Once the capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty is still the country’s largest city with a population of 1.5 million, which is equivalent to 9 per cent of the entire population of Kazakhstan. It’s also the country’s wealthiest city and probably the most attractive destination for a city break, thanks to its many upscale hotels, fine-dining spots, shopping malls and museums.
In 2011, Almaty co-hosted the annual Asian Winter Games. Today, Almaty is competing against Beijing and Oslo to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The winter-sport facilities and ski resorts located in the surrounding mountains are world-renowned. The most popular is the Shymbulak Ski Resort, situated 25 kilometres outside of the city. It has three ski lifts, with the highest reaching 3,200 metres above sea level. The Shymbulak Hotel is next to the ski lifts (doubles cost from about US$66 [Dh242]).
Ice-skating enthusiasts should check out the Medeu outdoor rink – its altitude (1,690 metres) makes it the highest rink in the world. Culturally inclined travellers will appreciate Almaty’s 18 theatres and 90 museums and art galleries. The Central State Museum is among Central Asia’s oldest and largest museums.
A comfortable bed
The Rixos (almaty.rixos.com; 007 727 300 3300) is the city's largest luxury hotel, with 236 rooms and suites. Located in the centre of Almaty and offering meeting rooms of different sizes, it's an ideal choice for business travellers. Doubles cost from about $245 [Dh900] per night.
The Ritz-Calton (www.ritzcarlton.com/almaty; 007 727 3328888) is on the top 10 floors of the 37-floor Esentai Tower, the tallest mixed-use building in Kazakhstan. The hotel's rooms and suites have views of the surrounding mountainous landscape, while the Sky Lounge is an elegant spot for a traditional Kazakh afternoon tea (16,000 Kazakh tenge [Dh324] for two). Doubles cost from about 57,000 tenge (Dh1,153).
Mildom Apartments (www.mildomhotel.kz; 007 727 261 0920) is a boutique design hotel that's only a short walk away from many of the city's main tourist sites, including the must-see Astana Square and Zenkov Cathedral. Doubles cost from about 20,000 tenge [Dh405].
Find your feet
If travelling around Almaty on the underground, get off at the Zhibek Zholy station, from where you’ll be a few steps from two of the city’s main sightseeing spots: Astana Square and the 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park. At the heart of the park lies the candy-coloured Zenkov Cathedral, which is built entirely of wood. From there, walk to the pedestrianised Arbat Street, one of Almaty’s most-strolled thoroughfares, lined with coffee houses with outdoor seating.
Meet the locals
Almaty has a lively cafe scene – its coffee houses are popular among locals and tourists. Caffè Kangnam on Arbat Street serves a wide range of hot and cold coffee specialities. It also serves pastries and Korean dishes. Traveler’s Coffee on Shevchenko Street is popular among university students and young professionals. Cafeteria is a cozy coffee house with vintage interiors and a large outdoor terrace on the relatively hidden yet central Kurmangazy Street.
Book a table
Restaurant Zheruiyk serves Kazakh and international dishes. It’s set in a large courtyard and has eye-catching traditional interiors. Salads cost about 900 tenge (Dh18).
The centrally located Georgian restaurant Daredzhani (www.abr.kz/restaurants/daredzhani) has colourful decor and a family-friendly atmosphere. Vegetarians will appreciate the many options available for them, including various large salads for 1,400 tenge (Dh28), such as the soko pomidorit speciality, comprising oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet peppers, radish and mayonnaise.
There are several malls in Almaty, but the city’s main shopping street is Gogol Street, which stretches to the east from Panfilov Park. There you’ll mostly find high-end American and European brands and designer labels, such as Paul Smith, Trussardi and Rolex.
What to avoid
Most taxis in Almaty aren't official and tend to charge foreigners higher prices. To avoid that, one recommended taxi provider is Komandir (www.komandir.kz).
The Green Bazaar might not be Almaty’s most fashionable shopping spot, but it’s definitely an entertaining place to stroll and take colourful photos. The large complex of stalls features a huge variety of products, ranging from fresh fruits and bread to hats and stockings.
Take the skyline ropeway to the top of Kok Tobe, the highest point in Almaty, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Beside the observation platform, you’ll find a popular amusement park and several restaurants, as well as a bronze statue of the pop band The Beatles.
Etihad (www.etihad.ae; 02 599 0000) flies from Abu Dhabi to Almaty four times a week. A return flight costs about Dh2,415, including taxes.
Follow us @TravelNational
Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.