You are likely coming to Samarkand from Bukhara or Tashkent. In this case, the train is the quickest and most comfortable way to get in, not more expensive than taking a shared taxi. If you are coming from Tajikistan, a series of shared taxis is for now the only way to get to Samarkand.
International flights to Samarkand exist and will probably be ramped up in the coming years, but with the bigger airport in Tashkent, most air passengers will keep flying in there.
Getting in and out of Samarkand
Samarkand railway station lies a few kilometres east of town (OSM / Gmaps). There are both slow trains to Tashkent and Bukhara (4-5 hours) and fast trains (2-3 hours). Other destinations (Khiva, Termez, Ferghana Valley, Kazakhstan, Russia) are only served by slow trains.
For the full lowdown on routes, buying tickets and the train experience, see trains in Uzbekistan.
Bus & shared taxi
Shared taxis to Kitob and Shahrisabz gather right in front of the Registan.
Samarkand is not an air hub, although the Uzbek authorities want to increase the number of flights in the coming years. You can see your options on the Samarkand flight routes map.
Samarkand airport is currently under reconstruction – don’t expect any services in the temporary terminal. A taxi is the best way to make it into the city centre (~5000 sum).
The fast train (~60000 sum) brings you in 2,5 hours to Samarkand. If you miss it, you can get on the 4,5-hour slow train (~45000 sum) or take a shared taxi (4-5h – 50 000 sum) or bus.
The fast train (~45000 sum) brings you in 2 comfortable hours to Samarkand. If you miss it, you can get on the 4-hour slow train (~35000 sum) or take a shared taxi (4h – 50 000 sum) or bus.
Tajikistan is just a hop and a skip away. For all tips and considerations on crossing the border to Panjakent and beyond, see the Panjakent section at Tajikistan border crossings.
Taxis in the city are cheap and ubiquitous, outside of the pedestrianised historic center. 4000 sum is a standard fare for anywhere in the city, 5000 sum for the outskirts.
Tram #2 (route) is potentially useful, as it is new, very cheap and comfortable, and connects the train station with the Siyab bazaar from where the historic city centre is in walking distance.
However, since you are probably coming with bags, getting dropped off at your hotel with a taxi is probably still a whole lot easier.
Catching a city bus is frustrating, confusing, uncomfortable and thus best avoided. You can plan your travel using the WikiRoutes app, but it is not completely accurate.
Standard fare is 1400 som which you pay upon leaving.