Astana (formerly Aqmola and Tselinograd), in the north of Kazakhstan, is the second largest city in the country. It took over the role of capital city from Almaty (the largest city) in December 1998. Now, it is undergoing a transformation costing billions of dollars, where top international architects assist in trying to make Astana a worthy capital - not only of Kazakhstan but of all Central Asia. Thus, Astana presents an interesting and intriguing blend of old Soviet architecture with the modern designs of Norman Foster and the likes. Astana is growing, but still does not offer the comforts and thrills of its Western counterparts, or Almaty, but has its own charms and pleasures.
There are plenty of taxis around: expect to pay between KZT500 (if you don't cross the river) and KZT1000 (if you cross the river and go to the outskirts of the city).
Street taxis: Stand at the side of any road and thumb down a passing car, within 3 minutes you should have had a string of them. They are much cheaper than official taxis. Tell them your destination and they will either drive off or gesture you in. It is useful to know numbers so you can set a price for the journey before starting. Always ask how much the driver wants to charge before you get in. However, don't accept more than KZT500 if you're on the same side of the river (unless you're maybe going to Metro, which is quite a distance but on the edge of the city) or KZT700 if you're crossing the river (as of Mar 2014; that is subject to change once the issue of the tenge devaluation sorts itself out). Some drivers will practice their English on you, others will race around the streets like a maniac, slowing down for the obvious speed cameras (or police officers standing on the side of the street). Taxis at the malls or places like Artem or Shanghai (local bazaars) will charge more; so, avoid them. Walk up or down the street from these places and catch a taxi there.
The public buses cost KZT60. Get on the bus and a conductor will come and ask for your fare and give you a ticket. Given the simplicity of the process, you don't need to speak the language to be able to do this. The buses are efficient and comfortable, but they are often full. Some buses are from the 90's, but there are also newer buses from the last 10 years that match any modern city in terms of the quality of the bus.
With the online bus routes map, you can either select the bus route in the top left, or you can click the ruler in the top left of the map, then the first double-click will represent departure and the second double-click will represent destination. You can even move the markers. Buses (or combinations) will appear in the left column. Once you're on the bus, there is a route map, so it's worth taking a photo of that on your phone for later trips around the city! When you get on a bus tell the conductor your destination and they will either tell you when to get off or gesture you to get on another bus.
The number 12 bus does a nice loop around the new part of the city with the palace etc., so this is a nice one for a tour. There is also a red double-decker Astana tour bus that is get-on-get off. You can usually find it at places like Baiterek when the weather is warmer.
Baiterek Tower is one example of the futuristic architecture in the newborn city. Nicknamed "Chupa Chups" by the locals due to its similarity to a giant lollipop, this 97m high building offers a great view of the city as well as an art gallery, an aquarium and a restaurant. In the centre of the top sphere, the ever so humble President Nazarbayev has made a golden palm print where visitors may put their own hands. Be warned at busier times the queue for the palm can be very long. 500T for Adults, 150T for 5-15 (with documentation), under 5s are free
Khan Shatyr is a giant transparent tent big enough to hold 10,000 people. The 150m high tent has a 200m elliptical base covering an area larger than 10 football stadiums, and contains a park, a shopping and entertainment area with squares and cobbled streets, a boating river, minigolf and an indoor beach resort. It even contains its own monorail with several stops. While Astana is one of the world's coldest capitals with temperatures down to -40°C in the cold season, the transparent material lets sunshine in and helps to keep temperatures comfortable all year.
The President's Museum of Kazakhstan, Barayev 3, is built like a yurt with a dome resembling a mosque. It contains exhibitions about the history of the country. The main attraction is a replica of the Golden Man costume, a warrior's suit that was found in a tomb east of Almaty. It contains more than 4000 gold pieces, and the original was considered too fragile to be put on display (it is now kept safe in the national bank).
