The daring combination between a modern, sprawling city made up of shiny new skyscrapers and a very particular set of celebratory monuments honouring Kazakhstan’s culture and folk traditions, it’s time to check out the best things to see in Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana)!
Capital of a nation with an already tough-to-get-around stereotypical fame (thanks a lot, Borat!), Nur-Sultan is certainly not for the faint of heart. In fact, when it comes to a tourist point of view, places can be catalogued in a very simple manner. There are those cities whose beauty and atmosphere are capable of instantly stealing your heart, the places that may not look like much at first but whose layers keep on surprising you the more you scratch the surface, and finally the cities that you simply don’t like. However, after visiting Nur-Sultan, I realized the Kazakh capital might well belong on a category of its own: the “What the F* happened here?” kind of city!
Make no mistake – if you get the chance to, visiting Nur-Sultan has to be on the bucket list of anyone planning to backpack in Kazakhstan. I downright guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
Without any further ado, here’s what to do in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
THE BIZARRE HISTORY BEHIND NUR-SULTAN (ASTANA), KAZAKHSTAN
When a city has changed its name 6 times throughout a 200-year period, then you gotta know something’s off!
Officially designated the capital of post-independent Kazakhstan in 1992, its nomination as the new seat of government (replacing Almaty in the south) surprised pretty much everyone. After all, why would a small city seating right in the middle of the great Kazakh steppe, isolated from everything else, replace a much bigger and better developed city as the new capital?
According to official records, the President Nursultan Nazarbayev had great plans for the future capital, and since it would be impossible to expand Almaty any further, he went ahead and simply decided to create a city of his own. From scratch. According to his plans, ambitions and even building sketches. Even if that meant having the second coldest capital in the world, after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!
Be that as it may, and once Akmola was appointed the new capital, the city’s name was changed to Astana, which literally means “Capital” in Kazakh (would have loved to hear the pitches back then). Shortly after, Astana experienced a huge growth in construction, industry and public services, seeing a huge influx of ethnic Kazakhs from other provinces and more rural areas, as well as mass immigration from its neighbouring nations. The end result is a multi-cultural city that can be dubbed the New York of Central Asia (yeah, really).
Finally, the last chapter in the city’s rather unusual history came when the eternal President Nursultan decided to step down from official duties in 2019. As a reward and tribute for his services to the Kazakh nation, the new head of government decided to once again change the capital’s designation and name it after his predecessor. Hence Nur-Sultan, the current capital of Kazakhstan!
THINGS TO SEE IN NUR-SULTAN – DO YOU NEED A VISA TO VISIT KAZAKHSTAN?
Fortunately, Kazakhstan has come a long way when it comes to easing the bureaucratic processes for those wishing to visit the country. In fact, nowadays there are dozens of countries whose citizens don’t even need a visa to enjoy the best things to see in Nur-Sultan (Astana) or in any other Kazakh cities.
However, and even if you don’t come from one of the visa-exempt countries, it is now possible for citizens of 117 countries to get an evisa before arriving in Kazakhstan! You may apply online or find out if you come from one of the eligible countries at the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ official website, but keep in mind the platform is beyond horrible, with laggy features and bugs everywhere which can make the whole process a living nightmare. Plus, in order to apply for an evisa you also need a Letter of Invitation.
In case your nationality isn’t eligible for neither the visa-exemption or the evisa, then you can try to apply through a specialized visa service, such as Ivisa. They can guide you through the process and provide you that hellish Letter of Invitation.
THINGS TO SEE IN NUR-SULTAN (ASTANA) – HOW TO GET TO KAZAKHSTAN
FLYING INTO NUR-SULTAN
Gateway to most visitors wishing to arrive in Nur-Sultan, the Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport might still be the 2nd busiest in the country after Almaty International airport, but passenger numbers and available international routes are slowly but steadily increasing.
Plus, the local airport is the only in Kazakhstan where you can fly from Europe on a Low-Cost carrier, with Wizzair connecting Nur-Sultan and Budapest for air-rates as low as 75€ per person. Great deal for a 5-hour flight across 2 different continents if you ask me.
You can compare the best possible air deals through different aggregators, such as Momondo, Skyscanner and similar platforms.
ARRIVING BY TRAIN IN NUR-SULTAN
Arriving by train may also be a possible solution for those seeking to spend at least 1 day in Nur-Sultan.
