Located at the heart of the largest landlocked country in the world, Almaty, Kazakhstan is a city of contrasts, culture, and perseverance. If you’re on the hunt for a destination that’s a mix of the old Silk Road allure and 21st-century modernity, then buckle up.
There is no shortage of things to do in Almaty and the surrounding area. It’s a part of the world that promises a cultural journey that is both unique and fascinating. You’ll be treated to glacial lakes, snow-capped mountains, and spectacular views, too.
From dramatic landscapes to traditional Kazakh food, and everything in between, this is a destination for someone that wants more than your run-of-the-mill vacation.
This guide is extensive and dives deep into all the best Almaty attractions, activities, and restaurants, offering the ultimate itinerary for anyone who wants to experience the best of this unique destination.
We’ve spent hours putting this guide together, based on our own travels in Almaty, Kazakhstan, so that you can go, have fun, and relish the best that Almaty has to offer.
Quick Introduction to Almaty, Kazakhstan
Table of Contents
Brief History of Almaty, Kazakhstan
Almaty has ancient roots, initially founded as Almatu by the Saka tribes between the 7th and 9th centuries AD. It later became a vital part of the Silk Road, serving as a crucial trade junction.
The modern chapter of Almaty’s story began in the mid-19th century when the Russians established the fort of Verny. With the building of the TurkSib Railway in the early 20th century, the city became a critical trade hub yet again.
Fast-forward to the 20th century, the city took a Soviet turn and became part of the Soviet Union. After surviving a major earthquake in 1911, Almaty was crowned the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1929. This led to significant development.
Kazakhstan officially gained its independence in 1991 leaving the Soviet times behind. Almaty retained its capital status until 1997 when it was moved to Astana (now Nur-Sultan).
Despite this, the former capital of Kazakhstan has retained its position as the cultural heart of the country. Which is why it’s such a fascinating place to visit.
Is Almaty Worth Visiting?
All said, tourism in Almaty, and even Kazakhstan for that matter, is a new thing. The country lacks some of the infrastructure you might find in other destinations but for what it lacks, it makes up for in cultural and natural experiences.
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and it is currently going through a fascinating rebirth in its attempt to separate itself from its Soviet past. You’ll find the people putting their traditional Kazakh culture front and center while they push well into the modern world.
Unlike the other major Central Asian cities of Bishkek, Tashkent, and Ashgabat, which we’ve visited on our previous trips to this part of the world, Almaty is unique and that’s a fun thing to experience.
Is Almaty Safe?
Yes, Almaty is generally safe for travelers. Of course, common sense prevails. Avoid unlit areas late at night, keep an eye on your belongings, and maybe don’t accept drinks from strangers.
It’s always a good idea to review the Essential Safety Tips for Travel, but overall, we felt as secure wandering the streets of Almaty as in other big cities around the world.
What Languages Are Spoken in Almaty?
While the official language is Kazakh, Russian is widely spoken and understood—thanks, Soviet legacy! If you’re armed with some basic Russian phrases, you’ll navigate much easier. English is less common but not impossible to find, especially among the younger crowd and in touristy spots.
We were surprised by how many young people stopped us in the streets of Almaty to ask where we were from. Many young Kazakh people study abroad, and English is becoming a staple in their educations.
What is Almaty Known For?
Well, for starters, the city is surrounded by the magnificent Tian Shan mountains. This makes it one of the most picturesque cities we’ve ever visited. Beyond that, Almaty is famous for its green spaces, Soviet architecture, and a thriving art scene.
Additionally, Almaty is known as the apple city. The name derives from the Kazakh word for apple, alma. Some researchers believe that the apple tree originated near Almaty. This makes it the ancestral home of every Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Pink Lady you’ve ever crunched into. Even today, take a short drive out of the city and you’ll find wild apple forests everywhere.
Best Time to Visit Almaty, Kazakhstan
Your ideal time to visit depends on your seasonal preference. Winter is a snowy wonderland with skiing and snowboarding aplenty. Come summer, the mountains are your personal hiking paradise.
Fall offers a stunning palette of colors in the parks and foothills. Spring…well, let’s just say spring is when Almaty turns into a floral masterpiece. We visited Almaty during the first week of June, which would be considered late spring. The weather was perfect, both warm and dry.
How to Get to Almaty
Your gateway to Almaty is Almaty International Airport. Direct flights are available from various European and Asian cities. We flew from Duluth, MN to Chicago, IL, and then to Frankfurt, Germany before connecting directly to Almaty on Lufthansa.
I won’t sugar coat it, if you live in North America, it’s a long journey to Kazakhstan. Even from Europe, our last flight was 7 hours. Book a private airport transfer in advance to avoid jet-lagged overwhelm when you land.
