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Shymkent

Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city, with bustling bazaars and a lively downtown, Shymkent (Chimkent; Шымкент) has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country. The Mongols razed a minor Silk Road stop here; the Kokand khanate built a frontier fort in the 19th century; Russia took it in 1864; and the whole place was rebuilt in Soviet times. Little more than 62 miles (100km) from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, today Shymkent is a thriving trade centre that refines oil and brews two of Kazakhstan’s best beers, Shymkentskoe Pivo and the Bavarian-style microbrew Sigma. Its population is about 65% Kazakh and about 14% Uzbek. It's mostly modern and brash, with a couple of good museums, but southeast of the main part of the city, across the small Koshkar-Ata canal, you’ll find the few remaining streets of pre-Russian Shymkent – a quiet, village-like area of wooden houses.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Shymkent.