Tours, Attractions and Things To Do in Ashgabat
Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan and the largest city of the country. Divided in four districts or “etraps”, it is also the scientific, administrative, cultural, and industrial center of the republic.
On one side, the city is framed by the Kopetdag Mountain Range and on the other, by the Karakum desert. Located in Central Asia, Ashgabat practically borders Iran – the border is only 25 kilometers away. The climate in the capital is continental extreme, very hot in summer and cool in winter.
Ashgabat has only a few old buildings, since in 1948, a terrible earthquake, destroyed almost everything, taking the lives of more than 175 thousand people.
In 2013, Ashgabat was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the city with highest density of white marble buildings, confirming the title 5 times.
According to official data, in 2018 the number of residents of Ashgabat reached 1 million, while the population of Turkmenistan was a bit more than 6 million people.
History of Ashgabat
On the site of modern Ashgabat, in the 2nd century BC was the city of Konjikala. Konjikala had a strategic location on the Great Silk Road, therefore, was reconstructed even after being destroyed by a great earthquake. The city existed until the 13th century when it was destroyed by the Mongols.
In the 18th century, Russian troops came to this territory and built Askhabad fortress (from the Persian eshq – "love" and abad – "city"). In 1881, a military fortification was founded there and in 1919 became known as Poltoratsk.
After the revolution of 1917, the settlement, which received the status of a city, became the center of the Turkmen region. In 1925 Poltoratsk was proclaimed the capital of the Turkmen ASSR. En 1927, the old name – Askhabad – was given back to the city with the replacement of one letter, and the capital became known as Ashgabat.
In 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan gained their independence and Ashgabat became its capital.
What to Do in Ashgabat
Ashgabat greets its visitors with luxurious buildings, numerous fountains, and white marble. Literally all the buildings in the city center, are white!
The city holds many institutions and governmental buildings, unique monuments, attractions and even some Guinness Records awards.
On the list of sights you can’t miss, we will start with Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center. This center has several museums, and it is famous for the impressive Space Museum and a massive indoor Ferris wheel, which at the time of the opening in 2012, entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest enclosed Ferris wheel in the world.
Ashgabat also holds the main flag of the country, which is flying on a 133-meter-long flagpole. Until 2010, it was considered the tallest in the world and since 2008 counts with a guard of honor.
The Oguzkhan Palace Complex it is the presidential residence. Completed in 2011 was decorated with white marble. Although visitors are not allowed here, you can admire the beautiful exterior of the complex, which is also depicted on the 100 manat banknotes.
In 2010 opened Oguzkent Hotel, a luxury five–star hotel owned by the Government of Turkmenistan. This place boosts a national style decoration, both outside and inside, and of course, white marble.
From the religious buildings, Ertogrulgazy Mosque (Azadi Mosque) stands out for its beauty and for been the largest one in Ashgabat. The mosque is framed by four tall minarets and was built in the Ottoman style, resembling the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Built in 1900, Alexander Nevsky Church is the main Orthodox church of Turkmenistan. Its temple is one of the few places surviving the 1948 earthquake. During soviet period, the church was used as a warehouse, but in 1989 the building was returned to the faithful.
A very particular building in Ashgabat is the Wedding Palace Bagt Koshgi, constructed on the shape of an eight-pointed star. This eleven-story building holds in its upper stage, a big golden ball that symbolizes the planet and has an image of Turkmenistan. The complex hosts several rooms of marriage registration, wedding halls, banquet rooms, shops and all necessary for a wedding.
Another interesting site is The Monument of Independence; a 118-meter white column decorated with gilding. The monument is crowned with a crescent moon and five stars, that symbolize the five Turkmen tribes. The bottom of the monument resembles a traditional Turkmen dwelling – a yurt.
The Arch of Neutrality used to stand on the main square of the country, but in 2011, was moved to Ashgabat’s outskirts. Still worth a visit, this multi-level structure is crowned by a sculpture of the former Turkmenistan´s President, Saparmurat Niyazov. Previously, the sculpture used to rotate after the sun, making a daily full turnover.
Another attraction in the city are their many fountains, which, literally, can be found at every step. One of the most famous is "Oguzkhan and sons" and it entered the Guinness Book of Records as a complex combining many fountains. The complex comprehends the territory of 15 hectares and counts with 27 fountains, symbolizing the peacefulness and unity of the Turkmen people.
At 19 kilometers from the Turkmen capital, are located the ruins of the ancient city of Nisa; a major attraction declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. Archaeological excavations have confirmed that Nisa already existed in the 4th- 2nd century BC. Among the ruins it’s possible to identify a ceremonial hall, a round temple, shrines, and mausoleums.
