Bishkek is the ancient Silk Road capital of Kyrgyzstan and is the largest city in the country. Located at an altitude of around 800m and on the outskirts of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range, the city offers beautiful surrounding views. Aside from the scenery, there are so many incredible things to do in Bishkek like visiting the city’s museums, relaxing at a bathhouse and learning to haggle at the Osh Bazaar.
The city of Bishkek is a very multicultural city with a lot to offer in terms of authentic experiences. However, in previous decades the capital has been through some turmoil. This changed in 1991 when Kyrgyzstan gained independence during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although there is still some political unrest in the city and demonstrations do occur, the city is now popular with tourists.
If you are thinking of planning a trip through Central Asia then Bishkek should be on your list. In this post, we will give you all the information you need to know including the most popular Bishkek tourist attractions, the tasty dishes you need to try and the best day trips from the Capital.
The top things to do in Bishkek
Osh Bazaar is one of the largest bazaars in Bishkek and is the perfect place to brush up on those haggling skills. It is a large open-air market that sells a variety of goods including tasty food, clothes, and household products among other items. The bazaar is also a great place to try some authentic Kyrgyz dishes.
Ala-Too is the central square of the city and was built in 1984. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Bishkek and is always filled with people – both tourists and locals alike.
Ala-Too Square was built to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. Due to this a statue of Lenin was placed in the square, and the square was named Lenin Square until Kyrgystan gained its independence in 1991. Afterwards, the Lenin statue was moved and was replaced by a new statue that represented freedom.
Today visiting the square is one of the most popular things to do in Bishkek. The square itself is covered in beautiful flowers, and there are fountains located here too which are turned on during the summer months. At night time Ala-Too comes to life with photo booths, hoverboard rentals and even karaoke if you’re feeling brave enough!
The Museum of Fine Arts
If you are a culture buff, then visiting the Museum of Fine Arts is a must! The Museum opened in January 1935 and was named after Gapar Aitiev, who was one of the first professional Kyrgyz artists.
The museum has around 18,000 items in storage ranging from paintings to sculptures, and so has a pretty impressive collection. The main exhibitions of the museum include the Russian hall, an applied art gallery with decorative folk and classical Kyrgyz art.
Zhirgal Banya Bath house
Zhirgal Banya Bathhouse is located in the centre of Bishkek. It is one of the many bathhouses located within the city and is one of the most popular. This is because Zhirgal Banya Bathhouse has two large pools of ice-cold water as well as its sauna. This is to refresh the skin, after sweating in the sauna for so long.
It is a great place to spend an evening with friends if you don’t mind the nudeness that comes with it – although the bathhouse is sex-segregated which makes that easier! Visiting one of these bathhouses is known to have numerous health benefits, especially for diseases related to the nervous, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems.
If you are feeling like you need more relaxation, you can also book a massage and manicure. Relaxing at Zhirgal Banya Bath House is one of the best things to do in Bishkek and is popular with both tourists and locals.
Victory Square is located in the city centre of Bishkek and was built in 1985. The square
commemorates the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and is dedicated to the victory over Nazi Germany.
The design of the monument in the centre of the square is three yurt struts curving above an eternal flame, with a statue of a woman located underneath who is waiting for her husband to return home from the war.
Vising the Circus is one of the more unusual things to do in Bishkek. The building is shaped like a UFO and was designed in 1976 to welcome circus acts from other countries.
During the Soviet Union, circuses were a big hit with families and they were located all through USSR. Many of them were abandoned or shut down, but the circus in Bishkek is still running to this day.
The State History Museum
The State History Museum is one of the most important museums across Central Asia as it contains several exhibits about the heritage and culture of the Kyrgyz people.
There are plenty of wonderful exhibits located within the museum where you will get the chance to see household items from the Bronze age, jewellery dating from the 1st Century, ancient coins and numerous samples of rock paintings.
Unfortunately, it seems that the State History Museum is closed due to renovations currently, and has yet to announce a reopening date.
The White House
The White House is the presidential office building in Bishkek and is very unique in its architectural design. The building is of a Stalinist design and the exterior of the White House is covered in beautiful white marble.
