Almaty Travel Guide: Things to Do in Almaty, Kazakhstan

If you’ve decided to take the path less taken in the travel world, one region you might find yourself exploring is Central Asia.  Of all the nations that comprise this lightly treaded place, Kazakhstan is by far the largest in land area and population, making it a logical place to begin your quest.

When you do this, you’ll be flying to the former capital city of Almaty, which still retains the crown as the largest city in the nation. Sitting in the shadow of the spectacular Zailiski Alatau Mountains, your introduction to this nation will be a spectacular one, yet this city holds plenty of attractions on its own to make it worthy of at least a couple days of sightseeing.

From remnants of the days of the Soviets, to cathedrals and mosques, and of course, numerous opportunities to interact with the great outdoors that springs up all around this increasingly modern city, your experience with Almaty will likely shock you at how much an amazing place could ever remain so unknown to those outside this corner of the world.

Almaty Travel Guide: Things to do in Almaty, Kazakhstan for visitors

Almaty City Guide: A Brief History Of Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and is located in the southeastern part of the country, at the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains. The city has a rich history that dates back over a thousand years, with evidence of human settlement in the area as far back as the 8th century.

The first settlement in the area that is now Almaty was founded in the 10th century by the Kypchak people, who were nomadic Turkic-speaking tribes. The settlement was originally called Almatu, which means “apple” in Kazakh, and was named for the abundance of wild apple trees in the area.

Over the centuries, Almatu became an important trading center along the Silk Road, connecting China to Europe. In the 13th century, the city was conquered by the Mongol Empire, and it remained under Mongol rule for several centuries.

In the 16th century, the Kazakh Khanate emerged as a dominant power in the region, and Almatu became an important center of the Kazakh people. The city was renamed Almaty in 1854 by the Russian Empire, which had annexed the region.

Under Russian rule, Almaty grew rapidly as a center of trade and commerce, with the construction of new roads, railways, and infrastructure. The city also became a center of political and cultural life, with the establishment of schools, museums, and theaters.

During the Soviet period, Almaty continued to grow and develop, becoming the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1929. The city was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1911 and again in 1966, but was rebuilt each time.

In 1991, Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviet Union, and Almaty became the capital of the newly independent country. However, in 1997, the capital was moved to Astana, a newly built city in the north of the country, and Almaty once again became the largest city in Kazakhstan.

Today, Almaty is a thriving city with a population of over 2 million people. It is a center of business, education, and culture, with many museums, theaters, and universities. The city is also known for its beautiful parks, ski resorts, and mountain scenery.

Almaty Top Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Kazakhstan

Despite the fact that Almaty has a majority Muslim population, it possesses a remarkable Orthodox Christian structure known as Ascension Cathedral. Painted a brilliant yellow with green trim and standing before its visitors in an imposing manner, Ascension Cathedral has the distinction of being the second tallest wooden building that exists in the world. Incredibly well built, it survived a major earthquake in 1911 despite being built without nails (!).

Situated with one of the more stunning background in the Islamic world, Almaty’s Central Mosque is one that religion’s more visually stunning halls of worship when one combines its architectural design with its natural surroundings. Despite the fact that it was only constructed in 1999, the blue domes, soaring minarets, the Turkish calligraphy and the overwhelming friendliness of the devotees inside make this a place to check out during your time in Almaty.

The long history of Kazakhstan is on display at the National Museum, where one can observe the evolution of humanity in this region from prehistory, through the days of the Mongols, Soviet times and right up to the present day.  While the displays tend to be in Kazakh and Russian only, guides in English can be printed off from the web to enhance the experience of those that do not understand these languages.

As with much of the former USSR, Kazakhstan has suffered greatly through many bloody wars, especially in the last century. 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park recognizes this, as it honours soldiers from this area that fought pitched battles against the Nazi war machine.  The centrepiece of this park is an eternal flame where many locals love to get pictures with … help them take their photos and maybe they’ll return the favour!

Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan

Public communal baths are very popular across the expanse of Central Asia, and Almaty in Kazakhstan is no different.  If the cold of winter is getting you down, or if the strain of engaging in physical activities during the summer has you aching all over, then a trip to the Arasan Baths could be just the ticket for you.