How to Get Around Almaty
Public transportation is available and reliable. Buses and the metro system are easy enough to navigate. The UBER equivalent in Kazakhstan is called Yandex Go. We would recommend that you use that before hailing a taxi off the street.
While it’s possible to rent a car and explore on your own, we do not recommend this. The roads outside the city are not in great shape and the signs are few and far between. Plus, the traffic can be bad in the city, with sometimes erratic driving. It’s better to hire a driver or book day trips.
42 Best Things to Do in Almaty, Kazakhstan
1. Panfilov Park
Panfilov Park was the first stop on our Almaty city tour. It is the perfect place to introduce us to the unique Kazakh-Russian confluence that can be found around the city.
Located in the city center, this park is more than just a patch of grass. It’s a sprawling oasis that is named after the Panfilov Heroes, a group of 28 soldiers from the Red Army who reputedly halted a German tank assault during World War II.
Dominating the park is the Zenkov Cathedral, and the Eternal Flame that flickers in memory of fallen soldiers. This section of the park is flanked by a solemn war memorial.
Locals also seemed to enjoy the park for leisure. We witnessed old men engaging in intense games of chess, families picnicking under century-old trees, and street performers.
2. Zenkov Cathedral
Zenkov Cathedral, officially known as the Ascension Cathedral, is a feat of wooden architecture situated in the heart of Panfilov Park.
It is built entirely without nails and is considered one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. This Russian Orthodox cathedral showcases an impressive mastery of craftsmanship. Especially considering it’s one of the few buildings to have survived the devastating 1911 earthquake that shook Almaty.
Adorned with colorful onion domes, it makes a vivid contrast to the surrounding greenery for anyone passing by. The cathedral was designed by Andrei Zenkov, and its construction was completed in 1907 during the Tsarist era.
During the Soviet period, its religious function was stripped away, and it served as a museum and a radio tower. Today, it has been restored to its spiritual glory, holding regular services that attract both faithful and curious tourists.
Of course, we couldn’t resist paying a visit to the interior during our visit. We were pleasantly surprised to see many intricate frescoes adorning the walls and columns.
3. Almaty Museum of Folk Musical Instruments
The Almaty Museum of Folk Musical Instruments also referred to as the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments, is rich in Kazakhstan’s sonic heritage.
Housed in a charming wooden building within Panfilov Park, the museum features a vast collection. You’ll find over 1,000 musical instruments from Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.
From the dombra, a two-stringed lute that is a symbol of Kazakh culture, to more obscure instruments like the sherter and asatayak, the museum offers an auditory journey through history.
The displays are often accompanied by recordings that allow you to hear the unique sounds each instrument produces. In addition to the instruments, the museum also showcases photographs and documents. They detail the history and significance of Kazakh musical traditions.
4. Central State Museum of Kazakhstan
The Central State Museum of Kazakhstan is one of the largest museums in Central Asia. It serves as a vault for Kazakhstan’s historical, cultural, and archaeological treasures.
Established in 1931, the museum’s sprawling complex houses over 300,000 exhibits spread across multiple floors. The museum’s collection covers everything from the Bronze Age to the modern era.
Among its standout artifacts are Golden Man, a Scythian warrior’s burial suit made of more than 4,000 pieces of gold, and an extensive exhibit detailing Kazakhstan’s journey to independence from Soviet rule.
The museum is also rich in ethnographic materials, showcasing traditional Kazakh clothing, musical instruments, and crafts. Informative displays are supplemented by wall texts in Kazakh, Russian, and English, making them accessible to a wide audience.
5. Republic Square (Independence Square or New Square)
Republic Square, often referred to as Independence Square, is the main square in Almaty. It serves as the city’s political and cultural heart. Stretching over 14 hectares, it’s one of the largest public squares in Kazakhstan.
The square is anchored by a monument known as the Golden Warrior, atop a winged snow leopard. It is also surrounded by significant buildings such as the former Presidential Palace, the City Mayor’s Office, and the Kazakh-British Technical University.
The layout is well-planned, with manicured lawns, flower beds, and rows of fountains that create a photogenic backdrop for the many public events and gatherings that take place here. A giant flagpole hoisting the Kazakh flag adds a sense of grandeur and patriotism.
The square is flanked by wide avenues and is easily accessible by public transport, making it a convenient meeting point for locals and a must-visit for tourists.
6. Palace of the Republic
The Palace of the Republic is an imposing structure that serves as a multifunctional cultural venue. Built during the Soviet era, its architectural style carries distinct elements of that period, featuring grand columns and intricate detailing. The palace is located on Dostyk Avenue.
With a seating capacity of over 3000, it’s one of the largest stages in Kazakhstan, often attracting top local and international performers. The interior is equally grand, adorned with lavish decorations and a massive crystal chandelier that dominates the main hall.
