Almaty was the country's capital before, which is now Astana. But it remains the obvious gateway to visiting this region, as indeed it has been for over a thousand years, standing astride the Silk Road. Just south of the city, snow-capped mountains mark the border with Kyrgyzstan.
The city is modern, laid out on a grid pattern, so if you're going uphill, you're probably going south. It's not a cheap city, but the people are friendly and hospitable; there's also a significant ex-pat community.
Pogulay is a helpful guidebook to the city, printed in English and Russian and sold at newsstands. It's priced at US$3 and covers all the attractions, including photos and descriptions.
- 1 Tourist Information Office, 81 Bogenbai Batyr. Daily 08:00-20:00. Very helpful. Unfortunately, the government-run place on Kurmangazy has closed. .
- 1 Almaty International Airport (Kazakh: Xalıqaralıq Almatı Äwejayı/Халықаралық Алматы Әуежайы, Russian: Международный Аэропорт Алматы ALA IATA), Ul. Beimbeta Maylina 2 (ул. Беимбета Майлина 2) (15 km northeast of city centre), ☏ (Flight Information). Flights are around the clock so most airport facilities are open 24/7, and there are no security barriers to access the terminal. Arrivals is ground floor, Departures is upper floor, with a good selection of ground-side cafes and shops. The check-in area is nominally security-controlled but this is laxly enforced; however this area has no other facilities so there's no point entering till your desk is open. Passport control follows, then security, then you enter the air-side international lounge with shops, cafes and seating. Airport exchange rates are within 5% of interbank rate, good value anywhere - get some small notes (less than 1000 tenge) for local transport.
- International flights – The national flag-carrier is Air Astana, with flights around central Asia and the Middle East. Their destinations from Almaty include Antalya, Baku, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Beijing-Capital, Bishkek, Delhi, Dubai-International, Dushanbe, Kazan, Hong Kong, Istanbul IST, Kiev-Boryspil, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow-Sheremetyevo, Saint Petersburg, Seoul-Incheon, Tashkent, Tbilisi and Ürümqi. Other carriers fly direct to Ashgabat, Dubai, Frankfurt, Novosibirsk, Osh, Riga, Samarkand, Sanya and Xian. So most journeys from the west will involve at least one change of flight, Frankfurt and Istanbul usually being the most convenient.
- Domestic flights – Kazakhstan is a very big country, so most cities have regular flights to Almaty with Air Astana or SCAT Airlines or both. These include Aktau, Aktobe, Astana, Atyrau, Karaganda, Kokshetau, Kyzylorda, Kostanay, Oral, Pavlodar, Petropavlovsk, Semey, Shymkent, Taraz, Uralsk, Urdjar, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Zhezkazgan.
Buses run daily from about 05:20 to 23:00, every 30 mins or better, and take 30 mins between the airport and the center. Every taxi tout will assure you that buses are not running. But of course they are, otherwise he wouldn't be so insistent. A ride into town is 150 tenge—pay the driver or conductor.
- Bus 92 is the only one from within the airport itself, the stop is just outside Arrivals. This zigzags through the northern Turksib district to Sayakhat bus station, then west along Raiymbek Batyr (for Almaty-2 railway station and city metro), along Nauryzbai (southbound) or Zheltoksan (returning northbound) to Abai Bvd, then away out to the western burbs.
- The other buses all run from Mailin Street, the boulevard just outside the airport. From Arrivals follow the traffic flow through the barriers onto the street, keeping right for traffic into town. You cross Zakarpatskaya St which is where your bus will emerge from, pass the Favorit Hotel and a small supermarket, to find the bus-stop where folk as cheapskate as yourself are waiting. Say 10 mins walk. Bus 79 runs to Nazarbayev Ave (formerly Furmanov), and Bus 86 also runs downtown. The main advantage of this stop is Bus 106, which bypasses downtown and runs to Sayran Bus Station, for onward inter-city connections; say 50 mins.
Taxis can be ordered at the booth in the arrivals hall. It may take 10 min to arrive, but it will be a sensible price, around 1,500 tenge. At least, that will be the price quoted to you, the taxi driver may have other ideas. It's a common scam here that at the end of your journey the driver will claim that the 1,500 tenge was per kilometre, taking the total to about 35,000 tenge. It's tempting, but unwise to argue too much as they turn violent quickly. The safest thing to do is to avoid taking a taxi from the airport - either take the bus, or get your hotel to send you a driver.
Yandex.Taxi is a good option if you have internet access or a SIM card. A ride to central Almaty should be around 1,500 tenge (Oct 2019).
- 2 Almaty-2 Railway Station (Железнодорожная Станция Алматы-2) (at the north end of city centre). All mainline trains run from this station. It's a small-to-medium sized station with marble decor that looks kind of Masonic. There are ticket kiosks, waiting rooms, two cafes, small shops, ATMs and left luggage facilities, but no currency exchange. Outside in the square, where Abylai Khan in a funky circus-master's top hat is gesturing towards Delhi, is Mango, a small retail mall with cafes. Here also is the stop for Trolleybus 5 running south to Abai Bvd, but you'll find most buses on Raiyimbek one block south. Head 400 m east along Raiyimbek for the Metro station. Also here on Abylai Khan are more eating places and currency exchange booths. These have only a 2% spread between "buy" and "sell" rates, far closer than any western exchange, so you're unlikely to find a better deal.