Atameken Map of Kazakhstan is an outdoor museum giving you an overview of the entire country in a miniature version. This 1.7-hectare exhibit features more than 200 mock-up pieces, creating Kazakh cities and historical memorials. During the summer months at least, there are normally English speaking guides available (optional obviously), should you wish to learn a little about the models, and there is a covered section which focuses on the newer constructions within the city of Astana itself. Taking photos sometimes requires an extra payment to be made - you may want to keep cameras in your bag until you pass out of sight of the front ticket office. There is a covered map of Astana on a platform overlooking the rest of the map, be sure to visit the exhibition underneath this, which offers dioramas of Kazakh industry, sport and culture.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. The pyramid portion of the building is 62m high and sits on a 15m high earth-covered block. All of this construction is above ground level. The building holds a summit of all religions of the world every 2-3 years. Though the landscaping of the park rises up to cover the lower levels, these are not in fact basements. This building offers a great view of the city as well as two art galleries, a archeological and ethnographic museum, opera hall, and a cafe.
Duman is an entertainment complex consisting of an oceanarium, 3D theatre, dome area, souvenir shops and cafes. The aquarium is unique for being located over 3,000 km away from the ocean! It has more than 2000 sea inhabitants, the representatives of 100 species of sea fauna from different parts of the world. You can also see "Mermaid" and sharks-feeding shows at the aquarium. In the Motion Theatre you can make an underwater trip under the command of captain Mac-Cloud during the World War II, to overcome the traps while rescuing the gorgeous princess, confined in the dungeon, go on a tour to the past to dinosaur age, escorted by a troll and etc.
The dome area contains symbols from all over the world like the Statue of Liberty, the fragment of the great Chinese wall, the "Doriphor" statue, Parthenon and others.
Kazakh Eli monument. Kazakh Eli (literally, "Land of Kazakhs") is situated next to Pyramid (Palace of Peace) and has a small statue of the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is about 100 metres tall and has a mythical golden bird Samryk on the top. Monument is made from white marble and surrounded by very beautiful fountains.
Shabyt Palace. Shabyt is a palace of arts situated to the right of Kazakh Eli monument. It is a dish like building made from glass.
Palace of Independence. Palace of Independence is situated to the left of Kazakh Eli monument.
Most of political and business gatherings are held in this palace. Summit of OSCE (Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe) will take place on 1-2 December, 2010 in this building inviting about 56 countries is called to be one of the largest gatherings of heads of the states (bigger than Washington Nuclear Summit). Summits concerning ecology in Asia was held in October 2010 and European ecology summit for the first time will take place outside of Europe in 2011.
Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This is situated north of the river on the junction of Abai Street and Bebeishelik Street. This magnificent building was the seat of power before the new presidential palace was built. There is an entrance on Abai Street where you will have your baggage searched and you will be scanned for metal. Once inside be sure to ask the people at the front door for an English guide book. Pictures are allowed on the ground floor (1st in Kazakh speak) and outside, but no where else. Most people will have to don covers for their shoes and all luggage must be stored in lockers. Entry is free. The building consists of displays outlining the struggle for independence, gifts and awards given to Nazabayev including a machine gun from the Saudis, and state rooms preserved as they were when Nazabayev was there. On the top floor there is a comprehensive photo display of Yeltsin, someone that Nazabayev seems to have a lot of sympathy towards. Be sure to see the full sized recreation of the golden man. The museum is often on the empty side and don't be surprised to find yourself trailed by anxious (maybe bored) gallery staff. There isn't much for the kids here, it is more suited to those interested in the the art of state diplomacy and the history of Nazabayev. There is a small gift shop on the ground floor with the normal tourist paraphernalia.
'REVision Park' Cinema in English: Every Tuesday at 20:00, 24 Turan St. Sary Arka Shopping Mall (3d Floor). , Revision Park is a new project of Language Leader  and KinoPark Multiplex cinemas .
