Most cities we visit offer an overwhelming amount of activities and places to visit, so much so, that we often find ourselves making compromises in order to cover the places we’re most interested in. This was not the case for Bishkek where to-do-lists are best tossed out the window.
At first glance, the Kyrgyz capital doesn’t appear to offer much in terms of attractions, but we quickly discovered this is the kind of place that you need to experience – sit back, relax, and see where it takes you.
VIDEO: Bishkek Travel Guide
It’s only when you linger in Bishkek and start chatting with expats and locals, that you begin to discover that this city is home to a whole slew of quirky sights, trendy cafes, relaxing parks, underrated attractions, and imposing monuments.
Bishkek won us over in a matter of days and by the end of our visit we understood why so many travellers choose to linger here and others find a way to call it home. But now on to the sightseeing; in this post I’m going to show you 15 things to do in Bishkek on your visit:
Bishkek History For Travellers
Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, stands as a captivating testament to Central Asia’s multifaceted past and diverse cultural heritage. Originally founded as “Pishpek” by the Khanate of Kokand in 1825, the city served as a crucial trading center on the Silk Road, and its strategic location on the northern edge of the Alai Mountains made it an essential fortress to protect the region from nomadic tribes.
The city’s history took a new turn in 1862, when the Russian Empire captured Pishpek and renamed it Bishkek. The city became a pivotal center of agriculture and trade, and later, during the Soviet era, it burgeoned as a center of industry, education, and culture. The city was designed to exhibit the Soviet Union’s urban planning ideals, with wide boulevards, large public squares, and imposing structures, including the National Museum of Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz State Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Following Kyrgyzstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Bishkek emerged as the capital of the newly formed Republic of Kyrgyzstan, undergoing significant changes as a result. In the face of market economics, political instability, and social unrest, Bishkek emerged as a dynamic and lively city that blends traditional and contemporary culture in remarkable ways.
Bishkek’s natural surroundings are a significant attraction, with the city located on the northern edge of the Alai Mountains, surrounded by stunning landscapes that offer ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. The Ala Archa National Park, located just 30 km south of the city, is a sought-after destination for those who wish to experience Kyrgyzstan’s natural splendor.
Bishkek’s cultural heritage is a reflection of its rich history and the influence of the various cultures that have traversed the region over the centuries. Visitors can explore the vibrant markets, sample traditional Kyrgyz cuisine, and learn about the country’s nomadic history at the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts and the State Historical Museum.
Bishkek stands out as a remarkable travel destination that offers an authentic and multifaceted experience of Central Asia’s past, present, and natural beauty. Its unique blend of traditional and modern cultures, combined with its breathtaking surroundings, makes Bishkek a must-visit for those seeking a unique and enriching travel experience.
15 Things To Do In Bishkek
1) Ala-Too Square (Ала-тоо аянты – Площадь Ала-Тоо)
First up, we visited Ala-Too Square, which is the central plaza in Bishkek. While there isn’t much to do here, it’s one of the city’s major landmarks featuring plenty of benches and water fountains where you can take a quick break.
Built in 1984 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz Soviet Social Republic. Moreover, here you’ll also find a statue of Manas commemorating the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s independence. State events and celebrations take place here along with occasional protests.
2) State Historical Museum
Just across the street you’ll find the State Historical Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations when we visited but if you wander around the back of the building you’ll find an imposing Lenin statue.
When open to the public, it houses an eclectic collection of Soviet era items. Additionally, along with mementos from the 2010 revolution.
3) Osh Bazaar (Ош базары)
Another place you’ll want to visit in Bishkek is the Osh Bazaar. It may not be the biggest in Central Asia, but it’s a bustling hive of activity where you could easily spend several hours. Hence, we had no problems at the market, but we were warned by expat friends and locals to ignore the fake police who may ask to see documents and camera permits.
Inside the market you’ll find fresh produce, local snacks and clothes. Thus, if you’re adventurous with your tastes buds, be sure to try the dry cheese balls which taste a bit like salty goat cheese. Our find of the day was a half of kilo of dates for 100 Som (roughly $1.50 USD). Bargain!
4) Abandoned Casino
Remember my earlier spiel about Bishkek being a little quirky? Indeed, the city has plenty of abandoned buildings to explore, none being more fascinating than the forgotten casino.
Here you’ll find graffiti, smashed objects and possibly teenagers hanging out. Also, be sure to bring closed shoes as there is an abundance of broken glass on the ground.
5) Victory Monument
Directly across from the abandoned casino, you’ll find the Victory Monument which was built to commemorate the 40th anniversary of World War 2.
The three curved arcs represent a yurt, and the sculpture of a woman standing near the eternal flame is meant to symbolize her waiting for her husband and sons to return from the war.
6) Erkindik Park and Ice Cream
I spent more time in Erkindik Park than anywhere else in Bishkek. Whether I was jogging to burn calories or licking ice cream to gain them back, I couldn’t get enough of this place.