- 3 Almaty-1 Railway Station (Станция Алматы-1), Richard Sorge St (4 km further north in the Turksib district, out towards the airport). Northbound trains also stop at this station. A few trains from elsewhere (e.g. Semei-Kyzlorda) bypass Almaty-2 but call here. Trolleybus 7 runs here from the centre.
International connections from:
- Astana via Karagandy – 6 trains per day, the quickest taking 13 hr.
- Russia – There's no direct train, but you have to change in Astana, or (on odd dates) in Saratov. From Yekaterinburg or Omsk change in Astana or Petropavl. There is a direct service (on odd dates) between from Novosibirsk via Aktogai and Semei.
- Tashkent – Every 2nd day, 16 hr via Taraz and Shymkent.
- Bishkek – This is a round-about route changing near Taraz. By bus is much faster.
- Urumqi (Wulumuqi), China – There is one train per week (leaving Urumqi Monday 23:00), 30 hr via Dostyk. A second, Chinese train may run, leaving Urumqi Sa 23:00, taking 24 hr via Khorgos, is around US$100 and comfortable. For details see Moscow to Urumqi rail itinerary.
- 4 Sayran Bus Station (Sairan, Междугород автовокзал «Сайран»), Ulitsa Sadovnikov (yлица Садовникова 294) (8 km west of centre on corner of Tole bi and Otegen Batyr, take tram 4). This is the main station for long distance routes. International buses run to Bishkek, Tajikistan, Novosibirsk and Urumqi in China. Daily buses to Taraz, Shymkent, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Astana, Türkestan, Karaganda and Balkhash.
- 5 Sayakhat Bus Station, Rayimbek Prospekt (1 km east of Almaty-2 railway station). It's still there, just about, although the upper half fronting onto Rayimbek is demolished and boarded up. Enter 100 m north via Suyumbai however, and the lower half remains active, with a small terminal building and toilets. Marshutkas run from here to the north and east of Almaty, also to Talgar, Esik, Kegen and Narynkol. You can reach eastern Kyrgyzstan that way, via Karkara, though there's not much traffic on that route. Just beyond Narynkol is the border with China, but there's no crossing point.
Sleeper buses leave Urumqi at 18:00 daily except Saturday and take 24 hours to reach Almaty. Tickets for a lower bed are ¥420, upper beds are ¥400, and a berth in the back bed of the bus is ¥380. Buses depart from the international area of Nianzigou Bus Station (碾子沟客运站), 50 m to the left of the main station (as you look towards the front) on the other side of the Wenshabao (温莎堡) building. Beware that the border crossing at Khorgos (霍尔果斯) is closed on Chinese national holidays, including the first week of October for National Day.
Buses also run from Yining, 100 km east of Khorgos, taking 10 hours to Almaty, fare US$30 or ¥150. They run two or three times a week, ask the bus drivers at Yining for times. Local buses also run from Yining to Khorgos (¥30-38), from where you can walk across into Kazakhstan. A taxi onward to Almaty might charge 3,000 tenge and take 4-6 hr. Tacheng (Qoqek) further north also has buses to Almaty several times a week.
Marshrutka run to Almaty Sayran bus station from Bishkek's Western Bus Station for about 500 som, taking 4-5 hr including the border crossing. In Bishkek, usually someone is yelling "Almata, Almata!" and will lead you to the next departure, where you pay the driver directly. Otherwise look for a stand signed "Almaty", buy your ticket from the "Kassa", and keep it until journey's end when you've reclaimed your bags. It's about 30 min to the border at Korday but there can be long tailbacks. Take a good look at the marshrutka, your driver and fellow passengers, because you need to recognise them later. Disembark with all your luggage and walk through Kyrgyz immigration exit, across the river bridge, through Kazakh immigration entry (don't lose that migration card!) then try to locate your fellow passengers. Chances are the marshrutka will take much longer to get through. Once all are back aboard, you drive on for an hour then take a rest stop at a gas station.
Another option is a little more adventurous but more flexible and cheaper—take local transport from Bishkek to the border, cross, then pick up onward transport: In Bishkek, take any bus to Alamedin Market (corner of Jibek Jolu and Kurmanjan Datka)—use the 2GIS app to find a connection there. The bus stop for the border transport can be found 6 just north of the junction towards the border. Look for a marshrutka signed таможня (meaning "customs"), or bus 333, or ask around. Apparently bus #285 also goes from the center of Bishkek directly to the border. The fare is 25 som from the junction and 30 som from the center to Korday. Then either share a taxi to Almaty (say 1,500 tenge), or take a marshrutka for 1,000 tenge—bargain hard or just pretend to wait for a better option.
On border formalities see Kazakhstan#Get in.
