Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan and located in the Southeast of the country close to China and Kyrgyzstan. Although Nur-Sultan (nee Astana) is now the administrative and business hub, Almaty remains the beating heart of Kazakhstan and this cosmopolitan Silk Road city has everything to offer.
About 10% of Kazakhstan is on the European side of the Ural Mountains. The other 90% is in Asia. That is why most consider Kazakhstan to be in Asia.
In summer Almaty dazzles under the hot Central Asian sun and hiking in the nearby Tian Shan mountains is a must. In winter, the world-class ski resort at Shymbulak and high altitude ice rink offer plenty of entertainment for all the family.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world.
A Perfect Day in Almaty, Kazakhstan
So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the perfect way to spend a day in Almaty!
For a healthy breakfast head to the Zelyony (Green) Bazaar and marvel at the brightly colored displays of fruit, nuts, spices, and meats on offer. The bazaar will give you a real taste of the Silk Road as traders chatter while locals search out the freshest produce.
Paniflov Park and Zhenkov Cathedral
From the Bazaar on Zenkov Street it’s a 5-minute walk south to nearby Paniflov Park where you can marvel at Zhenkov Cathedral; the bright blue and yellow Orthodox Church that highlights Kazakhstan’s past as part of the Soviet Union.
Another remnant from those times is the nearby war memorial and eternal flame honoring Kazakhstan’s contribution to the Great Patriotic War (World War II as we know it in the west).
You can enjoy a coffee at one of the many street-side café’s as you continue on along Gogol towards Zhibek Zholy; the “Arbat” style pedestrian street which is lined with souvenir stands, craft stalls and paintings by local artists.
Kazakhstan Independence Monument
From Zhibek Zholy take the metro 2 stops to Abay (80 Tenge single fare) from where you can explore the nearby Monument of Kazakhstan’s Independence. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants on every street so choose one that looks suitable. Coffee Inn on the corner of Abay and Batyrsurnov serves a selection of traditional Kazakh and western foods (the shashlik is great, but hold off until the evening as I will tell you where to get the best!).
Medeu & the Mountains
After lunch, it’s time for a trip into the mountains. One of the most perfect things about Almaty is that you can be in the mountains high above the city after just a 30-minute bus ride! Walk to the bus stop opposite Hotel Kazakhstan on the corner of Dostyk Street and Abay. Here, wait for the number 12 bus that comes every 25 minutes (150 Tenge) and get on until the final stop.
Medeu is home to the world’s highest ice rink where you can skate in winter or try one of the many activities like go-karting that they put on in the summer months. There is some great hiking around Medeu and it doesn’t take long to escape the crowds and experience the wilderness.
Shymbulak Ski Resort
From Medeu you can also take the cable car to the ski resort higher up the mountain at Shymbulak, and from there you can continue up to 3,600 meters by ski lift for excellent views across the Tian Shan and down to Almaty. Be advised that even in summer it can get very cold up there with wind and snow, so make sure to bring warm layers if you want to go to the top.
Be sure to be back at Medeu for the last bus (18:30 in winter and 19:30 in summer) but it’s best to take an earlier one to avoid the crowds. I would suggest leaving at around 5pm in summer so you don’t miss the incredible sunset from our next destination.
The bus will terminate back on Dostyk Street right next to the cable car that goes up to Kok Tobe Mountain, the highest point within the city (1,100 meters). Kok Tobe is an amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, climbing wall, arcade games, and other attractions.
The best thing about Kok Tobe is the Grill Bar hidden at the back with its large terrace overlooking the city. The food is excellent, the beer cheap, but the sunset is to die for!
The cable car runs until midnight so you can enjoy your meal and a stroll around the park before heading back down to your hotel.
Almaty Weather: When is the best time to visit?
Almaty is an excellent destination year-round, but that very much depends on you. If you enjoy winter sports then Almaty is perfect as it is home to Central Asia’s largest ski resort. If you prefer hiking, then spring, summer, and autumn are a great time to visit.
As far as weather in Almaty; April is the wettest month and snow tends to fall during the month of December.
You Must Try in Almaty:
• Shashlik (grilled meat on skewers, usually horse, lamb or chicken, served with raw onions, dill and bread). Shashlik is a staple across Central Asia, but in Almaty, they have it down to a fine art. Head to Koke Tobe Bar & Grill for the best in the city!
You Can’t Miss in Almaty:
• Medeu Ice Rink, the highest in the world at 1,691 meters. In winter you can skate or in summer you can watch a show, try go-karting or one of the many activities that is hosted in this unique destination.
Fun Facts about Almaty:
• Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997 when it moved to Astana (now called Nur-Sultan after the former President).
• Alma Ata (Almaty’s original name) means “Father of Apples” and it is here that the humble fruit originates from.
• Almaty was a stop on the ancient Silk Road where traders would rest on their journey between China and Europe.
• Because of Almaty’s slope towards the mountains, when giving directions locals use up and down rather than north or south.
• Almaty Kazakhstan is home to Central Asia’s only ski resort.
Where to stay: Almaty Hotels
Budget: Sky Hostel, Kurmangazy Street. A wonderful and friendly hostel that has a large roof terrace offering stunning views of the city and mountains.
Mid Range: Hotel Astana, Batysurnov Street. Comfortable and affordable hotel with clean, but dated rooms and balcony.
Luxury: Hotel Kazshol, Gogol Street. Excellent hotel with one of the best breakfasts in town and free gym and pool for guests.
Almaty Airport Info
Almaty International Airport is the largest international airport in Kazakhstan. It is about 15 km northeast of Almaty. At the moment there are no airlines that fly directly to the Almaty Airport from the United States. For the most up to date flights and prices check SkyScanner or Google Flights.
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Almaty Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
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Stephen Anthony Rohan is an English teacher originally from England but currently working and living in China. He writes for the travel blog thetripgoeson.com and has traveled to over 50 countries. His interests include reading, music, art and discovering places few others dare to tread.