Bishkek is a colourful city with plenty of character. A trip here is all about munching on shashlik (meat skewers) in informal restaurants, browsing stalls in bustling bazaars and getting out into the magnificent countryside. Kyrgyzstan's low-key capital is framed by the mountains, so it's no surprise that hiking is a big draw here. The snow-capped Kyrgyz Ala-Too range and the spiked peaks of Ala Archa National Park are both about 40km away, or less than an hour's drive.
You can stay in a Bishkek hostel known for its knowledgeable staff who love giving travel advice or go for a stylish spot decorated in traditional Kyrgyz fabrics. There's also a Japanese-style capsule hostel with private pod beds and a sociable place that organises events from stand-up comedy to beer tastings. For an extra comfy night's sleep, look out for hostels in Bishkek with orthopaedic mattresses. Most Bishkek hostels provide Wi-Fi, and lots have free breakfast as well.
Ala-Too Square is the central landmark in Bishkek and a glimpse into the city's past: it was created as an ode to the Kyrgyz Soviet Social Republic's 60th anniversary. Large events take place here, but in general it's a peaceful setting for soaking up the relaxed local atmosphere. The Osh Bazaar area to the west is much livelier. Wander across town to the historic Panfilovets’ Park for a picnic, and to see the war memorial and eternal flame.
Osh Bazaar is one of Bishkek's biggest sights: a large outdoor market where you can pick up all kinds of traditional food and clothing. If you're here for the walking, the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan club organises group trips to the countryside around the city, including the Tien Shan mountain range. To learn more about the country's turbulent past, visit the State Historical Museum on Chuy Avenue for an introduction to the Soviet era and Kyrgyz culture in general.
Manas International Airport is about 25 minutes from the city centre by taxi. If you're coming from Almaty in Kazakhstan, the journey takes about 4 hours to the Western Bus Station. Both the Eastern and Western bus stations sit on Jibek Jolu Avenue (a 30-minute walk from Ala-Too Square), which is where you'll arrive from other Kyrgyz destinations like Osh and Karakol. To get around the city, you can take a taxi or use the network of municipal buses and trolleybuses.