Almaty has had a rich and significant history since it was founded in 1854 as a Russian frontier town. It was on the site of what had been a key trading centre on the Silk Road called Almatu. It was almost totally destroyed by earthquakes either side of the start of the 20th century before becoming the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan in 1927. The following decades were a tough period in local history with a number of leading thinkers being repressed as part of The Great Purge. The Soviets also tried to bring the nation into its systems and suppress the national identity. The impact of WWII led to big increases in industrialisation as the area became a crucial part of the war effort. After the war, various Soviet building projects sprung up and this architecture can be clearly seen when walking the streets or visiting sites like the Arasan Baths. It was in Almaty itself that the Central Asian republics formally left the USSR and joined the Commonwealth of independent states. The city changed its name from Alma-Ata to Almaty but lost its status as the capital city in 1998 to Astana. However, it remains a real cultural, social and economic centre of both Kazakhstan and the wider region.
This viewpoint is where we have our pre-departure briefing and is the perfect spot to both have a great time and to get a sense of the city as a whole. There’s expansive views below and it’s easily accessible via a cable-car. At the top- there’s a range of cafes, restaurants and shops to enjoy alongside the panoramas. There’s a Beatles monument to admire as well. You can ride the “Fast Coaster” with 45km/h speeds and a great way to see the city lights below. If that’s a bit too scary for you then the Ferris wheel offers a slower way to experience some of the great views. For the romantics amongst you – there’s an alley of lovers to take your sweetheart on. Or if you’ve not found anyone to do this with then head over to The Fountain of Desires and make a wish.
You will not be hard pushed to find a place for a drink in one of Central Asia’s hippest cities. A night out in Almaty is a fun part of any Kazakhstan tour and you can enjoy a real range of cuisine here too. There’s a lovely terrace to people watch from Line Brew and this micro-brewery serves some of the nation’s most popular beers. If you fancy trying your hand at some games then there’s the aptly named Awesome Bar with its collection of board games. The city also has a whole range of upscale places from GQ Asia to Cinzano. However, at The Dragon Trip- we prefer the more down to earth spots and there’s plenty of fun options to be had which are more friendly on the wallet. Plus- if you really want to catch a football match then there’s plenty of sports bars including the Old Trafford Pub.
If you are into hiking then this whole region is something of a playground with a whole host of alluring options for you to dig your teeth into. If you fancy getting cracking early with a hike before your trip starts then there’s plenty of easy options within day trip distance of Almaty. You can be out in the mountains by day and out on the town by night. Turgen Gorge is a great option and is filled with dense forest, waterfalls and striking views. There’s plenty of options around this pristine area and it’s not frequented by tourists. There’s also the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range and you can walk the lower reaches in the Ile Alatau National Park and check out the vast lake there in the park too!
This relic of the Soviet era is both a relaxing day in itself as well as a snapshot into a bygone era. As we mentioned, Almaty – or Alma-Atu as it was known then – was a part of the Soviet Republic. The leader in the 70s and 80s was Dinmukhamed Kunayev and he ensured there was a lot of funding from Moscow to the city. This bath-house was one of the places built in this period and it offers a traditional bathing experience amidst the Soviet style building. It was built to rectify the fact there were few good options in the city for bathing and as a riposte to the higher numbers in Tashkent. The architecture combines traditional Asian architecture with modernism and the results are striking. The building is totally symmetrical and there’s men on one side and women on the other. Inside you have a whole series of options from sauna, banya, hamman, plunge pools and steam baths. It’s a unique, fun and revitalising way to while away a couple of hours on a Kazakhstan tour.
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