Discover where to stay, what to eat, and the best things to do in Almaty, Kazakhstan in this complete guide to the city.
The city of Almaty in Kazakhstan acts as a unique hub in Central Asia. This former capital of Kazakhstan (before it was moved north to Nur Sultan, which was formerly called Astana) is a modern city of more than 2 million residents with fascinating architecture and a vibrant cafe scene. Yet even though Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, nature never feels that far away.
Almaty sits serenely at the base of the majestic Tian Shan Mountains and is surrounded by stunning national parks, epic canyons, and sparkling ski resorts, much of which are just a short drive from town.
Almaty tends to be the hub for adventurers seeking experiences in Central Asia. Many people fly through the city, perhaps stopping over for a day or two, but rarely sticking around long enough to discover all of the incredible things to do in Almaty.
My trip to Kazakhstan was unusual for me. On most of my international travels, I’m accompanied by my wife Christina, and our two boys. In Kazakhstan, however, I was part of a group of travel writers being offered a glimpse into this, newly opened, country.
A Brief History Of Almaty
Travel in Kazakhstan is new. In fact, it was only in 2018 that Kazakhstan fully opened its doors to the world. Just two years after that, the world shut down for nearly two years due to the pandemic. So in reality, Travel in Almaty, and Kazakhstan as a whole, is barely a toddler.
Prior to then, Kazakhstan was coming to terms with its first self-rule in a millennium. The country had been conquered, ruled, traded, and conquered again throughout the ages. In the 13th century, Almaty was overrun by the Mongols, who completely destroyed the existing city. After that, the region passed through Uzbek and then Russian, and ultimately Soviet hands.
Almaty as we know it now, began its rise in 1854 under the control of the Russian military, who built a fort here. While many Kazakhs still lived a nomadic lifestyle prior to Soviet rule, that lifestyle began to fall as the Soviet Empire exerted dominance over the region.
Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991 and has begun, for the first time in a long time, to shape its own destiny. One independent from the major world powers that sit on its doorsteps.
Walking through Almaty now, one would almost think they were strolling through towns in Europe. wide boulevards straddled by large sidewalks line the city. Crowds of hip, urban locals sip coffee on patios lined with twinkling lights, and shops lined with goods of all sorts, line the streets and colorful alleyways of the city.
What Is Almaty Like?
Almaty is definitely not a hub of nomadic life anymore. It’s a dense, rich urban city with friendly locals who still get a thrill from seeing Western tourists. In fact, it became almost comical how often our group was approached by well-meaning locals asking about what brought us to Kazakhstan and digging for our opinions on their country. These conversations always thinly hid the veil of pride that they had in, not just their city but, their country as well.
The city sits at the foot of the towering Tian Shan Mountains and is considered the fatherland of the apple. In fact, its name “Almaty” directly translates to “Apple City.”
Located very close to the borders of Kyrgyzstan and China, Almaty is the business and industrial hub of the country. The park is packed with urban parks, green spaces, memorial squares, and a unique mix of modern and Soviet-era architecture.
It’s a fantastic city for travel. And for those wandering souls who, like me, travel often with their kids, Almaty is very family-friendly. In fact, it rivals the Philippines and Jordan for the friendliest locals that I’ve ever encountered.
Top Things To See And Do In Almaty
Almaty is packed with enough incredible attractions, restaurants, monuments, and places to visit that a weekend in the city is hardly enough time to experience it. These exciting things to do in Almaty, Kazakhstan range from the luxurious to the adventurous, and there are enough attractions to keep any traveler entertained.
If you want to see it all, you can also check out an Almaty city tour that includes many of the most popular sites within the city. You can book that here.
Kok-Tobe, or “Blue Hill” sits on the southeast edge of Almaty. This hilltop was, for years, a favorite for locals to admire the view of the city with the Tian Shan Mountains in the backdrop. But over the years the popularity of Kok-Tobe has given rise to a full-on entertainment industry.
Hop on the Kok-Tobe Gondola behind Novotel City Center hotel. Relax and enjoy the scenic views over the city, and when you hop off, be prepared to enter a world of fun. You can find tickets for the gondola ride here.
Kok-Tobe is, essentially, an amusement park. There’s no admission fee beyond the cost of the gondola ride up, but at the top of the hill, you’ll find mountain coasters, treetop trekking experiences, small rollercoasters, fun mazes, and more.