Popular with locals, especially on the weekends, you’ll find this park lined with trees charming at all of times of day. It tends to be quieter in the mornings and busier in the late afternoon and early evening.
7) Zhirgal Banya Bath House
I’m a sucker for saunas and public baths! If I touch down in Finland or South Korea, spending ample time at the sauna is an absolute must. When I found out Bishkek had a popular bath house I just had to check it out. Separated by gender, you strip down to your birthday suit and alternate between steam rooms and saunas. I went to check out the polar plunge dome with ice cold water.
As I was tip-toeing my way down the ladder I was suddenly thrust face first into the pool. Gulping water I immediately swung my head back and noticed a burly man of Kyrgyz World Nomad Games proportions looking down at me with his arms crossed. I had just been pushed into the pool by another grown naked man. Not even know how to react I just ended up swimming to the other end.
Aside from being shoved I did enjoy my experience at Zhirgal Banya.
8) Retro Rollerskating Rink
Found a warp tunnel where you can time travel back to the 80s? If not, may I suggest visiting the roller rink in Bishkek?
I thought roller-skating would be a lot like ice skating and/or rollerblading; I was wrong. I’m sure my bambi on skates impression provided plenty of humor for the mostly local teenage clientele.
The amount of times I nearly hit the ground was comical to say the least.
9) Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Abdylas Maldybayev
We missed the start of opera and ballet season by just a few days, however, if you’re in the city at the right time, that’s something you could consider doing as we heard the performances are top notch.
10) Bishkek Cafes
If you’re interested in chillin’ like a villain you’ll find Bishkek has a collection of worthwhile cafes to pass an afternoon.
Check out Q cafe where you’ll slurp on gourmet coffee and chow down on freshly baked muffins and Dvorak cake.
11) Hiking outside of Bishkek with Trekking Union
If you’re craving a day-trip from Bishkek, you can always plan a hike to the nearby mountains with the Trekking Union.
With hikes happening every weekend you’ll find yourself out in nature with good company along the way. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and proper footwear. Also, don’t be shocked if the 12 kilometer hike you’ve signed up for is actually a 25 kilometer jaunt.
VIDEO: Hiking in Kyrgyzstan
12) Kyrgyz traditional food and International cuisine
As far as traditional Kyrgyz food is concerned, there’s plenty to sample ranging from grilled meats to dumplings, and noodles to mixed rice. Also, be sure to try fermented mare’s milk (kymyz – Кымыз) which is a flavour you won’t soon forget.
International options are also plentiful in Bishkek with some great steakhouses, Japanese and Korean restaurants. Thus, our favorite was Chicken Star where you can enjoy spicy Korean chicken and tteokochi spicy rice cakes with your pint of beer.
VIDEO: Kyrgyz Traditional Food
13) Craft Beer Scene
Save The Ales! I’m always up for a good cause and if you’re jonesing for a craft IPA you’ve come to the right place.
Here you’ll enjoy the casual atmosphere and company of others when things get dark in the city.
14) Oak Park
With our time in Bishkek winding down, we visited Oak Park which is full of peculiar sculptures and offers a nice green escape.
Definitely, it’s worth a visit if you’re already in the area.
15) Panfilov Park (Панфилов көчөсү – улица Панфилова)
Lastly, there’s Panfilov Park, where you can enjoy all sorts of carnival rides right in the heart of Bishkek.
All in all, we had an enormous lunch before visiting so that meant the roller coaster was off limits for us, but it shouldn’t necessarily be for you.
Bishkek Photo Essay
Here is a brief photo essay to inspire you to visit Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!
Here are some accommodation options in Bishkek that cater to travelers of all budget ranges:
- Budget: Hostel Inn Bishkek – For budget travelers, Hostel Inn Bishkek is a great option. Located in the city center, it offers affordable dormitory-style rooms as well as private rooms. The hostel has a communal kitchen and lounge area, making it easy for guests to meet other travelers and socialize. The rooms are basic but clean and comfortable, with shared bathrooms. The hostel also offers free Wi-Fi and a 24-hour reception desk.
- Mid-range: Discovery Hotel Bishkek – For travelers looking for more comfort and amenities, Discovery Hotel Bishkek is a good choice. The hotel offers comfortable rooms with modern amenities, such as air conditioning and flat-screen TVs. The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with private bathrooms and 24-hour room service. The hotel also has a restaurant on-site, serving local and international cuisine, and offers airport transfers for an additional fee.
- Luxury: Hyatt Regency Bishkek – For those seeking a luxurious stay, Hyatt Regency Bishkek is a 5-star hotel that offers the ultimate in comfort and service. The rooms and suites are spacious and elegantly furnished, with panoramic views of the city. The hotel has a spa, fitness center, and indoor pool, as well as several dining options, including a rooftop bar with stunning views. The hotel’s location in the heart of the city makes it easy to explore Bishkek’s attractions.
