Astana, a city that never existed | Kazakhstan

Somewhere in a 2.7 million-square-mile country lies the capital city of Astana. Twenty years ago, no one knew Astana. And this is not surprising, as the Kazakh government decided out of nowhere to move the capital from Almaty (Alma Ata) to a more central location in Kazakhstan in 1994: Astana. Astana even means capital in Kazakh. And it looks like the Dubai of the steppe.

Through AirBnB, I booked a little apartment a good half-hour walk from downtown. For a little hotel here you pay at least 100 to 150 euros for 2 nights. I like to meet local people precisely as well, and AirBnB lends itself perfectly to this. If you have never booked before, use this discount code: then you will get 25 euros discount on your first booking and I will also get discount. Win win win!

astana museum

Our host Zhanna was fantastic. She and her mother picked us up from the airport in the middle of the night ($10) and drove us to the apartment. On the way, we saw our prejudices about Russians confirmed: at the stoplight, a guy was already hanging out of a folded up door, puking. A little too much vodka…? Fortunately, this was not a daily occurrence and during the rest of our time in Astana we did not see any puking Russians hanging out of a car.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Astana are the buildings. Tall 27-story apartment buildings are normal. Even Rotterdam is dwarfed by Astana. It is a big city, we actually didn’t have enough on 1 full day. We did everything on foot; if you catch the occasional bus or cab, you might be able to make it. There were bikes for rent, but you had to have a pass to do so. Moreover, everything was in Russian. Oops… Fortunately, you don’t have to be bored. I list our tips:

Tips to do in Astana

#1 Bayterek Tower

You really need to see this icon of Astana. Nice, such a tower, but what is the idea behind it? Now, the legend goes that the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg in a big tree that contains humanity’s secrets about happiness and desire. Far beyond the reach of man. Of course, the Kazakhstani can get into the golden egg. In fact, you can go inside and an elevator (pressing blown) takes you upstairs. Don’t forget to buy a ticket first. This costs 500 Tenge per person. It can take a while for them to help you at checkout, we had to wait 15 minutes while we were 3rd in line. But so much was happening in space that it didn’t matter. Once at the top, you have nice views of Nurzhol Bulvar and the parliament buildings.



# 2 Nurzhol Bulvar

Nurzhol Bulvar is a 2km long boulevard with neatly maintained flower beds and fountains. You will also see street musicians and many people walking here. Bayterek Tower is one of the highlights on this boulevard. But also the many buildings around it. At night when all the lights are on, the place is fantastic.

# 3 Khan Shatyr

Is it an amusement park? Is it a mall? Is it a food court? Is it a tropical pool? To all 4 questions we say yes. This futuristic tent (literally) acts as a mini-amusement park for kids with a real monorail, shopping mall with all the famous brands and when you are out of the mood for shopping and the kids are playing around, you can visit one of the eateries or go to the Sky Club for a swim. We didn’t know what we were seeing. There were even dinosaurs made. Special place not to be missed.

#4 Walking around Astana

Besides the top spots that really must have seen, we also walked by the following spots that are worth seeing:

  • Palace of Peace & Accord
  • Kazak Yeli Monument
  • Hazret Sultan Mosque
  • Shabyt
  • Palace of Independence
  • Central Concert Hall
  • Senate area with several tall towers

What we didn’t have time for but was tipped off by our host was the Museum of the first president. This is a free museum in the old presidential palace where you get a glimpse into the life of President Nazarbaev.

astana car astana mosque

5 # vegetarian food in Astana

This was a downside. We searched and asked, but everywhere we got: no meat? That’s tricky. Kazakhstani people love meat, especially horse. Eeehm…ok, we also knew this in advance. Fortunately, you always make me happy with Indian food and Indians are almost everywhere in the world. So also in Astana we found an Indian restaurant: Mayura, very cozy, in a shopping mall. This was bit of a strange experience, but the food was very tasty. Since it was a little later in the evening, we didn’t get to finish the food and were even allowed to take it with us. Suddenly we also had a delicious lunch for the next day.

We saw that there was 1 cafe where they sold vega food, but it was too far out of the way. Should you be in Astana and have been there, we’d love to hear what we missed!

The next day we wanted to travel further. Curious about where to go from here? Read my next blog on Kazakhstan.