For the return journey, see Bishkek.
The city is laid out on a modern grid-pattern, and "up" usually means south, towards the mountains. However it's a gentle gradient, and in places the gradient east is similar. By day you can reality-check against the position of the sun, but at night or on dull days you could do with a compass to avoid tramping the wrong way. The other difficulty for visitors is the changed street names. Ask a local, who'll remember the old name that's in your guidebook.
The Metro has a single line. The northern terminus is on Raiymbek Batyr east of Almaty-2 railway station. The line runs south to Abay, then turns west along Abay to Moskva Station just short of Altynsarin Ave.
The Metro is open from 06:00-24:00. The Metro is safe and guarded by police at all times. A single trip costs 80 tenge, regardless of length of trip. The tickets are plastic yellow tokens, buy them at machines or booths ("kassa") within the stations. Contactless payment at the gates is also possible by Mastercard, Visa or Union Pay. There are no day tickets or similar deals for visitors, but for frequent travellers there are rechargeable multi-trip smart cards.
The Metro stations starting from the north are:
- 1 Raiymbek batyr (Russian: Райымбек батыра, Kazakh: Райымбек). North terminus, for Almaty-2 railway station & Sayakhat bus station.
- 2 Zhibek Zholy-Dostyk (Russian: Жибек Жолы). For Zenkov (Ascension) Cathedral, Panfilov Park, Green Bazaar, Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and Kazakh-British Technical University.
- 3 Almaly (Russian: Алмалы). For Hotel Almaty, Opera & Ballet House, Kunayev Museum and Republican Book Museum.
- 4 Abay (Russian:Абая, Kazakh:Абай). For Central State Museum, Kazakh National Agrarian University, State Academic Russian Drama Theatre, and Kok-Tobe cable-car.
Here the line turns west and runs beneath Abay Avenue to:
- 5 Baikonur (Russian:Байконур, Kazakh: Байқоңыр). For Sport Palace / Central Stadium.
- 6 Auezov Theater (Russian: Театр имени Мухтара Ауэзова, Kazakh: Мұхтар Әуезов атындағы театры). For Auezov Theatre, Circus, Rahat Palace Hotel & Kusteyev Fine Arts Museum
- 7 Alatau (Russian: Алатау). For Mahatma Gandhi Park.
- 8 Sayran. This is a 2.5 km walk to Sayran bus station, as the lake lies between.
- 9 Moskva. This station is slightly nearer to Sayran bus station, though it's still about a 1.5 km hike north up Utegen Batyr. As it's the west terminus, lots of buses pass here.
Further extensions will serve the northern and western burbs, with little relevance to visitors until the airport is linked.
By buses, and trolleysEdit
There is an extensive network of buses and trolleybuses in the city. It's a flat fare of 80 tenge within the centre, 150 tenge for the outskirts. Locals use a prepaid yellow transport card "Onay" presented to a smart-card contactless reader, but it's okay just to pay cash to the driver or conductor on boarding. You don't need exact change but you'll be unpopular if you offer a large note. Younger conductors speak a bit of English and will point out your stop.
The collection of city buses behind the corner of Rayimbek and Zheltoksan is just a depot and there are no passenger facilities here.
There are both official and informal taxis. Official taxis can be booked in advance and normally show up rapidly. The fare difference between official and unofficial taxis may vary up to 3 times. Just raise your hand and a car will eventually stop. You should negotiate the price and direction in advance. Normally the fare varies from 200-1,000 tenge depending on the remoteness of the area. These are really efficient, and, although it takes a bit of getting used to, it is the perfect solution to getting around. Nevertheless, single travellers should be aware of muggings late at night. Avoid cars with more than one male occupant at night. Usually a car will stop within 30 seconds to 3 minutes of having your hand out. If the driver does not wish to drive to your destination, no problem. The next one will stop a minute or two after. You will need the name of your destination street and the nearest cross street, in Russian, in order to get to where you want to go. Very few people speak or understand even basic English. It is necessary to have small money. Usually drivers avoid giving change, so it is better to have the exact amount in hand.
There is a city bike scheme, with pick-up/drop-off stations dotted around. Almost every bike store rents bikes, thus just ask in your hotel for a bike store. The prices are 2,000 tenge for a day and 2,500 tenge for 24 hr.
- 1 Ascension Cathedral (Zenkov's Cathedral, Voznesenskiy sobor Zenkova, Свято-Вознесенский собор Зенкова), Kazybek Bi St (In Panfilov Park, Metro Zhibek Zholy). Completed in 1907, it's re-opened after renovation in 2018/19, though some interior work continues. (New saints are being painted in, though presumably they're known to the hagiographers.) The iconostasis is spectacular. At 56 m this among the tallest wooden buildings in the world, which you wouldn't guess from the smoothly painted exterior hues of custard, icing sugar and coloured marzipan - it's more like a lure for Hansel & Gretel.
