Astana – Kazakhstan's glittering capital
If you’re coming to visit Kazakhstan soon, probably your first destination will be its’ capital – Astana. Astana is the fast developing modern city in Central Asia, and best known for it’s futuristic and cutting-edge buildings. Since I moved to Astana 10 years ago, I was observing how fast the city is growing each year. It’s so fascinating to witness changes happening every year, so I wanted to share with you the best ways to enjoy your holidays in Astana.
A bit of historyAs you already may know, Astana is a very young city which became capital in 1997. Before becoming capital, it’s historical name was Akmola, than Tselinograd during the Soviet times. Akmola was established in 1830 as a Cossack outpost. Suffered from the raids of roving steppe robbers, local sultans and the foremen requested Russian Governor to construct protective outpost against raids. Later, it expanded as a city and called Akmolinsk. Under Soviet authorities in 1961, Akmolinsk was renamed Tselinograd, becoming the center of the virgin land – the largest grain producer within USSR. After USSR collapse, the city returned its original name Akmola which means “white shrine”. It also translates as “white grave”, which probably more describes the times when it was one of the three “islands” of the Gulag Archipelago, 1938 to 1953 there was the so-called “?.?.?.?.?.” (Alzhir) – Akmola internment camp for wives of the betrayers of the homeland – the largest Soviet women’s camp.
When to visit?I suggest you visit Astana in Summer, Fall and in December to experience the winter. Astana is known as the coldest capital city in the world, so winter time here is crazy cold and temperature in January drops till -40! It starts to snow in mid of November and snow will lay till the end of March. April is very windy and the city looks gray. Summer is a touristic time, a lot of entertainments, concerts, fairs, festivals are going on. Winter is also fun here, everywhere located ice skating rinks, so you can ski in every part of the city. Sledding from the hills, tubing, riding the banana boat, riding a sleigh etc. I hope it will help you to plan which time is the best suits you to visit Astana! Now, let’s talk about general tourist information.
TransportationLanding at Astana International Airport you can either catch a taxi or take a bus (#10, #12) which goes to the center. Usually, taxi costs 1000-1500 tenge ( $3-4) to the center, and bus charges 90 tenge ($0.3) or you can also, take the express bus for 150 tenge ($0,4). Currency: 1USD= 325Tenge
Apps which will ease your navigation:2GIS is the best and accurate map application which perfectly works offline, shows which bus to take and calculates estimate payment for a taxi. Uber, Yandex taxi are the popular apps for taking a taxi, could be quiet high at peak times. Also, InDriver is a good app, where you can set your price for your destination. But, the cheapest taxis are street taxis, you just raise your hand and negotiate the best price.
AccommodationSince Expo 2017 happened in Astana, it offers variety type of accommodations, from 5star hotels (i.e. St.Regis, Ritz Carlton etc.) to very modern cheap hostels (i.e. H8ight etc.). As, Astana is still building, there a lot of new apartments houses available for rent hourly and daily. Also, renting a flat by Airbnb is a good option as prices and conditions of the apartments are pretty nice. Expo area is brand new, so the accommodations. In my opinion, best locations to stay on left bank: near Baitereq, on right bank: near the riverside.
Entertainment/Tourist Attractions.River Yesil divides Astana into two sides: left where all new modern buildings located and right side which counts as an old center.
Right BankMy favorite thing to do on the right bank is to rent a bike and ride along the river Yesil. It will help you acquaintance with the city, to feel the city vibe as many locals walk along the promenade. A lot of young people gathers at the Kenesary khan’s monument later in the evening, as there is always music playing by local band, dance battles, games, local handiwork for sale etc. In the summertime, this place can be really crowded that it’s even hard to move around. Also, good places to eat there: Rafe, Cafe Tselinikov, Ma Famille, Tochka K, Costa Coffee, Turfan, Hot Spot Coffee, Eagilik Coffee & Books, Coffeboom, O’Hara Irish Pub. You can also visit:
- TSE Art Destination – Contemporary Art Center of local artists,
- Assumption Russian Orthodox Cathedral – beautiful orthodox cathedral,
- First President Museum – dedicate to Nazarbayev’s achievement,
- Atameken Ethno-Memorial Complex – Demonstrative map of whole Kazakhstan with miniatures of main landmarks.
Left BankLeft Bank is the modern side of Astana, full of high glassed buildings and shopping malls. All the landmarks like Baitereq, Khan Shatyr (aka large Tent), Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (aka Pyramid), Hazret Sultan Mosque, National Museum, Triumphal Arch Mangilik El and other significant architects are all located on the left bank. Also, newly built Expo town (spheric building) for World Fair 2017 can be interesting to visit. There is also contemporary Astana Art Center in one of Expo pavilions which presents works of young local artists. Near located big shopping mall Mega Silk Way with a variety of restaurants and fast food court. The left bank is full of restaurants and coffee shops, so you have a lot of options. My favorite restaurants on the left bank: Crepe Cafe, Starbucks, Sheff Kitchen and Bar, Marrone Rosso, Fatoosh (Lebanese cuisine in Keruen’s food court), Yakitoria, Foccacia, Ministry of Coffee.
Nearby sightseeingAstana’s landmarks can be seen in 1-2 days. If you still have time, I highly suggest you visit:
- ALZHIR – Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Repressions and Totalitarianism. Internment camp for wives of the betrayers of the Motherland, great historical place where you can learn more about Stalin Terror (1,5hr from Astana).
- Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve – lists in UNESCO’s world heritage. Wetland area where you can see pink flamingos, other 300 species of birds, saigas and other wild animals. It’s 3hr from Astana and the best time to visit mid-April to September, while migration of the birds.
- Burabay National Park – a gem of Northern Kazakhstan. Beautiful place to discover nature of Northern Kazakhstan. 2,5-3hrs from Astana by train. Rock climbing, biking, swimming, skiing and other activities available. Burabay is full of mysterious legends as every rock there has its story.