Set in the idyllic foothills of the Ile Alatau mountains, Almaty stands as one of Kazakhstan’s most southernly cities, with the capital of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan located around 235km away. As Kazakhstan’s former capital city, Almaty is the country’s largest city and acts as a central hub for trade and cultural exchange. The city continues to grow in popularity year on year, originally growing from 1.47 million tourists in 2000, 4.81 million in 2012, to 6.5 million reported in 2016.
Part two of our 6-part Eurasian city-break series will take you through a 48-hour journey of Almaty, exploring top tourist attractions and taking in the city’s immersive local history.
Why visit Almaty
Although largely under-rated as a tourist destination, Almaty has plenty to offer tourists from beautiful national parks, museums showing Kazakhstan’s largely untouched local history, as well as world-renowned spas and ski resorts. Visiting Almaty is relatively inexpensive, food and drink is slightly less than you would expect to pay in other major cities in Europe and it is possible to take advantage of free admission to several of the city’s main museums and attractions if you time your trip well.
Best places to stay in Almaty
You will find a good selection of hotels and hostels in Almaty city centre. We recommend booking your hotel or hostel near the Zhibek Zholy or Almaly metro station area, located to the North of Almaty’s cultural quarter with Zenkov Cathedral, Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and the Zelenyy bazaar just a 10-minute walk away.
Street map of Almaty
48 hours in Almaty
City breaks offer a brief glimpse into a city’s cultural identity and packing everything into 48 hours can be tricky, if not impossible. Not only do you need to think about how long to spend at each attraction you need to allow enough time to travel there, and you will often find that other factors such as budget and hotel location influence the decisions you make. Below, we have created a draft 48-hour itinerary that includes some of the best things to do in Almaty.
Early morning: 7:00 – 9:00am
On arriving in Almaty, you will want to get hold of a city map if you don’t already own one, you should be able to pick these up easily from a tourist information desk from either the airport or train station. Almaty city centre is around 30 minutes away from Almaty International Airport by car or taxi and around 20 minutes from Almaty 1 International train station. Almaty’s metro system is one of the newest in the world, completed and opened to the public in December 2011. The system is currently under expansion; however, it is possible to get the Metro just South of Almaty II train station at Rayimbek Batyr and skirt all the way through Almaty city centre to Moskva station to the West of the city.
Almaty has a huge selection of coffee shops to choose from so this may be a good opportunity to grab breakfast on the go. Alternatively, many of the hotels will have breakfast included or as an optional extra.
Morning: 10:00 – 12:00pm
Take a stroll in Panfilov Park
Panfilov Park is particularly beautiful in the morning, and after a long journey, you may want to stretch your legs and decide on what you want to visit. The park is completely free and open 24 hours every day of the week, so can easily fit around your plans morning, noon or night.
Early afternoon: 12:00 – 14:00pm
See Almaty’s spectacular wooden cathedral
Located in Panfilov Park is one of Almaty’s most famous tourist attractions, the Zenkov Cathedral. This Russian Orthodox cathedral was completed in 1907 is made from wood, but without nails. It is thought to be the second tallest wooden building in the world standing at 56 meters tall.
Ascension Cathedral, Almaty
To the West of the cathedral, you will find an assortment of places ideal for lunch including a Starbucks and Yeda U Kota which offers a variety of light bites and fast food options.
Afternoon: 14:00 - 17:00pm
Experience the legacy of Kazakh folk music first-hand
To the East of Panfilov Park, you will find one of Almaty’s more unusual museums, the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments. The museum exhibits the largest display of Kazakh musical instruments in the country along with a selection of sculptures which show many of these instruments in action. The museum is ideal for those looking to learn more about local Kazakh folk culture and is open 10:00am until 19:00pm Tuesday to Sunday, the museum is closed on Mondays.
Early evening: 17:00 – 19:00pm
Visit Almaty’s principle shopping destination
A trip to Almaty’s Zelyoniy Bazaar is the perfect way to finish off your day. This busy trading point has a huge selection of stalls selling everything from spices and produce to textiles, furniture and antiques. If you are in self-catering accommodation you should be able to pick up fruit and vegetables here at incredibly cheap prices. If you are looking for souvenirs from your trip or are interested in antiques, then a visit to this place is a must before you leave.
Evening: 19:00 – 00:00am
A taste of traditional Kazakh cuisine
There is a huge selection of fantastic places to eat and drink in Almaty, however for those wanting a truly authentic Kazakh experience should go to Kazakh Restaurant Gakku. This restaurant is the go-to place for traditional Kazakh cuisine including Beshbarmak which is a broth-based noodle dish with finely chopped meat and seasoned with an onion sauce. This restaurant is usually busy therefore we recommend booking in advance, however, if you go before 21:00pm it is usually quieter. The restaurant is open until midnight each day for those who like to eat later in the day.