One of Kok-Tobe’s more famous attractions is the “Beatles bench” where you can snap a selfie with a replica of the famous rock band.
Along with all of these attractions at Kok-Tobe, you’ll also find restaurants, cafes, and shops to buy trinkets and souvenirs of all sorts.
Panifilov Park is one of the best urban parks in Almaty. This sprawling green space is packed with shady trees, wide pedestrian walkways, and vendors selling food and souvenirs. Like many places to visit in Almaty, you’ll find many things for families here including miniature car rentals and tiny train rides.
Panifilov Park is just a short walk away from Green Bazaar. It also houses the famous Zenkov’s Cathedral and the Kazakh Museum of Folk Instruments.
One of the most humbling sites in the park is the war memorial that commemorates the 28 soldiers from Almaty who died during WWII. This statue sits among Soviet-era buildings and war memorials that offer a stark contrast to the energetic and artistic designs in more modern Kazakh structures and monuments.
Kazakh Museum of Folk Instruments
Located near the war memorials in Panifilov Park, the Kazakh Museum of Folk Instruments offers a fascinating glimpse into a culture where music plays a hugely important role.
Throughout Kazakhstan, the dombra can be found in nearly every home. This narrow-necked stringed instrument acted as the delivery system for all news, both good and bad, during nomadic times. Even now, most Kazakhs learn the instrument at a young age.
Within the museum you’ll find examples of dombras, think horns, bagpipes, harps, and more instruments from Kazakh, Turkish, Kyrgys, and Uzbek cultures.
As beautiful as Almaty’s Panifilov Park is, one feature within draws most of the attention, and that is the colorful Zenkov’s Cathedral.
As you walk into the park from Kunaev St. the towering wooden structure (the second tallest in the world) will take your breath away. Not only is it one of the most striking structures in the park, but it’s also one of the best things to see in Almaty.
The Russian Orthodox church was built in 1907 and was the penultimate design of architect Andrei Zenkov. The outside is characterized by its ornate and elaborate design. The structure is built entirely of wood, in the classic style that doesn’t use nails. The inside of the cathedral is just as ornately and beautifully designed as the exterior, so if you have the time, make sure to take a look around. Just make sure that you’re dressed someone modestly. There are scarves for women to place over their heads provided at the entrance.
With all of its time under Soviet rule, it’s no surprise that bathhouses play an important part in the culture of Almaty. And there is simply no better place in the country to experience this than at the Arasan Baths.
This magnificent structure is nearly perfectly symmetrical. Women enter on the left, men on the right, and the luxury spa experience that it offers is not just world-class, but also affordable.
Soak away the stress of the long flight to Almaty in one of their hot baths or enjoy a massage or one of their special treatments. You can pay when you arrive or book your entrance online here.
If you’re interested in trying all of the incredible food in Kazakhstan, there is no better place to start than at the Green Bazaar.
Known locally as the “Green Bazaar,” but officially named Zelyony Bazaar is the largest market in Kazakhstan. Every day of the week the food stalls, clothing vendors, and flower markets are bustling with vendors selling everything under the sun.
The moment you walk into the main building, where much of the traditional Kazakhstan food is sold, you’ll be inundated with offers to sample various treats, snacks, dried fruits, and, yes even, horse sausage. There’s no pressure to buy, so feel free to taste to your heart’s content. But you’re more than likely going to walk away with at least a few bags for the road.
The market’s history dates back to the 19th century, and it has served as the central trading hub for locals and travelers since the city’s birth.
Along with markets and vendors, the Green Bazaar also has coffee shops, restaurants, and everything else you could possibly think of. It’s an absolute treasure trove if you’re looking for some Kazakhstan souvenirs to bring home.
Almaty Central Mosque
The Almaty Central Mosque is among the most stunning buildings in the city. Not only is the building beautiful, but it’s also the largest mosque in Almaty. The marble structure was built in 1999 to replace the previous mosque and can house a whopping 3,000 worshippers within its walls.
The traditional structure is topped by golden domes and minarets that reach a height of up to 188 ft in height.
Unlike mosques in many countries, you do not have to be a Muslim to enter. But you do have to make sure that your arms, legs, and head are covered.
First President’s Park
One of the things that I loved most about Almaty, Kazakhstan was the openness of its parks and central squares. Throughout the city, wide swaths of land are set aside for public gardens and fountains. And unlike the public fountains in my home city of Toronto, all of the fountains in Almaty are packed with people splashing and enjoying the water.