7. First President’s Park
First President’s Park is a sprawling expanse of manicured greenery dedicated to Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first president post-independence. The park offers well-maintained lawns, an array of colorful flower beds, and an intricate network of walking paths.
During our visit, we admired the monumental bronze statue of Nazarbayev, surrounded by fountains and floral arrangements that sit at the center of the park. We also walked the paths of the open-air gallery, dotted with various sculptures and artworks.
Unlike older parks in the city, First President’s Park reflects modern Kazakhstan. It aims to marry the nation’s aspirations with its rich natural beauty.
8. Zhibek Zholy
Zhibek Zholy is Almaty’s main shopping street! It’s a lively epicenter of activity that captures the city’s dynamic blend of traditional and modern.
Stretching from Abylai Khan Avenue to the west, to Furmanov Street to the east, this pedestrian thoroughfare is a blend of Almaty’s cultural and commercial diversity. Which is why we found ourselves here on multiple occasions during our recent visit to Almaty!
Zhibek Zholy is lined with century-old buildings, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. It is where you’ll find locals and tourists shopping for everything from high-end international brands to traditional Kazakh handicrafts.
9. Green Bazaar
The Green Bazaar, also known as Zelyony Bazaar or the Green Market, is Almaty’s gastronomic temple. It is made up of a labyrinthine market where the city’s culinary and cultural flavors collide.
Located near the intersection of Zhibek Zholy and Pushkin Street, this marketplace is a foodie’s dream. Offering a wide array of fresh produce, spices, meats, and dairy products, you can’t miss a visit to this market. Of course, we visited during our Almaty city tour and even came back at the end of our trip!
A highlight for many is the assortment of local cheeses and the famous kumis. This is a fermented mare’s milk that’s a staple in the Kazakh diet! There are also several displays of horse meat, a Kazakh delicacy, prepared in just about any way you can imagine. And yes, we tried it!
Hygiene standards vary from stall to stall, so it’s wise to look for vendors who seem attentive to cleanliness. The vendors are often multilingual, switching effortlessly between Kazakh, Russian, and sometimes even English, and are eager to offer samples.
10. Arasan Baths
Arsan Baths is also situated just off Zhibek Zholy Street and is an institution in Almaty. It offers a unique blend of wellness traditions from Russian banya to Turkish hammams. Built during the early 20th century, this historic bathhouse has retained its original ornate décor, featuring high ceilings, intricate tilework, and wooden benches.
The atmosphere inside is one of timeless luxury, echoing the cultural uniqueness that defines Kazakhstan. The baths are segregated by gender and offer different temperature zones designed to induce varying degrees of perspiration and relaxation.
Traditional treatments like the venik (a bundle of leafy birch or oak twigs used to improve circulation) are popular here. They also offer more modern spa services like massages and facials. Locals frequent the baths not just for hygiene, but as a form of social gathering.
11. Almaty Metro
The Almaty Metro was inaugurated in December 2011 and is Kazakhstan’s first and only metro system. This underground marvel is not only functional but also aesthetically striking.
Each of the nine stations showcases a unique design that pays homage to various aspects of Kazakh culture and history. The use of local marble, intricate mosaics, and chandeliers make each station look more like a mini palace than a transit point.
With cars that run approximately every 10 minutes, the metro connects key areas of the city. It’s clean, efficient, and remarkably punctual, operating from around 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.
Signs and announcements are typically in Kazakh and Russian, but the system is straightforward enough for visitors to navigate. Tickets are incredibly affordable, with token-based entry and contactless card options making it accessible for both locals and tourists.
While it might not cover the entire city yet, the Almaty Metro is a vital part of the public transport network. Plans for expansion are ongoing, aiming to make it an even more integral part of Almaty’s urban landscape.
12. Almaty Central Mosque
The Almaty Central Mosque was completed in 1999 and is one of the largest mosques in Kazakhstan. It serves as a religious and architectural landmark in the city. Even from a distance, this is an impressive building that you shouldn’t miss.
The structure is primarily built from white marble imported from Turkey. The interior is adorned with wooden carvings and Kazakh ornaments that pay tribute to the nation’s Islamic heritage. The mosque serves as a center for religious, educational, and community activities, offering daily prayers, religious classes, and social events.
Non-Muslim visitors are welcome outside of prayer times, although respectful attire is required. This means long sleeves and pants for men and head coverings for women.
13. Almaty Botanical Garden
The Almaty Botanical Garden is a 108-hectare sanctuary of natural beauty situated in the northeastern part of the city. More than just a collection of plants, this botanical garden is a scientific institution. It boasts over 5,000 species of trees, shrubs, and flowers, both native and exotic.
