Bishkek has been the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic since 1991, but the place has had many names over the course of its history. Before 1991, the city was called Frunze, named after a Soviet military leader born here. Before 1926, the place was known as Pishpek and had a Kokand fortress, which was conquered by Tsarist Russia in 1860s. Archaeologists have found artefacts from ancient times within modern Bishkek and refer to a city called Suli/Djuli. Nowadays, the large street called Jibek Jolu, literally meaning the Silk Road, reminds us that this city was also once part of the Great Silk Road. However, other than that the city is relatively new, this Bishkek Travel Guide leads you through major hallmarks of the city & major stops on city tours.
Ala -Too Square
According to a legend, Bishkek was Baatyr (or hero), who was born and raised in this region. He was brave and fair; he protected his people, making the region secure and suitable for traders and travelers.The name Bishkek is derived from a utensil important to nomads used in making a fermented horse milk drink called Kymyz. You can hear the full story of the hero during any city tour. Most of these tours start in the city center, next to the flag, where you’ll also find another national hero, Manas, and the national museum. Two soldiers stand next to the flag and it is very interesting to watch the changing of the guard.
The city center with its museum, the White House, and the iconic arched buildings were built in the 1980s. The main square is called Ala-Too and here, big celebrations take place on national holidays.
Right next to the museum there is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was built in 1926 by famous architect V.P. Zenkov, who also worked in Almaty. Originally, it was the seat of the Soviet National Committee and Central Electoral Committee. Today it hosts the Assembly of Nations in Kyrgyzstan, celebrates diversity and as a bonus has a nice bookshop in the basement. There you can also buy postcards or books in English about Kyrgyzstan.
The national museum
The national museum was initially named after Lenin and his statue used to stand in front of it, nowadays it is moved to the backside of the building. Seven architects took part in the grandiose project and completed it in 1984. The museum is massive is and richly decorated with traditional ornamentation.
The Parliament building
Behind the museum, there is an old square where you’ll find the parliamentary building. The parliament with 16 pillars adorning its entrance was completed in 1936, under the watchful eye of architect U.B.Dubov.
Walking further along this street, you have two choices: either to go to the Panfilov Park, which is a favorite place for kids with numerous attractions and games, or go to Dubovyi Park which literally means Oak Park. This small park has many sculptures and works of art to peruse.
Several parks and alleys lined with trees make the city pleasant to explore on foot even in summer when temperatures can reach 40°C. Even before the Russians came, the area had a sophisticated watering system. At the end of the 19th century, trees were planted along irrigation canals. During the Soviet era, a grid pattern of streets was planned but when implemented, the city retained its green credentials.
Opera & Ballet Theatre
After the park on the big central street, you’ll come across the national theater of Opera & Ballet that was opened on May 15, 1955.
There are a variety of hotels and hostels to choose from in Bishkek, with online agents such as Trip Advisor featuring more than a hundred options. Scattered throughout the center, there are several good hotels and even a 5-star hotel Hyatt.
The National Library
Walking further down the main street you will see the national library built in 1984.
This is the main ceremonial wedding palace where the official registration of marriages takes place. The building dates from 1986.
Walking further you can see a permanent circus building that was finished in 1977.
Victory Square with half a yurt structure and a sculpture of a woman is an important stop point for newlyweds. It is customary to place flowers by the eternal flame and pay tribute to those who fought in World War II.
Central post office
The central post office was designed by A. Isaev, the main architect of the city from 1968 to 1972.
Office of the City Mayor
Mayor’s Office was built in 1957 by architect P.P. Ivanov.
This square, near the philharmonic hall and universities, is well worth a look.
There are 18 universities and other 29 institutions of higher education. Bishkek can proudly call itself the intellectual center of Kyrgyzstan.
There are also more and more new buildings, outside the old Soviet planned city. The one below is the new modern campus of the American University in Central Asia, built in 2013.
While the city center is spread out, full of government buildings and shopping centers, most of the residents‘ apartments are located closer to the mountains.
There are Soviet and modern housing options in the city center and so-called micro – districts located further from the center.
Shopping in Bishkek is one of the most attractive leisure pursuits in Central Asia. Most souvenirs are handmade and cheap even in comparison to other Central Asian countries. You can shop at international stores like Mango, NB and modern malls. However, the real atmosphere is to be experienced in the city’s bazaars. While in Bishkek do not miss an opportunity to shop in Osh Bazaar where you can buy anything from a Kalpak hat…
to a bag of fresh fruits.
In contrast, the Shipment Container market offers cheap prices for Chinese goods directly transported to Dordoi Bazaar. From there, items are sold on to other Central Asian or former Soviet bloc countries.
Eating in Bishkek
Eat like a local at one of the many cafes and restaurants in Bishkek. You can find Italian restaurants, fast food chains, coffee places and restaurants specializing in Asian and Central Asian cuisine. In summer, many places open up outdoor terraces enabling you to take full advantage of the weather.
Bishkek City Tour
If you are in Bishkek and want to keep up to date what’s going on, take a look at the list of weekly events compiled by GoKG. If you would like to get to know Bishkek in depth, why not join us for a tour with our knowledgeable and wonderful guide? There is much more to explore and see than we could cover here.
© Photos by Manuel Lässer