Semey or still know as a Semipalatinsk is the largest city in Eastern Kazakhstan and is mostly known for the nearby Nuclear test site during the Soviet era. Semey is located on both banks of the river Irtysh, which are connected by several bridges. 

Semey was founded by Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1718 as a fortress to develop military border as well as an important trading point. Due to to the floodings of the Irtysh River the location of the fortress was changed several times. In 1882 it received town status as the administrative capital of Semipalatinsk Uyezd. By that time it was well developing as a trading center more than as the military use since there was no threat from the Dzhungars. In the 19th century, the town grew with a Cossack settlement to the north of the fortress and Tatar to its south. From 1918 to 1920 Semipalatinsk was briefly renamed Alas Kala and become the capital of the unrecognized Alas Autonomium Government set after the October revolution.

Semey Kazakhstan
Old wooden house or villa in Semey in Kazakhstan

Red Army troops loyal to Petrograd seized the area in 1920. During the Soviet era in 1930 large enterprises and infrastructure elements were built in the city. Moreover in the same year was built one of the largest the Turkestan-Siberian railway was. Besides, one of the largest meat-packing plants in the USSR and mill was established here as well as a new tannery, a sheepskin factory with a special laboratory, a shipyard. On August 29, 1949, the first nuclear weapon test in the USSR was carried out at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site – a bomb with a capacity of 22 kilotons. 

The city was renamed Semey in 2007, the decision to rename the city was due to the negative association of Semipalitinsk with the extensive atomic testing. The town is as much Russian as it is Kazakh today with a variety of museums, small but interesting parks that have heads from statues of Soviet leader Lenin particularly.  The temperature in winter can reach -48 degrees and in summer +45 degrees. Distance from Semey to the regional center of Ust-Kamenogorsk is 240 km, Astana 800 km and Almaty 1200 km. 

Semei city in Kazakhstan
Semei city in Kazakhstan

What to see in semey

Yamyshevsky Gate

The Yamyshevskaya gate is all that remains of the old Semipalatnaya fortress which was built 1718, it is located on the banks of the Irtysh in Semey. However, is not the original, but an exact model, built-in 1973 in a new place to replace the destroyed historic fortress gates. The attraction is located near Abay Street, surrounded by two old cannons of the 18th century fixed on carriages, which were once in service in the fortress and reminiscent of the city’s military past.


Semey Bridge

One of the symbol of Semey city is the suspension bridge across the Irtysh River was opened in 2000. The suspension bridge itself have access roads and paths that connect the banks with small and large buildings in the city of Semipalatinsk. This project was developed by a Japanese company. At night dozens of lanterns illuminate the bridge, making it even more festive and beautiful.

Semey bridge
Bridge in Semei

Semey Wooden Mosque

This mosque, known as the Wooden Mosque, is one of the four religious Muslim buildings that have survived from the pre-revolutionary buildings of Semey. The wooden mosque represents a clear example of wooden architecture of the early 20th century, is considered one of the architectural masterpieces of old Semey. The building is entirely made of wood, and the outside is sheathed with boards.  It is located in the Tatar area side of the town, on Gagarin Street in the area of historical buildings on the right bank. The mosque is also often called the Tatar one. 

Abay Museum

The literary and Memorial Museum of Abai was opened in 1940 for the 95th anniversary of the birth of the writer and poet Abai Kunanbayev. One of the largest and luxury museums in the country. 

Abai is the national hero and pride of the Kazakh people. He was a great poet, philosopher, statesman, and founder of modern Kazakh literature. Under the expelled Russian intellectuals guidance he achieved impressive success in the Kazakh literature. He was the foundation of the Kazakh poetry and his works presented a mixture of Eastern tradition with modern Western ideas which suits perfectly into the national image presented in the current Kazakh state. In the museum, you can see shown the Kazakh customs and values. All the notes are in the Kazakh language but you can get an English speaking guide. 

Abay museum in Semey
Dostoesvskiy museum in Semey

Dostoyevski Museum

Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist. The Dostoevsky Memorial Museum was dedicated in memory of the years that Dostoevsky spent in Semipalitinsk during the part of his deportation. After four years in the Omsk penal prison, was sent to Semipalatinsk, where he stayed from 1854 to 1859. 

The museum describes the biography of the writer from his childhood years to hard years of forced labor in Omsk as well as lighter years of exile in Semipalatinsk. Along the museum holds lots of handwritten letters and pieces of the manuscript of the write. Most descriptions in the museum are in Russian only. You can take an English-speaking guide. Museum website 

Anatomical Museum

The Anatomical museum located inside the Medical University in Semey where contains an incredibly intense collection of the damaged organism and strange things in containers. It represents the devastating impact on health and the legacy of radioactive results from the nearby Polygon when nuclear bombs exploded. Many locals have suffered from the consequences of those experiments including the birth deformations rate, leukemia, and cancer. 

 Entering this museum is a bit tricky, there it is located inside if University and open while the University is open. However, entering you still need a key to go. Besides, there is a guard to who you have to explain yourself and finally if you find a person with the keys to open the museum door. This person might demand some sum of money to enter. 

Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan

Museum of Local Lore

The Semipalatinsk Museum of History and Local Lore was founded in 1883 by the effort of Narodnaya Volya members (or political exiles). The great contributors to the development of the museum were the famous Kazakh poet Abai, philosopher and scholar Shakarim, popular writer M. Auezov.

 The museum expositions consist of numerous exhibits describing the life of the former city of Semipalatinsk and its culture. According to historians, the museum exhibits began to be collected by ordinary people, in particular, political emigrants and exiles. Today in the museum more than one hundred thousand different exhibits in archeology, ethnography, paleontology, numismatics, zoology, and mineralogists. Besides, there are photographic documents, natural history, and historical household items, manuscripts, reviews of the Semipalatinsk region, memorable books and address calendars.

Travel to SEMEY


The airport is located 10 km southwest of the city, where the domestic airline SCAT serves six times a week to Almaty and four times to Astana. You can get there by bus 33 which operates couple time. However, it doesn’t orientate to the arrival or departure schedule so the best is just take taxi to or from airport. 


Semey railway is located in northern part of the city, at the northern end of the Shakarim avenue. 

Semey is situated at the Turkestan-Siberian Railway and gives connections to Almaty (18-22 hours) and Russian cities Barnaul and Novosibirsk(16 hours)


Semey has two bus stations, first focused on on International and second more domestic rides. The International one has departures across Russian nearest cities and destinations in Kazakhstan as well as Urumchi in western China. The regional 

Semey is a small town and it is most convenient to move around by taxi. Within the city you can use Yandex taxi and InDrive.

Other sights & destinations near Semey

Page updated 28.2.2023

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