Almaty is truly Kazakhstan’s cultural capital.
Its historical museums offer an extensive history of the country from its taming of the steppes to the construction of its world-class capital.
Almaty’s array of visual and theatrical arts are also world class and have won prestigious international awards. And just strolling around the city’s parks and monuments gives a sense of Kazakhstan’s rich culture.
One of the best places to start is the Central State Museum. This three-story museum contains more than 200,000 artifacts – from early tools to weapons to a replica of Kazakhstan’s Golden Man – which visually explains ancient-to-modern Kazakh history.
To get a sense of the visual arts of Kazakhstan and the region, try the Kasteyev State Museum of Arts, which contains more than 22,000 works from Kazakhstan, Russia, Western Europe and Asia.
For the theatrical arts, try the Abai Kazakh State Opera and Ballet Theatre and its beautiful Italian-style building. Here you’ll find world-class international performances. More contemporary performances can be found at the Art&Shock Theatre which specializes in cutting edge plays.
And one of the best ways to get a feel for the city is to head to Panilov Park. There you’ll find the multicolored St. Ascension Cathedral, one of the largest wooden structures in the world made without nails, and a monument to WWII Kazakh troops.
Some of the museums have small entrance fees and most don’t offer English language displays. So bring a Russian speaker or call ahead to arrange a guide.
But no matter which museum or theatre you visit, you’ll see that Almaty’s arts and culture reflect the influences of centuries at the heart of the Silk Road.
Abai Kazakh State Opera and Ballet Theatre
The opera singers and ballet performers who fill this classic Italian building are among the celebrated masters of their crafts as well young performers who have already be recognized in prestigious international competitions.
The theatre itself was created in 1934 from a musical studio and the building is depicted on Kazakhstan’s 2000 tenge note.
Art and Shock Theatre
Art&Shock is a modern independent theatre thought to be staging some of the most innovative performances in Kazakhstan. This theatre pushes the edge with improvisation and interactive performances along with pantomime and traditional theatre. The theatre chooses its performances based on the concepts of “theatralization of theatric art” and “theatralization of life.” Art&Shock was founded in 2001 and has won grand prizes at international theatrical festivals throughout Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.
Arvest Art Gallery
You’ll never know what you’ll find at the Arvest Art Gallery. This unique space does not focus on particular trends in art, but rather chooses its exhibits based purely on the originality and talent of the artist. Created in 2007, Arvest is a space for artists to display and sell their paintings, sculptures, graphics and other art forms. You can expect a new exhibit almost every month and master art classes are offered each Monday.
Central State Museum
If you have time to visit only one museum in Almaty and want to learn about Kazakhstan, this is the best place to go. It is one of the oldest and largest museums in the country and is located directly across from the Presidential Palace. This museum takes visitors on a journey through Kazakhstan’s ancient and modern history from its early agricultural roots up to its present day politics. More than 200,000 artifacts help tell the story of the country. The museum also houses a replica of Kazakhstan’s famous Golden Warrior Prince. And there’s a small area detailing the history of Almaty. The museum also features a small cafe and souvenir shop.
None of the exhibits are in English, so you’ll want to bring a Russian speaker or hire a guide at the museum.
Entrance fee: 500 tenge adults (all foreigners), 150-200 tenge students and pensioners, 100 tenge school children
Deutsches Theater Almaty
Deutches offers Almaty residents and visitors a taste of European theatre. It was founded in 1975 as a way to preserve German culture but has since expanded to become an international theatre company. Its plays are performed in German with simultaneous Russian translations. Like Art&Shock, Deutches specializes in innovative, contemporary theatre in addition to traditional works. The theatre moved to Almaty in 1989.
Kasteyev State Museum of Arts
Kasteyev is considered Kazakhstan’s top art museum. It began its acquisitions in 1935 and has since collected more than 22,000 works from Kazakh, Russian, Western European and Asian artists. The extensive collection includes paintings, graphics, sculptures as well as pieces from the theatre and decorative arts dating from ancient times to the present. The collection began with 200 works donated by Russian museums. The museum houses 14 permanent, temporary and traveling exhibitions and often showcases local artists.
Entrance fee: 500 tenge adults, 200 tenge children and students
Lermontov Russian Drama Theatre and Tengri Umay Arts Gallery
This space includes a Russian language theatre and a visual arts space. The theatre was founded in 1969 and continues to stage Russian language plays on various days.
The Tengri Umay gallery was established in 1990 and features more than 300 works of contemporary paintings, sculptures and installations.
The space also features a shop selling artworks and souvenirs.
State Museum of National Musical Instruments
This museum is considered to be one of Almaty’s most interesting attractions. The all-wooden museum building is an attraction in itself as it was built in 1908 by Andrey Zenkov, the same architect that designed Almaty’s famous cathedral built without a nail. The museum building was one of the few that survived Almaty’s massive 1911 earthquake.
The instruments collection was established in 1980 and features 60 varieties of Kazakh traditional instruments from across the country and other post Soviet nations. The collection includes the dombras of some of the country’s best known poets and composers.