Astana LifeStyle @Ajar Center, 34 Tauelsizdik, . A LifeStyle Center that has something for everyone. The underground car park has been converted into Astana GT Park, where they are regular events that include Drift Racing, M1 Fights, Club Nights with famous DJs. Inside the center you will find many retail outlets, a supermarket, free Wi-Fi, ice skating, skate cafe. There is also regular entertainment inside which includes Astana Circus, local musicians and dancers.edit
Ak Bulak sauna Complex, 8th kilometer on the Astana-Airport highway (Olympic stadiums), ☎ +7 (7172) 49-76-98 (reception), +7-705-140-7221 (cell). 24 hours. A Sauna Complex with 3 private VIP double floor saunas (for a party of 6, 9 and 12 people). Each sauna is decorated in a different geographic style and has its own swimming pool, Finnish and Russian steam rooms (banya), jacuzzi, hamam, entertainment hall with a banquet table, billiard, karaoke, TV with cable channels and 2 private relax rooms. The Complex has its own parking lot and conveniently located on the main Astana-Airport highway (not far from Olympic stadiums). Ak Bulak sauna Complex is an excellent way to enjoy cold and windy Astana and feel the bathing tradition of Kazakhs. Food and beverages are provided at the Complex. Different types of massage can be ordered at the reception.from $20/hr to $60/hr. edit
There are more than 10 discos (night clubs) that are frequently referenced by locals: Chocolate , A8, Fusion, Ice, etc. Chocolate is in the same building as the SAS Radisson hotel, but may only be open on selected days (weekends). "Ice" (centrally located - ask locals for the address) has a nice atmosphere and is on two floors with a large dance area. Prices are towards the high end, no entrance fee on Thursday night.
There are cash machine in shopping centres, on the street and in most hotels. Most accept VISA and some people have had trouble with MasterCard. Most banks convert dollars, euros and roubles. Pounds are much harder to get rid of.
Talisman on Republic Avenue is a great little souvenir shop with T-shirts, felt products, leather paintings, traditional musical instruments, desk sets, and even jewelery and stuffed leopards. A bit expensive and the staff watches you very carefully to make sure you don't shoplift, but great variety.
TSUM also has a nice little souvenir shop in the second floor with all the traditional Kazakh souvenirs.
Shopping malls are popular among the locals, especially the young people. They don't just go there to shop, they congregate there, eat in the food courts (KFC, an American fast food chicken chain, is extremely popular), and go to the cinema. Some of the malls have chain coffee shops like Costa if you just want coffee, tea and/or dessert.
Sine Tempore The central shopping mall on Kenesary Street, across from Congress Hall has some shops for clothes, perfumes, a camera shop, one of the very few tobacco shops, a souvenir shop, a small supermarket, as well as a cafe.
Keruen on the Left Bank near Baiterek. Supermarket (Galomart), cinema, Babylon (video-arcade/indoor rides for kids). Costa Coffee, Food court. Very popular with young people.
Mega on Turan Street. Cinema. Ramstor supermarket. Climbing wall. Food court. Very popular with young people.
Saryarka on Turan Street between Khan Shatyr and Mega. Shops, cinema. supermarket, food court, small tobacco kiosk. Attached to the supermarket is a small cafeteria. These cafeteria-style places are numerous in Astana and popular with the locals.
Ramstor is another chain of supermarkets that is popular among Westerners in Astana. They sell lots of things you can't find elsewhere like macaroni and cheese, microwave popcorn, Worcestershire Sauce, barbeque sauces, tortilla chips, salsa and so on. The Ramstor in Astana Mall (Ajar Centre) has some American items like peanut butter and Hunt's brand pasta sauce. If you like peanut butter, this is the only place in the city you can get it.
