3or6 Hours in Almaty, Kazakhstan

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3or6 Hours is a regular feature on seeing the best of a destination in a hurry. The New York Times’ 36 Hours series is the inspiration, but 3or6 Hours focuses on the places a traveler will want to see on a 1st visit, not the 10th. No half-days at quirky new art galleries or bric-a-brac shops, no lolling about in cafes, these are lighting romps to leave no regrets behind. For The Rapid Traveler, with a few exceptions, he’ll start repeating destinations only when he has run out of new ones.


Central Asian cities have limited dining options, but the bazaars are great for a fill-up and people watching. Be at  Zelyony Bazar for 8 am opening to self-cater and walk the one block to Paniflov Park while eating. Admire the all-wood Zenkov Cathedral, even the nails are wood, and the contrasting, muscular Soviet statuary. Shuffle your feet impatiently at the Museum of Kazakh Instruments, inside the park, at 9 am to get the staff to open up. Breeze through humming Lara’s Theme, and at 9:15 head by taxi to Respublika alanghy for the mountain backdrop views around the City Government Building and Monument to Independence and head into the Central State Museum for 9:30 opening (closed Tuesdays). Focus on the ethnic and megalomania displays on the upper floors. With extra time, the Palace of the Republic concert hall is nearby, at the foot of the Kök-Töbe Cable Car, but the cable car doesn’t open until 11 am and chews up time.

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Zelyony Bazar

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Paniflov Park

Almaty has other churches and parks but you’ve seen the best and if other parts of Central Asia are on the itinerary, give the mosques a pass. Instead, hire a car (or take the slower bus) for the 15-km drive to scenic Medeu, the Soviet winter sports playground, the ‘Alps of the Steppe.’ Enjoy the views and mingle with the locals on picnic.

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Medeu ice rink

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Hanging out at Medeu

Trundle back to Almaty for the awakening shopping street Zhibek Zholy, and Gogol ,which runs in parallel. Quick kebabs and plov (pilaf) can be had at various stands. Or try a sit-down place to sample Kazakh specialties like beshbarmak if you have never had a nosh of Mr. Ed.

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City Government Building and Monument to Independence

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Big hats abound in Central Asia

Next stop: futuristic capital Astana to the north or Kyrgyzstan to the south.

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