Nur-Sultan Travel Guide
Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) is the capital of Kazakhstan. Over the last few decades, this city has benefitted from a wave of wealth provided by its oil reserves. As such, you’ll find super-modern buildings everywhere.
However, don’t think this place is bereft of culture. With two of Central Asia’s largest mosques, a peace centre, and excellent museums, you’ll enjoy your visit here.
Come check out our updated travel guide to Nur-Sultan as we cover the best things to do in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Begin your visit to Nur-Sultan by paying a visit to the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Within, you’ll find 14 different galleries spread out over 14,000 square metres of floor space.
They cover topics that include ancient/medieval history, modern history, modern art, and the ethnography of Kazakhstan. If time is short, ensure that you check out the Golden Hall. This gallery shows off gold and bronze ornaments that ancient rulers were fond of collecting.
Not all exhibits have captions in English. To get around this and have a richer experience, spend the extra money to get an audio guide. This add-on will make connections you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. This attraction is massive, so set aside at least three hours to make the most of your visit.
Nur-Sultan is full of flashy, ultra-modern structures, but few stand out as prominently as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. A modernist pyramid building standing more than 250 feet high, city leaders built this landmark to encourage peace and understanding amidst the world’s religions.
Every three years, representatives from major faiths (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, etc.) meet to discuss contentious issues. They do so in a room at the apex of the pyramid styled to look like the UN council chambers. This arrangement allows for productive dialogue, thereby aiding the mission of this institute.
In the lower chambers of the Palace, you’ll find other facilities. These include an opera house, a Kazakh studies research centre, a “university of civilization”, and a cultural museum.
Kazakhstan is a majority Muslim country, with 70% of its inhabitants being practitioners of Islam. While in Nur-Sultan, visit the Hazrat Sultan Mosque. The largest masjid in Central Asia, it has 77 metre high minarets, and a 51 metre-high dome. Within its halls, look for its massive Swarovski chandelier, as it is the largest in the world.
It can accommodate 5,000 worshippers for Friday prayers, and 10,000 during major holidays. Outside times of worship, the mosque provides tours, offering cloaks free of charge. Nonetheless, dress as conservatively as you can to show respect for this beautiful place.
As the capital of a former Soviet republic, Nur-Sultan is a cosmopolitan city. As such, don’t miss your chance to take in a show at the Astana Opera. It opened in 2013, giving local performing arts patrons one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the world.
While it is a recent construction, it takes its inspiration from Neo-Romanesque buildings found in 19th century Italy. Within, you’ll find a spectacularly huge chandelier – weighing 1.6 tons, it’s a centrepiece you wouldn’t want to linger under!
There’s also a restaurant on-site – if you’re so inclined, make reservations and have dinner before the show.
Hazrat Sultan isn’t the only masjid of note in Nur-Sultan. If you have time, consider checking out the Nur-Astana Mosque as well. It weighs in as the third largest mosque in Central Asia. Its dimensions are symbolic – its 40 metre-high dome represents Mohammed’s age when he received his revelations from Allah. Also, its 63 metre-high minarets symbolize the Prophet’s age when he died. This mosque is a popular photo subject due to its gold dome, so check it out near dawn/dusk.
One drawback of Nur-Sultan is its cold winters. Thanks to Kazakhstan’s oil wealth, though, they’ve built a public space where the weather is always beautiful. Under the canopy of Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center – you can shop, swim, or play mini-golf, even when it’s -35c. Thanks to its unique transparent fabric, sunlight is let through, while cold air is kept out. During hot summers, this space is climate-controlled, offering respite from the heat outside.
Want to take in all the modern buildings of Nur-Sultan from an elevated vantage point? Bayterek Tower is where you’ll want to go. This observation tower takes its inspiration from a Kazakh legend. In it, a “bird of happiness” laid an egg in the branches of a poplar tree.
Inside the “golden egg” atop this tower, you’ll get spectacular 360-degree views of Nur-Sultan. Arrive early for sunset – chances are, others have the same idea you do.
Unwind from a hectic day of sightseeing at Nur-Sultan City Park. It is a vast, sweeping green space reminiscent of Soviet-style plazas. You’ll have plenty of room to enjoy yourself, even on a busy weekend afternoon. During summer, join locals in having an ice cream. With winter only months away, they enjoy the warmth as much as possible, and so should you.