In this article, we will explore some of the best places to visit in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s thriving former capital.
Almaty (and Kazakhstan in general) is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream! In the winter you can hit the slopes at Shymbulak for skiing and snowboarding or glide around the world’s highest ice rink at Medeu.
In summer Almaty offers some of the best hiking and camping in the world. The nearby Kolsai Lakes and Charyn Canyon make excellent day trips from the city.
Cosmopolitan central Almaty is a foodie’s heaven with some of the best eating in Central Asia. History buff? From the Silk Road to Soviet times, Almaty is bursting with architecture and museums detailing the city’s long history.
Taking a backpacking trip through Kazakhstan? Check out my new guide to budget travel in the country.
So, without further ado, let’s check out some of the best things to do in Almaty!
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The Best Places to Visit in Almaty
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 things to do. There is an amusement park with large Ferris wheel and plenty of viewpoints where you enjoy the views of Almaty.
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, restaurants and shops located here, you will also find the famous Beatles monument.
The Almaty TV Tower is located at the top of Kok Tobe and stands at an impressive height of 372m. Construction of the tower started in the late 1970s and at the time it was considered the third tallest tower in the world.
Read my full guide to Kok Tobe
2. 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.
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.
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. The park is also home to the annual music festival held here which is called “Almaty – my first love”.
4. 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 will truly feel the atmosphere of Central Asia here. The perfect place to brush up on those haggling skills.
5. Arasan Wellness Centre
The Arasan Wellness Centre 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).
6. 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 places you need to see when visiting 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.
7. 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.
8. 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!
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 Almagty attractions for chocolate lovers!
10. Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden in Almaty 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!
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 places to visit in Almaty.
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.
Read my full guide to Medeu for more information.
Day Trips from Almaty
If you have a few extra days in Almaty, then why not head out on some day trips. 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.
Big Almaty Lake is located about 15km outside of Almaty and is easily accessible from the city centre. The best way is to download the Y.taxi app (which is Kazakhstan’s equivalent to Uber), and that way you can also pay your driver a waiting fee whilst you explore. You can also choose to catch a public bus to Kokshoky, and then get a taxi or minivan to take you the rest of the way.
Read my full guide to Big Almaty Lake
14. Huns Ethno Village
If you are a history buff and love a bit of culture, then visiting the Huns Ethno Village has to be on your list. It is the perfect way for people to relive the lives of ethnic Kazakhs and learn about how they lived a nomadic lifestyle.
Huns Ethno Village is located about 35km away from Almaty, and the only way to visit is by tour. The tours vary depending on what you want, with optional extras available including horseback riding excursions and overnight stays in one of the yurts or cottages.
Throughout the tour, guests will be shown around the village and witness a number of traditions including ‘shashu’ and ‘tusau kesu’. Afterwards, you will be shown craftsmanship, witness horse games and get the opportunity to have a wander around the yurts. After the tour, guests get to experience dances, traditional music and a meal afterwards.
15. 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 it’s 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.
Read my full guide to Shymbulak Ski Resort
16. 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. 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).
17. Altyn Emel National Park
Alytn Emel National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Kazakhstan. The park was created in 1996 and covers an area of 1,800 sq miles. The landscape is incredibly diverse with sand dunes, mountains and rocky terrain.
Although Altyn Emel National Park may come across as quite barren, it is teeming with life.
Over 230 bird species can be found here, and if you’re lucky you might even get to spot some of its larger residents including gazelles, horses, bears and lynx.
This national park also has plenty of history, with lots of ancient petroglyphs, and burial mounds located throughout Altyn Emel. These are thought to be proof that Scythian warriors and Saka tribes lived within Alytn Emel during the early Iron age.
There are no public transport options to the national park, so the only choice is to hire a car or book a tour.
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, or by bus from Urumqi again or from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. 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.
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.
In early January 2022 there were widespread protests and rioting across the country, including in Almaty. The situation became so tense that a Russian peacekeeping force was deployed. The situation has now stabilised but avoid all large gatherings.
Kazakhstan is a very safe country to visit and you can read more in my article; Is Kazakhstan Safe to Visit? That being said, it’s always important to ensure you have adequate travel insurance, especially if you are going to head off into the mountains. Our partners at World Nomads are experts at covering adventurous trips and include cover for skiing and hiking.
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!
Is Almaty Worth Visiting?
So, should you visit Almaty? 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, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang, the tropical paradise of Sanya and Hong Kong.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.