In this Samarkand travel guide, I’m going to share with you some of the best food and historical attractions that you don’t want to miss when you visit.
Samarkand (sometimes also spelled Samarqand) is an ancient city in Uzbekistan, once a prosperous city along the ancient Silk Road.
From monumental Mosques and Mausoleums, to jaw-dropping plates of plov and kebabs, Samarkand is a living museum that will blow you away with every sight and bite.
Get ready to discover the best of Samarkand!
Without a doubt, the city I was most looking forward to visiting on my trip to Uzbekistan was Samarkand.
Samarkand is the oldest inhabited city of Central Asia, settled at first in the 8th Century BC, and having been one of the most strategic cities along the Silk Road, located en-route from China to the Mediterranean.
UNESCO labels Samarkand a “crossroad and melting pot of world’s cultures.”
Watch the full Samarkand video here:
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We only had 24 hours in Samarkand, so we made the most of our time, exploring both the incredible food and history of the city.
In this Samarkand travel guide, I’ll share all the details about some of the best things to do in Samarkand and especially about the best food to eat in this fascinating city in Uzbekistan.
First of all, where to stay? We stayed at the DiliMah Premium Luxury, a newly decorated, slightly over-the-top, pink and purple hotel. Rooms were clean, and new, and great value for the price we paid.
Gur-e Amir Сomplex
Staring off in the morning at about 8 am, we headed straight to Gur-e Amir Сomplex, the mausoleum of Amir Timur.
Amir Timur is the founding father of Samarkand, an important conqueror and founder of the empire.
The outside of his mausoleum is spectacular, with minarets and a turquoise dome, but step inside the mausoleum and the gold and blue decoration will blow your mind.
I just stood there in awe for a few moments, barely able to grasp the detail and construction.
It’s a must-visit in Samarkand, and going at the beginning of the first day will set a great foundation in your mind.
Registan – The Center of Samarkand
There’s nothing more grand and monumental than Registan, a huge public square, and the historical center of Samarkand.
Imagine the entire square as a buzzing bazaar, packed full of traders and goods being transported, sold, and bought, from China to Arabia, all the way to the Mediterranean.
Registan is the ultimate representation of Timurid Samarkand, and over time it has even influenced cultures and architecture throughout all the surrounding regions.
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The square is also currently home to Madrasas (Islamic schools) and Mosques.
The Tilla Kori mosque and madrasa, with its unbelievable detail and preservation will again blow you away.
The entire interior of the dome is illuminated in gold-work with laces of beautiful blues, oranges, and turquoise. It’s spectacular.
Just a short 10 minute walk from Registan is Bibi-Khanym Mosque, and next to that is the Siab Bazaar, a large food marketplace.
If you have time, quickly stop by Bibi-Khanym Mosque, another magnificent landmark of Samarkand, one that dates back to the year 1404.
But back to Siab Bazaar.
Within the market you’ll find fresh vegetables and fruits and bread – essential foods of Samarkand – but one of the real highlights is the dried fruit and nuts piled high throughout the bazaar.
Uzbekistan is well known for its dried fruit, and this is the place to sample and buy.
I especially enjoying the dried melon rolls, which were like melon jerky, but probably the highlight for me were all the dried apricots.
Lunch at Osh Markazi
Plov (palov, pulao) is the national dish of Uzbekistan, and every city and region has their own version.
When you’re in Samarkand, you don’t want to miss Samarkand plov – it also happens to be my favorite version of any I tried throughout the country.
We arrived to Osh Markazi at about noon – you have to get there on time because they can run out quickly.
The rice is cooked in a massive pan, braised in flax-seed oil, with tons of yellow carrots and beef.
When you order a plate, the plov master dishes you out huge proportions of rice drizzled in the fragrant oil, followed by a layer of fall apart tender carrots.
Finally, he chops up a hand selection of beef, adds it on top of the carrots, and decorates your plate with quail eggs and chilies.
The rice was so fragrant and nutty from the oil, the carrots are so sweet and caramelized, and the meat is fall apart tender.
During my trip to Uzbekistan I ate a lot of food, but Samarkand was probably my favorite city for food. Though it’s a very tough decision, Samarkand plov was probably my favorite dish of the entire trip.
Samarkand plov is truly a masterpiece of Uzbek cuisine.
Osh Markazi Restaurant
Address: Corner of Vohid Abdullo Street and Afrosiyob Street, Samarkand (see map here)
Open hours: No totally sure, but about 11 am – 2 pm for lunch
Total price: 140,000 UZS ($17.17), we ordered the massive platter for 8
Ulugh Beg Observatory
Full of plov, we continued to Ulugh Beg Observatory, an astronomy observatory built in the 1420’s by Ulugh Beg.