Also, not far from Ashgabat, is located Anau, a city from the end of 5th millennium BC. The city has an eclectic mix of ruins of ancient urban settlements with newer buildings, including the walls of a mosque from the 15th century.
The tallest building in the country, with 211 meters is the TV Tower. The tower is decorated with an octagonal star that entered the Guinness Book of Records, as the largest architectural image of a star. On top of the tower at a height of 154 meters, there is a restaurant that slowly rotates in a circle.
Something particularly interesting in the city, are the telephone booths that can be found on each street. Made with white columns, glass, and gilded ornaments they look like art pieces and each one is different from the other.
Located in Ashgabat, the main museum of the country is the State Museum of the State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan. Opened in 1998, the complex exposition is divided into 7 thematic galleries that store over 166,000 unique exhibits, many of which are of special historical and cultural importance. The museum has three sections that comprehend natural history, science, and the President of Turkmenistan. The oldest exhibits are from the 6th-2nd millennia BC. The complex includes the Museum of the President of Turkmenistan, the Museum of Ethnography and Local History, the Museum of Independence of Turkmenistan, the Museum of Neutrality, and the Museum of the Constitution of Turkmenistan. Besides, the museum has three branches, all located in Ashgabat: "Galkynysh", "Garashsyzlyk" and "Bitaraplyk".
The Turkmen Carpet Museum was established in 1993 to preserve and develop the traditions of Turkmen carpet weaving. More than two thousand carpets made by hand are awaiting to amaze their visitors. Both ancient and modern carpets are on display here, including one of 301 square meters that entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest of the world.
The Museum of Fine Arts has 11 halls, exhibiting hundreds of paintings, carpets, sculptures, and precious metals products. An interesting part of the collection is represented by the paintings of Western European artists from the 14th -20th century, and Russian painters from the 18th-20th century.
Located near Ashgabat, it’s the National Museum of Wildlife of Turkmenistan, a modern zoo of 40 hectares with representatives of 250 species of animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and fish.
The National Museum "Ak Bugday" (Museum of White Wheat) is in the suburbs of Ashgabat. This museum, the only of its kind, was built in 1904 on the site where wheat grains of the 3rd century were discovered. Among the exhibits you can also see millstones of the same period, tools from the 3rd-2nd millennia BC and ancient ceramic dishes.
The museum "Sanctity of the Motherland" is located on the territory of the memorial complex "National Memory". It contains exhibits from the World War II and the mid-twentieth century earthquake.
The Main Drama Theatre of Turkmenistan is in Ashgabat, and it’s named in honor of president Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. Mainly offers Turkmen playwrights, both classical and modern, all in Turkmen language.
Russian State Drama Theater named after A.S. Pushkin is the only Russian theater in the country. It was established in 1926, and since then, always attracts a lot of viewers.
The Student Theater is popular among young people, as modern plays are staged here.
Another interesting options, are the Turkmen National Youth Theater named after Alp Arslan, the National Musical and Drama Theater named after Makhtumkuli and the Puppet Theater is a great option for the kids.
Entertainment, Parks and Shopping in Ashgabat
In Ashgabat there are several options for those who seek some calm in the city. The Park of Culture and Recreation "Ashgabat" is considered the oldest in the city and it was founded in 1890. Most residents love to relax there. Also, the Botanical Gardens, founded in 1929 are a great option to chill while exploring plants from different countries of the world. The best time to visit the botanical gardens is from April to June.
Inspiration Alley is a park complex that occupies 57 thousand square meters. There are many centuries-old trees and flowers. The park is decorated with sculptures of famous Turkmen and Oriental scientists, poets, and cultural figures of the 15th-20th century.
Other options loved by locals and visitors alike, are the parks "Turkmen-Turkish Friendship", "Gunesh", Independence Park, and several squares.
Children enjoy "The World of Turkmenbashi fairy tales". This recreational complex is decorated in a national style, based on Turkmen folk and fairy tales. The rides "Khoja Nasreddin" and "Magic Carpet" are the big favorites among the youngest.
Although is not a park, The Health Trail is a great spot to test your endurance, enjoy nature and fresh air. Located near the city, counts with 36 kilometers on a path along the slopes of Kopetdag mountain range. Its highest point lays at more than 1000 meters above sea level and it’s followed by hundreds of people daily.
Shopping in Ashgabat
Residents of Ashgabat prefer to shop at their buzzling bazaars. The most popular is the oriental bazaar "Altyn Asyr" - the largest market in Turkmenistan that occupies 154 hectares. There are more than 2 thousand shops and from a bird's-eye view, the bazaar resembles the pattern of a traditional Turkmen carpet. Other interesting bazars are Tekin, Parakhat, Laser, Tashauzsky, Jennet and Ai Yol.
