Aktobe is on the western end of the Kazakh Steppe, less than 100 km 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 in our travel guide to 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 “ақ” (white) and “төбе” (hill), and was part of the Turgai Oblast (1868–1920). A few years prior, Russia solidified its territory further south in Russian Turkestan, under the leadership of Major-General Mikhail Chernyayev, by building various fortifications in the territory. These included: Novopetrovskoe (Fort Shevchenko, 1846), Syr Darya Fort No. 1 (Kazaly, 1853), Fort-Perovsky (fka Ak-Mekchet, Kyzylorda, 1853) and Fort Verny (Almaty, 1854).
Over the next two decades, the settlement 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 (fka Kazalinsk), Kyzylorda Region. During this period, under the recommendation of 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, rural areas, such as Aktobe, were managed by an elected council of local officials known as a zemstvo. So, in 1891, Aktobe was designated as capital of its district and renamed to Aktyubinsk.
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.
In the 1920s, the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was established, although for the first few years it was called the Kirghiz ASSR. In March 1932, the Aktobe Region –as we know it today– was established and Aktyubinsk made 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 World War II. 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, presidential decree restored the city’s original name to Aktobe. Nowadays it’s the country’s fourth largest city (pop. 500k), 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.
Compared to other regional capitals, such as Nur-Sultan or Almaty, Aktobe receives far less tourist traffic. However, there’s 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.
The Aktobe Regional Museum of History and Local Lore opened in 1929 in a six-by-six square metre wooden building on the outskirts of the city. Today, it’s based in a 4,300+ square metre building –opened in 2018– in the city centre, on 3 Oraza Tateuly Street. It has 10 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. There are approximately 115,000 items in its collections. See more on their Instagram, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.
Aliya Moldagulova was a female Soviet sniper in WWII. She died (aged 18) in hand-to-hand combat with a Nazi officer in Novosokolniki district, Russia, located 50 km 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 north-west Aktobe Region (Bulak village, Kobda District), the city has set up a memorial museum for her on 47 Aliya Moldagulova Avenue.
In 1980, the Kazakh SSR’s Ministry of Culture gave the go-ahead for the museum. 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.
Tickets cost less than one US dollar and their telephone number is (7132) 521598. The museum also has a basic website.
On the other side of the avenue, on the Zhubanov Brothers and Aliya Moldagulova Street junction, 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, he was awarded the Order of Lenin for his efforts and donated money to the Soviet defence fund for wartime aircraft construction. On Abulkhair Khan Avenue is a statue of Nurpeis Baiganin, who was a much lauded Soviet artist and poet.
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.
On 1A Mangilik El Street is the World of Zhubanovs, 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 publications on Kazakh folk music.
Akhmet’s younger 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, he was arrested by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (aka NKVD), declared an ‘enemy of the state’ and executed by shooting 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, are notable chemistry academics.
The World of Zhubanovs ‘House-Museum’ 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.
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 Central Park and opened in a joint ceremony in 2008. Nur Gasyr’s four minarets are 63 metres 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. It was built 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 yurt). Next to the boulevard is the Tree of Life aqua park and the Captain Brig entertainment centre, and next to the church is the large Keruen City mall.
The Aktobe Planetarium is on 50A Zhankozha Batyr Street, next to the Church of Archangel Michael. It’s a 10-minute walk from Pushkin Park or the regional museum. It opened in 1967, with optical lens maker Carl Zeiss donating equipment from their factory in Jena, 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 KZT (for five or fewer people).
Thirty minutes south of the city centre by car is Aktobe Reservoir. It’s over 20 km long and fed by the Ilek River, which a tributary of the Ural. The northwest end, nearest Aktobe, has long stretches of sandy beach, making it a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming in the summer. The most accessible spot is Sayakhat Beach, which is next to Altyn Dala restaurant and Riverside Residence Hotel, which offers good quality accommodation and has its own restaurant too. The reservoir (aka the ‘Aktyubinsk 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 outside of Bestamak village, is the mausoleum of Eset Batyr. 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 (or horde) 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 surrounding area. Abulkhair Khan, named after the avenue in Aktobe, was a contemporary of Eset and also fought against the Dzungars.
