Bishkek is not a typical tourist city. Most people will spend some time here to arrange travel onwards through Kyrgyzstan, but it is not a place they seek out for its tourist attractions.
Yet, the city has more to offer than you would think at first glance. We certainly had a lot of fun during the days we spent here and we want to share all of the fun things to do in Bishkek with you. Plus, you won’t run into many other tourists. The city is perfect for getting away from the crowds and seeing a corner of the world that not many people visit.
If you’re travelling to Kyrgyzstan and you’re wondering what to do in Bishkek, then this article has all of the information you need.
Top things to do in Bishkek
#1 Splash in the fountains of Ala-Too Square
Ala-Too Square is located in the middle of the city and it’s the perfect spot to start exploring Bishkek. Plus, the fountains are very refreshing on a hot day.
Usually, I wouldn’t jump into a public fountain. But after seeing locals splash around in them, we took off our shoes and walked through the water ourselves. It is fun to join in, and you can sit down on a bench afterwards and enjoy the atmosphere.
While walking around the square, take a look at the buildings around you. If you like brutalist architecture, then you’re going to love all of the houses around you. But no matter if you’re a fan or not, the buildings tell the story of the Soviet occupation and are a great reminder of recent history that you should see at least once.
At one end of the square, you will find the National History Museum. It has been closed for years due to ongoing renovations and nobody knows when it’s going to reopen. If it ever does, we’re sure that it’ll be fun to visit. Until then, you’ll have to find other activities in Bishkek to keep you occupied.
#2 Browse through the spices at Osh Bazaar
Osh Bazaar is the biggest bazaar in Bishkek and the most photogenic one I went to in Central Asia. As everywhere in this region, you can find everything you could possibly wish for at this bazaar. From shoes to spices and tea, you can buy it here. It is easy to get lost amidst the wares and photo opportunities and spend an hour or two here.
#3 Go for a walk in Bishkek’s parks
Bishkek is a green city with lots of parks, statues and fountains. As the History Museum, that we had originally planned on visiting, was closed, we spent the afternoon exploring the parks and taking pictures of each other while doing funny poses in front of the statues.
The parks are where you want to go for a walk, get ice cream and watch locals.
#4 Look at the paintings in Dubovy (Oak) Park
At the end of Erkindik Avenue, one of Bishkek’s largest streets, you will find Oak Park. Come here to see artists exhibit and sell their paintings. Most will have local themes, many will be over the top, but you can find some real gems in here. And who knows, maybe you will find one that you would like to take home.
#5 Relax at Bishkek’s cafes
Bishkek has quite a few cafes. My favourite was, without doubt, Sierra Coffee. Run by a kiwi, it has amazing ice cream sundaes on offer. While there are cheaper places in the city, and I still don’t know what New Zealand lemonade is, it is a nice place to hang out and relax. The wifi is good, too.
There are more great cafes in Bishkek, of course. Just go for a walk around the city and you will find them.
As long as you like
#6 Get a taste of traditional Kyrgyz food
With an abundance of restaurants, what better place could you find to try Kyrgyz food? A traditional dish, as everywhere along the Silk Road, is Plov, a rice dish with vegetables and meat. Another dish to try, more typical to only this region, is Beshbarmak. It is made of horse meat that has been boiled in its own broth for a couple of hours and is then sprinkled on top of thin noodles.
If you prefer dumplings, try Manty. They are steamed dumplings filled with meat and onions.
A recommendation for a typical Kyrgyz drink is Kymyz. It is fermented horse milk and is a slightly alcoholic, fizzy drink. A similar, non-alcoholic version is maksym, which consists of fermented grains. It is an acquired taste but I highly recommend you at least try it.
#7 Hike the mountains of Ala-Archa
Ala-Archa is the closest national park to the city and makes for an easy day trip. You can catch a taxi in the morning, go for a hike and then return to Bishkek in the evening. If you want to expand your trek, there is also the option of staying overnight in a hut before hiking back to the park entrance the next day.
The mountain scenery is stunningly beautiful. In June, wildflowers are blossoming everywhere, giving you a taste of the colourful Kyrgyz alpine meadows. You will pass a couple of lookout points along the way and if you keep going, you will reach a waterfall.
Remember to bring enough food for the day and warm clothes, as the weather can change very suddenly.
#8 Go rafting on the Chui River
If you want to leave Bishkek on a day trip, rafting is another option. We went with the Silk Road Water Centre and our hostel helped us organising both the transport to the river and the rafting itself.
While the Chui River is nothing like the Nile, the Zambezi or the Colorado River, we had a lot of fun that day. Our guides took us down a couple of rapids that left us soaking wet. None of us fell in, but if you prefer, they also have an option for stronger waves.
#9 Visit the Burana Tower
If you’ve done any research on Kyrgyzstan, then we’re sure you’ve seen images of the Burana Tower. This landmark, with the snow-covered mountains in the background, looks slightly out of place in the middle of the fields.
Hundreds of years ago, a city called Balasagun stood in this location. The Sogdians, who were originally from Iran, founded it and lived here. Eventually, the Mongols came and conquered the city and since then, the wealth declined. Today, the Burana Tower is the most prominent landmark of Balasagun that you can still see.
You can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy the view over the fields. Make sure not to miss the intricate gravestones nearby. On some of the rocks, you can even see petroglyphs.
To get here, you need to take a marshrutka, a minibus, to Tokmok. From there, you can then hire a taxi which will take you to the Burana Tower and back again. Make sure to negotiate with your driver how long you want to stay at the tower. 45 minutes will give you more than enough time to explore the area.
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Kyrgyzstan is a fantastic country to visit and we highly recommend spending a few days in Bishkek. It’ll make it easier to arrange onwards travel, and besides seeing the city, you can go on many fun day trips.
We hope we have convinced you that Bishkek is more than a transit city. If you’re interested in Kyrgyzstan, check out the other articles below, which will be interesting for you:
- The best things to do in Kyrgyzstan
- Top 5 reasons why Kyrgyzstan should be next on your bucket list
- The Heart of the Silk Road – Discover Central Asia through a photo story
Until your next adventure!
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