- 2 Holy Kazan Cathedral (Svyato-Kazanskiy Sobor, Свято-Казанский собор), Khaliullina str (Халиуллина) 45a (By jcn of Tatibekova St, 3 km northeast of Rayimbek Metro). Small, brightly painted Russian Orthodox Church.
- 3 St Nicholas Cathedral (Никольский собор.), Ulitsa Baytursynov (3 blocks north of Baykonur Metro, next to Nikolsky Bazaar.). Was built in 1909. It was used as a barn for Soviet cavalry horses but was eventually restored and reopened as a church in 1980. Main entrance is west side from Baytursnov, but there's also a little gate from the park just south.
- 4 Central Mosque of Almaty (Мечети города Алматы), Ul. Pushkin (ул. Пушкина), 16 (Metro: Raiymbek batyr), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Spacious decorated interior.
- 5 Sophia Cathedral (Софийский собор/Sofiyskiy sobor, Свято-Богоявленский храм), Ulitsa Sadovnikov (Садовникова улица), 196., ☏ . Tranquil monastery compound centred on the cathedral, plus small chapels.
- Akhmet Baytursynov Memorial Museum (Ахмета Байтурсынов дом-музей), Baytursynov 60 (3 blocks north of Baikonur metro). Daily 09:00-18:00. Akhmet Baytursynov (1873-1937) was a Kazakh intellectual active in politics, poetry, linguistics and education, so inevitably he was shot during Stalin's "Great Purge". The museum is becoming crumbly.
- Museum of Archaeology (Музей Археологии АН Казахстана), Ulitsa Kaldayakov (near Dostyk Ave). M-F 09:00-18:00. Mammoths, dinosaurs and similar.
- 6 Museum of Rare Books (Сирек кездесетін кітаптар мұражайы), Ulitsa Shevchenko 28 (2 blocks north of Abay metro). The guided tour is recommended, not clear what languages are available. 100 tenge.
- Geology Museum (Геологический Музей Республики Казахстан), 85 Dostyk Ave. M-F 10:00-17:00. Small museum of Kazakhstan's rich geology.
- 7 A. Kasteyev Art Museum (Республиканский музей изобразительного искусства им. А. Кастеева.), Ulitsa Satpaev (Metro Auezov Theater). Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. Huge collection spanning Oriental, Russian and Kazakh arts. The Stakhanovite scenes from Stalin's era are fascinating. 300 tenge.
- 8 Central State Museum (Центральный государственный музей РК), Prospekt Nazarbaeva (formerly Furmanov) (Opposite Presidential Palace, Metro 'Abay'), ☏ . W-M 09:30-17:30. Blue-roofed. Features displays on Kazakh history, from prehistoric times through the Mongol periods to the present. Guided tours in English (and other languages) are available if you call the museum ahead of time to reserve. Adult 500 tenge.
- 9 Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments (Республиканский музей музыкальных инструментов им. Ыкыласа.), Zenkov St (South of Gogol near Heroes Memorial Park). Tu-Su 10:00-19:00. Small museum with fine traditional facade; exhibits have descriptions in Kazakh, Russian and English. 500 tenge.
- 10 Railway Museum (Алматинский железнодорожный музей.), Nazarbaeyev 127 (Metro Almaly). Small museum about the railways in Kazakhstan.
- 11 M. Auezov Literature Memorial House (Дом-музей писателя М. Ауэзова), Tulebaev street 187 (Opposite Abay metro). Daily 10:00-17:00. Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961) was a distinguished Soviet / Kazakh playwright and novelist; he lived here for his last ten years. Atmospheric, but you'll need decent Russian to glean much. He's also commemorated further down the boulevard by the Auezov Theatre. 50 Tenge.
- Heroes Memorial Park, Between Kunaev St, Gogol St, Zenkov St and Kazybek Bi St (Metro: Zhibek Zholy). Surrounding the Ascension or Zenkov Cathedral, this honors the men and women from Kazakhstan who died on the battlefields of WWII against the Nazis. There is an eternal flame by the war memorial where schoolchildren put flowers on the last day of school, and newlyweds have their photos taken there. Melodic singing descants from within the dolls' house cathedral.
- 12 Presidential Palace, Furmanov St (ул. Фурманова), 205. You will not be allowed to go inside. Nonetheless, the scenery and architecture is breathtaking. If the guards are out front, it means the president is there.
- 13 Republic Square (New Square, пл. Республики). Former administrative center. Since the capital was moved to Astana, this square has been renovated. TV stations occupy some buildings. There are flower gardens. There is also a Kazakh memorial, consisting of a tall statue of the golden boy, an early Kazakh figure, whose name is Altyn Adam, and circled by metal bas relief panels recounting the history of Kazakhstan, from the time of the fierce Amazon-like queen, to independence 10 years ago.
- 1 Arasan Baths, Kunaev St 75. Tu-Su 08:00 - 24:00. A large public bathing complex with a magnificent Samarkand style domed pool. The perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing. Due to its cold and windy conditions, visiting saunas with friends is very popular in Kazakhstan. Saunas (Russian "banyas") are an excellent place to discuss business issues or just socialize with friends. Having parties (birthdays, New Year, etc.) in saunas is normal practice. In fact many modern saunas in Almaty are fully equipped with karaoke, billiards, swimming pools, relax rooms, massage rooms, etc.