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. Local destinations include Martuk Forest, Aktolagay Plateau, the Akkum mini desert, Kargaly Reservoir, and the Orkash Nature Reserve. Enquiries and bookings are made via their Instagram page, which is updated regularly with photos and videos from their tours. Private and group tours are available.
As a guideline, the approximate prices per person for a 1-day, fixed date group trip with Erkosh_04_Region starts at US$35 (Aktolagay), US$20 (Akkum), and US$16 (Martuk). Longer fixed date group trips start at US$55 for 2 days in Oral city and US$95 for 5 days in Aktau city and the Mangystau Region. One of their longest group trips is an 11-day multi-city tour including Shymkent, Turkistan, Almaty, Nur-Sultan, and Aktobe, for US$300. Prices include transport, a guide, accommodation, breakfast and tickets.
For general flight and train ticket sales, both domestic and international, here’s a list of Aktobe travel agents.
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.
Aktobe’s railway station is in the centre of the old town, so it’s easily accessed via public transport. You can book train tickets and view the schedules in depth on Tutu.ru or Kazakhstan’s national railway provider, Temir Zholy. Here’s a summary of all the train routes from the nearest major cities:
From Almaty, there are two to four trains departing daily for Aktobe, between lunchtime and late evening. The fastest, which ends in Oral, takes 33 hours and costs a minimum of 40,000 KZT. The slower option costs as little as 9,000 KZT and takes 42 hours. This route is part of the Trans-Aral Railway, aka the Orenburg–Tashkent line.
Trains from Nur-Sultan depart daily for Aktobe, and all end in Oral. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday there’s one train leaving at 1055, which takes 19 hours and prices start at 18,000 KZT. There are three trains on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, leaving between 1030 and 2020. The journey time is 19 to 30 hours and prices are as low as 6,500 KZT.
Atyrau has one train departing at 1655 per day. It takes 15 hours and prices start at 3,900 KZT.
Mangyshlak station, which is nearest to Aktau, has one train per day which departs at 1825. It takes 23 hours and costs a minimum of 5,600 KZT.
Every day from Oral at 1543, there’s one fast train headed to Aktobe, which takes 6.5 hours and costs 11,200 KZT. There are one to two slower trains per day, leaving between 3–7 pm, with prices for the 9.5–12.5 hour journey starting at 3,200 KZT.
Heads-up: Depending on your route, some trains headed to/from Oral go via Russia. Before you book, double-check the stops on Temir-Zholy’s site and ensure you have an appropriate visa for Russia.
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. The Maxim taxi app has drivers in Aktobe. Такси.kz also has a list of Aktobe taxi companies with phone numbers. Prices are approximately 350 KZT per kilometre.
If you fancy long distance bus trips, there are two stations in Aktobe. Sapar bus station (tel: 8 (7132) 212661), on 312 Infantry Division Avenue, mostly serves the Aktobe Region. Local destinations include Khromtau, Kandyagash, Martuk, and Zhirenkopa, as well as buses to Nur-Sultan. There are also buses to nearby Russian cities, such as Orsk, Orenburg and Ufa, and further afield to Moscow and St. Petersburg. A 25-minute walk westwards along 312 Infantry Division Avenue 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.
WikiRoutes has handy information on Aktobe city’s bus routes, including details on which bus number to take.
You can fly directly to Aktobe from Atyrau, Aktau, Shymkent, Nur-Sultan, and Moscow. Aktobe Airport is a 15-minute drive south of the city centre.
From Almaty, Air Astana flies Monday–Thursday and Saturday–Sunday at 10.20 am and on Friday at 10.20 pm. SCAT Airlines also flies daily at 6.50 pm.
From Nur-Sultan, there are three direct flights per day operated by Qazaq Air, SCAT Airlines and Air Astana. All flights are between 12 pm and 9 pm. However, on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, Air Astana’s flights depart at 8.20 am.
As of 2021, if you want to reach Aktobe from Aktau, Atyrau, or Moscow, then you’ll need to fly via Nur-Sultan or Almaty.
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