Almaty – Kazakhstan’s cultural capital

Arriving in Almaty

We arrive in Almaty by night train from Shymkent. After a small Odyssey, we find a great hostel called Almaty Backpackers. Please be aware that we are Germans so that the term “great” usually translates into ”amazingly awesome”!

travel tipp infoAttention: Lonely Planet also lists the Almaty Backpackers Hostel but with an obsolete address since they moved some time ago. Click here to see their facebook page with up to date contact and address details.

Located in a small two story building, the hostel offers a cozy kitchen and living room area. It is easy to meet other guests and the hostel staff is extremely sociable, friendly, English-speaking! They do anything to make your visit to Almaty a memorable one.

The flair of the city

Lonely Planet nicely describes Almaty as “among the more appealing Russian creations in Central Asia”. When walking through Almaty’s streets, you indeed see soviet architecture mixed with many green areas. A breathtaking panorama from the snowcapped Zailiysky Alatau mountains is the predominant visual impression in the streets of the city. Still, Almaty’s charm rather lies in the open-mindedness and friendliness of its inhabitants. In contrast to most other cities of Kazakhstan, quite a few people speak at least rudimentary English and are curious about foreigners. Also the university students are like a fountain of life for the city vibes. There is a wide range of cultural events and a vivid café and restaurant scene. The city offers plenty opportunity to socialize with locals and enjoy life.

Exploring Almaty’s center

The city’s pedestrian zone is a bit of a bummer: Besides a couple of restaurants and an assortment of shabby looking shops, tourists are offered paintings and souvenirs by the many street merchants. More interesting for us are the Zielony (Green) Bazaar, a nice food market mostly frequented by locals with some market stands around offering anything from clothes to kitchen ware. Great atmosphere and absolutely worth a visit!

Facing the bazaar we visit the surprisingly good Museum of Folk Musical Instruments with a lot of interesting exhibits and musical samples. If you visit at the right time to catch one of the instructors, you are even allowed to try out some of the instruments.

The wooden orthodox Zenkov Cathedral in Gorki Park is a beautiful building from the tsarist era, and the park itself home to many bars and nightlife locations. Of course, a soviet park would not be a soviet park without a huge war memorial in the center: In this case, the memorial was built in honor of 28 infantry soldiers fighting off Nazi tanks close to Moscow’s city borders.

Mount Kok Tobye – an inner-city hiking trip

In the evening we walk up to Almaty’s highest Mountain within its city limits. Kok Tobye is 1070 m high. We arrive just in time to be rewarded with a spectacular sunset. The panorama of the city and the surrounding mountains are painted for us in a deep red light. On the summit there is also one of the biggest TV towers in the world (ugly concrete construction though), some restaurants and a small amusement park. In the main season, you can take a cable car directly down into the city center, but as it is end of October, the season is over and we walk back.

There are a lot of other hiking options around Almaty. Read here about our day trip to the Big Almaty Lake.

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