The construction of this important building took eight years to complete and was completed in 1985. The White House was the headquarters for the communist party, and some people even believe it is connected to Ala-Too Square through a number of underground tunnels.
This building has an interesting history, as it was the site of the 2005 Kyrgyz Tulip revolution where protestors stormed inside the White House to overthrow the president. It was also the site of the 2010 Kyrgyzstani riots, where a fire broke out damaging official government documents.
Oak Park is one of the oldest parks in Bishkek, and although the park was renamed in 2010 in honour of Chingiz Aitmatov, many people still know this area as Oak Park.
The Park is actually home to an open-air sculpture exhibition, and 90 sculptures can now be found within the park. Some of the sculptures date back to 1984, with the most recent addition being a statue of Kurmajan Dakta in 2004.
If you are looking for relaxing things to do in Bishkek, then taking a wander around Oak Park is a must. It is the perfect place to take a picnic, and the large oak trees offer plenty of shelter on a sunny day. Some of these oak trees have been here since 1890, which makes them as old as Bishkek itself.
Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre
If you are a culture buff, then a visit to the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre is a must. The shows that are put on at this theatre are usually performed by local students or Russian and Kyrgyz artists, so will give you a good idea of the local art scene. Tickets are also incredibly cheap.
Day Trips from Bishkek
There are plenty of places you can visit that are located outside of the city. Here are just a few of the most popular day trips from Bishkek:
Ala-Archa National Park
Ala-Archa National Park is about a 45-minute drive from the city centre of Bishkek. Located within the Tien Shan Mountains, Ala-Archa offers incredible hiking opportunities and plenty of fresh air if you are looking to get out of the city.
The park’s altitude ranges from about 1,500m to 4,895m at the peak of Semenova Tian-Shanski which is the highest peak in the area. The scenery is that beautiful here that it is nicknamed “the Alps of Central Asia”. With the abundance of space, comes a rich diversity of wildlife with wild goats, roe deers, marmots and if you are really lucky you might even spot a snow leopard although it’s incredibly rare.
You can get to this beautiful national park by using the public bus which you can catch near the Osh Bazaar. However, the bus only tends to drop you off at the first gate and there is a 7km walk to the start of the trails, so a taxi is also a good choice.
Konorcheck Canyon is probably one of the most beautiful places in the country. Also known as the Red Canyon, this landscape is incredible and offers views of unique rock formations, lush greenery and of course the striking red colour of the canyon.
Located about a two-hour drive from Bishkek, the cheapest option you have is to catch a minibus from the city centre and negotiate where you want them to drop you off. However, if you are choosing to do it this way make sure you have a local sim card in your phone in case you get stuck on the way back.
Another alternative is hiring a private taxi or joining a day tour of the canyon from Bishkek.
Burana Tower is located within the Chuy Valley, near the town of Tomok. It is one of the oldest architectural pieces in Central Asia and used to be located at the centre of Balasagun, which was an ancient city that was built towards the end of the 9th century.
Today all that remains of the city are some grave markers, the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums and of course Burana Tower. Originally the tower stood at an impressive 45m high (148ft) but an earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower. Today the tower stands at a height of 25m because of this, but it is still a pretty impressive sight to witness.
Getting to Burana Tower from Bishkek is pretty easy. The first step is to get a bus to Tomok which takes about 90 minutes and then grab a taxi to the tower from there.
For more information see my full guide to the Burana Tower.
The Issyk-Ata hot springs
The Issyk-Ata hot springs have an incredibly interesting history, as they are one of central Asia’s oldest Soviet Sanatoriums. A sanatorium is a place used to treat people with an illness, and there were many of them located throughout the Soviet Union.
Issyk-Ata was used as a treatment centre for bone and muscle ailments, radiation illnesses after the Chernobyl disaster and during World War II as a treatment centre for soldiers. However, people still come here to be treated due to the peat mud which is full of nutrients and the hydro-sodium thermal water.
