How to Spend a Weekend in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Lauren Hill

Senior Contributor

Kazakhstan’s high-rise capital, previously named Astana, has grown rapidly since its inauguration as the capital in 1997. Positioned in the north-central part of the country, this growing metropolis straddles the winding Ishim River, with the old town on the Right Bank and modern sprawl on the Left Bank, met in the middle by the sculpture-dotted Ishim River embankment. The city changed its name from Astana to Nur-Sultan in 2019 in honour of the former long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbayev, time here can be spent peering up at the city’s futuristic structures, strolling through its urban landscapes and perusing gleaming museums.

The Architecture

The skyline of Nur-Sultan’s ultra-modern Left Bank reflects the ambition behind the rapid development of this city, with futuristic skyscrapers that are a photographer’s dream.

The orb-topped observation tower and monument, Bayterek Tower, is considered an emblem of the city, with a design representing a folktale about a mythical tree of life and bird of happiness. The observation platform is 97 metres above the ground to mark the year this city became the capital.

The acclaimed British architect Norman Foster was then brought on board to design the city’s 2006-opened Palace of Peace and Consent—a glass pyramid housing a library and opera house—as well as the tent-like Khan Shatyr structure, which was unveiled the same year. Built in the neo-futurist style, Khan Shatyr is now an entertainment centre.

More modern landmarks covering a gamut of architectural styles include the Triumphal Arch “Mangilik El, which symbolises the history and achievements of the Kazakh people; the largest mosque in Central Asia, Hazrat Sultan; and the blue-domed Akorda Presidential Palace. You can ride Kazakhstan’s largest ferris wheel at Ailand, cross the sculptural Atyrau pedestrian bridge and step inside the spherical Nur Alem Pavilion, which since being built for the EXPO-2017 has been used for one of the city’s biggest attractions, the Future Energy Museum

Museums and Galleries

From the historic to the future facing, Nur-Sultan’s museums provide a window into this city and nation’s cultural identity. Go from exhibits on topics such as Space Energy at Nur Alem (the Future Energy Museum) to The Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which displays artefacts and memorabilia in the former presidential palace. This museum gives insight into the country’s history as well as the life of the former president.

The National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan gives a more general overview of the country’s past with halls including the Hall of Astana, Hall of Independent Kazakhstan, Hall of Ethnography and Hall of Modern Art focusing on the art and ethnology of Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a whole.

Some of the smaller galleries then allow you to delve into Nur-Sultan’s contemporary arts scene. Step inside independent galleries such as Has Sanat Galley, Gallery Aru-Art, Artumar, TSE Art Destination and ForteBank Kulanshi ArtSpace for a look into Kazakh arts. TSE Art Destination has an educational centre, experimental laboratory, art store and café in addition to its modern art gallery.

The Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Nur-Sultan (Astana)

Further Exploration

Follow exploration of the city’s cultural sites with a glimpse into the Nur-Sultan lifestyle. The rapid development this city has seen, since it became capital, has also marked the arrival of gleaming entertainment hubs, shopping centres and urban areas of greenery.

The Foster + Partners-designed building, Khan Shatyr, brings entertainment and shopping together under one impressive nomadic-tent-inspired roof. You’ll find everything from a boating river to indoor beach here, as well as cafes, restaurants, a cinema and 183 shops.

If you need a breather from the urban sprawl, take a stroll through City Park, the sculpture-dotted Park of Lovers or Nur-Sultan’s lush Zheruyik Park, which has hiking and biking trails winding through the 21-hectare green space.

Where to Eat

Just like the architecture and urban parks, Nur-Sultan’s restaurant scene has grown hugely in recent years, with dining spots dedicated to a range of international cuisines as well as offering the traditional Kazakh and Russian options.

Try Georgian dishes at atmospheric restaurant Daredzhani, dine on specialities of Central Asia at the sleek 25th-floor dining spot Vechnoe Nebo (Eternal Sky) and tuck into a fusion of Kazakh, Russian and Japanese food in the trendy restaurant Alta Vista. Il Forno is one of the best places for Italian cuisine and Gastroli is celebrated for serving the dishes of renowned chef Artem Marchenko. The hospitality group White Enterprise then has a series of buzzy dining spots including the Persian restaurant and bar, Metis. 

Georgian food in Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan

The Best Hotels

All you need to complete your stay in Nur-Sultan is a room at one of the city’s best hotels. The St. Regis Astana and The Ritz-Carlton Astana stand out for their interiors, style and luxury facilities. Stay at the sleek Ritz-Carlton hotel in the city’s Talan Towers for plush interiors integrating Kazakh design elements, to experience a Kazakh tea ceremony with treatments in the spa and to dine on modern dishes championing local flavours. Highlights include the riverside bar and lounge Ozen, light-filled wood-and-marble dining spot Mökki and panoramic fine-dining venue, Selfie Restaurant.

The neo-classical-inspired St. Regis Astana then sits by the water in Astana Central Park. Indulge in a treatment here at Iridium Spa and spend an evening at Kazakh fine dining restaurant Arnau, Mediterranean restaurant La Rivière and with a vintage wine or cocktail at The St. Regis Bar.

Ritz-Carlton, Astana

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