Follow the crowds to a row of eateries, including the recommended Restaurant Karimbek, 194 Gagarin St, tel. 2212756, on the south-west corner of the Gagarin/Amir Timur crossroads in the west of Samarkand, where diners can enjoy salads, shashlik, grilled chicken, beef, lamb and liver. For good plov, prices and service, visit the simple Besh Chinar teahouse (chaikhana) at 121 Tursunova St, opposite Pakhta Bank in the city centre, north of Kok Saray Square. Open 9am-10pm, shut Sunday. Ask for the ‘Samarkand Plov with Oil and Bones’ (Samarqand palov dumma va illik hilan in Uzbek). Platan at Pushkin 2 has an extensive food selection.
Options closer to major sights include chaikhana on the west side of the bazaar, serving pot after pot of hot green tea to accompany your choice of fruit and freshly baked non. On the east, head upstairs at Nasim Bobo Oksakol, 32 Tashkent St, on the Khazret Khyzyr crossroads beside the Hotel Shark, or try the hotel’s bustling street restaurant. For home-cooked Uzbek meals, head north of the bazaar onto Imom Al-Bukhori St, and follow the touts. Prices are cheap and the menu varied, from favourites like plov, shashlik, laghman and manly, to chickpea stew nakhot shurak and cold soup chalop.
At the south end of pedestrian Tashkent St, ignore the Chorsu chaikhana, and cross over to 6, Registan St, 150 metres past Registan, where the Labi-Gor chaikhana has better food (stuffed peppers, grape leaf wraps, salads), hygiene and upper floor views. Russian town choices include European and Uzbek fare in or outside the Oasis Restaurant in Central Park off Sharaf Rashidov. Oasis is owned by Czech joint venture Samarkand Praga, responsible for the dark Samarkand and lighter Pulsar brews, available on tap at the Bochka Pivo-Bar beside the brewery on Ozod Shark St behind Dynamo Stadium. For cheeseburgers and breakfast, try Cafe Boris where Firdausi meets Sharaf Rashidov.
Two planes a day arrive from Tashkent (US$20 one way), plus intermittent regional and international flights, at the airport six kilometres north of the city centre (tel. 23208641). Uzbekistan Airways ticket office (tel. 341089, 8am-7pm) is at 84, Gagarin St.
The railway station (tel. 291532) is seven kilometres (4.5 miles) to the northwest of the city. The Registan, a high-speed electrical train with airplane-style seating, leaves for Tashkent at 5pm, takes 4 hours and costs around US$8-10, but doesn’t run on Tuesday or Wednesday. It leaves Tashkent’s Severniy Vokzal station at 06:50am. Most services west to Tashkent, or east to Bukhara and beyond, do not start from Samarkand, so expect stiff competition for seats. Most express trains pass through late at night.
The tarmac road to Samarkand is the most common option. At the bus station (tel. 321086), to the east of the airport, there are frequent departures to Tashkent (5 hours by minibus, 6 hours by bus, while the Kazakh road is closed); regular departures to Bukhara (5 hours); 2 daily to Shakhrisabz (3-4 hours) and 2 to Urgench (14 hours). Share taxis to Tashkent (4 hours e.g. Nexia: USS7-10 each, US$40 for the car) wait at both the bus and railway stations. At night, taxis and buses to Tashkent (minibus: US$3, bus: US$2) wait outside the railway station. Taxis to Bukhara cost US$10 per person and congregate at the Povorot avtostantsia near the Hotel Bagishamal, reached by Damas minibus routes Nos. 17, 27 or 73, e.g. from the Kriti Rinik bazaar at the eastern end of Ulug Beg St. If no Bukhara taxi is available, an effective alternative is a taxi to Navoi bus station, then another on to Bukhara for US$4. For local connections (e.g. Urgut), find a marshrutka just south of the Samarkand museum on Regis tan Street. Shakhrisabz-bound taxis lurk nearby on Suzangaran, and on Penjikent for Penjikent.
A ramshackle fleet of taxis and private cars supplement an extensive network of buses and marshrutka (Damas) minibuses. Useful numbers include marshrutka no. 10, connecting the bus station, airport, bazaar, hotels Samarkand, Zerafshan, Registan and Sayokh; bus and marshrutka services Nos. 21 and 52 between the bus station and the Hotel Saiyor via the bazaar; marshrutka taxis Nos. 17, 19, 23 & 45 between the Hotel Samarkand and the bazaar, a magnet for most marshrutka.
There is good news for travellers to Samarkand as private hotels and B&Bs greatly expand the available options. Find more information at Samarkand Hotels.
Uzbek song and dances sometimes enliven the Shir Dor Madrassah, while summer evenings inflict a son-et-lumiere display onto the dignified Registan itself. The Meroz Theatre offers another cultural clash: a folk costume show in the Tsarist Officers Club (58, Mustakiflik St), where Bolshevik power was proclaimed in 1917. Across the street in Freedom (former Revolution) Square, classical music concerts are held within the Samarkand Art Gallery (tel. 335143), a former Russian Church.
Ask your hotel/guide about performances at the following: Khamid Alimjon Opera & Ballet Theatre, beside Hotel Afrosiyob; Samarkand Puppet Theatre, 51, Mustakillik St; Khamza Green Theatre, 57, Sharaf Rashidov St. Year round is the popular Club Sharq disco and pool hall, on Ulug Beg St near the Beruni crossroads. Or try the newer Nightclub Shabistan two blocks south at 10 Busigina (both open till late, entry 2,000 sum). Pick of the bars is Cafe Blues, with live jazz and cocktail at 66 Amir Timur St.
Relieve sightseeing tensions at the tennis clubs Samarkandtrans and Dynamo (tel. 2334249/2335801), behind swimming lake Park Ozero, 52, Ulug Bek St, the very park where archaeologists discovered the flint tools and campfires of Palaeolithic man.
MONEY & COMMUNICATIONS
Most hotels have exchange counters, or try the National Bank of Uzbekistan at 7, Firdausi St (tel. 2335750, open 9am-4pm, closed weekends), which can issue dollars for Visa cardholders.
Internet cafes are multiplying: e.g. Intal-Telecom Internet at 9, Pochta St, beside the 24 hour telegraph office that is your best bet for reasonable international telephone rates, south of GUM on the corner with Shah Rukh. The restaurant, Platan, at Pushkin 2 has free wi-fi. The main post office (open 8-6pm) is nearby at No.5, behind the covered market. Counters in the major hotels sell stamps and postcards.