Kazakhstan’s charming former capital Almaty is an up-and-coming destination for adventure tourists. There are so many excellent places to visit in Almaty from its parks, monuments and sidewalk cafes to the ski resort at Shymbulak and Medu Ice Rink.
I first visited the city on my way from China to England in 2017 and have been back almost 10 times since. It’s one of my favourite places in the world thanks to its laid-back, European feel and proximity to some serious mountains and hiking opportunities.
Cosmopolitan central Almaty is a foodie’s heaven with some of the best eating in Central Asia. There are many wonderful things to do in Almaty from sampling the local cuisine to visiting the opera and getting out into the wilderness.
Please note: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you.
The Best Places to Visit in Almaty
Below you’ll find a wide selection of things to do in Almaty Kazakhstan from city attractions to some of the incredible nature on the city’s doorstep. Whatever your interests, you’ll be sure to find plenty of Almaty tourist places to keep you entertained.
1. Kok Tobe Hill
Kok Tobe is one of the best places to visit in Almaty as it offers incredible views of the city. Standing at a height of 1130m above sea level, there is a popular recreation area at the top. The best way to get there is by cable car, as you will get a beautiful view of the surrounding Tian Shan mountains and the oldest parts of the city.
The recreation park at the top is otherwise known as Kok Tobe Park and offers plenty of fun things to do in Almaty. There is an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel and plenty of viewpoints where you enjoy the views of Almaty with a drink or bite to eat.
If you head up here for sunset, you will be rewarded with a soft yellow light covering the city, and the surrounding mountains. Aside from plenty of cafes (Kok Tobe Bar and Grill is my favourite), restaurants and shops located here, you will also find the famous Beatles monument.
Read my full guide to Kok Tobe
2. Zhenkov Cathedral
The impressive Zhenkov Cathedral is located within Panfilov Park and is one of the top places to visit in Almaty. Also known as “Ascension Cathedral” this stunning cathedral is made entirely of wood, and what’s even more astounding is that it was built with no nails. The cathedral was finished in 1907 and is the second-highest wooden building in the world at a height of 56m.
After an earthquake in 1887 destroyed most of the stone buildings but not the wooden ones, there was a legal regulation put in place that public buildings could only be built with wood. Along with Zenokv’s design and innovations, this idea proved to be effective when the cathedral survived a major earthquake that occurred in 1911.
Throughout the Soviet Union, Zenkov Cathedral was used as a museum until 1995 when it became the Orthodox Christian Cathedral that it was designed to be. Today it is a popular tourist attraction due to its beautiful architecture and colours. Definitely one of the best places to visit in Almaty!
3. First Presidents Park
The First Presidents Park is located in the southern area of the city and is one of the most popular places to visit in Almaty. It was opened to the public in 2011 for the first-ever President of Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazarbayev.
It is a popular place among locals and tourists alike and covers an area of 73 hectares. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, it is the perfect place to take a picnic on a warm day.
As you explore the park you will get to see the beautiful mountain backdrop, the stunning flower beds and the famous sculpture that marks Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary of independence.
The city’s largest fountain is also found here, the water of this jet fountain reaches a height of 30m. There is a musical fountain show that takes place every hour in the evening, with lights and music. Presidents Park is definitely one of the top places to see in Almaty.
4. Kazakhstan Museum of Arts
The Kazakhstan Museum of Arts is the largest art museum in the country. It holds an impressive collection of over 23,000 artworks. If you love culture or are a fan of museums, you don’t want to miss out on this one as its one of the top Almaty attractions.
The museum opened on the 16th of September in 1976 and includes artwork from Russia during the 17th to early 20th century and Western European art between the 16th to 20th centuries. Artwork from the Soviet Era (the 1920s-1990s) is also found in this gallery along with pieces from East China.
5. The Green Bazaar
Visiting the Green Bazaar is one of the top things to do in Almaty. This market got its name as it used to be the traditional palace to buy and sell locally produced vegetables. However, today you will find all sorts of goods here ranging from food products to clothes and furniture.
If you are looking for an authentic experience whilst exploring the city, then this is it. You’ll truly feel the atmosphere of Central Asia here. The perfect place to brush up on those haggling skills and pick up some supplies for a picnic.
6. Arasan Wellness Centre
The Arasan Wellness Centre and Spa was built in the 1980s and is one of the largest bathhouses across Central Asia. Arasan is one of the most popular Almaty attractions, and for a good reason.
