Kazakhstan might be best known for its vast barren landscapes but since 1998 when Astana became the capital city, it has rapidly developed into a city of the future. Known as the Dubai of Central Asia, Astana is growing at an alarming rate but is it always for the best? Let’s find out…
Most people have probably never even heard of Astana but believe me in the future you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more about it. Thankfully I visited in the summertime when it was a beautiful 26 degrees, however this city is officially the second coldest capital city in the world, after Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
The only way I can describe Astana is odd, one minute you’ll be walking past a gold, sparkly new 5* hotel and then directly next door is a run down house that has been there for years and is about to fall down. However this city has some of the most futuristic buildings that I’ve ever seen and for that I’ll always remember it fondly.
Here are some of my favourite places that I visited:
The jewel in Astana’s tourism crown, standing at over 105m the Bayterek (meaning popular in Kazakh) Tower provides a picturesque panorama over the city and to the steppe beyond. Amazingly it only costs 500 Tenge (Approx. £1) to visit, so it’s incredible value-for-money. Sadly someone decided to tint the glass yellow and therefore your photos from inside will end up looking slightly odd.
Khan Shatyr Entertainment Complex
This crazy tent-inspired structure is the largest marquee in the world! Designed by British architect, Norman Foster, it should be far more famous but sadly most people have never even heard of it. I found it similar to the shopping malls of the Middle East as the whacky Khan Shatyr houses its own water park, indoor river, monorail and even an indoor beach with sand specially imported from the Maldives!
Hazrat Sultan Mosque
After completion in 2005, the Hazrat Sultan Mosque is now the largest in the whole of Kazakhstan with the ability to house more than 10,000 worshippers. In a country where 67% of the population identify themselves as Muslim, for me it was nice to see that the Kazakh people are tolerant of other religions and thankfully it also isn’t illegal to be gay here. There’s still a long way to go but I’m pleased that I was able to visit and roam freely.
Kazakh National University of the Arts/ Shabyt (aka the Dog Bowl)
I’ve worked at several Universities in London and I can easily say that none of them looked like this! Please can I get a job here?!
Metropolitan Circus (aka the Flying Saucer)
Wow! The aliens have landed and built a flying saucer for a circus, well weirder things have happened. As one of the most futuristic-looking buildings in Astana this place certainly catches your attention. It simply looks like a UFO just landed, all credit must go to President Nazarbayev, who came up with the initial idea.
Duman Entertainment Complex
This place is just insane, at over 3,000km away from the nearest ocean, it houses the world’s largest oceanarium that’s furthest away from the sea! With sharks, turtles and even local Kazakhstan fish you’ll be amazed at the wonders of the deep. Oh and although it’s mostly for kids, there’s even a mermaid who comes along every hour or so and dives in!
Once you’ve had enough of the fishes you can also check out the 5D or 8D cinema or maybe even the fake jungle. Quite literally like nothing I’ve ever seen, advanced isn’t the word.
Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall
What would a concert hall be if it wasn’t shaped like the layered petals of a rose? Well Astana has built just that and it houses some of the most prestigious classical music and dance performances.
There are several other incredible buildings/structures that sadly I didn’t get chance to visit but these include a musical fountain, an entire suburb called Family Town designed specifically only for couples and their children and even three amazing apartment buildings called the Northern Lights that illuminate the sky at night inspired by the Aurora Borealis.
Travelling in Astana
Sadly when the town planners got involved in making Astana a city of the future they failed to factor pedestrians into the equation as many of the pavements that should be there, well aren’t! The distances between things are also pretty far so you might want to hire a car or take taxis everywhere, however you’ll need to speak a bit of Russian to avoid being ripped off.
I paid 2,500 Tenge from the airport to my hotel and as a general rule anywhere south of the river costs between 500 – 1,000 Tenge or north costs up to 1,500 Tenge.
There are city buses but every time I saw one they were completely full with people squashed against the windows, however they are cheap at only 90 Tenge per journey.
I couldn’t resist but add this to my article, during my time travelling in Kazakhstan I discovered there’s an airline called Scat! You just can’t make this sh…tuff up.
Visit Astana for yourself
I highly recommend a visit, to book your stay go to Booking.com and search for Astana.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions.
Explore Kazakhstan’s former capital city Almaty in my previous blog article here.
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