- 2 Kazakhstan English Language Theater, Ave Abay 2 or 30? (on the campus of KIMEP Institute in the heart of Almaty, Moscow Subway Station a couple meters away), ✉ email@example.com. Started in 2001, the Kazakhstan English Language Theater (KELT) is the only English language theater in former Soviet Central Asia. KELT does two shows a year, and runs English language theater classes and workshops periodically throughout the year.
- 3 Cable car to Kok-Tobe, fare 1000 tenge each way. The base station is by the corner of Abay and Dostyk. Nice views over the city & bosky burbs and towards the mountains. At the top station there's The Grill restaurant (good beer and shashliks, but you're paying for the view) and cafes. The top area is a kids' amusement park and "zoo", donkeys and hens being among the exotica. So it feels more like Sunday in the park than truly away from it all, and it's not a stepping stone into the mountains - Kok-Tobe hill stands apart from the main range, and the top is fenced in so you can't go off exploring.
- Film Festival: is in mid-Sept, the next is expected to be 12-18 Sept 2020 but tbc. There is also a separate Indie film festival, next held on 5-8 Aug 2020.
- Watch football ie soccer at FC Kairat, who play in the Premier League, the top tier of football in Kazakhstan. Their home ground is Central Stadium, capacity 24,000, on Abay Ave (Metro Baikonur / Stadion).
- Route P22 (Dulati Street, becomes Svezhest St) runs south up the valley of River Bolshaya Almatinka. Along this route are Kok-Tobe, Tau Spa Centre, Alma-Arasan and Big Almaty Lake:
- Tau Spa. Relax at this mountain spa, worth a visit summer or winter. Try the plunge pool at -15 degrees C!
- 4 Big Almaty Lake is a scenic lake at 2510 m altitude, surrounded by high mountains. It glistens like a mirror, changing colour with the season (a deep turquoise in autumn), and freezing in winter. Towering over it to the south east is Soviet Peak (4317 m), to the south Ozerniy (4110 m), and to the southwest Tourist Peak (3954 m). Great for hiking and climbing. Getting here and back is obviously easiest by car, otherwise:
- Bus 28 runs from the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi up Dulati St and ends at the last left turn before Alma-Arasan. Taxis here will take you to within 4 km of the lake for around 2000 tenge. Otherwise it's a 15 km hike and 1000 m rise of altitude: think about the weather and the coming back. Follow the road about 8 km until you reach a big water pipe, and then follow the steep trail next to the water pipe.
- Or take a taxi all the way from Al-Farabi and Navoi.
- Dostyk Ave south becomes Gornaya St which climbs the valley of River Pravy Esentai. Along this valley are Medeu Ice Rink, Ile-Alatau National Park, and Chimbulak Ski resort. A bus runs up to Chimbulak from the corner of Satpaev and Baitursynuly daily at 08:00.
- 5 Medeu Ice Skating (Take Bus 6 in front of Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk Ave every 20 min). The world's highest Olympic-sized ice stadium. More than 180 world records were made on this ice. Fun to visit in winter. Skate rentals are available. Tipsy teenagers teeter across the ice, coloured lights and loud pop music create a slightly surreal, but fun ambience. There is also a large mountain-water swimming pool just below the ice rink, open in summer. The water is extremely invigorating, about 15°C.
- Ski & Snowboard at Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak and Tabagan ski resorts, open Nov-April, lifts closed Tuesday. And hike anytime, beyond the resort up to the dam and then the glacier: tough but beautiful.
- Handmade carpets
- Felted goods. Handmade dolls, rugs, and slippers made with boiled lamb's wool and natural dyes
- Handcrafted metal jewelry, including a "tumar", which is a pendant that opens like a locket
- Handcrafted leather chess sets in a leather folding case with a board pattern stitched on. In most souvenir shops, and on ground floor of Silk Way (Zhybek Zholy and Furmanova).
Markets and shopsEdit
- 1 Arbat (Zhybek-Zholy "Silk Road"). Almaty's artists' row on a tree-lined pedestrian street. "Arbat" is a nickname of the street. On the same street you can visit the big mall - TsUM (in Russian - ЦУМ - Центральный Универсальный Магазин). At the east end of this pedestrian street there is the Silk Way Mall. Here you can find Wi-Fi Internet access at Cafemax on the second level (500 tenge for 100 min) and a selection of upscale shops. Most of these shops are imitations of Western chain stores such as Zara. They also imitate Western prices.
- Barakholka. Cheap shopping at a large vendor-style market, find name brands (knock-offs) for cheap. You can find virtually anything there, and if the price isn't right, you can easily haggle with the merchants. You want to find a US$300 winter coat for about US$45? It's possible. Be wary of pick-pocketing.
