Astana, the Crown Jewel of Kazakhstan

The world's largest tent in Astana, Kazakhstan, which features a shopping center and indoor beach. All photos from www.visitkazakhstan.kz/ and lonelyplanet.com
The world’s largest tent in Astana, Kazakhstan, which features a shopping center and indoor beach. All photos from www.visitkazakhstan.kz/ and lonelyplanet.com

A Capital City of Flashy Buildings and Marvelous Sights

By Isabelle Kagan

Astana, simply meaning “capital” in Kazakh, became the capital city of Kazakhstan in 1997 after a government relocation from Almaty, a much older city about 1000 km farther south. The switch was made for multiple reasons: Astana is a less earthquake prone region, but also shares a much closer border to China, which made the Kazakhstan’s government want to fortify their hold in the north of the country.

The city is home to many futuristic buildings, a newly designed shopping mall that doubles as the world’s largest tent, and a presidential palace designed after the White House that looks almost Disney-themed. It’s becoming a more prominent tourist attraction, but an odd one at that.

Nothing surrounds the city for another 1,200 km except grasslands. It borders the Ishim River, and its climate, especially in the winters when it can drop to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, turns tourists away in the colder months.

Still, it is worth the trip to see the almost CGI-like skyline, and check out the 60-meter-tall glass pyramid, known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Whatever your interests, you can find something in Astana to visit, just make sure to go in the city’s summer season.

Museums Galore 

Museum of First President

11 Beibitshilik Street., 10:30 a.m., 12.00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m., Tel. (fax): 75-12-14, 75-12-92, 75-12-76.

Free entrance/ Group visiting is possible with advance notice.

The National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is the largest museum in Central Asia.
The National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is the largest museum in Central Asia.

If you’re interested in Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, who incidentally played a huge role in designing the city, than look no further. This museum houses handwritten letters,  weapons, and personal items of the president, with over 60,000 artifacts inside.

National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan

54, Tauelsizdik str. Tel.: 91 90 35, Hours 10:00-18:00  Both the youngest and the biggest art museum in Central Asia, it is composed of numerous halls recounting the history of Kazakhstan, including the Hall of Independent Kazakhstan, Hall of Gold, Hall of Ancient and Medieval History, and Halls of Modern Art.

“Every other city I have visited in Kazakhstan has explained that their best items have been sent to Astana. This is where they appear,” explains one visitor.

Museum of Modern Art

Republic Ave., 3, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m./closed on Monday, Exhibition department: 21-54-31

The museum features more than 3000 works of the masters of fine arts from Kazakhstan, Russia and other countries who are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS, an organization made up of the former Soviet Republics. 

Strolling along the Ishim River

Khan-Shatyr

Turan Ave, 37, 10:00 am to 10pm, Tel: 734-768

Equestrian club in Astana
The club offers horseback riding for both children and adults.

Situated along the northern end of the city, the structure projects more than 150 meters from an elliptical base, forming the highest peak in the Astana skyline. It’s the world’s largest marquee, and covers more than 127,000 sq. meters. Featuring its own microclimate, the urban-scaled shopping center includes cafes, restaurants, cinemas and even an artificial beach with sand imported from the Maldives. 

Equestrian Club Tulpar

Koktal Ave, 2, 10:00 am to 7 pm, Tel: 300-140

The Club has more than 20 types of horses in its stables, and guests can rent horses for multiple hours depending on their schedules.

Must See Buildings

President Nazarbaev's residence which bears a striking resemblance to The White House.
President Nazarbaev’s residence which bears a striking resemblance to The White House.

Akorda Palace

The famous residence of president Nazarbaev, Ak Orda, meaning “white headquarters” in Kazakh, was designed after the White House. It holds buildings of the Majilis and Senate, Supreme Court and Ministries, as well as the National Library and archive, which can all be seen in the capital’s administrative center.

Astana- Bayterek Monument

Water- Verdure boulevard, Tel.: 24 08 36, 24 08 35, 10 am-10 pm

The sphere on top is made with "chameleon" glass, which changes color depending on the sunlight's reflection.
The sphere on top is made with “chameleon” glass, which changes color depending on the sunlight’s reflection.

Bayterek, meaning “poplar” in Kazakh, was reportedly drawn by president Nazarbaev on the back of a napkin at a state dinner.

Consisting of glass, metal and concrete, it is said to be a beacon of renewal, and represent not only of Astana, but all of Kazakhstan. Reaching over 105 meters high, and weighing of over 1000 tons, the lollipop shaped structure has a sphere on top, and is one of the city’s proudest monuments.

As one reviewer remarked of the “eye-catching monument,” “More or less wherever you are in central Astana you can see the Baiterek. It is an impressive structure and is very symbolic of Kazakh national pride” (TripAdvisor).

Nur-Astana Mosque

36, Kabanbay-Batyr ave

Tel.: 24 40 12, 24 40 17

The center dome of the mosque is made up of gilded aluminum.
The center dome of the mosque is made up of gilded aluminum.

The city’s mosque covers more than 4000 sq. meters, and can house almost five thousand occupants at one time, with an additional two thousand person occupancy in the front area. All four minarets each have a height of 64 meters tall.

One visitor notes, “The exterior is awesome, especially when in lights, at night. The interior, especially the ceiling and cupolas is astoundingly beautiful. Visiting this mosque is not restrictive as it is in most Muslim countries. So do not miss the chance to experience the beauty that Islam can inspire” (TripAdvisor).

Pyramid / Palace of Peace and Reconciliation

57, Manasa str, Tel.: 744 634, 74-47-44, 74-47-77

The pyramid's triangles are made out of granite, and a glazed apex which can be seen on top.
The pyramid’s triangles are made out of granite, and a glazed apex which can be seen on top

A 60 meter tall glass pyramid designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is made up of 5 stories of triangles.

The lower levels happen to be a 1,500 seat opera house, but the pyramid also contains a culture center about the ethnic groups that comprise Kazakhstan and also a library and center for research in world religions.

Recreation in the City

Circus

Unusual in both style and structure, Astana’s capital city circus is an odd flying saucer shape, but has become the leading circus in country.

The circus in Astana well-known for resembling the shape of a UFO.
The circus in Astana well-known for resembling the shape of a UFO.

Duman Oceanarium

4, Kabanbay-Batyr Ave

Tel.: 24 22 22, 24 24 85

The Astana Oceanarium is spectacularly far from any ocean, over 3000 km in fact. And yet, it holds over 3 million liters of water and over 2000 aquatic animals.

Water-Verdure Boulevard

In the main square of the city there are numerous water cascades as well as fountains to be seen.

Central Square

The central square also is not only famous for its fountains, but is also home to the city "akimat" or administration buildings.
The central square also is not only famous for its fountains, but is also home to the city “akimat” or administration buildings.

One of the oldest parts of the city, the center square is home to the old parliament buildings and many other historic sights, as well as a number of fountains.

Though only a 15-year-old city, Astana has quickly made a name for itself in Central Asia. Although from an architectural standpoint, the layout may seem disjunctive, the goal of president Nazarbaev, as well as architects from around the world, was to make a city that reflects Kazakstan’s ambitious future as an emerging country, and to show its bridging of eastern and western styles.

For more tourist information on visiting Astana, please visit this website.

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Isabelle Kagan

Isabelle Kagan

Isabelle Kagan is a writer from the south shore of Massachusetts. She spent five months studying in Paris and exploring Europe, becoming an avid fan of traveling. In her spare time she also writes for a satire blog. She currently lives in western Massachusetts.