A great example of this is First President’s Park, or, as it’s officially known, “The Park of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
One of the park’s most notable features is the grandiose monument dedicated to Nursultan Nazarbayev. The monument stands tall, depicting the former president, who is much-loved throughout the country. The statue is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens and paved walkways, inviting visitors to stroll and reflect on Kazakhstan’s history and achievements.
Things To Do Near Almaty
The excitement of Almaty doesn’t end at the city’s borders. There are many incredible places to visit from Almaty on a day trip. The city is surrounded by absolutely stunning wilderness that is just dying to be explored.
Ile-Alatau National Park
I mentioned that Almaty is surrounded by stunning nature, but did you know that there was a Kazakhstan National Park right on its doorstep?
Ile-Alatau National Park is an absolutely gorgeous protected area that covers a vast 500,000 acres of mountains, lakes, and streams just a short drive from Almaty.
The park was created in 1996 and was Kazakhstan’s first national park. Among the towering snow-capped mountains, the park contains some of the region’s most beloved landscapes including Big Almaty Lake. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and the park is regularly packed with locals enjoying a hike along the scenic trails or challenging themselves on ascents to the mountain peaks.
Ile-Atalau National Park is also a crucial wildlife refuge. It’s home to snow leopards, Central Asian lynx, Tian Shan brown bears, and golden eagles.
If you’re making a day trip to the park, don’t miss the on-site restaurant. claim a spot on their outdoor patio for magical views of the scenery while you dine, or enjoy a fireside meal indoors. You can find out more on their website here.
If you’d like to book a tour that includes the top lakes in Ile-Atalau National Park, this package offers everything as a day trip from Almaty.
Sunkar Bird Refuge
Located just off the road near the entrance to Big Almaty Lake in Ile-Atalau National Park, Sunkar Bird Refuge is one of the most popular things to do near Almaty for visitors.
The refuge holds a bird of prey show every day at 5 pm, catering to those returning from a day hiking or picnicking in the park. This entertaining show offers visitors the chance to see a range of rare and impressive local birds of prey up close. You can check a little more of that experience here.
The refuge was originally established to help protect the Saker Falcon, a bird whose number plummeted in the 80s and 90s due to habitat loss and the use of agrochemicals. It houses around 400 birds including 15 species of owl, eagle, lammergeier, vulture, hawk, and falcon.
All of these birds have been rescued and cannot be released into the wild. However, there is a breeding project underway to help release golden eagles and saker falcons back into their natural habitat.
If you aren’t able to get out there yourself to enjoy this experience, you can book a 6-hour experience through Viator here.
Shymbulak Ski Resort
Whether you’re visiting in winter or summer, Shymbulak Ski Resort is one of the top attractions in Almaty. Ranked the largest ski resort in Central Asia, Shymbaluk offers everything you might want in an outdoor playground, skiing, hiking, horseback riding, restaurants, cafes, and more.
Among some of the most popular things to do at the resort is Butakovka Waterfall, which sits at the end of a 5.5-hour hike. There’s also a popular ice skating rink that many locals love to twirl on during the winter months.
If relaxing and enjoying a meal with a view is more your style, grab a drink and some food on the massive outdoor patio and people-watch for a while.
There are plenty of accommodations for those who want to spend the night at the resort including glamping and the Shymbulak hotel. If hiking is more your speed, there are very affordable rental packages that include all the camping gear that you need.
This tour will take you out to the resort and includes skating at their popular skating rink.
If you’re interested in getting a glimpse into the life of Kazakh people during their nomadic days, the Hun Ethno-Village is an educational and entertaining experience that is like stepping back in time.
From the outside, the ethno-village appears as a traditional wooden fort sitting beneath the shadows of the Tian Shan Mountains. But once you enter, the magic of the experience gives way to something much more.
The village is staffed by locals in traditional garb who show visitors how to cook traditional baursak (a tasty fried dough that I absolutely fell in love with while in Kazakhstan), perform horseback acrobatics, display traditional knitting, and even lessons on traditional hunting practices using bows and arrows.
But there’s much more to the Almaty Hun village. The village has a half dozen glamping yurts for those who want to extend their experience in the region to a few days. There’s also a restaurant on-site that is used for extended experiences where you can taste traditional Kazakh food such as quazi.
