Aktobe is on the western end of the Kazakh Steppe, less than 100km from the Russian border. As the capital city of the Aktobe Region, it has several museums, historical sites, and buildings worth visiting. Read further to find out what to see and what’s nearby.

History of Aktobe

In 1869, the Russian Empire laid the first foundations of Aktobe by constructing a fortress on the bank of the Ilek River. It was named after the Kazakh words ‘aq’ (white) and ‘töbe’ (hill), and was part of the Turgai Oblast (1868–1920).

A few years prior, Russia expanded its influence further south into Russian Turkestan by constructing a series of fortifications from the 1830s onwards, guided by military generals such as Vasily Perovsky and Mikhail Chernyayev. These fortifications included New Alexander Fort in Dead Kultuk and Fort Shevchenko along the Caspian Sea coast; Syr Darya Fort No. 1, now within Kazaly city, in the Aral Sea Basin; Fort-Perovsky, present-day Kyzylorda city, which was captured from the Khanate of Kokand in 1853 when it was known as Ak-Mechet; and Fort Verny, the modern city of Almaty.

For the remainder of the 19th century, Aktobe grew rapidly as Russian migrants, attracted by the fertile soil, set up farms. It was also a popular stopover point for merchants travelling on the trade route connecting Orenburg, Russia, with Kazaly and elsewhere in Russian Turkestan. During this period, under the recommendation of Russian statesman Nikolay Milyutin, Emperor Alexander II of Russia instigated an empire-wide liberal reform policy to abolish serfdom called the Edict of Emancipation.

As part of the campaign, an elected council of local officials known as a zemstvo managed the rural areas, including in the Aktobe Region, replacing the direct control by landowners that characterised the era of serfdom. This transition represented a significant shift towards local self-governance, allowing community-elected representatives to make decisions regarding infrastructure, education, and public health, rather than having these decisions imposed by the aristocracy. The establishment of the zemstvo system marked a move away from the autocratic and feudal practices of the past, offering a degree of autonomy and democracy previously unseen in these regions. However, they ended after the October Revolution and were replaced by the Bolshevik’s workers’ councils.

In 1891, Aktobe was designated as the capital of its district and called Aktyubinsk.

Early 20th Century

In 1900, construction of the 1,900-kilometre-long Orenburg–Tashkent railway began. Teams started in both cities, working their way towards each other. One year and 270km of tracks later, the Orenburg stretch reached Aktobe. However, it took until 1906 to complete the link-up and put the full route into operation.

It was an important development, not just for Aktobe’s economy, but also for the Russian Empire as the new rail linked into the Trans-Caspian Railway, which until then had no connections. The route was also the first railway to connect the Russian railway network to Central Asia. Now the Tsars had two routes to export valuable cotton from the Syr Darya basin—north across the steppes of the Turgai Oblast, or west across the Karakum Desert to the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi. And, from Europe, they could import troops, construction materials, food, and fuel into Russian Turkestan.

Early 20th Century

At the start of the 20th century, construction of the 1,900 km long Orenburg–Tashkent railway began. Teams started in both cities, working their way towards each other. One year and 270 km of tracks later, the Orenburg stretch reached Aktyubinsk. However, it took until 1906 to complete the link up and put it in operation. It was an important development, not just for Aktyubinsk’s economy, but also for the Russian Empire as the new rail linked into the Trans-Caspian railway, which until then had no connections. Now the tsars had two routes to export valuable cotton from the Syr Darya basin—north across the steppes of the Turgai Oblast, or west across the Kara Kum desert to the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi. And, from Europe, they could import troops, construction materials, food, and fuel into Russian Turkestan.

Soviet Era to Present

In the 1920s, the Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (ASSR) came into being, initially known as the Kyrgyz ASSR. In March 1932, the Aktobe Region– as we know it today – was formed, with Aktyubinsk designated as the capital. This was at a time when famine was sweeping its way through the country and other major grain-producing regions of the Soviet Union. Despite those troubling times, which lasted until 1933, the city and region have grown from strength to strength since WWII. The establishment of an X-ray factory, and facilities for mining and processing ferroalloys, chromium, and phosphate, played a major role in the city’s early prosperity.

In 1999, a presidential decree restored the city’s original name to Aktobe. Nowadays it’s the country’s fourth-largest city (pop. 560k), and much of its economic growth is still attributed to these industries.

As with other urban areas in northern Kazakhstan, Aktobe looks and feels similar to a provincial Russian capital because of its closeness to the border.

What to Do in Aktobe

Compared to other regional capitals, such as Astana or Almaty, Aktobe receives far less tourist traffic. Although, there are a good number of sights to check out in the city and it’s an ideal starting point for accessing other areas in the Aktobe Region, such as the remote Bayganin, Shalkar and Yrgyz Districts to the south.