Today you can come here to take a walk around the surrounding valley, and then end your day swimming in the hot springs with beautiful views surrounding you. Although the sanatorium isn’t maintained very well, and many parts look abandoned it’s definitely worth your time to visit. Issyk-Ata is open all year round and if you choose to brave it and visit in the winter, you can relax in the hot springs outside surrounded by snow-covered mountains.
Getting to Bishkek
The closest international airport to Bishkek is Manas International airport which is located about 27km away from the city centre. This makes the city easily accessible if you are travelling from abroad.
There is also a train from Moscow to Bishkek and vice versa, which runs twice a week if you are choosing to travel from Russia. If you are travelling to Bishkek from Kazakhstan, there are minibuses from Almaty’s Sayran Bus Station which will take you through the border crossing and to the city centre. Journey time is around four hours.
Getting Around Bishkek
All the popular tourist attractions in Bishkek are located relatively close together, so you will be able to walk around a large part of the city.
If you are wanting to take public transport, the city has an extensive network of minibuses that will take you around. These minibuses are known as Marshrutkas and there are various routes throughout the city. You can also choose to travel around by bus, but this is generally a lot slower. However, both ways are incredibly cheap.
Getting around by taxi is also a popular option, as fares are cheap. However, it is important to organise a fee in advance or ask the taxi driver to put on their taxi meter before you get in. This way you will avoid being overcharged.
Food in Bishkek
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to tasty dishes in Bishkek, so we’ve made it a bit easier for you. Here are some of the dishes you just have to try!
Oromo- Oromo is a traditional steamed pie that is popular in Kyrgyzstan. The pie consists of layers of dough which are filled with meat, minced potatoes, animal fat and other vegetables like carrots, onion or pumpkin.
Besh Barmak- Besh Barmak is a traditional Kyrgyz dish, and translates to “five fingers”. That is because the dish is often eaten with hands only. The dish consists of either lamb or beef that is placed on top of a pile of noodles and onions and then served up with a broth at the side.
Borsok- Borsok is a dough that is cut into squares and then fried. They are very airy inside and are especially tasty when served with butter, honey, jam or even dipped in fresh cream.
The weather varies dramatically throughout the year in Bishkek. The warmer months between May and September have a high temperature of 36°C, with an average daily temperature of 25°C. Bishkek summers are usually very dry and warm, with the hottest month to visit being July. However, the winters in Bishkek are freezing and experience lots of snow and rain. The coldest month to visit is January where temperatures can reach a low of -9°C.
Best Time to Visit Bishkek
Bishkek can be visited all year round, but many people choose to visit between the warmer months of August to October. Although the weather is warm, and the city will be busy, it also means the hiking trails located in the nearby mountain ranges are easily accessible and there will be less rain during this time of year.
Is Beshkik Safe to Visit
Bishkek is safe to visit with low crime rates and a friendly population. However, there are a couple of recordings of muggings taking place after dark on poorly lit streets.
Petty crimes also occur here such as pickpocketing, so it’s best to watch out when using public transport and around Osh Bazaar. A Kyrgyz friend I visited was robbed on a bus in Bishkek while she slept, so best to use a money belt.
Another thing to take note of is that Political tensions do remain in the country, and demonstrations occur throughout the year. Always avoid large political gatherings and protests.
Although Bishkek is a very safe city by world standards, you should always have good cover in case the unexpected happens. Our partners at World Nomads offer policies for adventurous travellers at great prices. You can get a free, no-obligation quote here.
Accommodation in Bishkek
If you are looking for accommodation in Bishkek, there are plenty of options. Here are some of the best options for each budget:
Budget accommodation: Apple Hostel (close to Bishkek Bus Station)
Mid-budget accommodation: Bishkek Centrum Hotel (a superior king room)
Luxury accommodation: Navat Hotel (a deluxe king studio with balcony)
So is Bishkek worth visiting? The answer is a definite yes! Whether you like to wander around museums, relax in a park with a tasty picnic or treat your tastebuds to some mouth-watering authentic dishes; this city has something for everyone. There are so many incredible things to do in Bishkek, so what are you waiting for?
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang, the tropical paradise of Sanya and Hong Kong.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.