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The Best Things to Do in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The Best Things to Do in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan was literally never on anyone’s radars back in the day. I first visited the country in 2014 when I was doing a cross-China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan journey and my mom just about had a heart attack when I texted her with no prior warning that I was crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan - immediately drawing the conclusion that I was instead going to Afghanistan and would face an imminent death.

But the mountainous and nomadic nation in Central Asia started to make headlines with Lonely Planet listing it in the Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2019 and since then I have seen more and more YouTubers making their way into the country. We most recently went in 2023 as part of a digital nomad stint in neighboring Kazakhstan (Almaty to be exact) and it once again blew my mind.

When traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic, you will most likely be passing through the Silk Road capital city, Bishkek, on your way to all the beautiful places in nature. A city very much reminiscent of the Soviet era with a smorgasbord of Brutalist architecture, it will not be the most gorgeous place you will visit on this planet and there are certainly a lot of contrasts, but I guarantee it will be etched in your memory as far as uniqueness goes. Let's jump right into some things you can do in Bishkek and chat about the best places in Bishkek to visit. As the language barrier can be a bit intimidating with the Kyrgyz people (unless you speak Russian or Kyrgyz), I will also recommend some tours you can do to enhance your experience.

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The Map

Things to Do in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Buy a Lifetime Supply of Dried Fruit at the Osh Bazaar

Everyone loves a massive market, especially ones where locals from all around the surrounding area come and sell an array of goods. If you are a dried fruit and nuts lovers, you're in luck, as the selection of raisins, dried apricots, walnuts, almonds and anything else in that family of snacks is the largest I have seen.

Tip 🚨: I would recommend that you learn some Russian words for negotiation purposes, as sadly we tend to be called out as tourists in this part of the world and pay much higher prices than the locals. However, most stand-owners have calculators where they display the price, and you can just type your counter offer right back in there 😏.

In case you'd rather navigate one of the largest markets in Kyrgyzstan with a guide, check out this tour, where you will taste nomadic food from Osh Bazaar (that you might not order otherwise -- cough, cough horse meat).

A vendor in traditional attire scoops dried fruits and nuts at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, showcasing the vibrant and bustling local market scene.Local women shopping at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a lively market scene showcasing the cultural diversity and local lifestyle.Colorful display of dried fruits and nuts at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a vibrant place to explore local flavors and shop.

I have never seen so many varieties of dried apricots

See the Main Buildings and Statues in Bishkek: Be Transported Back to the Soviet Era

The Soviet Era in Kyrgyzstan took up a vast majority of the 20th century from 1917 to 1991, so Bishkek is laden with Soviet Union-style Brutalist architecture and statues. From Ala Too Square, Kurmanzhan Datka Statue, State History Museum, Victory Square, Opera and Ballet Theatre, Vladimir Lenin Statue, and the White House - all in the city center - Bishkek is a great place to throw yourself back decades to an entirely different time.

This tour quite literally hits all the aforementioned places AND MORE, while giving you a much more in depth historical and cultural understanding of Kyrgyzstan.

Albeit very similar, check out this tour if you would like an added focus on mosaic arts, which were brought into the city's architecture during the 1960s-1980s.

Ala-Too Square in central Bishkek, bustling with people and vibrant flowers, a central hub for cultural events and gatherings.

Ala-Too Square in all its Soviet brutalist beauty

The imposing facade of the House of Government in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, framed by ornate fencing and dark skies, a significant landmark in the city.

The White House is quite fittingly where the president works out of. Yet another Soviet architecture example.

A rustic staircase with green walls and a red handrail inside the USSR Hostel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, illustrating Soviet-era architecture and hostel accommodations.

The USSR Hostel where I stayed back in 2014. Did I mention yet that Bishkek is filled with Soviet architecture?

Stroll the Parks of Bishkek

I feel like Central Asian, post-Soviet cities tend to be some of the leafiest cities I have ever seen on the planet, where the boulevards are lined with trees and there are copious parks on every corner. It puts New York City's lack of trees and green spaces to shame. This was one of the things we loved about Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek is no exception.

In Bishkek you have centrally-located Oak Park, nearby Panfilov Park, the much larger Kara Jygach Park, the victorious Victory Park, among several others. The Victory Park is home to the eternal flame, a memorial that pays homage to the Soviet Union's WWII victory, and despite its name has been forcefully shut off in the past due to a very high, unpaid gas bill 😀.

