Must see attractions in Kazakhstan

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mangistau

    Beket-Ata

    Some 285km east of Aktau, Beket-Ata is an important and extremely popular place of pilgrimage for those wishing to visit the underground mosque and final resting place of Sufi mystic and teacher, Beket-Ata (1750–1813). The mosque is near the bottom of a picturesque desert canyon and the journey to Beket-Ata involves traversing some spectacular steppe and desert scenery. You can get here via an expensive guided tour from Aktau, by hiring a 4WD and driver, or taking crowded pilgrim transport.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan

    This huge blue-glass-and-white-marble museum covers the history and culture of Kazakhstan from ancient to modern times. Themed halls comprise interactive displays and artifact exhibits, ranging from a yurt in the Hall of Ethnography to a chronicle of the capital's modern history in the Hall of Astana. Don't miss the Golden Hall, which houses several thousand Bronze Age ornaments from the famed 'Golden Man' (a national symbol of Kazakhstan) – a 3rd- or 4th-century warrior whose gold-clad remains were uncovered in 1969.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Turkestan

    Yasaui Mausoleum

    This astoundingly beautiful, tiled mausoleum with a turquoise dome is home to Kozha Akhmed Yasaui. The main chamber is capped with an 18m-wide dome, above a vast, 2000kg, metal kazan (cauldron) for holy water, given by Timur, who had the tomb built in the 14th century. Yasaui’s tomb lies behind an ornate wooden door at the end of the main chamber: you can view it through grilles from corridors on either side.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    Khan Shatyr

    Nur-Sultan's most extraordinary building (so far), the Khan Shatyr is a 150m-high, translucent, tentlike structure made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a heat-absorbing material that produces summer temperatures inside even when it’s -30°C outside. Touted as a 'lifestyle centre with world-class shopping', from outside it resembles nothing so much as a drunkenly leaning circus tent, while the multilevel interior contains a high-end shopping mall, food court, and various attractions.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    Palace of Peace & Reconciliation

    This beautiful glass-and-steel pyramid was opened in 2006 as the home for the triennial Congress of World and Traditional Religions, hosted by Kazakhstan. The 30-minute tour (English-speaking guides available) shows you a 1350-seat opera hall, the 3rd-floor atrium where the congress was held, and the apex conference room with windows filled with stained-glass doves (by British artist Brian Clarke). Full of symmetry and symbolism, the pyramid is beautifully illuminated and a highlight of the city.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Southeast Kazakhstan

    Charyn Canyon

    Over millions of years, the swift Charyn (Sharyn) River has carved a truly spectacular 150m- to 300m-deep canyon into the otherwise flat steppe some 200km east of Almaty, and time has weathered this into some weird and colourful rock formations. The most popular section, the Valley of Castles, is accessible by regular car; for the rest, you need a 4WD. You can get here by guided tour from Almaty, drive yourself, or come by public transport and then hike in.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Kazakhstan

    ALZhIR Museum-Memorial Complex

    During the Stalin years, Akmol, 35km west of Nur-Sultan, housed ALZhIR, a notorious camp for wives and children of men who were interned elsewhere as ‘betrayers of the motherland’. The ALZhIR Museum-Memorial Complex poignantly evokes the camp's horrors, displaying a transportation wagon, a replica guard post and photos and possessions of the prisoners, as well as explanatory material in English on the Gulag system in Kazakhstan. Minibuses to Akmol (400T, one hour) leave Nur-Sultan bus station eight times daily.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kurchatov & the Polygon

    Semipalatinsk Polygon

    Between 1949 and 1989, 456 nuclear tests were conducted on the territory of the Polygon, the Soviet Union's primary nuclear test site, both above and below ground. Much of the 18,000 sq km area is now considered safe to visit and you can do so with a guide and car organised by the National Nuclear Centre (easiest via tour agency) in Kurchatov. Radiation suits are dished out for visiting the parts where the radiation levels are considered to be dangerous.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Karaganda

    KarLag Museum

    Housed in the old KarLag headquarters building, this poignant museum walks you through KarLag's role in the Soviet Gulag Archipelago. The repression of Kazakh 'kulaks', the post-1917-Revolution Red Terror, the man-made famine of 1931 and the suffering of the victims of the Gulag are all given a voice here. From Karaganda bus station, take Shakhtinsk-bound bus 121 (every 20 minutes), get off at the Vtoroy Shakht stop (150T), walk or take a shared taxi into Dolinka (1.5km).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kolsai Lakes

