Shymkent is Kazakhstan's third largest city, although it has more of a small-town vibe to it. With lots of parks with interesting sculptures and monuments, it's a good base to explore other areas of the Kazakh dessert area like Turkestan and Taraz. It's also a usual stop for travelers going overland to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Shymkent International Airport is located 10km northwest of the city centre. There are daily flights from Almaty with Air Astana and SCAT (starting 16,500KZT), from Astana with Air Astana and Aktau with SCAT. There are three weekly flights from Moscow with Transaero.
Bus 12 takes you from the airport into the city and terminates at the train station. Buses run from 06:00-19:00 and cost 50KZT.
As of May 2010, there are overnight buses from Almaty's Sayran bus station that leave at roughly half hour intervals from 18:00-21:00 everyday. The journey takes approximately 12 hours, KZT2400.
Overnight buses will arrive at the Samal bus station, 5km out from the city center. From there, you can take buses from 35tenge to 40tenge for a marshrutka to the center. Taxis to the center are also available for 300-400tenge.
Shymkent train station on Kabanbay Batyr has regular trains in all directions. A taxi from the centre is 600-800 (it is 2 km). Almaty-2 (14 hours, 5,100 T, 3rd class bunk). From Almaty the overnight economy 4 berth sleeper at $16 leaves Almaty at 1800 and arrives at 0850 is excellent. Turkestan :(3.5 hours, 800T) Others:Kyzyzlorda, Taraz, Aralsk, Astana, Aktau and Aktobe.
Left luggage 500T.
Bus 12 takes you from the train station into the city and terminates at the airport. Buses run from 06:00-19:00 and cost 70KZT.
You can take "gypsy cabs" for 300-400KZT anywhere in the city. Bargain if they try to overcharge.
Buses run to and from the center and all of the microdistricts. The cost is 70KZT as of March 2017. An overview of bus routes in Shymkent can be found on the city's official website (Kazakh language only). A great app to download for going around the city is called 2GIS. It will give you bus routes from two locations and is available to use offline.
"Marshrutkas" are mini-busses that run largely the same routes as the buses. They cost 50KZT as of 2013. They can be very crowded during rush hour (e.g. standing room only, with low ceiling).
Abai Park: memorials, tanks, ferris wheel, statue of Abai. Attached is the aquapark "Delfin" if you want some water park fun in the summer
Park Ken-Baba: some miniatures of famous architecture, as well as a little pond and walking area with rides/swings. On main road Tauke Xana, and Kazybek-Bi
Mega Planet: most popular youth hangout place in town, a mall with indoor skating rink, movie theater, Western-style chain grocery store and an upstairs food court. On Tauke-Xana
Spartak - awesome outdoor swimming pool, soccer field and basketball court. Across from Mega on Tauke-Xana
The big Tulip Fountain/Fontan Tyul'pan - on the corner of main street Tauke Xana and Bauyrzhan Momyshuly Avenue.
New Memorial - very impressive, at Ordabasy Square, the site of the founding of Shymkent. There is a massive monument recently built that you can get to by climbing up on a bridge past some nice fountains (equally if not more impressive at night). Also see the Philharmonia (though I have never seen a concert here even once), a nice park area, and the new yurt-like museum they built recently, all in that area. Inexpensive shared taxis to Sairam also leave from this square.
Hippodrome -- if anything is going on (which is rare: usually public holidays like Nauryz), the Hippodrome is well worth a visit for horse games such as Kokpar. Hard to find out when things are happening, however.
New hockey/ice skating rink
Old cinema: next door to the skating rink
Markets: Aina Bazaar, good for buying food and random stuff (some clothes, Chinese electronics, burned CDs with Kazakh music, etc.). In a microregion a bit outside of town, but public transport regularly goes there. Koktem bazaar is good for fresh produce and fruit.
"Cinema Bar": a European-esque techno club with no cover charge, attached to the old cinema on Zheltoksan and Baitursynova. Has a cool ambience inside, old-movie decor. May be closed now, not sure.
Hotel Shymkent: a fancy club called Joy attached to it, with cover charge
Karaoke bars: down past Hotel Shymkent on Respublika (extension of main street Tauke Xana), bus stop "Ogonyok"
Bowling and pool tables at Tauke Khana and Kunayeva, upstairs at the "Maharaja" entertainment complex right next to the Spartak sports complex in the middle of town
Hookah bar: recently opened in the 17th microregion, expensive but nice ambience and stage with DJ/live music on certain nights/events
Movies: playing (mostly Western movies dubbed in Russian) on the top floor of Mega Center.
"Babylon": arcade complex also on the top floor of Mega Center, complete with games and laser tag
There are good souvenir shops in Park Ken Ba Ba, on Taukexana street. They sell stuffed camels, magnets, keychains, leather goods, plates and figurines.
Kazakhstan is also famous for good, handmade silver jewelry.
+7-7252 is the area code for Shymkent.
Great day trips:
Turkestan: the most famous Muslim site in Kazakhstan, with a beautiful mausoleum and brand new historical museum. Definitely a must-see if you're in the south for a few days. The trip is doable in a day.
Sairam mausoleums: you can take a taxi from Ordabasy Square to Sairam for 200-300 tenge. Stop to see the "SHYMKENT" Hollywood sign on your way!
Sauran ancient city ruins - you can book a private taxi from Shymkent, or take a taxi from Turkestan if you're already there.