Astana is a Fascinating City

On my last trip to Kazakhstan I remember being mad I didn’t plan to visit Astana. I was so concerned with fitting all the Stan countries into my trip that it was too far out of the way to visit. In hindsight, I’m glad I skipped it because it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting as it was this trip. The majority of things wouldn’t have been completed or even started back in 2008. Astana is a fascinating city but most of the fascination comes from the architecture and of course the mystery of this seemingly random city in the Great Steppe.

Astana is a Fascinating City

The first thing that tells you Astana is a fascinating city is flying into town. If you look out the window, you’ll see nothing but the Great Steppe for a thousand miles in any direction. Then all of a sudden as you come in for landing, there’s Astana. Seemingly created from the dirt of the prairies of the old Soviet Union.

Astana is a Fascinating City

From the pretty modern airport to town is a quick 20-minute ride. I stayed at the Marriott Hotel. I will say it’s probably the nicest Marriott I’ve ever stayed in. To be fair, I haven’t stayed in a ton of Marriott’s but as they finalize the Starwood acquisition next month I’ll be staying in a ton more as the two programs become one. That said it was a beautiful property with sweeping city views, a great rooftop bar and restaurant, and my suite was fabulous. And it was only $150 a night.

Astana is a Fascinating City, Khan Shatyr

The hotel was near and overlooked the Khan Shatyr entertainment complex. Basically it’s a fancy mall in a big tent with a water park and indoor beach resort. But what’s interesting is simply the design of the building as you can see.

Astana is a Fascinating City

Inside it looks like a mall. There is a Starbucks for those who sometimes love the creature comforts of home like myself. Aside from that there’s nothing really for anyone over 12 years old. However the view as you walk outside down the heart of the city is great.

Astana is a Fascinating City

Astana is a fascinating city for many reasons but mainly because it seems to have everything and everything is world-class. For instance, they have a massive, beautiful opera house but how often is there an opera? And who’s watching it? There’s a massive soccer stadium called Astana Arena that could be a World Cup venue but the Kazakhstan team stinks and it’s rarely used. They also have several world-class sporting venues for hockey and other sports but again, who’s using them?

Astana is a Fascinating City

There are no people in Astana. They claim there are some 700,000 people living there and growing rapidly. Maybe there are as the city is fairly expansive it seems. However, you don’t see anyone on the streets, especially during the day.

Astana is a Fascinating City

When I was there it was hot but not that hot so the weather shouldn’t have stopped people from being outside. At night there were some folks out in the center of town but not many. It was a very surreal, almost creepy feeling.

Astana is a Fascinating City

For instance, in this photo I had taken the elevator up the Beiretek Tower, the most famous thing in Astana. Aside from the dirty windows, there are almost no people outside during the middle of the day in the most famous area of the city. That would be like Times Square being empty in New York. Weird.

Astana is a Fascinating City

Astana is only 20 years old as a city. The capital was moved there from Almaty and a new preplanned city in the vane of Brasilia or Canberra was to be the capital. The government buildings are beautiful and big. But who occupies them? I have no idea but I hardly saw anyone in two days in Astana.

Astana is a Fascinating City

But the big luxury hotels are there like Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis and word is Four Seasons is considering opening there. Those brands don’t open in places where people with money don’t go. So the money appears to be there but where are the people? Astana is a fascinating city and I can’t wait to return in another 10 years to see what’s changed!

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  1. Wow I’ve always been curious about this place. Thanks for sharing the cool photos and insights.

  2. I’ve heard of Astana before but never really saw photos. It’s kind of like a mini Dubai. How were the prices?

  3. Never been but on my list like many other amazing places.

  4. Ah, you take such good photos – I love them all. How I wish I can capture pictures as good as yours, thank you for inspiring me!

  5. Hi Lee

    You have had a wonderful time in Astana, can you guide some local cheap hotels near to the visiting places? I’ve been curious about Astana.


  6. Oh wow I just wrote about Astana a week after you. When were you there? I was there 20 July. I would like to return in a decade as well and see what has changed, but definitely a summer city for me as it must be bone-crunchingly cold in the winter.

  7. Jagannathan Srinivasaraghavan says

    I was in Astana just three weeks ago. It is a beautiful modern city & celebrating 20 years. Last year they had EXPO & they brought many tourists and now it is just starting to get into tourism as most people only visit Almaty & surroundings as there are UNESCO World Heritage Sites around. One or two days for Astana is more than enough & the museum with Golden man exhibit is fabulous. Their main mosque looks like Taj Mahal.

  8. Wow, the buildings and landscapes are mind-blowing. Every city holds an identity with their landscape and the architectural uniqueness. In that way, the city Atsana has got a unique identity of its own.

  9. I totally agree. Astana is really fascinating architectural marvels.

  10. Well I believe in you because I have never heard of the city astana

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