The grounds are meticulously segmented into various thematic zones, such as the rose garden, and the Japanese garden. It’s also a fantastic place for birdwatchers as 65 bird species call this green expanse home.
14. Abai Opera House
The Abai Opera House, formally known as the Abai Kazakh State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, is one of the crown jewels in Almaty’s cultural scene.
The building is a blend of Neoclassical and Baroque architectural styles. It features ornate columns, chandeliers, and intricate moldings that set the stage for a night of high art. The interior is decorated with plush red velvet seating, gilded accents, and a ceiling adorned with a captivating fresco.
Acoustically, the hall is designed to offer a top-notch auditory experience, making the most of every musical note. We didn’t have time to go inside the Abai Opera House but admired the building from the outside.
15. Try Kazakhstan Chocolate
Kazakhstan’s chocolate scene is a hidden gem often overshadowed by its more famed Russian and European counterparts. Local brands like Rakhat have carved out a niche for themselves with quality products that often incorporate unique regional flavors.
You can get chocolate everywhere in Almaty. We even paid a visit to the Rakhat chocolate factory that is just down the street from the Green Bazaar. It was delicious!
What makes it worth a stop? Well, Kazakhstan chocolate typically features a higher cocoa content, making it richer and less sweet compared to many Western chocolates.
Some of the local favorites include chocolate with traditional Kazakh ingredients like kumis and shubat (fermented camel’s milk). These unique additions give the chocolate a slightly tangy note, setting it apart from typical chocolate offerings.
16. Eat Traditional Kazak Food
Traditional Kazakh cuisine is a robust blend of meat-heavy dishes, doughy delights and unique dairy products. Every dish is deeply influenced by the country’s nomadic past. This makes the culinary experience a journey of its own and is one of the reasons we loved visiting Almaty!
Beshbarmak reigns as the pillar national dish, featuring boiled meat, usually lamb or beef, layered over flat pasta-like sheets and soaked in a savory onion broth. Another meaty mainstay is kuyrdak, a sautéed mix of offal, potatoes, and spices.
Shashlik, skewered and grilled meat, can be found everywhere. On the noodle front, Lagman is a dish of thick hand-pulled noodles, meat, and vegetables in a spiced broth, that brings a burst of flavor. Manti, steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables, is often served with sour cream or a dollop of butter. Lagman and manti are both our personal favorites!
Not to forget dairy, as kumis (fermented mare’s milk) and shubat (fermented camel’s milk) are considered both tasty and medicinal. Last but not least, baursak, deep-fried dough balls, offer a satisfying end to a hearty meal. We ate far more of these than I care to admit!
It’s very easy to eat all of these local dishes at restaurants around Almaty. To learn more about the history of Kazakh food, we’d recommend you take a walking food tour in Almaty.
17. Be brave and Try the Horse Meat
Horse meat holds a special place in the culinary traditions of Kazakhstan. Its use traces back to the country’s nomadic heritage. Horse meat is prized for its rich, slightly sweet flavor and tender texture. It often features in special occasion dishes.
One of the most renowned horse meat delicacies is kazy, a type of sausage made from the animal’s rib meat. It is seasoned with spices, and stuffed into natural casings. It is then typically boiled and smoked or dried.
Another popular item is zhal, which is the fatty meat from the neck and hump of the horse. It is enjoyed for its richness. Horse meat is also commonly used in beshbarmak, Kazakhstan’s national dish. In this dish, it is boiled and served over pasta-like sheets with a savory broth.
Consuming horse meat is not just about flavor but is deeply entwined with Kazakh culture and tradition. As a lifetime horse person, I have conflicting feelings about eating horse meat. But I did it out of respect for the culture and honestly, it wasn’t bad. Am I adding it to my daily diet, no, but it was worth the experience!
18. Almaty Central Park
Almaty Central Park, also known locally as Gorky Park, is an oasis of green in the heart of the city. Founded in 1856, this sprawling 100-hectare park is one of the oldest and largest in Almaty. It features tree-lined avenues, manicured lawns, and multiple ponds.
The park is designed for leisure and recreation, featuring a range of amenities like paddleboat rentals, amusement rides, and bridges.
19. Kok Tobe Hill
Kok Tobe Hill is a mountain in the Tian Shan range, towering over Almaty. The hill offers some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city below. This popular tourist spot sits at an elevation of about 1,100 meters.
Once you reach the summit, you’re greeted with various attractions. This includes a mini-zoo and amusement park to an assortment of cafes and souvenir shops. There’s even a Ferris wheel. The main attraction, though, is the view. It is so good that it kept us at the top for a solid hour during our visit!
We also had fun searching for the bronze statue of The Beatles. Almaty claims it is the only monument of all four Beatles together in the world. During our visit, we also walked along the walking paths taking in the various attractions, rides, booths, and shops.