- 2 Green Market (Zelyoni Bazaar), Zenkov Street (M: Zhibek Zholy (Жибек Жолы)). Extensive market in a big lime-green concrete building. Fresh vegetables, dairy products, and meat, as well as clothing and other non-food household items. Fruit and vegetables are on the lower level. On the upper level you will find dried fruits, nuts, spices, honey and plants, as well as cheese and meat - you'll smell the meat counters long before you see them. Seasonal prices, relatively expensive by Central Asia standards, and don't plan on taking food items home or across any other border. And beware pickpockets!
Almaty has many modern supermarkets, offering everything from a bakery section to toiletries and vodka. Any food you could possibly want to find is readily available. There are four major supermarket chains: Ramstore, SM-Market, Gros, and City. And plenty of single supermarkets and small local grocery shops. The chain called "Gros" has convenient locations around town and a good selection of drinks and snacks. Ramstore also has at least three locations, but is a bit pricier. The favorite stores among locals are Stolichni (Ablai Khan and Kabanbai Batyr). Super helpful staff and decent fruits and vegetables year around, but vegetable prices are very expensive. Dastarkhan (Gogolya St between Ablai Khan and Furmanova) has excellent baked goods, especially cakes and cookies.
- 3 Ramstore Atrium Supermarket Trade Center (Рамстор Атриум), Ul. Raiymbek Nauryzbai Batyr (Райымбек даңғылы) (Metro: Raiymbek batyr), ☏ , fax: . Daily 09:00-23:00. International retail store chain.
- 4 Passage Shopping Center (M: Zhibek Zholy (Жибек Жолы)).
- 5 Tsum Shopping Center (Centralniy Universalniy Magasin), Abylai Khan Avenue (M: Zhibek Zholy (Жибек Жолы)). Every post-Soviet town has this department store. It's filled with hundreds of identical little counters selling electronic goods on the first floor, and souvenirs and clothes can be found on the second. There is a good selection of souvenirs. One Saturday a month, there is an ad hoc market on Ablai Khan across from the Tsum. Craftsmen from all over come and sell their wares. It's worth checking out.
Cheap Kazakh restaurants are all over the place, selling shashlik, soup, salad and others. Fast food places are also everywhere - the local favourite is hamburgers, with sliced kebab meat on a hamburger bun with pickles and garlic sauce.
- Alasha, 20 Ostpanova. Daily 12:00-00:00. Uzbeki restaurant. Brace yourself for being sung at, danced at, and horse meat.
- China Town (formerly Turandot), Mametova 47 (corner with Abylai Khan). Daily 10:00-00:00. A very cheap and very tasty Chinese eatery. Servings are huge, so don't go overboard. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from, including tofu dishes. Second location on Abay avenue still called Turandot. Opposite Lenore Pub.
- 1 Ciao Pizza, Tole Bi Street 92 / 543 (Next to Kazakh National Medical University). Daily 11:00-00:00. How would the city's young doctors survive without pizza?
- Crudo Steakhouse, Abaya 17. Daily 12:00-00:00. Steakhouse, mixed reviews on food quality & value for money.
- Gakku, 7 Nikitina St (Between Nauryzbay Batyr St and Seyfullin Ave). Daily 09:00-00:00. One of the best restaurants serving Kazakh national food for reasonable prices. Try "beshparmak", "kuyrdak" and other traditional dishes.
- Korea, Baitursynov St 141 (off Satpaev St). M-F 11:00-00:00. May have moved, no recent reviews. Five other Korean restaurants within ten mins walk.
- Mama Mia's, Gogol St (between Ablai Khan and Panfilova: Metro Zhibek Zholy). Daily 10:00-00:00. Pizza restaurant, but with a large assortment of fresh salads - a good place to go when you tire of carrots and potatoes in winter. Has a small, separate non-smoking section. On a fine day, order pizza to go, get soda & pastries at Dastarkhan opposite, then eat in Panfilov Park 300 m east.
- Namaste, Satpaeva 30 / 3a (behind Kateyev Museum off Shagabuldinov). One of the more popular Indian restaurants. Service is very slow, but if you have time the food is pretty good.
- Pirosmani, 32 Ablai Khan (One block south of Rayimbek). Daily 10:00-00:00. Georgian restaurant. Features khachapuri, cheese-filled bread, eggplant stuffed with nuts, spinach with nuts, and various savoury kebabs. Good vegetarian options.
- Princess, 53 Tulebayeva (Corner of Gogolya, near Panfilov Park). Daily 12:00-00:00. Popular Chinese restaurant.
- Soho, Kazybek Bi 65 / 107. M-Th 12:00-02:00, F 12:00-04:00, Sa 14:00-02:00. Lunch is a buffet with a nice assortment of breads, soups, salads, and main dishes called a "business lunch" at a reasonable fixed price. Evenings have live music and reasonable drink prices. No entrance fee during the week. Soho is a great place for a single businessman. It is not a very classy joint and is usually packed with Almaty's working women. They have one of the best bands in Almaty and they sing in English. Some of their covers are better than the originals. It's a must-see event. Try making a booking to avoid having to stand at the bar.
