Almaty is kind of an odd place in Central Asia. This city feels more European than Asian. Pastel-colored buildings and churches, street art, and cute coffee places on almost every corner. The city may not have a huge number of sights, but you come here for the overall vibe. Moreover, Almaty is quite a unique city. This is the birthplace of the apple because the first wild apple came from Almaty. The old name for the city is Alma-Ata, which means ‘Father of the Apples’. I really enjoyed my visit to the former Kazakh capital and I hope to return someday. In this blog post, I am sharing the best things to do in Almaty.
6 great things to do in Almaty
1. Take tons of photos of the yellow church
The Ascension Cathedral, also known as the Zenkov Cathedral, is the most famous building in Almaty. And rightly so, because it’s stunning! I kept on shooting pictures with my camera. Without exaggerating, I think I took about 50. The cathedral is completely made from wood, and it’s even one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. It is also a church of wonders because the structure survived a severe earthquake in 1911. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union was a dark period for religion. The Zenkov Cathedral was closed, vandalized, and looted. After some reconstruction, the church reopened in 1995.
The Ascension Cathedral is located in Panfilov Park. The easiest way to get there is by metro, get out at Zhibek Zholy.
2. Take a look at the Central Mosque
The superlatives continue. The Central Mosque of Almaty is the largest mosque in Central Asia. It offers space up to 7,000 visitors. The building is constructed with white marble and it has a huge golden dome. Is this the most beautiful mosque I’ve ever seen? No, but its size makes the building still quite impressive to look at. So why not take a look when you’re in the area. Ladies: bring a scarf to cover your head.
The Central Mosque is a 10-minute walk from the Zenkov Cathedral.
3. Dive into the Soviet stories at Park of 28 Panfilov GuardsMen
The full name of the Panfilov Park is the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen. It is home to the controversial statue of the Panfilov Red Army division. According to the famous legend, this unit gave their lives to protect Moscow in 1941 against Nazi-Germany. The whole thing looks quite heroic, but it turns out that the story is greatly exaggerated. Six out of the 28 men of the Panfilov division survived the battle and one surrendered to the Germans. By the way, the statue stands in Almaty because the division had many Kazakh and Kyrgyz men.
4. Take a walk on Panfilov Street
We stick with the Panfilov name because Almaty also has a Panfilov Street. This is a 2-kilometer long pedestrian promenade, starting at Abay Opera House. Then it runs to metro stations Almaly and Zhibek Zholy and ends (or starts, depending on where you’re coming from) at Rayimbek Avenue. The street has several benches for chilling, a fountain, cafes, and public art installations. Panfilov Street Promenade is also connected to Arbat, another pedestrian zone in Almaty worth checking out.
Panfilov Street is a 10-minute walk from Zenkov Cathedral. You can also take the metro to Almaly or Zhibek Zholy.
5. Enjoy lots of coffee
Almaty is a coffee city. I was actually surprised to see so many coffee places. Central Asia is for the most part a tea region, so I just wasn’t expecting it. But I liked it so much! For all the Dutchies out there, you have to visit Bowler Coffee Roasters. This cafe is run by a Dutch guy and a team of Kazakh baristas. I actually didn’t know it was Dutch, until I sat down, ordered coffee, and saw the Dutch ‘stroopwafels’ (caramel cookies) on the counter. For me, it was so strange to see this, in a country so far from the Netherlands.
Bowler Coffee Roasters is located on Kabanbai Batyr Street 65.
More great coffee places in Almaty
- Dom Cafe at Dostyk Avenue 42
- Urban Coffee at Satpaev Street 4a
- The Coffee Point op Abylai Khan Avenue 115
- Nedelka op Shevchenko Street 18
Note for vegans: most cafes don’t have soy milk or other plant-based alternatives. Hopefully in the future though!
6. Go on a little street art hunt
Almaty not only shines in the coffee department, but it also has a nice street art collection. Every year, the city organizes a street art festival called MURAL FEST. This means more and more murals are added somewhere in the city. My favorite mural is the one from the Dutch artists Telmo Miel (the first picture below). Unfortunately, I could not find an online map of the locations in Almaty. I found most murals through Instagram. So to help you out, I created a quick map with the best street art spots. If a location is not correct, please let me know and I will fix it. Happy hunting!
More things to do in Almaty
This list is just the start because Almaty has more to offer. For example, hop on the cable car to check out the panoramic city view from Kok Tobe hill. A return cable car ticket is 2,000 tenge. Or go for the cheap option and catch bus 95 or 99 to the base of the hill and walk to the top in 20 minutes (or take the shuttle bus up, 350 tenge). Other interesting places to visit include President’s Park, Republic Square, and the Central State Museum. Almaty also has a small city beach near Sairan bus station. Great for hot summer days! And then you have the day trip options to Big Almaty Lake and Charyn Canyon. So in short, this city offers plenty of things to do.
Getting in and around Almaty
- Download the 2GIS app: a great app for buses. Download the map of Almaty and you can use it offline to figure out which bus number you need to get to your destination. The bus fare in Almaty is a fixed price of 150 tenge.
- Sometimes the metro is a good option: Almaty has one metro line with nine stations. It’s not much, but it takes you around the city center. A metro ticket is 80 tenge.
- Use Yandex for taxis: a great app to quickly book a taxi. Feeling more adventurous? Try a ‘gypsy taxi’. These are unofficial taxis without fixed prices. Kazakhs use it a lot. Especially around rush hour, you will see people standing at the side of the road holding their thumb or hand up. Not to hitchhike, but to get a gypsy taxi.
- Almaty has two train stations: Alma Ata 1 and Alma Ata 2. Always try to book a train to and from Alma Ata 2. This station is located in the city center, while Alma Ata 1 is located four kilometers outside the center. I used this website to book my Kazakhstan train tickets.
Where to stay
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment (click here for a list of Airbnbs in Almaty), but it was quite far from the city center. We had to walk for 10 minutes and take a 30-minute bus ride every time we wanted to go to the center. Not ideal. So I would recommend staying at a hotel or apartment somewhere between Alma Ata 2 and metro station Abay. A good option is Mika City Hotel with an 8,6 rating on Booking.com. Click here for an overview of hotels in Almaty.
And that’s my list of things to do in Almaty. Do you want to visit this city?
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you book something through these links, I earn a small commission without you paying extra for it. You can read more about it in my disclaimer.