Those not used to gratuitous nudity should brace themselves though, as bathing and the treatments available is conducted in the buff. You’ll get over it quickly though, as the scrubbings, saunas, hot pools, cold plunge pools, massages, branch beatings (yup…), and après treatment drinks will have you completely relaxed and in a jovial mood after departing from an afternoon that will stay with you long afterwards.

If you desire to check out your first Central Asian market, head down to Zelyony Market, where strips of horse meat, a bewildering array of dried fruit, a cornucopia of vegetables, and fresh cooked to order meals will have foodie travelers rubbing their hands with glee!  It may not be Central Asia’s most impressive market overall, but it is a great place to pick up provisions for that eternally long bus ride that you are dreading!

Outdoor lovers may find a reason to stick around here longer than other travelers, as there are world class skiing facilities nearby, an Olympic class skating venue, and hiking experiences that will stoke your desire to go deeper into the hinterland of Kazakhstan. The ski resorts and skating oval have figured prominently in bids for the winter Olympics (they have vowed to try again for 2022), and the hiking in the same terrain in the summer yields awe-inspiring views of craggy mountains, remote and peaceful lakes, and patches of snow that hang on well into the summer months.

source: Scott Escapes on YouTube

Top 10 Things To Do in Almaty, Kazakhstan For Visitors

As the largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty is a fascinating destination that offers an array of attractions and activities for visitors to explore. From outdoor adventures to cultural experiences, there is no shortage of things to do in this vibrant city. Here are the top 10 things to do in Almaty:

  1. Ascend to the top of Kok Tobe: The highest point in the city, Kok Tobe offers breathtaking panoramic views of Almaty and the surrounding mountains. Visitors can take a cable car to the top and enjoy the view while sipping a hot drink at one of the cafes.
  2. Explore the Central State Museum: This museum provides an excellent introduction to Kazakh history and culture, with fascinating exhibits on the country’s traditional dress, music, and more.
  3. Stroll through Panfilov Park: Located in the heart of the city, Panfilov Park is a tranquil oasis that is home to a variety of monuments and memorials, including the famous Zenkov Cathedral, which is made entirely of wood.
  4. Visit the Medeu Skating Rink: This outdoor rink is located in the nearby mountains and is one of the highest-altitude rinks in the world. Visitors can enjoy skating while taking in the stunning natural scenery.
  5. Hike in the Tian Shan Mountains: Almaty is located at the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains, which offer numerous hiking trails for visitors of all skill levels. The scenery is breathtaking and offers a peaceful escape from the city.
  6. Try Kazakh cuisine: Kazakh food is hearty and delicious, with a focus on meat and dairy products. Visitors should be sure to try traditional dishes such as beshbarmak, kazy, and shubat.
  7. Shop at the Green Bazaar: This bustling market is a sensory delight, with stalls selling everything from spices to textiles. It’s a great place to experience the hustle and bustle of daily life in Almaty.
  8. Take a day trip to Charyn Canyon: This stunning canyon is located about three hours from Almaty and is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States. Visitors can hike along the rim and take in the breathtaking views.
  9. Learn about Kazakh art at the A. Kasteev State Museum of Arts: This museum houses an extensive collection of Kazakh and Russian art, including works by famous artists such as Kasteev and Repin.
  10. Relax in the Arasan Wellness Center: This spa offers a range of treatments, including massages and mineral baths, and is the perfect place to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing.

Beshbarmak is a must try dish in Almaty, Kazakhstan

What To Eat and Drink at Restaurants in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty, the cultural and financial capital of Kazakhstan, is not only famous for its stunning natural beauty and historic landmarks but also for its mouth-watering cuisine. Traditional Kazakh cuisine is a mix of Central Asian and Turkish flavors, with a touch of Russian influence. Here are some must-try dishes and drinks to savor during your visit to Almaty:

