Astana (now Nur-Sultan), the capital of Kazakhstan is the second coldest capital in the world, after Ulaanbataar (Mongolia). And by cold I mean really cold – the temperatures here can be as low as -40C.
But since I believe there is no such thing as the cold weather, only the wrong clothes, I visited Astana in winter for the second time and it was beautiful.
If you are looking for a perfect and magical winter wonderland Astana might be your answer. Make sure to include it in your next trip to Kazakhstan.
Weather in Astana in winter
Astana in winter is really cold but with a few layers of clothes and some good luck, you will be just fine.
The key to success is good preparation. Check the forecast before you go and then add one more layer to what you would wear in that weather as often the felt temperature is even lower. When I visited Astana in November 2015 the temperature was -7C but it felt like -18C… If it’s not too windy you will be just fine!
The average weather in winter months in Astana is around -10C in the day and -18C in the night, with December, January, and February being the coldest months. That’s also when you can expect most of the snowy days. If you decide to visit Astana in these months you can be pretty sure to find a winter wonderland there!
Very rarely you can encounter a thick fog in Astana – the city is located in the steppe and can be very drafty. But every now and then you might be (un)lucky to see fog in Astana and it changes the city completely, into the mysterious metropolis.
Why you should visit Astana in winter
If you would like to experience a real winter but also enjoy a city life then Astana is a perfect destination for you.
All the trees are covered in frost and snow, river Ishim is frozen and everything looks straight from the fairytale! When you walk around you can hear the snow creaking under your shoes and the frost nibbling your cheeks. It’s a bit surreal and so beautiful!
To be honest, I don’t remember when I saw such a beautiful winter wonderland in the city for the last time, it must have been in my childhood (and in Almaty, Kazakhstan a few years ago).
Things to do in Astana in winter
Astana is such a weird city! It was built almost from the scratch some 20 years ago when the capital was moved here from Almaty in 1997.
That’s when the rapid development of Astana took place. As a result, we can now admire there some really spectacular modern buildings that look even more beautiful in the winter.
Some of the best architects in the world were invited to create a modern look of Astana. Seeing their works is like walking through the 21st-century architecture textbook and that’s actually one of the best things to do in Astana, regardless of the season.
Don’t miss Baiterek Tower – the symbol of modern Kazakhstan. You can go up to the observation deck at 97 meters (the reference to 1997 when Astana became the capital city) to see the panorama of the city but also to watch local people paying respect to the first president of Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazarbayev.
You will find here his right hand imprinted – you are more than welcome to join the locals to put your hand in the imprint and make a wish, or you can watch people approaching the pedestal with pride and dignity.
Other gems of modern architecture in Astana include Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (in the shape of a pyramid), Ak Orda (the Presidential Palace), The Nazarbayev Center, Kazakhstan’s Central Concert Hall (looking a bit like a rose, or a cabbage), KazMunayGas Headquarters, Astana Palace of the Arts, Saryarka Velodrome in the shape of racer’s helmet or Ministry of Finance in the shape of waving Kazakh flag (or the US dollar).
Once you are done with the architecture you should go for a walk along or even on the Ishim river. Since it’s fairly shallow it freezes completely, usually between November and March. If you ever wanted to try walking on the frozen river you can do it in Astana! You might also try ice skating on the river, there are also slides made of ice for kids. It seems like people in Astana know how to enjoy winter and all the outdoor activities.
If it’s too cold you will find plenty of things to do inside too. Head to Khan Shatyr shopping mall – not only it has the unbelievable architecture in the shape of the drunken tent, but it also offers lots of activities beyond shopping. You can play mini-golf here, enjoy the beach with the sand imported from the Maldives or walk the cobbled streets. Khan Shatyr can suck you in for the whole day!
Astana is also home to an amazing museum where you can spend a few solid hours and learn so much. In 2017 the city was the host of the Expo exhibition. It was yet another reason to build some spectacular modern architecture, with the Kazakhstan pavilion shining above all. Nur-Alem pavilion (as it is locally known) is a huge, 8 – floors, 80-meter-diameter structure in the shape of a ball.
Today you can find there the Museum of Future Energy, a truly fascinating place. Each of the floors is dedicated to different kinds of energy: space, sun, wind, biomass, kinetic or water. Everything is super interactive and fun to visit!
If you are looking for a more spiritual experience there are two major mosques you can visit: Nur-Astana and Hazrat Sultan Mosque. The second one is a real masterpiece, a gift to Astana from Qatar. It used to be the largest mosque in Central Asia (now this title belongs to the mosque in Turkmenistan) and can fit up to 10.000 people.
Even if you are not a Muslim you can visit the mosque inside and I definitely recommend doing so as it is so beautiful and so huge!
Winter in Astana in pictures
To prove to you that Astana in winter is actually a good place to visit here is a bunch of pictures I took during my last trip to Astana.
I used the new mirrorless camera from Nikon, Z50, and I can definitely recommend it for all travelers. It’s small (can fit into the pocket of your jacket), fast and had no problems working in the cold weather.
It’s also very easy to use so even if you are just a beginner at photography you can take amazing pictures with it. You can download the photos directly from the camera to your phone and easily share them with everyone.
The trip to Kazakhstan was my first encounter with this camera and I figured it out right away! Just take a look.
Is it worth to visit Astana in winter?
You might remember that I didn’t really fall for Astana during my first trip there. It was cold, grey and I found the city to be a bit soulless.
I didn’t think of returning to Astana but I still ended up there, even longer than I planned due to the canceled flight. And this time I actually enjoyed the city much more.
I think the snow and fog did a trick, Astana looked so much better – mysterious, intriguing and surreal. Now I can definitely recommend visiting Astana but only in the wintertime as I can’t vouch for the city outside of the cold months.
In times of global warming, Astana is one of the last bastions of a beautiful winter wonderland.
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Disclaimer: my trip to Kazakhstan was in partnership with Nikon to test their new camera Nikon Z50. As always all opinions and experiences described above remain my own.
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