20. Almaty Tower
Almaty Tower, locally known as Kok Tobe TV Tower, stands as a prominent landmark on Kok Tobe Mountain. With a height of 372 meters (1,220 feet), it’s one of the tallest free-standing tubular steel structures in the world.
Unfortunately, the tower is not open to the public. However, its unique design, featuring a cylindrical shaft and a crowning sphere, makes it instantly recognizable and a point of reference for navigating the city.
21. Museum of Kazakh Academic Drama Theater
The Museum of Kazakh Academic Drama Theater in Almaty is an institution that pays homage to the rich history of Kazakh drama and theatrical arts. It is located within the building of the Academic Drama Theater. The museum showcases an impressive collection of costumes, props, scripts, and photographs that chart the evolution of Kazakh theater.
Visitors can delve into the lives and contributions of iconic figures in Kazakh drama, notably Mukhtar Auezov, after whom the theater is named. The museum provides a compelling narrative through its exhibits, using multimedia displays and occasional live reenactments to enrich the visitor experience.
22. Astana Square
Astana Square is another significant public space, though smaller and less grand than Republic Square. It is situated in the city’s center, and was formerly known as Red Square. A statue of Vladimir Lenin once sat at the center of the park.
Today that statue has been replaced by several other important statues. Additionally, the square sits opposite the Almaty Kazakh-British Technical University.
23. Al-Farabi Kazakh National University
Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, often abbreviated as KazNU, is a prestigious institution of higher education located in Almaty. It is one of the oldest universities in Kazakhstan. It was founded in 1934 and features a sprawling 100 hectares campus.
Named after the medieval philosopher Al-Farabi, the university places a strong emphasis on science and humanities. It boasts state-of-the-art laboratories, libraries, and research centers.
For anyone interested in academic life in Kazakhstan, a visit to the campus—with its blend of Soviet-era and modern architecture—provides valuable insights into the country’s educational landscape.
24. Kazakhstan Museum of Arts
The Kazakhstan Museum of Arts, also known as the A. Kasteyev State Museum of Arts is the largest art museum in Kazakhstan. It serves as a comprehensive archive of both Kazakh and international art. It was established in 1935 and houses over 25,000 items, including paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and modern installations.
A significant portion is dedicated to the works of Kazakh artists. Many pieces blend traditional Kazakh motifs with contemporary styles. All explanatory plaques are displayed in both Kazakh and English.
Best Day Trips from Almaty, Kazakhstan
25. Medeu Skating Rink
Medeu is an outdoor speed skating and bandy rink on the outskirts of Almaty, about 1,691 meters above sea level. Known as the highest skating rink in the world, it spans 10.5 hectares and can host up to 30,000 visitors.
It was built in 1949, with many renovations, and has hosted numerous international competitions. The unique combination of mild winter temperatures, low humidity, and a high-altitude location creates an ice quality that many professionals consider to be some of the fastest in the world.
Even if you’re not into ice skating, the venue offers spectacular mountain views and is surrounded by hiking trails. Personally, the best views of Medeu are from the cable car that you can take up to the Shymbulak Ski Resort. It passes right next to the skating rink!
26. Shymbulak Ski Resort
Shymbulak Ski Resort is the largest ski resort in Kazakhstan. It is located just 25 km from the center of Almaty. Reachable via a cable car that starts from Medeu, the resort sits at an elevation of 2,200 meters.
The resort features modern lifts, including a gondola and chair lifts, which significantly reduce wait times even during peak seasons.
The resort isn’t just a winter destination as we found out during our visit. During the summer, the area transforms into a hub for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
We enjoyed walking around the small village at the top with a few restaurants and cafes. You can book this tour to visit both Medeu and Shymbulak.
27. Butakovka Waterfall
Set in the scenic Alatau mountains, Butakovka Waterfall is a natural gem that’s particularly attractive for hikers and nature enthusiasts. Located in the same area as Shymbukak, the waterfall is accessible via a moderate hike through the Butakovka Gorge.
It’s most spectacular in the spring when the melting snow feeds into the falls. This creates a powerful cascade that drops about 25 meters. The area around the waterfall offers picnic spots and trails with smaller falls and creeks, offering plenty of photo opportunities.
28. Furmanov Peak
If you’re looking for a great, yet challenging hike, Furmanov Peak stands at a height of 3,061 meters. It is one of the more accessible peaks in the Tian Shan Mountain range near Almaty. It’s named after Ivan Furmanov, a Red Army commissar during the Russian Civil War.
The summit trek starts from the Medeu area and can take up to 7 hours, depending on your fitness level. Once you reach the peak, you’re rewarded with panoramic views that include the city of Almaty.
You’ll also enjoy the sprawling landscapes of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The peak is often snow-covered, even in summer, so make sure you are well-prepared for the elements.