    Kolsai Lakes National Park

    Located around 12km by paved (from 2018) road from Saty village, these three spruce-and-mountain-hemmed lakes are Alpine-esque beauty at its best and a Kazakhstan highlight. As you hike between the lakes, graze on wild strawberries and raspberries in summer and take frigid dips in the clear waters. The hiking trails between the lakes are steep in places and can get very muddy. You need your own wheels to reach the lakes, or go as part of a tour from Almaty.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mangistau

    Shakpak-Ata

    Perhaps the most intriguing of all Mangistau’s underground mosques, 10th-century Shakpak-Ata is a cross-shaped affair with three entrances and four chambers, cut into a cliff close to the Caspian coast. The eerily beautiful, Swiss-cheese-like stone that it's cut into was once at the bottom of the sea. It’s 133km north of Aktau and 37km northwest of the village of Taushik – the final 11km, north from the Taushik–Fort Shevchenko road, is down a stony, bumpy track.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Aral

    Aral Sea

    A trip to the slowly replenishing Aral Sea is the main – the only! – reason to come to Aral. Near its northern shore rise the sculpted rock formations of a magnificent canyon, in shades of ochre and yellow, reminiscent of Utah or Arizona. Four Soviet shipwrecks still lie on the seashore amidst dense growth of samphire, and the medicinal hot spring near a fishing village draws visitors from afar. Other attractions include the dam and overnighting in a fishing village.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kolsai Lakes

    Kaiyndy Lake

    Created by a major earthquake in 1912, this deep, cerulean lake is fed by a glacial river and is notable for its forest of drowned spruces, the branches below the water so beautifully preserved by the cold water that local enthusiasts sometimes go diving here. There's a nice little beach for bathing, and a short trail through spruce forest to the end of the lake. You need a 4WD to drive here, 10km south of the village of Saty.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Altay Mountains

    Mt Belukha

    Right on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia, the myth-rich, snow-tipped peak of Mt Belukha (4506m) – Altay's highest – attracts true mountaineers. Even if you're not looking to bag the peak, it's possible to organise multi-day treks to the foot of the mountain from Rachmanov springs.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Almaty

    Central State Museum

    Almaty’s best museum takes you through Kazakhstan’s history from Bronze Age burials and nomadic culture to WWII sacrifices, telecommunications and the transfer of the capital to Nur-Sultan, with many beautiful artefacts on display. A large replica of the Golden Man (a national symbol of Kazakhstan; a 3rd- or 4th-century warrior whose gold-clad remains were uncovered in 1969) stands in the entrance hall.

  • Sights in Almaty

    Panfilov Park

    This large and attractive rectangle of greenery is one of central Almaty's most popular strolling and hangout places for all ages. At its heart stands the candy-coloured Zenkov Cathedral.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    Bayterek Monument

    Nurzhol bulvar's centrepiece is this 97m-high monument, a white latticed tower crowned by a large glass orb. This embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach. Lifts glide visitors up inside the egg, where you can ponder the symbolism, enjoy expansive views and place your hand in a print of President Nazarbayev’s palm while gazing towards his palace.

  • Sights in Almaty

    Respublika Alany

    This broad, Soviet-created ceremonial square provides a panoramic view of the snowcapped mountains on a clear morning and is surrounded by several landmark buildings and monuments.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Taraz

    Aysha-Bibi & Babazha-Katun Mausoleums

    In Aysha-Bibi village, 16km west of Taraz, are the tombs of two 11th- or 12th-century women, legendary protagonists of a local Romeo and Juliet tale. The Aysha-Bibi Mausoleum, though heavily restored in 2000–2002, is probably the only authentically old building around Taraz. Made of delicate terracotta bricks in more than 50 different motifs forming lovely patterns, the building looks almost weightless. Shymkent-bound minibuses will drop you in the village, along the main road; the mausoleums are 300m (signposted) south.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Almaty

    Kök-Töbe

    This 1100m hill on the city’s southeast edge is crowned by a 372m-high TV tower visible from far and wide, and affords great views over the city and the mountains, plus an assortment of attractions at the top. The easy way up is by the smooth cable car.