Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, is a vibrant metropolis set against the stunning backdrop of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains. For those considering things to do in Almaty, exploring Panfilov Park, a green oasis in the heart of the city, and visiting the Ascension Cathedral, a beautiful Russian Orthodox church, are top activities.
The city’s Green Bazaar offers a bustling atmosphere and a chance to experience local life, with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to traditional Kazakh crafts. Nearby, the Kok-Tobe Hill provides panoramic views of Almaty and is accessible by a scenic cable car ride.
Beyond its urban attractions, Almaty is also known for its proximity to incredible natural landscapes, with the Shymbulak Ski Resort and the Big Almaty Lake offering opportunities for outdoor adventures. For those seeking the best places to visit in Kazakhstan, Almaty’s blend of urban charm, cultural richness, and access to nature makes it a compelling destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Almaty, Kazakhstan
1. Kok-Tobe Hill
Kok-Tobe Hill provides panoramic views of Almaty and the mountainous horizon. Accessible by cable car, visitors can enjoy not only the scenery but also an amusement park, a zoo, and several dining options at the top.
Travel Tip: Try to visit during the evening when the city lights are on for a spectacular night view, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking.
2. Zenkov Cathedral
Officially known as the Ascension Cathedral, this vibrant yellow, wooden structure located in Panfilov Park is one of the few Tsarist-era buildings to survive the 1911 earthquake, largely due to its entirely wooden construction.
Travel Tip: Photography is not always allowed inside, so be sure to ask for permission if you wish to take photos.
3. Big Almaty Lake
This alpine lake located within the Ile-Alatau National Park is about 15 km south of Almaty. Surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, the lake is a popular spot for picnics, hiking, and photography.
Travel Tip: The best time to visit is in the summer or early autumn, as the road can be treacherous in winter.
4. Green Bazaar
The Green Bazaar, or Zelyony Bazaar, is a bustling market where you can find everything from fresh produce and local delicacies to clothing and souvenirs.
Travel Tip: Be ready to haggle to get the best prices, and don’t pass up the chance to try some local Kazakh specialties like kurt, a dried salty cheese, or fresh honey.
5. Medeu Skating Rink and Ski resort
The Medeu is an outdoor speed skating and bandy rink. Set in a mountain valley, it’s known for its pure mountain water that’s used to flood the rink, ensuring high-quality ice.
Travel Tip: Even if you’re not into skating, the surrounding area is great for hiking in the summer and offers stunning views all year round.
6. Central State Museum of Kazakhstan
This museum offers insights into Kazakhstan’s history from ancient to modern times. Its diverse exhibits showcase nomadic culture, folk instruments, and the transition of the country into the modern age.
Travel Tip: The descriptions are mainly in Kazakh and Russian, so consider hiring a guide or getting an audio guide if you’re not familiar with the languages.
Arbat, also known as Zhibek Zholy pedestrian street, is a charming area filled with street artists, musicians, souvenir shops, and cafes. It’s a perfect spot to experience the city’s culture and enjoy some leisure time.
Travel Tip: Look out for local art pieces and handicrafts here; they make unique souvenirs and gifts.
8. Shymbulak Ski Resort
Just a short drive from Almaty, Shymbulak Ski Resort offers skiing in the winter and hiking or mountain biking in the summer, with cable cars operating year-round for those who just want to enjoy the view.
Travel Tip: The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so bring extra layers even if you visit on a warm day.
9. Panfilov Park
Named after the Panfilov Heroes, this park is a memorial to the soldiers who died fighting the Nazis during World War II. It’s a serene place for a stroll and to see the Eternal Flame memorial.
Travel Tip: The park often hosts festivals and public celebrations, so check the local calendar for events during your visit.
10. Falcon Farm Sunkar
At the Falcon Farm, visitors can watch birds of prey shows with eagles, hawks, and owls, and learn about the ancient Kazakh art of falconry.
Travel Tip: Make sure to check show timings in advance and bring sun protection for the outdoor setting.
11. Kolsai Lakes
A series of three lakes known as the “Pearls of Tien Shan,” the Kolsai Lakes are nestled among the mountains and offer stunning natural beauty and opportunities for hiking and horseback riding.
Travel Tip: Stay overnight in a nearby guesthouse or yurt to fully enjoy the tranquil environment and starry night skies.
12. Almaty Central Mosque
Almaty Central Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Kazakhstan, with its four minarets and a capacity to accommodate 7,000 worshippers. The mosque showcases the beauty of Islamic architecture and is an important cultural center for the Muslim community in Almaty.
Travel Tip: Non-Muslim visitors are welcome outside prayer times, but remember to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering.
13. St. Nicholas Cathedral
This Russian Orthodox cathedral, with its stunning turquoise domes, serves as a spiritual hub for the city’s Orthodox Christian community. The interior is adorned with religious icons and murals.
Travel Tip: Be sure to check the schedule for services if you wish to observe or attend one, and remember to be respectful of the congregants.
14. Almaty Zoo
The Almaty Zoo is a place where families can enjoy seeing a variety of local and international wildlife. Although smaller than some international zoos, it offers a glimpse into the region’s fauna.
Travel Tip: Visit during the weekdays if possible, as it is less crowded compared to weekends.
15. Museum of Folk Music Instruments named after Yihlasa
Housed in a wooden building that is a work of art itself, this museum displays a collection of traditional Kazakh musical instruments, including the dombra, the national instrument.
Travel Tip: If possible, time your visit during one of the live music demonstrations to experience the instruments being played.
16. Republic Square and the Monument of Independence
Republic Square is home to the Monument of Independence, a significant landmark symbolizing the country’s freedom. The square is often the center of national celebrations and public gatherings.
Travel Tip: Try to visit on a national holiday to experience the fervor of patriotic celebrations.
FAQ About Things to Do in Almaty, Kazakhstan
What are the must-visit places in Almaty?
Key attractions in Almaty include Kok-Tobe Hill, which offers panoramic views of the city, the Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park, the Green Bazaar, and the Big Almaty Lake for breathtaking natural scenery.
Can I explore the mountains around Almaty?
Absolutely! Almaty is surrounded by the majestic Tien Shan mountains. You can take guided tours for hiking, skiing, or simply enjoying the landscape at spots like Shymbulak Ski Resort and Medeu Skating Rink.
Is there a place to experience local Kazakh culture in Almaty?
The Central State Museum of Kazakhstan is a great place to start for those interested in the local culture and history. For a more hands-on experience, visit the Falcon Farm to see traditional Kazakh falconry.
What are the best activities for families in Almaty?
Families will enjoy visiting the Almaty Zoo, the Central Park with its amusement rides, and the interactive Museum of Science and Technology ‘Experimentarium’.
Are there botanical gardens or parks in Almaty?
Yes, the Almaty Botanical Garden is a beautiful and expansive area perfect for a peaceful stroll, and the First President’s Park offers well-maintained paths and seasonal flowers.
Where can I find the best local cuisine in Almaty?
For authentic Kazakh cuisine, head to local eateries like Gakku Traditional Restaurant or Navat Tea House, where you can try dishes like beshbarmak, manty, and kumis.
What shopping experiences are unique to Almaty?
Visit the Green Bazaar for a lively shopping experience where you can find everything from fresh produce to local crafts. For high-end shopping, Esentai Mall offers a range of luxury brands.
Are there any significant festivals in Almaty I should know about?
Almaty hosts several festivals throughout the year, such as the Almaty Apple Festival celebrating the region’s apple heritage, and the International Jazz Festival featuring musicians from around the world.