Whichever park you choose, these are perfect places for seeing how daily life plays out for Bishkek-ians (is that what you would call them?!)

Locals enjoying a sunny day on a bench in Ala-Too Square, Bishkek, a popular spot for relaxation and people watching.

Get Massaged by Birch Twigs in a Russian Banya

One of the best things (and perhaps one of the more bizarre things) in this part of the world you can do is go to a Russian-style Banya. These are bath houses where you are gender segregated. The main attraction is the sauna, which is actually more of a steam room, as steam is produced when throwing water on the hot rocks. You will also come across bundles of birch twigs that are used for massaging others (so you can make those local friends you have been meaning to make); not even joking 😏. After enduring what might be the hottest temperatures you will ever experience in your life, you can choose to jump into an ice-cold bath.

For us, the extremes in temperature changes was a bit too much for the intended purpose of relaxing, but it is a must if you are passing through.

Bishkek has quite a few, but the most famous one (perhaps for its peculiar choice of architecture) is Zhirgal Banya. For a list of operating Banyas check out TripAdvisor.

Interior of a traditional Russian banya in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, featuring wooden walls and benches, with a bucket and birch twigs, offering an authentic spa experience.

Chow Down on Kyrgyz Cuisine

You may be asking, what does Kyrgyz cuisine even consist of? As a nomadic culture, it revolves heavily around mutton, beef, and even horse. While it doesn't get a global rep like Japanese, Italian or Greek food, it can still be delicious and filling, although I couldn't see myself eating it every day for weeks upon weeks.

Let's break down what you should try while in Bishkek:

  • Beshbarmak: This is probably the most famous one and quite ceremonial in Kyrgyzstan as it is often consumed around births and funerals (you can just get it on a casual non-celebratory day at a restaurant, though). It typically consists of horse meat (or mutton) boiled in its own broth and then smathered over noodles.
  • Shashlik: Skewers of massive chunks of mutton (or beef, chicken and fish) grilled to perfection.
  • Laghman: Pulled noodles with vegetables and meat
  • Paloo: Rice, mutton and shredded carrots fried and boiled to perfection (usually in a massive wok called a Qazan). You will find this all over Central Asia, also going by the name plov. It is definitely my favorite of them all!
  • Manty: Dumplings filled with meat and veggies.

And where can you go to try this food? Here are some Bishkek restaurants:

  • Faiza: Filled with locals and enormous, Faiza has all the local favorites, with shashlik prepared on a wood burning stove.
  • Navat: Very foreigner friendly, this chain with locations in Kazakhstan, is perfect for catering to larger groups.
  • Bukhara: A bit more upscale than the others but still serving all the Central Asian and Kyrgyz favorites.

If you want to try a bunch of different dishes all recommended by locals, check out this 3 hour Bishkek food-tasting tour.

Close-up of traditional Kyrgyz manti, steamed dumplings filled with meat, displayed in a steaming tray, highlighting a popular dish in Bishkek cuisine.

Manty in the making at a Kyrgyz restaurant

A large skillet filled with paloo, a traditional Kyrgyz dish made with rice, meat, and carrots, served as a communal meal in Bishkek.

My favorite, paloo or plov

Things to Do in Bishkek at Night

Experience Nightlife in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Despite what you may be thinking, there is a thriving nightlife in Bishkek. From craft beer to nightclubs that don't let out until the morning.

Keep in mind, bars and clubs open and shut down quite quickly in Bishkek, so make sure to do a little extra research to confirm that the following are still open (although I will try to keep it updated, you can always email us at fabio-and-ryan@thefabryk.com)

Below is a list of crowd-sourced recommendations:

  • Promzona: Popular on weekends with live music and good security. Requires a taxi due to its location.
  • Retro Metro: Known for electronic music and a vibrant club atmosphere.
  • Keanu Bar: Located on Manas Avenue near other nightlife spots.
  • Chebak Pub: Offers live music on weekends and has a small dance floor.
  • LiveBar: Features live music and a DJ booth, with a unique layout and cool atmosphere.
  • Bar12: Offers impressive views from the 12th floor and good DJs.
  • Suzie Wong: A stylish venue that hosts live bands and DJ nights.
  • Riders Pub: A relaxed venue in Love Park, perfect for relaxing.
  • Steinbrau Pub: Known for craft beers and German sausages 🤣.

