Azerbaijan is a country which is wedged in between Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Caucasus Mountains and sits on the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan was once part of the Soviet Union and this can be clearly seen in some of its architecture that still stands today.
Baku is Azerbaijan’s capital city and situated on the Caspian Sea. Baku is famous for its oil refineries, hosting the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest and its medieval old town. This Eurasian City is a real melting pot and you can see that there has been many influences over the years, and you can really see where east meets west, it has modern architecture mixed with its beautiful old town.
The culture has lots of Middle Eastern and Arabic influences mixed in with a Russian and Eastern European vibe. I didn’t really know much about Baku before I went with work a few years back, and was lucky enough to get several layovers there with the airline I work for.
I really fell in love with this quirky city and I can honestly say it’s like nowhere I have ever ventured to before! There is so much to explore and if you fancy a city break with a difference it’s makes a great long weekend escape, or if you booked a twin centre trip to Azerbaijan and Georgia it would make an excellent cultured holiday.
Sights & Activities
Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum
Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum is a strange sight to behold the building is shaped like a rolled up carpet, and the museum celebrates the art and technique of carpet and rug weaving, which is Azerbaijan’s national art form, and a huge part of the countries heritage. The museum houses the largest collection of Azerbaijan carpets and rugs, as well as showcasing the tools and techniques used to create the carpets. Entrance into the musuem is only 7 manat which is equivalent to about £4 per adult.
Baku Boulevard & Bulvar Park
Baku Boulevard is a promenade which runs along Baku’s seafront which over looks the Caspian Sea. The promenade is a national park and was created back in the early 1900s. The Boulevard has the biggest Azerbaijani flag and it’s the biggest flag in the world.
Along the promenade there is plenty to see, eat and do with restaurants, cafes with outside seating, a puppet theatre, mall, ferris wheel and a Carpet Museum. Try and walk along the seafront in the morning to take advantage of it’s fresh sea air and peacefulness. If you more active it’s also the perfect place to go for a jog, run or hire a bicycle and cycle the length of it. There is also a little man made Venice on the promenade where you can take a boat ride.
Bulvar Park is a mall situated along Baku Boulevard with lots of shops, restaurants supermarket, cinema, bowling and a foot court. I have popped into this small several times on trips to Baku as their is a good choice of cheap places to eat in the foot court and also the supermarket is a great place to pick up some local Azerbaijani food and snacks to take home.
Flame Towers are three skyscrapers in the shape of flames to symbolise Baku’s history of worshipping fire. They consist of residential apartments, serviced apartments, offices, shops, observation decks and a hotel. The trio of towers were completed back in 2012 and are some of the tallest buildings in the country, and are now a symbolic icon of the capital. At night they are lit up and perform a light show in a variety of colours and transition between moving images of the Azerbaijan flag, fire and water.
Fountain Square is located just by Nizami Street and is a public square and is home to several fountains, sculptures and statues. Its a popular area as it’s a great meeting point in the city, and also surrounded by restaurants, cafes and shops. On a warm day it’s the perfect place to sit and people watch.
Maiden Tower is the oldest structure in Baku’s Old Town, and many experts believe the tower was finished in the 12th century, along with many other buildings in the walled city. However no one is entirely sure when it was built, or the purpose of it. There is a difference in appearance of the stones that form the foundation, and the first three stories suggests the original structure may date as far back as 600 BC.
There is museum inside the tower which houses lots of information all about Baku and it’s history, and you can also climb to the top of the tower for excellent views over the city and the bay of the Caspian Sea. There is small entrance fee of 10 manat which is about £5 per person. When in the Old Town you can’t miss Maiden Tower.
Nizami Street is the most central part of Baku and and is home to a huge array of shops, entertainment facilities, pubs, restaurants and cafes. Even though the area is a commercial hub of the city it has elegant style and beautiful 19th century buildings which line the street, as well as pretty street lights and chandeliers that hang over the street above. Try and visit the street both during the day and at night to see it all lit up.
