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A city guide to Almaty

The Apple City in the Trans-Ili Alatau foothills

Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan and remains the leading cultural and commercial centre of the country. Almaty is the most cosmopolitan city in the country and is fast becoming a major destination for tourists to Kazakhstan, reknowned for its ski slopes and spas.

The city is home to over 2 million people making up around 11-12% of Kazakhstan's population. It is located in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau and is on Kazakhstan's most southern border with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Kunayev Park, Almaty, Kazakhstan

History of Almaty

The site now known as Almaty has survived much over the years from Mongol invasion and Soviet occupation to devastating natural disasters. Despite this, Almaty has continued to enjoy periods of great prosperity through its connections to the legendary silk road.

Early history to Middle Ages

Settlements were established by Farmers and cattle breeders on the site now known as Almaty from around 1000BC; the area was later occupied by the nomadic Saka tribe (700BC- 150BC) and later Wusun tribes from territories north of the Tian Shan mountains. Archaeology has unearthed a rich and diverse culture which has resulted in spectacular finds including Saka burial mounds, harbouring treasures such as the Kargaly diadem and “The Golden Man”.

From the settlement’s early history to the middle ages Almaty (then known as Almatu) became a principle destination on the silk road, a network of trade routes connecting East and West from China to what is now Eastern Europe and Africa. While to settlement enjoyed great prosperity during this period, the settlement was flattened by the Mongol invasion occurring around the 13th century.

Occupation and rebellion – 15th – 18th centuries

Silk road trade dwindled through the Kazakh route from around the 15th century as Europeans sought new trade networks overseas. In the early 18th century, the Dzungar tribe invaded the settlement and Kazakh people were subject to their rule for a short time, only to later defeat the Dzungar in the Anyrakay mountains around 1730.

From the later 18th century, the Kazakh region acted as a middle ground between the Kokand Khanate and the Qing Empire and was later absorbed into the Russian Empire. Under Russian occupation the native Kazakh population was expelled from the city and a defensive fort was built to protect the empires borders known as For Verniy. The Kazakh people were later granted access to settle in the area once more and residential areas soon developed around the fort.

Soviet occupation and World War – 19th to 20th centuries

Following the Russian revolution, Verniy became part of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and was renamed Alma-Ata. In 1926 the Turkestan-Siberia railway was built which was crucial to the city’s growth, and the city later became the Capital of the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic which brought further economic benefits.

World War II brought about a drastic change of fortune and many buildings, resources and people were sent to Alma-Ata, effectively making the Kazakh people a minority in the region.

Independence – 20th century

Kazakhstan declared independence from the Soviet Union on the 16th December 1991, and the city was renamed Almaty as of 1993. The capital was transferred from Almaty to Astana (north of Kazakhstan) and Almaty was granted special status for cultural, scientific and intellectual development in the country.

Things to do in Almaty

Almaty is home to many activities perfect for tourists. Take a stroll through the city's parks or trek through nearby nature reserves, experience local culture through unique museums or relax in one of the city's many spas; the decision is yours! For more information about what you can do in Almaty in a short space of time, see our 'Eurasian city-breaks: 48 hour guide to Almaty'.

Ile-Alatau National Park

Perfect for hikers, walkers and nature lovers

Opened in 1996, Ile-Alatau National Park is one of Kazakhstan's main tourist attractions and is the best place to go hiking near Almaty. The park consists of spectacular woodlands, alpine meadows, glaciers and lakes covering around 200,000 hectares.Situated in the mountains south of Almaty, the park borders the Almaty nature reserve located around the awe-inspiring Peak Talgar.

Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments

A fresh perspective on local Kazakh history

A quirky museum located in Almaty city centre, the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments offers a different take on the culture of the region. The museum tells the history of the Kazakh people through music and folklore, exhibiting some of the most weird and wonderful musical instruments from the region. 

Ascension Cathedral, Almaty

A must-see architectural marvel 

Claimed to be the second tallest wooden building in the world, Almaty's Ascension Cathedral is a marvelous Russian Orthodox cathedral located in Panfilov Park. Completed in 1907, the building is constructed entirely from wood and does not contain nails; it contains a series of paintings and religious scenes including the Iconostasis painted by N. Khludov.

Shymbulak Ski Resort

Perfect for winter sports enthusiasts

The largest ski resort in central Asia, Shymbulak is located 25km south-east of Almaty city centre in the upper part of the Zaiilisky Alatau mountain range. This resort is popular with tourists and is noted for its mild climate, with plenty of sunny days and perfect amounts of snow through the Winter months.

Climate in Almaty

Almaty has a humid continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. The coldest month is January which is around -5°C on average while the warmest wonth is July with an average of around 24°C. April and May are considered the wettest months and the average annual precipitation is around 650 to 700mm. If you are interested in Skiing then the best time to visit Almaty is February, however it is not uncommon for snowfall to occur up until May, resulting in an extended ski season. 

Weather in Almaty

Where to eat and drink in Almaty

Almaty has an up-and-coming nightlife, taking inspiration from American and European-styled bars and restaurants. Tourists to Almaty will have plenty of choice from trendy sports bars and traditional Irish pubs to Panoramic cocktail bars, quaint street bars and high-end restaurants. We have included a list of our top 3 favourite places to eat and drink in Almaty below:

For drinks:

The Bottle

Located a short walk away from the Abay Opera house in Almaty city centre, The Bottle is the perfect place to relax and enjoy pre-performance drinks with friends. This cosy wine café serves the best selection of wine in Almaty and any vintage you try can be bought on site by the bottle.