From November to March temperatures stay below freezing, reaching as low as -20°C, and mid-summer temperatures average +25°C. Here’s our rundown of things to do and see in Aktobe, whatever the time of year.

Aktobe Regional Museum of History and Local Lore

The Aktobe Regional Museum of History and Local Lore opened in 1929 in a 36m² wooden building on the outskirts of the city. Today, it’s based in a 4,300m² building – opened in 2018 – in the city centre, on 3 Oraza Tateuly Street.

It has 120,000 items in its collection with nine exhibition halls dedicated to the region’s nature, archaeology, ethnography, the Kazakh Khanate, the Soviet Union and contemporary history. There’s also workshop space, photographic archives, and a library. See more on their Instagram, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

Open: Tuesday–Saturday, 9am–6pm

Night time aerial photo of St. Nicholas Church illuminated by street lights.
St. Nicholas Church, Aktobe. Photo: © Kyrylo Neiezhmakov.

Aliya Moldagulova Museum

Female WWII Soviet sniper Aliya Moldagulova died aged 18 in hand-to-hand combat with a Nazi officer in Novosokolniki District, Russia, located 50km from the Belarussian border. She was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title and became one of Kazakhstan’s most notable historical figures. Since Aliya was born in the north-west Aktobe Region, the city has set up a memorial museum for her on 47 Aliya Moldagulova Avenue. There’s a town named after her too, 75km west of the city, which used to be called Alpyspay until 2005*.

In 1980, the Kazakh SSR’s Ministry of Culture gave the go-ahead for the museum. Staff and researchers spent the years leading up to its official opening in 1985 collecting artefacts, studying documents, and interviewing family members and former veterans. Presently, the museum has over 8,000 items in its possession, ranging from Aliya’s letters from the frontline, along with books, photographs, Soviet military paraphernalia, dioramas, and various objects honouring Aliya, such as tapestries, mosaics and paintings.

‘Video 360 Aktobe’ has a virtual tour of the Aliya Museum that gives you a good idea of what’s on display. Also, check out renowned Kazakh singer Roza Rymbaeva performing her dedicatory Aliya song and the museum’s Instagram page.

Open: Monday–Sunday, 9am–6pm
Tel.: +7 713 252 1598

Monuments

On the Zhubanov Brothers and Aliya Moldagulova Street junction, a few hundred metres west of the museum, is a monument for Aliya. Opposite is Heroes Alley, which has over 40 monuments commemorating some of the Aktobe Region’s most famous people. One such person is Soviet cosmonaut Viktor Patsayev, who, together with two other Soyuz 11 mission crew members, died on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 1971. To learn more about the disaster and the crew, see NASA’s illustrated Soyuz 11 story to commemorate the 50th anniversary.

There are more monuments dotted elsewhere in the city. Beside the Nekrasov and Bersieva Street T-junction is a monument to Kazakh agriculturalist Shyganak Bersiev (d. 1944), who is credited with staving off hunger in his local community during WWII with his record-beating yields of millet. In 1940, officials awarded him the Order of Lenin for his efforts and donated money to the Soviet defence fund for wartime aircraft construction. On Abulkhair Khan Avenue – named after the first khan of the Junior Zhuz – is a statue of Nurpeis Baiganin, who was a much lauded Soviet poet, singer, and musician.
 

Regional Art Museum

On 74 Abulkhair Khan Avenue is Aktobe’s Regional Art Museum. It’s open 7 days a week and is a 15-minute walk from the Aliya Moldagulova Museum. The museum has several thousand pieces of art in its collection and the building doubles up as an exhibition space for local artists.

Open: Monday–Sunday, 9am–6pm                                                                                              

Aktobe at dusk, with blue-grey skies and streets lit orange by road lamps.
Aktobe city at night. © Kyrylo Neiezhmakov.

World of Zhubanovs Cultural Centre

On 1A Mangilik El Street is the World of Zhubanovs cultural centre, which is a building and museum built to preserve the cultural heritage of the Zhubanovs, who were an accomplished family of musicians and academics from the Aktobe Region. Akhmet Zhubanov (d. 1968) was a composer, conductor and musicologist. Among his achievements was creating the Kazakh State Kurmangazy Orchestra of Folk Instruments and authoring many books and essays on Kazakh folk music.

Akhmet’s older brother, Kudaibergen Zhubanov (d. 1938), was a prominent philologist and Turkologist. He specialised in researching the Kazakh language and was a polyglot with fluency in Mongolian, Chuvash, Komi, Persian, Arabic, and more. Sadly, in 1937, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (aka NKVD) arrested him, declaring him an ‘enemy of the state’, and executed him the following year. Although he was only 38 years old, he accomplished a lot and Aktobe’s Zhubanov University was named in his memory.