- Tandoor, Tole bi 102. Daily 11:00-00:00. Good-value Indian food.
- Tyubeteika, 32 Satpaeva. Daily 12:00-00:00. Uzbeki restaurant, gets good reviews.
- Ultra's, 27a Satpaev (between Baitursynuly St & Seifullin Ave). Fun restaurant with its own microbrewery on site. It is one of the Staut chain. The restaurant has an excellent array of beer, albeit a little costly.
- Venezia, 87a Dostyk Ave (between Satpaeva and Abaya). 24 / 7. Four pages of choices. The pizza has very good thin crust. The restaurant has two rooms.
- Zheti Qazyna, 88 Makataev (corner with Ablai Khan Ave). The restaurant with three kitchens: Uzbek, Chinese, European. The Uzbek room has wonderful wood decorations, blue-tiled kitchen you can see into.
- Barmaglot Bar, 3 Satpaev Ave, ☏ . Tu-Su 17:00-03:00. For evening drinks.
- Resto Bar 111, Samal-2, Dostyk Ave, ☏ . Daily 12:00-01:00. Gastro-pub, mixed reviews.
- The Monkey, Dostyk Ave 192/2, 12th floor of business center. Daily 12:00-02:00. Lounge bar & restaurant.
- Hotel Tranzit, 12 Zheltoksan St (just outside Almaty-2 railway station), ☏ . Convenient budget choice with a/c. Doubles from US$24, cash only.
- Hotel Turkestan, 49 Makataev St (Corner of Almaatinskaya St opposite the Green market), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Decent budget choice. Double from US$20.
- 1 "European" backpackers hostel, Luganskiy St 59, Almaty 050000. Small hostel with 14 beds (3 double rooms and an 8-bed dormitory) featuring a small garden. Dorm beds 3,000 tenge, doubles 8,000 tenge.
- Ata Hotel, 105 Dostyk Ave (West edge of city, 1 km south of metro Abay), ☏ . Edge-of-town hotel & business centre.
- 2 Astra Hotel, 12 Zheltoksan St (near Almaty-2 train station), ☏ . Mid-range business hotel, a bit worn and thin-walled, but clean, friendly & very convenient for railway station and much cheaper than the international chains. Single B&B from US$50.
- Grand Aiser, 1 Pozharskogo St (By Central Stadium, metro Baikonur), ☏ . 3-star, mostly positive reviews. B&B double from US$60.
- Hotel Almaty, 85 Kabanbai Batyr St (Metro Almaty), ☏ . Central 3-star, generally positive reviews. B&B double from US$70.
- Hotel Ambassador, 121 Zheltoksan St, ☏ , fax: . Central 3-star, needs repair, creaky and smelly. B&B double from US$40.
- Hotel Berkana, 83 Aiteke Bi St (corner of Tchaikovsky St), ☏ . Central 3-star. B&B double from US$50.
- Kazakhstan Hotel, 52 Dostyk Ave (west of centre, metro Abay), ☏ . 4-star in 1977 Soviet block, mixed reviews. B&B double from US$45.
- 3 Hotel Kazzhol Almaty, 127/1 Gogol St (Metro Zhibek Zholy (Жибек Жолы)), ☏ . Comfy 4-star with restaurant & indoor pool. B&B double from US$60.
- Mercure, 53 Abylai Khan. Chain hotel, central, oasis of calm clean efficiency. B&B singles from US$80.
- 4 Holiday Inn Almaty, 2d Timiryazev St (Metro Baikonur). Good international hotel next to the government sector. B&B double from US$100.
- Hotel Dostyk, 36 Kurmankazy St (metro Abay), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Big, old, and well-maintained hotel in the center of the city. B&B double from US$100.
- 5 Intercontinental Almaty, 181 Zheltoksan St (Metro Baikonur), ☏ . Luxury hotel with 4 restaurants and indoor pool. B&B doubles from US$200.
- Rahat Palace Hotel (formerly Hyatt), 29/6 Satbaev Ave (metro Alatau), ☏ . 5-star hotel with a decent health club. B&B doubles from US$110.
- Rixos Hotel Almaty, Spara Seyfullina 506/99. 5 star, central. B&B doubles from US$180.
- Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty, 164 Nazarbayev Ave (formerly Furmanov St) (central, metro Abay), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Modern 4-star hotel. B&B doubles from US$85.
- Ritz-Carlton, Esentai Tower, 77/7 Al Farabi Avenue, Almaty, 050040 (southeast edge of city off ring-road), ☏ . Plush 5 star, 3 restaurants, spa & pool. B&B doubles from US$150.
Free wifi is common in hotels but it may be unreliable. Some bars and restaurants offer free wifi.
- Internet (Corner of Baytursnuly & Karasay Batyr, near the OVIR). Eight computers and a telephone service but you can't use USB devices. 240 tenge/hr.
- Internet (In the underpass of Zhibek Zholy & Tolebaev, near the Silk Way Mall). 240 tenge/hr.
- Supermarket, Samal-3 micro-district, Online Club (Silk Way City). There is free Wi-Fi inside the supermarket. Best signal is on second floor in the middle.