It is split into different sections for each gender so that men and women can bathe separately. There are different sauna cabins to choose from including the Finnish sauna, Turkish steam baths and the Russian Banya.
Afterwards, to cool down there is a bucket shower or you can simply take a dip in the pool. You can also choose to have a massage afterwards or a Veniki (which is a professional beating with oak leaves). One of the best things to do around Almaty if you’re looking for a bit of relaxation.
7. Almaty Central Mosque
Kazakhstan has a wealth of beautiful mosques, but some just stand out above the rest. Central Mosque was opened in 1999 after 6 years of construction and is built on the site of the old mosque after it burnt down.
This beautiful mosque is the perfect example of intricate Islamic architecture and is one of the most impressive things to see in Almaty.
Central Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the country and can hold up to 7,000 people. The country of Kazakhstan is known for being welcoming to other religions, so anyone of another faith is still welcome to visit the mosque and take a look around.
8. Panfilov Park
Panfilov Park is one of the places you need to visit during your stay in this unique city. The park is also known as “Panfilovets’ Park” or the “Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen” and there is an incredible story behind the reason why.
The park is dedicated to the 28 soldiers who died whilst defending Moscow from the German invasion during WWII. The group were named after Ivan Panfilov who was a general commanding the 316th division. The 316th is thought to have significantly delayed the Germans’ advance and given the city time to defend itself.
Statues of the soldiers were built in 1975 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the ending of WWII. There is also a statue of Ivan Panfilov situated at the park entrance. There is also an eternal flame that commemorates the fallen soldiers of the second world war.
9. Rakhat Chocolate Factory
If you have a sweet tooth and love chocolate, then visiting the Rakhat Cholocate Factory is a must. The word Rakhat means pleasure in Kazakh, and you’ll understand why once you head in and get a whiff of that sweet aroma.
Rakhat Chocolate Factory is the oldest manufacturer of chocolate in Kazakhstan, as it dates back over 70 years. The amount of chocolate you can buy here is endless, and with so many flavours it’s a hard decision which ones to choose.
What’s even better is that they make confectionary for people suffering from diabetes, meaning some of the candies, cookies and chocolate are low-calorie. One of the top Almaty places to visit for chocolate lovers!
10. Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden was established in 1932 and covers an area of over a hundred hectares. There are so many beautiful plants located here, and many of them aren’t just from Kazakhstan.
Plants from Russia, East Asia, the Caucasus and North America can also be found here, and there are so many different areas to explore.
The Garden collection is home to roses, tulips, and lilacs among plenty of other beautiful plants. Whilst the exposure greenhouse is home to palm trees, bamboos, and cacti among other tropical plants and trees.
However, one of the most beautiful parts of the Botanical Garden is the Japanese Garden. Not only does the Japanese Garden have a beautiful backdrop of mountains, but it is also one of the best places to visit in Almaty if you want some peace and quiet.
11. People-watch at Zhibek Zholy
Zhibek Zholy is the Arbat-style pedestrian street filled with souvenir stands, art & craft stalls and pictures. Many local artists display their paintings with scenes of horses and yurts out on the Kazakh steppes.
There are lots of street-side cafes and restaurants here so you can refresh yourself after browsing for souvenirs and postcards. Zhibek Zholy is one of the best places to visit in Almaty for shopping!
This is one of my favourite parts of the city and one of the first places I come to when back.
12. Skate at the World’s Highest Ice Rink at Medeu
Medeu is home to the highest Ice Rink in the world at 1,691 metres (5,548 feet) and is also the final stop for bus number 12 which leaves Hotel Kazakhstan every 20 minutes or so (journey time 30 minutes). It is also the starting point for cable cars to the nearby ski resort at Shymbulak (2,200m).
If skating or skiing isn’t your bag (or it’s summer) there are some great hikes starting right here, as well as a freshwater spring where locals come to fill up their water bottles, making it one of the best Almaty tourist attractions.
Take bus 12 (80 tenge) from the stop opposite Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk Avenue (Prospekt Dosteek). Be aware that the last bus usually leaves Medeu at around 6.30 pm and gets very busy. It’s best to leave early in the day so you don’t have to rely on the final few buses which you might not be able to get on.
Day Trips from Almaty
If you have a few extra days then check out some of these things to do near Almaty. There are plenty of beautiful destinations located outside the city centre for you to visit. Here are just a few of the most popular ones:
13. Big Almaty Lake
Beautiful Big Almaty Lake is a natural alpine lake that is located in the Trans-lli Alatau mountains. At a height of 2511m above sea level, this lake is surrounded by a beautiful mountain backdrop and so naturally offers incredible views.
