The mountainous city of Almaty is Kazakhstan's financial and cultural capital. Take a stroll among historic fountains, try your luck at winter sports, and taste the wild apples that gave the city its name.
Don't miss the famous Oriental Calendar fountain in the city center, which represents the 12 animals in the Kazakh zodiac.
Grab your selfie stick and snap a photo with the life-size statue of the Fab Four on Kok-Tobe Hill.
Take a spin around the Medeu ice-skating rink or travel to one of the winter resorts near Almaty for skiing and snowboarding.
The name Almaty is said to mean "full of apples," and wild orchards still grow in the mountains around the city. You can buy wild apples at an outdoor market or pick one off a tree during a hiking trip.
Almaty offers several bazaars where you can purchase everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to handmade rugs.
Set aside the Borat fantasy to learn a little more about Kazakh history and culture at the National Museum. When the museum originally opened in 1931, it was housed in the former Almaty Church. Now in its new location across from political administration buildings in the central square, the National Museum showcases Kazakhstan's story from prehistoric times to the Mongol period, and through to the soviet occupation. With informative and engaging factual accounts, the National Museum offers a fascinating ethnographic experience.
Experience the artsy vibe of Almaty's premier tree-lined pedestrian street. Arbat is actually the commonly held nickname of the street, while its formal name of Zhybek-Zholy (Silk Road) gives you a better sense for the area's former purpose. Almaty was one of the major stops along the Silk Road for the craft and agricultural prowess found there between the 10th and 14th centuries. The street ends at the Silk Way Mall, where you can shop imitation Western brands in an upscale indoor environment.
Those visiting Almaty in the winter can take advantage of Medeu, the highest Olympic sized ice stadium. The ambiance is absolutely superb, with colored light shows and loud pulsing pop music to help skaters relax and enjoy their time on the ice. There are also several hiking and alpine skiing opportunities in the hills surrounding Medeu for those looking to extend their travel adventure scope. In the summer months, the complex also hosts a mountain water-fed swimming pool under the ice rink. But be warned before jumping in: the water remains at a crisp 15 degrees celsius.
Take the cable car up the mountain to gain a better perspective of the cityscape at Green Hill. One of Almaty's best vantage points, the park features many walking paths and open lawns to facilitate a variety of outdoor activities. Green Hill also boasts several other attractions including a mini zoo, amusement park, cafes, and a souvenir shop. Travel tip: take an hour to explore around the indoor/outdoor jungle of stalls at Green Hill marketplace, where you can pick up everything from hand knitted socks and fresh goat cheese to freshly made Korean dishes and DVDs.
Take a nice long sauna break in the immaculate Arasan Baths which take up nearly an entire city block in the heart of downtown just west of Panfilov Park. The baths were created in 1981 in a uniquely central Asian modernist style, though its architects were highly influenced by other bath houses in Armenia, Russia, and Hungary to complete the design. Once inside, the huge spa complex offers separate men's and women's sections similar to a hammam-like atmosphere where you can shower, soak, steam, or get a massage. The entire experience generally takes between 1-2 hours, with an optional wind-down tea break following your soak.
Almaty has frigid winters and hot summers. If you want to take part in winter sports, the best time to visit is early spring and late fall when the average temperature is 46 degrees.
Almaty International Airport (ALA) is 15 miles from the city center. You can take a bus costing ₸80 or a taxi costing ₸3,000 to downtown Almaty.
Trains run to Almaty from all the major cities in Kazakhstan. You can also book long distance trips from Moscow and Ürümqi, China. Trains arrive at the Almaty-2 railway station.
There are three main highways into Almaty: the M-36 from the north, the A-2 from the west, and the A-351 from the east.
There are two bus stations in Almaty. The Sairan station provides long distance buses to major cities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. The Sayakhat station connects local routes.
Those on a budget can check into the Almaty Five Seasons Hotel and Hostel, which provides private rooms and bathrooms and a large outdoor courtyard. The Holiday Inn Almaty is an affordable, well-maintained hotel in the Almaly District that is conveniently located near major shopping destinations.
City Center - the heart of Almaty offers historic sites like the brightly colored Zenkov Cathedral and the World War II memorial in Panfilov Park.
Almaly District - this neighborhood's gleaming skyscrapers, high-end shopping malls, and gourmet restaurants are part of Almaty's new-found prosperity.
Kok-Tobe Hill - ride an aerial tram to this southeast neighborhood for family fun at a children's playground and petting zoo.
Almaty has a subway system and a network of buses, trolleybuses, and trams. The cost for all these forms of transportation is ₸80 per trip.
To avoid unscrupulous drivers, book a taxi in advance. The fares range between ₸200 and ₸1,000 per trip.
Driving is not recommended in Almaty because of the congested traffic, difficult parking, and strict police officers who tend to write large tickets to foreign drivers. However, you can rent a car at the Almaty airport from companies like Avis for ₸7,500 per day.
The TsUM department store on Abylai Khan Avenue 62 sells affordable souvenirs and electronic goods. The Baraholka Market in the Zhetysu neighborhood has wholesale clothes and household goods at cheap prices.
The Interfood grocery store chain offers a good selection of groceries, wine, and gourmet items at three Almaty locations. A gallon of milk costs ₸1,100 and a loaf of bread costs ₸85.
The kebab stands throughout Almaty offer a traditional meal for ₸500. The popular Venetsia restaurant in the city center offers Kazakh specialties like the noodle dish beshbarmak for ₸1,800 per plate.