Stands selling pre-paid SIM cards are ubiquitous and fairly inexpensive. There is one at the airport. You can easily get internet and phone access for a month for 1,500-3,000 tenge.
Almaty enjoys a relatively low crime rate and is, generally, a safe place to travel. Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth hit the streets to get drunk, and in some unfortunate cases, look for trouble. You should abstain from any arguments with locals; otherwise you may end up in the hospital. Kazakh people are extremely friendly and welcoming towards foreigners and nothing should happen to you unless you really want it yourself. Never go to places which you don't trust or don't know about, unless you have a local person with you to help out with the language. Racism is a generally of very minor concern although the average visitor is highly unlikely to encounter any problems. You must be always respectful to the country and locals. In this case, you will feel comfortable with anyone.
Central streets such as Furmanov, Abay, Zheltoksan, Dostyk, and Abylay Khan are strictly regulated and constantly monitored by police officers. Video cameras are installed on 70% of city crossroads. There are some Kazakh drivers who reveal their aggressiveness on the roads. Therefore, it is always best to take great care when crossing the roads.
In the event of an emergency, call:
- 101 Fire
- 102 Police
- 103 Ambulance
- 104 Gas Service
- 112 Emergency rescue
Very few western visitors nowadays need to register upon arrival, and for those who do, your hotel will usually sort it for you. But a few will have to attend OVIR in person, e.g. if you hope to stay longer than 30 days.
2 OVIR (Migration Police) (Corner of Baytursynov & Karasay Batyr St), ☏ . M–F 09:00–18:00, Sa 09:00–13:00, Passport collection: 17:00–19:00. Enter the side door through the blue porch and go to Window 3. The building is marked "Migration Police" on Google Maps. You need photocopies of your passport photo-page and your Kazakh visas as well as your accommodation's address. You can drop off your passport (copies not accepted, nor letters from embassies confirming that they are holding your passport) with these documents in the morning, and they will ask you to return later in the day to pick it up.
- China, 12 Baitasov St (east end of Satpaev), ☏ , fax: . M, W, F, 09:00-12:00. Will only accept visa requests from citizens or residents of Kazakhstan, ie those with a work, student, or residence visa. Non-residents might be able to apply through some of the nearby travel agents, but don't count on it. An urgent visa, issued in 4 days, costs US$ 80.
- India, 115 Kazyibek Bi (between Seyfullin & Nauryzbai Batyr), ☏ , . M-F 10:00-15:00.
- United States, Zholdasbekov Street (Between Nazarbayev and Dostyk). M-F 09:00-18:00.
- Uzbekistan, 360 Zhakarov St, ☏ . This looks to be in the throes of closing down (and there's no longer an embassy on Barybayeva), as most visitors to Uzbekistan no longer need visas. Hours, prices & procedures all seem makeshift, best phone ahead to check they're still there.
- Almaty also has embassies or consulates (as of Oct 2019) for Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, Switzerland, Tajikstan, Thailand, and United Kingdom. It's not known what services these nowadays provide, since the capital has moved to Nur-Sultan.
- Winter sports & hiking around nearby Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak and Tabagan ski resorts; an easy day-trip.
- Sharyn Canyon (Шарын шатқалы, Шарын каньоны): Canyon 80 km long and as much as 300 m deep, eroded into fantastical shapes, especially along the 3 km stretch known as "Valley of the Castles". It's 200 km east of Almaty towards the Chinese border (follow A351) and often done as a day-trip, but longer tours of the area are recommended. Not far from the "Singing Dunes".
- Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) is the new showcase capital, and while Almaty feels like a Russian city, Nur-Sultan has more of a mixture of cultures.
- Lake Balkhash is along the road between Almaty and Nur-Sultan, so you could break the long journey here. Balkhash village (12 hours by bus) has a few hotels. The lake is salty west of here, but fresh to the east where the river flows in from China. It's the closest you'll get to beach action in this very land-locked country.
- Bishkek the capital of Kyrgyzstan is a 4-5 hr drive. From there see Lake Issyk-Kul.
- Tamgaly Petroglyphs ("Temple of The Sun"): This UNESCO site is 2-3 hours away by car (170 km west, 30 km past Copa off the road to Bishkek). The petroglyphs range from ancient (3,000 years) to "modern" (75 years), and feature pictures of the Sunman and hunting nomad tribes. There are also several grave sites. Watch out for snakes when it's hot.
- Turgen Gorge. In the national preserve or Ile-Alatau, 90 km east of Almaty. The gorge is some 44 m deep, with hot springs, waterfalls, and forests: these include the last stands of Chim-Turgen moss fir woods that once carpeted the area.
- Kolsai Lakes. Beautiful lakes 250 km east of Almaty. The first lake can be reached by car, to see the other lakes you have to hire a horse. You can stay overnight in a small two storey house for about 2,000–5,000 tenge per night. The lake water is fresh, clean and drinkable.
- Urumqi in China can be reached by train once or twice a week.