  1. Beshbarmak – This is the national dish of Kazakhstan, consisting of boiled meat (usually lamb or beef) served over thin layers of flat noodles and topped with caramelized onions. It is often served with a side of sour cream.
  2. Lagman – This is a hearty noodle soup made with meat, vegetables, and aromatic spices. It is usually served with fresh herbs and chili oil.
  3. Plov – This is a rice dish cooked with carrots, onions, and meat (usually lamb or beef). It is flavored with cumin, garlic, and other spices, making it a delicious and filling meal.
  4. Manty – These are steamed dumplings filled with meat and onions, similar to Chinese baozi or Russian pelmeni. They are often served with a side of sour cream or spicy tomato sauce.
  5. Shashlik – This is a popular Central Asian barbecue dish made with marinated chunks of meat (usually lamb or beef) skewered and grilled over an open flame. It is usually served with bread and fresh vegetables.
  6. Kazy – This is a type of sausage made from horse meat, a traditional Kazakh delicacy. It is usually sliced thinly and served as an appetizer with bread and mustard.
  7. Kumys – This is a traditional Kazakh drink made from fermented mare’s milk, with a slightly sour and fizzy taste. It is often enjoyed during festive occasions.
  8. Shubat – This is another traditional Kazakh drink made from fermented camel’s milk, with a slightly sour taste. It is believed to have many health benefits and is often served chilled.
  9. Kefir – This is a fermented milk drink that is widely consumed in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. It has a tangy flavor and is believed to have many health benefits.
  10. Chak-Chak – This is a sweet dessert made from fried dough, honey, and nuts. It is often served during celebrations and special occasions.

In conclusion, Almaty’s culinary scene is a perfect blend of traditional Kazakh dishes and international flavors, making it a food lover’s paradise. Don’t miss the chance to try these delicious and unique dishes and drinks during your visit to Almaty.

Here are 10 restaurants to consider while visiting Almaty, Kazakhstan:

  1. Line Brew Almaty
  2. Tyubeteika
  3. Kazakh Restaurant Abay
  4. Bosphorus Restaurant
  5. Beefeater Almaty
  6. Chechil Pub Forum
  7. Gosti
  8. Daredzhani Kunayeva
  9. Manga Sushi
  10. Alasha

Almaty Mountains in Kazakhstan

Tours For Visitors To Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty has a lot to offer to visitors. Here are some tours to consider:

  1. Almaty Walking Tour: This tour takes you to the most popular tourist spots in the city, including the Central State Museum, the Presidential Palace, and the Green Bazaar. You’ll also get to experience the city’s rich history and culture.
  2. Almaty Mountain Tour: This tour takes you to the foothills of the majestic Tian Shan Mountains, which offer stunning views of the city. You’ll also visit the Medeo ice skating rink and the Shymbulak ski resort.
  3. Almaty City Tour by Car: This tour takes you to the city’s main landmarks, including the Ascension Cathedral, the Monument of Independence, and the Zenkov Cathedral. You’ll also visit the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments and the Almaty Opera House.
  4. Almaty Food Tour: This tour takes you on a culinary journey through the city, where you’ll taste the best Kazakh and Central Asian dishes. You’ll visit local markets and restaurants and learn about the history and culture of Kazakh cuisine.
  5. Almaty Night Tour: This tour takes you on a scenic drive through the city at night, where you’ll see the city’s illuminated landmarks, including the Almaty Tower and the city’s skyline.
  6. Almaty Cultural Tour: This tour takes you on a journey through the city’s cultural heritage, including a visit to the Central State Museum and the Almaty Opera House. You’ll also visit local markets and learn about the city’s history and traditions.
  7. Almaty Photography Tour: This tour is perfect for photography enthusiasts who want to capture the city’s beauty. You’ll visit the city’s most photogenic spots, including the Kok-Tobe Hill, the Almaty Tower, and the city’s skyline.
  8. Almaty Shopping Tour: This tour takes you to the best shopping destinations in the city, including the Green Bazaar and the Mega Center mall. You’ll also visit local handicraft shops and learn about traditional Kazakh crafts.
  9. Almaty Nature Tour: This tour takes you to the city’s beautiful natural spots, including the Big Almaty Lake and the Charyn Canyon. You’ll also visit local villages and learn about the traditional way of life in Kazakhstan.
  10. Almaty Wine Tasting Tour: This tour takes you on a journey through the city’s wine culture, where you’ll visit local wineries and taste the best wines in the region. You’ll also learn about the history and traditions of Kazakh winemaking.

