Bakhchysarai (Russian: Бахчисарай) is in Crimea. Once the capital of the Crimean Tatar Khanate, it is undergoing a steady cultural rebirth since the Tatars were allowed to return from Uzbekistan in the early 1990s.
By no means overrun with tourists, the majority of visitors that do make it are from Russia, Ukraine, or Turkey. As is the norm in the Crimea, very little English is spoken or understood. A working knowledge of Crimean Tatar, Russian, or Turkish will be useful.
The history of the town is closely linked with that of the Crimean Khanate. The Khanate emerged from the Golden Horde (one of the fragments that Genghis Khan's empire splintered into), gaining its independence in the 15th century. Its first capital was at Staryi Krym and its first ruler was a descendant of Genghis Khan. Soon after, the Khanate's capital moved to Bakhchisaray and the town became a centre of political and cultural life of the Crimean Tatars. After the first Khan's death, the region a become an Ottoman protectorate and so shared that empire's fortunes. The declining Ottomans lost the Crimea in 1774 when it became independent but was then annexed by Russia in 1783 and the town lost its administrative significance. In 1944, it also lost its Crimean Tatar population in the Sürgün-Stalin's brutal mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan.
The Crimean Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea in the 1990s and the town is still coming to terms with its newly regained cultural history. The Khan's palace, several mosques, and the surrounding town are being gradually restored after extended neglect.
Long-distance trains to Sevastopol - from cities such as Kiev, Donetsk and as far away as St Petersburg - often stopped in Bakhchisaray until the recent Russian takeover of Crimea, which cut off such service from or through Ukraine, so check on whether service has resumed.
The train station is near the central market, from where local buses (2.5 UAH) will take you to the Old City (Старый Город) and the New City (Новый город). Local bus number 2 starts at the train station, goes on to the bus station before doubling back on itself and going to the palace and old town. Taxis also wait at both bus and train stations: expect to pay ~25uah to get to the palace by taxi.
From the train station, it's about a 30 minute walk to the Khan's Palace or a 10 minute ride on local bus no. 2 (2.5 UAH).
If you want to get somewhere a bit farther and don't feel like hiking and no bus seems to service the route try approaching a local with a car down at the main square where the bus and trains run from, for a price (usually around 6 - 10 USD) they'll take you for up to a 30 minute car ride.
- Khan's Palace (Crimean Tatar: Han Saray, Russian: Dvar-yets, Ukrainian: Palats), Ulitsa Lenina (in the center of the old town. Bus 2 runs from the train and bus station). In the summer, you can hire a guide in almost any language. Points of interest include the inner palace, the Kahn's cemetery, the Falcon Tower, the Crimean Tatar museum and a small art gallery. Behind the palace is a WWII military cemetery. Entrance to the grounds and mosque is free, 50 UAH for the palace interior and exhibitions..
- Uspensky Cave Monastery (Follow the signs on Ulitsa Lenina for about 3 km from the palace or take bus 2 to its end.). Founded around the 8th or 8th centuries, this Orthodox Monastery is old and beautiful. A holy spring flows here and the water is potable.
- Chufut Kale (Follow the path up to the Uspensky Cave Monastery and keep going. Bear left at the campsite.). A cliff city last inhabited by Kararite Jews, there are 1000 year old Jewish and Muslim cemeteries in the area.
- Mangup Kale. A short bus ride out of town will take you to the area where you can hike to the top of the plateau and walk around Ostrogoth/Byzantine ruins.
- Kachi Kaleon - A Greek cliff city with several cave churches, this is also a short bus ride out of the city.
- Tash Ayeer - This is another hiking area very near Kachi Kaleon.
- Eski Kermen. Another cave city, this one still has a bit of the 1500 year old frescoes visible. It's also in remarkably good condition.
- Hiking! - At any number of the street vendors you should be able to buy yourself a great topographical map, don't expect to find any such map outside of the Crimea, you'll have to buy it there.
- Smoking - If you are in the center of Crimean Tatar civilization you should try water pipe. Except traditional one filled with water, you can also smoke through the dry vine or brandy. Try it in the restaurants and clubs near the Khans palace.
Any number of cheap trinkets are on sale at little booths manned by locals in front of all of the tourist attractions in the town.
Near the palace is a store called Usta (Crimean Tatar for "master") that sells things made by Crimean Tatar artisans. Several masters work in the workshop there. Of particular interest is the silver master who often has television crews interviewing him.
In front of the Khan's palace you can get some wonderful baked goods, including samsa, (Tatar) baklava and chibureky.
- Cafe Meyhane (Кафе Мейхане) (on the main road, about 1 km from the Hansaray, 50 meters to the right of the Ismail Gasprinsky monument- down towards the small river running through the town). Excellent value Tatar/Uzbek resutaurant. Shashlyk, salad, tea and lepyoshka for about 40 grinva. Lovely outdoor setting with Central Asian takhtas to sit on. No English is spoken but the pretty/flirty Tatar girls working as waitresses are very helpful in trying to help with the menu. Plov, manty, lagman, sarma, shashlyk, samsa, shurpa, cheburek Tatar bakhlava, chak-chak are all available.
