Uzbekistan is seen as top emerging tourist destination and with thousands of years of history this country is waiting to be discovered. Tashkent is overlooked all too frequently. In the clamour to reach the UNESCO treasures of Samarkand and Bukhara, most visitors skip the electric sights of Central Asia’s largest city. Tashkent boast more than 2,500 years of history. On this Silk Road crossroads, you’ll not only find superb museums and striking architecture, but also vast markets and green parks.
Tashkent Metro is a subterranean art gallery as much as it is a transport system, and as you survey the gleaming public building and swish apartment blocks shooting up across the city, you’ll have a strong sense of where modern Uzbekistan is headed. So, plan in at least a day in this cosmopolitan, vibrant capital on your Silk Road adventure.
Tashkent city centre is approximately 7km from Tashkent International Airport. There are two ways to get from the airport into the centre of town. Buses leave regularly from the edge of the terminal’s car park: bus 40 goes to the train station. You pay for tickets onboard, and the trip takes 15 minutes.
If you prefer to travel by taxi to the city centre, there’s a pre-pay booth as you exit customs. Booked here, a taxi will cost you. Or, you can head to the official taxi rank and agree a rate directly with a driver. Ignore the usual crowd of taxi touts hanging around.
Get a feel of the city with a self-guided walking tour around downtown Tashkent. Start at Amir Timur Square, with its vast statue of Timur – founder of the Timurid Empire and Uzbekistan’s national hero – as well as the mighty Soviet Façade of Hotel Uzbekistan.
Stroll along the Broadway (Sailgokn Street), browsing its art and craft stalls, and stopping to admire the Palace of Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov.
Descend into Mustakillik Maydoni Station to discover a subterranean beauty: Tashkent Metro. It opened in 1977, and each station is decorated with murals, mosaics and chandeliers. Ride the metro to Chorsu, looking out for the striking platforms of Paxtakor, Alisher Navoiy and Gafur Gulom along the way.
Chorsu Bazaar is one of the largest markets in Central Asia, and dates back to the 16th century. Follow your nose to the bakers cooking fresh non (flat bread) in vast ovens, and feast on grilled shashlik (kebabs) and samsa (meat- or vegetable-filled pastries).
Finally, call at Kukeldash Madrasah, near the bazaar. Few of Tashkent’s historic buildings survived the 1966 earthquake because of their mudbrick construction, but this attractive complex has lasted 450 years in various guises – as a religious school fortress, caravanserai, and folk music museum in Soviet times.
You can spend the night at Caravan and Sette. Caravan is decorated with antiques, and the menu features plenty of Uzbek favourites. After that hang out at Sette, looking down from the rooftop terrace cross the city. The Bagizagan wines from Samarkand are very drinkable.
Using Tashkent as your base you can take advantage of Uzbekistan’s excellent high-speed train network and head west to see the UNESCO World Heritage treasures of Samarkand. Sitting in air-conditioned comfort the journey takes two hours, and will transport you to the capital of the Timurid Empire – where the glittering tilework of the Registan, Shah-i-Zinda, and Gur-I Amir dazzles all who see it. Samarkand is also famed for its handicrafts, so ensure there’s plenty of space in your bags to stock up on painted ceramics, hand-woven silks, and perhaps even a carpet.
Ugam-Chatkal National Pak is a 2.5-hour drive to the northeast of Tashkent. In winter, you can ski at Chimgan and Amirsoy; in summer, plan a day hike around Lake Charvak, a reservoir surrounded by sandy beaches and dachas (holiday homes). The peaks of the Western Tian Shan provide a dramatic backdrop to the turquoise water, which makes for a cooling dip on hot days.
Whare to stay
Like many cities Tashkent has accommodation to suit all budgets: top end, mid-range and budget. At the top end is the Hyatt Regency, with immaculate rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows and modern décor – and many rooms have their own terraces and views across Park Odo. Med-range is the historical Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace – built in 1958, the hotel’s façade is one of Tashkent’s most elegant landmarks. With outdoor pool for the hot summer and a sauna for the cold winters. It sits opposite the beautiful Navoi Opera Theatre. A budget traveller might like the centrally-located Gulnara Guesthouse, a family-run hostel set around an attractive courtyard, where a complimentary breakfast is served.