Akhmet’s children also made significant contributions to science and music: Gaziza Zhubanova (d. 1993) was the first Kazakh female composer; and his sons, Bulat and Kair Akhmetovich, were notable chemistry academics.

The World of Zhubanovs cultural centre opened in 2017 and cost more than half a million US dollars. Kairat Maitekov, a Kazakh philanthropist and entrepreneur, supported its construction. Along with exhibits about the Zhubanov family, the building also serves as a collaboration and training hub for local creatives, and has a concert hall and music classrooms.

Nur Gasyr Mosque and St. Nicholas Church

Barely half a kilometre apart, and separated by Abulkhair Khan Avenue, are Nur Gasyr Mosque and St. Nicholas Church. Both are on the edge of the Central Park of Culture and Leisure and opened in a joint ceremony in 2008. Nur Gasyr’s four minarets are 63m high and the interior has capacity for up to 4,000 people and St. Nicholas is slightly smaller.

Overlooking the mosque, and in front of the avenue, is the Boulevard of Unity and Accord. The government built it to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Aktobe and includes a musical fountain called The Prosperity Bowl, a 170-seat amphitheatre, and a monument shaped like a shanyrak (the top dome section of a ger). Next to the boulevard is the Tree of Life Aqua Park and the Captain Brig amusement centre, and next to the church is the large Keruen City mall.

The white and gold walls and minarets of Nur Gasyr Mosque, set against a background of blue sky and white clouds.ound.
Nur Gasyr Mosque, Aktobe. Photo: © Olga Labusova.

Planetarium

The Aktobe Planetarium is on 50A Zhankozha Batyr Street, next to the Church of Archangel Michael. It’s a 5-minute walk from Pushkin Park or the Aktobe Regional Drama Theatre named after the playwright Takhaui Akhtanov.

It opened in 1967, as the first planetarium in the country, with optical lens maker Carl Zeiss donating equipment from their Jena factory in the former German Democratic Republic. Some of the equipment is still in use today. Although the planetarium mainly caters for school groups and public lectures, it’s possible to visit in a small group and watch one of their stellar audio-visual displays inside the dome for ₸3,000 (for five or fewer people).

Open: Monday–Friday, 9am–5.30pm and Saturday, 10am–5pm
Tel.: +7 713 240 4214 and +7 713 221 1322

 

Takhaui Akhtanov Aktobe Regional Drama Theatre

Established in 1935 and undergoing a major renovation in 2010, this cultural institution first opened its doors as the Kazakh Musical Drama Theatre in Aktobe under the proposal of People’s Commissar of Education, Temirbek Zhurgenov, who was a key architect of cultural and educational reforms in the country. It’s on 52 Takhaui Akhtanov Street.

From 1936–1941, the theatre’s first director, G. Omarov, oversaw the staging of performances based on classical Kazakh folklore and historical stories. These included the tragic love stories of Enlik-Kebek and Kyz-Zhibek, as well as the historical epic of Isatay and Makhambet, who fought against the Bukey Horde in north-west Kazakhstan.

However, the Kazakh theatre shut for most of WWII. It was resurrected in 1992, with a production by Takhaui Akhtanov to mark its rebirth. Two decades post-war, there was no theatre in the city until a Russian drama theatre opened in the 1960s. The theatre was named after the Kazakh playwright in 1997. The following year, the regional akim unified the Kazakh and Russian troupes, solidifying its legacy as a cornerstone of the arts in Aktobe.

Today, the institution entertains over 40,000 visitors and releases up to six new productions annually.

 

Day Trip to Aktobe Reservoir and Eset Batyr Mausoleum

Thirty minutes south of the city centre by car is Aktobe Reservoir. It’s over 20km long and fed by the Ilek River, which is a tributary of the Ural. The north-west end, nearest Aktobe, has long stretches of sandy beach, making it a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming in the summer. Sayakhat Beach is the most accessible spot, next to the Altyn Dala restaurant and the Riverside Residence Hotel, which offers good quality accommodation and has its own restaurant. The reservoir, sometimes called the ‘Aktobe Sea’, is a popular spot for fishing year-round, including when it’s frozen. For an idea of what the area’s like, check out Nikolay Blinkov’s Aktobe Reservoir fishing videos and Instagram account.

At the southern end of the reservoir, atop a hill east of Bestamak village, is the Eset Batyr Mausoleum. To reach it, drive 35 minutes south from Sayakhat Beach to Bestamak, and follow the road east of the village, which crosses over the Ilek. Eset was an accomplished 18th-century military commander who led troops from the Junior Zhuz into battle against eastern Central Asia’s Dzungar Khanate, as well as the Volga region’s Kalmyk Khanate. Tengri News has a comprehensive photo story about the mausoleum and the surrounding area.

