Must see attractions in Kyrgyzstan

  • Top ChoiceSights in Naryn Oblast

    Köl-Suu

    Remote even by Kyrgyzstan standards, magnificent Köl-Suu lake stretches over 10km through a sheer mountain gorge that reaches nearly to the Chinese border. It's hard to grasp the true scale until locally run boat trips (from $200 per person) strike out for the centre of the lake, where they seemed dwarfed by rock walls on every side. At 3500m the weather here can change rapidly so be sure to pack warm and carry extra provisions.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ak-Suu Region

    Ala-Köl

    The two-day trek to stunning Ala-Köl is for many visitors a highlight of the entire Kyrgyzstan experience. Though less than 1.5 km², the range of massive peaks that backs the long curve of the the lake makes the view from the pass down to Altyn Arashan one of the finest and most accessible anywhere in the north of the country.

  • Sights in Jalal-Abad Oblast

    Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve

    Though the full Unesco Biosphere Reserve includes seven mountain lakes and numerous rare flora and fauna, the star attraction for most visitors is the massive Sary-Chelek lake itself. Over 2km at its widest and over 7.5km long, the lush shoreline vegetation and dramatic crags facing the lake's accessible south shore make it a favourite local travel destination and it isn't hard to understand why.

  • Sights in Osh

    Jayma Bazaar

    Osh Bazaar is one of Central Asia’s biggest markets dealing in everything from traditional hats and knives to seasonal fruit to horseshoes forged at the smithies in the bazaar. Many stalls are crafted from old container boxes and banal warehouse architecture, but there's a fascinating bustle nonetheless, stretching for about 1km astride the river. Most dynamic on Sunday mornings; partly closed on Monday.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Barskoön

    Ak Örgö Yurt Workshop

    This workshop became famous after one of its products won the 'most beautiful yurt' competition at the 1997 'Manas 1000' festival and had its work exhibited six times in the US at several museums and cultural centres across the country. However, it was almost bankrupted when a luxurious US$50,000 yurt ordered for President Bakiev was never paid for given the president's sudden ousting in the 2010 revolution. If you speak Russian, it's fascinating to hear more of these stories.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jumgal

    Ak-Köl

    Winding 10km up a dirt road off the Kazarman–Chaek highway, brilliant Ak-Köl lake reflecting the surrounding peaks and the village beyond are a real delight. Originally established as a psychiatric ward (the runs of which can be seen on the far lake shore) and later converted to a lead mine (sealed after WWII), the small Russian-style log cabins here are still home to around 15 villagers who use the area as a base from which to graze livestock in the surrounding valleys.

  • Sights in Kegeti Valley

    Köl-Tör Lake

    This turquoise-hued glacial lake is one of the most beautiful in Chuy oblast, and the surrounding peaks and verdant pastures certainly don't do anything to dispel that notion. It's two to three hours of often-steep hiking beyond the Kegeti Tour Guesthouse, depending on your fitness level, but the return trip should only take about half that. In summer, stop on the way to sample fresh kymys in one of the yurt-camps that set up along the way.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Issyk-Köl Southern Shore

    Shygaev Museum of Modern Art

    Built into the hometown studio of Kyrgyzstan's national artist, Yuristanbek Shygaev, this delightful space is one of the most engaging museums in the whole of the country. Beyond works by the eponymous (and prolific) founder himself, look for mixed-media art from across Central Asia and Russia.

  • Sights in Karakol

    Jolgolot Viewpoint

    Hike the hour or two up from the village of Jolgolot (a suburb of Karakol) to take in stunning views of the city and Issyk-Köl to the north and the Karakol Valley to the south. Return the same way, or loop through the lush Ak-Suu Arboretum to catch a marshrutka back from Ak-Suu village.

  • Sights in Osh

    Suleiman Too

    This five-peaked rocky crag seems to loom above the city wherever you go. It has been a Muslim place of pilgrimage for centuries, supposedly because the Prophet Mohammed once prayed here. Its slopes are indented with many a cave and crevice each reputed to have different curative or spiritual properties; many are detailed on photo-boards in the Cave Museum. One such is fertility mini-cave Ene-Beshik, its rocks worn smooth by young women slithering in to aid their motherly aspirations.