At its peak it was one of the most advanced observatories in the world, and they could measure the time, day, and season, almost perfectly.
You can see the remains of the observatory and visit the small adjacent museum.
We didn’t stay long at the observatory because just a 5 minute walk around the corner you’ll find Domashnii Restaurant, a popular local restaurant, tucked within the neighborhood that’s famous for their chickpeas.
The salads are also fantastic, a selection of fresh herbs, pickles, and yogurt that you can’t go wrong with.
For the main dish we got what nearly everyone else gets: chickpeas stewed until they’re so tender they almost dissolve into broth, with lamb that’s almost equally as juicy and soft.
There was very little spice and seasoning, but the comfort that the dish’s textures offer is on another level.
I just sat there, spooning myself chickpeas and alternating bites of fall-off-the-bone lamb. It’s a hearty dish, and well worth a visit as a second lunch in Samarkand.
Address: M2F4+M9 Samarkand, Uzbekistan (see map here)
Open hours: 10 am – 9 pm daily
Prices: 74,00 UZS ($9.08) for everything we ordered
They call him the greatest grill-master in Samarkand, and when you see him work, you’ll know why.
Ikrom Shashlik is a locally famous restaurant for all things Uzbek kebabs in Samarkand. He’s been working the 21 meter kebab grill for over 20 years, and without a smile, he focuses on perfecting each and every skewer that goes on the grill.
We ordered a selection of their kebabs – from right to left, layers of lamb and fat, fish, minced meat kebab, and bull testicle.
Each was totally different, marinated in light spices, but mainly relying on the cuts of meat, and the expert grilling with perfect smoke point.
The testicles came first and were delightfully good, with a bit of a spongy texture, but not chewy at all.
The actual kebab was spectacular, and like many Uzbek kebabs I enjoyed, it was very dense and spongy in texture.
Finally, the highlight of this kebab meal at Ikrom Shashlik restaurant was the thin layers of alternating lamb meat and fat, providing a perfect balance of flavor and juiciness.
Address: Sat-Tepo Street, Samarkand, Uzbekistan (see map here)
Open hours: 8 am – 11 pm daily
Prices: 7,000 UZS ($0.86) per kebab
We couldn’t spend much time relaxing after devouring the kebabs, because in order to complete this all-out best of Samarkand day, we had to make it to one more spectacular sight in Samarkand.
To be honest, I might have felt a little history-ied out by this time.
But we pressed on.
At about 5 pm, just as the sun was lowering, we arrived to Shah-i-Zinda, an alley of intricately decorated mausoleums built between the 9th and 14th centuries.
Even after visiting many other monumental sights of Samarkand in the morning, Shah-i-Zinda again made my jaw drop, observing the incredible colors and designs.
The turquoise and blue colors literally changed my mood into a mellow state of relaxation.
Included within this Samarkand travel guide, Shah-i-Zinda is perhaps the most spectacular of them all.
For this Samarkand travel guide of best food and historical attractions we covered everything in one-single day. It was a long, yet fascinating and rewarding day.
Nothing could conclude the day better than having a home cooked Samarkand meal for dinner, prepared by one of the nicest and most hospitable families in Samarkand at Muborak-Opa Guesthouse.
At Muborak-Opa Guesthouse, the family have opened their home as a restaurant and cultural experience.
You find a table somewhere in the courtyard of their home, eat home-cooked food, and they often have cultural music and dance performances (you’ll have to watch the video to see more!).
Along with all the salads, fruits like grapes dangling from the vines above us, and breads, which were all sitting on our table as we sat down, we started with a local soup of meat, potato, and carrots.
Next for the main dinner dish we had a simple stew of lamb, potatoes, and carrots, all simmered down with tomatoes and onions.
The spices were minimal, but the flavors were fresh and local, and the love in the cooking shined.
It was a meal in Uzbekistan that I will never forget, and an absolutely perfect way to end one of the most memorable days in a city that has both an immense history and such wonderful food.
In this Samarkand travel guide you will find some of the most important and monumental things to do in Samarkand, and some of its best restaurants to try.
Samarkand is one of the cities I was most looking forward to when visiting Uzbekistan, and I can honestly say it even exceeded my expectations.
From the magnificent beauty of the mausoleums and mosques, to the massive platters of plov and kebabs, Samarkand really is a historical melting pot of Uzbekistan.