Shivers Bar is regarded as Almaty’s premier cocktail bar and is perfect for an end of evening tipple. The bar has its own take on most classic cocktails, as well as a selection of reasonably-priced home creations. The bar is open from 6:00pm and closes around 11:00pm.
Morning: 7:00 – 12:00pm
Relax in one of Almaty’s world-renowned spas
After a busy day exploring the city, a trip to one of Almaty’s many world-class spas should provide a welcome break. Arasan Wellness Spa is located just West of Panfilov Park and has a complex of saunas, a fitness center and segregated bathing rooms for men and women. Guests can make use of the luxury swimming pool, as well as, take advantage of the spa’s massages and detox treatments. The spa is open early from 7:00am and closes at 23:30pm; the complex also includes a lobby and rest bar with light bites and a breakfast menu.
Afternoon: 12:00pm – 17:00pm
Uncover Kazakhstan’s history on canvas
A short journey away from Panfilov Park, is one of Almaty’s most visited tourist attractions, the Museum of Arts. Although it is possible to walk to the museum, we recommend catching the metro to either Auezov theatre or Baikonur Subway Station; the museum is approximately 5 minutes’ walk away from each.
Kazakhstan's Museum of Arts, Almaty
Kazakhstan’s Museum of Arts is a spectacular art gallery exhibiting a large collection of Kazakh paintings, sculptures and other Western and Asian art. Perfect for art-lovers and those looking to know more about Kazakh heritage, this museum offers a true insight into what has inspired the country through the ages. The museum is open 10:00am until 18:00pm Tuesday to Sunday, although closed on Mondays. The museum currently offers free entry on Sundays.
Early evening: 17:00pm – 19:00pm
Explore Almaty’s Japanese-inspired botanical gardens
Not far from the Museum of Arts to the South is Almaty’s botanical gardens offering a pleasant contrast from the bustling city centre. The gardens are Japanese-inspired contrasting open plains and gardens with sprawling wooded areas towards the centre. The gardens are open from 10:00am until 19:00pm every day of the week.
Evening: 19:00 – 03:00am
Enjoy Almaty’s Nightlife and party scene
After exploring the botanical gardens, you will find a few restaurants located to the South or you can head back into the centre for a wider selection. If you are looking for something a bit different and don’t mind travelling out a bit, we can recommend Alasha. This up and coming restaurant is located South-East of the city and is around 20 minutes away by taxi from the Botanical Gardens and Panfilov Park. The restaurant is highly decorative and is focused on providing an all-encompassing memorable experience for guests, with evening entertainment and Hookah room. Alasha serves an assortment of Eurasian cuisine including Shashlyk, steak, stuffed pastries and fish dishes. The restaurant is open until Midnight Sunday-Thursday or 01:00am Friday and Saturday.
If you are looking for vegetarian or vegan food, the best place to go would be Govinda’s. Located a 5-minute drive (30-minute walk) North-West of Panfilov Park, this Indian restaurant/ cafe offers a wide selection of deconstructed vegetarian and vegan dishes including aloo gobi daal and paneer baigan n poori. It is worth noting that this restaurant closes at 20:00pm, so make sure you get there early to avoid missing out!
Almaty has a couple of late-night bars for tourists hoping to make the most of their trip. Back Room is a nightclub open from 17:00pm until 01:00am Tuesday-Thursday or until 04:00am Friday-Saturday. Another option is Zhest Rock Club located West of the Botanical Garden. The bar regularly hosts bands from across the world and is the best place to go if you enjoy rock music, metal or anything in between. Zhest is open Thursdays 20:00-03:00am, and 21:00-5:00am Friday-Saturday; free entry is available before 22:00pm.
The morning after
After a brief rest, you should have time to catch a spot of breakfast before you leave. If not, never fear! You will always find a welcome selection of coffee shops, convenience stores and cafes at the train station or airport before embarking on your next adventure!
Closing tips and good to knows
- Many of Kazakhstan’s major tourist attractions and museums are closed on Mondays, therefore, try and arrange visiting attractions around this in advance.
- Although there are regular bus routes dotted around the city, traffic can be busy in the daytime. The Metro is considered the best way to explore the city.
- Book your restaurants in advance, while you will always find alternatives you will usually need to book to get into Almaty’s best restaurants.
Skiing in Almaty
Skiing is a major tourist attraction for the city with the well-known Shymbulak ski resort just South of the city in Ile-Alatau National Park. The resort is open from 10:00am until 18:00pm every day and you can easily get to this via taxi in about 30 minutes. You will also find a selection of hotels including the Shymbulak ski resort itself conveniently located in the heart of the mountains.
Shymbulak Ski Resort, Almaty
Book your trip to Almaty with Real Russia!
We hope you have enjoyed the second instalment of our Eurasian city-breaks series. If you have been inspired to book your trip to Almaty, we can help you along the way! We can arrange trains, visas and tours to suit your requirements.
Visit the visa section on our website to apply for your Kazakhstan visa online or consult our train planner to book your trains.