Almaty is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, but it remains its largest, most happening and most enjoyable city. Despite ever-increasing traffic and smog, the city center is still a pleasant place to be, with lots of green space, a host of interesting sights, shopping and nightlife galore, terraces from bars and coffee shops spilling out on the street, and the snow-capped Tien Shan as a backdrop.
However, Almaty remains a Soviet-built city and that is not everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, the area around Almaty is a miniature Kazakhstan, with a variety of landscapes and 6 national parks that give a taste of the natural and historical wealth of Kazakhstan, for those with the means to explore them. All of this comes at a cost: Almaty is the most expensive city in Central Asia.
- Hiking in the Ili-Alatau national park
- Ice skating on Medeu
- Almaty nightlife
- Green Bazaar, Panfilov Park, Arasan baths
- Good food
Getting in, around and out of Almaty
Almaty is well-connected with the rest of Kazakhstan and internationally through Almaty airport, and over land by tiring, old long-distance buses and comfortable trains. Once in the center of town, you will notice the increasingly clogged up streets of Almaty. The metro is the quickest way to get somewhere if your destination is close to a stop. City buses are cheap but crowded during peak hours. All cars double as cheap gypsy cabs, but official taxis are also affordable.
Car rental is another option, while cycling is getting more popular too, with lots of bike rental shops popping up. To leave the city, check out how to get from Almaty to: Bishkek, Astana, Tashkent, Urumqi, Shymkent.
Things to see and do
Tree-lined and spacious, Almaty got dealt a good hand of interesting architectural propositions as the former capital of Kazakhstan. You can follow the trail of our self-guided walking tour of Almaty for an introduction, or book a walking tour – we recommend Dennis Keen’s Almaty walking tours. A few good museums and some interesting outdoor sports venues within the city limits round up the offer to keep you busy for a day or 2.
Almaty is a great base to sample some of the magnificent landscapes Kazakhstan has to offer. Although some of the following places can be reached by public transport, like elsewhere in Kazakhstan, you will need your own transport or the help of a tour operator to reach the most interesting spots.
Places to stay
You generally pay a bit more in Almaty than you would want to for the service you get, an issue all over Kazakhstan. There are however plenty of options for all tastes, from backpacker hostels to 5-star luxury hotels. We have listed the best ones for each budget here.
If you are planning a longer stay, check out apartment rental: short and long-term.
Eating, drinking, events & going out
They’ve been building the Starbucks for years in Almaty, and it’s too late now. The city center is overflowing with coffee places. Our favorites, wifi included.
Almaty has a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, with a mix of Asian and European cuisines well-represented. The long-term traveler will be happy to leave the Central Asian staples behind. Some of our favorites for different budgets.
As for nightlife, read our selection of good old-fashioned watering holes (no lounge bars!) and night clubs in Almaty. Remember to dress up well when you are going out. Party people look good in Almaty, and there is face control at most night clubs. Updated events listings for parties can be found on the party calendar of Afisha (in Russian).
For events, you can check out this English-language Facebook group popular with expats where events are being shared, and Russian-language Afisha and Anshlag. The best places for classical music are the Philharmonia (address), the Kazakh Concert Hall (address) and, my favorite, the Abay Opera (address). Pop concerts are held in a variety of locations, mostly clubs and bars.