Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana is an off-the-beaten-track gem, a place visited by few but with a wealth of authentic experiences and fascinating sights. There are many awesome things to do in Astana, from visiting cultural sites and marvelling at modern architectural masterpieces, to experiencing local life, shopping in vibrant markets, and dining on delicious traditional cuisine.
Built largely with wealth created by the oil and gas industry, Astana is home to many elegant and splendid buildings. The modern city is glitzy, showy, and pretty unique. Having only taken the crown as the Kazakh capital in 1997, Astana does a great job of presenting a story of success to the world.
With little information available on the internet related to travel in Astana, Kazakhstan, it can be tough to plan your holiday in Astana. Many travellers may be put off at the research stage.
That’s why I’ve created this ultimate list of the best things to do in Astana, to inspire others to visit Astana and to help you make the most of your time in this enticing city.
Here are the top things to do in Astana and the most wonderful things to see in Astana … some of the best experiences in Astana are sure to surprise you!
Marvel at Astana Opera House
Open since 2013, the striking Astana Opera House is one of the most impressive things to see in Astana. Among the largest opera venues on the planet, it is renowned for its world-class acoustics as well as its eye-catching designs.
Inspired by 19th-century Italian opera houses, the gorgeous building also includes traditional elements through its stunning artwork. Impressive both inside and out, the opera house mainly shows classical operatic performances and ballets.
Admire the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
Standing some 77 metres (252 feet) tall, the gleaming pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is an impressive sight. Designed by a world-class architect, Norman Foster. Inside, you’ll find two art galleries, a large opera hall, hanging gardens, and a museum.
The pyramid shrinks in the cold winter and expands in the summer due to the serve weather conditions in Astana.
Ride the diagonal lifts to the viewing gallery for a fantastic view across Astana and learn more about the large-scale religious meetings that are hosted within the pyramid every couple of years.
Snap a Picture of the Ak Orda Presidential Palace
In use since 2004, the opulent Ak Orda Presidential Palace is the official office of the Kazakh president. The exterior is a striking display of pale columns and glass, topped with a blue and gold dome. The statues atop the blue dome help to show national pride, with a golden eagle flying underneath the beaming sun. The presidential palace is 8 times bigger than the White House.
The interiors boast much-polished marble and golden details and tours let you admire the beautiful designs and furnishings and learn more about the inner workings of the Kazakh government.
Stroll some way in front of the palace and turn around to get an iconic shot of the palace behind colourful flower beds and a pretty fountain, flanked by the two soaring gold towers that are affectionately referred to as the “Beer Cans”.
Peek into the Past at the Train Station
While few reminders of the Soviet era remain around much of the modern city, the old train station offers insights into times gone by. There are large colourful mosaics depicting working class conditions and people, revealing a past that can be difficult to unearth elsewhere among Astana’s futuristic architecture.
Soak up the Views from Bayterek Tower
One of Astana’s must-sees, the Bayterek Tower is one of the cities iconic structures and a proud symbol of Kazakhstan after independence from the Soviet Union. Representing a mythical tree of life, the large orb at the top is symbolising an egg laid by a bird of happiness.
There’s a viewing deck 97 metres (318 feet) above the ground from where you can enjoy splendid vistas of Astana in all its glory. The height isn’t random; it’s no coincidence that the observation deck is 97 metres high and Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in the year 1997.
Gaze Up at the Kazakh Eli Monument
Reaching towards the skies in Independence Square, the bright white Kazakh Eli Monument is one of the major things to see in Astana.
The hard-to-miss landmark celebrates Kazakhstan’s freedom and independence, representing both the nation’s history and its aspirations for the future. Topped with a golden bird and its large wings outstretched, the monument features symbols that reflect Kazakhstan’s economic developments, social aspects, political matters, and spiritual heart.
Feel Like a Giant at Atameken Parkows
One of the best things to do in Astana with children, the miniature models at Atameken Park are sure to capture the imaginations of old and young alike. It offers the perfect opportunity to discover all of Kazakhstan without leaving the capital!
Travel Astana and the rest of the country as you feast your eyes on more than 200 detailed replicas of major landmarks and natural destinations throughout the nation. From soaring mountains and rolling meadows to gleaming buildings and industrial facilities, Atameken Park provides a terrific overview of Kazakhstan.
Have Fun at Khan Shatyr Shopping Mall
Khan Shatyr is a gigantic tent-like structure that houses a multitude of leisure and entertainment facilities. It’s the biggest tent structure in the world designed by British architect Norman Foster, and looks like an inflated Kazakh yurt that glows green and pink at night. Another top thing to do in Astana for families, the fun complex attracts locals and tourists alike. It houses a roller coaster, and even an artificial indoor beach covered with sand that was imported all the way from the Maldives.
Underneath the huge tent, you’ll find a large array of shops selling an even larger selection of goods, a replica town with cobblestone streets and charming squares, and an abundance of places to eat and drink.
Want to enjoy outside life while inside? The boating river and lush park are perfect for relaxation. If you thought it was impossible to enjoy the seaside in landlocked Kazakhstan, think again—there’s a cool beach resort within Khan Shatyr too, complete with sand, pools, and tropical plants. Add a cinema, internet café, minigolf course, funfair, play areas, and more and you may well have one of the coolest attractions in Astana.
Be Mesmerised by Astana Sphere
Built for Expo 2017 Astana, the mighty Astana Sphere (also known as Nur Alem) is one of the world’s biggest spherical buildings. In fact, it’s the only complete sphere structure above the ground in the world, The gigantic orb has a diameter of 80 metres (262.5 feet) and is made from glass and shining metal. It’s certainly a unique thing to see in Astana!
