Astana, formerly known as Nur-Sultan (a whole other story you can read about here ) is known for many things. Astana is the second coldest capital on earth, it was the personal project of the first President of Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazerbayev, and of course its architecture. Dozens of the world’s most famous architects were given carte-blanche to design the most spectacular and outrageous designs. Astana is probably best described as Dubai on steroids.
What has become a national symbol of Kazakhstan and appears on the 500 Tenge note? Locally known as the ‘chuppa-chup’ due to its appearance, the Bayterek monument is meant to embody the Kazakh idea of the universe as well as a folk tale of a poplar tree in which the bird of life laid a golden egg which carries all the Kazakh peoples’ hopes and dreams.
Inside the golden globe at the top, which doubles as an observation deck, you can find the hand print of former President Nazerbayev. To get to the top you need to take an elevator with entrance costing roughly US$3.
The observation deck is at 97m tall, representing the year the capital was moved from Almaty to Astana – 1997. The total height is 105m.
2. Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
This large glass pyramid is meant to acknowledge the peaceful coexistence of the more than 140 nationalities that live within the borders of Kazakhstan. Its height is 62m and it was built specifically for the World Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which is held every 3 years in the Kazakh capital. As you’d expect, a huge glass pyramid in the centre of a city is going to stand out and you’re right, it definitely is a very different skyline. The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation also houses a 1500 seat opera hall, the Museum of National History, the Research Centre of World Religions, and the Library of Spiritual Religious Literature.
3. Ak Orda
In the very heart of Astana is the presidential residence known as Ak Orda. This huge white marble building is similar to the Whitehouse in Washington, but topped with a large blue dome in an architectural style reminiscent of many buildings along the Silk Road, and it’s as grand inside as it looks outside. However, you’re unlikely to gain entrance as the Ak Orda is not open to the public.
Ak Orda translates to “white horde”, a reference to the Kazakh people. According to the government, 21 different types of marble were used in its construction.
4. Khan Shatyr
Want to go to a tropical beach (the sand is imported from the Maldives!) when it’s minus 40 outside? Want to ride a roller coaster and also be able to buy your groceries and visit high end stores all at the same time? If you thought the previous buildings were impressive, wait until you set eyes on the Khan Shatyr. Directly opposite the Ak Orda is the largest shopping centre in Central Asia.
The Khan Shatyr holds the record for the largest tent style building in the world. Yes, this is a bit Turkmenistan-esque isn’t it! It was also built to be eco-friendly and is in the top 10 list of eco friendly buildings in the world, meaning you don’t have to feel guilty that it’s somehow t-shirt weather inside when it’s below zero outside.
This large glass tent is the focal point of Astana and somewhere that even locals flock to. At night the entire glass tent is lit up with coloured lighting. The Khan Shatyr cost over 400 million dollars to build and was completed in 2010. Obviously shopping centres aren’t usually on the tourist route, however this is an absolute must-see when you’re in Astana.
5. Triumph of Astana
Anyone who has travelled through the former Soviet Union will feel comfortable with this building. Modelled on the 7 sisters in Moscow, the Triumph of Astana is a building in a Socialist Stalinist Neo-Classical style (a bit of a mouthful). Finished in 2006, the building isn’t open to the public and just houses office space and residential apartments. At 142 metres tall, the triumph of Astana is one of the tallest buildings in the city.
6. Northern Lights Towers
One of the most outstanding buildings in Astana, the Northern Lights Towers, is half-way between the Khan Shatyr and the Ak Orda on the main boulevard of Astana. The tallest of the three buildings stands at 180m tall. The building is three curvy wavy neon light lit buildings which are meant to represent the aurora borealis. These three buildings seemingly defy gravity as they curve up towards the sky and definitely are one of the most unique set of buildings you’ve probably ever seen.
Although the Northern Lights are not open to the public, there are plenty of residential apartments for rent in the buildings, which can set you back as little as US$20-30 per night.
Join us in Kazakhstan if you want to see these unbelievable buildings for yourself!