Although the city is only connected to Russia for international train travel, with several weekly services from Moscow or Ekaterinburg, pretty much all major Kazakh cities, such as Almaty, Karaganda or Shymkent provide cheap (if long) daily services to the capital.
In case you want to book your tickets online, you can either rely on Tickets.kz or Railways.kz. Although the first one is available in English, keep in mind this is still a 3rd party service and therefore the tickets are a bit more expensive. On the other hand, and though the latter is actually Kazakhstan Railways’ official website, which means tickets are cheaper, the platform is difficult to navigate and you’ll have to write all the city names using the Cyrillic alphabet (we can help you with that though).
9 BEST THINGS TO SEE IN NUR-SULTAN (ASTANA), KAZAKHSTAN
Monument tower and observation deck, the unmistakable Bayterek is perhaps Kazakhstan’s greatest symbol, and therefore one of the best places to visit in Nur-Sultan.
Providing 360º views of the whole city, from atop Bayterek you’ll get clear views of the surrounding modern governmental headquarters, all the way back to the oldest part of the city located across the Ishim River. Tickets can be bought onsite for just 700 tenge.
On a curious note, and further cementing the idea that Nursultan Nazarbayev is promoted as a deity in Kazakhstan, this tower actually features a golden print of the former president’s hand, along with an inscription urging visitors to place their own hand over the print and ask for a wish.
Officially named Ak Orda (White Horde) Palace, this megalomaniac building serves as the official workplace of the President of Kazakhstan. Despite its grandeur, it was built in just 3 years, having been inaugurated back in 2004.
We recommend taking in the views of the building from at least 2 different perspectives, from both the Nurzhol Boulevard (coming from the Bayterek) and from across the river, with all the post-modern buildings and glass giants in the background. The views certainly grant it place on our list of best things to see in Nur-Sultan!
KHAN SHATYR ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE
Nothing represents Nur-Sultan’s over-the-top style quite like this one!
Though apparently just a cool-looking shopping mall built in the shape of a tent, inside Shatyr Khan’s premises there is a whole different world unravelling in front of your eyes. I’m talking mini-golf courses, a dinosaur theme park for kids equipped with a proper rollercoaster (good luck finding that in any other shopping mall) and – brace yourselves – an artificial beach with sand imported directly from the Maldives. Yeah, seriously.
If you’re into weird architecture and unusual sights, this one has to be on your list of things to see in Nur-Sultan!
Looks can be so deceiving, can’t they? Although this may seem the most classical-looking building in all of Nur-Sultan, the Astana Opera is actually one of the most recent additions to the city’s quite… eclectic landscape.
Inaugurated in 2013, it is said to have one of the best acoustics in the world, with an insanely beautiful main hall which hosts live opera and ballet shows.
If you’d like to catch a concert while in Nur-Sultan (Astana), then make sure to keep an eye on the opera’s official website.
With a maximum capacity of 5000 worshippers, the Nur-Astana is considered the third largest mosque in Central Asia. A rather generous gift from the Emir of Qatar, this beautiful building and its golden domes are wonderful to look at, and hands-down one of the best things to see in Nur-Sultan.
PALACE OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
They gave us a 2013 neoclassical opera and a tent-shaped mall but… what about a palace built in the shape of a pyramid? Well, why not?!
Since Nur-Sultan plays the permanent host to the Congress of World Religions, a super event which gathers hundreds of representatives from the world’s major religions, local authorities figured it would be a good idea to purposely built a palace just for this event which takes place every 3 years, promoting it as a token of tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.
All of that sounds lovely and rather commendable… but a pyramid? C’mon Nur-Sultan, now you’re just messing with us!
HAZRAT SULTAN MOSQUE
If you got impressed by the Nur-Astana mosque, wait until you lay your eyes on this beauty!
Purposely built to serve as the largest mosque in Central Asia, the Hazrat Sultan is probably the prettiest building in the entire city! From both inside and out, everything about this mosque is just drop-dead gorgeous, with its whitewashed marble façades, impeccably kept exterior gardens and insanely atmospheric interiors.
Personally, visiting the Hazrat Sultan Mosque was my favourite thing to do in Nur-Sultan (Astana).
