Astana is a rapidly-developing tourism destination in Central Asia that offers an intriguing blend of the old and the new. As the new capital of Kazakhstan since 1998, Astana has since grown from a medium-sized provincial region to a spreading city with a projected population of more than 1 million people by 2030. New, modern architecture by leading international designers line the horizon alongside the old Soviet architecture that date back to the city’s founding. Astana is an up and coming city now finding its place in the scope of Asian tourism – a destination to look out for in the years to come.
Astana is known for the futuristic architecture cropping up across the city. Bayterek Tower is just one example of a monument popular both for its symbolism and aesthetic. Resembling a giant lollipop, the tower is 97 meters tall, representing the year 1997 when the city was named capital of Kazakhstan. It’s said to symbolize the legend of a golden egg atop the tree of life, in reference to a local folktale about happiness and beginnings. Visitors will find great views of the city from the tower, as well as an art gallery, aquarium and restaurant. The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is another towering architectural phenomenon designed to represent the diversity of all the world’s religious faiths. The pyramid-shaped building includes a museum, two art galleries, an opera hall and a café. Just next to the palace, you’ll find the Kazakh Eli Monument. It’s located in the center of the Independence Square, and features a statue of the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Shabyt Palace of Creativity is another architectural sight just north of the Kazakh Eli monument. It’s the home of an arts university, shaped like a blue dish and made from glass. The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, possibly the city’s most impressive building, looks like a giant transparent tent standing 150 meters tall. Underneath the “tent” is space for 10 football stadiums, featuring an internal park, coating robber, shopping center, miniature golfing and indoor beach resort.
Enjoy the city sights by boat on an Astana River Boat Tour. Visitors can drink in the panoramic view of the city from the Ishim River, and see the main sights including Independence Square, the Kazakh Eli Monument and the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. The Alzhir Museum in Malinovka, about a 30 minutes’ drive from Astana, is an ideal day trip for history buffs. The museum, a former concentration camp for Soviet prisoners, is now an open air museum documenting the lives of those captured. There are also four UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kazakhstan. Saryarka, or “yellow range,” is close enough for a day trip. The site includes two reserves that contain wetlands where migrating birds – including many endangered species – use as a feeding ground. Pink flamingos are a particularly popular attraction within the Korgalzhyn Reserve. The Burabay National Nature Park is another attraction for nature enthusiasts. The protected area has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with wildlife species from different geographical landscapes such as steppes (grasslands), forests and mountains, as well as species from different regions including Europe and Siberia. Located between Astana and the nature park, visitors will find Akkol, a town about 100 kilometers north of the capital. It’s sheltered by a pine-covered volcano to the west, with municipal park and so resort nearby.
From quiet accommodations on the banks of the Ishim River to modern luxury spaces offering full service, Astana has its fair share of places to stay. The Astana Hotel, a relatively new business hotel located on the left bank of the river is just a few minutes walk from sights including the Triumphal Arch and Bayterek Tower. Luxury hotels such as the Okan Intercontinental Astana or Rixos Presidents Hotel are all about comfort and indulgence. With fine dining, lavish rooms and the best facilities, these hotels come at a price that’s well worth it. Mid-range hotels are another option, providing cleanly, pleasant rooms and friendly staff service. Staying at a hostel may prove your most affordable option, with dorm rooms costing as low as $17 per night. With communal facilities from washing machines to kitchens, the Apple Hostel or Nochleg Hostel are cozy and fitting for travelers on the go.
Taxis, buses and walking are the best ways to get around the city. Street taxis, much cheaper than official taxis, can be hailed from any major road. Set a price before the drive, and make sure you aren’t overcharged. A typical cab ride can cost anywhere from KZT500, within the city center, to KZT1000 if you cross the river to the outskirts of the city. Public buses are more affordable, with fares less than KZT100. The buses may be overcrowded, but some routes offer nice loops around the city perfect for tourists.
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