Must see attractions in Kyrgyzstan

  • Top ChoiceSights in Issyk-Köl Oblast


    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. The standard two-day route runs up the Karakol Valley to the Sirota hut campsite, though this can get crowded with tour groups in summer. Continuing up to the lake the next day, follow the rocky trail around the north side of the Ala-Köl as it climbs to an obvious pass and descends steeply towards Altyn-Arashan, making sure to cross the river before reaching the forested lower section of the valley. Upon reaching the Arashan river, head north around 3km to the springs or continue another few hours to the trailhead near Ak-Suu village for a return to Karakol.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Issyk-Köl Southern Shore

    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. If there are orders on ongoing, watch the workshop's machines for felt-cutting and wood-bending. Coming from Karakol, take the first Barskoön turn and the workshop (just before a turn signed 'Tegirmen') is 1km up the main road on the right. Ask for Mekenbek Osmonaliev. One-hour tours of the operation are available, but they also offer carpet-making and yurt-construction classes for visitors who want a hands-on experience.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Issyk-Köl Oblast

    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. It's located on the main drag of Kadji-Sai village around 3km off the highway. If the gate is locked, call the caretaker.

  • 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 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. The eastern entrance section is the point most minibuses mean when stating simply 'bazaar' on their signs.

  • 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. You'll see it right beside the path to the Cave Museum as you descend westward from Suleiman Too's main viewpoint. On that crag lies the one-room Dom Babura. Allow around 20 minutes' sweaty climb on the hairpin stairway to Dom Babura from Suleiman Too's main entrance, which is beside the strange silver-domed building that looks like an alien fairy cake, but actually formerly contained a photography salon popular with newly-weds.

  • 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 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. Marshrutka 102 drops you amid a melee of vehicles and hay-trucks on Udilova. A series of earthen unloading platforms lead north. Jostle through the chaos to reach a bigger main compound one block north, where you'll find horse sales and vendors of beautiful embossed leather saddlery. On foot the bazaar is about 25 minutes' walk from Makish Bazaar. Head straight down bumpy Lenina (the clearly signed Bereke Mill is about half way) then cut diagonally across some scrubby wasteland approximately opposite Lenina 279. Alternatively, walk up Kydyr Ake, take the second left (beside a cement dealers' store) and follow the traffic. For an early start a taxi is a better bet, around 70som from the centre.

  • Sights in Issyk-Köl Southern Shore

    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. For the best view, walk 10 minutes up a ridge-track doubling back behind the pair of shops where the access road's asphalt stops. Seen from the north side, the Seven Bulls ridge appears largely tree-covered with only the deepest crevice of red-rock visible. From this view the ridge goes by the alternative name Broken Heart.

  • Sights in Karakol

    Przhevalsky Memorial Museum

    The main attraction of the shrine-like Przhevalsky memorial garden is a small, well-presented museum dedicated to Nikolai Przhevalsky, the Russian explorer who died here in 1888 and for whom Karakol was previously named. Entered through a Neo-Grec portal, there's a giant map of his Tibet and Central Asia travels behind a big globe. Many exhibits have English captions but for an over-arching explanation of his life you'll really need the guide (who speaks good German but no English). The best features are arguably the banknote-style wall murals designed to alter perspective as you walk by. Amid the taxidermy is a stuffed white Przewalski's horse, the breed for whose 'discovery' the explorer is best known in the west.

  • Sights in Issyk-Köl Oblast

    Ak-Sai Petroglyphs

    A small collection of Tibetan-script petroglyphs and accompanying Soviet-era graffiti make for a nice 3km walk (one-way) from the nearby highway, but the extended 8.3km that loops back towards Ak-Sai village (14km west of Bokonbaevo) takes in some extraordinary views of red-rock hills with the deep blue of Issyk-Köl beyond. It's scorching and shadeless in summer, so take plenty of water, and the petroglyphs are hard enough to find that it's absolutely worth contacting CBT for a guide. Don't confuse these with the Tamga Tash petroglyph stone, near Tamga village, at which the landscape and glyphs are both significantly less enticing.

  • Sights in Northern Kyrgyzstan

    Tuyuk-Tör Petroglyphs

    A collection of petroglyphs believed to be from the Bronze and Middle Ages stand just off the road up a valley about 32km east of the village of Köpurö-bazar. Depictions of warriors, chariots and various animals are the most accessible in the Talas region. Further up the valley is a grave stone said to belong to a wife of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, whose armies reportedly passed through the valley. At the end of the valley is the small mountain lake Köl-Tör. The road remains relatively passable to the small concrete bridge at the foot of the petroglyphs and a ways beyond, but deteriorates to an off-road track around 10km before the trailhead for Köl-Tör.

  • Sights in Osh Oblast

    Kolduk Lakes

    Above a hilly jailoo ringed by yurts, the larger Kolduk lake is backed by a craggy mountain gorge. Families that take residence here from May to September are insistent in their offers of fresh dairy products from the livestock that roam these hills – it's impolite to not at least take a small piece of bread dipped in kaimak (sweet cream). For the smaller second lake, head 1½km along a rough track to the north from where the road descends to the main lake. Both are around 11km off the highway at a signed turn around 43km south of Gulcha, just north of the village of Kolduk (Колдык).

  • Sights in Issyk-Köl Oblast

    Skazka Valley

    The Skazka Valley is an area of bare red earth eroded into photogenic corridors, paws and spires of rosy rock. It's hardly Bryce Canyon but it makes a colourful curiosity when deserted in April. In mid-summer, the area can be rather overloaded with picnickers. The site is 2.2km off the A363 at Km120, on a rough but drivable track. If you're walking back from Skazka to Tosor there's a shortcut through the valley to the northeast that emerges eventually around Km122, 1km west of the roadside Ton Aimagy monument with its wide lake views. Don't try this walk in reverse without a guide.

  • Sights in Jalal-Abad Oblast

    Saimaluu Tash

    Spread over two remote valleys high in the mountains at an altitude of up to 3400m, this massive petroglyph site encompasses over 10,000 individual works dating from the 2nd to 8th centuries. Believed to have been a holy site for even longer, many of the carvings here are believed to have accompanied offerings to the gods in the hope of bringing bountiful harvests, successful hunts, and other mainstays of tribal life. At high elevation and accessed over even higher passes via a glacier walk, the site is only accessible for a month or two each summer starting in late July.