Moving on to the city’s main hub, Independence Square may not have the finesse or impact of its European counterparts, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get to play its charms on visitors.
Surrounded by several different city landmarks, such as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, the Hazrat Sultan Mosque or the Palace of Independence, it has all the space and feeling of emptiness one would expect from a former soviet square. Nur-Sultan can feel like a ghost town at times, and this square stands as a good example of that inexplicable remoteness and desolation.
In the centre of the square stands a huge marble column known as Kazakh Eli Monument, a symbol of national sovereignty decorated with statues and reliefs depicting important moments in Kazakhstan’s independence process.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KAZAKHSTAN
Last, but certainly not least, we cap off our list of things to see in Nur-Sultan with the National Museum of Kazakhstan.
Inaugurated in 2014, this is a very interesting place where you’ll get the chance to see several exhibitions about different stages in the nation’s history. Although we did end up enjoying this museum quite a lot and were particularly keen on the Ethnographic Hall and on the exhibit portraying Kazakh territories during soviet rule, it’s important to note visitors should take the information displayed in this museum with a pinch of salt.
Wherever you go and look, it becomes impossible not to notice the cult of personality built around a certain someone (wink, wink) splattered all over the museum walls.
Still, very interesting to visit! Tickets cost 700tg.
We’ve seen our quota of weird, tacky places but Kazakhstan’s capital might take the cake! So weird that becomes impossible not to get intrigued by it! Curious about our list of things to see in Nur-Sultan? What else should visitors do in Astana? Let us know on the comments below!
The main, and only viable, form of public transportation in Nur-Sultan is the bus system.What is Nur-Sultan known for? ›
In March 2019, Kazakhstan renamed its capital Astana to Nur-sultan to honour the country's outgoing long-term authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.Is Astana and Almaty the same? ›
After Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, the city was renamed Almaty in 1993 and continued as the capital until 1997, when the capital was moved to Akmola (renamed Astana in 1998, Nur-Sultan in 2019, and again Astana in 2022). Since then Almaty has been referred to as the 'southern capital' of Kazakhstan.Is Nur-Sultan worth visiting? ›
You're Going to Love Nur-Sultan
Rising up from the vastness of the steppes like a glimmering sculpture garden, the Kazakh capital Astana seems like a miracle city. On closer inspection, this dynamic political and commercial center is one of Central Asia's most exciting and rewarding destinations.
It is important to note that the people of Kazakhstan, inclusive of all ethnic groups living in the country, are called Kazakhstani. Only people of the Kazahk ethnic group are called Kazahks. If you are not sure of someone's ethnic background, it is safest to refer to them as Kazakhstanis.Who is the ruler of Kazakhstan? ›
|Rank||President||Time in office|
|1||Nursultan Nazarbayev||28 years, 330 days|
|2||Kassym-Jomart Tokayev||3 years, 215 days|
From Kazakh Астана (Astana), meaning capital, from Persian آستانه (âstâne).Is Nur-Sultan and Astana same? ›
The city continued to develop rapidly throughout Nazarbayev's presidency, and, on March 20, 2019, the day after he left office, the city was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honour. The name was changed back to Astana in September 2022.Why is Astana called Sultan? ›
Following the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev on March 19, 2019, Astana was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor. The name Astana was readopted in 2022 following a proposal by members of the Parliament of Kazakhstan.
Because the main power of the southern capital is where Almaty is located. Almaty has a more vibrant culture, more abundant natural diversity, and more places to see in Almaty than Nur-Sultan. I think it is better to go to Almaty, and even better to both cities at once.
