Astana

Ministry of Transportation, Left Bank, Astana

Astana (formerly Aqmola and Tselinograd), in the north of Kazakhstan, is the second largest city in the country. It took over the role of capital city from Almaty (the largest city) in December 1998. Now it's undergoing a transformation costing billions of dollars, where top international architects assist in trying to make Astana a worthy capital - not only of Kazakhstan but of all Central Asia. Astana presents an interesting and intriguing blend of old Soviet architecture with the modern designs of Norman Foster and the like. Astana is growing, but still does not offer the comforts and thrills of its Western counterparts, or Almaty, but has its own charms and pleasures.

Get in

By plane

Astana International Airport (IATA: TSE) is about 15 kilometres south of central Astana. It serves Vienna, Kiev, Moscow, Beijing, Delhi, Seoul, Bangkok, Istanbul, Dubai, London, Amsterdam, Hannover and Frankfurt, as well as several domestic destinations. Air Astana, the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, flies to Almaty, Delhi,Dubai, Frankfurt, Hannover, Istanbul-Atatürk, Moscow-Sheremetyevo, and Ürümqi from Astana Airport.

Bus 10 connects the airport and the city centre twice hourly, price is KZT60. A taxi from the airport to the city centre is about USD20.

By train

Astana rail station

Astana is served by the Qazaqstan Temir Zholy (Kazakhstan National Railway). Express trains run between Almaty and Astana. Additional service connects to Russia and Urumqi in western China. English Timetable.

Get around

There are plenty of taxis around: expect to pay KZT300-1000 for a trip within the city.

Street taxis: Stand at the side of any road and thumb down a passing car, within 3 minutes you should have had a string of them. Tell them your destination and they will either drive off or gesture you in. It is useful to know numbers so you can set a price for the journey before starting. They are much cheaper than official taxis and you can expect to pay about half the price in one of these, prices start at about KZT500 for a cross river trip. Some drivers will practice their English on you, others will race around the streets like a maniac, slowing down for the obvious speed camera. Use this method with caution and try to travel in groups.

The public buses cost KZT60. Get on the bus and a conductor will come and ask for your fare and give you a ticket. Given the simplicity of the process, you don't need to speak the language to be able to do this. The buses are efficient and comfortable, but they are often full. Some buses are from the 1990s, but there are also newer buses from the last 10 years that match any modern city in terms of the quality of the bus.

The municipal authorities have published a bus route map. Unfortunately, however, you have to choose the bus number to see the route. This is not helpful if you know where you want to go but don't know which bus to take! Once you're on the bus, there is a route map, so it's worth taking a photo of that on your phone for later trips around the city! When you get on a bus tell the conductor your destination and they will either tell you when to get off or gesture you to get on another bus.

On the route map published by ZaProezd.kz (click here) you can more easily search for the route you want in either Astana, Almaty or Karaganda. The page will suggest routes for you on the page's left side.

The number 12 bus does a nice loop around the new part of the city with the palace etc., so this is a nice one for a tour.

See

KazMunayGas Headquarters
Downtown with Baiterek Tower in the middle
Nur-Astana Mosque

The dome area contains symbols from all over the world like the Statue of Liberty, the fragment of the great Chinese wall, the "Doriphor" statue, Parthenon and others.

Do

'REVision Park' Cinema in English: Every Tuesday at 8pm, 24 Turan St. Sary Arka Shopping Mall (3d Floor). , Revision Park is a new project of Language Leader and KinoPark Multiplex cinemas .

Buy

Souvenir shopping

Talisman on Republic Avenue is a great little souvenir shop with T-shirts, felt products, leather paintings, traditional musical instruments, desk sets and jewellery and stuffed leopards. A bit expensive and the staff watch you very carefully to make sure you don't shoplift, but there is a good variety of goods.

TSUM also has a nice little souvenir shop in the second floor with traditional Kazakh souvenirs.

General shopping

TSUM The central shopping mall on Kenesary Street, across from Congress Hall has some shops for clothes, perfumes, a camera shop, cafe and a small supermarket.

New Western-style shopping malls have sprung up with all the variety of shopping you would expect from a mall in the West including:

Keruen on the Left Bank near Bayterek. Supermarket, Cinema, Babylon (video-arcade/indoor rides for children). Food court.

Mega on Turan Street. Cinema. Ramstor supermarket. Climbing wall. Food court.

Sara Arkai on Turan Street. Cinema. Supermarket.

Ramstor is another chain of supermarkets that is popular among Westerners in Astana. They sell lots of things you can't find elsewhere such as macaroni and cheese, microwave popcorn, Worcestershire Sauce, barbeque sauces, tortilla chips, salsa and so on.

Asia Park. Next to Central Mosque of Astana. Has a nice skybar with a pretty good view. Includes an Alma supermarket with good bakery, dairy, tinned food and frozen food. Fruit and vegetables don't look so good (in late 2011). Some basic homeware is also on sale. There is a Finn Mark shop for winter clothes. There is also a Fitness First gym.

Artem. This is half way between a bazaar (as some people call it) and an old fashioned shopping mall. The ground floor is open and feels like a market - it has lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and dried fruit and nuts, all for sale in market stalls; plus mobile phone shops at one end. There are also areas that sell meat and fish. The many upper floors contain mostly clothes shops - a bit more reasonably priced than MEGA, Khan Shatyr etc., plus toiletries, furniture, and more.

Alem

Shanghai. These are big supermarkets that are more like bazaar mostly for the groceries but they also have clothes.

Eurasia. One of the first shopping centres in Astana. Has everything for a little bit lower prices.

With China relatively close, you can find many electronic gadgets in the shops, just remember that returns policies are not as customer-friendly as in the West. Also some of the latest gadgets such as iPhones and iPods are more expensive here than in Western countries.

Khan Shatyr. Contains a Greens supermarket - well laid out (the aisles aren't straight, so it doesn't have that factory-like feel of typical supermarkets). Prices are reasonable considering it's in the Khan Shatyr. There is also a Debenhams in Khan Shatyr.

Eat

Beshbarmak - a horse meat and pasta dish. Most restaurants that serve it will present a portion enough for two or three people. Boursaky - bread best served piping hot. A little like an unsweetened doughnut. Shashliq - unless you have a sturdy stomach, best to avoid unknown street vendors, but these kebabs are often cheap, and a good 'safe bet' if you recognise little else on the menu.

Along Turan street (formerly Sara Arka), there is a row of restaurants that while a bit expensive are quite good. They also have private rooms for parties, saunas, and even hotel rooms.

Drink

There are more than 10 discos (night clubs) that are frequently referenced by locals: Chocolate , A8, Fusion, Ice, etc. Chocolate is in the same building as the SAS Radisson hotel, but may only be open on selected days (weekends). "Ice" (centrally located - ask locals for the address) has a nice atmosphere and is on two floors with a large dance area. Prices are towards the high end, no entrance fee on Thursday night.

Sleep

Connect

Mobile phone providers

There are three mobile phone providers: KCell, Tele2 and Beeline. All three offer mobile web (Edge, 3G). SIM cards are cheap and can be bought without filling in documentation.

Money

There are cash machines in shopping centres, on the street and in most hotels. Most accept VISA and some people have had trouble with MasterCard. Most banks convert dollars, euros and roubles. Pounds are much harder to get rid of.

Cope

Embassies

Religion

Catholic church of Maria Santissima. Tashenov St - Services: Sunday 11am (Russian), 6pm (English)

Go next

Burabay National Park 3 hours north by train

Almaty 21 or 13 hours south by train

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.