Interest in the Silk Road is growing rapidly, with travellers intrigued by the ancient routes which saw the exchange of goods, religion and ideas between east and west. The routes cover such vast areas that it can be difficult to decide where to visit, so we’ve put together a list of the top five places to see on the Silk Road, from cultural hotspots to incredible landscapes.
Once a major city at the crossroads of the Silk Road, Merv was at the centre of an oasis in the Karakum Desert, a welcome stop for merchants. Known as the ‘Queen of Cities’, everything changed in 1221 AD when Genghis Khan’s Mongols destroyed Merv – the city never truly recovered. Nowadays, due to Merv’s size and significance to the history of the Silk Road, the ruins are one of Turkmenistan’s most important sites.
With its narrow alleyways and atmospheric bazaars, Bukhara is a must visit stop on the Silk Road. The city was a major staging point on the Silk Road and by around 500BC it was an important centre defended by a citadel, which still stands in parts. Visit the beautiful blue-tiled Mir-i-Arab Madrassah, the spectacular Ark and Lab-i-Hauz, the stunning centrepiece of an architectural complex of 16th and 17th century buildings.
Kashgar is China’s most westerly city and was a key trading point on the Silk Road, located where the northern and southern branches met. The city's Sunday Market was one of the most important places to trade goods in the Silk Road’s heyday, and has been running for thousands of years. Even today it is one of the biggest and busiest markets in the world, and locals say you can buy everything except chickens’ milk and cows’ eggs! The market’s historical importance means it is a must visit for anyone with an interest in the Silk Road.
Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan
Tash Rabat is an ancient Silk Road caravanserai set in one of the prettiest valleys in Kyrgyzstan and is one of the country’s most interesting sites. The caravanserai would have provided a place for weary travellers on the Silk Road to rest, and you can imagine what life here once was like as you wander through the ruins. This is the perfect place to sit and take in the peace and scenery of Kyrgyzstan.
Taklamakan Desert, China
The Taklamakan Desert is one of the most remote and inhospitable areas anywhere, and is also the largest sand only desert in the world. Its name means ‘go in but don’t come out’ and it would have proved a formidable obstacle for travellers. Drive through this incredible landscape and spend a night camping under the stars, just as the caravans travelling the Silk Road would have done. Visit the Kizil Caves, filled with Buddhist frescoes and sculptures and explore Yarkent, once an important stop on the southern branch of the Silk Road.
For more information on the Silk Road, why not try our Silk Road infographic?