Near the Hansaray (the Khan's Palace) are several restaurants:
- Cafe Aliyeh (Кафе Алие) near the Pushkin monument. They feature a full menu of Tatar/Central Asian cuisine including Lagman, Manty, Cheburek, Shashlyk, Dolma, Sarma and Plov, a variety of salads, beer, wine, juice, Turkish coffee, tea and American sodas. (If they are out of a particular beverage, it is perfectly acceptable to run across the street to the store "Fontan" and bring something back.) They feature indoor and outdoor seating and have hookas as well.
- Pushkin (across from the Hansaray) considered the finest restaurant in Bakhchisaray. They feature an international menu. The deserts are a particular highlight, especially the apple struddle.
- Caravan (halfway between the Khan's palace and the Uspensky monastery) A superb Tatar restaurant. Expensive for the area (10 USD for one) and no alcohol is served but the food is excellent. As an additional bonus one of the waiters speaks excellent English, so not only can you ask about the food and know what you're getting ahead of time, he'll tell you a bit of history of the region while you are there.
Less refined budget Tatar restaurants are near the train station. They offer excellent Lagman and Chebureky. There are also Sharma stands in this area.
Wine tasting is available at a store just passed the Khan's Palace. Sample the different varieties of Crimean wine, but beware when bus loads of Polish\Ukrainian tourists wander in all at once.
Rooms and apartments are available for 50 UAH - 100 UAH depending on the quality, maybe less if you can find a very basic place without running water and with a toilet in the garden. Owners can be extremely friendly and helpful. For a few extra dollars they'll wash your clothes for you (by hand).
There are two hotels (one in Old City, the other in New) in the city as well as a hostel (in old city near the palace, behind the store Usta) owned by a Polish man.
The cheapest hostel bed is 8 euro, ask for it at the otherwise unhelpful tourist information office.
A spectacular 2 - 3 day hike can be made following this route. Having a map will probably help:
- From Bakhchisaray (alt. 166 m) head 10 km by road to the village of Bashtanovka (Russian: Баштановка, Ukrainian: Баштанівка, 44°41′19″N, 33°53′41″E, alt. 180 m). Spend some time refreshing yourself in the lake above the village.
- Follow trail number 82 to the village of Visoko. The first 5 km will be nice and smooth through pleasant fields. When you get to the orchards below the two reservoirs verge right across the stream and over into the orchards. Be sure to veer right and do not be tempted by the clear trail up to one of the lakes that is on marked the map: it doesn't exist. From here the uphill hiking starts. Once you cross through the orchards (about 400 meters of walking) you'll need to hang a left (after having done a lot of uphill walking). Another 300 meters and you should reach a large reservoir, which makes for a pleasant swim and snack break.
- Visoko (Ukrainian: Високе, 44°38′10″N, 33°57′22″E, alt. 380 m - 530 m) isn't named high for nothing. This village is a complicated mess of houses that starts at the base of a mountain and wanders up its side. To make it through the mess, head south-east and uphill on the road through the village. Otherwise, you'll be asking for directions at every turn: if lost, ask for directions to Sonyachnosillya. There is a food shop somewhere in the village but it is in a private house and has no sign (why does it need a sign? Everyone knows where it is, silly). As you approach the end of the village you'll come to a large field that extends up the mountain. Follow the path through the field. When you reach the tree line, follow the tree line to the left. You'll then come to a nice path heading into the forest and you'll have reached the walk's high point (alt. 650 m). You are now over the mountain and on your way down towards Sonyachnosillya.
- The views on the other side of the mountain are wonderful and makes this a great area to camp. After coming across the wonderful view, if you follow the trail another 300 meters you'll lose the view as you head back up the hill but reach a secluded field that is a decent spot to pitch camp. You are close to a horse ranch though so don't be surprised if a Crimean cowboy comes through the field with his herd.
- Sonyachnosillya (Ukrainian: Сонячносілля, 44°36′25″N, 33°56′54″E, alt. 350 m) is almost entirely populated by extremely old people tending their cows. There is a small shop where you can buy some food. The women working in it has a Czech grandmother, so if you're Czech she'll be very happy to see you. From here just continue down the road until you reach Aromat
- Aromat (Ukrainian: Аромат, 44°34′39″N, 33°56′20″E, alt. 220 m) is a town on the road that runs from Bakhchisaray to the Bolshoi Canyon and on to Yalta. It has a hospital of some sort smack in the middle of town, which has fairly decent toilets you can use. From here you can keep hiking, pickup a car to the Bolshoi Canyon or catch a minibus to Bakhchisaray or Yalta.