Firstly, woah! Nur-Sultan? Remember that place that used to be called Astana? Well, as of March 2019, it’s now called Nur-Sultan, named after the first President of Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazerbayev. It wasn’t the only name they thought of, they also considered renaming the city Nazerbayeva. Nur-Sultan is no stranger to name changes, before becoming Astana in 1999 it was called Akmola, before that Tselinograd (thus why the city’s airport code is TSE) and before that Akmolinsk, and there’s still more, but I’m sure you don’t want to read just a list of all the city’s name changes!
Well like it’s name, it’s always rapidly changing and evolving and is genuinely a fantastic city to visit. That being said you’ll only want to spend 1 or 2 days there maximum as everything that should be seen can be done easily and quickly.
Nur-Sultan is one of those few advantages of an autocratic government, when they decide to build something over the top, it just gets done without question. Some of the world’s most creative architects have been given carte-blanche to design and build some of their wildest imaginations.
So here’s some of what to do and see in Astana, I mean Nur-Sultan:
The Baiterek is almost synonymous with Nur-Sultan and is even on Kazakh money. It is meant to represent Kazakh independence and tells the story of an old Kazakh legend about a bird laying an egg in a very tall tree that happens to contain everyone’s hopes and happiness. You can catch a lift to the top for great views of Nur-Sultan and even compare your hand to the first president’s hand. Spoiler alert: he has a reasonably big hand (you did not misread this last part). While touching the first President’s hand, you’re asked to make a wish.
Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center
Designed by the first President himself on a small napkin, this glass tent-shaped shopping mall is a fantastic sight. I know a lot of you probably don’t want to head straight to the mall, but this is really something else. Not only is it a glass tent that’s bigger than 10 international football stadiums, but inside there’s an amusement park, swimming facilities and all the big international brands. It’s also great in the frigid Nur-Sultan winter as it’s always balmy high 20s inside.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
If you haven’t had enough of huge glass buildings, then here’s another one, except this one is in the shape of a pyramid. The building was built to serve as the headquarters for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Inside there are religious centres for a considerable number of the world’s main religions, including Christian chapels, Muslim prayer rooms, Buddhist meditation areas, as well as areas for Jews, Hindus and many other religions and denominations.
Ak Orda Presidential Palace
This is Kazakhstan’s answer to the Whitehouse in Washington DC, except more over the top with a beautiful blue dome and a large golden spire. Unfortunately, you can’t just go knocking on the door and walking in, and the area surrounding the Ak Orda always seems to be strangely quiet and deserted, but you shouldn’t have any issues going up and taking a few pictures.
Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
No list written by me could forgo a Presidential museum, especially not with a name like that. Containing awards and personal possessions of Nursultan Nazerbayev, it partly shows his personal history, beginning with working in mining, then working his way up the Soviet Communist Party ladder before becoming the President of a newly independent Kazakhstan. It also happens to be in the older part of Nur-Sultan, giving you an excuse to visit the more ‘real’ part of the city.
The Sphere – Museum of the Future/Former World Expo site
In 2017, what was then called Astana hosted the World Expo. The world expo has a main general expo every four years, and in between these main Expos, they have topic-specific expos. Astana’s was future energy and everything built for the expo site was in futuristic, cutting edge design. The centre of the site was Nur Alem, meaning Bright World in Kazakh and is another giant ball, like the one atop the Baiterek. It seems Nur-Sultan likes to have particular themes. Inside is an 8-floor museum dedicated to meeting energy needs sustainably, including Energy of the Sun, Wind Energy, Energy of Space, Energy of Biomass, Energy of Water and Kinetic Energy.
Contact us for more details on tours to Nur Sultan.