Exploring old city
The right bank is a mix of Soviet and postindependence architecture, plus a few now historic-looking tsarist-era houses. The yurt-shaped, blue-domed Presidential Culture Centre houses the high-quality main museum. The ground floor holds traditional Kazakh items: a brightly decked yurt, colourful carpets and costumes, elaborate horse tackle. The 2nd floor is devoted to archaeology, including balbals and models of some of the country’s most important medieval buildings. Side rooms on this level hold outstanding collections of Kazakh jewellery and of ‘gold and gold-makings’, the latter including replicas of the Golden Man and the ‘second Golden Man’ from western Kazakhstan, gold jewellery from the Scythian burial mounds at Berel, a bejewelled replica of a horse from the Berel tomb, and real 4th-century-BC horse innards pickled in formaldehyde! The 3rd floor covers Kazakhstan from the 15th to 20th centuries, and the 4th floor is mainly devoted to the history of Astana.
The Contemporary Art Museum (pr. Respubliki 3; 10am-6pm Tue-Sat, to 5pm Sun) has a permanent collection with some striking works, and stages regular temporary exhibitions.
The President’s Museum (Beibitshilik 11; admission free; tours at 10.30am, noon, 2.30pm & 4pm Tue-Sun) is a fascinating peep into the pomp and circumstance surrounding the country’s leader. Housed in the former presidential palace, it’s a succession of supremely lavish galleries and halls decked with beautiful gifts to President Nazarbaev from foreign governments and grateful citizens. Check out the bank of Cold War–style direct-line phones in the antechamber to the presidential office itself. Obligatory tours are in Russian but it’s normally OK to stray from the group. The entrance is on Abay.