The lake is Glacier fed and is around 40m deep, and what makes it so special is its stunning teal-coloured water. The colour of Big Almaty Lake does change throughout the year, so if you are wanting to see the lake’s colour at its brightest and bluest, then make sure you visit between September and October.
The main thing to remember when visiting Big Almaty Lake is that it’s forbidden to swim in, as it’s the main water source for Almaty city. However, there are plenty of hiking opportunities located around the lake as it’s located within Ili-Alatau National Park.
Location: 15 miles south of Almaty. See the location on Google maps.
How to get there: There is no public transport to big Almaty Lake so you will need to either pay a taxi to take you and wait, take a tour, or drive.
Tours from Almaty: This full-day tour includes a visit to Big Almaty Lake and Alma Arasan Gorge from Almaty. Book today with Viator.
14. Shymbulak Ski Resort
Shymbulak is the largest ski resort in Central Asia and is found within the Medeu Valley. Located within the Zailiisky Alatau Mountain Range, this ski resort is incredibly popular for its mild climate, sunny days and plenty of snow throughout the winter months.
Shymbulak Ski Resort is located about 25km away from the city centre of Almaty and can be accessed by public transport. You can catch a bus from Almaty to Medeu bus terminal, and the cable car station to Shymbulak is just across the street.
This is one of the top tourist attractions in Almaty Kazakhstan. Read my full guide to Shymbulak Ski Resort
15. Alma Arasan
There are two main roads from Almaty into the ever-present mountains. The first leads up to Medeu and Shymbulak beyond, and the second goes up to Alma Arasan and Big Almaty Lake.
The hike to Alma Arasan follows a tributary of the Big Almaty River (Bolshoye Almatinka) along an impressive gorge. I did this hike on my second trip and it’s one of the best Almaty things to do for getting out into nature.
The mountain scenery is incredible and it’s a great place to escape the city for a day of hiking (or bring a tent and wild camp for a better adventure). Take the bus from Presidential Park to Kokshoky where the hike begins at the right fork in the road (the left fork goes to Big Almaty Lake).
Getting to Almaty
Almaty International Airport is found about 25km from the city centre and is served by several international airlines. To get into the city from the airport you can choose to take a taxi (although scams are quite common) or the public bus.
If you are wanting to travel into Kazakhstan from other countries, then there are a couple of journeys available. You can get to Almaty by train from Russia and Urumqi in China if you don’t mind a long journey. If you are taking one of these journeys be mindful of visas and border control.
From within Kazakhstan, you can take a train from anywhere in the country to Almaty. Check the Kazakh Railway website for exact times and fares.
China: Urumqi to Alamty
Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek to Almaty
Uzbekistan: Tashkent to Almaty
Getting Around Almaty
There are a couple of different ways you can get around Almaty. The easiest way is by using the metro system which opened in 2011. There is only one line but it serves multiple stations throughout the city and is open from 6 am until midnight.
Another popular form of transport in Almaty is using buses and trolleybuses. The easiest way to do this is by downloading an app called CityBus which will help you with the local system, and bus routes. There is also a tram located in the city however, it only serves specific parts of Almaty and so travel is quite restricted.
Taxis are also a great way to get around but like other countries in Central Asia, there are official and informal taxis. Always make sure you negotiate the price in advance and expect to pay at least double the fare for an official taxi. The best way to get a taxi in Almaty is to download the Yandex Taxi app (Y.taxi) as fares are cheap, and the app is available in various languages.
The summers in Almaty are known for being mostly clear, dry and warm whilst the winters are known to be freezing and cloudy with plenty of snow. The summer season in Almaty lasts from May to September, and the cold season lasts from November to March.
The warmest month to visit Almaty is in July with an average high temperature of 29°C. The coldest month to visit is in January, with an average low temperature of -10°C. The coldest recorded temperature of an Almaty winter was -16°C in the 1930s.
Best Time to Visit Almaty
Generally, the best time to visit Almaty is between the months of June to September where the climate is warm, and precipitation levels are at their lowest. The warmer climate and longer sunlight hours give you plenty of time to explore the city.
However, Ice skating and skiing are popular activities during the winter months if you can deal with the freezing temperatures.
Is Almaty Safe to Visit?
Almaty is generally thought of as a safe city to visit, especially if you are exploring throughout the day. However, it’s best to avoid walking alone at night, especially in dimly lit areas as there have been reports of travellers being robbed after sunset.
