The city Almaty was named after its old name “Alma ata” which translated means ‘Father of apples’. And there are in fact many apple trees around the city and some even say that the city is the birthplace of apples. Almaty has about 1.5 Million habitants and is the biggest city in Kazakhstan and the city Central Asia. Almaty is a quite safe city. It used to be the capital before Astana was named the new capital in 1998. Almaty still remains the business and cultural center of Kazakhstan. The city still has a soviet style but has its own charm. Right behind the city are the mighty mountains of the Zailiysky Altau and the views to the snowy peaks are really stunning. In fact, the location makes Almaty one hell of a city. You simply don’t expect a city with millions of people right underneath mountains that are 4’000 meters high. Almaty is a city with both, an international flair and a Soviet history. You can find nearly anything you want in Almaty. There are lots of parks which make the city quite green. There are many nice and glittery shopping malls with international brands. Coffee shops in the style of Starbucks are on every corner and the night life offers lots of bars and clubs. The young women are well dressed and like to wear the latest styles and fashion. Somehow the city is like many cosmopolitan cities around the world.
Despite that there are some aspects that are special about it and make good stories. It happens that you walk around and feel being transported back to 1990’s because of the buildings, cars and public transports being still from the Soviet area. Sometimes you find a random ad of a German brands like Rewe from the 60ies on an old truck which is still used here. Around the famous green market, there are corners where people stay around with their cellphones waiting for customers. Their business is to give out their phones to customers for single phone calls. Like a phone booth but, well, without a booth. That is their business. Or another well-known corner, where people jingle with keys and rent out their flats right there on the street. Late at night most of the little neighborhood shops are closed and are not allowed to sell alcohol anymore. But for insiders just knock on the door and the shop owner, who sleeps in the shop, opens a small window and sells beer and chips or Chechyl (salty chees snack).
If you want to travel around the city and don’t want to use public transportation, just hold out your hand on the street and a random gypsy taxi will stop. But if you do so, make sure to set the price before you enter the car. If you do use public transportation, there is a brand new metro in Almaty. The government invested a lot of money to build the prettiest metro stations which are a tourist attraction itself.
Almaty is a great city and especially in spring and autumn very nice to visit. A ride to the Kok-Tobe with its newly reopened cable car is fun. Or try out one of the biggest spas in Central Asia, Arasan, with massages and saunas. Visit the famous green market and its nice food and fruit stands. There is also the huge and chaotic Barakholka market a bit outside of town where they sell almost everything from animals to fridges to cars and shoes. You also should visit the close-by ski resort Shymbulak which is also open in summer and the ice rink Medeu. There is lots to do up there in the mountains including a quad bike ride up to 3’500 meters above sea level.
If you are in to cultural sights, try to visit a traditional Kazakh play at the Auezov Theater. It is a lot of fun even if you don’t understand Kazakh. On a Sunday afternoon, go to the president’s park in Almaty. There will be dozens of brides and grooms with their entourage trying to beat each other for the best wedding pictures and boy they have some sparkling dresses. Anyhow, the parks are always full with people and are a good place to meet locals. Be it the Park Panfilov with the candy-colored Zenkov Cathedral or the Central Park with funfair rides and an aquapark. Or just walk around the pedestrian stretch, Zhibek Zholy.
Here some bars and restaurants we especially liked:
- Rumi lounge and fairy tale edition: The restaurant is good for local food like manti and plov. The decor is especially charming.
- Derzhaded: A very nice Georgian restaurant if you want to try some other cuisine.
- My café: A stylish café with western food including all day breakfast.
- United coffee: An even more stylish café with nice big chairs to spend an afternoon.
- Sahshlychok na pastera 29: Good local restaurant for meat and beer lovers.
- Banka bar: A nice little neighborhood bar a bit outside of the center.
- Pinta bar: A good choice to meet local people. They have good pup food and shisha.
- Simitici Kebap: A simple Turkish restaurant. They serve a very good and cheap Iskender Kebap and Turkish breakfast.
- Opera: for the best shisha in town
- Kaliano: a stylish shisha bar/restaurant