Do you love old towns? And do you love history? Then Khiva is the right place to be in Uzbekistan. In this post, you will find what to see in Khiva and all the information required to have a great holiday in this town.
During my Uzbekistan travels, Khiva was the second place I visited. From Tashkent, I headed to this amazingly beautiful old town and was there during my birthday.
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What to see in Khiva? Journey through Uzbekistan’s living museum
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Located in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan, Khiva dates back to more than one thousand years. Khiva is also called and spelled as Xiva. The old town of Khiva named Ichan Kala (also spelt as Ichan Qala) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous for its minarets, mausoleums and fortresses, Khiva was an important centre along the Silk Road.
According to legend, the name Khiva attributes to one of Noah’s sons Shem. It is believed that after the floods, Shem started wandering around in the desert alone where he fell asleep. He had a dream of 300 burning torches and upon waking up he was pleased with a signal. And that is when he founded the city in the shape of a ship, that were mapped out as per the torches in his dream. Then Shem dug out a well that had a surprising taste and this well can be seen even today in Ichan Kala.
History of Khiva
Khiva is a living museum with so much of history and ancient architecture. Being a settlement along the Silk Route, the city has its origins to ancient times. In the 4th century, the city was taken over by the powerful and independent kingdom Khorezm with its capital at Toprak-Kala which is the current day Khiva.
In the 7th century, the town went to the Islamic world as there was a spread of Islam. But was invaded by Mongol Invasions in the 13th century due to which the town went through destruction and decline.
In the 16th century, the town became the capital city of the Khiva Khanate established by Uzbek Shaybanid dynasty. Ichan Kala was developed during this time and the town became very important part of the Silk Route.
In the 19th century, Khiva became part of Russian Empire until it came under Soviet Union. During this time, the town went through major development and growth.
In 1991, Uzbekistan gained independence and Khiva became part of the new formed country.
Best Time to Visit Khiva
The best time to visit Khiva is during the spring (between April and June) and autumn (between September and October) seasons. During these seasons, the weather is pleasant and mild. Summer (between July and August) season is extremely hot and winter (between November and March) season is extremely cold and is not ideal for being outdoors.
How many days are required for Khiva?
You need just 2 to 3 days to explore Khiva. The town is quite small and is centered around Ichan Kala. If you have more than 3 days, then you can go on one day trips to Khorezm Fortresses, and Ayaz Kala.
How to get to Khiva?
The closest airport to Khiva is Urgench International Airport. There are a number of airlines, including Uzbekistan Airways, Air Arabia and Turkish Airlines, that operate from Urgench International Airport. And it has connectivity with cities like Bhukara and Tashkent.
The airport is around 35 kilometres from the Khiva city centre (Ichan Kala). You can take a local taxi or a shared local bus to travel between the airport and Khiva.
Haggle with the taxi drivers for better prices.
Uzbekistan’s train network is really good. They have multiple train network systems that will take you to Urgench which is the major city close to Khiva. Afrosiab is the high speed train that operates between Tashkent and Samarkand or Bhukara. From Samarkand or Bhukara, you can take Uzbekistan Railways to reach Khiva.
- For Afrosiab, you can book the tickets online and for Uzbekistan Railways, use the mobile app UZRAILWAYTICKETS.
Book the train tickets well in advance as they do get sold out very quickly. I suggest booking at least a month before you departure date.
I took an Uzbekistan Railways train directly from Tashkent to Khiva and it was a very bad experience. The trains were very hot passing through the desert. Unfortunately, the air conditioning in the local trains were not good and it barely worked.
Khiva is quite a distance from the capital city of Tashkent. It is around 990 kilometres and by road, the journey will take around 14 hours 30 minutes. I suggest breaking your road trip by stopping over either at Samarkand or Bhukara.
You can also fly into Urgench International Airport and then hire a car to drive in and around Khiva.
Transportation within Khiva
Khiva is a small town and you can easily walk around places that are close to each other. There are also local taxis that you can hire to travel.
Ensure to haggle for the taxi prices.
ATMs and Money Exchange in Khiva
Uzbekistan’s currency is Uzbek Som (UZS). Khiva does have ATMs and money exchange shops in the town. The ATMs are mostly near Ichan Qala.
Note that the money exchange centres do not take Indian Rupees or Australian Dollars. It is mostly USD or Euros.
Where to Stay in Khiva?