While we are generally a gay-focused blog, we cannot vouch for the LGBTQ+ friendliness of the Bishkek scene, but these are some places that we have curated for having an alternative vibe although not explicitly LGBTQ+:

If you are not feeling ready to conquer Bishkek's nightlife alone, book this tour, which includes drinks 🥃.

Day Trips from Bishkek

If the urban hustle of Bishkek is getting to you, you have the world's most gorgeous and diverse nature just short access away from the city.

Ala-Archa National Park

I remember first visiting this park in 2014 by means of tracking down a taxi driver, somehow communicating three words of Russian, and ultimately paying him the equivalent of $30 to drive me one hour to the base of Ala-Archa National Park and let me hike for 5 hours (while waiting there the entire time). He finally drove me back to my hostel when I was ready to go. The troubles of communicating with the taxi driver were well worth it, as the colorful hills and mountains made for an unforgettable hike, where I even got to trek alongside wild horses.

If I could do it all over again, I might have done it through an organized tour group, as logistically it could have turned out to be a nightmare.

This tour is a half-day tour where you get to explore Ala-Archa for 3 hours. If you want to combine that with a full-day Bishkek city tour, this tour is your best friend.

Panoramic view of Ala-Archa National Park, highlighting the lush green forests and rugged mountain terrain, a top outdoor attraction near Bishkek.

A cemetery you may come across on the way to Ala-Archa

A trail of horses wandering through the colorful autumn landscape of Ala-Archa National Park near Bishkek, great for horse trekking and nature experiences.

My besties I made during the hike

Panoramic view of Ala-Archa National Park, highlighting the lush green forests and rugged mountain terrain, a top outdoor attraction near Bishkek.

Those views though 🤩

Burana Tower and Konorchek Canyons

The Burana Tower is a minaret in Bishkek's bordering Chüy Valley, and is one of the last remaining structures of the ancient city of Balasagun. There are some fascinating legends around it.

If you have a bit more time, you can venture further to the Konorchek Canyons, a vastly different geographical site than the previously mentioned, Ala-Archa National Park.

If you have about 4 or 5 hours to spare, you can tour Burana Tower in that time, but if you can spare a day, definitely go further on to Konorchek Canyons for a hike!

Burana Tower, a historic minaret near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, surrounded by mountains and blue sky, a must-visit for history enthusiasts exploring things to do in Bishkek.

While it used to be 45 meters high, the 25 meter tall Burana Tower is still impressive

Vivid view of the red and orange cliffs of Konorchek Canyons near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, an ideal destination for hiking and outdoor activities.

Grand Canyon or Konorchek Canyons?!

Lake Issyk-Kul

This is the holy grail of Kyrgyzstan, as it is the country's largest lake. In global terms, it is the second-largest high mountain lake (after Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia). Despite being brutally cold in winter, it doesn't freeze because of springs omitting warm water at the bottom. The Southern side of the lake is less populated than the Northern side, so if you want an even more authentic experience, make your way down there!

You can do a one-day tour from Bishkek (which also includes the Burana Tower), but it is a bit of a stretch and the sublimity of the lake will probably have you wanting to stay a bit longer.

Scenic view from a pier at Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan, with snow-capped mountains in the distance and a clear blue sky, a peaceful retreat not far from Bishkek.

Some Bishkek FAQs

Is it worth visiting Bishkek?

100%. Like I said, Bishkek isn't the world's prettiest city you will visit, but it is incredibly unique and has something for everyone (whether you are the outdoorsy type, the foodie, the history buff, the architect, etc.). Also, it is at the doorstep of the globe's most impressive nature, so that is just another reason to visit.

How many days are enough for Bishkek?

As we are proponents of slow travel, we always suggest more days than less, but if you are stretched for time, 2-3 days is a good amount of time to see Bishkek.

When is the best time to visit Bishkek?

May to August. The temperatures around the city do not get too hot, and it is the best time to venture out into the nearby nature. Winter should only be for the truly adventurous 😂.

How do you get to Bishkek?

Bishkek is served by Manas International Airport, and tends to have a lot of direct flights from Istanbul if you are coming from the West.

If you are already in Central Asia, Bishkek has a lot of bus and rail connections to nearby Almaty in Kazakhstan and Tashkent in Uzbekistan.