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Bishkek Travel Guide, Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz capital is a Soviet-built city characterized by tree-lined streets, imposing architecture, and large boulevards.

You’ll find that Bishkek is an approachable city that invites you to explore unhurriedly. The city is also extremely walkable, clean and green and offers many delightful spaces to relax.

Bishkek surprised us in several ways. Though predominantly Muslim, Kyrgyz drink alcohol and intermingle between the sexes more freely than you might expect.

As we walked around this Central Asian city, we saw many couples affectionately holding each other on park benches, walking hand in hand, and going out. After traveling for months in South and Southeast Asia, it was extremely refreshing.

Shoro Drinks, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

5 Best Things to Do in Bishkek

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

1. Street-Corner Shoro Tasting

In summer, you’ll see street vendors selling traditional Kyrgyz beverages on almost every street corner.

These beverages are known by their brand name, Shoro, Kyrgyzstan’s largest beverage company.

You’ll see large red, blue and brown barrels containing: Maksym, Chalap and Kvass.

We bought a small cup of each drink and conducted our own tasting. We quickly learned why Shoro failed to secure an international market for these beloved Kyrgyz drinks. But, you should try them for yourself! 

Maksym Shoro (red barrel) – Wheat-based drink made from fermented grains, animal fat, wheat flour, cracked barley and yeast. This milky-brown drink is sour and has a thick consistency.

Chalap Shoro (blue barrel) – A traditional drink made from dissolved kurut (yogurt balls), carbonated water and salt. This sour drink tastes like fermented goat’s milk.

Kvass (brown barrel) – Fermented beverage made from rye bread. This is the least intimidating drink of the three. It’s both sour and sweet and tastes like it wants to be a beer someday.

All drinks are non-alcoholic. The drink prices are standardized and listed on each barrel. Depending on the drink, they cost 10-12 som for a small cup, 20-24 som for a medium cup, and 50-60 som for a 1 liter bottle.


2. Shop at Osh Bazaar

Nuts and dried fruit at the Osh Bazaar, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar is a large sprawling shopping area in Bishkek. You’ll find heaps of clothing, toys, meat, dairy, spices, nuts and just about everything else.

Although it’s a busy market place, exploring is altogether stress-free. Vendors offered us samples of food, but never tried to lure us to their stalls with touts.

We visited the Bazaar twice to wander about and buy goodies: fresh bread (nan), smoked cheese, dried fruit (apricots are delicious), and Korean-style vegetable salads (pickled cauliflower and mushrooms in a chili vinegar sauce).

Most stalls showcase prices in kg, so even if you can’t communicate in Kyrgyz or Russian, you’ll be able to understand the cost of items and make purchases.


3. Scrub Down in Zhirgal Banya

Zhirgal Banya is a Russian-style public bathhouse in Bishkek.

The complex is segregated by gender, so the following description reflects our experience in the women’s space, though we assume the spaces are similar.

Upon entering the lobby, we purchased an entrance ticket and received a receipt, locker key and sheet. Next, we entered the locker room, where we needed to present our receipt. We stashed our things away in our lockers and made our way into the bathhouse, wrapped up in sheets.

The first communal space is dedicated to washing and scrubbing. You’ll see women and children scrubbing down with exfoliants and exfoliating gloves. Each person had their own tub of water for their own personal use. It’s quite the scene! You can also pay someone to scrub you down, though don’t expect any privacy.

After taking a shower, we entered the leaf-covered sauna, where women were smacking themselves with venik (bath brooms).

After the sauna, we showered and headed to the dome. The blue-tiled dome houses an ice-cold pool in the center. I (Sabrina) only managed to get in waist-deep, though Kati was able to take the plunge. After relaxing on the wooden benches that rim the pool, we started the routine again.

The bathhouse offers other services including massage and manicures. There’s also a café connected to the locker room if you need snacks or refreshments.


4. Hike to Ak-Sai Glacier in Ala Archa National Park

Ala Archa National Park is located 40 km south of Bishkek, a mere 1-hour drive from the city center. We visited Ala Archa as a day trip from the city and we were absolutely wowed.

The most convenient way to get to the park and back is by organizing a taxi drop-off and pick-up (around 2400 som round-trip).

The Ala Archa park entrance is situated 12 km from the trailheads. At the entrance, you’ll pay the 450 som car entrance fee and then continue driving to Alplager, where you’ll see a red-roofed a-frame hotel and the hiking trails.

From Alplager, you basically can go either left or right. The trail to the left (“Ak-Sai Waterfall Trail”) is 6.4 km and leads you to a waterfall (2 hours) and then to the Ak-Sai Glacier (4 hours).

The second half of the trail is strenuous but rewards you with rugged mountain and glacier views. The trail ends at Razeka station with an elevation of 3,300 meters.

Don’t forget your hiking poles. The trail to the right is labeled “Ala Archa River Trail” and is considerably easier.

The trail is easy to follow, so this is something you can easily do without a guide. There’s an occasional blue/white trail marker painted on rocks, but the footpath is obvious enough. You can also follow the whole trail on Maps.me. Read more about hiking in Ala Archa National Park.


5. Attend an Opera or Ballet at the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre

Do you love going to the ballet or opera? If yes, don’t miss out on attending a production at the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre. If no, consider going as well. Seats are priced at an astoundingly reasonable sum of 100 – 450 som (1.46 – 6.56 USD).

You can purchase tickets directly at the theater on the same day as the performance. We showed up 30 minutes before the curtain and had no problem securing seats. Most performances begin at 17:00 (5:00 p.m.).

We attended Swan Lake and were impressed by the performance of the dancers as well as the musicians. We’ll definitely swing by for another show the next time we’re in town.

The season runs September through June.


Where to Eat and Drink in Bishkek

Osh Bazaar, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Social Coffee | Trendy café with ample indoor and outdoor seating. Interior spaces feature soft lighting, potted plants, leather and velvet sofas, tropical print cushions and other fun accents. The menu features espresso drinks, cocktails, breakfast, and lunch items. English menu. Address: 62 Razzakov St, Bishkek | Tripadvisor

Coffee Relax | This café’s enticing assortment of cakes and sweets will make your mouth water. Come here for coffee and cake, or a western-style meal. English menu. Address: 140 Toktogul Street, Bishkek | Tripadvisor 

Boris Coffee & Bakery | This café stands out with its lovely french-inspired interior with soft pastels and teal upholstered armchairs. They serve espresso drinks as well as an assortment of pastries and cakes. Really good wifi connection! Address: 14 Erkindik Ave, Bishkek | Tripadvisor 

Navat | Stylish albeit reasonably-priced Central Asian fusion restaurant with large dining space. It’s a popular place among locals and tourists. Nice introduction to Kyrgyz food. English menu with pictures. The food was very good. Address: 114/1 Togolok Moldo St, Bishkek | Tripadvisor 

Bukhara | Eastern Asian Fusion restaurant catering to a fashionable crowd. You’ll also find some western staples on the menu. Everything we tried we loved. The interior is spacious. Most tables feature couch seating. At night, there’s live music and a dance floor illuminated by disco lights (weird and amazing at the same time). Address: 227 Chui Avenue (also spelled Chuy), Bishkek, on the corner of Isanov Street | Tripadvisor 



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Bishkek City Guide, kyrgyzstan

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati