48 Hours In Astana, Kazakhstan

48 Hours In Astana, Kazakhstan

Contrary to the popular Sasha Baron Cohen film Borat, Kazakhstan is an exceptionally beautiful and culturally vibrant place—and at the heart of this shamefully unheralded country lies the glimmering capital city of Astana.

Until 1997, Kazakhstan’s capital was Almaty, which sits about 900 kilometers southeast of Astana. In 1997, however, the capital was changed to a city called Aqmola. Given that Aqmola translates loosely to “burial,” it was renamed Astana, which translates fittingly, if not creatively, to “capital.”

Today, Astana towers proudly in the heart of the Kazakh Steppe. Home to just over 600,000 friendly locals and a plethora of dazzling architectural marvels, the city is a well-kept secret— and a definite must-see for anyone traveling through Central Asia.

Here’s everything you need to know before checking it out for yourself.

What to do?

Perhaps the most compelling feature of Astana is its architecture. The 105-meter Bayterek observation tower, for example, which spikes skyward from the city’s core, is a can’t-miss for any visitor. The pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, which is located in Presidential Park on the eastern bank of the Ishim River, is a similarly striking sight. And then of course, there is Astana’s most famous attraction: The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre. What makes the Khan Shatyr special is not just that it houses dozens of restaurants and shops, a movie theatre, a jogging track, and even an indoor beach. The thing that makes it truly spectacular is that it’s located—get this—inside a jaw-dropping, 150-meter-tall tent.

Where to eat?

Astana is crammed to the edges with great dining options. No matter what you’re craving, you’re sure to find somewhere to gorge till your belt busts. To explore the traditional dishes of Kazakhstan and Caucasus, try Astana Nury on the waterfront, just off Republic Avenue. To sample the cuisine of nearby Uzbekistan, check out Alasha on Turan Avenue. Finally, try Al Fresco for Italian soul-food, Izumi Tay for Japanese, and Line Brew or Vaquero for a more familiar, American-style dining experience.

Where to drink?

Though Almaty remains Kazakhstan’s cultural epicentre, Astana is home to a thriving nightlife of its own. For casual drinks, try Kazbar or Chechil Pub, where you can enjoy delicious Kazakh beer and, on the weekends, some great live music. For the burgeoning oenophile, meanwhile, the place to go is ProVino Wine Bar. And finally, for a ritzier vibe, turn your attention to the expat hotspot Why Not, or to the locally-adored Chivas Lounge, where you can sample from an extensive cocktail menu between puffs of hookah smoke.

Where to shop?

In addition to the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre, Astana is home to a number of other shopping malls, including Keruen on the western bank of the Ishim, and Mega Mall, located off bustling Turan Avenue. If you’re shopping for yourself, its also worth checking out Men Style, a two-level store with a straight-to-the-point English name, where you’ll find top European brands such as Rene Lezard, Strellson, Lodenfrey, and Jacques Britt.

Where to stay?

If your budget allows for it, the place to stay in Astana is the Radisson Blu, which you’ll find perched on the north shore of the Ishim River. This modern hotel is home to a wide selection of gorgeous rooms, a range of convenient amenities, and some excellent onsite dining and drinking options. Best of all, the hotel’s central location means attractions like the Khan Shatyr and Bayterek monument are just an easy distance away.

Tags: Kazakhstan, Travel Guide

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