Tips you should know before your first time in Astana
January 1, 1970
by Kamila Mushkina
Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan only for 20 years. During this time, it has grown from a small town with 300,000 citizens into a futuristic city where people flock from all over the country. This is the place of inspiration for businessmen and artists, and for tourists who are ready to break the stereotypes about the nomads of Central Asia. I would like to give you some tips that will make your trip to Astana enjoyable and productive.
Choose the right time
Astana is known as the second coldest capital in the world, so better plan your visit in the summer, not in the winter, when you will not meet a living soul in the street. You will still experience the weather’s caprices even in July because Astana is very windy no matter what the season is. I try to take a hooded jacket when I go outside, just in case, so I will not be caught by sudden rain showers. Anyway, I still believe that wind makes Astana special because it forms clouds as in Disney cartoons. Do not forget to look above in Astana – its sky deserves to be in your must-see list.
Have a cheap trip
Once you arrive at Astana International Airport, don’t get into a random taxi. Choose an official one with a mark on it, or use Uber on your phone. Unfortunately, unofficial taxi drivers can trick foreigners and charge high prices. Actually, taxi is affordable here, especially comparing to other world capitals. The cost of your trip from the airport to the city center should not exceed 4-5$, and the prices are even lower in the city. And a bus ticket is even cheaper (less than 0.5$). That is why I prefer to take a bus if my bags are not heavy and if I have enough time.
See as much as possible in a short time
The river Esil goes across the city and divides it into the right and the left bank, the old and the new part of the city, respectively. The majority of popular sightseeings are located on the left bank. Although the city is scattered on the steppe, most of the must-see places in Astana are close to each other. If you want to see the most of Astana in a short time, you should be aware of locations. Download 2GIS app and save the offline map on your phone. Ask for help to find out what is nearby.
Throwback to EXPO-2017
On the way from the airport to the city you will see Nazarbayev University and the huge shopping mall called Mega Silkway. You have to be someone’s guest to enter the university campus, but it is worth to look at even from the outside. You can go shopping and have a lunch at the food court in Mega Silkway. If you go through the mall, on the other side of it you can find the area where EXPO-2017 was held last year. Despite all criticisms, the exhibition attracted many international guests, and even people from other regions of Kazakhstan came to see what their taxes were spent on. You can still enter the gigantic sphere which was the pavilion of Kazakhstan. As EXPO-2017 was dedicated to raise awareness about alternative energy resources, each floor of the sphere exhibits the information about wind, biomass, solar energy, and so on.
Explore pomposity of the left bank
After you raised your awareness about future energy, explore more features of the young city on the left side of the river Esil. Since the left bank was built after it became the capital of Kazakhstan, every building here is aimed to demonstrate prosperity. There is the largest tent in the world called Khan Shatyr, which is basically another shopping mall with the beach on the highest floor working all year round. Khan Shatyr is where you should start walking towards Nurzhol boulevard, where local artists present their unusual works on the background of impressive mirror-like residential and office buildings. On the half way you will find the symbol of Astana that was built right after it became the main city – it is the tower Baiterek. You can go inside and observe the city’s landscape from the top. The legend is that Baiterek is the tree of life where the bird of happiness laid an egg. Locals call it simply Chupa Chups.
Look at the strangest architecture ever
When you cross Kaldayakov or Saraishyk bridge, you will appear at my favorite part of Astana with more awkward buildings: “Kazakhstan” main concert hall reminding of the Opera House in Sydney, another concert hall in the form of a pyramid, the university of arts looking like a huge horseshoe, and that is not everything. You can walk through the beautiful presidential park, see the architecture, and think whether the Pyramid relates to masons as many are wondering. What is probably worth to visit in this part of Astana are the mosque and the national museum, especially if you want to dive into Kazakh culture.
Watch the sunset
The best idea in the evening is to visit the embankment and watch the sunset above the river Esil. Locals and tourists prefer to walk here rather than anywhere else in the city. Talented guitarists often play and sing here and there, you can buy street food and coffee. From here you can start walking into the old part of Astana, where streets are narrow and cozy, and buildings can tell you more about history even before the revolution in 1917.
Eat good food
If you want to try Kazakh national food, go to Taikazan or Vechnoye Nebo (Eternal Sky) – the first place is more like a good-looking canteen, whereas the second one is more fancy and located on the 25th floor of the business center Moskva. Kazakh food represents a numerous variations of mixing meat and dough so you may find it heavy and fatty; just try anything, and you will see right away whether you are a fan of Kazakh cuisine or not.
In general, Astana has cafes and restaurants for any of the world’s cuisine. I recommend you Korean food in Korean House, Italian food in Del Papa, French crepes in Crepe Cafe, Japanese meals in Yakitoriya. There are plenty of coffee shops coffee among which I prefer Tochka Kofe and Drujba Cafe. All day and all night you can find street food and working grocery stores, so you will not be hungry. There could be problems for vegetarians (as I am) because almost any food automatically goes with meat, but you can ask a waiter if they can cook something for you.
Astana is still growing fast, and you never know where a new fancy building will appear next year. Every time you come here is like the first time but it will always be the wind of changes above the steppe – and this is what you should come back for.