Kazakhstan is one of the top 10 largest countries in the entire world. It is known for its architectural marvels, the Caspian Sea, and the wild horses.Is Kazakhstan worth visiting? ›
Because it really has everything; canyons, mountains, lakes, vibrant cities, history and culture. Some of those points are featured later. This is a country you visit if you do not want to travel the typical backpacker routes or well-trodden path. And you will get more from it.Why should I visit Astana? ›
It has many popular attractions, including The Baiterek Tower, Nurzhol Boulevard, Park of Lovers, making it well worth a visit. Astana is a city in Astana, Kazakhstan. It has many popular attractions, including The Baiterek Tower, Nurzhol Boulevard, Park of Lovers, making it well worth a visit.What food is Kazakhstan known? ›
Beshbarmak is the national dish of Kazakhstan. It consists of boiled meat served with thin pasta sheets and a sauce (chyk) made from onions, meat broth, salt, and pepper. Horse and mutton are most often used but it can be made with beef as well. Beshbarmak is one of the most culturally significant Kazakh foods.What language do they speak in Nur Sultan? ›
NUR-SULTAN – People in Kazakhstan are increasingly becoming more interested in learning the Kazakh language in the aftermath of recent political events in Kazakhstan and in the world, says Kanat Tasibekov, a Kazakh language advocate and the author of the “Situational Kazakh” series of self-tutorials, in an interview to ...Is Kazakh food spicy? ›
According to the Kazakhstan government: 1) Main ingredients in traditional Kazakh cuisine are meat, flour and milk products, though nowadays many other ingredients are common in the cuisine. 2) Kazakh cuisine is usually not spicy.Is Kazakhstan in NATO? ›
Kazakhstan has been actively engaged within the framework of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme since 1993.What is Kazakhstan main export? ›
Kazakhstan has an export-oriented economy that is highly dependent on shipments of oil and related products (58 percent of total exports). In addition to oil, its main export commodities include natural gas, ferrous metals, copper, aluminum, zinc and uranium.How old is Astana? ›
Nothing whatsoever like that famous anti-hero of Kazakhstan, Borat, these new go-getting graduates increasingly dominate what is a young city both in terms of its age – Astana celebrated its 17th birthday on 6 July this year (the same day as the president's) – and overall demographic.Why was Astana built? ›
The official reasons for the move were a lack of space for expansion in Almaty, and its location in an earthquake zone. In 1994 the government began to transfer the national capital from Almaty to Aqmola (named Astana since 1998). The transfer was completed in 1997. To some Kazakhs, the move remains controversial.
Destination Kazakhstan, a republic in Central Asia, south of Russia, that extends east from the Caspian Sea to the Altai Mountains and China in west. Until 1991 Kazakhstan was one of the fifteen Soviet republics.How do you pronounce Nur-Sultan? ›
How To Pronounce Nur Sultan - YouTubeWhat time is KZ? ›
|Current Local Time in Locations in Kazakhstan with Links for More Information (13 Locations)|
|Oral||Tue 5:21 am|
|Petropavl (KZ)||Tue 6:21 am|
|Qyzylorda||Tue 5:21 am|
|Shymkent||Tue 6:21 am|
Though Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa designed and planned Astana, Soviet theories on architecture, planning, and urbanism continue to shape the city's built environment. A monumental, central axis and monolithic high-rise apartment blocks are legacies of Soviet architects and planners.What continent is Kazakhstan? ›
KazakhstanDoes Kazakhstan have two capitals? ›
During this short tour of Kazakhstan you will visit its both capitals - the current one Astana and the 'southern capital' Almaty.What is the population of Kazakhstan 2022? ›
The current population of Kazakhstan is 19,294,373 as of Monday, October 24, 2022, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.What should I pack for Kazakhstan? ›
Make sure to stock up on the layers. If you plan on heading to Kazakhstan during the winter make sure to pack the winter essentials: Warm, waterproof, fleece-lined boots big enough to wear with heavy wool socks, hat, waterproof gloves and thermal long underwear!Is Almaty beautiful? ›
The Almaty Province provides some of the most fascinating and picturesque natural landscapes in the country. Visiting some of these spots may require you to put on your walking boots and book nearby accommodation, but they are worth the trip for the unforgettable sights.What do people wear in Kazakhstan in the summer? ›
Pack long pants or skirts and shirts with long sleeves and high necklines. Shoes should be comfortable and provide support for walking on dry, sandy ground. Shoes should also be easy to slip on and off as they must be taken off before entering many of the country's religious sites.