The Bottle is open Monday to Friday 11:00am until 00:00am, as well as Saturday and Sunday 13:00pm until 2:00am.

The Shakespeare Pub

A short walk away from Qarasai batyr St bus station, The Shakespeare Pub has become one of the go-to places for UK and American tourists. This European-style pub has a range of bar games including pool tables and darts as well as live music at weekends. The pub is renowned for its excellent Indian cuisine and is a great place to go if you prefer a cool and casual dining experience.

The Shakespeare Pub is open 12:00pm until 1:00am Monday to Thursday, 11:00am – 3:00am Friday and Saturday, and Sunday 12:00pm until 00:00am.

William Lawson’s 13 The Bar

Located 5-minutes’ walk south of Almaty’s Panfilov Park, William Lawson’s 13 The Bar is the perfect place for those looking for a trendy place to eat and drink without the frills. This bar has a wide range of bar games for customers and is a great place to visit if you want to keep up with the sport back home.

William Lawson’s is open 12:00pm until 2am Tuesday and Wednesday, 12:00pm until 4:00am Thursday and Friday, and 12:00pm until midnight on Saturdays. The bar is closed Monday and Sunday.

For food:

Alasha

Located a 30-minute drive to the South of Almaty city centre, Alasha has established a fantastic reputation as the place to go for traditional Uzbek cuisine. The restaurant is a full dining and entertainment complex combining a dining area, shisha bars and live performance. Alasha has a substantial menu and is renowned for its grilled meat dishes.

Alasha is open Sunday to Thursday 12:00pm until midnight, and Friday and Saturday 12:00pm until 1:00am.

Gosti

Located on the Southernmost edge of Panfilov Park, Gosti is a must visit for tourists that enjoy Russian food. The restaurant is renowned for its cosy yet elegant interior and calm atmosphere, while serving a fantastic selection of signature dishes from Russian cuisine. The restaurant also offers a great choice of wine and cocktails at reasonable prices.

Gosti is open every day of the week from 11:00am until midnight.

Tandoor restaurant

Located in the heart of Almaty city centre next to Baytursynov St bus station, Tandoor Restaurant is one of the best places to go in Almaty for Indian food. This modern restaurant offers many European favourites from Korma to Tandoori chicken as well as their take on signature dishes from surrounding regions. Tandoor offers wide range of vegetarian dishes.

The Tandoor Restaurant is open every day from 11:00am until 23:30pm.

How to get to Almaty

Almaty has been notoriously difficult to reach in the past, mainly due to a lack in tourist interest, however an increase in Silk Road tourism has led to the city becoming more of the most popular destinations on this route. The city's main airport is Almaty International Airport, however to get here from the UK or US usually requires you to make one if not two stops along the way, one of these being at Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport in the countries capital; from here, tourists can get a domestic flight to Almaty.

The train can often prove slightly easier, however tourists will still need to get a flight to a major city such as Moscow, then take the Trans-Siberian route to Omsk where you can get a connecting train to Almaty.

Why you should visit Almaty

Almaty offers plenty for tourists to do from Skiing and hiking to spa retreats and museum tours, however, more than anything, it offers the chance to visit a relatively under-explored and untouched area for tourists. The city is steeped in history and has a strong cultural identity and it is fairly well-connected with Almaty International Airport operating direct flights to Moscow and an increase in Silk Road train tours which are connecting this city to well-known train routes such as the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Almaty commonly asked questions

Here, we have included some of the most commonly asked questions we get asked by people looking to travel to Almaty, if yourequire any further assistance in palling your trip or have questions that are not answered here, then please contact us directly.

Is Almaty safe?

Kazakhstan as a whole is considered to be safer than many other countries in the world falling in the lower-middle of the international crime statistics list. Almaty is much safer than other major capitals including London and Paris, although travellers should always be vigilant around high-density areas including airports, bus and train stations.

What is the best way to travel to Almaty?

Almaty is quite remote and most travel has to pass through the country's capital Nursultan before taking either a domestic train or flight to Almaty. From the West, the easiest way to get to Almaty is by taking a flight to Moscow and then taking the train to Yekaterinburg, from here you can then take a connecting train south towards Almaty.

We recommend using our train planner if you would like to book your train tickets to Almaty, we can arrange all your trains to and from Russia, as well as any international trains you require across Europe.

How do I get to Almaty city centre from the train station?

Almaty has two train stations, however most domestic and International trains arrive and depart from Almaty 1 to the North of the city centre. It takes around 25-30 minutes by car to get to the train station and around 45 minutes by bus. There are regular bus services that run every 7 minutes to and from Almaty 1 train station.

How do I get to Almaty city centre from the airport?

Almaty International Airport is approximately 30-40 minutes away from the city centre by car, and can take anything between an hour to an hour and a half by bus. Bus services run from to and from the airport every 6 minutes.

How do I get to Shymbulak ski resort from Almaty city centre?

Shykbulak Ski resort is a 30 to 40 minute direct drive south of Almaty city centre on Gornaya St. The easiest way to get to the ski resort is by taking a taxi, however it is also possible to take the number 12 bus which will take you direct all the way from the city centre to the resort.

Is Almaty expensive?

Almaty is relatively cheap to travel around and the cost of living is approximately 60% cheaper than London. Tourists can expect to pay around 4000₸ (£8) for a mid-range meal at a restaurant and around 500₸ (£1) for half litre of domestic bee. A private transfer or taxi will cost around 150₸ (30p) per kilometer, however public transport such as buses often work out a lot cheaper.