Almaty Accommodations Guide: Hotels, Guesthouses and Hostels

Are you planning a trip to Almaty and looking for the perfect place to stay? Look no further! Almaty offers a wide range of accommodations for travelers, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious hotels.

For budget-conscious travelers, hostels like Sky Hostel and Almaty Backpackers are great options. Sky Hostel offers comfortable bunk beds and private rooms, free Wi-Fi, and a fully equipped kitchen. Almaty Backpackers has a cozy atmosphere, friendly staff, and a central location near many of the city’s attractions.

If you’re looking for something more upscale, Almaty has plenty of luxurious hotels to choose from. The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty is a five-star hotel with stunning views of the city, spacious rooms with modern amenities, and a fitness center and spa. The InterContinental Almaty is another top choice, offering elegant rooms with panoramic views of the city, a rooftop pool, and several dining options.

For those who want to experience local hospitality, consider staying in a guesthouse like Hotel Kazakhfilm. This cozy guesthouse is located in a quiet neighborhood and offers traditional Kazakh meals, a garden, and a terrace for relaxing.

No matter what your budget or preferences are, Almaty has something to offer. Book your accommodations today and start planning your dream trip to this beautiful city.

Day Trips From Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes and cultural sites that are well worth exploring. Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Almaty to make the most of your visit:

  1. Big Almaty Lake: Located just a 30-minute drive from Almaty, Big Almaty Lake is a picturesque destination nestled in the mountains. The lake’s clear blue waters reflect the surrounding peaks and offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
  2. Charyn Canyon: About a 3-hour drive from Almaty, Charyn Canyon is often referred to as Kazakhstan’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The canyon’s unique rock formations and stunning views make it a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts.
  3. Turgen Gorge: This stunning gorge is located about an hour’s drive from Almaty and features a beautiful waterfall, hot springs, and scenic hiking trails. It’s a great spot for a picnic or a refreshing swim on a hot day.
  4. Tamgaly Tas: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a collection of rock carvings dating back to the Bronze Age. It’s located about 2.5 hours from Almaty and provides a fascinating glimpse into Kazakhstan’s ancient history.
  5. Kolsai Lakes: A 4-hour drive from Almaty, Kolsai Lakes is a group of three alpine lakes nestled in the mountains. The crystal-clear waters and stunning scenery make it a popular destination for hiking and camping.
  6. Medeu Skating Rink and Shymbulak Ski Resort: These two popular winter destinations are located just a short drive from Almaty. Medeu is the highest skating rink in the world, while Shymbulak Ski Resort offers world-class skiing and snowboarding.
  7. Altyn Emel National Park: Located about 4 hours from Almaty, Altyn Emel is home to a variety of landscapes, including sand dunes, mountains, and rivers. The park is also home to several rare species, including the elusive snow leopard.
  8. Issyk Lake: This beautiful lake is located about an hour’s drive from Almaty and offers a scenic retreat from the city. Visitors can swim in the crystal-clear waters or take a boat tour to explore the lake’s hidden coves.
  9. Kaindy Lake: This stunning lake is located about 3 hours from Almaty and features a submerged forest that’s visible through the crystal-clear waters. It’s a popular destination for diving and snorkeling.
  10. Assy Plateau: This expansive plateau is located about 2 hours from Almaty and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a popular destination for hiking and picnicking, and visitors can also explore nearby natural wonders like the Bartogay Reservoir and Koksu River.

Almaty Transportation Guide

Navigating transportation in Almaty is an essential part of any visit to this bustling city. There are several ways to get around, depending on your budget and preferences.

One of the most popular modes of transportation is the city’s public transportation system, which includes buses, trolleys, and trams. The fare is very affordable, and routes cover almost all parts of the city. However, the system can be quite crowded and confusing, especially for first-time visitors.

For a more comfortable and convenient option, taxis are readily available in Almaty. You can either hail a cab on the street or use a ride-hailing app like Yandex.Taxi or Uber. Taxi fares are generally reasonable, but it is advisable to agree on a price with the driver before starting the trip to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

If you prefer to drive yourself, car rental services are available in the city, but keep in mind that traffic can be hectic and driving in Almaty can be challenging, especially for inexperienced drivers.