29. Ile-Alatau National Park (Kok-Zhaylyau Plateau)
Ile-Alatau National Park stretches across an impressive 200,000 hectares of rugged mountain terrain. It encompasses parts of the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range south of Almaty.
Established in 1996, the park serves as a protected area for the region’s diverse flora and fauna. This includes the elusive snow leopard and the endangered Tian Shan brown bear.
Its most famous landmarks include the Big Almaty Lake and the Charyn Canyon. That said, the Kok-Zhaylyau Plateau is one of the most accessible and popular trekking destinations near Almaty. It offers an exceptional natural experience without requiring a multi-day expedition.
We enjoyed taking some time to walk a few trails here and at the visitor center. You can arrange a full-day tour to Zhaylyau, Big Almaty Lake, and a waterfall from Almaty.
30. Big Almaty Lake
Big Almaty Lake is a stunning alpine reservoir situated 28 kilometers south of Almaty. It sits at an elevation of 2,511 meters above sea level.
The lake was formed by glacier activity and is renowned for its ever-changing palette of colors. These vary from emerald green to turquoise blue depending on the season and light conditions.
The lake serves as a natural water reservoir for the city of Almaty, so swimming is not allowed. The surrounding area is a biodiverse zone within the Ile-Alatau National Park, so be sure to pack your hiking boots!
The lake is accessible via a challenging but rewarding hike or a 4×4 vehicle and is a must-see for any nature lover visiting the region. It’s a popular spot for day trips and you can arrange a reasonably priced day trip to Big Almaty Lake here.
31. Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon is a geological wonder located about 200 kilometers east of Almaty. It is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the USA. The canyon stretches 154 kilometers along the Charyn River and features striking red sandstone formations that have been eroded over millions of years into various shapes and sizes.
We enjoyed the network of well-marked trails that wind through the area. They took us to viewpoints that offered panoramic vistas of the sprawling, rugged landscape. They also led us from the top to the canyon floor.
The most famous section is the Valley of Castles, which was the highlight of our visit. It offers towering columns and intricate rock formations creating a landscape that feels both eerie and awe-inspiring. The canyon is also home to a rare species of ash tree that dates to the Ice Age.
We recommend you visit Charyn Canyon as part of a 2-day trip from Almaty. This trip also includes the Kolsay Lakes and Kaindy Lake. This is how we visited this region and it allowed us plenty of time for hiking at all the stops.
32. Kolsay Lakes (Kolsai Lakes)
Kolsay Lakes is a trio of stunning alpine lakes set within the Tian Shan Mountain range southeast of Almaty. The lakes sit at different altitudes, with the first being the most accessible at 1,818 meters above sea level. This is the one that we visited during our time in Kazakhstan.
All the lakes are characterized by their crystal-clear turquoise waters and are surrounded by dense spruce forests and rocky cliffs. This makes them a dream location for hikers and nature photographers.
During our visit, we enjoyed a series of trails that let us explore the shores of the lower lake. We were also told that these trails connect all three of the lakes for an adventurous, multi-day trek.
We recommend you visit Kolsay Lakes as part of a 2-day trip from Almaty. It also includes the Charyn Canyon and Kaindy Lake. This is how we visited this region and it allowed us plenty of time for hiking at all the stops.
33. Kaindy Lake
Kaindy Lake is a natural marvel best known for its underwater forest. It is one of the most desired places to visit in Kazakhstan.
The lake was formed by a limestone landslide after the 1911 earthquake, which created its most striking feature of a grove of submerged Picea schrenkiana trees. Their trunks protrude from the water’s surface like eerie, sun-bleached ship masts.
The water itself is a stunning shade of turquoise, contrasting vividly with the surrounding landscape of steep, forested slopes. At an altitude of 2,000 meters, the lake remains icy cold even in summer. This preserves the submerged trees and contributes to the area’s mystical allure.
Accessible by 4×4 vehicles and a short hike, Kaindy Lake has become a hotspot for divers, hikers, and photographers looking to capture its otherworldly beauty. Which we can attest is worth the effort to get there.
We recommend you visit Kaindy Lake as part of a 2-day trip from Almaty. It also includes the Kolsay Lakes and Charyn Canyon. This is how we visited this region and it allowed us plenty of time for hiking at all the stops.
34. Black Canyon
Black Canyon, also known as Qara Zhorga in Kazakh, is a lesser-known but equally stunning geological formation located not far from Almaty. The canyon is notable for its dark, almost black, basalt rock formations that stand in sharp contrast to the blue sky and green foliage.
The rocks have been sculpted over time by erosion, resulting in unique shapes and structures that make for a surreal landscape. The area is relatively undeveloped, offering a more secluded experience compared to more popular natural attractions.
