Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is full of charm that blends the old and the new and the European with the Orient seamlessly! Baku is the newest ancient city in the world. If you haven’t visited this gem you’re in for a treat!
The Maiden Tower was made in Baku!
Baku’s history goes back to time immemorial. The petroleum-rich lands around Baku often spontaneously catch fire and the reputation of this “Land of Fire” meant that the country was sacred to the Zoroastrian religion that was prominent throughout the Persian empire of the late Bronze and Iron Ages. In fact, the modern “Flame Towers” commemorate this lofty position of Azerbaijan as a place of worship for the Zoroastrians. The Three Magi (or Three Wisemen) from the biblical story of the birth of Jesus were Zoroastrian priests and would have known Baku well. The Romans even reached Baku in the period of 84-96AD as is seen from engraved stones found in the old town. Always a prominent stop in the middle of the burning desert, Baku thrived into the 20th Century when it became part of the Soviet Union to whom it supplied copious amounts of high-grade oil.
Burning mud volcanoes – how cool is that!!
Reaching Baku is straightforward from most large cities in Europe. When travelling from further afield, you can always connect through Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Istanbul or Ankara. Heydar Aliyev International Airport is located just 25 kilometres (16 miles) from Baku city centre and there are convenient transport links between them. There is a 24/7 airport express bus or you can use taxis or ride-shares. If you want to use public transport, I’d recommend purchasing an electronic BakuCard which you can top up and use on different transport links around the city. Baku’s main attractions are mostly within walking distance of the centre. If you want to venture further then using the simple metro system can transport you everywhere for a small fee. If you prefer private transport, then use ‘Bolt’, the most popular rideshare application in Baku.
As you might expect in an ancient and modern city, there is so much to do! Here are my top picks, from the old to the new:
- Icheri Sheher (Baku’s Old City) is a stunning relic of history. This UNESCO listed area will transport you back in time to when the Shirvanshahs ran this medieval capital. Lose yourself within this historic centre’s walls, wind down its narrow streets and discover small shops and cafes in its many squares. There are so many historical areas to see within these walls:
- Follow the spiral staircase to the top of the 29-metre (95 feet) Maiden Tower where you can enjoy the best views of the entire Old City! This historic tower dates back to the 12th century, it’s one of the most iconic buildings in the country.
- You can’t miss Shirvanshah Palace, whose main attraction is a stunning mosque from the 15th century. The palace was the home of The Shirvanshah, the dynasty that ruled the region for nearly 700 years, from the 8th to the 16th century.
- Bibi-Heybat Mosque is located just outside the city centre. This beautiful sandstone edifice is full of mystery and holds some interesting legends. As the story goes, the mosque is a place of worship for infertile women. The legends state that some women travelled there on foot, worshipped, and within a year gave birth. Whether you believe it or not, its beautiful emerald tiling will definitely leave you enthralled!
Check out the curves on her!
- Heydar Aliyev Centre is one of the most beautiful modern pieces of architecture in the entire city! Its curves and white colouring completely stand out from everything else in the city.
- Baku Miniature Book Museum – Visit the only miniature book museum in the world! This unique place is unmissable because the tiny books look like they were made for fairies. The books were part of a private collection that just needed to be displayed to the public.
- Gobustan and the Mud Volcanoes – this is perhaps the most unique outdoor setting in the world. The mud volcanos release natural gas and can catch fire and there are even places where the land has been burning for centuries! None the less, if not on fire, the mud is cold to the touch – at just above freezing. It’s amazing site that has seen visitors since prehistoric times as evidenced by the Neolithic rock carvings found in the area.
Here’s a pro-tip: Why not have a picnic at the Heydar Aliyev Centre? The surrounding grassy park is the perfect place to take a break during a day of sightseeing whilst still enjoying this wonderful building!
When visiting any country, the food is just as much part of the culture as its attractions! Here are my favourite place to eat in Baku:
Dinner rices to the occasion!
- Kebab is a firm favourite in Azerbaijan! Kebab is made of various kinds of seasoned meat and vegetables that are skewered and barbecued.Lyulya Kebab is a particular type of kebab that consists of delicious barbequed minced lamb! Try this dish at the traditionally decorated Nergiz Restraurant.
- Pakhlava was historically prepared for Novruz, the Zoroastrianfestival that celebrates the arrival of Spring. Pakhlava is similar to Turkish baklava and is very sweet, but is accompanied perfectly by strong black tea. Try it at Pakhlava, a cool café where you can spend the afternoon playing games or smoking the Hookah (shisha).
Once you’ve had your fill of culture and sightseeing it’s time to hit the town! Baku’s nightlife is glamorous and practically brand new. Here are my favourites:
- ROOM Fine Art Wine and Dine – like the name suggests, this venue has elegant wines. Try selections from Azerbaijan’s most renowned wine making company, Savalan. You can enjoy all sorts of delectable cocktails here in a casual setting where the owners want you to feel relaxed and at home.
- Barfly Social Hub is a small chain that I love around the world in places as diverse as Singapore, Sofia and Abu Dhabi. Enjoy world-class DJs at this bustling spot and try their signature cocktail called “Crazy Love”; you’re in for a treat!
- Buddha Bar – this may be my favourite chain venue in the world! Originally from Paris, most major cities have a unique Buddha Bar and Baku is no exception. This elegant bar is located in the JW Marriot Hotel Absheron and once of my favourites in the world!
Yummy! I’ll be Baku for more!
Here’s another pro-tip: The centre of Baku nightlife is concentrated at around Nizami Street and you can easily access all of the bars and clubs on this street. Take a walk around this district and experience the best of Baku’s nightlife!
You’ll need somewhere to rest your head after your busy days in Azerbaijan’s capital! I would recommend these top stays:
- Sultan Inn Boutique Hotel is located in the heart of the old city! Next the Maiden’s Tower, this elegant hotel has everything you need for an outstanding stay. Enjoy a cocktail at their stunning garden terrace, receive luxurious service and revel in their unique décor!
- Badam d’Art Boutique Hotel is another great choice for your stay. You can relax in their top-class wellness spa, chill out at their outdoor pool or enjoy their outstanding views of the city!
- Enjoy the beautiful energy and décor of Revelton Studios, a stunning aparthotel located within 300m of Palace of The Shirvanshahs. This homey stay will definitely impress! A fully fitted kitchen and dining room means you can really take it easy during your trip and cook exotic flavours of you own!
Baku is one of the coolest “hidden gems” in the world! I’d recommend seeing this ancient and modern city as soon as you can while it is still a secret!