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Samarkand - Uzbekistan

This beguiling Uzbekistani city, on the ancient Silk Road, offers awe-inspiring sights and a rich cuisine – from street food to indulgent stuffed quail. Clare Vooght looks east

Travel Time 13hrs 10min

Why go?

With intricate mosaics, floral majolica titles and towering minarets, Uzbekistan’s palatial edifices hark back to its time as a thriving global centre, and a halfway point on the Silk Road. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the historical south-eastern city of Samarkand, one of the oldest in Central Asia, which dates back to the 4th century BC. Today, its monuments and mosques remain a shrine to Islamic art and culture. Relish crowd-free travel during off-peak August and September, when the weather is dry and sunny and a glut of fresh produce graces markets and menus

What to do

Head towards the turquoise cupolas and mosaicked minarets of Registan Square – the pinnacle of ancient Samarkand. Its madrasas made it the intellectual capital of the region, and its bustling bazaars thrived on the textile trade. Registan was built under the dynasty of Amir Timur – a Turco-Mongol warlord who ruled over much of Persia and Central Asia – in the late 14th century but, like many of Uzbekistan’s historical buildings, was later painstakingly restored under Soviet rule. The ornate flat roof inside its spectacular mosque is painted in dark blue and gold to create the illusion of a dome. Of equal note is the nearby Gur-e-Amir mausoleum, with its gold-leaf interior and ribbed exterior turquoise domes, said to be a prototype of the Taj Mahal, as Timur went on to found the Indian Mughal Empire. Close by is the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, which was one of the largest in the Islamic world during the 15th century. Venture to north-east Samarkand, too, for the stunning Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, whose ancient mausoleums bear some of the most elaborate tilework in the Islamic world. In the medieval era, Uzbekistan was also renowned for astronomy – find out why at the Ulugh Beg Observatory. Wrap up your trip with a visit to the Siyob Bazaar, which offers everything from bread to spices and scarves

Where to stay

French-Uzbek L’Argamak 00 998 66 239 1101, is smartly decorated with local hand-embroidered suzani rugs and ikat textiles. Breakfast includes jams made from the hotel’s cherry and fig trees, and is served on the rooftop terrace, with views over the Gur-e-Amir. Pattern-rich, vibrant rooms at the Jahongir Hotel 00 998 91 555 0808, are also decorated with local fabrics – and each is unique. It’s affordable, and features outdoor dining with a backdrop of flowers and lush vines. Or try 12-room Platan 00 998 66 233 8049, with its carved wood and brick features. It’s small but charming, featuring a leafy outdoor space.

Where to eat and drink

Uzbekistan is gloriously free of Western chains. Fresh fruit and veg are staples: make the most of the country’s super-sweet watermelons, and don’t miss the achichuk salad, consisting of thin, long-sliced tomato, onion and cucumber. It’s best alongside a hearty meat grill, with tear-and-share bread. Street food-wise, go for the ubiquitous beef samsa, which sits somewhere between mince-filled samosa and Cornish pasty. And the national dish? Plov – a rich, garlicky rice with grated carrot topped with meat (beef is popular) and quails’ eggs. It’s best eaten in a canteen-style eatery, with a heaped plate costing around £1.50, or go upscale and try it with all the trimmings in Platan hotel’s eponymous restaurant, one of Samarkand’s best. Staraya Arba’s 00 998 66 233 6067, focus is on national and European food, with a signature dish of stuffed quail. Also try Old City 00 998 66 233 8020, in the Russian part of town, which serves lavash (unleavened flatbread) and more than 40 vegetable dishes and salads – go for the beetroot and walnut, or cucumber with dill and purple basil. Thanks to the Russian influence, meals are routinely served with ice-cold, neat vodka.

Time running out?

Pick up a silk tapestry or carpet with around a million hand-tied knots per square metre at Samarkand-Bukhara Silk Carpets Showroom. Hujom 12A, 00 998 97 455 5777


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Uzbekistani som (UZS). Time is 5 hours ahead of GMT. Flight time from the UK is around 13 hours. The cost to carbon-offset is £10.67. To find out more, visit

Getting There

British Airways offers flights to Samarkand International from London Heathrow via Berlin and Moscow.

Turkish Airlines flies direct from Gatwick.


Uzbekistan Travel is the official tourist board and its website is packed with helpful information for your trip.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp-4-239131618161162
Max Temp68142126323432282115

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