FOR YEARS, IT WAS the picture of post-Soviet decline.
The former capital of Kazakhstan and the country’s most populous city, Almaty was dreary and run-down, a sprawling, cheerless urban center in the shadow of the Tien Shan mountains.
And then there was oil.
Flush with petrodollars, the Kazakh economy expanded by half in the span of five years, setting off a building boom that would transform Almaty. Suddenly, the city known, if at all, as the birthplace of the apple became a destination with stylish nightclubs and rooftop bars, exotic restaurants and luxury hotels — like the Almaty JW Marriott, once the tallest building in Central Asia.
That boom long since faded, but Almaty’s appeal endures, and with Kazakhstan’s recent easing of visa restrictions, it’s emerged as one of Europe’s most intriguing new hot spots, welcoming not just business travelers but tourists from around the world.
A big reason for that is Almaty’s edgy, all-night entertainment, including a highly regarded live music scene with everything from hard rock and hip hop to folk, jazz, blues and more. During summer months, the city’s main stage is Sky Bar Street, a collection of rooftop bars where well-heeled Kazakhs go for people-watching and pricey cocktails.
You’ll find a more casual crowd at Chukotka. Long a fixture of the city’s nightlife, the bar is situated in the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen, so named for the 28 soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit killed by Nazis in a key 1941 battle outside Moscow. It’s LGBTQ+-friendly, popular with locals and foreigners alike, and features live music from 9 p.m. to midnight, at which point the DJ takes over until dawn.
For a quieter night out, sample some of the world-class wines at Arba wine bar and learn about the recent revival of Kazakhstan’s viniculture. Or take in a show at the Abay State Opera & Ballet Theatre, Almaty’s premier cultural venue with performances four times a week and tickets starting at less than $2. Save the rest for shopping at the Green Bazaar, Almaty’s most famous local market which sits, it’s said, on the old Silk Road — or to the Mega Alma- Ata, the biggest mall in town.
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