 

Martuk District

Ten kilometres south of the Russian-Kazakh border lies the Martuk District. If you’re staying in Aktobe and looking for a day trip, consider coming here as it’s less than a two-hour drive from the city and a quiet rural area with several sites on offer.

Martuk town is the district’s capital and has a history and local lore museum on 96 Eset Kokiuly Street. Four kilometres north-east, in Kazanka village, is the Zaru maral breeding farm and sanatorium, which offers a range of therapeutic treatments using their deer’s antlers.

For those who love hiking, Martuk Forest is an ideal location, with its birch and aspen forests that stretch for up to 50km from Rodnikovka to Poltavka villages. Unsurprisingly, it’s a haven for birdlife. Species include golden eagles, snake eagles, red-billed coots, swan, as well as seasonally migrating ones like osprey and falcon.

If you want to head to Martuk District but don’t have a car, Erkosh_04_Region is an experienced tour company in Aktobe. They specialise in trips to all parts of the Aktobe Region, including elsewhere in Kazakhstan. Destinations include the Aktolagay Plateau, Akkum mini desert, Kargaly Reservoir, and the Orkash Nature Reserve.

As a guideline, the approximate prices per person for a one-day, fixed-date group trip to Martuk District is US$16 and US$20–40 for the other destinations mentioned. Longer fixed-date group trips start at US$55 for two days in Oral, US$95 for five days in Aktau and the Mangystau Region, and US$300 for an 11-day multi-city tour taking in Shymkent, Turkistan, Almaty, Astana, and Aktobe. Prices include transport, a guide, accommodation, breakfast, and tickets. 

Night aerial photo showing an arched sculpture in a park named after former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Park named after the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Nursultan Nazarbayev. © Kyrylo Neiezhmakov.

How to get to Aktobe​

You can reach Aktobe by road, rail, and air. The Russian cities of Orsk and Orenburg are the closest major settlements and are three to four hours’ drive away, followed by Oral, which is more than twice as far.

Here’s an overview of transportation options. For booking advice and further details of additional routes, check out this list of Aktobe travel agents.

Aktobe Railway

Aktobe’s railway station is in the centre of the old town, on Ualikhanov and Lomonosov Streets, so it’s easily accessed via public transport. Here’s a summary of all the train routes from the nearest major cities.

For those departing from Almaty, there’s a choice of at least two trains daily, which leave between lunchtime and late evening. The fastest option, ending in Oral, covers the journey in 33 hours with fares starting at ₸23,000. For travellers seeking a more budget-friendly option, a slower train is available, taking 42 hours at a cost as low as ₸12,000.

From the capital, Astana, several trains run per week directly to Aktobe, ending their route in Oral. This journey takes about 30 hours, with ticket prices beginning at ₸6,000.

Atyrau offers a daily connection that takes 16 hours to reach Aktobe, with fares starting at ₸4,500.

From Aktau, Mangyshlak train station – nearest to the city – provides a daily service to Aktobe, requiring 23 hours for the trip and ticket prices from ₸7,400.

Lastly, travellers from Oral have the option of a fast train, reaching Aktobe in under seven hours for a minimum of ₸9,000. There are also a couple of slower trains available daily, which take between 9–12 hours and start at ₸4,500.

Aktobe Buses and Taxis

Outside the railway station you’ll find private and shared long-distance taxis that’ll take you pretty much anywhere you want to go, including into Russia. Most major taxi apps operating in the country, like Taxi Maxim, have drivers in Aktobe. Такси.kz also has a list of Aktobe taxi companies with phone numbers. Prices are approximately ₸350 per kilometre.

If you fancy long-distance bus trips, there are two stations in Aktobe. Sapar bus station, on 312th Rifle Division Street, mostly serves the Aktobe Region. Local destinations include Khromtau, Kandyagash, and Martuk, as well as buses to Astana and nearby Russian cities, such as Orsk, Orenburg, and Ufa. A 25-minute walk westwards along 312th Rifle Division Street is Ekspress bus station, which services other Russian destinations, such as Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, and Samara. There are Orenburg and St. Petersburg services too, including into the West Kazakhstan Region and Kostanay Region.

With Air Astana, you can fly directly to Almaty, Aktau, and Astana in less than three hours from Aliya Moldagulova Airport, which is a 15-minute drive south of Aktobe’s city centre. Flying elsewhere in the country usually requires transiting via Astana or Almaty. FlyArystan, SCAT Airlines, and QazaqAir offer flights too, but not direct.

Planning a visit? Check out our debut guidebook

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