almaty lake

Set against the dramatic snow-capped Tian Shan mountains, Almaty has all the attractions of a major city with none of the claustrophobia or stress. The centre’s wide, park-studded streets juxtapose with the village-y feel of the dacha districts. Kazakhstan’s oil boom has clearly brought money to the area, as is reflected in its luxury brand shops including Versace, Hermes and Rolex. Together with the prevalence of cafes and restaurants, it lends an oddly European vibe to the Soviet backdrop. Indeed, the upcoming Expo 2017 will showcase a city on the up. This former capital is a charming place to pass time; combining both culture and history with an outward-looking population.

TO EAT + DRINK

Daredzhani

If it seems like everyone who has been to Almaty has eaten at traditional Georgian restaurant, Daredzhani, because the food is excellent. Order classic dishes such as pkhali, shashlik and khachapuri.

Korean restaurants

Central Asia does Korean food well, due to its large Korean population which resettled in the area during Soviet times. Visit Korean House for the best in Almaty.

Coffee and brunch

Almaty has been infiltrated by the hipster coffee shop. There are dozens, all serving fairly decent coffee but with varying standards of food. The best streets to try are Abay Avenue, Kabanbai Batyr Street and Ablai Khan Avenue on which you can hear the melodic strains of musicians practicing at the nearby Conservatory. Our favourite cafes include Ldinka where you can sip your cappuccino while overlooking Old Square, and My Café which does a cracking breakfast.

Plov

Asian cuisine varies from region to region, with plov – directly translating as pilaf – being a speciality within Almaty. We also recommend Kishlak and Alasha restaurants.

Lemonades

Kazakhstan has conquered the homemade lemonade which features on most menus across the city’s cafes and restaurants. An ice-cold litre of basil and kiwi or ginger and orange infusions are refreshing during hot summer days.

TO DO

Arasan wellness and spa

The traditional baths here come with Finnish, Russian and Turkish options. Be prepared to leave your clothes at the door – you have to go fully naked except, bizarrely, for a felt hat to stop your brain ‘sweating out’. The hats and oak/birch leaves (to lash yourself with, Russian-style) are available for sale outside. Massages, manicures, and other beauty products can be requested.

Go for a wander

Almaty is studded with trees and parks, perfect for the Russian habit of gulyat (strolling). If you’re worried about striding out on your own, Dennis – a twenty-something American/Almaty resident – does excellent city tours with smatterings of Kazakh culture and history. Panfilov Park is one of the finest green spaces – check out the awesome war memorial and the timber-framed Zenkov Cathedral, one of the only buildings in the city to survive the 1911 earthquake which flattened the city.

Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre

Pop in to see a Russian opera or ballet at the state opera house. Front row seats cost less than a fiver and it’s a good chance to mingle with the great and the good of Almaty.

Almaty Lake

A forty-five minute bus or taxi ride out of the city takes you to Big Almaty Lake, an natural alpine reservoir ringed by mountains some 2,511 meters above sea level. It’s a great starting point for walks and hikes.

Zelyony Bazaar

Brush up on your Russian language skills and haggle for fruit, vegetables, nuts and meat in the otherwise known Green Bazaar. Most importantly, buy yourself an apple; Almaty’s old name Alma-Ata means “father of apples” in Kazakh, and the city claims to be the birthplace of the domesticated apple.

Kok-Tobe

Ascend Kok-Tobe mountain via cable car for views over the Almaty – it’s the city’s highest point. At the top you’ll find an recreational area complete with amusement park attractions and restaurants.

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TO STAY

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