Asia Park. Next to Central Mosque of Astana. Has a nice Skybar with a pretty good view (but they don't really want you going there to take pictures). Includes an Alma supermarket with good bakery, dairy, tinned food, and frozen food. Some basic homeware is also on sale. There is a Finn Mark shop for winter clothes. There is also a Fitness First gym. The food court on the top level is small, but the food isn't bad for a mall food court. Children's clothes and other items are in shops on that level. Men's clothes seem to be pretty much limited to the first floor. Women's clothes abound on the second floor. There's a decent souvenir shop on the first floor.
Artem. This is half way between a bazaar (as some people call it) and an old fashioned shopping mall. The ground floor is open and feels like a market - it has lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and dried fruit and nuts, all for sale in market stalls; plus mobile phone shops at one end. There are also areas that sell meat and fish. The many upper floors contain mostly clothes shops - a bit more reasonably priced than MEGA, Khan Shatyr etc., plus toiletries, furniture, and more.
Shanghai. These are big supermarkets that are more like bazaar mostly for the groceries yet they have clothings too.
Eurasia. One of the first shopping centers in Astana. Has everything for a little bit lower prices.
With China relatively close, you can find many electronic gadgets in the shops, just remember that returns policies are not as customer-friendly as in the West. Also some of the latest gadgets such as iPhones and iPods are more expensive here than in Western countries.
Khan Shatyr. Contains a Greens supermarket - well laid out (the aisles aren't straight, so it doesn't have that factory-like feel of typical supermarkets). Prices are reasonable considering it's in the Khan Shatyr. There used to be a Debenhams in Khan Shatyr.
Beshbarmak - a horse meat and pasta dish. Most restaurants that serve it will present a portion enough for two or three people. Boursaky - bread best served piping hot. A little like an unsweetened doughnut. Shashliq - unless you have a sturdy stomach, best to avoid unknown street vendors, but these kebabs are often cheap, and a good 'safe bet' if you recognise little else on the menu.
Along Turan street (formerly Sara Arka), there is a row of restaurants that while a bit expensive are quite good. They also have private rooms for parties, saunas, and even hotel rooms.
Soprano Restaurant, 18 Kerey and Janybek Str. (Triumphal Arch area), ☎ +7 (7172) 42-22-01 and +7 (7172) 42-22-02, . 24. The restaurant serves European and Kazakh dishes in a classical style interior.from 3,000 kzt. edit
Cafe Shimket, Immanova, near Republic Street (in Kazyna Mall, next to Cinema City). If you want a greasy spoon style meal, with cheap prices, and a mixture of makes in the car park, rather than 4x4s, Hummers and Mercedes, head over here.cheaper. edit
Melnitsa (Windmill), Turan Street (near Khan Shatyr). Possibly the only Ukrainian restaurant in Astana with one of the best outdoor dining areas in the city. Lots of traditional Ukrainian dishes like potato pancakes and of course Chicken Kiev. Live music in the evenings. Fresh bread oven. Great decor, like a farmer's hut.1500-3000T for a main dish.. edit
Tre Kronor (Three Crowns), Turan Street (near Mega Mall). Consistent with its name, the restaurant strives for a more European fare. It features excellent steaks and decent sausages. Nice Brew Pub atmosphere though it is a proper restaurant. Most evenings there's a live band which plays a mix of reggae, classic rock and Russian rock. Nice outdoor cafe in the summer.1500-3000T for a main dish.. edit
Line Brew. Popular with expats and locals alike, Line Brew features its own brew of beer, with an impressive menu that includes several delicious steaks, including one made of horse meat.edit
1000 and 1 nights cafe, Bayan Sulu hotel, ☎ +7-7172-366-222. The main destination for authentic Turkish and Arabic cuisine in Astana. Operated by Turkish management. Located at Bayan Sulu Hotel, which is located not far from Eurasia shopping center.edit