It is now home to the Museum of the Future, with a strong focus on sustainability and alternative energy sources. The top of the sphere provides awesome city views and you can visit a display that shows what planners believe Astana will look like in the future.
From the Sphere the views are beautiful, from one side you’ll be able to see the Expo area and Mega Silk Way mall.
See the Headquarters of KazMunayGas
Given that much of Astana’s new wealth comes from the oil and gas industries, it’s perhaps only fitting that you seek out the mammoth buildings of the KazMunayGas (KMG) Headquarters. KMG is the national oil and gas company and their impressive headquarter building was among the first buildings in the new capital city. A grand archway spans a pedestrian-only walkway to connect two symmetrical towers, and the complex contains several shimmering and opulent buildings of various heights.
Feast Your Eyes on Hazrat Sultan Mosque
Hazrat Sultan Mosque is the biggest place of Islamic worship in all of Central Asia. More than 1,500 workers helped to complete the huge architectural beauty, which is now one of the most stunning things to see in Astana. You definitely shouldn’t miss it when sightseeing in Astana!
Constructed in a traditional Islamic style, the glorious mosque incorporates traditional Kazakh elements too. The main square hall has four towering minarets at its corners and a gigantic white dome crowns the grandiose building. There are a further eight smaller domes to add to the splendour.
Inside, huge white columns support the roof, splendid chandeliers hang from the ceiling, Quranic calligraphy provides decorative touches, and green, blue, and golden designs contrast with the white walls.
Do note that access to the inside may be restricted to non-Muslim visitors at times, and tourists are reminded to dress modestly at all times. Even if you only admire the mosque from outside, it’s more than worth the effort. The mosque is gorgeous at nighttime too when it is spectacularly illuminated. Listen for the melodic call to prayer issued five times a day, calling the faithful to worship.
Be Dazzled by Nur Astana Mosque
Another spectacular religious landmark in Astana, the Nur Astana Mosque is the third-largest mosque in Central Asia.
Built from concrete, granite, and glass, the proportions of the magical mosque correspond to key ages during the Prophet Muhammad’s life.
Sunshine glints off the main golden dome and the tinkling sound of water from the fountain adds to the tranquil air. The gardens are a pleasant place to take a stroll or sit for a while in peaceful contemplation.
Appreciate Astana’s Religious Tolerance
In addition to Astana’s two major mosques, the city boasts several other incredible religious buildings too. There are a number of smaller mosques, including Saduahas Hazhi Gylmani Mosque, where you can enjoy peace and quiet and a more low-key vibe.
Astana also has two major Orthodox places of worship: Assumption Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Temple of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Furthermore, you’ll also find one of Central Asia’s biggest synagogues in Astana, the impressive Beit Rachel Synagogue.
Shop Till You Drop
Between Astana’s traditional markets and mega shopping malls, you’ll never be short of somewhere to indulge in a little retail therapy. Almost a way of life for locals, shopping is an interesting experience in Astana. You’ll find luxury galore at Sine Tempore, the city’s oldest shopping centre. Mega Silk Way, Keruen, Asia Park, and Khan Shatyr offer entertainment as well as shopping. You’ll find fashions and gadgets for less as Eurasia Mall.
For an authentic experience, check out the bustling bazaars, where you’ll find a huge selection of fresh produce and other foodstuffs. Haggling is still the norm in the markets and you can watch as people try to get the best deals on their groceries.
Sample Traditional Food and Drinks
The most iconic dish to try while visiting Astana is beshbarmak, a hearty meal of pasta and horse meat. For more meaty goodness, sink yourself into a shashlik, or kebab. Kazy isa type of sausage made from horse meat and the popular kuurdak is a traditional dish made from sheep meat and onion fried together. Pilaf is perfect for people who may be reluctant to try unknown foods—it’s made from meat and vegetables stir-fried with garlic and served with rice. There are various types of breads and pastries to savour too.
Milk-based drinks, such as kumis and sut are popular, and you can also sip on camel’s milk. Tea isa staple drink, and experiencing a ritualistic tea ceremony is fascinating. When it comes to alcohol, Astana has a booming craft beer scene and vodka is widely available.
There are many more fantastic things to do in Astana too.
Take a stroll through the Old Town
Located on the right bank of the River Yessil, and contrast the older parts of the city with the modern marvels. Wander alongside the scenic river and cross the unusual pedestrian- and cycle-friendly Fish Bridge. Boat rides provide a different perspective of the city. Look hard enough and you’ll uncover some interesting street art around Astana too.
If you’re visiting in the winter, as the river is frozen it’s turned into a massive ice rink for skating and a winter wonderland.
There are several top-class museums where you can learn more about Kazakhstan’s past, culture, and people, including the National Museum of Kazakhstan and the Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Numerous monuments and statues, such as the Defenders of the Fatherland statue, provide more insights into the national psyche.
Duman is a brilliant Astana attraction for families, with an aquarium, cinema, and gift shops. In need of some time in nature? Astana has several pleasant parks where you can take some time out and relax outdoors. Check out Presidential Park, Stolichniy Park, City Park, and Vlublyonnih Park, among others. If you fancy some pampering, Astana has several excellent spas and saunas.
Still looking for more awesome Astana experiences? There are several easy day trips that let you see more of Kazakhstan and include a variety of natural and man-made sights. Consider day trips to Borovoe, Karaganda, and Stepnogorsk to add even more variety to your holiday in Astana.
There are definitely many excellent things to see in Astana, Kazakhstan; a wealth of wonderful experiences awaits you!