The Gulistan State Shopping Center is considered the central market of Ashgabat. It is popularly called the Russian bazaar and often visited by tourists.
For those seeking modern shopping malls and entertainment centers, "Berkarar" – the largest in Turkmenistan, is the best option. In their 340 stores is possible to find clothe, accessories, restaurants, cafes, a cinema, and a playground. Other popular shopping centers are "Altyn Asyr", "Ashgabat", "Paytagt" and "15 years of independence".
Food in Ashgabat
Food in Ashgabat is distinguished by its richness of taste. Local cuisine blends regional favorites with uniquely Turkmen creations. You can try it not only in restaurants and cafes, but also in small canteens.
Be sure to try the lamb stewed chekdirme and stuffed bird oytykma. Turkmenistan is also famous for fish dishes, and pilaf with fish and manti with fish are especially good in Ashgabat.
These and other dishes of Turkmen cuisine can be better tasted in the restaurants "Chandybil", Altyn Cynar, "Kopetdag" and Soltan.
There are no vegetarian restaurants in Ashgabat. However, is possible to find meat-free dishes in Chinese, Indian and Korean restaurants.
Coffee Shops and Boulangeries
Since residents of the city prefer to drink tea, there are not many coffee shops in the capital of Turkmenistan. If you want to drink coffee in Ashgabat, we recommend visiting Coffee Station, Alfredo Coffee Shop and Shop Coffee.
Fresh croissants and other pastries can be tasted at La Tartine French bakery.
There are over 90 bus routes operating in Ashgabat. The buses are very modern, and even most of the bus stops are air-conditioned. The downside is that there’s not fixed schedule. Basically, drivers stand at bus stops and wait for as many people as possible. You should also keep in mind, that some drivers like to drive very fast. The cost per ride is 50 Turkmen tenge (0.5 manat).
Residents of Ashgabat do not like minibuses, since the drivers tend to fill them with more people than they should, and they are usually overcrowded. Travel by minibus cost around 2-2.5 manats.
There is a unified taxi network in Ashgabat, and it can be called by phone. The average taxi fare is 20 manats. Private taxi drivers can be cheaper, but all depends on the distance and your bargaining skills. Bear in mind that hailing a taxi on the street is not common, so it can take long time until some driver will stop.
There is no car rental in Ashgabat.
Other types of transport
Ashgabat counts with the first monorail in Central Asia. The system has been operating since 2016 in the Olympic Town, built for the Asian Games. So far there is only one route with 8 stops in the city.
The city also has the only cable car of the country, with a length of 4 kilometers. The funicular leads to the former village of Archabil (Firyuza), famous for the largest plane tree (sycamore) in Central Asian and a beautiful sycamore park. Previously, the residence of the President of Turkmenistan was located here.
How to Get to Ashgabat
The fastest and most convenient way to get to the capital of Turkmenistan is by plane. Ashgabat International Airport receives flights from several countries of the world. Turkish Airlines, Flydubai and Belavia International Flights fly to Ashgabat. Before the pandemic, more international carriers flew to the Turkmen capital, but so far, the prohibition to travel to the country has not been completely lifted.
The national airline Turkmenistan Airlines operates regular flights to Istanbul, Dhaka, Dubai, Minsk, Frankfurt, Moscow, and Keisa (Indonesia). National airlines also have domestic routes on regular basis.
Languages Spoken in Ashgabat
The official language of Turkmenistan is Turkmen, and it is spoken by most residents of Ashgabat. Uzbek is also well known by many Turkmens and constitute the second most common language, being Russian the third. The 2010 census in Turkmenistan showed that almost 12% of the country's residents speak Russian fluently and most of them live in Ashgabat.
While English is not popular, employees of hotels and international organizations, as well as school graduates and students can speak it.
Currency in Ashgabat
The national currency of Turkmenistan is the Turkmen manat. The Turkmen tenge is also in use (1 manat = 100 Turkmen tenge). Manats and Turkmen tenge are widely use everywhere in the country.
The official dollar exchange rate is 3.5 manats and is possible to exchange money in the banks.
Visa and MasterCard cards are practically not accepted anywhere, except for large hotels and some restaurants. Although Turkmens prefer to use local money, many sellers accept only dollars, so we recommend having a stock of small bills.
Security in Ashgabat
Ashgabat is a safe city, with a lot of representatives of law enforcement. While you can be safe at night, we advise you to stay at your registered place, since you may be fined otherwise. We also recommend following a modest style of clothing.