  • Sights in Tokmok

    Burana Tower

    Burana is a popular side-trip when driving between Issyk-Köl and Bishkek. In the fields south of Tokmok, the Burana Tower is the 24m-high stump of a huge brick minaret, supposedly 11th-century though what you see dates predominantly from a 1950s Soviet restoration. You can climb it from 9am to 5pm (6pm in summer), or admire the slightly leaning structure with its distant mountain backdrop from a grassy mound to the northwest. This is all that’s left of the ancient citadel of Balasagun, founded by the Sogdians and later a capital of the Karakhanids, excavated in the 1970s by Russian archaeologists.

  • Sights in Bishkek

    Ala-Too Square

    Surveyed by a triumphant statue of Айкол Манас (Mighty Manas), Bishkek's nominal centre is architecturally neobrutalist in style but has a photogenic quality – especially when slowly goose-stepping soldiers change the guard beside the soaring national flagpole. In summer, the concrete of the square's northern half is relieved by attractive floral displays and fountains that double as swimming pools for local children.

  • Sights in Bishkek

    Osh Bazaar

    Bishkek's most central bazaar has a certain compulsive interest and is an important city landmark. For traditional Kyrgyz clothes, including white imitation-felt ak kalpak hats (80som) and colourful shepherds' chests, find the stalls outside the south tip of the bazaar's Khial building. Mondays are quiet, but on any other day it bustles.

  • Sights in Bishkek

    Nissa Art Salon

    Originally built as the St Nicholas Cathedral, the steeple was removed and this space converted to an art museum during the Soviet period. The building still hosts rotating exhibits of local artists that change every 6-8 weeks, and is well worth a stop to see what's on while wandering through Dubovy Park.

  • Sights in Tash Rabat

    Tash Rabat Caravanserai

    This small stone caravanserai is sunk into the hillside of a photogenic narrow shepherds' valley that's given definition by occasional rocky outcrops. Local sources say it dates from the 15th century, although some sources date its origins to a 10th-century Christian monastery. Either way, historians agree that at one time Tash Rabat (Kyrgyz for 'stone fortress') must have had significant political and trade importance on the Silk Road to justify the investment in labour required for its construction.

  • Sights in Bishkek

    Art Group 705

    Well-curated irregular exhibitions on a wide variety of themes and a grungy hipster-chic space make this a great stop for art seekers. Go through the gate at Bokonbaev 149 and then circle around back to the door marked with a large '705'. It's only open when an exhibition is on, so call or check the website before visiting.

  • Sights in Bishkek

    Gallery M

    This one-room gallery hosts rotating thematic exhibitions of works primarily by local artists. Much of it is for sale, and there is a handful of applied-art souvenirs, as well. Enter directly from the corner of Chuy and Manas. Check the website for what's currently on, as it closes in between exhibitions.

  • Sights in Karakol

    Karakol Animal Market

    Early on Sunday mornings one of Kyrgyzstan's biggest animal markets takes place around 2km north of central Karakol. Typical of such markets, you'll observe locals bargaining over thoroughbred horses or improbably bundling voluptuous fat-tailed sheep into the back seats of Lada cars. The setting amid semiderelict flour mills might seem unprepossessing, but on clear days the backdrop of white-topped mountains is more striking from here than from the town centre. Across the street, a car market keeps similar hours.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bishkek

    State Museum of Fine Arts

    Collections of Kyrgyz embroidery and felt rugs, a splendid variety of paintings, and rotating exhibitions of local and international touring works all make a visit here worthwhile. Last entrance 5.30pm.

  • Sights in Jeti-Ögüz

    Seven Bulls

    One of Kyrgyzstan's most photographed natural features, the Seven Bulls (Jeti-Ögüz) is an abrupt serrated ridge of ferric-red sandstone cliffs that have been vertically diced into a series of rounded bluffs. The formation isn't especially big, but it looks particularly striking in late spring when the rock's rosy colours contrast with the surrounding green fields and hills. The ridge rises directly north of the Soviet-era sanatorium, Jeti-Ögüz Korort.