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Never heard of Astana? Don't worry, you're not the only one. Until recently this Kazakh city, marooned in the heart of the endless Kazakh steppe about 30 miles from the middle of nowhere, was known as Tselinograd, the heart of the Soviet-era Virgin Lands projects of the 1950s. It was only in 1994 that the city was designated the new capital of Kazakhstan, cleverly renaming itself Astana ("Capital" in Kazakh) and joining the modern, orderly and slightly dull ranks of Brasilia, Ankara and Islamabad as the world's most boring capitals. The city is largely the brainchild of Kazakh President Nazarbaev, who has poured Kazakhstan's oil wealth ...

Never heard of Astana? Don't worry, you're not the only one. Until recently this Kazakh city, marooned in the heart of the endless Kazakh steppe about 30 miles from the middle of nowhere, was known as Tselinograd, the heart of the Soviet-era Virgin Lands projects of the 1950s. It was only in 1994 that the city was designated the new capital of Kazakhstan, cleverly renaming itself Astana ("Capital" in Kazakh) and joining the modern, orderly and slightly dull ranks of Brasilia, Ankara and Islamabad as the world's most boring capitals. The city is largely the brainchild of Kazakh President Nazarbaev, who has poured Kazakhstan's oil wealth into a series of spectacularly futuristic buildings like the Norman Foster-designed glass pyramid Palace of Peace and Concord and the 150-meter-tall (almost 500 feet) Khan Shatyr center, a transparent tent-like pleasure dome worthy of Kublai Khan. Astana may be primarily a businessman's city, home to reluctant ambassadors and hopeful oil prospectors, but with easy access to the eco-tourism center of Kokshetau and the UNESCO world heritage site of Sary Arka, Astana may just pique the curiosity of a certain breed of traveler. Welcome to the future.

Bradley Mayhew
About the Expert

Bradley Mayhew is the author of more than 25 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, including Central Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Jordan, and is coauthor of the Odyssey guide to Uzbekistan.

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Bradley Mayhew for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Spring and fall; temperatures in the summer and winter are extreme.