Bishkek is a pleasant city to wander with wide boulevards, leafy parks and 60+ Soviet-era sculptures scattered throughout. There isn’t a great deal to see, and the city can comfortably be ‘done’ in a day. If however, you are afflicted with an interest in Modernist architecture, you might find yourself never wanting to leave.
Bazaars. Osh Bazaar (Chuy-Kuliev str.) is the most interesting, photogenic bazaar in town with many products unknown to the foreign eye or tongue. Dordoi Bazaar (20 minutes drive out of town) is Central Asia’s largest market of imports, mostly from China. While not exactly a tourist attraction, it is a unique sight and a worthwhile excursion into the New Silk Road. For Soviet-era souvenirs the Soviet Bazaar (Sunday 7-11am between Orto-Sai Bazaar and Beta 2) is the place to be.
Parks. Bishkek’s parks are its treasure, changing colours throughout the year. Dubovy (Oak) Park in the center has ping-pong tables, squirrels and sculptures. The longer parks (Erkindik in the center and Jash Gvardiya just east of Osh Bazaar) make for really nice long walks. Ata Turk Park (Axunbaeva) is beautiful in fall and has questionable amusement rides. Panfilov has less trees and is only interesting if you are new to the Post-Soviet world – it’s a typical amusement park. Finally, if you have done all of these and you are still in Bishkek, you are ready for Flamingo Park.
Architecture. Some standout buildings are the Wedding Palace (Dzhumabeka-Abdrakhmanov str.), the 18-story apartment building, the history museum and the Presidential Palace (both on Chuy) & Zhirgal banya (cnr Pravda/Sultan Ibraimov-Toktogul).
Museums and galleries
Most museums are closed on Mondays.
National Historical Museum. Currently (May 2016) under renovation, with a chance that the real highlight of the museum, the Communist murals, will disappear. More info after the renovation finishes. Before, it was not worth a visit for the exhibits on offer, with no English translation, but all the more for the murals that offered an insight into the former use of the building as the Lenin museum. A big Lenin pointing the way forward is still posted at the back of the museum. From the outside, the building is a masterpiece of Soviet Modernism. Price: 150 som, Open 10am-6pm Tue-Sun.
Museum of Fine Arts. A fine Brutalist building hosts the best collection of figurative art in Kyrgyzstan with works from Russian- and Kyrgyzstan-born artists. Stand-outs are Theodor Herzen’s graphic work on “Manas” and the work of Gaspar Aitiev.
Modern art Al Halal (Moskva 49, cnr Sultan Ibraimov str) is a small gallery dedicated to local artists. b’Art (Karasaev 3) is an art NGO staffed by intelligent people doing interesting things, who are happy to tell you more about modern art in Bishkek.
Small museums. If you are getting bored and know a fair bit of Russian, you might start to gain an interest in the many small museums Bishkek offers.
Things to do
Hiking, horse riding, rafting, mountainbiking etc. in the mountains near Bishkek deserve a topic of their own, yet to be written. Please check elsewhere for now. We do already know all about skiing.
- Bishkek walking tours exist. I haven’t been on one so cannot judge the quality. Please let me know if you have.
- Bathe. In summer you will want to swim. Karven Club (Toktogul 77) comes recommended by the LP, but know there are many more swimming pools in Bishkek. April/May, when the hot water gets switched off for maintenance city-wide, is the time for communal banya. Zhirgal banya is most famous.
- Learn Russian. Bishkek is one of the cheapest places to do it. Many people on the street have the same level as you, which makes it feel like you are getting good at it (you’re not). Try London School (Abdrakhmanov/Sovietskaya 39) or the Russian Center of Culture (Erkindik 2/1)