More and more travelers are starting to wonder where is Baku and why is the jewel of the Caspian Sea region getting so popular.
Baku is the capital and the largest city of Azerbaijan, a country located on the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Some Azerbaijani neighbors include Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Although about 97% of the population is Muslim, the country doesn't have an official religion and all major political forces are secularist. It is a developing country but its economy and level of literacy are rising. However, its ruling party has been accused of political repression and restrictions of the free press.
Ever since the country proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, tourism (especially Baku tourism) has been one of the crucial sectors of the Azerbaijani economy. From 2010 to 2016, Azerbaijan was among the top ten countries with the greatest increase in visitors, and it had the world’s fastest-developing travel economy in 2017. Today, it continues to be one of the top tourism countries in this part of the world.
Keep reading and find out what to do in Baku, the best-known attraction in Azerbaijan.
12 Things to Do in Baku
Baku is buzzing with life. The official statistic says that the city has 2,1 million residents, but the number may be twice as high. The residents of Baku live in a city of extremes, with contemporary skyscrapers next to the historical center where merchants sell traditional Azerbaijani carpets. Many travelers agree that both sides of Baku are equally fascinating.
Here are some of the top things to do in Baku.
Fun Activities to Enjoy
- Climb up the Maiden Tower: Do not miss the 12th-century UNESCO World Heritage beauty. One of the most recognizable Azerbaijani landmarks offers a stunning panoramic view of Baku.
- Check out the Bibi Heybat Mosque: The present-day building is a recreation of the mosque built in the 13th century. Both Muslims and non-Muslims agree that exploring this gorgeous piece of architecture is one of the most interesting things to do in Baku.
- Visit the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum: Once, carpet weaving was part of everyday Azerbaijani life. Today, it is a traditional activity. The museum contains carpets of historical importance and holds more than 10,000 pieces of jewelry and ceramic objects.
- Experience the Baku nightlife: Baku is impressive during the day, but it will not disappoint during the night, either. The city offers something for everybody, from eating finger-licking food and drinking cocktails in upscale bars to late-night shopping.
Food and Drink (Wine and Coffee) to Try
With a compelling blend of Middle Eastern and Eastern European flavors, Azerbaijani cuisine is irresistibly delicious. Prepare yourself for kebabs, seafood dishes, soups, and aromatic spices.
- Tea (chai): The national drink of Azerbaijan is a huge part of Azerbaijani daily life, so you cannot visit the country without trying it out. Most Azerbaijanis start their day with tea, which they often season with oregano or cinnamon. Also, they infuse the water with the aroma of woods.
- Coffee: For centuries, Baku residents mostly drank black tea served with pastries. However, the popularity of coffee is rising, and modern cafés are popping up all over the Old Town.
- Wine: Azerbaijan has a long history of winemaking and is one of the main wine producers in the Caspian Sea region. Make sure to try a glass of its most popular wine cultivar, Pinot Noir.
- Plov: You know it is a widespread and beloved recipe when it has over 40 variations. This classic Azerbaijani meal is made out of saffron-flavored rice, meat, onions, prunes, dry fruits, eggs, and herbs.
- Dolma: One more traditional Azerbaijani recipe that is too good to miss. It is prepared using rice, minced lamb, mint, cinnamon, and fennel, all wrapped in cabbage or vine leaves.
Places to Visit
- Baku Flame Tower: The spectacular Flame Towers represent the new, western-oriented side of the city. They also showcase the country's wealth, which is mostly coming from oil. Head to the Panoramic Restaurant, have dinner at sunset overlooking the towers, and experience their true magnificence.
- Heydar Aliyev Center: This is one of the most famous buildings in Baku. The center features a museum and rotating exhibitions. Even if you don’t go outside, it's worth visiting it. It's located in the middle of a giant park, which many consider to be one of the best Instagram spots in the city.
- Baku City Circuit: One of the reasons tourists flock to Baku is its Formula One race track. Baku City Circuit is the second-largest Formula One circuit, with a 6 km (3,7 miles) track length and a max speed of 360 km/h (223 mph).
- The Old City of Baku: The walled Old City or Icheri Sheher is a must-see in Azerbaijan. It's like a city within the city, with modern hotels and Christian Dior boutiques sitting next to carpet vendors and silver merchants. Its grand palaces and mosques are equally impressive as its little bakeries and tea houses.
What to Expect in Old Baku
For history students and admirers, there’s no better place to visit than Baku’s Old City. In 2000, it was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Once the capital of Shirvan Shah’s dynasty, today a tourist hotspot with lavish bars and high-quality restaurants.
- Enter through the Gosha Gala Gapisi (or Gates of Shah Abbas)
- Visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs
- See the Muhammad Mosque
- Explore the Bazaar Square
- Eat dolma and baklava
- Drink a cup of traditional Azerbaijani chai
- Shop for carpets and souvenirs
Where to Stay in Baku
- First time in Baku: If you're visiting the city for the first time and don't mind spending a bit on your accommodation, the best place to stay is the Flame Towers. They are far from the city center, so if you go with this option, you will have to take taxis a lot.
- Close to everything: If you want to be close to the city center, one of the best places to stay is the Cheeky Carabao Backpackers hostel. It's in the heart of downtown Baku and offers an ideal combination of a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
- Baku for families: If you want a high-quality accommodation for your family, Hostel Inn Hotel&Hostel offers the best value. It's located close to the Fountains Square, the Maiden Tower, and Baku City Circle. If you stay for more than three days, you'll get a free airport transfer service.
You can check out many other options at HostelWorld.
Best Time to Visit Baku
Any Baku travel guide will tell you the same: the best time to visit Baku depends on what kind of experience you want to have.
- Spring, summer, and autumn: If you want to take many day trips and love to spend time outdoors, you can't go wrong with choosing to visit it from late spring to early autumn. Many people travel to Baku for events, which often take place during spring and summer. This is also a time when the prices are a bit higher.
- Winter: If you want to have a cultural experience, visiting Baku during winter is still a good idea. Even if it's cold outside, you can visit museums and eat delicious Azerbaijani food.
Once you’re done with visiting the place where Europe and Asia collide, where are you going next? You don’t have to go far to have an amazing experience. Check out what it is like to visit Turkey and backpack from Istanbul to Cappadocia.