Khiva offers a variety of stay options. From budgeted to the luxury hotels, Khiva is perfect for all kinds of travelers and tourists. You can also stay inside the historical old town of Ichan Qala. Some of the accommodation options that I recommend are:
- Inside Inchan Qala – Orient Star Khiva Hotel, Arkanchi Hotel or Hotel Asia Khiva.
- Outside Inchan Qala – Qosha Darvoza, Farovon Khiva Hotel or Reikartz Khiva Palace.
For backpackers and budgeted travelers, Khiva also has hostels and homestays that you can look at staying.
Farovon Khiva Hotel
Rating of 9.4 on Booking.com
One of the luxury hotels in Khiva is the Farovon Khiva Hotel and this is where I stayed during my visit to Khiva. Located in the heart of the town, the hotel is perfect if you like modern with traditional outlooks. It provides a very comfortable and unique stay.
With many amenities such as fitness centre, bar, and room service, this hotel is just a short taxi ride to Ichan Qala. The rooms are large and clean with great views from the balcony. The staff are very professional and courteous. And this is one of the places where you can get good vegetarian food as they have multiple restaurants in the hotel. I highly recommend this hotel in Khiva.
What to wear in Khiva?
Khiva is more traditional than Tashkent. It is best to dress modestly and respect the local culture and traditions. Even though Khiva was more open minded when compared to Muscat in Oman, I suggest wearing full sleeved tops and long pants / trousers. Some of them do wear shorts but it is best to avoid them. And if you a woman, then ensure to carry a head scarf so you can cover when you enter religious places.
What to see in Khiva?
Dating back to more than one thousand years, Ichan Qala is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction in Khiva. It is not just a historical site, but the locals reside and conduct their day to day activities in this old town. There are many local shops, artisan workshops, authentic Uzbekistan restaurants and teahouses inside the site.
Protected by high brick walls, Ichan Qala is the inner fortress of Khiva and has 51 ancient monuments within it. Serving as an important center of trade, culture, and politics along the Silk Road, Ichan Qala has buildings with remarkable examples of Islamic architecture.
- You need to purchase a ticket of UZS 150,000 (approximately 15 USD) at the entrance. This ticket is for all the monuments inside Ichan Qala. There are English speaking guides available as well that you can hire for UZS 300,000 (approximately 30 USD).
- You will need an entire day to explore and cover all the monuments inside.
Known for its 218 wooden columns and elaborate and ornate ceiling, Juma Masjid or Juma Mosque is within Ichan Qala. Built in the Islamic architecture, the Juma Mosque is still used as a religious site.
Kalta Minor Minaret
With distinctive turquoise colour and history, Kalta Minor Minaret is an iconic landmark in Ichan Qala. Kalta Minor translating to Short Minaret, the Kalta Minor Minaret is shorter than what it was originally intended to be. Commissioned in the 19th century by Khiva ruler Muhammad Amin Khan, the minaret was supposed to be 70 metres but it was never completed and is at 29 metres today. The minaret was never completed due to the ruler’s death.
Muhammed Amin Khan Madrasa
Serving as a historical site rather than an education site, Muhammed Amin Khan Madrasa is unique and has stunning architecture with detailed calligraphy, intricate and detailed tilework and vibrant colours.
Islam Khoja Minaret
With a height of 57 metres, Islam Khoja Minaret is one of the tallest minarets in Central Asia. Also known as the Islam Khoja Minar or Islom Hoja Minaret, Islam Khoja Minaret dates back to the late 19th century and is built in Islamic architecture.
Just a short walking distance from Ichan Qala, Tosh-Hovli Palace is the most impressive palaces in Khiva. Constructed in the 19th century, Tosh-Hovli Palace is known for its intricate and colourful tilework. It consists of multiple courtyards, terraces and gardens.
- You need to purchase an entrance ticket of UZS 30,000 at the entrance of the palace. As this is one monument unlike Ichan Qala, you need around an hour to see the palace.
- There is a souvenir shop inside the palace where you can buy locally made products, including paintings.
Is Khiva safe for solo female travelers?
Khiva is very safe for solo female travelers. It is a town with lots of culture and traditions and people are very friendly and nice. However, like any other place in the world, be careful especially at night.
By the way, people in Khiva are very fond of Bollywood. One of the drivers sang a Bollywood song for me which was pretty cool as most of the people here only know Uzbek or Russian.
Khiva is surely one of my favourite places in Uzbekistan. The town was old, rustic and very raw. And this is what I loved about it. I stayed in here only for two days this time but I promised the town to return. From Khiva, I headed to Samarkand which was another gem in Uzbekistan.
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