The most exciting part of the Hun village is horseback riding. It’s absolutely incredible to see the traditional trick riding, horseback wrestling, and courtship rides that date back centuries.
Booking time at the Hun Ethno-Village can be a challenge as they don’t have a website that I can find. But this tour includes transport and a six-hour experience at the village.
Oi-Qaragai Mountain Resort
If you’re looking for an adventurous escape that offers world-class experiences of its own, Oi-Qaragai Mountain Resort is where you should look. Located just 45 minutes from Almaty, this all-season family-friendly resort in the gorges of the Trans-Ili-Alatau is absolutely gorgeous.
During my two days at Oi-Qaragai resort my schedule was packed with mountain triking (it’s epic. Check out the video on my TikTok channel), horseback riding, hiking, and glamping among incredible scenery. But that’s not all that this Almaty mountain resort has to offer.
Oi-Qaragai has excellent spa facilities, mountain biking trails, excellent restaurants serving local and international cuisine, and ziplining. These are just warm-weather experiences. During the winter, Oi-Qaragai adds downhill skiing and more cold weather activities to its list of attractions.
Families can relax in their large villas or couples can enjoy a romantic getaway in the Oi-Qaragai treetop village. You can find their rates and availability for accommodations here. You can also find out more on their website.
Charyn Canyon might be a three-hour drive from Almaty, but it’s worth the effort to get there. Charyn Canyon is one of Kazakhstan’s signature attractions. With stunning red rocks and dramatic stone pillars carved out over 12 million years by rivers, floods, and tectonic activity, this sandstone canyon is absolutely beautiful.
It’s a popular place for day trips from Almaty, although if you’re looking to hike the canyon, I’d recommend staying overnight in one of the nearby glamping accommodations or staying at Kolsay Grand Hotel and combining your visit with Kaindy Lake, Kolsay Lake, and Black Canyon.
A lot of work has gone into raising the profile of Charyn Canyon in recent years. There is now a restaurant and gift shop on-site and even glamping accommodations and hiking and camping packages are available for visitors at very reasonable costs.
For those short on time, there is a shuttle that can take visitors the length of the canyon for a small cost. If you’ve got energy, I’d recommend walking down to enjoy the views, but grabbing the shuttle back, as the return walk is all uphill.
The skeletons of birch trees emerging from the waters of a mountain lake near Almaty make for one of the most dramatic scenes in Kazakhstan.
Kaindy Lake, formed by a massive landslide triggered by an earthquake in 1911, is tucked into the mountains about four hours from Almaty and about 45 minutes from Charyn Canyon.
Accessing Kaindy Lake can be a bit of a challenge. The road leading up to the parking area is very rough. I recommend a high-clearance 4×4. If you don’t have access to one, however, there are shuttles that take visitors up to the parking area in a mix of old Soviet vans and Mitsubishi Delicas that are more than up to the task.
Once you arrive, you’ll have the option of renting a horse, hiking or taking another shuttle to the top of the hill where you can gain access to the scenic lake. Just note that during the winter, Kaindy Lake is often covered in snow and ice, adding a unique dimension to this natural wonder.
Kolsay Lakes National Park
Kolsay Lakes National Park is one of Kazakhstan’s burgeoning attractions. And the experience here will soon be a very different one as new glamping accommodations, restaurants, and attractions are completed.
The main attraction is Lower Kolsay Lake, one of three beautiful, turquoise-blue mountain lakes that sit amidst the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains. There are hiking trails that wrap around the lake as well as rentals for those who want to enjoy a row boat or pedal boat experience among the scenery.
Within easy reach are restaurants, cafes, horseback riding, and glamping accommodations. Some of these were still under construction during my visit, but development is moving quickly and Kolsay Lakes National Park should be a full-fledged getaway very soon.
You can book a highly-rated small group tour that includes Kolsay Lake, Kaindy Lake, and Charyn Canyon here.
While Black Canyon is treated as more of a “pit-stop” for those traveling back to Almaty from Kaindy Lake, this stunning canyon off of the side of P-16 feels like it deserves recognition.
At its base, Black Canyon has the roaring blue waters of the Charyn River. That bright color contrasts dramatically with the black walls of the canyon and the rolling chocolate hills in the background. The views from the edge are dramatic but do be careful. Every year visitors tumble into the gorge while trying to take photos or get a better look at the landscape below. The wind here can be unpredictable.
