The Ultimate Travel Guide to Almaty & Around | Planning a Trip to Kazakhstan

Nestled in the southeastern part of Kazakhstan, Almaty, whose name means "apple," is a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Once a vital stop on the Silk Route, Almaty has transformed into a modern metropolis that still retains its historical charm. This guide will take you through the must-see sites and experiences that make Almaty a captivating destination.

Begin your exploration of Almaty with a visit to the serene and historically significant Panfilaov Park. This green oasis in the city center is dedicated to the memory of the Panfilov Heroes, 28 soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit who died defending Moscow from Nazi invaders during World War II. The park houses several monuments and memorials, the most notable being the towering war memorial that depicts the 28 soldiers in heroic action.

The park is also home to the Ascension Cathedral, also known as the Zenkov Cathedral. Built in 1907 by the architect Andrei Zenkov, this stunning Russian Orthodox cathedral is a marvel of engineering, constructed entirely of wood without the use of nails. The cathedral's colorful, ornate exterior and its beautiful interior icons make it a must-see for visitors.

Places to explore around Almaty


Just a short drive from Almaty, Shymbulak Mountain Resort is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Situated in the picturesque Medeu Valley, Shymbulak offers year-round activities, including skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

The resort is accessible via a scenic cable car ride that provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Shymbulak’s well-groomed slopes and modern facilities make it a favorite among both locals and tourists. Even if you’re not into winter sports, the breathtaking scenery and fresh mountain air are worth the trip.

Kok Tobe

For a panoramic view of Almaty, take a gondola ride up to Kok Tobe. This mountain park, perched atop the Kok Tobe hill, offers some of the most breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Once at the top, you can stroll through the park, enjoy the Ferris wheel, and visit the small zoo. There’s also a statue of The Beatles, a unique attraction that adds a quirky touch to the park.

For a relaxing break, head to the café and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while taking in the stunning vistas. The view of the city lights in the evening is particularly enchanting, making Kok Tobe a perfect spot for a romantic evening or a family outing.

Big Almaty Lake

A jewel in the Tian Shan mountains, Big Almaty Lake is a natural wonder located about 15 kilometers south of the city. This alpine lake, with its striking turquoise waters, is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, creating a postcard-perfect landscape.

The lake is a popular destination for picnics, photography, and hiking. The best time to visit is during the summer and early autumn when the weather is pleasant and the access roads are open. However, it’s essential to check seasonal accessibility, as the lake area may be closed during certain times of the year due to weather conditions.

Issyk Lake

Located in the Issyk Gorge, about 70 kilometers east of Almaty, Issyk Lake is an ancient lake with a history dating back thousands of years. The lake, with its striking blue waters, is surrounded by dense forests and rugged mountains, making it a perfect spot for camping and nature excursions.

Issyk Lake is also known for its archaeological significance, with ancient burial mounds and artifacts discovered in the area. The nearby Issyk State Historical and Cultural Reserve offers insights into the history and culture of the region, making it a fascinating destination for history buffs and nature lovers alike.

Recreated Hun Village

To experience traditional Kazakh nomadic life, visit the recreated Hun Village. This cultural site offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and learn about the customs and traditions of the Kazakh people. Visitors can explore traditional yurts, sample local foods, and watch demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills.

The village also hosts cultural performances, including traditional music and dance, as well as demonstrations of traditional sports such as horse riding and archery. It’s an educational and immersive experience that provides a deeper understanding of Kazakhstan’s rich cultural heritage.

Assy Plateau & Bear's Waterfall

For those seeking higher altitudes and even more breathtaking views, the Assy Plateau is a must-visit. Located about 100 kilometers east of Almaty, this high-altitude plateau is known for its pristine beauty and unique landscapes. The Assy Observatory, situated on the plateau, offers visitors a chance to explore the stars and the cosmos from a high vantage point.

The plateau is also a great place for hiking and horseback riding, with numerous trails winding through its rolling hills and meadows. The fresh mountain air and the serene environment make it an ideal spot for nature lovers and adventurers.