Petty crimes like pickpocketing are also known to occur in the more touristy areas, as well as drinks being spiked in clubs and bars.
On a couple of occassions when I’ve visited there have been protests against the government (the worst of these happened in Jan 2022) and it’s best to keep away from such demonstrations.
Kazakhstan is a very safe country to visit and you can read more in my article; Is Kazakhstan Safe to Visit?
Our partners at SafetyWing provide cover for travellers, backpackers and Digital Nomads. Get a quote here and ensure you have the proper cover for your trip.
Food and Drink in Almaty
Central Almaty is crammed with bars and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Kazakh food is representative of the country’s nomadic past and you will find horse and lamb on almost every menu.
A staple classic is shashlik (chunks of meat on skewers cooked over a flame). You can usually choose between lamb, chicken or horse. Plov is another Central Asian classic; rice with carrots, swede and small chunks of unidentified meat.
In addition to Kazakh, you will find plenty of Georgian, French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, as well as ubiquitous western/American fast food outlets. One of my favourite things about returning to Almaty is the food and I would challenge anyone not to eat some of the best food they’ve ever had for a fraction of the cost of back home.
One of the best places to have a meal or just a drink is the restaurant up at Kok Tobe. The shashlik is some of the best in the city and the beers are decent and cold. The views however are out of this world! One of my favourite things to do in Almaty is watching the sunset while filling my face with food and beer.
If you are looking for tasty food dishes to try, here are some of the most popular ones:
Manty – Manty is a stuffing consisting of minced meat, onions and seasonings that is then wrapped in dough and steamed. They are steamed in a special pan called a mantavarka, and sometimes potatoes or pumpkin is added to the stuffing.
Plov/Pilaf – Although there are various different ways of cooking Pilaf, the most popular is stewed meat with rice and carrots and other spices. Sometimes additional ingredients are added including peas or raisins.
Beshbarmak – Beshbarmark is a dish that consists of boiled meat and noodles which are cooked in the form of rectangles. The dish is served with a strong broth, and sometimes boiled potatoes and carrots are added to the dish.
Where to stay in Almaty?
Almaty has a great range of hostels and hotels to suit all budgets. See below for some of my top choices when staying in the city.
Sky Hostel is usually my first stop on any trip to Almaty. The friendly and helpful staff are always smiling and the hostel is clean and comfortable with lots of common areas to chill out in.
There is a kitchen with a balcony, a large living room and best of all, a huge rooftop terrace with views across the city to the nearby mountains. There is no better view in the city, making this the best Almaty hostel in my humble opinion.
Sky Hostel is in a great location on the corner of Kurmangazy Street and Baitursynov Stree. It is just two minutes walk from a host of bars, restaurants, a large supermarket and the Baikonur metro station. You can book a dorm bed or private room with our partners at Hostelworld. A dorm bed costs $10 and a private twin room from $27.
The Astana Hotel is located a few hundred meters up the road from Sky Hostel on Baitursynov Street. This is a great mid-range Almaty hotel with comfortable rooms with a balcony and a good breakfast. Double rooms start from $43.
Hotel Kazzhol is a great option if you are looking for a little bit of luxury. The Kazzhol is in a great location close to Zhibek Zholy and Paniflov Park. The rooms are very comfortable and there is an onsite gym and pool. The buffet breakfast is the best in Almaty! A double room starts at $70. This Almaty hotel is where I stay if I’m feeling flush!
FAQs About Almaty Sightseeing
Almaty is definitely worth visiting. There are so many excellent places to visit in Almaty from the gorgeous Zhenkov Cathedral to Medu Ice Rink, Big Almaty Lake and a whole lot more.
Almaty is Famous for having the highest ice skating rink in the world at Medeu. The rink is in a mountainous valley at a height of 1,691 metres (5,548 feet) above sea level.
Almaty is a fantastic destination at any time of year. For skiing and other winter activities December to March is the best time. If you prefer hiking and camping then summer (June to September) is the best time to visit.
A week is a good amount of time to spend exploring Almaty’s charming city and attractions plus some of the wilderness areas and national parks nearby.
Now you know what to do in Almaty no matter the time of year. If you are a fan of tasty dishes, unique and intricate architecture and lots of culture, then this city should definitely be on your list.
There are so many incredible places to visit in Almaty, so whether you want to admire the views from Kok Tobe Hill or relax at Arasan bathhouse you won’t run out of things to do.
Check out these great books about Kazakhstan
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.
Where I am now: Armenia 🇦🇲