Shymkent is one of those cities that grows on you. At first, I didn’t really like it that much to be honest. It reminds me of a smaller version of Almaty, just less… Exciting? Still, I was exhausted and needed a place to crash for a few days before heading to Uzbekistan so I thought I’d give it a chance. And I’m so glad I did! Because it became one of my favourite places in Kazakhstan. Shymkent is cute, cozy and yes, quite small, but there’s a lot of charm to it. There are parks everywhere in the city, nice cafés you can sit in and lovely people. The locals in Shymkent are amongst the nicest I met while traveling in Kazakhstan. So, what exactly can you do in Shymkent?
I visited Park Abaya just before sunset and it was the perfect time to come here. It wasn’t too hot and I could walk around without sweating my booty off. Besides walking around, you can also see the many monuments dedicated to the fallen soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. The park also has a tennis court, playgrounds and cafés.
Like I said, Shymkent is home to many, many parks. But Independence Park is one of the most famous ones in the city. The park was inaugurated in October 2011 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the independence of Kazakhstan. The central monument, Altyn Shanryak, honours the unity of the people. There’s also large flower beds, several benches you can sit on and even has a musical fountain which displays an illuminated show every evening between 20:00 to 23:00 (not during winter).
Here, you can find an abundance of dried fruits, vegetables and a few cheap Chinese goods. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, it’s lovely to just walk around and look at the colourful market.
Eat at a café
If you’re vegetarian like me, you’ll notice that it’s a bit tricky to eat in restaurants. But the trick is to go to the cafés! They always have some vegetarian options such as lentil soup, pasta or pizza, so whenever I feel “hangry” and don’t want to hop from restaurant to restaurant before one place says they can cook something vegetarian for me, I just go to a café. I was surprised by how many nice ones there are in Shymkent. Two of my favourites are:
Address: 3, G. Ilyaev St, Shymkent 160000
This 24/7 coffee place is cozy, some of the staff speaks English, it’s well located in the city centre and the food was delicious! I had a lentil soup and then the zucchini frittatas. The prices are also fair and the WiFi connection is stable, so I sat and worked there twice.
Address: Qazybek Bi St 29, Shymkent 160000
Not only can you drink coffee or tea, have some food and relax, they also have a bunch of boardgames here. I even met some American and local guys here who invited me to play jenga with them (although I was too busy stuffing my face with pizza). The only downside is? People are allowed to smoke inside here. There were some girls who were puffing the entire time I was there! Yuck! Maybe you guys will have better luck.
Address: Tauke Khan Ave 72, Shymkent 160011
Even though my hostel offered me breakfast, I couldn’t refuse trying Turkish breakfast when I got the chance. It was really good! Istanbul Café has a lot more options, but since I’m a vegetarian, I just went for the breakfast. There’s also lots of baklava you can eat here, yum!
Go shopping at Shymkent Plaza
One of the biggest malls in Shymkent is Shymkent Plaza. There aren’t many famous chain stores there but you can find Bershka for example. Still, it was nice to hide away from the scorching sun for a bit and just walk around. I even went to the cinema here! Just be careful though, most of the movies are dubbed in Russian so explain that you want to see a movie in English. I had to pay for the “VIP” lounge, which cost 3,000 tenge, but that was the only way I could see a movie in English. Not too shabby, though.
Address: Zheltoqsan St 9/2, Shymkent 160000
I had just eaten when I passed this place and I cursed myself for this. The restaurant is featured on Tripadvisor and on many travel blogs and I can see why. Their outdoor terrace is beautiful and the food looked amazing. If you’re in town and pass by this place, let me know how it was!
Where to stay
I stayed in City Hostel, which is probably the most modern hostel I’ll stay in during this trip in Central Asia. It’s a really lovely hostel BUT. Zero atmosphere. Why is that, you may ask. Because there’s no one else but ME here! Okay, I did meet a guy from New Zealand my second night but he was just passing by. Other than that… Completely alone. The facilities are great though, location is really good and I thought the price was fair since you also get breakfast included (I paid 3,000 tenge per night). Do I recommend it? Yes, if you don’t mind being alone. I really enjoyed it actually because how many times do you get to have a huge hostel all to yourself? I could watch movies and even walk around naked in the room without having to worry about anyone else. So luxurious.