For a more unique experience, you can explore the city by bike. There are several bike rental services in Almaty, and cycling is a great way to see the city’s landmarks and neighborhoods at your own pace. However, it’s essential to wear a helmet and be cautious while riding on busy roads.

Lastly, if you want to travel outside of Almaty, there are several options for transportation, including buses, trains, and flights. The Almaty International Airport is the largest airport in Kazakhstan, and it offers both domestic and international flights.

Moreover, with a bit of planning, navigating transportation in Almaty can be an enjoyable and convenient experience.

Where To Visit After Your Trip To Almaty?

After experiencing the beauty and culture of Almaty visitors may be interested in exploring other destinations in the region. Here are some suggestions for where to visit after your trip to Almaty:

  1. Astana: The capital city of Kazakhstan, Astana is a modern and futuristic city known for its impressive architecture, such as the Bayterek Tower and the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center.
  2. Lake Issyk-Kul: Located in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Lake Issyk-Kul is one of the largest and deepest lakes in the world. The area surrounding the lake offers opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and skiing.
  3. Charyn Canyon: This natural wonder, located about 200 kilometers east of Almaty, is known for its striking rock formations and unique landscapes. Visitors can hike through the canyon or take a guided tour.
  4. Shymbulak Ski Resort: Just a short drive from Almaty, this popular ski resort offers skiing and snowboarding opportunities in the winter, and hiking and mountain biking in the summer.
  5. Kolsai Lakes: A series of three interconnected lakes located in the Tien Shan Mountains, the Kolsai Lakes are known for their clear, turquoise waters and scenic hiking trails.
  6. Karakol: A charming town located in eastern Kyrgyzstan, Karakol offers visitors the chance to explore historic mosques, trek in the nearby mountains, and relax in natural hot springs.
  7. Bishkek: The capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek is known for its Soviet-era architecture, lively bazaars, and proximity to the beautiful Ala-Archa National Park.
  8. Turkistan: Located in southern Kazakhstan, Turkistan is home to the historic mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site and important pilgrimage site for Muslims.
  9. Altyn Emel National Park: This vast national park in southeastern Kazakhstan is home to diverse landscapes, including sand dunes, canyons, and mountains. Visitors can explore the park on foot, by jeep, or on horseback.
  10. Aral Sea: While the Aral Sea has shrunk significantly due to environmental degradation, the remaining water and surrounding landscape still offer a unique and haunting experience for visitors. The nearby town of Aralsk offers a glimpse into the area’s fishing and maritime history.

Almaty Travel Guide: Final Thoughts

Almaty is a city that has so much to offer visitors, from its stunning natural surroundings to its rich culture and history. Whether you are interested in exploring the outdoors, immersing yourself in local traditions, or simply enjoying delicious food and drinks, Almaty has something for everyone.

One of the most unique aspects of Almaty is its location in the heart of the Tien Shan Mountains, which provides countless opportunities for outdoor adventures. From hiking and skiing to paragliding and rafting, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the region.

In addition to its natural wonders, Almaty is also home to a rich cultural heritage. Visitors can explore ancient mosques and churches, as well as museums and galleries showcasing the works of local artists.

And of course, no trip to Almaty would be complete without indulging in the delicious cuisine the city has to offer. From traditional Kazakh dishes to international cuisine, there is something to satisfy every taste bud.

Almaty is a vibrant and fascinating destination that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits.

Amidst the peaks of snow-capped glory, Lies a city steeped in Kazakh history. Almaty, land of soaring peaks and vibrant charm, A tapestry of color, sights, and sounds, becalms.

Gardens of heaven, where blooms kiss the skies, The scent of roses, like love, forever flies. A city of contrasts, with ancient roots and modern hues, Where the past meets the present, with no sense of refuse.

From the glittering towers of modernity to the bazaars of old, Where locals and tourists alike, come to unfold. Savor the flavors, of a land of milk and honey, Where traditions blend seamlessly, like bees in harmony.

Embark on an adventure, to the surrounding mountains and beyond, Where nature’s beauty is resplendent, and the soul becomes fond. Amidst the mountains, lakes, and valleys, A journey of discovery, awaits those who rally.

Almaty, a city of beauty and wonder, Where the heart and soul, forever ponder. A land of mystery, that beckons to all, A tale of love, that forever enthral.

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