Old Town (Icherisheher)
Baku’s Old Town also known as Icherisheher is the cities historical core and is the oldest part of the city. It’s steeped in history and ancient architecture, and an absolute must visit when in Baku. Baku Old Town is a city within a city and surrounded by a curved wall which would have once been protection for the city, originally there were just two main gates to enter, but today there are several openings where pedestrians and cars can pass through.
It has grand palaces and mosques, sunken ruins of old hammams and caravanserais. There are lots of stalls and shops with silver merchants and carpet vendors who have been trading their wares there for centuries. The Old Town is part of UNESCO world heritage and some parts of this old city date back to the 12th century, although there is some evidence which shows some areas may even date back to as early as the 7th century.
The Old Town is my favourite area in the city, you can stroll around the old streets for several hours exploring, browsing traditional trinkets in the small shops, stopping at small authentic tea houses to have a glass of tea and some freshly made baklava. The Old Town is what most people come to Baku go visit, it really is a special place to see.
Food & Beverage
Old Garden Restaurant
Old Garden Restaurant is situated on the edge of the Old Town and is a stunning restaurant set in what looks like some old ruins, you step down some small steps into a garden area that is set out with a pathway of Persian rugs which lead up to the restaurant. You can choose to eat inside or outside in the garden area, or just stop by for a drink.
The menu is reasonably priced and the staff are friendly. I stopped there in the late afternoon and had a tea, it’s such a peaceful place to go and relax, I stumbled across this place before I headed back to get ready for my flight home and wish I would of had the time to stop and have something to eat as the place had a really lovely ambience.
The Hilton Baku is a large fancy hotel set overlooking the Caspian Sea and has a revolving bar which provides incredible views over the city especially at night when the city lights up and you can see the Flame Towers light show in the distance.
Personally I’m not really into large flash hotels I’d much rather stay in a local guest house or something that has a bit more of a local vibe, and more in my price range. However as I visited Baku with work I wasn’t footing the bill, and it was a really lovely hotel and if you like comfort and booking with a chain hotel for peace of mind and so that you can manage your expectations then the Hilton is a great choice.
Even if you don’t stay at the Hilton I would highly recommend visiting the revolving bar for a cocktail in the evening and to see the city lit up.
Transport & Getting Around
Baku is a really easy city to explore, I found the best way to get around the city centre was by foot, you can also hire bicycles too. There are plenty of public transport options too though, such as buses and metros which link the city together and connect the suburbs to the city. There’s also an option to purchase a preloaded city transport card similar to that of London’s Oyster card, Baku’s card is called Bakikart. There are also taxis available, the main ones being Baki Taksi which are dark purple London style cabs, and run on a meter and aren’t too expensive and a good option if your just flagging a taxi down and haven’t booked one in advance.
Baku is an amazing place to visit and I never once felt unsafe as female wandering around alone, however something to be aware of if you are a solo female traveller is that you will have men approach you wanting to chat. I was approached several times by various men every time I visited the city. I’m a pretty confident and outspoken person so I was polite back but made sure to end the conversation quite quickly by not giving much back or if they were trying to flirt would tell them I’m married, however if your shy and timid I can imagine this would be quite intimidating. My best bit of advice is just to be polite, and end the conversation or tell them you have a boyfriend or husband even if you don’t!
Azerbaijan is a real melting pot of cultures but as it has quite an Islamic influence and many Muslims I would recommend to cover yourself and not wear anything too revealing, out of a sign of respect but also to avoid any unwanted attention. Every time I visited Baku I was always pretty well covered and unfortunately still got unwanted attention. Don’t let this put you off though, as I have always really enjoyed visiting the city and met some lovely locals too, it’s just something to keep in mind so your prepared.
I have also heard about a lot of scams in Baku, and again something to be wary of, I didn’t experience this myself but have heard that some restaurants might add a bit extra on to the bill for tourists so just make sure to check you bill before paying, and if there is a discrepancy then let the waiter know so they can amend it, like all cities there are always going to be scammers so just go with your wits about you, like you would anywhere in the world.