The minimum legal age to purchase any alcohol is 21 years of age in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and 20 years of age in Uzbekistan. Only Kyrgyzstan allows alcohol purchase from the age of 18. In Turkmenistan, the sale of alcohol is banned on holidays and non-working days, including Saturday and Sunday.Is Kazakhstan safe for tourists? ›
Most visits are trouble-free. However, mugging and theft occur in cities and rural areas. Foreigners can be targeted. There have been a number of violent attacks and muggings on the expatriate community in Atyrau and Aktau in western Kazakhstan, and in Astana and Almaty.Are Kazakhstan people friendly? ›
There is a growing number of tourists in Kazakhstan and virtually almost all of them report feeling very safe in the country. The people in Kazakhstan are usually very welcoming and generous to foreigners visiting their country.Is Kazakhstan cheap? ›
A single person estimated monthly costs are 397$ (188,795₸) without rent. Cost of living in Kazakhstan is, on average, 62.59% lower than in United States. Rent in Kazakhstan is, on average, 80.30% lower than in United States.Can you drink tap water in Kazakhstan? ›
Kazakhstan is in the same range with countries Africa, Asia, Middle East and Central America. In addition, tap water is safest in the developed world, including: UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern and Western Europe, the US and Japan.What is the best time to visit Kazakhstan? ›
The best time to go to Kazakhstan is in Apr-May or Sep-Oct, between scorching heat and heavy snow.What country is Almaty in? ›
Almaty, Russian Alma-Ata, formerly (1855–1921) Verny, city, southeastern Kazakhstan. It was formerly the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (1929–91) and of independent Kazakhstan (1991–97).Why is Almaty famous? ›
Almaty is also an important cultural centre. In addition to the Abai Kazakh Academic Opera and the Ballet Theatre, the pride of national musical heritage, it also is home to a theatre dedicated to the Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961), a Russian theatre and various Korean theatres.Is Almaty safe for tourists? ›
Almaty has one of the highest levels of street crime in Central Asia. Pickpockets target tourist sites such as: parks. shopping areas.What is the capital city of Kazakhstan? ›
The decision to transfer the capital from Almaty to Akmola was made by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan on July 6, 1994. The official transfer of the capital took place on December 10, 1997. By the presidential Decree dated May 6, 1998, Akmola was renamed to Astana.
Central Asian countries are known for their distinctive clothing designs made from felt, and Kazakhstan is no exception. Handbags, purses, slippers and other Kazakhstani products made from felt can be easily purchased. Meanwhile, apples are some of the many things that could be brought from Kazakhstan's largest city.Is Almaty beautiful? ›
The Almaty Province provides some of the most fascinating and picturesque natural landscapes in the country. Visiting some of these spots may require you to put on your walking boots and book nearby accommodation, but they are worth the trip for the unforgettable sights.Does Indian need visa for Kazakhstan? ›
Yes. Indian citizens who wish to travel to Kazakhstan are required to obtain a visa for travelling to Kazakhstan.What is the best time to visit Almaty? ›
The best time to visit Almaty are the summer months from June to September when the temperatures are moderate around 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, hence it is the best time for sightseeing also.What is there to do in Almaty at night? ›
The famous night bar of Almaty is the sky bar. It is a multiplex of different bars with a central and main bar in the middle. It is the best place to visit if you want to try out different drinks and experiment with various cocktails. After the sub has set, you haven't run out of options.What should I avoid in Kazakhstan? ›
Keep valuables in a safe place and out of public view. Avoid travelling in unofficial taxis, particularly at night and alone, or if there is another passenger already in the car. Robberies have occurred on trains, so always lock railway compartments on overnight trains.Can you drink alcohol in Kazakhstan? ›
The minimum legal age to purchase any alcohol is 21 years of age in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and 20 years of age in Uzbekistan. Only Kyrgyzstan allows alcohol purchase from the age of 18. In Turkmenistan, the sale of alcohol is banned on holidays and non-working days, including Saturday and Sunday.Do I need visa to Kazakhstan? ›
U.S. citizens can visit Kazakhstan without a visa for up to 30 days for all purposes of travel, with the exceptions of employment and missionary work. Individuals traveling visa-free in Kazakhstan cannot stay for longer than 30 days at once, or for more than a total of 90 days during any six-month period.Is Kazakhstan in NATO? ›
Kazakhstan has been actively engaged within the framework of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme since 1993.Is Kazakhstan larger than Russia? ›
Russia is about 6 times bigger than Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is approximately 2,724,900 sq km, while Russia is approximately 17,098,242 sq km, making Russia 527% larger than Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is about 1.2 times smaller than India.
India is approximately 3,287,263 sq km, while Kazakhstan is approximately 2,724,900 sq km, making Kazakhstan 82.89% the size of India.