Ali Babas, 3 Bukeikhan st. Astana 010000, Kazakhstan. 8 172321899 (North of the river). Summer only. A very popular summer restaurant. The waitresses and waiters dress in traditional dress and the menu offers a selection of central asian cuisine. Prices are in line with Europe or America but the food is good. There are fake bird cages hanging from the roof which tweet electronically. Camel and horse milk are on offer along side Leffe beer~3000T. edit
Rafe, Bukeikhan Street Astana, Kazakhstan (Almost opposite Ali Babas). A modern coffee bar offering italian food with a twist. Be sure to check out the horse pizza~3000T. edit
Kumis - different varieties are available of this mare's milk, some are a little salty. Slightly fermented. Vodka - supermarkets stock a huge variety, ranging from $2 bottles that will strip your throat to $115 bottles that are more for giving as a present or showing off your wealth. Shots tend to be drunk, rather than utilising mixers - don't feel obliged to down each and every one if at a celebration. Cognac - what we would refer to as brandy, again a wide range in the shops and restaurants. Same rules apply regarding shots - with all the toasts made at parties and other gatherings, you may want to pace yourself.</drink>
Astana Hotel, 18 Kerey and Janybek Str (Triumphal Arch area), ☎ +7 (7172) 42-22-01 and +7 (7172) 42-22-02, . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Astana Hotel, 18 Kerey and Janybek Str. (Triumphal Arch area), ☎ +7 (7172) 42-22-01 and +7 (7172) 42-22-02 (Astana.email@example.com, fax: +7 (7172) 54-66-60), . This brand new business hotel enjoys a quiet location on the Left bank of Ishim river in the new administrative center of dynamic Astana, a 10-minute walk from Baiterek and 5 minute walk from the new Triumphal Arch. Olympic stadiums including the new Soccer stadium are just 5 minute drive. Every room is air-conditioned and has free wi-fi connection, minibar, LED TV with cable channels, private bathroom with a bathtub. A free breakfast is provided for guests each morning at Soprano restaurant that serves European and Kazakh dishes. Prices are best on the Left bank: from $67/night for a single room to $100/night for a Twin room. edit
Okan InterContinental Astana, 113 Abaya Avenue +7 (7172) 391-000, . The first luxury hotel in Astana, the service is very good and the room quality is consistent. Singles/doubles from KZT 46000. A very good breakfast bar is included, and there are is a popular Italian restaurant (Pucchini's) and an eastern-style (Turkish) restaurant, as well as a pub on the mezzanine floor. Expensive (but fast, reliable) wireless internet, and a nicely equipped business center. A nice range of conference facilities. Unfortunately, the once nicely equipped gym (pool, exercise room/equipment, saunas) is closed through the end of 2007 for a full renovation. Located in the old area of town, within walking distance from many restaurants, it is a long way from the government buildings on the other side of the river now that the government has moved.
Rixos Presidents Hotel Astana. Make no mistake about it, this is the most luxurious hotel in Astana. For starters, standard rooms come with heated tiled floors in the bathroom, step in showers and jaccuzi tubs, LCD wide-screen television, and free wireless internet (although it is not very consistent). The service is friendly and professional. There is a bar, a cafe, and two restaurants, and the best conference facilities in Astana. The spa has the best exercise equipment in Astana, and the pool is lovely. It is within walking distance to the ministries and the better restaurants, and the breakfast buffet is more than fantastic (they've been known to put out caviar!) complete with a harpist. The main drawback? So many VIPs prefer to stay in this hotel (visiting presidents, prime ministers, and other big-wigs) that you often have to fight security to get in and out! Rooms start around $350/night.
Radisson SAS Hotel Astana, Sary Arka 4, +7 (7172) 99 0000, . New hotel, just north of Ishim river with 180 rooms. Singles/doubles at USD 480 including breakfast, access to fitness center but excluding current VAT. Rooms are modern design, with flat-screen TV and free internet. Wi-Fi in the rooms can be dodgy, but there is a cable alternative, and Wi-Fi works fine in the lobby/lounge. Hotel has a reliable Italian restaurant, and a sports club/spa.
