Petropavl is the most northerly of Kazakhstan’s regional capitals with the population about 220,000. Petropavl is also often called by its more Russified name of Petropavlovsk. It is located in the southwest part of the West Siberian Plain and has the strong character of a Siberian town. The city lies just about 50 km from the Russian border, 430 km north of the capital Astana and ethnic Russians make the majority population of the town. Petropavl is a diverse and wealthy city combining old and modern architecture. 

Orthodox Cathedral in Petropavl Kazakhstan
Petropavl in Kazakhstan

History of Petropavl

Empress Elizabeth Petrovna had a huge role in the founding of Petropavl as she gave the order to straighten the southern borders of the Russian Empire. The city was first established in 1752 as a Tsarist military fortress at the place known as Kyzylzhar on the bank of the Ishim River. The leader of the Middle Zhuz by Ablai Khan (leader of the area at the time) gave his consent for the establishment of the fortress in part because he wanted the Tsarist authorities to establish a market at the site. Petropavlovsk immediately developed into an essential trading hub between Russian merchants and the Kazakhs of the Middle Zhuz and internationally with Central Asia and Western China.

In 1896 the Trans-Siberian Railway arrived to Petropavl, creating the further basis for the development of the town. Since the 20th century, the immigrants from Russian Empire started to move to the city. By the time the food-processing as well as leather industries grew, followed by World War II, when about 20 enterprises were relocated in the town from more vulnerable parts of the western USSR. During the later Soviet time, Petropavl turned into a restricted military town that focused on heavy machinery and weapons production.

When the Soviet Union fell, it broke the entire economy North Kazakhstan since major industries were shut down which lead to mass unemployment. Even these days, the region remains primarily relying on agricultural and dairy industries, along with cross-border trade. Lately the living standards have started again to increase, in line with Kazakhstan’s broader economic development. In 2018 the president of Russia Vladimir Putin and former president Nursultan Nazarbayev held a symbolically important meeting in the Petropavl, aiming to raise cross-border tourism and preserving the city’s historical heritage.

What to see in Petropavl

Petropavl Constitution Street

Petropavl main street is called the Constitution street and is packed with the city’s oldest buildings and impressive sights. The street is lined up with red-brick and colorfully designed buildings, constructed during the 19th century by local rich merchants. The street also has hospitable cafes, restaurants and a lovely Puppet theatre. 

Other attractions along the avenue are the Roman Catholic church, a legacy to the region’s influence from ethnic Poles, the Abai-Pushkin statue and Valikhanov-Dostoyevsky mural, and several testaments to Russian-Kazakh friendship. Furthermore, the newly built Russian Orthodox church located at 97 Komintern St. is worth a visit as is the huge new mosque on the corner of Ulyanov and Mira streets.

Regional Museum of History

If you walk to the north side Constitution Street, between the junctions with Park and Zhambyl streets, you will see a line of beautiful red-brick merchant houses of the Tsarist era. Two properties occupy the North Kazakhstan Regional Museum of History and Local Lore. The houses were previously owned by the merchant Strelov and the businessman Arkel. 

These houses were built in the 19th century and are considered to be an architectural monument. The museum presents exhibitions found in the territory of Northern Kazakhstan. Among other items, the museum has halls with military themes, exhibitions with national clothes and a section dedicated to ex-president N. Nazarbayev.

Ablai Khan's Residence

The Residence of Ablai Khan, the Middle Zhuz, the leader recognized as ruler of all the Kazakhs, stands  along the Sutyushev street . The building was originally built in 1829 and it was financed by Catherine the Great as a place of residence for Ablai Khan. 

He was supported by Russia to constantly visit the city to encourage harmonious relations between the 2 ethnic groups. Previously, the building also served as a military hospital before falling into a state of disrepair but it was restored in the mid-2000s. The museum contains aspects of Ablai’s life, his achievements, his battles with the Dzhungars, and his election in 1771 as “Khan of all Kazakhs” along with an impressive example of his diplomatic relations with Tsarist Russia and with Qing China, which defeated the Dzhungars in 1758. 

Around Petropavl

Lake Pestroye

Lake Pestroye is located to southwest of Petropavl near the villages of Teplichnoye and Kuibyshevskoye. The city beach sits on the shore of this lake, which is perfect for swimming in summer and ice skating in winter. In 2011, for the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence, a steel made “North Star” was built in the shore of the Pestroy lake and an Independence Park was set next to it. 

Big White Lake

Big White Lake (озеро Большое Белое) the lake lies within the city of Petropavlovsk, in the northeastern outskirts of the city, near the village of Beloe. The lake receives its waters from the snow and rain and it is frozen from November till April-May.

HOW TO GET TO Petropavl


Petropavl Airport is located 11 km south of the city center. There are flights to AlmatyAstana and Shymkent


The train station of Petropavl is located at the eastern edge of the town, at the side of the large Auezov Square. The city is linked by a daily Talgo train and with some slower trains, that take to Astana in 6 h through Kokshetau and Borovoye, and further overnight to Almaty in 20 hours through Karaganda. Petropavl is also connected with Russian cities of Omsk, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Moscow.

Bus / Minibus / Taxi

The bus station lies within close distance from the train station, on Auezov Square in the city’s southeast. Buses and taxis also run daily to all other northern Kazakh cities. 

Destinations near Petropavl

Page updated 3.6.2021

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