Almaty is the most populous city in Kazakhstan and was Kazakhstan’s capital until the town of Nur-Sultan was claimed to be the new capital of Kazakhstan. Standing along the Silk Road, Almaty is the gateway to the country.
The secluded city of Almaty, with a backdrop of the snowcapped Zailiysky Alatau, has always been among the most attractive Russian conceptions in Central Asia. Today Almaty is a subtle blend of SUVs, upscale suburban apartments, Western-style coffee lounges, glitzy shopping malls, dance-till-dawn nightclubs, expensive restaurants, and ski resorts.
Things to do in Almaty:
- Arasan Baths: Spend a few hours at Arsan Baths- a sizeable public bathing complex with a beautiful Samarkand style domed pool. Due to its windy and cold conditions, visiting saunas with friends is very popular in Almaty. Many modern Almaty saunas are equipped with swimming pools, billiards, and karaoke.
- Hike Along Big Almaty Lake: Big Almaty Lake is a beautiful lake at 2510 m elevation, enclosed by high mountains. It shines like a mirror, freezing in winter. Mounting over it to the southeast is Soviet Peak (4317 m), to the south Ozerniy (4110 m), and the southwest Tourist Peak (3954 m). You will enjoy climbing and hiking here.
- Skate Rentals at Medeu Ice Skating: Spend a few hours at the world’s highest Olympic-sized ice stadium. More than a hundred world records were made on Medeu Ice-Skating. Skate rentals are available. Tipsy teenagers sway across the ice, colored lights, and powerful pop music create a slightly surreal, but fun ambiance. There is also a sizeable mountain-water swimming pool just below the ice rink, open in summer.
- Football: Watch football at FC Kairat, who play in the Premier League, the top tier of football in Kazakhstan. Their home ground is Central Stadium, capacity 24,000, on Abay Ave.
- Eat Local: Cheap Kazakh eateries are all over the place, selling soup, shashlik, salad, and others. Fast food joints are also everywhere – the local favorite is hamburgers, with sliced kebab meat on a hamburger bun with garlic sauce and pickles.
Places to explore in Almaty:
Central State Museum
Almaty’s best museum takes you through Kazakh’s history from Bronze Age funerals and nomadic culture to World War 2 reparations, telecommunications, and the capital shift Nur-Sultan, with many fascinating artifacts on display. An extended replica of the Golden Man (a national emblem of Kazakhstan; a 3rd-century warrior whose gold-clad remains were unsealed in 1969) can be seen in the entrance hall. Displays include hall one that deals with archaeological discoveries and early records up to Genghis Khan, with balbals (totem-like stones bearing the carved faces of honored chieftains or warriors, placed at holy spots by early nomadic Turks) and replicas of some of Kazakhstan’s principal monuments.
This 1000-meter hill on the city’s southeast edge is crowned by a 372m-high TV tower visible from miles away and provides excellent views over the mountains and the city, plus a collection of attractions at the top. The best way up is by the cable car. At the top, you’ll find numerous restaurants and cafes, a roller coaster, craft shops, a zoo, a kid’s playground, and bronze statues of the original four Beatles, placed here on the action of local fans in 2007.
This large, two-level market has an authentic flavor of Central Asia and is worth putting on your itinerary. The stalls are stacked with fresh and dried fruit, nuts, smoked fish, Georgian sweets, ready-made Korean salads, spices, cheeses, medicinal herbs, sausages, and large chunks of fresh meat. There’s a whole row dedicated to horsemeat. You can get fermented horse milk ( kymyz), fermented camel milk (shubat), and fresh pomegranate juice here too – and cafes covering place will serve a bowl of long, stout noodles (Laghman) or fried rice with meat and vegetables (plov) with bread and tea.
Kazakhstan Museum of Arts
This is the nation’s best art collection, with Russian, Kazakh, and Western European art and a room of top-class modern Kazakh handicrafts, with much English explanatory material. Particularly impressive is the space on Russia’s Mir Iskusstva movement and the extensive collection of paintings by Kazakh Abylkhan Kasteev.