Mosques, mausoleums and madrasahs

Steven Hermans

Exploring The Silk Road

Highlights and key routes

Does anywhere conjure the spirit and romance of adventure quite like the Silk Road? The original transcontinental trade route; the stomping grounds of Marco Polo and Genghis Khan; a ribbon weaving across desert and mountain to connect medieval Europe with the mysterious and mighty civilisations to the east.

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Central Asia’s showstopper, Uzbekistan is synonymous with the famed Silk Road which weaved its way through much of this historic country. Cities like Bukhara and Samarkand bustled with life as spice and silk traders plied their wares along the route. However, with trade came trouble and Uzbekistan has seen its fair share of problems over the years.

Today, Uzbekistan offers intrepid visitors a mix of Islamic architecture and ancient cities. Look for Samarkand’s Registan - a public square at the heart of the city, crowned by three madrasahs (Islamic schools) all showcasing distinctive architecture. In contrast, capital Tashkent – completely destroyed in 1966 by a merciless earthquake – is a mishmash of restored 12th-century mosques and the brutalist Russian buildings that sprung up during its recovery.

Visiting Uzbekistan isn’t just about its cities. The Kyzyl Kum Desert is the world’s 11th largest and is famous for its red sand, camel treks and yurts offering starlit nights. Remote Karakalpakstan has fortresses, castles and the infamous Aral Sea, which is now a dry, barren but spectacular sight.

It’s impossible to ignore the complexity of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian regime. Homosexuality is illegal and the country’s state has a reputation for corruption. However, most visitors find only friendship, fun and intrigue among Uzbeks. A word of warning – pick your season. November to February can be bleak, with temperatures regularly below freezing, while the intense heat of July can see 50C melt Tashkent’s pavement.

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Things to do in Uzbekistan

Our recommended experiences and activities

Discover historical cities

Discover historical cities

Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva: little-known today, but once towering hubs of the medieval era. These remarkably preserved cities symbolise the core idea of the Silk Road: a place where east met west to create something new, and heart-stoppingly beautiful.

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