madrasa, this center showcases stunning photographs by Uzbek artists, most of which are available for purchase at an affordable price. Captain Ulysses loved it!
Getting Lost in the Alleys of Bukhara
While Bukhara is mostly famous for its iconic tourist sites, it would be a shame to forget that the city is also a vibrant place to live. Don’t hesitate to venture off the beaten path and explore the alleys surrounding the city center, or even the Samani Park near the Ark – you’re sure to discover the true face of Uzbekistan!
💡Tips & advice💡
Looking for more tips and advice to plan your trip to Uzbekistan? Check out all of Captain Ulysses’ articles here!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are Captain Ulysses’ top picks!
🛏️ Accommodation: For all budgets and preferences, Captain Ulysses recommends using Booking.com to book your accommodation in Bukhara or elsewhere in Uzbekistan.
Some of his specific recommendations in Bukhara include Guest house Alisher, Nurobod Guesthouse and Dervish Hostel for budget stays,As-Salam Boutique Hotel, Bibi-Khanym Hotel andHotel Volida Boutique for mid-range budgets, Boutique Devon and Boutique Safiya for higher-end hotels.
🎟️ Activities: Whether you’re interested in guided tours, treks, excursions, or yurt stays, Captain Ulysses suggests checking out Civitatis and Viator for your Uzbekistan sightseeing and activity needs.
📍 Tours: If you’re looking for a travel agency to plan your trip to Uzbekistan, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Evaneos. They offer a variety of tours, including some exclusively in Uzbekistan and others combined with neighboring countries like Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
✈️ Flights: Uzbekistan Airways and Air Astana offer direct and indirect flights to Tashkent International Airport. To find the best deals, Captain Ulysses recommends using Skyscanner’s flight comparison tool. You can also use Skyscanner to book domestic flights between major Uzbek cities like Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva.
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