A moderate hike leads to the picturesque Bear’s Waterfall, located in the scenic Turgen Gorge. The waterfall, surrounded by lush greenery and rocky cliffs, is a popular spot for hiking and nature photography. The hike to the waterfall is relatively easy, making it accessible for visitors of all fitness levels.

The sound of cascading water and the beauty of the natural surroundings create a tranquil atmosphere, perfect for a day trip from the city. Pack a picnic and enjoy a relaxing day in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Charyn Canyon

Often compared to the Grand Canyon, Charyn Canyon is a natural wonder that offers stunning views and great hiking opportunities. Located about 200 kilometers east of Almaty, the canyon is known for its dramatic rock formations and colorful landscapes.

The most famous part of the canyon is the Valley of Castles, where the rock formations resemble ancient fortresses. Hiking through the canyon provides an up-close look at these natural sculptures, as well as opportunities to see unique flora and fauna. It’s a perfect destination for a day trip from Almaty, offering adventure and breathtaking scenery.

Ili River and Petroglyphs

The Ili River, with its serene waters and lush surroundings, is a popular spot for picnicking, swimming, and fishing. The river is also home to ancient petroglyphs, which are rock carvings that date back thousands of years. These carvings, found along the riverbanks, depict scenes of hunting, rituals, and daily life, providing a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of the region.

A day trip to the Ili River combines natural beauty with historical intrigue, making it an ideal destination for those looking to explore both the natural and cultural heritage of Kazakhstan.

Shopping in Almaty

For those who appreciate luxury shopping, Esentai Mall is Almaty’s premier destination. This upscale shopping center houses a range of high-end international brands and designer stores. The mall's sleek, modern architecture and sophisticated ambiance make it a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

Beyond shopping, Esentai Mall offers a variety of dining options, from gourmet restaurants to chic cafes. It also features a cinema and art galleries, providing entertainment and cultural experiences under one roof. Whether you're looking to indulge in retail therapy or simply enjoy a meal in a stylish setting, Esentai Mall has something for everyone.

To truly experience the heartbeat of Almaty, spend some time at the Green Bazaar, also known as the Zelyony Bazaar. This bustling marketplace is where locals come to buy and sell an array of goods, from fresh produce and meats to spices, nuts, and dried fruits. The bazaar offers a sensory overload with its vibrant colors, rich aromas, and the lively banter of vendors and shoppers.

One of the unique items you can find here is kymyz (fermented horse milk), a traditional Kazakh drink. Sampling local delicacies and engaging with the vendors provides an authentic glimpse into everyday life in Almaty. Don’t forget to haggle—it’s part of the experience!

Dining Experiences

Almaty’s dining scene is as diverse as its population. For those craving Indian flavors, Spice Mantra is a popular choice, known for its extensive menu of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The restaurant’s warm atmosphere and attentive service make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

For a unique experience, visit Arba Wine, where you can sample a variety of local Kazakh wines. The winery offers guided tastings, allowing you to learn about the winemaking process and the different grape varieties grown in Kazakhstan. It’s a great way to spend an evening and discover a lesser-known aspect of Kazakh culture.

Where to Stay in Almaty?

Almaty offers a range of accommodations to suit every preference and budget. Here are some top choices:

Almaty Hotel: A centrally located hotel that offers comfortable rooms and modern amenities, making it a convenient base for exploring the city.

Ritz Carlton: For those seeking luxury, the Ritz Carlton Almaty provides an upscale experience with its elegant rooms, exceptional service, and stunning views of the city and mountains.

Rixos: Known for its elegance and extensive facilities, Rixos Almaty offers a blend of comfort and style, with a spa, swimming pool, and several dining options.

DoubleTree: A reliable choice for a comfortable stay, DoubleTree by Hilton Almaty offers modern rooms, a rooftop bar with panoramic views, and a convenient location.

Novotel: This modern hotel provides well-equipped rooms, a fitness center, and a restaurant serving international cuisine, making it a great option for both business and leisure travelers.

Rahat Palace Hotel: Combining traditional Kazakh hospitality with contemporary comforts, Rahat Palace Hotel features spacious rooms, a large indoor pool, and beautiful gardens.