Where To Eat In Almaty
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, and it’s a great place for foodies. Not only does it have a wonderful selection of authentic restaurants serving traditional Kazakh Cuisine, but you’ll also find loads of international flavors including Korean, Georgian, Japanese, and of course, pizza shops
The city has a vibrant cafe culture. While I found the coffee in Kazakhstan to be a little on the weak side, they do know how to make great tea. Restaurants in Almaty are also, typically, open quite late, which is nice for those who want to enjoy the patio scene in the city.
If you’re looking for authentic Kazakh cuisine 155 Zheltoksan Ave. Notable for its “camel theme,” Sydyk is one of the few restaurants where you can purchase both koumiss (sour horse milk) and shubat (sour camel milk), two traditional Kazakh beverages.
Beshparmak is the national dish of Kazakhstan, and I never had it presented as well as it was when I dined at Sydyk. All of the meat is slow roasted and presented uncut and then, in traditional style, is carved tableside for all to see.
Sydyk also sells a beautiful array of traditional Kazakh treats and pastries that you can enjoy on-site or take with you to go.
Fort Vernyi is a restaurant and event center right in the heart of Almaty. It’s known for its entertaining live music and shows that take place every Friday evening and for the children’s parties that they host each Sunday.
The restaurant is named after the Fort that launched what is now the city of Almaty, and serves up delicious local and fusion dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I visited Fahar restaurant at the tail end of a day exploring Kolsay, Kaindy Lake, and Black Canyon, so I was completely exhausted. But this may have been one of the best meals that I had in the city. Their manti dumplings were absolutely fabulous. The fact that I could even remember them after such a long day is a tribute to their flavor.
Situated at the base of the famous Hotel Kazakhstan Almaty, The Noodles is a great dining option for those just heading to or from Kok-Tobe. The restaurant’s specialty is noodle dishes such as lagman, but they also serve up excellent manti dumplings, soups, and more.
Where To Stay in Almaty, Kazakhstan
There are plenty of places to stay in Almaty that will fit all budgets. From hostels to luxury hotels, this city has it all.
We stayed at the Hotel Grand Mildom, which is quite close to all of the best things to do in Almaty. The included breakfast was excellent, the pool was nice, and the rooms were large, clean, and well-kept. The hotel was brand new, however, and there were some issues with the plumbing that caused me to change rooms once.
Considered one of the top hotels in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the Renion Almaty makes a great place to set up a home base. The hotel is just less than half a mile from Ascension Cathedral and has a fitness center, a long, and a restaurant.
Hotel Kazakhstan Almaty
Hotel Kazakhstan Almaty is one of the most recognizable buildings in Almaty. I simply called it the “Crown Plaza” due to the prominent spires on the towering building’s rooftop. Hotel Kazakhstan is located right at the base of Kok-Tobe. It has an excellent 24-hour restaurant serving European and Turkish cuisine.
Hotel Uyut Almaty
Hotel Uyut is a popular mid-range hotel located just a short drive from Republic Square. Uyut’s stylish restaurant with stone walls serves European cuisine as well as Oriental dishes.
This hotel often flies under the radar but is considered to be an excellent hotel at a great price.
Is Almaty Safe To Visit?
It’s completely normal to be concerned about safety in Almaty for travelers. The city has a reputation for scams and petty theft. However much work has gone into improving the safety of travelers in city.
Violent crime is rare, and the city ranks far lower than many North American cities in terms of danger. There are, occasionally scams involving officials asking for bribes on random stops.
The most prominent criminal activity in the city involves the taxi system. This system is best avoided. There is no Uber in the city, rather it uses the Chinese Yandex Go system for rides and car sharing. If you need to travel, I recommend using this rather than taxis. This includes pick-ups from the airport.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Almaty?
Kazakhstan is pretty incredible all year round. With so many ski resorts and mountain hikes nearby, the winter tends to be an often-overlooked adventure.
Most visitors tend to visit Almaty in the late spring till early fall when the weather is warmer and the flowers are in bloom. Late summer and fall is the perfect time for those who enjoy hiking as the bugs have died off and the weather is cooler with warm days and cooler evenings.
Disclosure: My time in Almaty, Kazakhstan was made possible by a partnership between USAID’s Trade Central Asia, Visit Kazakhstan, and the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). As always, all opinions remain my own.
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