We stopped here for photos on our way back to Almaty from visiting Charyn Canyon and the Kolsay Lakes region. It’s worth a stop and can easily be added to most multi-day trips that are booked to the area.
35. Sunkar Falcon Farm
Sunkar Falcon Farm is a unique conservation center dedicated to the breeding and protection of birds of prey, particularly falcons and eagles.
Founded in 1989, the farm plays a critical role in rehabilitating injured birds and educating the public about the importance of these raptors in the ecosystem. We were able to witness these majestic birds up close, including the Kazakh national symbol, the golden eagle.
The highlight of our visit was the live demonstration of traditional Kazakh hunting techniques using trained birds of prey, known locally as berkutchi. The owner is hilarious, speaking many languages fluently and giving a very colorful presentation.
The facility includes an informational center with exhibits on falconry and conservation efforts. You can arrange a tour from Almaty to Sunkar Falcon Farm with lunch here.
36. Huns Ethno-Village
The Huns Ethno-Village is an immersive cultural experience located approximately 40 kilometers from Almaty. It is designed to transport visitors back to the era of the ancient Hun civilization that once roamed the steppes of Kazakhstan.
The village features reconstructed traditional dwellings, including yurts and wooden homes, furnished with artifacts and tools that offer a glimpse into the daily lives of the Huns.
The family that operates the village were all donning period-appropriate attire for that added touch of authenticity.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities such as archery, horseback riding, and traditional crafts. We also were given demonstrations on cooking traditional Kazakh foods and sampled freshly made kumis (fermented mare milk).
We were entertained with traditional music, shown the inside of a yurt, and observed a horse show with several cultural games on display.
This is more than just a static exhibit. It’s a living, breathing reenactment of history set against the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. We highly recommend that you visit if you are interested in the richness of Kazakhstan’s heritage.
You can arrange a private day trip to the Huns Ethno Village here.
37. Assy Plateau
Assy Plateau is a sweeping highland situated about 100 kilometers to the east of Almaty. At an elevation ranging from 2,650 to 2,800 meters above sea level, this plateau is nothing short of a natural wonder.
It is rich in biodiversity and serves as a summer pasture, known locally as a jailau, for local herders who bring their flocks of sheep, goats, and horses to graze on its lush grass.
The area is dotted with archaeological sites, including petroglyphs carved into large rocks and boulders, and kurgans—ancient burial mounds—that provide a window into the past civilizations that once inhabited this land.
Also interesting are the observation buildings that offer a somewhat unexpected layer of Cold War history. These structures were initially built during the Soviet era as part of an astronomical observatory complex. The plateau’s high elevation and remote location made it an ideal spot for stargazing and atmospheric research.
Although the observatories are not in active use today, the buildings themselves have become a point of interest for visitors. We weren’t able to enter the buildings during our visit, but the views from the top were some of the best in Central Asia.
The plateau is accessible mainly by 4×4 vehicles, and the drive itself is an adventure. This is a full-day trip from Almaty, but worth doing for some crazy cool views of the Kazakh steppe. You can book your trip to Assy Plateau and Issyk Lake here.
38. Issyk Lake (Essik Lake)
Issyk Lake is a stunning alpine lake located about 70 kilometers east of Almaty, in the Issyk Gorge. The lake is set at an elevation of 1,756 meters and is renowned for its turquoise waters.
Unfortunately, a 1963 mudflow disaster destroyed part of the lake but restoration efforts have revitalized this natural wonder. The lake is surrounded by pine forests and alpine meadows, making it a haven for hikers, birdwatchers, and nature enthusiasts.
39. Oi-Qaragai Mountain Resort
Yes, this is a resort and somewhere you can find amazing accommodation, but it is also a destination. The Oi-Qaragai Mountain Resort is only 30 kilometers from Almaty and is a year-round destination that offers a diverse range of outdoor activities.
We stayed here one night and enjoyed a full day of activities here, including hiking, and horseback riding. One of the highlights is the cable car ride, which offers panoramic views of the mountainous landscape.
David, along with a few of our fellow travelers, opted to take three-wheeled trikes on a steep dirt track back to the bottom.
Overall, it is a fantastic all-in-one destination with a classic resort offering. You can arrive and never leave while being fully accommodated and entertained during your stay.
40. Arba Winery
Winemaking in Kazakhstan has ancient roots and dates to the times of the Silk Road. More recently, the industry has been experiencing a resurgence.
Arba Winery has been carving out a name for itself in Kazakhstan’s emerging wine industry. Utilizing both local and international grape varieties, the winery produces a diverse range of wines including reds, whites, and rosés.
Tours of the facility offer an in-depth look into the winemaking process, from vine to bottle. They typically culminate in a tasting session where visitors can sample an array of wines.
