Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is a Soviet-built city of big boulevards and aging high-rises of around 1 million inhabitants. Despite its size, it’s a shabby, provincial town that offers little of interest to the average traveler, especially compared to the majestic sights everywhere else in Kyrgyzstan.
Nonetheless, its large green spaces, easy-going vibe, big student population, large American presence and low cost of living, coupled with Kyrgyzstan’s liberal visa regime, have seen Bishkek emerge as the Central Asian hub for backpackers, cycle tourists and young expats in the academic or aid industry.
Bishkek serves as a jumping off point for day trips to nearby hiking and skiing destinations and as the main transport hub in and out of the country. If you are into nightlife or fine dining: enjoy it here; the rest of Kyrgyzstan has no such offers. Bishkek is also a good place to gather visas for the continuation of a longer Silk Road trip (the other option, Almaty, nowadays offers a similar cost of living for travelers, but has a less liberal visa regime).
For winter sports, see skiing in Kyrgyzstan. For hikers, first port of call is Ala Archa National Park. Need to write more on this and the other hiking options around Bishkek, in the meantime, please see elsewhere.
Burana Tower, near Tokmok, is the main historical site outside of Bishkek.
Other cities nearby: Almaty, Osh, Toktogul, Karakol, Naryn, Kochkor.