Immerse yourself in a country that is rich in culture and live the life you’ve always dreamed of in Uzbekistan.
THERE are a few places in the world where you can enter a currency exchange with a handful of dollars and exit as a millionaire.
But this happens several times in Tashkent when we acquire local Som notes – with about 11,400 per US$1, those zeros rapidly accelerate when you acquire funds for a few days.
But, be assured, they can also be just as swiftly spent if you make the most of your time in the Uzbekistan capital.
The largest city in Central Asia, Tashkent is regarded as the most important business and cultural centre of the country.
It is also considered something of a foodie haven with a portfolio of restaurants and social venues delivering classic Uzbek and international cuisine for every budget, with names such as Silk96, Sette, and Cozy Grill to Peggy’s and Myasnoy Steak House frequently mentioned.
Popular Tashkent contemporary restaurant Afsona describes the Uzbek diet as one of the “most colourful and richest in Central Asia”. Typical local menus include rice dish plov alongside moreish manti meat dumplings, pumpkin samsa, and laghman and shurpa soups.
Tashkent’s nightlife is also gaining a reputation with addresses such as Fabrique, Diplomat, Opera and CMI Afterparty bar drawing the feet and social appetites of the fashionable and well-to-do in the city, as well as international thrill-seekers.
Pick the right night and there is plenty of live music to accompany food and surroundings that range from plush to urban chic – look out for Steam Bar, Shishka, Amaretto, Speakeasy, Kuranti and Pelican.
While many of the luxury shopping brands we all recognise are represented in select shopping areas of Tashkent, sprawling Chorsu Bazaar is the most famous and can still readily relieve you of your cash.
The huge historic market sells seemingly everything and while some tourist outlets after evident – notably for gold and fashion items – visitor appeal lies largely in the eclectic trading bustle, including the bakery hall’s relentless bread-making activity.
From here a brief taxi ride reaches Hazrati Imam complex, an historic religious centre popular with kite-flyers and soon to be accompanied by the Centre of Islamic Civilisation.
For added cultural, spiritual an aesthetic appeal, the newer but traditionally-inspired Minor Mosque has become a riverside landmark in beautiful white marble.
It is accessible via Tashkent’s metro network, itself considered a city attraction due to the art and sculptures that give each station a unique design.
Alternatively, the main sites can be visited on a city tour 12-stop itinerary for simplicity.
You can join it outside Hotel Uzbekistan, an imposing signature Soviet-era structure where you’ll also find a competitive foreign exchange.
Both are close to Hampton by Hilton Tashkent, a fresh, stylish hotel with 175 rooms and suites, a sociable lobby bar and a smart restaurant covering local and international dishes.
The hotel is well placed for exploring the city’s nightlife and cultural offerings, and is within walkable reach of the striking Palace of International Forums, numerous art and history museums, and some of the many parks, including lush botanical gardens.
It is also helpfully close to Islam Karimov Taskhent International Airport, into which flydubai runs daily flights, including a Business Class service.
Our experience included a substantial meal, including delicious mustard chicken, on our way out of DXB. Equally attentive service on the return leg from Samarkand included great crepes and eggs, too tempting to decline even on a 4.15am flight.
flydubai staff also ensured brisk passage through immigration on both sides.
Jeyhun Efendi, Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations and E-commerce at flydubai, says Central Asia has become a fast-growing market for the airline.
“Early on we realised the potential of having Uzbekistan on the flydubai network,” he says.
“After launching Tashkent as our first destination in Uzbekistan in 2019, we saw the demand for travel increase between Uzbekistan and Dubai. In 2022, we expanded our network in the region by launching twice-weekly flights to both Namangan and Samarkand.”
The latter should also be a must on your Uzbekistan visit.
This former Soviet Union nation and Silk Road destination is rich with culture, and nowhere more so than Samarkand, and neighbouring city Bukhara.
And if souvenir antiquities are your major vacation spending passion, these treasured cultural addresses are rich with both epic historic landmarks and shopping opportunities – think vintage metal pots, elaborate ceramics, hand-made brassware and instruments, and elegant garments.
It is part of what makes this country so fascinating in its inviting blend of Islamic and old Communist traits, from architecture to language, ancient heritage and modern aspirations.
Unlike many of the world’s tourist havens, however, there’s mostly measured pressure to buy, although some traders in beautiful Bukhara are as insistent as they are hopeful with their lofty opening prices.
Textile artisan Djamol Temirov is known for his clever blending of pre-loved carpet segments into attractive new wall hangings, but also finds fresh homes for villa-friendly vintage jugs.
Provenance can be a little vague so maybe take a snapshot of your purchase in situ, along with a receipt, for clarification when heading through Uzbekistan customs.
Bukhara is like an open-air museum, featuring numerous well-preserved and restored mosques, madrassas and bazaars, dating largely from the ninth to the 17th centuries. All are within easy walk of several boutique hotels.
However, even with the likes of stunning Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah and Kalon Minaret, the destination lives in the shadow of better-known Samarkand.
It is just two hours away via an efficient, popular train network – but be sure to book early for seats on the high-speed service or for business class.
Uzbekistan’s second city is home to the magnificent Bibi-Khanym Mosque, rated by medieval historians among Islam’s most architecturally significant.
Built in the 15th century and hit by neglect and earthquakes, the huge structure was extensively restored during Uzbekistan’s Soviet era.
Bibi-Khanym does, however, compete in both scale and beauty with epic near neighbour Registan Square.
This UNESCO World Heritage site and headline act in Samarkand’s inventory of architectural treasures upholds its heart of the city role – as busy with visitors now as it surely was serving as the venue for royal proclamations.
Three madrasahs housing Islamic schools frame three sides, recalling the potency of the Timurid Empire that once ruled much of Central Asia.
Registan means ‘desert’ in Persian, but this beguiling site – with Ulugh Beg Madrasah dating back to the 1400s – is anything but sparse.
Imposing mosaic arches flanked by towering minarets open into courtyards, tranquil but for enthralled chatter and the occasional souvenir sales pitch.
At night, strategic illumination highlights stunning features best viewed from a raised platform positioned at the square’s open side.
Samarkand, and Uzbekistan generally, is a nascent destination for GCC tourists, according to Dmitry Karpov, General Manager at Hilton Garden Inn Samarkand.
The city’s first international brand hotel, it is well located for trains, major sites including beautiful Shah-i-Zinda, and the city’s smart new airport, into which flydubai operates its services from DXB.
“Historically, we have not seen many visitors from UAE, but…we have seen increased inquiries from UAE-based travel agencies and tour operators,” says the boss of this bright, alcohol-free hotel.
“Many people are excited to see an international brand in Samarkand, a sign of the city’s growth and development as a tourist destination.”
Not only does a majority Muslim populous make Uzbekistan compatible for UAE travelers, at under four hours flight time it befits shorter breaks, or longer stays.
And should you desire more of the great outdoors, walking and kayaking adventures await outside of Tashkent at the Chimgan Mountains and Charvak Lake, two of Uzbekistan’s natural treasures and most popular rural attractions.
Go to flydubai to check flight availability and seat options – and to Hampton by Hilton Tashkent and Hilton Garden Inn Samarkand for hotel bookings.