What to see in Kazakhstan
Having undergone a recent name change from Astana to Nur-Sultan in March 2019, after the country’s former president, this capital city is a unique place, quite unlike any other city in Kazakhstan. Not only is it the second coldest capital city in the world, but it is also located in an isolated location in the middle of the barren Kazakh steppe in the north of the country. Sat on the Ishim River, Nur-Sultan is a purpose-built planned city, founded in the 1830s as a defensive settlement by Siberian Cossacks.
Today, it is known for its impressive modern architecture, earning it the nickname of the ‘Dubai of Central Asia’. Architecture enthusiasts on a trip to Nur-Sultan will marvel at the futuristic buildings and wide open spaces of this unique capital. Only since 1994 has Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, been the Kazakh capital, replacing the former capital of Almaty following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In recent years the city has gained a reputation as a diplomatic centre for world politics, often being used as a host destination for high-profile political discussions. Nur-Sultan is divided by the Ishim River, with modern skyscrapers and high-tech architecture on the left-bank and more residential areas on the right-bank. One of the best ways to explore the city is by bicycle, and the public bike-sharing system makes it simple to do so when you are on a trip to Nur-Sultan.
The city has a number of cultural and architectural sights to visit during a tour of Nur-Sultan. The Baiterek Tower is a true symbol of the city since the country’s independence, with it’s futuristic ‘lollipop’ design and crowned with a huge golden sphere. Visitors can enjoy views of the city from its 360 degrees observation deck, built 97 metres above the ground to correspond with the year that Nur-Sultan became the capital of Kazakhstan.
Another of the modern highlights that showcase the forward-thinking character of the city are the Emerald Towers, the tallest buildings in the city, and the Kazakh National University of Arts, an awe-inspiring spherical construction. The National Concert Hall also amazes visitors to Nur-Sultan with its sharp lines and out-of-this-world design, whilst the Presidential Palace is yet another unmissable sight.
The Nur-Astana Mosque, a masterpiece of white and gold, stands out for its giant towers and glistening dome. It’s the third largest mosque in Central Asia and can hold up to 5,000 worshippers at one time. For a glimpse into everyday life in Nur-Sultan, head to the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre, a huge complex of shops, restaurants, bars and even an indoor beach, and is a popular place for locals to escape the frigid winter temperatures.