Astana is a very new city, and less than 20 years ago there was very little on the site of what is now a modern metropolis. It took over as capital from Almaty in 1997, with many of its current residents moving to Astana since that time. The purpose-built city's masterplan was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.
Astana sits almost in the middle of the large country of Kazakhstan, but is slightly to the north. The city is very isolated, surrounded by over a thousand kilometers of very flat, semi-arid steppe.
The capital had a population of around 850,000 in 2014, and it is one of Kazakhstan's most important cities along with the former capital, Almaty. Kazakhs, Russians and Ukrainians account for over 90% of the city's population, but there is a notable expat community.
Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world, behind Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar. It has an extreme continental climate, experiencing very different seasons. Summers are warm with occasional brief rain showers. Winters are long, very cold, and dry. Summer can occasionally be as hot as 35°C (95°F), while −30 to −35°C (−22 to −31°F) is not uncommon in winter, from mid-December to early March. Astana has the dubious honor of the lowest air temperature ever recorded in the country (−51°C (−60°F)). The river that runs through the city, the Ishim, generally freezes between mid-November and early April. High winds are also common.
January, the coldest month, has an average temperature of −14.2°C (6.4°F). July, the warmest month, averages 20.8°C (69.4°F).
Expats tend to live in the center of the city, in apartments ranging from one to four bedrooms. Accommodation in Astana is quite expensive, and houses, being few and far between, are costly to rent and to heat. Most apartment buildings have a security entry phone system, a children's playground, underground parking and a shop. They are usually a reasonable size and the landlord will acquire furniture to order.
In the most desirable areas, close to the downtown district, rents can cost 1,000–1,500 USD or more for multiple bedroom apartments, and around 800 USD for a one bedroom place.