The country's former capital (a title now held by slick, though somewhat soulless, Nur-Sultan), is the perfect introduction to modern Kazakhstan. It’s a beautiful city (thanks to some stunning Soviet-modernist and Tsarist-era architecture), where the food, drink and nightlife scenes are flourishing and various spectacular areas of natural beauty are within easy reach.
The leafy city of Almaty (Alma-Ata; Алматы), with a backdrop of the snowcapped Zailiysky Alatau, has always been among the more appealing Russian creations in Central Asia. Today Almaty's new rich have expensive suburban apartments, large SUVs, glitzy shopping malls, Western-style coffee lounges, expensive restaurants, dance-till-dawn nightclubs and new ski resorts to help them enjoy life to the full. Meanwhile, others from the city's outer districts and the countryside squeeze into packed buses and rickety marshrutkas around the Green Market (Zelyony Bazar) or Sayakhat bus station.