Bayan Sulu Hotel Astana, microdistrict 2a, building 8/1 (Eurasia shopping center), ☎ +7 (7172) 36-62-22 and +7 (7172) 36-60-79 (Bayan.Sulu.firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +7 (7172) 36-89-30), . This inexpensive, but very comfortable 3-star hotel enjoys a quiet location in Astana, a 10-minute walk from the Kazakhstan Sports Palace and 5-minute drive from the left bank – a new administrative center of dynamic Astana. The hotel offers 3 saunas that include swimming pools, jacuzzi, Finnish steam rooms. Wi-Fi is free in all rooms, which are warmly furnished with elegant interiors and wooden floors. Every room is air-conditioned and has a working table, minibar, cable TV and private bathroom with a bathtub. A free breakfast is provided for guest each morning at the “1000 and 1 night” Café that serves European, Arabic and Turkish cuisine.Prices: from $55/night for a single room to $85/night for 2-room deluxe. edit
Hotel Gran Park Esil, Beibitshilik Street Astana, Kazakhstan (North of the river opposite the Msueum of the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan). checkin: 13:00; checkout: 12:00. A pleasant and clean hotel that is breakfast included and free bottled water in the room every day. Rooms at the side and back and really quiet. There is free wifi and satellite television. The gym, pool and sauna are free, there is also a masseur but you must book ahead. The mini bar has condoms, listed under 'miscellaneous'. The staff are friendly and receptionists have a good grasp of English. They will go out of their way to help you. The laundry service is really quick - return within 2 hours even on a standard service.The bar is pricey and Friday night is cocktail night. It' swell located with a supermarket just around the corner and the Sine Tempore shopping centre just opposite. from 18000T. edit
Apple Hostel, S. Rakhimov 22 (Near the intersection of Imanova & Valihanov str, behind the restaurant MOJO (on Imanova str.)), ☎ +7 707 847-3836, . checkin: 12.00; checkout: 14.00. A new, modern youth hostel recently opened in Astana. Comfortable four bed dorm rooms cost 2500 tg ($17) per night with free wi-fi, a washing machine and a well equipped kitchen (including a fridge and microwave). The hostel has a cozy living room with a TV and Playstation. The staff are also extremely helpful. Advisable to phone prior to arrival.2500 tg ($17). edit
Sligo Bar, Abai Ave, ☎ +7 783 938509. Sells a near pint of 90% good Guinness. Quiet and nice place to wind downedit
Especially on the left bank, people like to get out and walk around, especially along the plaza that runs from the Presidential Palace at one end to Khan Shatyr on the other. Very often, you'll see entire wedding parties taking pictures at Baiterek and KazMunaiGaz or others taking pictures in various parts of the plaza. Even if it's -25C outside, you'll still see people out and about.
Walking is a great way to explore the left bank side of the city in particular. If you're a bit more adventurous, and have the stamina, walk across the bridge at the end of Kabanbai Batyr Street (you can't miss it, there's a big yellow building, Samal, on the right bank side and the tall arch actually runs diagonally across the bridge) and walk up Respublika Street. Some other streets to explore on the right bank: Imanov (people often call it "Imanova," with the stress on the first a) from Respublika to Alma-Ata Business Centre; Kenesary; Abai Avenue; Seifullin (as far as Artem); Bogenbai Batyr (from Saryarka Street to Valikhanov Street); and Beibitshilik. If you take some of the side streets off Respublika heading toward the river (especially between Imanova and Kenesary), there are some nice little cafes and other things to see, and it's just a really pleasant area to walk.
It is possible to walk along most of the river and that's something well worth doing (when the weather is warm). In the winter, once the river has frozen, you'll often see people walking, skiing or riding snowmobiles there. On the left bank, start behind the Presidential Palace and walk toward Astana Park (also called The Central Park) where there's a pedestrian bridge to the right bank. Once on the right bank, walk along the river there until you get to Samal. On both sides, though, there are sections where you'll have to walk away from the river, but then you can get back onto the river walkway fairly quickly.