With its commitment to quality and innovation, Arba Winery is quickly becoming a notable player in Kazakhstan’s wine scene. This is attracting both local and international attention.
41. Altyn Emel National Park
Altyn Emel National Park sprawls across a massive 4,600 square kilometers in southeastern Kazakhstan. The park showcases a diverse range of landscapes from semi-desert to mountainous terrain.
The park is famed for its “singing dunes,” a natural phenomenon where the movement of sand produces musical sounds. Beyond the dunes, Altyn Emel is a sanctuary for rare and endangered species. This includes the Bukhara deer and the Przewalski’s horse.
The area also contains fascinating archeological and geological sights, including petroglyphs. You can also visit the Aktau Mountains, a range of chalky hills showcasing millions of years of geological history.
Visitors often opt for guided tours due to the need for specialized vehicles to navigate its challenging terrains. We recommend this 1-day Express Tour to Altyn Emel National Park.
42. Experience Almaty Nightlife
Almaty’s nightlife is a mix of modernity and tradition, where East meets West in a blend of diverse experiences. The city’s youthful energy comes alive post-sunset. There are plenty of options ranging from chic rooftop bars offering panoramic views to underground clubs.
The district around Panfilov Street and Zhibek Zholy is a hotspot for trendy bars and pubs. You can find plenty of craft beers, cocktails, and live music. For those interested in a more local experience, numerous establishments serve kumis accompanied by Kazakh snacks.
Dance clubs, often located in the city’s upscale hotels, feature international DJs and themed nights, attracting a glamorous crowd. We had a good laugh at the newly opened Only Fans club at the Grand Mildom where we were staying.
More Almaty Travel Tips
Our Recommended Almaty Tours
- Ancient Petroglyphs of Tanbaly – UNESCO World Heritage
- Almaty City Tour
- 1-day Express Tour to Altyn Emel National Park
- Assy Plateau and Issyk Lake
- Huns Ethno Village
- Sunkar Falcon Farm with lunch
- 2-day trip to Charyn Canyon, Kolsay Lakes and Kaindy Lake from Almaty
Where to Eat – The Best Almaty Restaurants
The Almaty food scene was surprisingly diverse. You can get a wide array of both local and international cuisine in every corner of the city. During our visit, we had the pleasure of trying the following restaurants. Truth be told, we never had a bad meal during our time in Almaty.
Fort Vernyi – Located at Tole Bi Street 179a, we enjoyed a typical light Kazakh lunch here with different salads, soups, and taster plates.
Villa dei Fiori – Located at St Furmanova 187a, this is one of the most upscale restaurants in Almaty and it features Italian cuisine.
The Noodles – Located at Dostyk Avenue 52/2, contrary to the name, we enjoyed local cuisine and traditional shashlik.
Fahar – Located at Dostyk Avenue 36, this place offered a beautiful atmosphere and served exceptional manti dumplings.
Alasha – Located at St Mapata Ospanova 20, we had the classic Kazakh buffet experience here. The food was excellent, but it was very crowded.
Sydyk – Located at Zheltoksan Street 155, this restaurant is most notable for its camel meat and milk. You can also enjoy kumis here among other authentic dishes, like beshbarmak, served with both camel and horse meat. David enjoyed his visit here during his Almaty food tour.
Qaimaq – Located at Abay Avenue 46a, we enjoyed our final dinner here. It was over the top excellent! All of the salads were very fresh and the beshbarmak was presented more like a show. We highly recommend this restaurant for an authentic Kazakh dining experience.
Where to Stay in Almaty
Almaty is a sprawling city, which means there are several different areas to stay. We stayed at the Grand Mildom for the duration of our stay within the city limits of Almaty.
The hotel was a solid 3-star by Western standards. The rooms were large and comfortable. They had a nice spa with a pool and served an included breakfast buffet. The hotel was located in the Almaty city center, and walkable to a large mall. That said, we were driven to most places around the city.
We also heard fantastic things about the historic Hotel Kazakhstan. Built during the late Soviet era in the 1970s, the hotel’s design is a blend of Soviet modernism and Brutalism. The hotel has long been a symbol of the city and today is the third largest building in Almaty.
While the interior has seen upgrades over the years, it still retains some nostalgic Soviet charm. The hotel is strategically located, offering easy access to key attractions like Panfilov Park and Zenkov Cathedral.
Outside of Almaty, we stayed at two other properties. The Oi-Qaragai Mountain Resort for 1 night (in a crazy cool tree house!) and a small 2-star hotel called Hotel Kolsay Grand in Kolsay Lakes for 1 night.
Our visit to Kazakhstan was hosted by Travel Kazakhstan in partnership with the SATW Digital Publishers Council. This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. All opinions about our incredible time in Kazakhstan are 100% mine, as always.
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