- Boutique: Futuro Hotel Bishkek – For travelers who appreciate unique and stylish accommodations, Futuro Hotel Bishkek is a boutique hotel that offers a one-of-a-kind experience. The rooms and suites are individually designed, each with its own theme and style. The hotel’s common areas are beautifully decorated with contemporary art and design, creating a sophisticated and modern atmosphere. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant and bar, as well as a rooftop terrace with views of the city.
- Apartment rentals: For travelers who prefer a more home-like experience, there are many apartment rental options available in Bishkek on websites like Airbnb and Booking.com. These can range from budget-friendly studio apartments to luxury penthouses, depending on your preferences and budget. Renting an apartment can be a great way to experience Bishkek like a local, with the added convenience of having your own kitchen and living space. Many apartments also offer amenities like free Wi-Fi and 24-hour security.
Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, offers a diverse range of tours and experiences for visitors to explore the city’s history, culture, and natural beauty. Here are some of the most popular tours and experiences that visitors can enjoy:
- Bishkek City Tour – This tour is an excellent way for visitors to explore the city’s main attractions and learn about the region’s history and culture. The tour typically includes a visit to the Central Square, also known as Ala-Too Square, which is the hub of the city’s social and political life. Visitors can see the bronze statue of Manas, a legendary hero and national symbol, as well as the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum, which showcases the country’s rich heritage. Other notable stops on the tour may include the Parliament Building, the Victory Monument, and the Opera and Ballet Theatre.
- Hiking Tours – Bishkek is surrounded by stunning mountain ranges, and hiking tours offer visitors a chance to explore the region’s natural beauty. The Ala Archa National Park is a popular destination for hikers, with its breathtaking mountain views, scenic hiking trails, and crystal-clear streams. Guided tours are available for hikers of all levels, from beginner to advanced, and can include visits to nearby lakes and waterfalls. Another popular hiking destination is Konorchek Canyon, which features unique rock formations and stunning views.
- Cultural Tours – Kyrgyzstan’s rich cultural heritage is on full display in Bishkek, and cultural tours offer visitors a chance to explore the city’s traditional crafts, cuisine, and music. Visitors can take part in workshops and demonstrations to learn how to make traditional felt rugs, try their hand at making traditional Kyrgyz food, or enjoy live music performances by local artists. These tours provide an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the local culture and get a glimpse of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan.
- Horseback Riding Tours – Horseback riding is a popular activity in Kyrgyzstan, and guided tours offer visitors a chance to explore the region’s stunning landscapes on horseback. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely ride through the countryside, taking in the sweeping views of the mountains and valleys. More adventurous travelers may opt for a multi-day trek into the mountains, staying in traditional yurts and experiencing the country’s nomadic lifestyle.
- Nomadic Culture Tours – Kyrgyzstan is known for its rich nomadic culture, and visitors can experience this way of life through guided tours. These tours typically include a stay in a yurt, a traditional Kyrgyz tent, where visitors can learn about the nomadic way of life, including horseback riding, falconry, and traditional games. Visitors can also try traditional Kyrgyz food and learn about the history and customs of the nomadic people.
Popular Day Trips From Bishkek
Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, offers a wealth of opportunities for adventure, culture, and natural exploration. Here are some of the most popular day trips from Bishkek that visitors should consider:
- Ala Archa National Park – Located just 30 km south of Bishkek, this stunning park boasts breathtaking mountain views, scenic hiking trails, and crystal-clear streams. The park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and offers several trails for hikers of all levels.
- Burana Tower – This ancient tower is located in the Chuy Valley, approximately 80 km east of Bishkek. The tower dates back to the 11th century and was once part of a larger city called Balasagun. Visitors can explore the ruins of the ancient city and learn about the region’s rich history.
- Issyk-Ata Hot Springs – Located approximately 80 km east of Bishkek, Issyk-Ata Hot Springs is a popular destination for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. The natural hot springs are nestled in a scenic valley and offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Konorchek Canyon – This stunning canyon is located approximately 120 km east of Bishkek and is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers. The canyon’s unique rock formations and stunning views make it a must-visit for those seeking adventure and natural beauty.
- Tokmok – Located approximately 60 km east of Bishkek, Tokmok is a historic town that was once an important center of the Silk Road trade. Visitors can explore the town’s ancient ruins, visit the historic mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, and learn about the town’s rich cultural heritage.
These are just a few of the popular day trips from Bishkek that visitors can enjoy. With its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and endless opportunities for adventure, Bishkek is an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic and unforgettable travel experience in Central Asia.
And that’s a wrap for our trip to Bishkek. This city is the kind of place that you experience as opposed to ticking off attractions, so it ended up being a fairly relaxing trip after a few busy weeks of travel around Kyrgyzstan. As always, if you have any suggestions of things to do in Bishkek, feel free to share your tips with fellow travellers in the comments section below.